Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Beth's Blog is the place to learn about social media

Too often social media experts portray themselves as wizards of the highest order, either talking down to lay people or pretending to have found the Holy Grail. Rarely do these experts lay out social media practices in a way that lay people can understand and execute.

Beth's Blog is the exception to that rule.

Take today's guest post by Gaurav Mishra, for example: the blog clearly lays out the 4Cs in the social media framework. For those keeping score at home, they are Content, Collaboration, Community and Collective Intelligence.

I won't rehash the blog here, because you should read it for yourself, but I will post the summary to prod you to wander over there:
So, the 4Cs form a hierarchy of what is possible with social media. As we move from Content to Collaboration to Community to Collective Intelligence, it becomes increasingly difficult to both observe these layers and activate them. Also each layer is often, but not always, a pre-requisite for the next layer. Compelling content is a pre-requisite for meaningful collaboration, which is a pre-requisite for a vibrant community, which, in turn, is a pre-requisite for collective intelligence.

Although I designed the 4Cs framework to explain how I see social
media, I have also found it to be a useful tools to evaluate specific social media initiatives. The best social media initiatives leverage all these four layers, but I have seen that most initiatives get stuck between the Collaboration and Community layers. Examples of social media initiatives that leverage the Community or Collective Intelligence layers are few and far between. It’s important to note, however, that each layer is valuable in itself, and it’s OK to design an initiative to only exploit the Content or Collaboration layers.
While you are there, I urge you to sign up to have the blog delivered to your mailbox. Today's post is typical of the solid advice she gives practioners in this field.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Cronkite, the fairness doctrine, truth unspun

Walter Cronkite died. I didn't know him well, and I suspect most of my generation and those born after us didn't get to see him at work and know him only by association.

We think of him as the man who always told the truth, but anyone who has pulled together witness statements after a crime or accident knows that the truth depends on perspective. Cronkite lived in a time when people didn't question the perspective of anchorman. (They were all men back then, and mostly still are. I'll give you a dime if you can name a national anchorman today and another dime if you can also name the cable news jockeys.)

As Jack Shafer writes on Slate, Cronkite had the luxury of reporting in a time when Americans began to turn to the tube for their news, the first great abandonment of the print media industry. Shafer argues, persuasively, that people trusted what they watched because it was they watched it, and no one wants to knowingly watch liars.

Cronkite lived when media bias was either accepted, ignored or, and I think this is more likely, when people thought a reporter's personal viewpoint would not bias a story. Sort of the journalist equivalent of physics before the uncertainty principle: you could report on a story as a passive prism.

That cozy relationship didn't work for politicians because sometimes they had to twist facts to start a war or avoid charges of adultery. In these cases, it was and still is easier to stab the messenger than dispute the facts.

Cronkite also operated under the laughably quaint federal Fairness Doctrine, which as Shafer describes it:
The doctrine required broadcast station licensees to address controversial issues of public importance but also to allow contrasting points of view to be included in the discussion. One way around the Fairness Doctrine was to tamp down controversy, which all three networks often did.
Honest news programs, and the Sunday morning spinning talking heads shows, still operate under this principle, which has one great flaw: sometimes one side is flat out wrong. I'll leave it to you to supply your own examples.

Today, we watch news looking for a media bias. But for the most part, we only watch shows that already agree with our world view, confirming what we think we know about the world but not illuminating it.

The lens we use to view the world reveals more about us than it does about the world. In this age of social media, where everyone with a computer is not only a consumer of news but a potential creator, let us hope that we are not looking at the world through the narrow end of a telescope, but are using social media as a powerful version of the Hubble Telescope to look at an expanding universe, not a smaller one.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

How the media grapples with telling the truth

On Monday, July 13, the New York Times once again showed some interesting insights into the shift in reporting in a Web 2.0 world. In four separate articles, the paper deftly examined:
Read in succession, these articles show how much social media has changed reporting and how end users receive information. To state the obvious, social media has taken over a means of disseminating and receiving information. But we already knew that. The proof? I read all of these articles on line and provided you with links to do the same.

What we haven't come to gripes with is who should we trust. When bloggers don't write negative reviews, they are not reviewers but pitchman.

When TMZ breaks an entertainment story, should we trust them as much as the NY Times or the Wall Street Journal? New media and bloggers have created a surfeit of information, but not all of it has equal weight or veracity.

The Times also covered this trust issue in June, which resulted in fireworks. I discussed that here. (A quick aside: this time around, the opposition remained quiet. Do you want to know why? None of the articles quoted anybody with a big microphone.)

Even when a magazine or newspaper has an axe to grind, it tries to get the facts straight, if only align them with a predetermined premise. Get the facts wrong and the axe grinder point becomes dull.

As fewer people read newspapers and magazines, instead of relying on Twitter and blogs to feed their information additions, who is going to resolve the trust issue? And more importantly, who benefits if we don't resolve it?

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Fear and loathing in public relations

For days after this NY Times article came out on PR in the world of Web 2.0 , many in the PR world were still buzzing about it. It was an frontal assault on the way that business is done. I won't rehash everything that's been said about the article. There's no point in that, and too many others have trampled that ground. I want to look at what PR people aren't saying about the article. (If you want to read other commentaries about the NY Times piece, skip to end of this blog for a suggested reading list.)

Why did that article touch a raw nerve in the PR community?

PR practitioners have always felt that people outside of the marketing communications tent don't understand what we do. And they don't. It's almost impossible to explain to a civilian how PR works to shape and place stories.

For the most part, most everyone carries the common misconception that PR is about spin control, but those in the club know that unless you represent a market mover, it's not about spin, it's about getting attention. As my friend Tony Mackey put it in his blog, not every company is a winner, but that doesn't mean they don't think they deserve press coverage. They are certainly paying for it.

And therein lies the tension, or the dirty little secret PR folks want to hide. You can't lie, that ruins relationships and relationships are hard currency this trade. The Times got that one right. But sometimes you have to push a reporter to write about the slowest horse in the race and make the reporter believe that horse has a chance of winning the race. In the real world, people might call this lying. In PR it's called shading, spinning or positioning.

Reporters get this, and that's why they distrust PR folks. It's a healthy cynicism they have and, to be fair, one they should have and one we deserve.

Like any industry, there are people who don't do PR well, and that gives PR its well-earned black mark. And, well, in addition to the incompetents, there are the liars. Whether we want to admit or not that they exist in this industry, to not acknowledge that is to invite further distrust.

Now, enter the rise of influential blogs and other social media tools, which have slowly but steadily risen to prominence in the past two years, neatly coinciding with the print media's steady march to bankruptcy.

A scant two years ago when print was king, reporters and PR people were reading the same rulebook. They weren't exactly adversaries, because as much as reporters like to decry the work of PR people, we provide a source of information they cannot get elsewhere. True, that information comes with a price, the price of coverage, but show me a free lunch and I'll show you an overly long line at the buffet.

PR people are scared. The rules of the game are changing. Change may be good, but it's not always welcome. A lack of understanding the rules leads to anxiety, and that turns into sleepless nights.

When the Times points out that PR is at a crossroads, it makes our clients question how we do our jobs. There is a conceit among bloggers, reporters and corporate executives that anyone can do PR. It's true, anyone can do it, but not everyone does it well.

In her book about her experience as a speechwriter for the Great Communicator Ronald Reagan, Peggy Noonan noted that while everyone can write, not everyone can write well. PR is a lot like that, and the rise of social media has made it easier for unskilled PR people to do a bad job.

True, the rise of social media has changed the tools and the rules. In some cases, it has made reporters irrelevant and in other instances, it has made PR people into Web copy editors. It's also made everyone confused. When the rulebook gets rewritten in the middle of the game, it puts everyone on edge. It also leads to land grabs, and the articles below are the influencers staking out their territory.

As promised, if you want to read some solid commentary on the flap, see below.
Brian Solis's makes a spirited defense of PR in the new world order, which is very much a continuation of his thoughts from this post on the new state of PR, marketing and communications.

Michael Arrington's posted a vicious smack down of PR. (If you still believe in the power of traditional PR, this isn't reading not for the faint of heart.)

Robert Scoble contributes a good commentary on the basics of how to do PR in the new age. It's a must read for anyone in the Tech industry, whether you are on the communications side of the house or not.

I have only included some of the pieces that received the most commentary, but I welcome other contributions and suggestions for articles to read.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Say goodbye to online privacy

Rupert Murdoch once said, "Human beings can be led anywhere, as long you take them there step by step."

Little by little, a vast Alliance of marketing and Internet interests have eaten away our online privacy and anonymity. But recently, these companies have started to hunger for bigger slices of the pie.

A recent Wall Street Journal (WSJ) article (subscription required) noted that Quantcast, a small company that tracks Web browsing behavior on 10 million Web sites, plans to sell that data, which contains detailed user profiles, to marketers who want to create highly targeted ads.

New York Times (NYT) reporter Saul Hansell noted that BT (British Telecom) abandoned a similar plan when privacy advocates objected. In the U.S., Congress stepped in to rebuff AT&T's bid to sell information about its user's Web habits.
Last year, several midsized Internet providers in the United States began testing a similar system with NebuAd, a rival of Phorm. They backed down when a series of congressional hearings highlighted public objections to the concept. AT&T has indicated that it too would like to earn some of the money from targeted advertising now mainly flowing to Google, but it promised to find a way to ask its customers for permission before it does.
But if you really want to visit the frontlines in battle to use personal data for advertising purposes, you have to look at Facebook, as Wired does in this article. Within its Walled Garden of 200 million users, or 20% of the people who surf the Web, lies a treasure trove of personal photos, thoughts, friends and reviews.

Everyone asks how Facebook plans to make money. The answer is the company wants to sell all of the data they have on all its users.
In November 2007, Facebook launched Beacon, a ham-fisted attempt to inject advertising into News Feeds. Users felt violated; after a month of protest, Zuckerberg publicly apologized and effectively shut Beacon down. Then, in February 2009, Facebook quietly changed its terms of service, appearing to give itself perpetual ownership of anything posted on the site, even after members closed their accounts.
The question of who owns the data about us isn't trivial and, like presidential power, it's a spigot that only opens in one direction. Despite all of their beautiful words, presidents don't give back power. Truman didn't, George W. Bush didn't and Obama won't. And once the rights to our personal information no longer belong to us, we are not getting it back, regardless of the recent victories against AT&T, BT and Facebook.

Privacy activists have to win every battle to kept our information from being available to whatever marketer wants to pay the going price. The Alliance of marketers only needs to get the toothpaste out of the tube.

As an interesting aside, both the NY Times and Wired discussed the privacy implications on selling data about our browsing habits. The WSJ, on the other hand, looked at the difficulty inherent in a business plan that gave away the data and would only collect when ads were sold.

Why should we care? For a few dollars, you can get a credit report on almost anyone as long as you have their Social Security Number. And, these days you don't need skills to get almost anyone's Social Security Number.

I am not a conspiracy theorist, but if my credit history is plain for anyone to see, why should I believe that the marketers will do a better job guarding my browsing history? Does a prospective employer or client need to know my political affiliation, religion or fantasy baseball skills?

There was a time when only your family, friends or enemies knew everything about you. That was 20 years ago. What's going to happen in the next 20 years?

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Is Social Media shrinking the digital divide?

In the age of the super information highway, the "Haves" whirl around the Internet faster than the "Have Nots" and that's called the digital divide. But a recent study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project shows that the gap is closing.
Respondents living in households whose annual household income is $20,000 or
less, saw broadband adoption grow from 25% in 2008 to 35% in 2009.
Respondents living in households whose annual incomes are between $20,000
and $30,000 annually experienced a growth in broadband penetration from 42% to

By comparision, the nation average for broadband access currently stands at 63% and there was relatively little growth in broadband access among the nation's wealthiest households. Between 2008 and 2009, broadband adoption for households with income of greater than $75,000 grew from 84% to 85%.

Clearly, we may be shrinking the digital divide, but we have acres of room to go and this is where social media comes in. Beyond the hype, the applications and visual media on Facebook, MySpace and Twitter provides a reason for non-information workers and their kids to have/need high-speed Internet. Accessing most of this information via dial up is a flat out pain in the neck.

A little background on why we became a fast speed nation.

Many have argued that Napster had more to do with increasing broadband subscription rates than any application before or since. With the emergence of Napster and its huge multi-mega-bit files, people abandoned dial up in droves, not wanting to wait hours to download an album when broadband access could reduce wait times to minutes.

Once the critical mass of broadband users flocked to the Internet, companies and their marketers could move away from text heavy Web sites to graphically pleasing multi-media sites. For a fun example of then and now, compare NASA's home page circa 2000 with today's fun site.

For the end user, faster browsing speeds meant exactly that, and jumping from site to site was a breeze, not a huge time suck. If you landed on a bad page, you could instantly jump off to a new direction. Cruising the Web went from a rush hour traffic jam experience to a rocket-propelled tour of the World Wide Web.

You can't put toothpaste back in the tube, and according to the Pew Project, you can't go back to dial up. Their research shows that when times are hard, people will cut their MTV and cable packages before they sacrifice the speed of a broadband connection.

So what has changed in the past year to warrant a better than 25% increase in broadband access among the nations poorest households? Well, the economy to be sure, but as it has gone south, broadband access has climbed, seeming in definance of the recession.

So again, what is different? You guessed it, millions of people signed onto Facebook and Twitter, which saw year-over-year gains of 253% and 1043%, respectively.

Like Napster ten years ago, social media is changing how people use the Internet. To date, marketers have focused on how to make money using social media. The real question is how do you make money on all of these people who are new to broadband.

Or is that what Fan Pages are all about?

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