Can a Country Create a “Customer Experience”?

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In 2012, Puerto Rico enacted law 22, or the Individual Investors Tax Act, in an effort to bring high net worth individuals to the island. The goal is to have them invest in the local economy and help pull it out of it’s 8-year and counting recession. The law creates a tax haven for investors and traders, once they become bona fide residents, by allowing them a 100% tax exemption on all dividends, interest and short-term and long-term capital gains on income earned in Puerto Rico.

To date, about 300 individuals have taken advantage of the law and have moved lock, stock and barrel to Puerto Rico. The average net worth of these individuals is roughly $7 million, although there are one or two billionaires in there. So if you invite a whole bunch of wealthy people to upend their comfortable lives and help you re-start your economy, what can a country do to ensure a positive customer experience? Because that is what these migrants essentially are: customers.

This type of customer is every entity’s dream. And their nightmare. Yes, this customer has more money than they know what to do with. But because of precisely that, they may be the hardest customer to keep happy.

All kinds of companies have stepped up to the plate to assure the newly minted Puerto Ricans that they can replicate their lives here. Sotheby’s opened a real estate office here. Government officials set up a conference to educate them about private schools, recreational activities, the arts and philanthropic opportunities. Beachside towns, such as Dorado, have pulled out all the stops to lure the island’s latest immigrants to their communities. The settler’s themselves have set up their own non-profit organization, The 20/22 Act Society, to foster a sense of community amongst other individuals and entities coming to PR for the tax incentives.

Will the government’s experiment to bring in a few hundred millionaires have a significant impact on the Puerto Rican economy? Will they be able to provide their new found citizens with the kind of “customer experience” that will help them adapt and flourish? They may have come here for the tax breaks, but how much of their lifestyle are they willing to give up in return? Only time will tell.

A significant part of the equation will depend on how happy they are living their lives here.  The government can try very hard to entice them to remain in Puerto Rico by cutting their tax burden. Still, there’s that old “money can’t buy happiness thing”. And in the end, if they aren’t happy, they might just start remembering the words of Benjamin Franklin, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”

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If You Tweet It, They Will Come

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I’ll readily admit that when I started taking a class in Social Media Marketing, I was not a huge fan of Twitter.  I understand why people use Facebook. I even get Instagram. But I wasn’t quite convinced about the redeeming qualities of Twitter.  I mean, why follow someone 140 characters at a time?  Can there really be any substance in the clipped and transient messages this platform affords?

Tasked with writing about the most influential people in Puerto Rico on Twitter, I reluctantly set out to see who these people were, what they had to say and why they were being followed.

According to the Buena Vibra Group‘s research on the top Puerto Rican Twitter influencers in 2013, the most influential of all is Residente C13 — one half of the Puerto Rican band Calle 13.  They have won 2 Grammys, 19 Latin Grammy Awards and are currently nominated for another 9 Latin Grammy Awards. Residente C13 has 5.2 million followers on Twitter.  Conversely, the other half of the group — Visitante — has only 420,000 followers (to be fair, Residente’s Twitter feed is designated as the “official” one for the group).

Residente

So why are they so influential on social media?  As pointed out in an NPR article, they are one of the “most beloved and hated bands in the Spanish-speaking world”.  They are politically outspoken — they were banned from performing in San Juan for 3 years after insulting the governor of Puerto Rico during a live awards show.  They have been reviled by some for their deeply raunchy and explicit lyrics.

However, they have also been highly successful in transcending musical genres and social norms. The title track of their newest  album, Multi_Viral, is a denunciation of corporate, media and government propaganda. Julian Assange, the infamous Wikileaks founder and international fugitive, makes a spoken word appearance (they traveled to London, with help from the President of Ecuador, to record his part at the Ecuadorean Embassy there). The video for another song from this album, “Adentro”, has the likes of baseball great Willie Mays handing one of his signed bats over to Residente, which he then uses to smash a Maserati filled with guns and gold jewelry.  This album also includes performances by Native American singer Vernon Foster, Cuban songwriter Silvio Rodríguez, and renowned Uruguayan author Eduardo Galeano.

The second and third most influential personalities on Twitter, respectively, are Molusco and Angelique Burgos (La Burbu). They are also each one-half of the radio team “El Goldo y la Pelúa“, the number one rated weekday radio program. Roughly translated, “El Goldo” is The Fat One (Molusco) and “la Pelúa” is The Hairy One (La Burbu). Their radio program discusses the concerns of daily life in Puerto Rico, both social and political, with a tone which is both irreverent and humorous.

El Goldo y la Pelúa

When asked recently why he is so influential on social networks, Molusco gave the following response:  “I humanize the social networks, because I manage my own accounts and I try to respond to my fans. On my feeds, there is always something happening and they follow me to keep laughing, because the country is fed up with so much bad news and people are looking for a way to distract themselves from it”.

What they have in common is easy — Residente, Molusco and La Burbu all touch on the political and social issues that affect Puerto Rican society. While they differ in style, their intent is similar.

Residente takes no prisoners.  He is a maverick, like many of the people who collaborate with him on his albums. He is honest, and through his music, he fights unapologetically for what he thinks is right. People follow him on social networks because he speaks out over social injustices here in Puerto Rico and around the world.

Molusco and La Burbu talk about the many of the same issues as Residente, but they do it in a less judgmental, more entertaining way. They win our heart with their jokes, making light of our shared struggles.  It’s topical, yet light-hearted.

Residente’s is somewhat dark and existential, Molusco and La Burbu are light and pragmatic. But, like any leader trying to start a revolution, they are the same in that they keep their followers directly engaged — in short but frequent messages — by giving a voice to their common emotions, be it anger, unease or plain old boredom.

So did this assignment turn me into a Twitter convert? Well, let’s just say I’m still don’t have the Twitter app on my smartphone. But I have a newfound understanding of both it’s charm and it’s importance in how leaders will be able to shape their influence in the future.

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I Would Tell You, But Then I Would Have to Un-Friend You

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A friend of mine was just diagnosed with a serious, but thankfully, non-life-threatening illness. There will be a surgery, and then, hopefully, it will all be in the past. She has all of the obvious worries of her impending major surgery: her health, insurance coverage, recuperation time, leave from work, telling her children. And also, a not-so-obvious one. When asked, “What can we do to help?” Her answer: “Please don’t post anything about this on Facebook.”

It seemed sad that at a time when my friend needs to be taking care of herself, she has the added concern of controlling her privacy on social media. The HIPAA regulations were created in 1996 to protect a patient’s privacy regarding their heath information. The laws specifically allow a patient to request that their information not be shared with “certain groups, people or companies”. We can’t stand too close to someone who is filling a prescription in the pharmacy, lest we have an encyclopedic knowledge of the PDR. We can’t even hold their hand with them in their doctor’s office without their expressed written consent. But there aren’t any regulations stopping us from outing their health issues on social media sites.

My friend’s privacy concern comes on the heels of reports this week that Facebook in considering expanding into the healthcare field by creating “online support communities. The concept is that Facebook would connect users suffering from various illnesses.  Their objective: healthcare communities could increase engagement on Facebook.

Now the last time I checked, it seemed that most people were already pretty engaged on Facebook. Sometimes, they seem over engaged. Facebook itself estimates that the average American spends 40 minutes per day checking a Facebook feed. That’s more than we spend each day on taking care of our pets, exercising or doing volunteer work.  And Facebook is by far and away winning the social media war — they have roughly seven times the engagement of Twitter, their closest competitor. I’m pretty sure we don’t need to be spending even more time on Facebook.

Creating on-line support healthcare communities sounds like a nice thing to do. It certainly helps to humanize the company. But call it a hunch, methinks that Mr. Zuckerberg and the folks at Facebook aren’t just concerned with helping their customers cope with health issues.

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The privacy issues this venture brings up are mind-boggling. And the burning question:  Can users trust their personal medical information to Facebook?  After all, they have had numerous privacy breaches in the past and they are still making amends for their “experiment” involving users news feeds.  And this time, the privacy stakes will be higher than ever before.

In the New York Times article Disruptions:  Seeking Privacy in a Networked Age (Oct. 2012), Dennis Crowley, chief executive of FourSquare, ponders the idea of a service that would allow users to cloak themselves — kind of like Harry Potter’s Invisibility cloak — for a particular time period. “You can imagine a service that says ‘I don’t want my name to show up on any social services for the next three hours’ and then integrates with other social services,” Mr. Crowley said.

So until Facebook can enlist J.K.Rowling to help develop said Invisibility Cloak for their user’s private medical information, I would hold back on joining one of their on-line health communities. Because when all is said and done, J.K. Rowling did a better job protecting her darling than Mark Zuckerberg has done protecting his.

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When in Rincón…

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    “When they are at Rome, they do there as they see done”                —Robert Burton,The Anatomy of Melancholy

Recently, I was back in my hometown and had the opportunity to visit some very close friends of the family, whom I hadn’t seen for years. They were like my second family when I was growing up, but as the story so commonly goes, once I left for college, and then left the continent for good, our paths didn’t cross very often. Since my mother had moved from the area some years before, I hadn’t much reason to go back and we had missed out on most of the significant events in each others lives, like marriages, births, graduations, and the like.

When I arrived at their house, I effusively greeted their father, who was now nearing 90, but looked to me as he did when I was a child. I then hugged and kissed my old friends, brother and sister, who did look slightly different than when we were kids. Finally, my old friend’s husband was there with his hand extended. As I took his hand and leaned in to kiss him as well, he recoiled back and said with some degree of surprise, “Have we met?”

It was then that I realized that the boricua in me was showing. I’ll admit that when I first came to PR, I found strange the custom of greeting everyone – friends, family, complete strangers that you were just introduced to – with a kiss. I found it particularly strange when it happened in the workplace. Don’t get me wrong – I was not adverse to physical greetings – I grew up in a large Italian family and we were expected to greet each other with a kiss. But that’s kind of where it ended.

Over the years, like any species engaged in self-preservation, I’ve adapted and adopted. Because of his profession, my husbands knows lots of people and I often find myself in social situations where I am being introduced to people I will mostly likely never see again. And yet, I now have no compunction about bussing the cheeks of these complete strangers.

Once you’ve lived in a new culture for a while, some of your behaviors are bound to change, consciously or unconsciously. I don’t remember the exact moment I got over my surprise at the practice, and just started smooching everyone I met. But I do know that living here has allowed me to kind of pick and choose those customs from each of my cultures that best suits my true nature. In the process, I guess I’ve developed my own, unique culture — some mix of my family’s Italian heritage, my American upbringing, and my Latin living. Will all this cultural melding improve my chances in evolutionary terms? I’m not sure. But I know that for right now, it feels just right.

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My Message in Bottle


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“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
– Robert Frost

Hola! Thanks for checking out my blog — The Accidental Boricua. My name is Paula Corapi. I was born and raised in chilly upstate New York, but I live in warm and sunny Puerto Rico . I came here when I married my husband, Carlos. I live here with my two children and my three dogs. My professional life spanned 20 years working in marketing for multinational corporations here in PR – Colgate-Palmolive, Microsoft, Kodak, and AT&T – all of which I left behind in 2003.

For the uninitiated, boricua is a local term, which refers to someone born in Puerto Rico. This term comes from Borikén, the name given to the island by its indigenous people, the Taíno Indians. Living on a tropical island was never part of my grand plan when I was younger. When I had envisioned myself living abroad, it was always someplace in urban Europe – Paris or Rome or London. I’m not sure I even knew which of the jumble of islands on a map of the Caribbean was Puerto Rico. And once I came to live here in September of 1984, the plan was that it would only be for two years. That was 30 years ago. Hence, The Accidental Boricua.

After having my two children, I found that the hardest thing to deal with was not the lack of sleep, or balancing my work/personal life, but rather the loss of personal time – the time to pursue my own interests – writing, reading, studying, cooking, exercise, genealogy research, and traveling. So I stopped working to spend more time with them and with myself.  In this process, I also started to gain a new appreciation for not just “how” I was living, but also “where” I was living.

In the past 11 years, something else happened I hadn’t planned on — I started to think of myself as a local. Don’t get me wrong — I still identify my self as an Upstate New Yorker and I still miss kicking leaves in the fall.  My Spanish still needs some help (just ask my children), and I still am baffled by the way some things work here. And although I feel very comfortable here, many people still think of me as a “gringa”.  But my connection with PR is undeniable — and it is home.

So I started this blog to start a conversation around what it is like to be transplanted, willingly or unwillingly, into a new place with a different culture. This blog is for anyone who is new to PR or has been here forever, like me — whether you came here to follow a true love, for work, for adventure, for family or for friends, I want to talk with you. To talk about what it is like to be surprised, to be frustrated, to be happy and to be disappointed when living outside of your comfort zone. To discuss how to raise and educate children in a way that respects local customs, yet is true to your own cultural values and beliefs. And I want to share what it is like to have one foot on the US mainland and one foot on PR, and how I manage to reconcile these pieces of myself and not get torn asunder.

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