Cautiously Optimistic

Social media for better communication and a better life

I’d Buy That for a Dollar

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I suppose I’m one of the few Americans who actually likes the dollar coin. As a kid I was always fascinated with the John Kennedy half dollar coin. They seemed so huge, so important, that once I had one, I didn’t want to spend it, I wanted to keep it forever.

That seems to be the general problem with public acceptance of dollar coins now. Once you have one, you’re more likely to keep it than to spend it.

But I discovered some years ago, when the golden Sacajawea dollar coin was introduced, that instead of piling up in a Mason jar, the dollar coins they made handy tips at restaurants, and were perfect for the Sunday collection plate. Giving a golden coin or two just somehow felt better as a gift than wrinkled, worn paper dollars.

The Sacajawea coin was a bit more popular with the public than was the Susan B. Anthony coin, but since the Anthony coins were introduced to, and mostly rejected by, the public in the late 1970s, something changed: inflation.

The cost of parking and transit had risen in the intervening years to the point that it made more economic sense to use a dollar coin instead of a token for subway rides or parking-garage fees.

Dollar coinsLast night I was reminded of the literally “token” role that dollar coins play in parking and transit. I was leaving a parking garage downtown and only had a $20 bill to pay my $6 parking garage fee. To my delight and nostalgia, when I fed the $20 into the exit-gate machine, instead of paper money in the change window, out came tumbling $14 worth of those familiar silver and golden coins. The picture on the left is a selection of some of the coins I received.

It’s true that $14 in dollar coins is a lot heavier than paper money, but I think that’s OK. It’s a reminder that money literally and figuratively has weight in our society, and that we should think carefully how we spend it.

Follow me on Twitter at @charlesprimm.


Written by Charles Primm

November 9, 2012 at 12:16 pm

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Getting Nudged at the Gas Station

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A book I can highly recommend is “Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness” by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein. I even included a link to their blog on my blogroll.

I have to confess that I didn’t seek out the book on my own. Rather, I was assigned to write a book report about it in a consumer behavior class I took in grad school.

But boy was I glad I read it. The authors lay bare the ways that companies gently guide consumers to behave, and consume, in ways that are more profitable for them.

Nudges are not outright coercion, just subtle prompts that rely on mental inertia to do their work for them. is famous for nudging customers toward ordering at least $25 worth of merchandise in order to qualify for free shipping. You don’t have to; they’re just letting you know.

But once you’ve ordered the minimum in order to get free shipping, the checkout page nudges you toward paying the standard shipping fee. You have to actively select free shipping in order to get it. That’s how nudges work. They rely on people taking the path of least resistance.

Recently I was filling up the tank at a gas station and realized I was being nudged.

A nudge toward paying for premium gas.Note how the cartoon finger is pressing the button on the right (click to enlarge), which of course is where the super-premium gasoline is dispensed. I was free to press any button, but I bet that just enough folks take the path of least resistance and select the most expensive grade of gas. Why not? It’s so easy. But taking the path of least resistance is often the most costly path.

So stay aware of how companies “helpfully” suggest options, and remember that no one has your best interests at heart the way you do.

Written by Charles Primm

August 22, 2012 at 12:25 pm

There’s Famous, and Then There’s Infographic Famous

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It’s amazing to see the creativity at work lately in the area of infographics. As I’ve written before, this informational, educational art form has been around for a long time. But 2012 really seems to be the year when it caught fire.

PR Daily’s Anita Hovey recently listed some of the top infographics in the world of social media. Among the best was “Seven reasons to embrace online culture,” by J6 design. From “showing you are human” to “don’t ignore negative online reviews,” these are great tools to have in your toolkit if you find yourself having to convince the boss to include social media as part of your office’s overall public relations and marketing efforts.

But, since social media has empowered the “me” in all of us to an extent never before seen, my favorite infographic has to be “What About Me?” from Intel. This free online service mines your Facebook and Twitter feeds to create a custom infographic about little ol’ you.

Here’s mine. This is the thumbnail version, so click to see the larger version. Fascinating, huh? I think so, but then, that’s just me. And it can be you, too.

I’m not so sure it will make me famous, though, or even infographic famous. And maybe that shouldn’t even be my ultimate goal. I’m just happy looking at a graphically pleasing, informative display about the details of my online life, in a way that can help me be a better communicator and a better person.

Follow me on Twitter at @charlesprimm.

Written by Charles Primm

May 29, 2012 at 8:06 pm

For Good Communication, Less is More

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One of the best tips I ever got while working in radio journalism was to never forget the phrase “less is more.” After researching a story, interviewing an expert on the topic, editing the audio clips, and beginning to write, I felt a bit like an expert myself. That made it tough to choose which of my babies to kill. Figuratively, of course, as I worked to remove fifty percent of the excellent words I had just written, while keeping the central idea of the story. It’s not easy.

Turns out I was doing it backwards. This great article from Erika Andersen of Forbes via Lifehacker boils down the “less is more” concept to three central rules of clear communication:

  1. Listen. It’s the first and most important part of communicating. If you don’t know what the other person is saying or thinking, how can you effectively connect with them? You can’t.
  2. Cut to the chase. You absolutely must get to the point quickly and simply, or your audience will wander away. Every story should have a beginning and an end, so just get from A to Z without wasting a bunch of time on L-M-N-O-P.
  3. Read the room. Are the people you are speaking to yawning and checking their e-mails? Time to stop talking. Saying more words likely won’t make it better.

These rules may be hard to follow, but the results will be worth the effort.

Follow me on Twitter at @charlesprimm.

Written by Charles Primm

April 30, 2012 at 5:38 pm


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I began this blog in January 2012 because it was one of the requirements for a class I was taking in social media.

Like many of the other students in my class, I wondered if I could a) come up with enough content to fulfill the three-posts-a-week quota, and b) make it worth reading.

Now that I approach the end of the semester, and the end of the compulsory part of the blogging assignment, I hope I have achieved both goals.

It should come as no surprise to anyone reading this blog that social media has impacted virtually every method of communication and connection that humans have created. This widespread impact has happily provided me with more than a semester’s worth of things to talk about.

I use the word “talk” instead of “write” because the act of blogging has seemed less like writing and more like talking: it has been a conversation, sometimes with myself, but to my happy surprise, also a conversation with others who have been kind enough to share their comments.

The word “talk” is also appropriate because this blog has given me the chance to rediscover my love of producing audio podcasts. In the media relations office where I work, my days are filled with lots of interesting and challenging activities, but it has been a real treat to use the audio production skills I gained in a previous career in radio journalism and put them to use in a new way.

So this is not to say goodbye, merely to say “thanks” to all of my friends and family who have stopped by this small corner of the Internet.

My plan is to keep blogging, perhaps once a week, to do more audio podcasts, and to offer some fresh perspectives on what’s happening in the rapidly-changing world of communication. Can I do it? We’ll see, but as always, I remain cautiously optimistic.

Follow me on Twitter at @charlesprimm.

Written by Charles Primm

April 21, 2012 at 9:23 pm

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Facebook’s BranchOut App Turns Up the Heat on LinkedIn

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BranchOutMuch like McDonald’s old McDLT sandwich packaging tried to “keep the hot side hot and the cool side cool” by separating the fresh-off-the grill hamburger patty from the fresh-from-the fridge tomato and lettuce, social media users frequently try to keep their public identity and activities public and their private identity and activities private by using multiple social media platforms.

This desire to curate or control how our different publics see us is one of the reasons that career-oriented social media sites such as LinkedIn have flourished even as Facebook pursues its ambition to be the world’s one-stop social media destination.

Facebook’s response to upstart competitors usually takes one of two forms: it buys the company or it creates very similar functionality and then kills the competitor because of its huge existing user base that other sites or services cannot overcome.

We saw Facebook in buyout mode recently when it announced it was purchasing the photo retouching and sharing company Instagram. Now we may be seeing Facebook in “kill the competitor” mode with its launch of BranchOut, the professional networking app that draws data from existing Facebook profiles to connect people in similar industries.

This presents a danger for LinkedIn. Even though it had the “first-mover advantage” in growing the professional social media niche, the Facebook juggernaut has the ability to dwarf LinkedIn’s network, given time. This Mashable article by Sarah Kessler states that while BranchOut currently has only 25 million registered users, as compared to LinkedIn’s 150 million users, BranchOut has access to the full 845 million Facebook accounts around the world.

I would imagine that LinkedIn’s leadership team is working to avoid the fate of the McDLT, which was eventually discontinued along with its innovative packaging. Only time will tell if Facebook’s “all things to all people” recipe for success will win in the end.

Follow me on Twitter at @charlesprimm.

Written by Charles Primm

April 20, 2012 at 9:26 pm

Audio Podcast: Social Media and Crisis Communication

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Click here to listen to a podcast interview with Deanna Sellnow of the University of Kentucky. Sellnow discusses how governmental agencies are increasingly turning to social media to help communicate during a crisis. Download the file here.

Follow me on Twitter at @charlesprimm.

Written by Charles Primm

April 15, 2012 at 6:32 pm