What’s your name?

There’s no “right way” to name a business. But Seattle entrepreneur Chris Rugh’s article in Octane magazine provides an excellent overview on issues to consider.

iStock_nametag color 2Seattle telecom entreprenuer Chris Rugh has an article in the new issue of Octane magazine about one of the burning issues in branding: Naming a business.

Of course, there’s no “right” way to do it. Working in PR, marketing, and non-profit development, I’ve been involved in several projects in which the stumbling block was an organization’s name. I’ve fretted over clear, memorable names that no longer described an evolving organization. I’ve struggled to make vague or complex names somehow vivid and memorable. And I’ve seen people lose their companies (and a lot of money) trying to hold onto a name that was difficult to trademark.

Chris’ article is informed by years of experience in buying and selling businesses and their assets, and in creating several companies of his own. If you’re starting a business, or developing a product, and are in the naming phase, “It’s All in a Name” will give you a very good idea of what you’re getting into.

Another excellent Seattle resource on business naming is Christopher Johnson, the linguist who blogs as The Name Inspector. Check the blog to find out more about his current experiment: Special prices on business name consultations, in-person or by phone.

From an SEO perspective, a business or product name is a fascinating double-edged sword. Name your company “Sandy’s Organic Soap” and you’re competing with a tsunami of search results for soap purveyors. But get cute with a name like “Sandy’s Sopes” and list your products as “sope” on your site, and the folks who are looking for a soap company in Portland (but don’t know or can’t remember the name) will have difficulting finding you using the obviously keywords “Portland” and “soap.” (There are SEO techniques you can use to compensate in either of the situations — and you’d want to deploy them.)

FTC disclosure: I have provided web content services for Chris Rugh’s 1-800 numbers company, Custom Toll Free.

FTC determined to root out payola in the blogosphere

US Coins Collection Isolated on WhiteI confess: One of my largest clients manufacturers and sells safety equipment, and I’ve been known to blog (on my own blog) about the importance of having safety equipment in the workplace — without mentioning that I have an association with that company.

By the end of the summer, this sort of unethical behavior will place me squarely in the sights of the Federal Trade Commission. FTC guidelines regulating blogger endorsements are about to go into effect.

According to this story published yesterday by the Associated Press, people using the internet have no idea that the posts they read on blogs are anything less than objective, and that “Many bloggers have accepted perks such as free laptops, trips to Europe, $500 gift cards, or even thousands of dollars for a 200-word post.”

Thousands of dollars for a 200-word post? “Many” bloggers? (I checked the URL to see if I had somehow been redirected to The Onion. I had not.)

But wait! The AP article drivels on:

Savvy consumers often go online for independent consumer reviews of products and services, scouring through comments from everyday Joes and Janes to help them find a gem or shun a lemon.

(Would someone please turn off that loud alarm? I’m trying to write.)

Savvy consumers? No, savvy consumers are consulting Consumer Reports, CNET.com, and the consumer comments posted on Amazon.com and Zappos. The people basing major purchasing decisions on a post from Joe-the-Blogger are not savvy consumers but nincompoops, and, to be blunt, they deserve what they get.

The reaction to the AP story from the blogosphere has included widespread incredulity, particularly from people who actually work in the intersection of blogging and marketing. I particularly liked this summary from James Joyner of Outside the Beltway.

To begin with, what company is going to pay a low-level blogger “thousands of dollars” for a product endorsement? And they will be paying a low-level blogger because top-level bloggers don’t accept payola. They don’t accept it, mind you, not because they are all honest but because the blogosphere is a place where unscrupulous behavior has a way of catching up with you. In spades. Imagine these scenarios:

1. Jane-the-Blogger recommends that people abandon their trusted backup software and switch to new Brand X backup software. People follow her advice, and Brand X Backup corrupts their  hard drives. They post angry descriptions of their experiences with Brand X on their own blogs (mentioning Jane’s blog), so that people Googling Jane’s blog find instead a lot of unflattering reports about it. And they post their experiences with Brand X on reputable tech sites, as well. In return for the amount Jane has received from Brand X’s payola department, she’s now forfeited her own blogging credibility, and lost traffic to her blog.

2. Company Z sends Joe-the-Blogger a fancy piece of technology to review and says “go ahead and keep it.” He does. He tries it, is unimpressed, and doesn’t blog about it. The company has achieved…what? I’ve represented clients who do PR campaigns to bloggers, and send out product samples, and they do not waste expensive products on shots in the dark.

While it seems simple for the FTC to require a blogger praising a product to disclose that they have received the product or service for free, or that they receive a percentage when they link to a sales page for the product, the situation gets far more complicated in practice. Try these scenarios:

1. I hear about an interesting new service, call the owner, and write a blog post about it, which generates a lot of buzz. The owner calls me a week later, thanks me, and provides me with some insider tips and connections for a story that I go on to write and sell to a publication for $1,000. Do I go back and amend the original post to reveal this?

2. I attend a conference (for which I pay full fee), and later write a blog post describing the conference and recommend that my readers attend that conference next year. However, I don’t mention in my post that I was a speaker at the conference, and that as a result of my speech I made some important business connections at the conference. Is it possible that the conference, by offering me the speaking opportunity, was in effect “bribing” me to write a positive story about their conference? Should I bring this up in the blog post?

My answer to these questions is, I’m afraid: Oh, good grief.

Full disclosure: Neither the FTC nor the Associated Press offered me any payola to review, respectively, their regulations or their coverage of this story. I endorse neither. They did provide a nice boost to my blog traffic after I was interviewed on KUOW-FM‘s The Conversation  yesterday about the new regs. However, I’m almost positive that boost was inadvertent.

Off topic

How many of you clicked through when you saw the post title “Off topic”? The promise of something different, something unscheduled, intrigues.

I was at a literary conference this past weekend with many outstanding panels. In several of these panels, the moderator had to rein in a panelist, or members of the audience, who’d gone off topic. In some cases, it wasn’t a matter of someone wandering off topic — it was an energetic stampede into a whole other discussion.

The cry of “That’s a different panel” resulted in the “off” topic being posted on a white board. On the last day of the conference, conference participants chose one of those topics and that became the topic for the scheduled after-lunch panel.

Not surprisingly, the Different Panel was the best panel of the conference — a discussion of some major issues that had emerged, again and again, during earlier panels.

(Those of you who go to “un-conferences” at which most of the programming is done spontaneously can consider yourselves lucky. But keep in mind, un-conferences are still the exception to rule.)

One of the high points of the Different Panel was the panelist inversion. Mid-way through the panel, a member of the audience stood up and set forth a sweeping and powerful paradigm for understanding the topic. The room erupted with cheers. The moderator jumped to her feet yelling “Stop! Stop!” She then brought the speaker up to the stage, handed over moderator authority to her, dismissed the panel, and (in less than a minute) the outgoing and incoming moderators brought up a whole new panel chosen from people in the audience who had been involved in the burgeoning discussion.

The discussion proceeded with the new panelists, going from “very good” to “truly great.”

Are you ready for the black swan?

swanflipBryan Alexander, the research director at the National Institute for Technology and Liberal Education, has written a sweeping article on the implications of emerging online and digital technologies. If you’re interested in thinking about how we may be living our lives, online and off, in the next 20 years, this is a great read.

Obama reconnects speaking with information

I’m hoping that Obama is (in addition to cleaning up our international reputation and getting us humane, affordable healthcare) going to change the way we speak and talk and make clarity and substance the standard.

Thank you to Doug Plummer for pointing me (via Twitter) to James Fallows’ piece for the Atlantic on Barack Obama’s speeches.

Fallows points out that Obama’s speeches diverge dramatically from what we think of as contemporary rhetoric because, instead of revitalizing, reinforcing, and building on familiar concepts and beliefs, they present new concepts. They are political rhetoric outside of the box.

I’m hoping that Obama is (in addition to cleaning up our international reputation and getting us humane, affordable healthcare) going to change the way we speak and talk and make clarity and substance (rather than ranting and raving) the standard. While I’m waiting, I’m going to whip out my own editorial flyswatter and start whomping buzzwords.

Excuse me, I think I hear a “Social Media” fly in here somewhere.

Worth checking out

• Charlie Hamilton’s post at Web Worker Daily on the new Palm Pre, and why he hasn’t bought one…yet.
• Fahim Farook‘s new children’s game for the iPhone, Hoot Dunnit? Learn about animals and the sounds they make. (Note: Farook’s cat is better behaved than mine are.)
• This Cardiac Science post on automated external defibrillators and why you want to make sure there’s a AED in your school or workplace.

What do good blogging and good journalism have in common?

Easy: Great stories and great writing.

Bloggers often (and justifiably) criticize traditional print journalism as stultifying and ho-hum. But here’s a front page news story from the Seattle Times that adheres to all the journalistic standards, including the fact-filled lead and inverted pyramid construction, while being just as clever (and more absorbing) than most blog posts.

If you’re from Seattle, you’ll recognize the writer.

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