Words We Want to Know More About

Nothing scientific here, but the president of Merriam-Webster announced "austerity" as the Word of the Year for 2010 with more than 250,000 online searches for its meaning.

Other words drawing large search numbers were pragmatic, moratorium, socialism, bigot and voluptuous. The unlisted author of this report in a popular communications newsletter noted: "The frequency of searches for these words highlights not only what caught readers’ attention but also their limited vocabulary."

Directly from the newsletter are the top five most frequently searched words over time (I’m sharing this directly to provide the authors’ witty comments in parentheses):

  • Pretentious (extremely appropos in an age of Facebook fiction)
  • Ubiquitious (a favorite in high school vocabulary lists)
  • Love (no one understands that from reading a definition)
  • Cynical (the way I’m feeling about American education right now)
  • Apathetic (the way most people feel about developing a decent vocabulary)

It’s some comfort that thousands of definition-deficient people bothered to look the words up.

EPA Plans Could Mean Huge Energy Cost Increases

The U.S. Senate is likely to vote this week on a measure from Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell to stop the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gases as pollutants. Some argue it will be among the most important environmental votes of this decade. The Weekly Standard contends:

The regulation of greenhouses under the Clean Air Act was triggered by EPA’s determination that such gases pose a danger to human health. This is not because they actually pose any danger to human health, like real pollutants, but rather because their accumulation in the upper atmosphere could contribute to “dangerous warming” by 2050. Carbon dioxide is a ubiquitous product of all economic activity and of everything that breathes.

Giving EPA the power to regulate it is tantamount to letting it control virtually the whole economy. And unlike other pollutants, no effective, commercially practicable control technology exists. Where economic activity is found to produce too much CO2 for EPA standards, that activity will simply have to stop. Hidden deep inside thousands of pages of technocratic jargon is a fact that should focus the attention of everybody.  If not stopped this week, EPA’s regulation of greenhouse gases risks an economic catastrophe.

According to some estimates, just in the next two years the new regulations could cost 1.4 million jobs and decrease U.S. business investment by 15 percent. One study estimates that GDP will be half a trillion dollars less by 2030.  Another concluded the cost of gasoline will rise by 50 percent, electricity by 50 percent, and natural gas by 75 percent over the next 20 years. Transportation costs are the primary variable in food prices – so food prices will be affected. Low income Americans, who are particularly vulnerable to spikes in energy and food prices, will be hardest hit.

Earlier in the week, we released an Action Alert stating If the EPA moves forward as it plans, dramatic increases in energy costs are just around the corner. Even the EPA admits to huge energy cost increases. It has been estimated that the EPA’s greenhouse gas regulations could reduce business investment between $97 and $290 billion in 2011 and as much as $309 billion in 2014. EPA’s own records indicate that permitting provisions alone will cost applicants $125,000 and 866 hours of burden per facility.

Currently, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is pushing forward with its plans to regulate and penalize carbon emissions under the Clean Air Act. The EPA has admitted that regulating greenhouse gases under the Act would subject the business community to an onerous and costly process that will see costs skyrocket. The McConnell Amendment seeks to stop the EPA from moving forward with this process and allow Congress to address the issue.

Congress should pursue common-sense solutions to address greenhouse gas emissions, not to allow the EPA to charge forward with a seriously-flawed, job-killing regulatory strategy.

Advocate Calls for Taxpayer Receipts

Do you know where your federal and state tax dollars go? Not too many Americans do. One man wants to change that by having the IRS (and state tax departments) send out a receipt with your tax return — letting you know just how your dollars were used. California, of all places, appears to be ahead of the curve. Governing has the story:

As Americans spend the next three weeks rushing to file their income taxes before the April 18 deadline, most will likely come to the realization that the amount they paid the federal government is greater than any other purchase they made that year. There’s a good chance their state income taxes will rank high on the list too.

Although each taxpayer transfers thousands of dollars to the federal and state government, they’ll get nothing to show for it. Sure — there’s roads, education programs, a standing military and things like that. But they don’t get a tangible piece of paper that comes with nearly every other purchase, large or small: an itemized receipt.

David Kendall, a fellow at the think tank Third Way, hopes to change that. He’s urged the IRS to send Americans an itemized receipt breaking down how much of their money funded various activities like defense, education and low-income assistance, and he says state tax departments should consider doing the same thing.

His organization already has already created a web-based tool that anyone can use to make the calculations, but he wants the IRS to automatically mail out individualized data…

So far, California appears to be the only state that’s doing anything like that. Residents can visit the state tax board’s website, enter the amount they paid in state income taxes and find out just what their money bought.

For example, a single person living in California earning $50,00 would pay $2,485 in taxes. Of that:

•$747.49 paid for health and human services for at-risk Californians
•$730.84 funded K through 12 education
•$250.49 went toward higher education

California’ receipt calculator — similar to the federal one posted on Third Way’s website — isn’t tremendously complicated. Each calculates a spending item’s percentage of the overall budget, and then multiplies that by an individual’s tax burden. It’s relatively simple stuff. But Kendall says it’s a powerful tool, and the IRS and states should consider automatically mailing those receipts to taxpayers every year.

For starters, it would help increase civic engagement and contribute to a meaningful debate about taxes spending. It could also help with tax compliance.

“Some people don’t feel like they’re getting good value for their money,” Kendall tells Governing. “It’s just one more reason not to comply.” Giving taxpayers a receipt would show them that their money, is in fact, funding specific activities and may make the payments matter more to citizens.

Results Available; New Poll Seeks ‘Loser’

We’ve been asking you poll questions related to this year’s legislative session, but not reporting back on the final results. What’s up with that? I could offer a variety of excuses, but none would really suffice.

Below are the outcomes of your votes. We’ll do better in the future. And check out the current poll, which asks you to select the "loser" as the result of the recently concluded House Democrat walkout.

  • Do you support an Arizona-style immigration law for Indiana? 53% yes; 47% no
  • Should the responsibilities of Indiana townships be transferred to the county level? 68% yes; 32% no
  • Did you support House Democrats leaving the state in an attempt to kill legislation they opposed? 75% no; 25% yes
  • Do you believe that K-12 education dollars should follow the child — allowing parents to send their children to the school of their choice? 64% yes; 36% no
  • And last week we asked: How do you think this legislative session will end? Gov. Daniels calls special session(s), 47%; Democrats return at end to vote on budget, 29%; key bills revised and House Democrats return, 12%; and Other, 12%

That special session could — but hopefully not — still come into play. As we’ve said multiple times, it’s time for legislators to complete the job they were elected to do.

Facebook Measurements: One More Piece of a Complicated Puzzle

Raise your hand if you’re satisfied with your company’s/organization’s number of Facebook fans. Yeah, I’m not either. But here is some advice you may find encouraging — mainly that the totality of fans may not be the greatest indicator of impact, so you shouldn’t be so disappointed about it. Besides, there are so many other terrible things in life to be disappointed about, anyhow. (I think Tony Robbins originally said that. No?) Regardless, Ragan’s PR Daily asserts:

Here are five reasons (number of fans) should not be used to measure social media success:

1. They are not a measure of impressions. Measuring impressions has been described as an old-fashion metric, but counting fans isn’t even that. Hypebot recently released a study showing that one in a hundred fans “liked” brand updates. Worst yet, previous studies showed that 1 in 500 brand updates reached their targets.

2. They are not a measure of advocacy. According to eMarketer, research shows that Facebook fans are not more likely to buy from the brand after becoming a fan. In that research, the top two reasons to become a fan are “to receive discounts” and “I am an existing customer.”

3. They are not a measure of engagement. On any given update, Coca-Cola receives about 5,000 “likes” and comments; Justin Bieber averages 30,000 “likes.” If you’ll recall, Bieber has about 23 million fewer fans than Coke.

4. They are not tied to a particular objective. The Barcelona Principles of Measurement place “Goal Setting and Measurement” at the very top of the list. Unless your business objective is to obtain fans, measuring fans is not the way to go.

5. A small fan base is fine if it’s active. Don’t beat yourself up if your page has a small number of fans. If your fans are engaging with you and responding to your updates in the way you are hoping for, you are doing fine.

This is not to say that a Facebook Fan page is not a good tool for marketing or corporate reputation management. But in 99 percent of cases, there are better ways to measure you’re success on Facebook.

They include:

•Measuring click-throughs. If your Facebook updates links to your online properties—for instance, a news release, a landing page, an online brochure, an article—the click-through rate will tell you how many fans read it. While this isn’t the ultimate in PR measurement, it at least tells you how many fans did what you expected of them.

•Measuring feedback. This will tell you the quality of your engagement. Not only does it show how many fans saw your update and reacted to it, but it also tells you how many are likely to receive future updates from you.

•Monitoring global discussion volume and sentiment on your page. This practice will give you valuable information on your brand’s advocacy and reputation. It will also detect crises or opportunities as they emerge.

It’s About Time; Now Get the Job Done

In a tribute to Abraham Lincoln — that Gettysburg Address, after all, was just over two minutes long — we’re going to be short and to the point on the end of the Statehouse walkout.

Who won? Don’t care. Although both sides will claim victories and the media will undoubtedly overanalyze the question.

Was it the right move by the House Democrats? We care a little more about this one than the previous question, but not much. At least not right now, although a move to prevent future such actions would be something good to look at.

What do we care about? Legislators going back to work, putting aside their differences and doing the job they were elected to do. There are too many important issues at stake. Sure, that starts with education policies that focus on the students in the schools, not the adults in the system. But it also includes plenty of jobs and economic growth legislation (part of the Chamber agenda to benefit all Hoosiers) that was caught in the crossfire and still may ultimately fall victim to a lack of time.

Lawmakers lost five weeks in which little was accomplished. They have less than five weeks remaining to reverse course and get the job done to the highest level of their abilities. That’s what truly matters. Let the work begin again.

Food Inflation Could Reach 4% in U.S.

Personally, I eat more beef than Dr. Atkins trapped in a meat locker, so this is not encouraging news from Businessweek. But it’s news nonetheless, especially considering Indiana’s strong ties to the pork industry:

U.S. food costs will rise 3 percent to 4 percent this year, unchanged from February’s estimate, according to the Department of Agriculture. The increase would be the fastest since 2008.

Forecasts were raised for meat, eggs, vegetables and fats and oils. Prices for pork may climb as much as 7 percent, the biggest gain in any category, the USDA said today in a report. The department also raised its projection for food consumed at home by 0.5 percentage point, to a range of 3.5 to 4.5 percent.

“Recent food-commodity price increases, along with grocery-store price increases over the past few months,” have pushed up forecasts, Ephraim Leibtag, a USDA economist, said in a note accompanying the report.

Global food prices rose 25 percent last year and set a record last month, according to the United Nations. Riots prompted partly by rising costs have toppled governments in Egypt and Tunisia and contributed to unrest in other parts of northern Africa and the Middle East.

Expenses likely will continue to rise this year because of higher oil prices and smaller harvests, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization said March 9.

Charter Schools Bill Amended & Approved

The following is an update on HB 1002, regarding charter schools:

Authors: Speaker Brian Bosma (R-Indianapolis), Rep. Bob Behning (R-Indianapolis), Rep. Mary Ann Sullivan (D-Indianapolis) and Rep. Cindy Noe (R-Indianapolis)
Sponsor: Sen. Dennis Kruse (R-Auburn)

Summary: Allows private universities to serve as charter school authorizers.  Creates the Indiana Charter School Board to serve as a statewide authorizer. (Continues authorizing authority for state universities and the Indianapolis mayor.) Makes unused and underutilized public school facilities available for charter school use. Eliminates limits on charter schools approved by the Indianapolis mayor and on virtual charter schools. Increases funding for virtual charter schools from 80% of average state tuition support to 85%. Cancels interest payments on loans from the state that charter schools have acquired as the result of delayed tuition payments. Makes additional changes. 

Chamber Position: Support
Status: The Senate Appropriations Committee made additional changes this week that would increase funding for virtual charter schools to 85% of the state average rather than 90%, as proposed originally. Additional amendments were made to adjust how charter schools receive first semester funds (an ongoing concern that has caused charter schools to incur substantial operating loans) and to improve accountability for charter schools. The committee approved the amended bill on an 8-2 vote, with Sen. Earline Rogers (D-Gary) and Sen. Karen Tallian (D-Portage) joining Republicans in support of the bill; it is now eligible for consideration by the full Senate. 

Update/Chamber Action:  The Indiana Chamber continued to work much of this week in helping to develop an accountability component for charter school authorizers that would raise performance expectations without putting charter schools at risk of future political swings. We believe that the amendment adopted this week accomplishes that balance. As the bill continues to progress, we join Speaker Bosma, the author of this bill, in wanting to see the triggers for conversion charter schools improved. Those triggers, we believe, should focus on some super-majority of parents in the school, rather than a focus on teachers who often do not live in the school boundaries, do not send children to the school and do not pay taxes in the district. We also note some continuing frustration with a small minority of legislators who remain unwilling to acknowledge that charter schools are public schools and who continue to portray these schools as siphoning funds from "real" public schools.  Nonetheless, we continue to be pleased that this substantial bill is progressing and will continue to work with legislative leaders, the Indiana Department of Education and other charter school supporters to continue improving and advancing the bill. 

Living in a Global World: International Center Expands Reach

Imagine the lyrics to Madonna’s “Material World,” and insert “global” where the word “material” usually goes. Truly, “we are living in a global world” – and Indiana is a global partner.

The International Center, formerly known as the International Center of Indianapolis, knows all about that fact and revealed its new brand and another major development during its annual meeting this morning at the Conrad Hotel downtown.

The center, a non-profit organization established in 1973, is now working to serve as a “catalyst for a global Indiana,” essentially extending its reach statewide. Simple and sophisticated, the new logo focuses on the letters INTL CTR. With the name and design changes also comes a new website: internationalcenter.org.

During the meeting, International Center Board Chair Rajan Gajaria, from Dow AgroSciences, spoke to the crowd about how the brand gives the center some new areas to focus on – aggressive growth, both geographically and in types of segments catered to; outreach and education of what the center does; and the ability to serve as a catalyst for Indiana’s growth in the global scheme.

Hoosier companies and individuals across the state, not just in Indianapolis, have worked to become global partners, noted Gerry Dick of Inside INdiana Business (who served as emcee for the event), calling it part of the “evolution of Indiana’s ties to the world markets.”

While the center’s brand is now focused statewide, CEO Diane Thomas also strengthened the partnership with the City of Indianapolis by signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) – essentially establishing a formal relationship – with Mayor Greg Ballard. While the partnership between the center and the city has grown over the past three years, the agreement reinforces that bond.

“This agreement will strengthen our ability to carry out our shared objectives of increasing the visibility of Indianapolis as an attractive destination for international development, international diplomacy and international exchange and making Indianapolis more competitive in the world marketplace,” stated Ballard in a press release. 

The International Center will assist the city with support services in three areas: protocol and visiting delegation services, the Sister City program and through the Consular Corps service.

“This is so important for the future of Indianapolis,” Ballard told the audience.

For more information on the International Center, visit the web site. To view the MOU, visit http://www.indy.gov/eGov/Mayor/pressroom/2011/Pages/January-march2011.aspx.

Don’t Make PR Mistakes on Social Media

The Ragan’s Daily Headlines newsletter featured a topic today that resonates with all businesses who are trying to use social media — and do it the right way. The author, Priya Ramesh, identifies some key mistakes PR pros often make. I think #1 is definitely something to keep in mind:

This post is not meant as part of the ongoing bloggers versus PR debate. (I do think, though, that some of the best bloggers and social media pundits are those who have a strong PR/communications foundation.)

Some industry peers have been very vocal about social media being dead, some want to believe that corporate America is well past phase one of social engagement. My dear social media enthusiasts, look around and you will see a huge gap between those who get it and those who only think they get it.

If your organization is engaged on social media, please make sure you are not doing the following:

1. Repurposing press releases for Facebook and Twitter. As PR pros we think that social media integration is taking a boring press release and converting the headline into a tweet or Facebook update. Please stop. It’s a sure way to turn your friends and followers off. Instead draw your target audience to the announcement by asking them a question on the topic or pull out a stat or text bite that’s sure to get people to click on your URL.

2. Maintaining a formal, businesslike tone on social networks. Realize that those in your target audience have an attention span of 10 seconds, and then craft your Twitter, Facebook, or blog content accordingly. The voice you maintain in an annual report, during a board meeting or quarterly stockholders’ call is not going to cut it in the social sphere.

I am not asking you to sound like a hipster if you represent a financial services company. Yes, you need to maintain your brand image but come on, engage. Step away from that “push” mechanism of sending tweets and updates. and instead “pull” your customers into a conversation by asking them what’s on their minds. It’s OK to show a little personality.

3. Using social media to broadcast and not to get feedback. The beauty of social media lies in feeling your customers’ pulse in real time and using that valuable feedback to define your future steps. Features like the Facebook poll can be used weekly to ask a question or get your community’s reaction to a future product release. A tweet chat with your customers can result in ways to improve your customer service on Twitter.

Let’s get away from the “I am a PR manager, so my role is only to send messages” mindset. Instead, let’s get our hands dirty asking some tough questions to our online audience. You spent all that money and resources to get people to follow you online, now leverage their feedback to deliver what they truly care about.

4. Treating social media as a one-person job within PR/marketing. If you still think social media is a job for your junior executive who happens to love new technology, you have totally missed a social media opportunity. Moving forward, every PR and marketing professional will be expected to have a basic knowledge and understanding of how social media functions.

I am not saying the VP of communications must take the time to tweet every few hours a day, but you need to encourage every member of your team to practice social media. I am startled at how just one person is tasked with engagement activities across multiple levels for an organization that has the capacity to spend millions of dollars on advertising!

 5. Joining the shiny-object bandwagon without a strategy. Scott Stratten of “Unmarketing” fame summarized it well: “Let’s just get Web 1.0 right first, and then we can talk about Web 2.0.” Have you put enough time and resources on the three most essential social tools: Facebook, Twitter and YouTube? Have you increased SEO with your blog? Do you see an incremental increase in your following and engagement activities (comments, shares, likes)?

Let’s first focus on why we got started on social media and align those goals with our social media strategy. Then we can start considering the 101 new apps and tools that get introduced daily.

This is not a rant against my PR colleagues, but a few reminders to help us become better communicators.