Taking America’s Pulse Online

The Pew Research Center recently announced it would be conducting the majority of its U.S. polling online, much like most other public opinion surveys these days.

Until recently, phone-based surveys were the de facto standard for opinion polls. According to Pew’s own research, the number of surveys conducted over the Internet “have increased dramatically in the last 10 years,” driven by available technology and lower costs.

The paradox is that people respond to online and phone polls differently. Pew calls this the mode effect, when responses to some of the same questions are different depending on the interview format.

What shifting to online polling means for our long-term phone survey trends | Pew Research Center

For Pew, switching to online polling after years of telephone surveys will have an impact on quantifying historical data. This also may influence how media report on the center’s year-over-year trends.

Online polling methodologies may be shaping a new generation of survey taking. The good news is that trusted pollsters are transparent about these approaches.

And when it comes to the pros and cons of online vs. telephone surveys, a simple Web search will yield myriad results, including observations from Pew, as well as in Forbes.

Most polling firms and universities use a combination of online and telephone survey methods. It’s essential, however, that online surveys produce statistically accurate data, especially when the results are used by media.

To help ensure reporting accuracy, the National Council on Public Polls published a list of 20 questions a journalist should ask about poll results. The irony is that reporters don’t have time to review questions because of today’s ultra-competitive “real-time” news environment.

General consensus says polls serve a greater good helping define public opinion on everything from brands to policy. Media love surveys too. So much so that The Hill launched “What America’s Thinking,” a Web TV show that focuses on the latest news about public opinion.

For news media, its vital that trends are accurate, whether the data is derived from the Web or via telephone.

Diplomacy on the Playing Field: 2018 Winter Olympics

Soon the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea will captivate millions of viewers around the globe featuring sporting events from alpine skiing to speed skating.

While the thrill of victory and agony of defeat is what makes for sports history, the overarching story line just may be North Korea’s decision to send its Olympians to this year’s games.

IOC President Thomas Bach today announced that North Korea will participate at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018. Source: International Olympic Committee

This is not the first time geopolitical issues impacted the Olympics between North Korea and South Korea. The two countries have been at odds since the end of the Korean War in 1953, with recent elevated tensions between the U.S. and North Korea exacerbating the issue.

But it’s diplomacy on the playing field that may save the day. Earlier this month, North Korean negotiators quickly accepted South Korea’s request to send a delegation to the Winter Olympics. Both countries also agreed to march together under one flag during opening and closing ceremonies, and field a joint women’s hockey team. Not all are happy with the decision, especially South Korea.

Whether or not North Korea’s renewed interest in the Olympics is an attempt to stave off U.N. sanctions remains unclear, although the communist regime has been hit hard by an upsurge of import and export bans according to U.S. sources. Either way, North Korea is playing its cards right.

Sounds like the stuff good geopolitical Olympic-based films are made of, like 2006’s “Race,” which chronicles the rise of Jesse Owens in the 1936 Berlin Games, or 2004’s “Miracle,” about player-turned-coach Herb Brooks who led the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team to victory over the Russians during the second Cold War.

Hopefully the drama can ignite ratings. NBC reported its coverage of the 2016 Rio Olympic Games averaged 27.5 million viewers across all platforms, including digital streaming, down 9 percent from 2012. In fact, Nielsen numbers showed TV viewership for Rio’s Opening Ceremony declined 28 percent from London’s on July 27, 2012.

The peacock network expects ad sales for this year’s Winter Olympics to exceed those for the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia. And given the change in viewing habits from linear (TV) to digital, NBC is focusing on total audience viewing that combines digital and linear viewing to deliver a single audience guarantee. That means more live content on more screens.

The Olympics has many remarkable stories, and this year’s Olympic Korean Peninsula Declaration is certainly one of them. So, tune in, wherever, and find out how the story unfolds.

In Bitcoin We Trust?

IN GOD WE TRUST was first used on U.S. paper money in 1957, when it appeared on the one-dollar silver certificate. A lot has changed since then.

Today we live in a digital world as technology and credit cards have reduced cash demand. The U.S. Treasury has even slowed down its printing of paper money with the $100 bill now the highest denomination.

Suffice it to say putting IN GOD WE TRUST on money doesn’t have anything to do with its value. It’s really a Federal Reserve note that is backed by the “full faith and credit” of the U.S. Government. Essentially, we trust that the U.S. government will cover its bets.

Public trust in government, however, remains close to historic lows, according to the Pew Research Center, with only 18 percent of Americans saying they trust the federal government to do the right thing “just about always” or “most of the time.” But that’s another story.

Enter cryptocurrency, or Bitcoin, one of the more well-known types of new digital money. While still confusing to many, these currencies were established to do away with any central authority, such as central banks or federal reserve banks, and can be transferred electronically in open and secure environments.

The Great Recession and the recent U.S. fiscal crisis have spurred interest in what is known as block chains, sort of a global online depository using distributed computing where each crypto currency value (or Bitcoin) is registered. This eliminates the “middleman” (aka the Federal Reserve) so that the digital currency is not tied to any financial institution.

We trust our money in banks are secure. Depositors, however, may not be aware that U.S. banks are only required to have reserves of 3 percent for checking accounts and 0 percent for savings accounts. So, if a bank collapses, which many have done and continue to do, account holders may not get their money back. Ever hear of a bank run? Scary, isn’t it?

This is the bet for digital currencies like Bitcoin as highlighted in the 2016 documentary, “Banking on Bitcoin.” Many monetary and financial experts have varying opinions on the future success of cryptocurrencies. Although U.S. stock markets are at all-time highs, economic uncertainty is still a major concern among most Americans as well as people around the globe.

It may be some time before the U.S. and the world for that matter embrace Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. Trust needs to be earned, so adoption may be later than sooner. But others are betting big time on digital currency. Consider the fact that at the time of this post, one Bitcoin was valued at $15,694.26. In July of 2010, it was only $0.08.

So, in homage to the recent film, “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” trust in Bitcoin, we must.

Five Media Tips for Donald Trump

U.S. stock markets are at record highs, unemployment is at its lowest in seven years, and consumer confidence hit its peak in nearly 17 years.

All good for Republican Donald Trump, right?

Maybe not. The president has one of the lowest approval ratings of any U.S. commander in chief since Harry S. Truman. Making matters worse for the GOP, the Democratic Party won big in recent state races, perhaps a precursor to next year’s mid-term elections.

Donald Trump speaks at a caucus night watch party in Las Vegas, Nevada on February 23. Credit: Getty Images.

Aside from his own political agenda, many would argue that the problem with the president, well, is the president himself. So much so, that many online daters are telling Trump supporters to swipe left.

In addition to the need of being media trained, here are five simple communications suggestions for President Trump to possibly help boost his approval ratings:

Stop tweeting. No surprise here. While the president’s tweets resonate well with his base, and put him upfront in the daily news cycle, they alienate him from the rest of the country. Mr. Trump needs to expand beyond current supporters, especially if he decides to run for re-election. Since this is unlikely, possibly use an editor to soften the rhetoric, and spell check too. The good news is that he now has 280 characters to do it in.

Be gracious. Humility is not one of the president’s core character traits, at least publicly. Mr. Trump should refrain from “reminding” voters of his election victory or mixing politics with less partisan presidential duties. Remember the Boy Scouts debacle? Also offering a mi culpa from time to time can go a long way and will not diminish any notion of “coming from a place of strength.”

Watch CNN, objectively. Whether or not the president thinks the cable network reports “fake news,” it’s always good to understand how the White House is being covered so that credible, reactive messaging can be developed and implemented. Believe it or not, CNN is far less biased than MSNBC or Fox News.

Do your homework. In other words, be prepared. This will make the president appear more knowledge on key legislative issues such as health care and tax reform. Practice Q&As with key staff on topics relevant to his agenda.

Get a dog. Although it may seem trivial, and not communications related, the president playing catch with man’s best friend on the White House lawn can make for a great photo opportunity. Unfortunately, Mr. Trump has broken a long-held tradition of U.S. presidential pet ownership of being the first head of state since President Millard Fillmore to not have domesticated animals.

Only time will tell if the president can turn the tide and become a great communicator like his idol President Ronald Regan. The trick is to get out of his own way, a task easier said than done.

CNN Pushes ‘Facts First’ with an Apple

It’s an apple, not a banana.

That’s what CNN is telling viewers in its new ad, “This is an apple,” which most likely is in response to President Trump’s repeated criticism of the cable news network as fake news.

The ad is getting lots of traction and national news coverage. For those who have not seen it, a graphic of an apple appears with the voice over: “This is an apple. They might scream banana, banana, banana, over and over again … but it’s not.” You get the point.

Interestingly enough CNN is having a good year despite repeated criticisms, beating MSNBC in total day for 40 straight months among adults ages 25-54, but still failing short to rival Fox News.

So, is the president helping CNN?

Controversy and conflict are main drivers of news, even when the news, well, is the “news.” All the hoopla around “fake news” is propelling people to watch, and news organizations like CNN to act.

The stakes are high. According to the 2017 Global Social Journalism Study, 51 percent of reporters feel that fake news is a serious problem in their area of journalism.

But if statements are made over and over again, even they are not true; does it actually become true, fostering doubt among reputable news organizations?

Maybe. A global survey from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism found that only 38 percent of U.S. adults trust the news they consume. Pew also reports that Americans are divided along political lines when it comes to trusting media, and that only 28 percent of U.S. adults say general news outlets get the facts right about science almost always or more than half of the time.

Media have a credibility problem. But so does the president, with 65 percent of voters saying Mr. Trump is not trustworthy, according to a new Washington Post/ABC News poll.

Americans may never fully trust the media, and President Trump for that matter. CNN’s “Facts First” ad campaign is helping quell innuendo and improve reputations. Either way, trust is essential to effective government relations and media reporting on the country’s affairs.

Stories need angles, however, even if they contradict a point of view or collective opinion. That’s what makes news interesting. And given the country’s deeply divided electorate, trust may be more aspirational than reality.

Harvey Weinstein and Twitter’s Double Standard

The power of Twitter is unparalleled especially when the “news” is filled with high stakes and lots of drama, such as in the case of movie mogul Harvey Weinstein.

A slew of actresses and female Hollywood A-listers recently have come out publicly corroborating Weinstein’s sexual misconduct, spurred by actress Rose McGowan, whose Twitter account had been temporarily locked after a series of posts about The Weinstein Co. founder’s sexual wrongdoings, including toward her.

Twitter’s reason for locking McGowan’s account was because one of her tweets violated the platform’s terms of service, which included a private phone number. The account was eventually unlocked and Twitter added, “We will be clearer about these policies and decisions in the future.”

Twitter’s action against McGowan prompted much resistance, including a Vanity Fair article alluding to the platform’s hypocrisy, referencing other tweets from President Trump and even white supremacist groups. Twitter contends it “will not ban content that is newsworthy or has public-interest value.”

CEO of Twitter and Square Jack Dorsey in 2016. Photo credit: CNBC

While the story is newsworthy, a technical analysis cans see where Twitter may be consistent in its policy, although there certainly is room for improvement. While millions of people use the platform to voice their opinions – no matter what they may be –  the fact is the more “celebrity” one has, pun intended, the more traction will occur.

Take actress Alyssa Milano for example. The “Who’s the Boss?” star jumped into the Weinstein fray by initiating a “me too” campaign, tweeting, “If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet.” The tweet went viral and sparked tens of thousands of engagements.

The good news is that Twitter gives anyone the opportunity to participate in the public narrative. The not so good news is that outrageousness, conflict, fortune and fame, is what cuts through the clutter, often leaving lesser known individuals and organizations the silent majority.

Only time will tell if Weinstein will ever recover, although Hollywood loves a good comeback story. An LAPD investigation and reports of The Weinstein Co. being in a financial meltdown make matters worse, coupled with the fact that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the Producers Guild of America have stripped Harvey Weinstein of his memberships. Be that as it may, a long road lies ahead and surely, Weinstein needs good PR, which won’t come easy.

Twitter is in sort of a crisis too. Stories like the Weinstein affair keep the social network relevant and included in mainstream media coverage, although it’s hard to determine if this is having a positive impact since the company’s stock dropped more than 50 percent since its 2013 initial public offering.

While 500 million tweets are posted on Twitter every day from 328 million monthly active users, user growth has slowed or even halted, according to the company’s latest earnings report. So, fewer people are seeing value in the San Francisco-based platform, which is a problem, along with the challenges of turning engagement into revenue.

The question remains what’s next for Twitter. For starters, it does in fact need to be clearer about its policies and decisions. An effective issues management campaign might just what the platform needs to foster more users. Getting in front of this issue is paramount to alleviate any concerns about the platform’s so-called hypocrisy.

Messaging is starting to take shape. Twitter’s founder Jack Dorsey recently pledged to “take a more aggressive stance in our rules and how we enforce them” to safeguard users, particularly women, and in response to a #WomenBoycottTwitter campaign.

And finally, proving Twitter’s relevance in the social narrative is needed to ensure that everyone’s voice is heard, not just high-profile individuals and organizations, which quite frankly, may be easier said than done.

Facebook’s Image Problem

Now may be a good time for friends and families to rekindle their broken Facebook relationships since it appears Russia was behind much of the hostile engagement on the social network during the 2016 presidential election.

Apparently 10 million people on Facebook saw 3,000 Russian-backed sponsored posts before and after Election Day, fueling racial, religious and political divisiveness. Initial investigations also show that content was geo-targeted in key swing states that may have tipped the scales in favor of the GOP.

Photo credit: Cnet

The frenzy forced many to take action. Thirteen percent of Americans reported blocking or “unfriending” someone on social media because of their political postings, according to a survey by PRRI, with Democrats nearly three times more likely than Republicans (24 percent vs. 9 percent) to shut off opposite-minded friends and family.

It’s hard to quantify the actual impact of the ads. The bottom line is that Trump supporters came out in full force on Election Day, and Hillary Clinton failed to win over white women and female voters without a college education.

Whether the “news” was fake or not, the content fueled an inherent bias on both sides of the proverbial aisle. Moreover, after the 2012 presidential race, the Republican Party ignited its online presence and get out the vote operations that most likely help propel Donald Trump to victory.

No doubt Facebook has an image problem. Shares of the $500B social media giant started to rise from earlier in the week when the stock took a hit from its 52-week high of $175.49, closing at $172.23 on Friday.

The brouhaha led Facebook founder Mark Zukerberg to post a Yom Kippur-inspired mea culpa, writing, “For the ways my work was used to divide people rather than bring us together, I ask forgiveness and I will work to do better.”

Things may only get worse for Facebook if and when Zuckerberg testifies before Congress or the slew of investigations into Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election show the social network at fault. Zuckerberg, however, has repeated many times Facebook’s platform for candidates to communicate directly to voters had a much greater impact that any misinformation on the network.

Facebook fosters engagement unlike any other social network. That engagement needs to be free of any censorship for it to work best. But with more than two billion active monthly users, and more than 200 million in the U.S. alone, there certainly isn’t any shortage of opinion.

Most times people believe what they want on social media regardless of any fact checking. The paradox is that that two-thirds of Americans (67 percent) say they get at least some of their news from social media. In the end, Facebook will recover from this so-called crisis. The network is engrained in the social fabric of American politics, sort of like the ubiquitous seatbelt. People need to be more open-minded to determine what’s fake “news” and what’s not. Unless that changes, stand by for more of the same in 2020.


Media Are People, Too

Americans and the press always seemed to have a love-hate relationship.

Despite much of the anti-media rhetoric at play within the national dialogue, a fairly good chunk of Americans (72 percent) trust the information they receive from national news organizations, according to the Pew Research Center.

The good news is more Americans are engaged. That means more eyeballs on traditional media, and social too. In fact, Pew also reported in a recent survey that two-thirds of Americans (67 percent) say they get at least some of their news from social media.

Conflict and human interest is what makes news. And in today’s highly competitive 24/7-news environment, getting the proverbial scoop is going to be good for both the journalist and their respective outlets.

Sgt. Chad Watts of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries holds Madelyn Nguyen, 2, after he rescued her and her family by boat from floodwaters of in Houston. Gerald Herbert / AP

So, when Hurricane Harvey rolled around, it’s no surprise that millions watched live coverage of the category three-storm barrel through the Gulf Coast. Homes being destroyed and acts of heroism provided much needed drama that kept viewers engaged.

It’s hard to say how far a journalist will go to get a good story. Many correspondents are often confronted with ethical dilemmas of interfering with their own reporting.

Veteran journalist Will Bunch touched upon this topic in a recent op-ed, The Day the ‘Enemies of the American People’ Helped Save America. The Philadelphia Daily News reporter wrote about those media who set aside their reporting to help rescue victims of Hurricane Harvey, while responding to repeated criticism of the press.

The fact is media are people, too. They have friends and families and experience life’s challenges just like everyone else.

No doubt the media landscape has changed dramatically. News outlets now cater to liked-minded audiences, fueling the country’s already tumultuous divide.

Be that as it may, media are essential part of documenting the pubic narrative. And yes, they don’t always get the story right. They’re human. They do, however, have editors and fact checkers to help ensure story accuracy. Let’s also not forget the journalist’s creed, a personal affirmation of ethical standards to “believe that the public journal is a public trust.”

While it’s easy to complain about the press, just think about what America would be without it.

Why Can’t We Stop Talking About Donald Trump?

No time in recent American history has one president been regularly talked about online, in the press or at the proverbial water cooler as much as Donald Trump.

One thing for certain is Donald Trump knows how to make news, which usually is done in 140 characters or less. Policies aside, many factors contribute to this phenomenon, such as Trump’s unorthodox style, recklessness or lack of a media filter.

President Donald Trump during a signing ceremony for the Department of Veterans Affairs. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

But all publicity is not good publicity. A recent Harvard Study found that 60 percent of Trump’s media coverage during his first 100 days in office was 80 percent negative, at times hitting the 90 percent mark. Even GOP-friendly Fox News had him at 52 percent negative.

No doubt all this is taking a toll on Trump’s approval ratings. According to FiveThirtyEight, only 37 percent of Americans say President Trump is doing a good job, the lowest of any U.S. commander in chief since Harry S. Truman.

The Pew Research Center finds a majority (58 percent) of Americans do not like the way Trump conducts himself as president, and nearly half (45 percent) do not agree with him on any or almost any issue.

Trump’s conduct also is having a negative impact on his fellow Republications. Forty-six percent of GOPers expressed mixed feelings on Trump’s behavior, while 19 percent say they do not like his conduct.

As support dwindles among those that helped him get elected, President Trump is finding it harder to get key legislation passed even with a Republican-dominated Congress, as several attempts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act fell flat.

Not so says Donald Trump. He boasts his administration has accomplished more than any other president except Franklin Delano Roosevelt, citing his own election as historic, stretching the truth and transparency.

Political pundits have called him a liar, many times. But it’s this behavior that lands Trump on the front pages. Forget about the old ad age of kids saying the darndest things, Donald Trump has made comments as president that go beyond any logical reasoning.

Whether it’s threatening nuclear war with North Korea or blaming Arnold Schwarzenegger for bad ratings on “Celebrity Apprentice,” Trump says and does things – good, bad or indifferent – that makes news and prompts reactions from people.

Unfortunately, that’s bad for Trump … and can be bad for America too.


Memorial Day Marketing: A Risk Worth Taking?

While Memorial Day is sort of the unofficial start of summer, the holiday is a solemn one, established to honor fallen servicemen and women of the U.S. military.

It’s also a time for big summer sales … and everyone from car brands to home improvement centers are getting in on the action.

Too many times, however, brands take exception to the true meaning of Memorial Day, putting them in the proverbial hot seat. One beer company actually tweeted: “Something to remember on #MemorialDay. It’s a LOT better and a LOT more memorable with #craftbeer!” 

Scores of companies continue to miss the Memorial Day mark, with some even issuing apologies responding to their own self-induced holiday crises. Much of the trouble occurs when brands try to mix “summer fun” and Memorial Day.

Marketers need to be aware of the potential backlash of being perceived as insensitive to veterans and their families. While tagging #MemorialDay may increase engagement, it may get the kind of attention marketers don’t want, so consider these three simple tips:

  • Don’t do it. When posting about honoring military men and women, do not segue to any hint of shopping, sales, BBQs, or anything of the like.
  • Enjoy summer. It’s OK to post products or services that showcase summer fun, whether it’s a beer at a picnic, or bathing suit at the beach. Be careful, though, when it comes to hashtags: #MemorialDayWeekend vs. #MemorialDay.
  • Traffic talk. Millions of folks will be hitting the road this weekend and that can only mean one thing: traffic! Find unique, interesting and brand appropriate ways to tie into the travel aspect of the long weekend.

There’s a certain finesse when it comes to marketing Memorial Day. Good judgment and not mixing service with sale will make for holiday-appropriate content.