April 14, 2009

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User Generated Content: Newsweek's Rabbi Rankings The exclusive online publication of Newsweek.com’s third annual list of the 50 Most Influential US Rabbis pushes a lot of buttons for me. Simultaneously captivating and gross, like a car wreck, it’s a great example of the power of user generated content to drive traffic and create controversy. This morbid fascination with rankings and horse races connects directly to our limbic brains; an evergreen way to capture attention. Like watching an accident, we are almost incapable of ignoring a ranking list no matter what it is or who compiled it. Even though this rump rotisserie rabbi league, conceived and continued by a handful of Jewish Hollywood types, unsettles anyone raised religiously on the notion that rabbis are learned, modest and ranked on piety rather than publicity. Our need to turn rabbis into rock stars, facilitated by Newsweek’s need for content, and probably better Hollywood access, drives this pre-Passover gift to the chosen people. You can just image these smart-alecks sitting around and talking rabbi trash talk, the way millions of kids talk about their baseball cards, their favorite teams or players and their rotisserie league line-ups. In some ways it’s a sin. In other ways, especially since I know a lot of the rabbis, it’s a guilty pleasure to dissect the list and the changes in rankings from year-to-year. I guess that’s what Newsweek is counting on. Ranked on eight criteria that read more like a shipping list for political candidates, highly ranked rabbi’s must be known, have political influence, media chops, be perceived as leaders and have sizable flocks. Ranks are influenced also if a rabbi has “made an impact on Judaism and made a ‘greater’ impact,” whatever that is, in the judgment of the Hollywood Ha-hamim (wise men). It’s either a testament to or a sad commentary on the evolution of the American Jewish community, from striving immigrants to well-heeled power brokers, that anyone even has the chutzpah to undertake this exercise. Nonetheless you can feel the influence of different players and denominations on this year’s list. The number one rabbi, David Saperstein, a DC-insider, is called out as a friend of Obama. Number two, down a notch from last year is Marvin Hier, of the Wiesenthal Center, the holocaust whisperer. Breaking onto the list for the first time at number 20 was Steve Gutow of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. The rabbis moving up the ranks the fastest represent dominant movements, probably slighted in previous years. Norman Lamm, Chancellor of Yeshiva University and leader of the modern orthodox jumped up 29 places from number 43 in 2008 to number 14 in 2009. I guess the rankers aren’t orthodox or underplay the role of the orthodox movement. The second biggest jump up was Stephen Pearce who leads reform Congregation Emanuel with 2700 families in San Francisco. And the third biggest jump was Michael Greenbaum, the COO of the Jewish Theological Seminary, fountainhead of conservative Judaism. I’m guessing they picked the number two guy because Arnie Eisen, the Chancellor, isn’t a rabbi. Also up significantly were rabbis involved in next generation activities. Author Joe Telushkin jumped 6 spots, as if they’ve just discovered all his books, as did Mark Charendoff, leader of the Jewish Funders Network, the next generation of big time donors. Efraim Buchwald of the National Jewish Outreach program went from number 44 to number 39 while the number two newcomer was Daniel Brenner of Birthright Next, the free program that introduces young people to Israel. Rabbis falling in rank also fell down along the ideological spectrum. The number one loser, down eighteen (chai) slots is the founder of the Jewish renewal movement Zalman Schacxter-Shalomi. Down 9 slots was Bradley Shavit Artson of the Ziegler School at the American Jewish University. Third down was orthodox rabbi Arthur Schneider of Park East Synagogue in New York, the rabbi who hosted the Pope Benedict; a lot of good it did him. Also down significantly was Eric Yoffe, leader of the reform movement, Sharon Kleinbaum, pioneering gay rabbi and Elliot Dorf, who leader of the law-making committee of the Conservative Rabbinic Assembly. You’ve got to wonder what these guys were thinking in making the list and how much lobbying, pressure and wheedling they are subject to. You can almost discern a liberal bias corrected or balanced to be as inclusive and politically correct as possible. But that’s the beauty of user-generated content launched into a social community. It creates, heat, engagement and guilty pleasure.
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A Twitter Sanity Check Twitter is the new black. Twitter is the answer. Twitter is the cure. Twitter is the Holy Grail. Twitter is everything. Twitter is Oprah, Ashton, Miley, Britney, Tiger and Shaq's favorite. Twitter is da bomb. Twitter brought about revolution in Moldavia. Twitter will solve the economic crisis. Twitter will save us from all that ails us. Twitter is it. Twitter is the one. Can Twitter be the second coming? Am I the only one who occasionally gets up from the keyboard? I suspect I'm not. If you're in the mood for a rant about Twitter check out edition #5 of Jaffe Juice TV. Twitter is the over-hyped flavor of the week; a micro-blogging site that allows anyone to type out 140 characters worth of thought and share it with the world. It has attracted 8 million users quickly and according to eMarketer is on track to jump to 18 million or 10 percent of all US Internet users by 2010. Though some believe that the huge traffic spikes in the wake of Ashton Kutcher's race with CNN and Oprah's televised tweeting will yield 10 million unique users. Soon users won't even have to use the key pad to participate. Greg Verdino reports that Adam Wilson at the University of Wisconsin at Madison has created a brain computer interface that enables hands free tweeting. You telepathically type your 140 characters to share with your following by thinking your post. According to an April 2009 survey of 423 Twitter users who are on the site 2.75 hours per day (per day?)conducted by MarketingSherpa found that people crave learning from their peers and yearn for information in a timely manner. We are a nation of news junkies, gossips and yentas fueled by bandwidth and new mobile techno-toys. The study also indicates that the emotional commitment of users is not much deeper than engagement at a cocktail party were expectations for reciprocal following, close listening, popularity and quick responses are minimal. Its about being where things are happening not about what you get out of the experience or building relationships. Twitter is transactional; quick bits easily digested. And yet inflated claims for Twitter's value as a business-building tool and communications channel seem to be endless in spite of the fact that there is little supporting data and just a few known cases of brands using Twitter to float new ideas or mitigate PR disasters. The Twitter cheering section rivals Ron Popeil's intensity. Twitter -- It dices. It slices. It juliennes. In real life the claims run the gamut from possible to sheer hype. Consider this short list. Twitter ... Enables instant dialogue; questions and responses Builds interactive relationships with customers, prospects and influencers Achieves real-time collaboration and innovation Creates an instantaneous feedback loop between brands and customers Personalizes brand-to-consumer 2-way communication Instills greater customer loyalty and brand preference Facilitates one-to-one and one-to-many messaging Generates buzz and enrolls brand loyalists as viral communicators Sells more products and services faster and cheaper Accelerates the two-way customer service process Becomes a brand's early-warning radar For marketers hearing the rising hue and cry, Twitter is attractive because its free, its easy and its fast. You can create a page and be up in two minutes. You can staff it simply and as Dave Fleet, points out you can engage in customer conversations very quickly and interact in real time. For firms anguished about social networks and seeking a strategy, Twitter is a quick free fix. As Liz Miller at the CMO Council says Twitter gets you into the social networking marketplace right away with minimal risk and no technical resources. A member of the "where there's smoke there's fire school of thought; she reasons that "there's a lot of tweeting doing on; and that has to be good for business." And she argues that brands can use Twitter to cue loyalists to spend money by reminding them of sales, deals and offers, update them on scores, developments and events or answer customer questions or quash rumors and misinformation. Is it any wonder, brands with recession-devastated budgets are grabbing onto to Twitter and testing out the possibilities? Data from Heather Hopkins Hitwise's analytical hottie indicates that post-Twitter traffic to search engines, social networks and free e-mail sites seeks to answer basic buying questions, look for more information on selected topics and share what they saw, read or heard with others. Its about learning and sharing. Heather argues that "Twitter's clickstream profile is much closer to a social network than...

Danny Flamberg

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