Archive for Nate Hubbell

M&A returns. Time to sell your T-Bills.

I am not an economist. So please don’t come screaming back at me if, after reading this you decided to drastically change your investment strategy and in three months time your portfolio doesn’t look like you’ve just won the lotto.

Because it won’t.

That said, there are some encouraging items in the news recently to indicate that our hobbled economy is at the very least beginning to stabilize. And, moreover, if you take a closer look, for certain industries it may already be back on the rise.

I am told that one of the indicators that an industry or economy is on its way out of a recession is that merger & acquisition activity begins to take off again. Basically, the companies that fared the best through the worst have taken a look around again and found they are in an advantageous position relative to many other companies, and that now would be a good time to buy while the market is still pretty cheap.

So I found it heartening, when, earlier this week I ran a query for the term “acquire” in Google News, and found quite a few items.  And from immediately recognizable names: Sanofi Aventis, General Steel, Cisco.

The hi-tech world has been a-buzz with the possible Sun-IBM merger.  This, of course, has now crashed and burned in spectacular style, but the thing to note here is that, at least it was being explored.  As a slight aside, I have to share the best e-mail subject line to hit my inbox this week – it came from VON Magazine, paraphrasing (I’m sure) the departing words between the two companies after negotiations fell through: “IBM to SUN: ‘Drop Dead’.” Priceless.

But more encouraging words came from NYT BITS columnist Claire Cain Miller, who reported that venture capitalists’ confidence is creeping back. Quoted in Claire’s piece is Mark V. Cannice, executive director of the University of San Francisco Entrepreneurship Program, who said that he doesn’t think an upward trend has begun yet, but that the economy in general seems to have broken its downward spiral.

The Telecom industry in particular seems to have kept moving along steadily, and M&A activity has also begun again.

Maybe don’t put all the cash you’ve squirreled away back into the market yet, but after a long winter, things do seem to be looking up.

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Twitter While You Drive?

onstar_twitter 

Image courtesty of Jalopnik.com

Several outlets are reporting that General Motors and Twitter are exploring partnership options that would integrate Twitter with GM’s OnStar system.

Technically, this is brilliant.  For many reasons.  Firstly, voice-to-text technology, like Microsoft’s SYNC (which has been available in Ford vehicles for some time now), is nothing new, but it took until fairly recently to get it to work properly.  So in terms of high-tech, if this is going to be able to translate speech onto a web-based application, we are right there.

Secondly, GM, if you haven’t heard, is in something of a bad way these days.  So tying themselves to something as popular and ubiquitous as Twitter may well help with brand recognition, and may even help sell a few more portly Escalades.

Thirdly, Twitter itself is quite excellent as a social media tool.  Capable, possibly, of having a new journalism format grow from it. We’ll even be launching a new section of PR Nonense to help guide newcomers through the process of gettinga active in the world of social media, and will include some great tools to help get started with Twitter.

GM’s OnStar system would allow Twitter users to update their “what are you doing,” sections simply by pressing the button and talking.  No doubt there are some kinks to be worked out as, with only a limited number of characters allowed for each tweet, pronunciation-to-spelling accuracy would become essential:

You want to say: “Goin 2 the Sox game 2nite. Beckett’s hurlin Ks”

But you tweet: “Going to the socks game tonight. Becketts her linkays”

What is a linkay?

So, beyond the obvious reasons of accuracy in what a person is trying to say, the system appears to be quite simple to use. But I wonder – should we consider driving-while-tweeting a social media “do” or a “don’t?”

I have to admit, as one of those people who likes cars and enjoys driving (wait, why are you all backing away slowly?), my first thought was that this might be just one step too far.  I mean, technically, it’s hands-free, so no state or potential federal law would prohibit use of the service while driving.   Most of us can still legally talk on our phones while driving, and most of us still do.  Myself included. But I try to avoid it, and lots of people would tell you to do the same.

So, I can’t help but think that this might be another unecessary distraction from the more-immediately important job at hand.

It kind of reminds me of Scene 34 from the timeless classic Monty Python and The Holy Grail when the knights find Joseph of Aremathea’s writings on the cave wall:

KNIGHT:  What does it say?
  MAYNARD:  It reads, ‘Here may be found the last words of Joseph of
      Aramathea.  He who is valiant and pure of spirit may find the Holy Grail
      in the Castle of uuggggggh’.
  ARTHUR:  What?
  MAYNARD: ‘… the Castle of uuggggggh’.
  BEDEMIR:  What is that?
  MAYNARD:  He must have died while carving it.
  LAUNCELOT:  Oh, come on!
  MAYNARD:  Well, that’s what it says.
  ARTHUR:  Look, if he was dying, he wouldn’t bother to carve ‘aaggggh’.
      He’d just say it!
  MAYNARD:  Well, that’s what’s carved in the rock!
  GALAHAD:  Perhaps he was dictating.

Perhaps he was. What do you think?  To tweet-while-you drive, or not to tweet-while-you-drive?

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90,000 Sign-In For First Online Presidential Town Hall

CNN is reporting that more than 90,000 web users sent in questions to President Obama during his online town-hall meeting, which started today at 11:30am EST on the whitehouse.gov website.

That’s a lot.

It’s no secret that part of the Obama team’s success during the campaign was their proficiency with online and social media platforms to reach a key demographic of the voting population.

Regardless of the surmised habits of at least a portion of said demographic (“Obama answered seven of the most popular questions, according to a CNN tally. That includes those from several people who asked if legalizing marijuana would improve the economy.”), the huge turnout  in such a short time period is indicative of how active the online community has become.

As one of the many, many people who spend most of their day connected in one way or another to the web, I for one am quite happy to see that both the government and the people of this country are finding a way to get more involved in their government.

I think this is profound, though, for a much more important reason than the fact that the White House has (finally) become a member of the worldwide online community, and that clearly so many people have been waiting for it to happen.  

Short of an enormous (and logistically-nightmarish) conference call, the web is really the only way that issues relevant to people in Atlanta could be given the same opportunity to be heard as those important to people in San Francisco.  Mainers and Minnesotans, Californians and Carolinians (I think I butchered that), Nevadans and Nebraskans, all got an equal chance to share their thoughts.

There has been a feeling for some time that the web could be a great equalizer. It might not be there yet, but this seems like a step in the right direction.

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Sun, Snow and Scary Chairlifts

 

Snowbird Resort, Little Cottonwood Canyon, Utah

Snowbird Resort, Little Cottonwood Canyon, Utah

A couple weeks ago I had the fortune to return to one of my very favorite places: Little Cottonwood Canyon, just outside Salt Lake City, Utah.

Little Cottonwood is home to some of the best – and indeed, most plentiful – snow in the world, and a few close friends, along with me and my Dad, made the trip out for a week of skiing.

It had been 10 years, almost to the day, since I had last visited the Snowbird and Alta ski areas. Some things had changed, but largely, it was everything I had remembered it being: laid back, lots of snow, and lots of sun.

It was a great week, and we had some real excitement during the trip.

Thursday morning we awoke to the sound of gunfire, as avalanche cannon crews cleared dangerous spots on the mountains after a 12″ overnight snowfall (a regular occurrence in those parts).  The New York Times actually published a story yesterday about the dying art of the avalanche crews in the canyon.  Scary-sized ordinance aside, it is actually quite amazing what they do. The natives must be used to it, but there is nothing quite like the sliding glass doors of your hotel room wobbling and reverberating, distorting your view of the outdoors, as you sip your morning coffee.

But the real fun was the day before, when reported 70-90 mph winds were lashing the 11,000 foot summit of Snowbird.  The hurricane-force winds shut down the wonderful Snowbird tram that carries 125 people from base to summit in 8 minutes, which meant myself and 3 of my friends would have to take the regular chairlift up the slopes.  About three quarters of the way up, we made the evening news.  Apparently an empty chair had been blown 90 degrees sideways just before going through the unload station at the top and totally messed up the entire lift.  We were stuck, along with many other poor souls, hanging about 30-40 feet off the ground for about an hour before Ski Patrol teams could “evacuate” us from the lift.  If you’ve ever been rock-climbing or had the fortune to use an old-school Poma-lift when skiing, combine the two, and you can begin to get an idea of how they get you off the thing.

It was a great week, and I hope the ski season isn’t done yet.

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A Seat At The Big Kids’ Table

If you’ve been left debating whether online social networks and blogs are really here to stay or not, debate no longer and have a gander at Nielsen Online’s latest report: social networks and blogs are now more popular than email.

No more vinyl placemats and sippie-cups for this crowd – bring on the linen and fine china.

According to the “Global Faces and Networked Places” report, online social networking now accounts for 1 out of every 11 minutes spent online globally, and ranks fourth in time spent online behind search, portals and PC software. And it is, indeed, quite the global phenomenon.  Brazil boasted the highest market penetration for use of online social networking sites (80%), Germany saw the greatest relative  increase in penetration of site use (39%), and the number of people in the US who access social networking sites via their mobile handsets increased by a wacky 156% over the previous year.

But perhaps the most important statistic is that the biggest increase in visitors to these sites globally during 2008 was from 35-49 year olds.  That’s right, it’s not just college students and twenty-somethings anymore; the big kids have joined the party, too.

We’ve certainly seen the uptick (more of tidal wave, really) in interest:  LinkedIn’s questions and answer section has more and more technology professionals posing and responding to questions,  creating new PR opportunities and furthering relationships.  Twitter has become a favorite tool around the office, and now rumors are circulating that Google may buy them (another small step toward world domination). Many companies are embarking on full-scale social media PR campaigns, with a large focus put on actively participating in online communities, blogs and forums where they can offer insightful, expert opinion or advice.

If you’re now done debating their validity and feel like joining the social networking party (yes, cake will be served), though, it’s important to remember  that social networks and blogs are inherently active and personal things.  They reward participation and genuine interest in the themes of the particular community.  

Perhaps it is telling, then, that while the Nielsen report also included recommendations for how advertisers can best engage audiences through social networking, the word ‘false’ was the most commonly associated term with advertising in social networking circles online.

Just as social networks and blogs have come of age, so must the way companies approach and participate in these communities.  Passive forms of involvement, like advertising, have obvious shortfalls, but showing a genuine interest – answering and asking questions, posting ideas, responding to issues – will produce positive results.

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