Going up

June 1, 2010

Johnson’s World by Steve Johnson

I was standing in an elevator in commercial printer Rider Dickerson's old building on Chicago's Printers Row, in recent history. As I recall, that building was about 100 feet wide by 150 feet deep by 12 stories high. The freight elevator must have been a department on their scheduling board.

Rider Dickerson is no longer on Printers Row, having moved when they acquired their newest press. I think it was cheaper to move the company than to pay riggers to lift a new 6-color through the tenth-floor window.

So there I was with Julie Shaffer, premedia guru and digital technologist. As both of us are obsessed with graphic communications, it was only natural that we began discussing perception of color, and the way in which color influences our opinions.

“What on earth made you decide to go blonde?” I asked in my debonair style, mixing just the right amount of tact with my characteristic subtlety.

This line of conversation went nowhere, so I deftly moved to a less controversial subject: social media. This topic has been talked to death by now, but back then it was a brandnew phenomenon.

Julie was my very first friend on Facebook, and I hers. This was when Facebook had just stopped limiting usage to college students. Facebook was an alsoran to MySpace and had no real standing in the business world.

We talked about Twitter, which was a new startup, and both of us admitted that we didn't understand the appeal.

Talk turned to YouTube, the Internet video hosting site, and to the emerging theory of viral marketing. “Have you seen Warren Werbitt's video?” asked Julie. “He's a Canadian printer whose ‘I Love Printing’ has gone viral on YouTube.”

For those of you who aren't familiar with the idea of viral marketing, here's a simple explanation of a simple concept.

Someone likes something, so they tell others. It has been this way since the world began. For thousands of years, we could only tell a few people at a time.

Now, we can post and tweet our “likes” on internet social sites, where this information is instantly viewed by hundreds or thousands of our friends and followers. Each of them, if they so choose, may pass our information along to their friends with one click.

Reaching millions of people in a matter of hours is not only possible, but downright easy. Information spreads like a virus, hence the term viral marketing.

The only catch: Money can't buy this publicity. Your news or opinion must be of genuine interest to others or they won't bother to pass it along.

Mr. Werbitt's 3-minute video (actually titled “Printing's Alive,” www.youtube.com/watch?v=VpAuDrs5ocg) has had more than 200,000 views in two years, an extraordinary accomplishment considering the subject matter. (Warning: The language in the video is quite rough. Avoid this video if you are offended by foul language.)

Social media marketing experts say that he did everything right. He created a piece well suited to the medium. YouTube viewers favor a rough, homemade look over slickly produced pieces.

He kept his message short and raw, and he posted it where it could be easily passed along.

Word got out. In a world where some say printing is on the decline, Warren Werbitt (and his company Pazazz Printing) became something of a celebrity.

Boy, have things changed in just a couple of years.

Julie Shaffer has just finished writing (with Mary Garnett) “The Social Media Primer,” which should be hitting the bookstores right about now. Facebook has surpassed MySpace as the western world's premier social network, and has made many structural changes to support and encourage usage by businesses.

Twitter has exploded into the online phenomenon of 2010.

And Warren Werbitt's Montrealbased Pazazz Printing has filed for protection from its creditors under Canada's “Companies' Creditor Arrangement Act” (CCAA).

In Johnson's World, every story has a moral. Sometimes several.

Are you active or feeling pressured to become active on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn? Do you have a social marketing plan?

Werbitt created interest with an edgy, in-your-face video livening up a dry subject. Simply tweeting “1M Eps $29.95!!” won't generate much interest. The object is to go viral; to get interesting information out to those who should and will be interested.

Second, if you go viral, what is your desired result? If Werbitt's goal was to become a printing rock star, it worked. If his goal was to sell printing, his success is less evident.

Even rock stars need to ask for the order.