Guest post by Paul Cohen
What's the best form of advertising? Word of mouth.
You can't put a price on it. TV commercials, billboards, radio ads and magazine spots don't come close to the power of a loyal and vocal customer base. Before the social media era, it was difficult to control and manipulate that audience, and those who tried were often found out by reporters or publishers.
In 2009, Consumerist reported that Royal Caribbean cruise lines used a marketing team to post positive reviews on various cruise-related sites. The company sought out bloggers who regularly posted in the Cruise Critic blog and who were avid cruise fans, and invited them to free cruises with hopes that they would later write positively about the company. The reviewers were known as "Royal Caribbean Champions" and led by the marketing company Customer Insight Group. However, according to Royal Caribbean Associate Vice President Bill Hayden, there was no quid pro quo involved, and the "Champions" were free to write whatever they wanted.
Nothing they did was against the law, nor was there an ethical precedent to dictate against what they were doing, but the consumer backlash did lead to some bad press when their tactics were exposed. Customers looking for authoritative reviews online didn't take kindly to the uncertainty.
Verizon's Brand Ambassadors
Fast forward four years and what was done on company review sites is now taking place in social media. Verizon, one of America's largest wireless and Internet service providers, is a great example of how brand ambassadors have evolved from Royal's practices. A method known as "pay-for-play," Verizon seeks out fiOS customers and "incentivizes" them to tweet positively about the brand and their user experience by directing followers to destinations "Verizon fiOS at Cable.tv" or using certain hash tags are other tweeters are likely to follow.
If this sounds eerily similar to the example used for Royal Caribbean, it's not. Verizon does have their brand ambassadors disclose their activity in their twitter profile bios. It's a gray area, since most followers will never see them, but it is an extra step towards transparency.
The Next Steps
Brand ambassadors aren't limited to enterprise marketing. B2C blogs and sites are ripe with how-to's and advice on soliciting brand ambassadors for your small business. Bizcommunity.com emphasizes that word or mouth and social media marketing are the media that offers an immediate two-way conversation when speaking about your brand. So finding the right people to promote your product can often be a make-or-break situation for your company's future.
Aside from finding the right people, honesty and transparency will be your two most important tools with brand ambassadors. Royal Caribbean's non-disclosure is what got them called out in the end. Some consumers might find Verizon's practices suspect, but their transparency helps keep them on the better side of the gray area. There will always be companies who try to sneak in brand promotions without disclosing incentives, but in the future we could likely see anything from "sponsored" labels to specific hash tags that notify the follower that certain promotions is paid.
August 29 2013 UPDATE Great news! Alysha is back in school. Thank you for your support and concern! June 16 2013 UPDATE
Alysha is making pens to raise funds for some bedroom decor. June 10. We saw her plastic Surgeon. Good News-Her skin flap is healing good and we need to start putting Aloe Vera on it 3 times a day because she still has some area's that are still healing. About the hard spot we found. He said it could be that her prosthetic has come apart or it is a new tumor. The Doctors urgency with getting her in to see her Ortho Doctor and his tone of voice also was alarming. June 11. Hi! They took XRAY'S and everything looks good. What we were feeling was the space between the prosthetic and her bone. The rest of her scans are on the 19th.May 20 2013 Morning UPDATE by Ange Raab. Thanks for your patience since I posted on April 23, when Alysha arrived home. Everyone is focused on Alysha’s condition and also the generosity of people toward the Raab family. “Even toilet paper!” says Ange Raab. Staples were removed April 30, and doc says things are healing nicely. A teacher spends about four hours a week to help Alysha get caught up. She is now in the 7th grade. All her teachers and principal have been wonderful in supporting Alysha’s schedule. Here is a photo of her arm, taken May 10. We went to the doctor this morning and the arm is healing so well that the surgeon released her. Now her Oncologist wants to do to more rounds of that really tough chemo. She has been busy with lots of school work to get her through 7th grade. I spoke with her principal and good news - she will be able to move forward to 8th grade! Praise God!! That would have been very hard on her. A good friend of mine set up a support Facebook page titled "All Alysha's Angels." https://www.facebook.com/AllAlyshasAngels?ref=ts&fref=ts It is wonderful. You can message her or our family on this Facebook. There is a link to her "Story" and a link to the Food tidings website. We have put some pictures on it and I will be posting these updates on it also. Alysha has decided to make attractive duct tape pens to sell so she can get herself a new bedding set to help start a new chapter in her life when this one is over. She already has it picked out at Wal-Mart!! She is making them all herself. She has lots of colors and color combo's. You may see them on the Facebook page, and message her on her All Alysha's Angels Facebook if you would like to order. Update on Dean and Ange: He is doing well physically, but Ange experiences nerve pain 24/7 from a chronic condition. Her doc doesn't want her to work, but right now there is no choice. The big news is that the arm has healed so well. This was a major concern. We will keep you updated! =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= UPDATE April 7, 2013 =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- UPDATE Thursday, March 28, 2013 First day after surgery.This is a much bigger surgery than she has ever had. From a medical view everything went well. She is in a lot of pain but hopefully what they are doing for her works. She has an epidural to cover pain from her back from moving the muscle. She has a nerve block is to block to pain in her arm. They can't take ALL the pain away but they are working hard at keeping her comfortable. She does have a pain pump. She is also on a muscle spasm medication. She is on oxygen because she is on complete bed rest. The Doctors are taking it one time a day. We are all so very proud of her. =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= UPDATE Monday, March 25, 2013 10:05 a.m. Alysha's dad hospitalized for 24-48 hours: kidneys not functioning properly. Alysha's cancer surgery and skin grafting is scheduled to begin Wednesday, March 27, at 8 a.m. =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= Dean Raab opened a Wells Fargo checking account for those who wish to help support the family's many needs: Wells Fargo Account 6188671959 =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= Alysha Raab woke up slowly after six hours of surgery. Before she even opened her eyes, the ten-year-old reached across her body to find out if her left arm was still there. It was. She’d been prepared for amputation. That was two years ago. She still has her arm, but in January of this year she learned that her battle with cancer isn’t over. On January 11, 2013, Alysha posted in the PCH CarePages: “Hello everyone, Its been a hour and a half since i found out i have cancer again, i am feeling very scared and anxious to what is going to come but i am very thankful for all of you that pray for me everyday. Right now i do not want to go through treatment, but i know that god is with me and i can do it. Next week feels way to soon for me to start treatment. I fear of what is going to come. I’m very scared about loosing my hair after growing it all back.... I know they will put me on different medicine so could you pray that my body and god make it easy to go through. I don’t know how many times i will be able to post. It hurts my heart to write this. Again i want to thank you for the continued prayer....I love you all, thank you for praying for me!” This spunky young teenager is now facing a nearly insurmountable second battle with osteosarcoma, a cancer that starts in the bones. After well over a year of chemotherapy and surgery, followed by some wonderful time in school, she found out the cancer, and her struggle with it, has returned. This bright, energetic girl had hoped and prayed that she would be cancer free forever, but her journey isn’t over. She desperately wants to live. She and her family need your prayers, and your help. Alysha and her family have already been on a Make-a-Wish Foundation cruise for the family: they loved it and felt totally spoiled. Other organizations have done fundraisers, including their local Chick-Fil-A, which has given financial and emotional boosts twice by holding fundraisers. During her first round of surgery and treatment, loving support came from friends, their church family, Alysha’s softball league, and other people who wanted to make a difference in the lives of this amazing girl and her family. An online schedule had been set up when chemo first began so meals could be delivered to the Raab home. With news of the cancer’s return, that account has again been activated. Once again people are donating and helping, bringing a huge blessing to this weary but hopeful Phoenix family. Dean Raab, Alysha’s father, was often with his youngest daughter during her hospital visits, but he lost his job in 2012. In early 2013 he was hired for a new job the same day the family learned that Alysha’s cancer had returned. One day during lunch hour he was able to stop by Phoenix Children’s Hospital while she was being treated. “I do not have the words to explain the pain a parent feels when they see their child going through this,” he says. Both have kept family and friends updated in the Phoenix Children’s Hospital CarePages. In the Beginning Cancer in a child is a parent’s nightmare, and no less so the Raab’s. Their worst fears began in October 2010 Alysha began experiencing pain in her left arm at night. After a few weeks of pain, a trip to the doctor led to the discovery of a malignant tumor in her arm and another malignant tumor on her lung. “When she first found out,” says her mother, Ange, “she asked to be baptized.” Then she began wondering about things like playing softball and cheerleading, both of which she loved. The following two years meant drastic changes and intense hardship not only for Alysha, but also for her parents and her two older sisters. Her doctors ordered 26 rounds of chemotherapy over 1 year. Ten rounds prior to surgery. The tumor on her lung had been removed early on, and hadn’t spread. That was good news. The Bad News At best, chemotherapy is painful and produces many ugly side effects. Alysha’s many side effects meant her chemo was spread over a longer time. Very little nausea, but extreme pain, loss of sleep, hallucinations, mood changes, ANC (measures number of infection-fighting white blood cells in the blood) at 0, appetite changes (she had to take steroids to avoid nausea with every bag of chemo treatment, which led to increased appetite and weight gain), fatigue, sores in her mouth and throat...the list goes on. More Good News Finally, following months of intense treatment at Phoenix Children’s Hospital, the doctor removed the tumor (and some muscle) in February 2011 and declared it 90% dead. He then ordered16 more rounds of chemo for Alysha. What followed was a time of chemo, followed by Alysha’s trying to become (and feel) normal, getting back to school, spending time with her girlfriends, and praying things were okay. Her hair had grown back in and the holiday season of 2012 was the family’s best in a long time. They went through these days with quiet hope. The doctor ordered scans every three months. For a while life began to return to normal. Then the cancer returned. Current Treatment Alysha’s current round of chemo is stronger and different than before because the cancer strain is different and more aggressive. She gets chemo five days a week and comes home on fluids and meds. Mixed in with the chemo is the low blood count, which not only means more units of blood but isolation from anyone who might be ill or pass germs. Isolation would be tough on anyone, but for a young teenager, it’s even rougher. How She Copes What does Alysha do during chemo treatments and the aftermath of each? She listens to music, spends time with friends, does her beading and other crafts, and as many things as possible to keep her mind off this new time of chemo. Recently, a nonprofit gave Alysha an iPad, and it’s helping get her mind off her treatments. Still, everyone watches her closely, because with this new treatment there might be complications, including the possibility of seizures. Upcoming Surgery Alysha has another surgery scheduled for the end of March 2013. Dr. Seidel is the Orthopedic Surgeon who did her previous arm surgery. He will start with removal of the entire tumor and will have to replace some hardware. Then her Plastic Surgeon, Dr. Singh, will come in and move a portion of her back muscle to where the tumor is now and also take a small amount of skin from her thigh to finish closing the wound. A Family’s Faith in God Ange Raab is amazed at her daughter. “It is so hard for me to see her go through this,” she says, “and yet she still giggles every day! She is generally a happy girl, full of life and she touches the lives of those around her. She loves being with her friends. She just wants to be a normal 13-year-old girl.” “The hurt I feel watching my daughter go through this is like no other pain I have ever experienced,” says Ange. “I know by God's word that He has felt pain like this when He gave His only Son for all of us so we can have eternal life with Him! If God can do that for me, I can take care of His child He gave to me as best as He equips me to do! I know in my heart that God will carry us through and He won’t miss a detail. Now I have to convince my head!” The Family Struggle Have you ever noticed how slowly and subtly the effects of cancer on a person can cause difficulties for the entire family? Alysha’s two sisters, Bre and Katie, adore Alysha. They try to keep her smiling, and try to be brave for her, but they’re children too. They have needs of their own that often can’t be met because of the demands of Alysha’s care and her parents’ attention on Alysha, their family, and themselves. Her parents don’t have enough time for themselves, each other, or their kids. The family has lost jobs. Their vehicles have worn out, and there’s no money to fix them. There may not be enough time or money, but always, with all of them, even through tears, their love and faith in God is holding them together. How You Can Help How can people show their concern for Alysha Raab? Friends like Robin Hastings and Heather Gilliland keep finding ways to help Alysha fill her days. They’ve seen how she’s been robbed of the joy and life the average 13-year-old has. And they spread the word because they’ve seen the family’s needs and courage when things seem like they’re at rock bottom. If you should feel like supporting Alysha and her family, here are the types of help that are needed and appreciated: • Prayers • Gift cards for meals, food, gas, auto parts, crafts for Alysha. • Meals delivered to home: http://www.foodtidings.com/SignUp.aspx?ScheduleGuid=f01a05c1-47b6-44ac-8c3c-40b745a225a5 • Repair help for three vehicles • iTunes gift cards and amazon.com gift cards No one person can do it all. Just a one snowflake or drop of water has little power on its own, but a trickle of water, a million snowflakes just giving a tiny bit become powerful forces to reckon with. Donations of any size, $1, $5, $10 add up. If you have mechanical skills and can help the Raabs fix one or more of their vehicles so they can get to work, to doctor’s appointments, and to the grocery store, your talents would be much appreciated. There but for the grace of God goes any one of us. We thank you for your help, your prayers and your faith. I am a friend of the Raab family, and along with other friends and relatives I want to help provide as much support as possible. Priority: Prayer. Becky Blanton created this graphic which we'd like to go viral. Right click on this graphic to save or copy it. Please consider using your social network contacts to pass the word about this spunky kid who faces heavy-duty surgery next week.
Today's Poynter Institute Magazine brings up an issue that is circulating in many households and businesses today. People are deeply concerned about today's generation and its ability (or inability) to write well. The article includes this quote: “Just as Socrates was concerned that the invention of writing would make people forgetful, people today are worried about the degree to which we are permanently shaped by digital technologies.” Before you make a judgment, take a look at the points it makes:
- Increases awareness of mistakes & helps prevent them: people are quick to criticize typos.
- Gives you an opportunity to differentiate yourself by writing well.
- Shows the value of storytelling.
- Proves that language is always evolving, and technology is a healthy part of that evolution.
- Creates new words and meanings.
This important article is a must-read for parents, grandparents, educators, librarians, and businesspeople. It's not an endorsement for being sloppy, but shows the bright side of something that is a vital component of today's world.