Friday, August 28, 2009

Life's Tough, Get a Second One

Perhaps it is a result of seeing James Cameron's Avatar trailer or maybe it was the friendly email exchange I had with my former Social Media Marketing professor, but my mind has wandered to Second Life. For those of you unfamiliar with Second Life, "Second Life is a free online virtual world imagined and created by its Residents. From the moment you enter Second Life, you'll discover a fast-growing digital world filled with people, entertainment, experiences and opportunity." Don't be confused -- This is not a video game, and essentially, there is no over-ruling "purpose" to Second Life. Sounds a little bizarre, right? That was my impression when I first learned about this mysterious Second Life and I brushed it off as some strange fad that would surely die off. My thoughts were seemingly confirmed a few months after initially learning of Second Life when I read a news article about a couple that got divorced over a 'virtual affair'. If you have a few minutes, I really encourage you to indulge yourself with this truly ridiculous news story: Second Life' Affair Leads to Real-Life Divorce

So there I was, utterly convinced that Second Life was inhabited by a few really strange people. Then, I stumbled across another news article about a Second Life user, Anshe Chung. Chung might possibly fall into this category of 'really strange people', but she was smart -- and very, very wealthy. Chung's avatar graced the cover of Business Week magazine as a result of becoming Second Life's first millionaire in just two and a half years after joining Second Life. Essentially, Chung saw an opportunity in selling real estate in this virtual world. She received payment in the form of linden dollars, Second Life's own virtual currency, and then was able to convert it to actual, spendable money. Maybe Second Life users weren't so strange after all...

My next astonishment about Second Life came about when a Second Life expert come in as a guest speaker for my Social Media Marketing class. James Moore is the Director of Online Learning for DePaul University's College of Commerce and sure knows his stuff when it comes to Second Life. Professor Moore informed us of the massive volume of Second Life users around the world. In the first quarter of 2009 alone, Second Life residents logged in 124 Million hours of use and the economy tops $120 Million. Surely, it's no surprise that businesses have tried to tap into this phenomenon at increasingly high rates since it's conception in 2003. As you can imagine, some were greeted with success, while others failed miserably.

Let's start with the failures --those always seem to be more fun to hear about, right?

There have been a slew of marketing failures in Second Life. American Apparel and Armani are two examples of companies that jumped head-first into Second Life. These brands spent a lot of time and money to build replica stores in Second Life only to be met with failure. Perhaps they didn't invest enough time into this process. This "if you build it, they will come" mentality did not translate to Second Life users and their stores remained empty. Tough love. Learn from your mistakes.

My favorite Second Life failure has to be John Edwards' attempt at virtual campaigning. Any failure that warrants a Second Life: John Edwards assaulted by poo-slinging communists news headline must be good. John Edwards' campaign advisers set up a virtual headquarters in Second Life as part of his 2008 presidential campaign. This area was intended to be used as a tool to reach out to potential voters and help them learn more about Edwards' potential as president. As it turns out, the non-Democrats of Second Life took a greater interest in this attempt. Not only did the Avatar version of the presidential candidate get food and trash thrown at him during an attempted Second Life town hall meeting, but the headquarters itself fell victim to extensive vandalism. The John Edwards' blog commented on this event:

"Shortly before midnight (CST) on Monday, February 26, a group of republican Second Life users, some sporting “Bush ‘08″ tags, vandalized the John Edwards Second Life HQ. They plastered the area with Marxist/Lenninist posters and slogans, a feces spewing obsenity, and a photoshopped picture of John in blackface, all the while harrassing visitors with right-wing nonsense and obsenity-laden abuse of Democrats in general and John in particular."

Nicely done, Edwards Camp.

While Second Life is certainly not for everyone, there have been some wonderful success stories in some unlikely places -- namely, educational institutions.

The articles Case Western Reserve University and Second Life Building a Private Virtual World for University and Case Western Announces Use of Private Second Life illustrate how Case Western Reserve University has successfully integrated Second Life into their own course curriculum. In 2007, CWRU built a near-replica of the Universities’ campus and buildings in Second Life. Since 2007, professors have used Second Life as a tool to engage students and give them virtual practice, without fear for failure. For example, psychology students can use Second Life to interview faux patients and diagnose their condition based on speech, facial expressions, and body language. Furthermore, Spanish students are often encouraged to visit Second Life to converse with native Spanish speakers in this virtual realm.

Recently, CWRU, with the help of Linden Labs, announced the use of a private Second Life. The CWRU virtual campus is now protected by firewalls to ensure that the information available to Case Western is totally protected. Matters of confidentiality are extremely significant for institutions specializing in the medical field.

While the Case Western articles talk mostly about using Second Life for the use of medical students, I could see Second Life as a useful tool for any university, even one's with a very small presence of medical majors. Second Life could be a great tool for engaging business students in mock business conferences, sales, or other events. Second Life could also be used by fine arts students as a platform to display artwork that can be openly critiqued by other students. The colleges of digital media could certainly make use of this virtual world as well by contributing to the virtual campus. Furthermore, students might have greater access to resources like the Career Center or Academic Advising, which almost require students to meet in person with these experts. Finally, any student that has ever been in a group project would surely enjoy the opportunity to not have to coordinate locations and availability for group meetings.

I think a tool like Second Life could be a worthwhile means towards success. It offers easy access and a more personalized experience than typical campus and course connection sites. Furthermore, Second Life is interactive. It encourages students to collaborate and offer feedback to one another, as opposed to just doing individual assignments. My hesitation about Second Life involves matters of security and ease of use. I see no reason why Second Life wouldn’t be a success if those obstacles are properly tackled.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Post-Grad Jobs -- The New Endangered Species

I've recently been faced with a bittersweet reality -- the school year is starting up, but I'm not heading back to a classroom. I will not be a student for the first time in 16 years. Wow. I have very mixed emotions about this strange revelation. On one hand, I am certainly not going to miss cramming for tests, working with unruly group members, listening to truly boring lectures or sleeping until noon one day and waking up at 7 am the next. On the other hand, I really love school. This wasn't always the case, of course, but as I grew older, especially upon entering college, I was hit with the reality that this was the last chance I had to learn about topics that interested me in a structured setting without having major obligations outside of school. Why not make the most of it?

I can confidently say that I am very satisfied with my experience at DePaul University. For the most part, I had extraordinarily talented and educated professors that were not only helpful, but also made learning fun. I maybe had 3 or 4 professors over the span of four years and 48 courses that I felt were not suited for their role as educators. Not a bad ratio. You have to expect to get some bad eggs thrown in from time to time. Don't worry DePaul, I made this very clear on my teacher evaluations!

While I am confident about my college experience, I am not so confident about life after college. I think it's safe to say that I am a pretty optimistic person. The only thing that I feel really bitter about is having to graduate into a recession. You have undoubtedly seen all the articles out there: For the class of 2009, degree doesn't mean a job or Another casualty of the recession: Recent college grads. Not quite welcomed headlines for college graduates.

In my mind, I did everything that I could do to succeed: I worked hard in school and out; graduated Cum Laude; repeatedly made the Dean's list; held down two jobs for a while; worked as an marketing intern. So explain to me again why I don't have a job right out of college?

That's not entirely true -- I have a job. It's part-time with no benefits, but it's a job none the less. Unfortunately, it's not quite the position I hoped to have upon graduation. My current position focuses mainly on traditional forms of marketing and sales, whereas my career goal is to work in Internet marketing. My role for the last year has given me great experience, but I've been keeping my eye open for other opportunities since April.

Those who have graduated in 2009 know as well as I do that finding a job opportunity requires one to have a very watchful eye. There is even a new movie, Post Grad, that addresses this troubling dilemma of young twenty-somethings. I exhausted every resource I could to find any sort of entry-level position. Unfortunately, I came to the realization that most entry-level positions had now been transformed into intern opportunities -- did I mention these were unpaid? Not exactly an ideal choice when you are trying to afford a life in a big city.

I managed to trudge ahead and stay aggressive in my hunt for a job. I learned the hard way that sites like and are not the best sources for job opportunities. My email address was exploding with opportunities to "Make $500 a day by sitting on your couch" or "Become a millionaire in one year". Sure it sounds appealing, but I would like to think I am intelligent enough to spot a scam when it smacks me right in my Gmail.

Okay, time for Plan B. I finally felt like I uncovered the holy grail of job searches. Listen up college students, because I'll only reveal this once -- DO NOT UNDERESTIMATE THE POWER OF NETWORKING. I heard time and time again that networking was a great tool and finally I decided to test that theory. Over the last few months I have tried to connect with anyone I could that worked in the field of marketing communications. I was not expecting to meet someone who was just going to hand over a position to me easy-peasy, but I figured, "Hey, these people have jobs. The must be doing something right. What do they know that I don't?" So I asked.

Speaking with others lead me to more credible sources for job hunting. Two sources include LinkedIn Jobs and professional organizations such as CIMA, WOMMA and PRSA.

LinkedIn is useful because you can create your own professional profile, search for individuals with positions similar to the one you hope to acquire and the LinkedIn job search results prove to be more credible than those offered on Monster and Career Builder. As part of a school assignment I had to interview a few people working in my intended industry. I found all three of my interviewees via LinkedIn. I searched for companies I hoped to one day work for and emailed employees that held positions that I hoped to one day have. The response was overwhelming. Each person I contacted was more than willing to offer insight and advice.

LinkedIn certainly offered me a few good leads, but the professional organizations proved most helpful. To begin, most all websites for professional organizations contain some type of job postings, volunteer opportunities or networking events. Secondly, these organizations are very targeted to a particular aspect of marketing communications. I could type in "marketing" on the LinkedIn search engine and my results could range from traditional marketing, to Internet marketing, to viral marketing. The options are endless. When I search the job listing on CIMA's website, I know I will find a job opportunity in the field of Internet marketing. Finally, the companies that post jobs on these industry websites are often, if not always, members of that particular organization. I don't know about you, but I personally feel better about working for a company that is actively participating for the greater good of the industry. Do a little research. I am certain that every single niche industry has some type of professional organization associated with it.

This last week I have landed two interview opportunities by searching the websites of professional organizations. I had one set of interviews last Thursday and I have another interview with a different company tomorrow morning. I can offer two more pieces of inspiration based on my interview from last week.

If you're reading this blog, you probably realize that anyone can have his or her own blog. Sure, it takes up little time if you're really passionate about keeping it current, but it is worth the effort. Several of the women I interviewed with last week were impressed that I had my own blog. Not only does it show that I am interested in the field of Internet marketing, but it also is a great tool to display my writing skills and general interests.

Finally, be proactive. My interview last week was for a position in search engine marketing.
I felt confident that I knew enough of the background of SEM to qualify me for the position, but what did that matter if I had never actually done a paid search campaign? SEM is something that I have tried to introduce at my current place of work. I put together a little presentation for my boss and we decided to put a halt toSEM until or website was updated and we actually had a reason to send people to our website. Since that was a dead-end I shelled out $10.00 and created my own paid search campaign for this very blog. Do a Google search for "Christine O'Connell" and my ad is at the top of the list! Call me a dork, but it is a thrilling feeling.

I created this campaign the night before my interview. My interviewers' admiration for my blog, was nothing compared to how impressed they were that I created my own SEM campaign. I am still waiting to hear back about the whether I got the got or not, but I am thankful that I was aggressive enough to create my own SEM and show my interviewers that SEM is something I am truly passionate about. While creating your own SEM campaign might not be the answer for your professional ambitions, I am certain that there is something you can do to make yourself stand out among the others that are trying to steal that position away from you.

I am trying to stay optimistic about my current situation, even though its not always easy. Plenty of sources out there are saying that things are on the upturn, but it is still hard to be a recent graduate in this economic climate. Of course, There are countless other recommendations and sources for obtaining a job in these difficult times than the one's I have shared, but these are certainly a few tips that have been useful to me. To learn about more job hunting tips, check out 10 Things Marketing Professionals Starting Out Should Do by Mark Singer over at The Future Buzz. Singer offers a great list of tips for young professionals looking to start their careers.

8/26/09 Follow-up: I got the job!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Coke vs. Pepsi


Who wins in the battle of Coke versus Pepsi? Taste-wise, it's all the same. Pepsi might be sweeter than Coke, but so what? Different taste buds means different preferences. I happen to like the sweetness of Pepsi, but I know a whole lot of people that would disagree. So, when it comes to taste, I'm going to have to call it a draw between Coke and Pepsi. The real winner have might be determined by the brand advertising.

In July, 2008, Toxel a design and inspirational blog, created two posts dedicated to Collection of Cool Coke Ads and a Collection of Cool Pepsi Ads. These posts feature some of the best advertisements from both brands.

Coke has had consistency in the brand advertising throughout the 20th century and into the 21st. These ads often feature fuzzy arctic animals, themes of classicism, and of course, that trademarked bottle.

While Coke excels in consistency of message, Pepsi excels in overall creativity. Take a look:

I would have named Pepsi the hands down winner a year ago based off the advertisements above. The 2009 campaigns of Pepsi and Coke have made me re-evaluate this decision. I'm going to be honest, I hate the new Pepsi Word Play campaign. In my opinion Pepsi advertisements are poorly conceived, non-sensical and just asking for parodies like the one below:

Coke, on the other hand, has increased the creativity in the 2009 advertisement campaign while still maintaining that sense of consistency. Take a look at the 2009 Coca-Cola Heist Superbowl ad:

I'm going to have to wait a year or so and see the progression of the Coke and Pepsi campaigns before I feel comfortable naming a winner.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Take Me Out to the Ballgame

Those of you who know me on a more personal level or follow me on Twitter @coconnell1 you might have noticed that I'm kind of in love with the St. Louis Cardinals -- alright, I'm pretty much obsessed. I grew up in baseball family and adored spending time with my Dad and older brother watching games. My love for the Birdinals has grown even more in the four years that I've lived in Chicago. I find that I am often surrounded by the enemy (aka Cubs fans) and need to know my stuff in order to properly talk smack to the bad guys.

I think every one's dream for their career is to have the opportunity to combine the things that you are good at with the things that you love. My dream project as a Communications major is to be assigned to the MLB account. Unfortunately, the Cardinals don't need much in terms of advertising. They have Pujols. That face and those stats are all that it takes to get fans to a game at Busch Stadium. St. Louis truly is a baseball town. Tickets will always sell, therefore the advertising efforts for the St. Louis Cardinals are fairly minimal.

I've realized the exact opposite is true for the Chicago Cubs and Chicago White Sox. This cross-town rivalry does not just exist on the field, but also in advertising.

The Chicago White Sox have developed an advertising campaign based around traditions for the 2009 season. For those of you who are not familiar with Chicago baseball, White Sox fans are generally blue-collar workers and South-siders for life. The 'White Sox Traditions' campaign successfully reaches their target audience. These advertisements emphasize the simple things that White Sox fans do to prove just how die-hard they really are.

As much as I hate to say anything good about the Chicago Cubs, I also feel as though they really nailed their 2009 advertising campaign. I came across a great Cubs advertisement back in early February when I was enjoying the lovely negative ten-degree wind chill that Chicago masters so well.

Baseball has always been that light at the end of the tunnel for me. With baseball season comes warm weather, barbecues, trips to the beach and street festivals. I saw the advertisement above and my mood was immediately elevated. I never knew that the Cubs were capable of cheering me up -- other than when they lose, of course. So, for one time only, I'm going to say kudos to the Cubs' advertising team for capturing just how truly miserable Chicago Winters are.