Drunken Debating – Next Monday


It’s the return of Third Tuesday, folks. On Monday, May 5. A minority government brings uncertainty and unpredictability – even to your social calendar.

Facing off will be yours truly, Brandan Hodgson, and Ryan Anderson.

The point to be debated?

“…which social media tools are most useful and which are just code looking for a reason to be…”


Monday, May 5, 2008 at 6:00 pm

Clocktower Brew Pub
575 Bank Street (downstairs)
Ottawa , ON

Now, I know Hodgson gets more belligerent the more he drinks, and Anderson is just a little fella, so the discussion should get more entertaining as the night gets older – and the more libations are quaffed.

And special thanks to Joe Thornley, the K’nex hub that keeps bringing us all together to talk all things social media.

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The four rules of blog content


There are four rules that dominate the quantity and quality of your blog content:

1: when in a rut, drive readership and SEO love by creating a numbered list;
2: the more disappointing your actual paying job, the more you will write and post. This does not mean your blog will be any better – just busier;
3: the closer the relationship between the subject of your blog and a day job you love, the better the content; and,
4: the busier your day job becomes, the less time and inclination you will find to blog.

I had an executive coach who told me that being an executive was a lot like spinning plates: you had to make sure your passel of plates continued spinning at the end of their poles, and that none hit the floor.

At the moment, I am filling two executive positions.

My office is running the danger of looking like a suburban banquet hall after a Greek wedding.

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The Conversation is F*cked


You know, I’m beginning to think we’re due for a big shakeout – and untested social media tactics will be the first things to be thrown off the boat.

The economic indicators are there. Credit crunch. Everyone running to the security of gold. Drops in same store sales. The convergence of climate change worries with $100 oil.

When consumers decide to moderate their spending, where will companies cut their expenses? Bodies.

Bodies that do not have a quantifiable impact on sales.

Have any of your pitches included “starting a conversation” as a goal lately?

Are you REALLY looking for input from your consumers and stakeholders? Or does your idea of consumer generated content really just mean getting internet geeks to design edgy YouTube videos for you?

In a recession, co-creation can be another way to hose your ad, marketing and public relations agencies.

I’m arguing that companies under the gun, facing the knife, don’t really give a f*ck about what the public has to say.

They just want you to buy jars of tomato sauce, BeDazzlers and environmentally friendly printer paper.*

Sure, they’ll play along – but only to avoid product safety claims, grief about shift firings and to avoid repaying tax concessions granted when they built the local plant.

Consumer contact will revert to market-testing, sampling and insincere gladhandling on the shop floor.

Oh – and if you’re a new hire in a PR firm, I hope you’ve been developing a diverse skill set. It would suck to be the new “social media star” that gets thrown out with the bathwater.

*if you believe that there’s any such thing as enivronmentally friendly printer paper, you’re an idiot and a sucker.

[tags] conversation, cluetrain, customer service, recession, economic downturn [/tags]

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Secret Guide to Social Media in Large Organizations


The Secret Underground to Social Media in Large Organizations

Well, I’ve finished work on it. A handy little guide for exploring the world of social media and building support for social media in a large organization.

I think the advice in this 23 page guide to secretly implementing social media in organizations could be equally useful for any government employee looking to try out new technologies – I’m pretty certain on that point, since I’m a government employee in real life.

You can find the guide at this link, and please feel free to share it with your friends, colleagues and bosses.

Here’s an excerpt, from the introduction:

How do you do it? How do you bring a spirit of innovation and experimentation to the communications shop of a large organization?

I’ve worked in a large organization – the government – for the last ten years. You can find bright, creative and resourceful people around every corner, in every department.

During the course of their careers, many of these people have thought of a move that could improve their work or their environment.

From experience, we all know that small changes in process or presentation are easily won. After all, it’s just another line on an approval sheet, or a tweak on the website.

Large organizations can also be convinced to launch a large-scale overhaul of their systems – whether it’s a supply chain, assembly process or online order system.

But it’s a real pain to get them to rethink their relationship with humans outside the security fence. After all, our customer service reps seem to be doing a good job, right? That sales force really does have a handle on the needs of the community, doesn’t it?

In speaking to hundreds of workers and managers for large organizations (government and private sector), I’ve been asked the same questions, over and over:

• How do you convince your boss to even experiment with social media?
• Doesn’t it mean a lot of extra work?
• Isn’t this sort of stuff blocked by our organizational policies?

This Secret Underground Guide to Social Media for Organizations is meant to help you answer some of those questions.

[tags] guide to social media, instruction, dummies guide, introduction, organizations, government [/tags]

Comments (21)

Sweet whisperings of food


Finally. A tenuous reason to link to Russell’s splendid blog, eggbaconchipsandbeans – where he provides reviews and photos of the tasty grub prepared by local snack shops across the UK.

And the far less splendid, but somewhat entralling Grocery Eats. Deep fried White Castle Slider. That’s all I’ve got to say about that.

Euan Ferguson, writing in the Guardian, takes a light hearted look at the relationship between food and the senses, building off the ideas of Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, in particular his loaded manifesto on “futurist cooking.”

[Marinetti, in a remarkable move for an Italian, suggested there were many more things better to eat than dried pasta]

Ferguson harkens back to his own memories – and the feeling of comfort brought on by otherwise boring and even unhealthy food:

“… A Ginsters sausage roll has to be accompanied by the sound of the M25, the feel of a crappy rental plastic gearstick, the gaze into rain, the smell of a cigarette to annoy the rubbish rental company and also because you cannot physically eat a Ginsters without smoking; the sound of the suburbs.

My favourite being-down meal, macaroni cheese with sweetcorn with an egg beaten into it, is best (trust me) accompanied by the feel of the remote, the opening bars of Armageddon, the smell of fresh-drying clothes, the sight of my kicked-off boots …” (Guardian Observer)

photo courtesy of DavidRLewis

[tags] Marinetti, futurist cooking, service centres, Ginsters [/tags]

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I wish I was bathed in Marmite


Cross-promotion in support of a cross-promotion campaign!

The gist of this lengthy post: take a negative, add some humour and ingenuity and make it a positive!

God bless Rax from Splendid Communications. His agency has the Marmite account, and as part of their follow-up to a cross-promotion campaign earlier in 2007, he sent me this little note:

Canuckflack, Oh Canuckflack,
How we all love Colin McKay
So we’re writing him this romantic note
Because it’s Saint Valentine’s day!

His quirky take on the marketing world
Fills our lives with daily mirth
Which is why he is without dispute
The most gorgeous blogger on Earth…

You’ll always be our classic rock
As you guide us through what’s new
The communications industry has found itself
A poster boy in you.

Colin – a man like you, who knows his stuff
And can talk all things social media
Fills our minds with many naughty thoughts
About how we want to feed ‘ya…

So we’d like you to try new Lovers’ Marmite,
Which is laced with a bit of Champagne
You should have fellow citizens wondering
About that nice smell on the O-Train…

And so when you’re chomping on your morning toast
Before you head out to Uppertown
Don’t forget to reach for the Marmite jar
But you don’t have to put the butter down

Happy Valentine’s Day from Marmite
You’re our perfect date
Thanks for showing us some love
Instead of choosing to hate!

What cross-promotion, you may ask?

The fabulous Paddington Bear preferring Marmite over Marmalade ad:

But what’s the second level of cross-promotion?

Some little thing called “Lover’s Marmite” – a special blend of Marmite and Champagne only available for a limited time, with a special label on the back. A label where you can write the name of your special darling, as you hand them a jar of yeast extract that says “I Love You” on the front.

The only thing better would be used undergarments from your solo vacation to Thailand.

If that image wasn’t disturbing enough, take a look at the advert for “Lover’s Marmite”:

Honestly, I don’t know why I obsess over Marmite (the product), but Marmite (the marketer) has bowled me over twice in six months!

[tags] marmite, blogger relations, blogger outreach, Lover’s Marmite [/tags]

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Can coporations manage the migration to social media?


Mitch has nailed it. A lot of companies being slammed by online controversies – like Hasbro – just aren’t used to dealing with emotional, irrational and impetuous humans.

Their relationship with the marketplace is framed by the work of their distributors, an import/export firm, or a licence holder.

The issues involved are often complex, with plenty of lawyers involved. Corporate positions frequently cannot be distilled into blogger-friendly language without affecting corporate interests in liability, finance or intellectual property.

Any corporate public relations pro will recognize their dilemma.

As Mitch points out, it’s hard for a company built to a fifty year-old model to adapt to a new business flow chock full of eddies, breakers and dangerous rapids.

Increasingly, though, they are trying. People like Petro Canada or Ford are dipping their toes into the social media swamp – and taking the punches and expanding their influence.

The transformation of the corporation demands participation and understanding at many levels – not just in the marketing and communications department.

As Doug Walker points out in a comment to Mitch’s post, the simplest point of contact may just be the customer service representative – if finance, facilities and human resources help you expand your CSR force to deal with the pressures that can be generated by social media.

And that means finance, facilities, human resources, and the call centre manager will all have to understand the needs and challenges of playing in social media.
Oh – and Mitch’s other point, about bloggers demonstrating the same qualities they demand from corporations? I agree as well.

Anyone can build a bully pulpit, whether they’re a fascinating storyteller or simply a demagogue.

It takes a level of dedication and transparency to actually maintain relationships and effect change in a community – small or large.

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the long and short of being an omnivore


What are the desirable qualities of an designer? How about a creative generalist? How about an unceasing appetite for information, for synergy, for identifying relationships?

Here are two takes: a short answer from Steve Portigal, and a long exposition by Steve Hardy, the Creative Generalist.

What is it that makes a great design strategist?

A great design strategist may not see themselves as a design strategist. They’re probably someone who has had a few different professional identities and gets excited by the spaces where disciplines, schools of thought, and methods overlap. They are curious and easily intrigued: they like to observe what’s going on around them and they’re good at listening to people.

And they know how to use all this data to synthesize new patterns and communicate them clearly to a range of audiences. Charlie Stross, in the sci-fi book Accelerando, describes the profession of a “meme broker” and the intense amount of content they have to assimilate every day in order to do this.

Bruce Sterling calls this activity “scanning“ looking at all the sources one can and constantly asking what does this mean for my clients. Being able to work through all those data sources and pull out the implications is crucial for design strategy.” (Influx interviews Steve Portigal)

And here is the nub of Steve Hardy’s long but fantastic post:

I’ve identified five core areas at which Creative Generalists excel. They are:

Wander & Wonder – finding possibility
Synthesize & Summarize – presenting information
Link & Leap – generating ideas
Mix & Match – connecting people
Experience & Empathize – understanding worldview

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A fresh attitude to your work


“Act like you just quit” – fantastic advice from Advertising for Peanuts.

That’s doesn’t mean flip your boss the bird, or burn down the Initech division where you work.

Instead, challenge the conventions, the traditions, the ingrained habits that have held you back.

Do you have a great idea gnawing away at your soul? Are there business processes you are certain can be improved?

Or do you just feel disaffected and detached from your work? Chances are, your colleagues and boss have noticed as well.

Think about that period between an old job and a new one. What’s your normal behaviour? You:

  • immediately forget all the petty interpersonal conflicts that took up your workday
  • begin forecasting the work environment, work projects and personal relationships you want to develop at your new job
  • maybe even take a stab at career planning – imagining two or three steps into the future

That’s right. You embrace the opportunity to change, the opportunity to abandon all your old habits and your less-than-favourable practices.

Why not do that now? Change does not require packing boxes. It just demands a level of confidence and a willingness to risk the status quo.

You’ll be surprised by how others welcome your willingness to change your life and your performance.

Quitters may be dismissed out of hand, but you’re rarely faulted for trying your hardest.

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the social media aesthetic – the headshot


Last week, three separate publications asked me for a headshot (because I’m a spokeshead, not because I’m a popular blogger with an extremely photogenic mug). I have several options available, and I found myself flipping between the professional and the amateurish: a headshot prepared by a professional photographer, and a handful of profile pictures snapped with a number of camera phones.

You see, I’ve been in public relations long enough to remember when professional photo shoots were required for all your spokespeople. You always had to have a ready selection of half grinning/mildly worried looks on hand, just in case.

As I was sorting through my options, though, I realized that the bar had moved. The public no longer expects a formal upright, slightly angled shouldered look to their authority figures. In fact, I had to screw around with my headshot in Photoshop before sending it off to one publications.

A co-worker of Jason Oke has noticed that the younger generations do not have a problem finding a headshot – in fact, there seems to be

“… an age-related gap on social networking sites like Facebook in personal photo quality – anyone under 25 looks really good in all of their pictures, while the rest of us look pudgy and a bit stunned.

His theory is that it’s because those of us of a certain age grew up with pictures being taken mostly on special occasions like birthdays and holidays, and usually with some warning of “say cheese.”

We never really learned how to have our picture properly taken. But with ubiquitous casual digital photography, the young ‘uns grew up being used to taking and seeing many more photos of themselves, and have learned to quickly throw a pose in any situation. They are photo-literate.”

Me? I can’t quite pull of the casual concentration look. I don’t really like Starbucks, so I’m never at ease enough to pull off the “working in casual luxury while sitting on a loveseat” look. And every time I try the “you caught me in mid-action” pose, I look like an out-take from a Sears catalogue.

[tags] photography, headshot, publicity still, corporate look, spokesperson [/tags]

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Miss America meets reality


And there I thought pageants had already taken a great leap into modernity with the hiring of Billy Bush.

Last night, Miss America:Reality Check hit the airwaves. I think it may be just the radical revamp this old dame needed. The formula is tired and familiar to us all: a disparate (and maybe desperate) group of girls settles into cramped quarters with too few bathrooms.

They form heartfelt but ultimately shallow and dishonest relationships where they claim friendship and are quick to criticize any demonstration of disloyalty or competitiveness. The show’s producers attempt to create artificial divisions among the pageant queens by separating the teams by age and physical characteristics (only on this show would a 24 year-old be considered a “senior”).

The appeal comes from the incredible contrast between the plastic and highly manufactured contests of the past, and the new hurdles facing the contestants today.

Like a reality check from the tag team of Stacy London and Clinton Kelly. Or the faux cinema verite segment where the contestants appear to discuss whether teens (and Miss American contestants) actually practice abstinence. Some of those young ladies actually appeared grief-stricken at the thought of deviating from their practiced stage patter.

“I favour harsher jail sentences for parole violators … and world peace.”

Finally, I could swear that the “challenges” between teams are held in a converted horse paddock behind the communal house.

All I could imagine was Miss Ellie from Dallas, cheering on Miss Texas.

[tags] Miss America, reality TV, beauty pageant [/tags]

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Plaxo, Scraping and Data Portability


Some of you may know, during the day I work with a great bunch of privacy advocates. So I’ve got some opinions about the Scroble scraping issue of the day.

Just ask yourself: let’s say large consumer product company X had created a fan group in Facebook. This morning, they decided to launch a new promotional campaign aimed at just these fans, but needed the contact information. Finding Plaxo’s cool new tool, they then simply scraped the name, addy and preferences of all their “fans.”

Would that be acceptable? No. Damien Mulley has it right. It could be considered data theft.

And we would all be justifiably outraged about it.

It’s the idea of scale. You move the information of your 20, 50, 100 or 200 close personal and business contacts, you’re only maintaining your records.

You move 1,000 or more – you’re maintaining a mailing list.

The idea of data portability is that users, consumers, geeks have control of their OWN data. In this case, users entered into a relationship with another user (Scoble) where they shared access to their mutual Facebook profiles.

Facebook, for all its weaknesses and commercial impulses, does have a limited level of privacy protection. The embedding of personal email addys in an image is one. If you want to send me an email from outside the walled garden, you have to take the time to copy the addy by hand.

It’s one protection FOR ME to avoid having my addy scraped and sold off.

So when Plaxo tells Jeremiah Owyang that their new tool is all about data portability – they’re full of crap. It’s all about data collection. Here is an excerpt from a quick interview Jeremiah conducted with Plaxo today:

“…What else should we know? In 2008, data portability thrust is where we want to head, we want to turn the model upside down, so instead of widgets going to the social graph, we would like to make the social graph very portable. This is an area where Plaxo as more depth than anyone else.” (Jeremiah)

In the comments that follow, there is a good discussion of the social contract between “friends” when exchanging access rights and personal information.

Part of this contract, in this case, involves the privacy protections and restrictions put in place by Facebook. Facebook is a wide-open app with a lot of publicly available information, but that doesn’t mean that informed users don’t expect a level of considered behaviour on the part of their “friends.”

When you decide Facebook isn’t the most appropriate tool for you, you can’t attempt to migrate your mass of friends by breaking those protections and restrictions.

Sorry that it’s inconvenient, but that’s the playground you chose to play in.

And if you’re a commercial company that develops a tool designed to rip personal information out of proprietary social networks, don’t tell me you’re doing it in the name of the freedom for information to flow freely. There’s a commercial application behind the motivation.
[tags] data portability, data protection, identity theft, Facebook, Plaxo [/tags]

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Twitter starts channeling my past life experiences


Been there, done that. Got the VHS tape from the media relations team of me being there, doing that. Also called my parents after having been there, having been shown doing that.
[tags] Hugh Macleod, twitter, media relations [/tags]

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A Blog Council Isn’t Wrong, But Could Be Spooky


You know, a blog council is just like a big, fuzzy, comfortable blankie. In a moment of uncertainty and perhaps confusion, a blankie can be a touchstone, an easy gateway to a simpler and more secure time.

Especially if that blankie smells like your mommie, or good times in the park with all your friends.

Which explains the need for a blog council dedicated solely to the problems and achievements of large corporations entering the social media space. Some social media evangelists have jumped on the idea as too rigid or naiive, dismissing the idea that a large corporations could benefit from such an arrangement.

What they don’t seem to understand is that a “council” is an easy concept for senior executives to buy into. These people already belong to industry councils, economic councils and foreign policy councils. They understand the framework, they understand the cost structure and they understand the potential benefits.

And THIS is where our colleagues are right to question the impulse to create a council. Brian Solis moves around this idea in his post.

Councils are not created to convene coffee klatches and an excuse to fly into a new resort once a month.

THAT is called a seminar.

Councils are not pulled together to discuss common process challenges and develop best practices.

THAT is called a working group.

A council of senior executives, united in a common goal, is created to share influence. To increase the authority of council members in what can seem to be a fractured environment with little real leadership.

Even a Parent-Teacher Council dreams of expanded influence and increased authority, if only expressed through reams of volunteer lists and pizza orders.

I’m probably unnecessarily aggrandizing the influence that could be wielded by the Blog Council.

Still, the “benefits” a generic membership often include:

  • customized public opinion research,
  • specialized academic and industry research to support council positions,
  • a centralized secretariat to coordinate joint positions on breaking issues,
  • custom white papers designed to influence and sway regulators, and
  • formal representation at legislative hearings and regulatory town halls.
  • As I look at the children’s playground of competing cliques in social media, a council of Fortune 500 companies that happen to blog seems to be a good idea.

    An idea that, if managed effectively, could influence how fundamental decisions are made about the role of blogs, podcasts, vidcasts and ephemeral communications like Twitter in regulated environments like:

  • financial communications,
  • investor relations,
  • federally mandated sustainability reporting,
  • corporate PAC support for candidates and their increasingly 2.0 campaigns, and
  • integrated behavioural marketing campaigns, which are increasingly under scrutiny from authorities like the FTC.
  • Which might be of some concern to a social media universe currently obsessed with nodes rather than the network as a whole.

    Or I might have taken too many poli.sci. courses in university.

    [tags] Blog Council, corporate blogging [/tags]

    Comments (9)

    Richard@Dell in Ottawa, tonight!


    Hey peeps. It’s a winter wonderland here in Ottawa, with eight inches on the ground and another dozen forecast for today.

    But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t drag your sorry ass down to Fresco Cielo on Elgin Street for a fun night with Richard Binnhammer from Dell.

    I had a chance to have dinner with Richard, Joe, Ian, Keelan and others last night. It was a great time and I learned a lot. I’d tell you more, but that was the first conversation I’ve ever had where someone explicitly told me “this isn’t bloggable.”

    Richard’s appearance is part of the Third Tuesday series of speaking events, even if it is on the first Monday.

    As always, Third Tuesday benefits from the patronage of Canada NewsWire and Joe’s guiding hand.

    The details, as always, are on Meetup.

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    Ideas of community: Lonely Girl vs. Blair Witch Project


    A surprise appearance over at Todd Defren’s blog from one of the co-producers of the viral marketing masterpiece of 1999 – the Blair Witch Project. Todd’s post and the comment have spun out of continuing discussion of the tactics behind building a “viral buzz” and magnifying community interest in an initiative or idea.

    “…But probably the biggest difference is that Blair Witch was constructed in a way that you didn’t identify or invest in Heather, Mike and Josh as people — they were already dead and the audience was piecing together a mystery that already took place. The fans of LonelyGirl felt they had a relationship with the character, they communicated to her and she responded back to them. They were all part of a community, so when it was revealed that she was a fiction, people felt betrayed because they were emotionally invested in her….” (comment on Pr Squared)

    As Todd sums up in a post the following day: “Community investment is key to understanding community reaction.”

    And it seems like a lot of people (normal people, not people who follow esoteric debates about SEO, viral marketing and social news releases) think that marketers, SEO agencies and online public relations specialists are on a par with car salesmen.

    You have to walk on to a lot, because most of us need a car. But you just know the salesman is there to screw you. Screw you on the MSRP, screw you on the extended warranty, slap on the “admin fee,” add up the “prep fee.”

    While the entire transaction makes sense, is necessary, and eventually meets your aesthetic and practical needs, you as the consumer know that a half dozen people put their hands in your pocket before you walked off the lot.

    No wonder that a whole segment of specialists are building a separate identity as community managers, community liaisons, or even community curators. There’s more of a hint of social work in their functions and goals, and less of an emphasis on moving product.

    [tags] Blair Witch, Lonely Girl, SEO, astroturfing, community manager [/tags]

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    Poll reveals marketers still clueless


    Keith, the new honcho at com.motion*, was kind enough to send over the results of their exclusive survey of 444 senior managers and marketers. As Sean pointed out, it’s always helpful to have detailed public opinion research on any aspect of our little marketing and public relations world – especially social media.

    Especially when the results seem to expose senior executives lying about their familiarity with social media. To be fair, they could be glaringly unaware how little they know about new technology. Or, they could be underestimating the extent of their clients’ knowledge.

    Even worse – senior communications advisors revealing – rather embarassingly – that they are falling behind the curve. As specialists, they should be AHEAD of the curve.

    Later on in the poll, it seems that the long tail only applies to online activities. Overall, an intention to increase spending on social media does mean an overall increase in budgets, but some managers and marketers responded that they would cut back on direct marketing costs. That makes sense – abandon the tried-and-true targeted marketing for the shiny and new.

    * not this com.motion.

    Comments (1)

    Age of Conversation makes a great holiday gift


    Remember the Age of Conversation? 103 authors from across the marketing, public relations, interactive media and community manager disciplines? It’s still on sale at lulu.com – but only for another week.

    Gavin and Drew’s little idea has pulled in over $11k for Variety Village, but the idea is to expand the possibility of people coming across the book.
    So, starting November 30, the book will be available on Amazon.com.

    There’s a dirty little secret, though. The price will be going from $16.95 to $30. And you wondered how Jeff Bezos can pay for all those distribution centres and free holiday shipping!

    Still considering a purchase? StickyFigure can give you a quick taste of many of the authors. Or you can read their blogs:
    Gavin Heaton Drew McLellan CK Valeria Maltoni Emily Reed Katie Chatfield Greg Verdino Mack Collier Lewis Green Ann Handley Mike Sansone Paul McEnany Roger von Oech Anna Farmery David Armano Bob Glaza Mark Goren Matt Dickman Scott Monty Richard Huntington Cam Beck David Reich Luc Debaisieux Sean Howard Tim Jackson Patrick Schaber Roberta Rosenberg Uwe Hook Tony D. Clark Todd Andrlik Toby Bloomberg Steve Woodruff Steve Bannister Steve Roesler Stanley Johnson Spike Jones Nathan Snell Simon Payn Ryan Rasmussen Ron Shevlin Roger Anderson Robert Hruzek Rishi Desai Phil Gerbyshak Peter Corbett Pete Deutschman Nick Rice Nick Wright Michael Morton Mark Earls Mark Blair Mario Vellandi Lori Magno Kristin Gorski Kris Hoet G.Kofi Annan Kimberly Dawn Wells Karl Long Julie Fleischer Jordan Behan John La Grou Joe Raasch Jim Kukral Jessica Hagy Janet Green Jamey Shiels Dr. Graham Hill Gia Facchini Geert Desager Gaurav Mishra Gary Schoeniger Gareth Kay Faris Yakob Emily Clasper Ed Cotton Dustin Jacobsen Tom Clifford David Polinchock David Koopmans David Brazeal David Berkowitz Carolyn Manning Craig Wilson Cord Silverstein Connie Reece Colin McKay Chris Newlan Chris Corrigan Cedric Giorgi Brian Reich Becky Carroll Arun Rajagopal Andy Nulman Amy Jussel AJ James Kim Klaver Sandy Renshaw Susan Bird Ryan Barrett Troy Worman CB Whittemore S. Neil Vineberg

    [tags] Age of Conversation [/tags]

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    Wear your social identity on your … belly?


    After spending all that time building intricately detailed and personal profiles in closed-off social networks, how in the world do you bridge between identities?

    When you’re cruising so successfully in your tight slacks, how do you alert the world to the vast repository of flixster reviews, TV trivia team scores, thrown sheep and ironic 70s profile photos just a few keystrokes away?

    With Open Social?

    No – with the “are you social” t-shirt, designed by Aram Bartholl!

    Just scroll through the dozens of social networks displayed on the front of the shirt and check off each one you belong to.

    Now, those unsuspecting young women at the campus bar won’t have to spend endless minutes wondering exactly when you’ll abandon the polite chit chat and start discussing one of five things:

    • the size of your “friend” network
    • your progress on World of Warcraft
    • the “open relationship” you have with your Bebo girlfriend
    • how you and Tom Byron use Orkut to pick up Brazilian chicks, and
    • Padma or Leia?

    Life could be a lot easier, though. You could just print up a tshirt with your Facebook profile on it.

    In all seriousness. Both of these tshirt ideas poses a tremendous risk to your personal information and the security of your identity.

    You might as well have a bumper sticker on your car that reads “I keep my driver’s licence in the glove compartment.”
    via Dino and Valleywag.

    [tags] Facebook, Bebo, Orkut, privacy, identity, social network [/tags]

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    Third Tuesday goodness


    It’s that time again. The Third Tuesday extravaganza, where you get to meet and mingle with the public relations, marketing, digital design and web marketing.

    Next week, November 19, I’ll be under the spotlight. I’ll be talking about encouraging the adoption of social media and new technologies as a government communicator.

    Judging from the reception I received at a CPRS session today, I may try to build on my “social media is like a water slide” analogy as well.

    It’s sure to be a fun, informative and imaginative time.

    You can find the details on Meetup.

    And thanks to Joe for the kind words.

    [tags] Third Tuesday, government communications, government blogging [/tags]

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    A small blunder colours FEMA crisis communications


    Remember the faux news conference put on by FEMA last month to brief about the response to the California wildfires?

    The Department of Homeland Security has completed an “internal investigation,” and some people have fallen under the bus.

    Apparently, some poor decisions were taken in deciding to hold a news conference at short notice, then, when reporters could not make it in time, have agency communications staff substitute for reporters by lobbing questions at the Deputy Administrator.

    “Much like in an airline crash or automobile accident that was reconstructed, there were several different points leading up to the press conference where, had a single decision been made differently, the event itself could have been averted,” [DHS spokesperson Russ] Knocke said Thursday (AP, via TPM)

    Wow. We get a pretty clear impression of what Knocke thinks of how the news conference rolled out. All it needs is a soundtrack. And Gil Grissom.

    There have been repurcussions. The man who was FEMA’s press secretary (read his Potomac Flacks profile) will be working for a public relations agency in Utah (For those of you keeping track at home, that’s Washington to Utah in three weeks). The Director of External Relations had been scheduled to take up a new job with Office of the Director of National Intelligence. That job fell through.

    There’s a couple of hints in the AP story that the FEMA staffers fell victim, in part, to a predetermined PR strategy and poor communications between the press shops at FEMA and DHS:

    • DHS had asked the agency to hold a press conference before the DHS Secretary and the FEMA Administrator landed in California that day; and
    • FEMA’s press secretary had sent an email to his boss and the DHS official responsible for communications, asking for more time – but only 43 minutes before the scheduled start of the news conference.

    In the end, the comms shop had about 75 minutes to put the news conference together. Which makes you wonder why they didn’t just allow callers on the teleconference call to ask questions.

    The Director of External Relations has begun to speak up in his own defense, particularly in PRWeek. PRWatch provides some other comments from him, which unfortunately don’t sound very convincing.

    And, to top it off, the FEMA Administrator seems to imply that the career civil servants could have prevented their bosses from pursuing this course of action:

    “Those are career people. They should have stepped up and said something, they really should have. But their bosses said ‘Do this,’ and they did it — some reluctantly, but there’s no excuses for that,” Paulison said. He called the impact on FEMA’s credibility “devastating.” (Washington Post)

    This is what happens when you try to throw a media briefing together very quickly – and execute your strategy rather strangely. Unfortunately, the execution has coloured our impression of FEMA’s attempts to get information about the California wildfires out quickly.

    And that hits to the heart of effective crisis communications.
    [tags] FEMA, puppet theatre, DHS [/tags]

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    Media Snackers: they’re just not filling


    The premise, as posited by Jeremiah, Kami, Kevin and others: content generators need to develop materials and vehicles that communicate effectively with “media snackers,” those new economy animals who bounce from medium to medium picking up information and filtering it.

    That means short blog posts, interactive web tools, podcasts of varying lengths, videos, Twitter streams and anything else that two guys withs seed capital can think up.

    I see a strategic weakness in this premise, however: just because people want their media quick, easily digestible and interactive doesn’t mean we should abandon context and overlook longer term tactics.

    That’s because I’m an old school media snacker. Not as old enough to be a Reader’s Digest subscriber, let’s get that out of the way.* But old enough to know how to follow Usenet threads. Old enough to have thought PointCast was going to revolutionize our world.

    I think we run the risk of over-simplifying our tactics and under-estimating our readers/listeners/viewers: they don’t come to the dim sum buffet for the individual dish, they see ach piece as part of a larger meal.

    You see, I’m not a media snacker, I’m a media aggregator. I may bounce from source to source and from one format to another, but I have one (or several) topics that I’m tracking.

    I am picking up tidbits, thoughts and observations, and integrating them into internal narratives, or adding them to databases on issues I am following, or marking them as useful for work I am doing at the office.

    The danger with the “snacker” meme is that we may see our readers in too simplistic a manner: as someone dropping by for a visit, or someone not really engaged in the process.

    We have to make sure, as communicators, marketers, public relations hacks or community builders, that we integrate our “snack media” into a more comprehensive communications and marketing plan.

    And that doesn’t mean a cool splashpage made in flash.

    It means some sort of community hub, where all these snacks can be displayed on a big buffet table (or, given that most “media snacks” are ephemeral in time and place, a warming table). A touchstone for your “lifestream,” so to speak.

    And then our reader, community member, stakeholder – whatever – can pick and choose the tactic that most suits them.

    *You realise, of course, that Reader’s Digest was the original media snacker’s resource.

    [Tags] media snacker, twitter, meme, community, interstitial, lifestream [/tags]

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    Comms, PR and Marketing: is there a difference?


    What's the difference between public relations, marketing and communications

    Depending upon the topic, it seems that people define the role of public relations practitioner, corporate communicator, and marketing fairly loosely. What exactly is the difference between the three distinct professions?

    This graphic tries to separate them by indicating specific “benefits” of working in marketing communications (like travelling on business, having access to Super Bowl tickets) and then presenting the proportional odds of that benefit being available to one or all of the professions.

    [tags] marketing, communicator, corporate communications, public relations, schwag [/tags]

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    Why would a flack push a bad interview with Sigur Ros?


    A really meta-meta-meta moment: Luke Burbank, one of the hosts of NPR’s Bryant Park, really felt that an interview with Sigur Ros, the gifted but notoriously distant band from Iceland, went badly. Very badly.

    That’s because it did. It was painful. Why would Burbank have booked the band? Because a public relations hack called him up and suggested it. That’s right – this train wreck was recommended to him.

    Maybe Burbank just didn’t prep well enough. I’m a suburban dad from Canada, and I knew Sigur Ros were a hard interview. Just take a look at this excerpt from an interview in the Guardian – from 2005:

    “…On their astounding new album, Takk … , titles are back and most of the lyrics are in Icelandic. This spirit of glasnost also animates their interviews, which were once a barren tundra of single-word answers. In 2001, one journalist came away with just three usable quotes, one of which was “Yeah, yeah”. They’ll still admit that, given the choice, they would never talk to the press. “It would be nice, yes, if that was possible,” says guitarist and keyboardist Kjartan Sveinsson. “That’s something I used to talk about, but I’m getting older and,” he laughs, “weaker. I used to be really sceptical about these things and not really trust anybody.”

    Or maybe the flack had recently seen them give good interviews. The evidence seems overwhelmingly negative. They are not an “up with people” band.

    As part of his process of repentance and healing, Burbank then brought in a music journalist to help him evaluate and dissect what went wrong with his earlier interview with the band.

    It’s clear that the original interview did not make good radio. Jancee, the journalist, is blunt in her assessment of the interview and offers some brief insight into the process of interviewing musicians (like the suggestion, late in the video, that a sock puppet could interview David Lee Roth). Still, some of her commentary is amusing:

    “I really do zero in on the drummer. Look at his yearning expression, it’s saying “ask me a question. I’ll answer it. I’m friendly. Over here!” … And really, the other band mates, they really will be puzzled, then they’ll be upset and then they’ll kind of jump in, usually, after a while.”

    Jake McKee pointed to this NPR piece and held it up as an example of “turning that frown upside down.” When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Take the critical energy being directed at you, and turn it into a learning experience.

    I agree that this is an interesting way to respond to criticism and defuse the situation. He was even-handed in his assessment of his own performance, as well as that of the band. Unfortunately, I found the technique just a little too coy: running a display-in-display critique of his own interview, with the help of a colour commentator.

    All that was missing was the Madden Telestrator.

    ****Added feature: one commenter on the NPR blog suggested Tom Sndyer’s 1980 interview with Johnny Rotten as far worse. I don’t know if I can agree: at least Rotten was engaged and animated.

    [tags] NPR, Bryant Park, Sigur Ros, interview techniques [/tags]

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    PR is dead? Really?


    Let’s stop this facade, okay? Public relations is not dead. For the vast majority of the world – in terms of population AND landmass – public relations practitioners still have another five, ten or fifteen years of holding back information, constructing media events and counseling executives and technical experts to “stay on message” and “bridge” from uncomfortable questions.

    The “PR is Dead” theme is really a variant of a larger philosophy: information is free, and each citizen is capable of interpreting information as he/she sees fit.

    It’s a lovely idea. Too bad it depends on three (or more) economic and social factors:

    • intensive broadband penetration
    • media integration across platforms
    • computer literacy

    Oh, and the money to buy a computer, a job stable and well-paying enough to free up the time necessary to sort your own information, and a cultural predisposition to questioning authority and information sources.

    As Phil and Todd have pointed out, most people making the “PR is Dead” argument really are assuming that “public relations = increasing volume and winning attention.”

    If we define our profession so simplistically, we certainly CAN be replaced by a good search engine optimization program – but only once the rest of the world has caught up to the technical sophistication of Silicon Valley.

    Until then, the community of social media advocates is being pretty presumptuous about the capacity or willingness of large swaths of the earth’s population to jump on board with their ideas and innovations.

    [tags] PR is dead, PR 2.0, Web 2.0, SEO [/tags]

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    XP – not to toot my own horn


    … but I’ve written some interesting posts over at my other blog, sosaidthe.org. They tend to concentrate on government communications, so I’ve stopped posting these sorts of ideas here at canuckflack. Still, I think they’re worth a gander:

    [tags] Facebook, employee communications, blogger relations [/tags]

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    Are skateboarders more saavy than social media experts?


    What’s the link between social media and skateboarding? Sometimes, social media experts will strike really poor bargains for their services – just like the early boarders who performed for stickers, decks and gas money.

    I mean, in what other industry would thought leaders trade their hard-built reputation for a free camera, cellphone, iPhone or a free laptop?

    A lot of social media experts are grinding out an identity as hard-working professionals – like the Social Media Group, or SHIFT, or H&K, or Crayon, or Converseon.

    In skateboarding, there’s a lot of people who have jumped on a deck and found a new image or sense of group identity. There are a few boarders that have developed the skills – on the deck and in the office – to build strong identities in the sport and personalities that are eagerly sought out by marketers.

    Sure, skateboarding has always had a distinctly commercial element. Even with its roots in home-made equipment and the growing legends of local or regional skaters, the continuing perception of skateboarding as an underground industry is largely manufactured. Today, it is part of a mainstream image industry.

    Social media, as a profession for consultants, marketers and public relations hacks, is growing into a mainstream industry. For every mis-step amplified by bloggers and journalists, there are countless small improvements being accomplished in large and small businesses, not-for-profits, community organizations and local governments.

    Still, I’m really growing tired of leading bloggers, authors and consultants crowing about how they scored some more schwag. Let’s keep this in perspective, people. Even community-access television can score $500 for a month’s sponsorship.

    At some point, we’ve got to stop behaving like the stoners at the back of the school. Even skateboarders figured out that pocket change was poor compensation for their brilliant footwork.

    Image above from a 70s era Skate Safety video.

    [tags] blogger outreach, schwag, social media, payola [/tags]

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    Social media glitterati in Ottawa – Third Tuesday


    Another season of Third Tuesday Ottawa social media get-togethers opens with a sought-after star: Mitch Joel. You may know Mitch from such previous work as his Six Pixels of Separation podcast or his Twist Image blog.Mitch will kick off this year’s Third Tuesday Ottawa season on September 25. A kick you in the ass kind of speaker, Mitch will discuss marketing, social media and web 2.0.
    Free registration can be found over on the Third Tuesday Ottawa Social Media Meetup group.

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    My family goes way back with flavour modification


    Sixty years ago, my grandfather was writing articles for magazines like Canadian Business and Saturday Night magazine. Here’s an excerpt from a 1947 article titled “It gives Steaks a Lift!” – a report on the new miracle flavour enhancer, monosodium glutamate:

    “… It is not likely that M.S.G. will become a standard household commodity. For one thing, it is still expensive. For another, the average family does not consume enough separate foods to warrant paying any special attention to the individual flavors.

    But where food is prepared for a couple of hundred people at a time, and where numerous vegetables and seasoning agents go into each dish, M.S.G. is a decided asset. And even the housewife may eventually adopt it in some small measure …”

    I have three observations:

    1. Oh, to have been a public relations man in a time when every new chemical was seen as a testament to the ingenuity of mankind;
    2. “the average family does not consume enough separate foods” reflects the post-war diet, restricted by rations – and does not imagine a diet overwhelmed by fusion foods; and
    3. the explicit belief that corporations are trustworthy and always working to better the lives of families and housewives – certainly not the case today, is it?

    [tags] MSG, monosodium glutamate, flavor, chemical, Canadian Business [/tags]

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    Adidas campaign and Rugby tripped up by media boycott


    Zinedine Zidane. The Rugby World Cup. The New Zealand All Blacks, perhaps the best rugby team in the world. A nice public relations campaign organized by Adidas in France to build awareness and create an opportunity for French fans to meet a soccer god and rugby behemoths.

    Too bad some of the largest news agencies and chains in the world boycotted the event.

    It’s the result of a battle that pits some of the biggest names in traditional wire journalism against major sporting organizations – all because of the increasing pressure from fans and audiences for up-to-the-minute coverage of major sporting events online and on 24 hour sports channels.

    The Associated Press, Reuters, Agence France Presse and others are very upset that the International Rugby Board is trying to impose restrictions on coverage of the World Cup by media organizations that are not paid sponsors of the event.

    “… The agencies are fighting against IRB media restrictions such as that no organisation can post more than 40 images or three minutes of news conference or “locker room” video online during any match.” (Guardian)

    The members of the news coalition are boycotting all events and promotions leading up to the World Cup, which begins today. They are pressuring the IRB to lessen the restrictions imposed upon media accredited to cover the World Cup. The French government has weighed in, as has the European Commission.

    The IRB is arguing that similar conditions are already imposed by the Olympics and the soccer World Cup. After all, commercial considerations must be taken into account:

    “We think our rules are fair to everyone, to those who pay for the privilege to buy certain rights which helps us reinvest in the game, and also to those who get to come along without paying any rights fees [said Mike Miller, Chairman of the World Cup].” [AFP]

    The full detail of their statement is available online, and the explicit mention of news and photo distribution by mobile phone underlines the central role media disintermediation plays in this dispute.

    Unfortunately, the boycott will mean that coverage of the World Cup will be restricted to those organizations that have bought access through sponsorships or are driven to cover the event by their rugby-mad readers (like the Welsh, the Australians, the New Zealanders and the Brits).

    In North America, rugby will continue to struggle for attention in the thin oxygen of the subscription sports channels.
    On the other hand, this is the first time, in four years of blogging, that I have used disintermediation in a post. Yay me!

    [tags] rugby, Adidas, International Rugby Board, All Blacks, World Cup boycott [/tags]

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    Skepticism, opportunity and fear in social media


    David Bradfield has read my (admittedly small) mention in PR Week US, and asks:

    “I figured it would be a lively and insightful dialogue, but skepticism seems to have outweighed opportunity (again). Is this really the case?”

    Yes, Virginia. This is the case. Not just in Canada, however. The world has separated into three tribes of social media users:

    • Evangelists, who are confident of their diagnosis and certain their prescription will succeed. Evangelists can be divided into two camps: those with a budget, and those without a budget. I should restate that … two camps: those with a client’s budget, and those without their own budget.

    “We know you’ve got the money! We just have to spend it bonehead!”

    That’s the voice of the evangelist consultant. $5000, $50,000, $500,000 – you have the budget, they have a range of tactics that will address your ailment. Note that I said tactic. By definition, a consultant will not be around long enough to measure whether a social media campaign has a lasting influence on a company’s relationship with its clients or stakeholders.

    What about those without their own budget? Those are the true believers. They’re the ones that get a sour taste in their mouth when they say “word of mouth” or “buzz” too frequently. That’s because their original influencers were family and friends. These evangelists build shoestring campaigns of amazing complexity using the incredibly flexible 2.0 apps available to all comers. And they measure influence and impact several times a day – in the customer’s shopping cart and at their bank branch.

    • Hobbyists. They’re the ones that play with social media in their spare time. Niche experts or generalists, hobbyists have spent a lot of time examining how social media will affect their job, their industry and their world. I used the future tense because some of them have been doing this hobby research for three, four or five years. And they still haven’t applied their knowledge to anything other than a hobby blog or family podcast.

    Unfortunately, there’s always a reason: not enough time. not enough authority. not enough money. not enough confidence.

    I don’t mean to be harsh, but

    “drop your purse, honey! It’s GO TIME!

    • And, finally, opportunists. Once again, there are two camps of opportunists. There’s the executive that has heard their friends talk about some aspect of social media, or has noticed what their kids are doing at home, or realizes that their shiny new integrated marcomm campaign won’t take home any year-end awards without some hint of a social media component. These are what evangelists with a client’s budget call “walk-ins.”

    The other camp is more practical. They are not obsessed with social media as a life changing development in how humans communicate. Practical opportunists recognize the advantages promised by social media – in the right campaign, with the right positioning, and with concrete links to company strategy.

    The advances being made with social media are a mix of work by all three tribes. I’ve already suggested that crossover can happen among tribes. Many practical opportunists take a risk on a social media at the prompting of hobbyists hiding in plain sight in corporate comms or marketing shops.

    What is holding up innovation and experimentation in public relations in Canada? The capacity to take innovative thought, personal inspiration and a clear understanding of corporate priorities and strategies – and identify which social media tools make good business sense.

    Not a fun experiment, but good business sense.

    In all fairness, I’ll leave the last word to a stand-in for the evangelist:

    “…VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except [what] they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge…” (Original editorial from the New York Sun, hosted by the Newseum)

    [tags] social media, technology evangelist, PR in Canada, Canadian public relations PR Week [/tags]

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    Australian sustainability gone wrong


    “You guys got nothing to worry about, I’m a professional.”

    In some ways, corporate social responsibility programs can be a Faustian bargain. We’ve become accustomed to corporations claiming environmental and social awareness, but we still listen to their claims with a cocked ear. We need to see a concrete action plan. More importantly, we need independent and verified proof of an effective CSR plan.

    That’s why Mattel’s recalls have been so damaging to their reputation. A twenty year relationship with your foreign contractors isn’t enough anymore. Especially when your compliance program, while extensive and detailed, is self-monitored.

    Nike learned that lesson a few years ago. CSR is no longer a cape to be thrown over your corporate shoulders, at very little cost and relatively little effort. CSR now demands an dedicated corporate infrastructure, a detailed reporting program, and carefully maintained relationships with non-governmental organizations and verification authorities.

    Today, the problems fall to Woolworths – the Australian supermarket chain. Despite a report full of CSR programming, Green groups have challenged the company’s claims that its premium paper products were composed of “Sustainable Forest Fibre.” In fact, they have far harsher things to say about Asia Pulp and Paper, the source of the fibre.

    As a result, Woolworths has had to pull the product from the shelves. They’ve also begun to redesign the packaging, to eliminate the questioned claim of sustainability. Finally, they’ve asked the World Wildlife Foundation to audit their supplier’s claims.

    And therein lays the problem. Most consumers would prefer to hear from a slightly scruffy and clearly environmentally concerned specialist directly and in advance, rather than waiting for one to be called in.

    As soon as you have to start swearing that you’re not cheating, you become the Horshack, Epstein or Dylan McKay of the CSR world.

    The standards for a CSR program have shifted. Self-monitoring, in the face of increasing claims of health and safety risk, does not appear sufficient. It doesn’t matter if your monitoring program is effective: it’s the appearance that matters.

    Especially if the claims of risk are coming from groups vested with more authority in the subject. Even two environmental specialists in a basement office can send a corporation running if their claims appear weak. Once again, in a crunch it’s the appearance that matters.

    h/t to PR Watch

    [tags] csr, corporate sustainability, Woolworths, grocery, supermarket [/tags]

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    Algonquin College looks at Facebook all cockeyed


    Algonquin College is a local community college with some reputation for an innovative new media program. Which makes the news that college administrators have “suggested” instructors not “friend” students all the stranger.

    The note I’ve pasted below is unattributed, so I’m willing to withdraw it if challenged. But if it’s true, what was the motivation? Too many college instructors found wasted at keggers?

    Even more damaging – the assertion that students are not “peers.” This from a college that encourages several professional development programs and career advancement courses?

    “In order to maintain a professional working relationship at the college, with all students, it has been suggested that Profs not accept Facebook friendship requests from current students. Any current Facebook friendships should be terminated. However, once students have graduated, and become peers, then Facebook friendships can be restored.”

    [tags] Facebook, Algonquin College, student relations [/tags]

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    The first MySpace and Friendster and Facebook and …


    Earlier this month, Joe Engressia died. That name may not mean very much, but the term “phone phreak” may. Engressia was one of the first phone phreaks: using his natural ability to whistle the tones that controlled the AT&T switching network, he helped a generation of nerds to discover their interest in electronics. Along the way, they manipulated the nation’s electronic infrastructure to learn new skills, meet new friends around the world, and talk about dating and sex.

    Forty years ago, personal computing was a largely inconceivable proposition. Computers, networks, phone switches and other electronic equipment were the property of large corporations. Sure, there were engineers, technicians and researchers working for those corporations, but they were employees, generally following the rules and maintaining order in the systems.

    It took a small group of technically-minded and generally socially awkward people to bend those systems to their own advantage, in the process creating some of the first electronic social networks. A lot has been written about the phone phreaks who delighted in developing new tools and techniques to thwart Ma Bell – here, here and here.

    Ron Rosenbaum wrote about the phreaking culture in a 1971 article for Esquire: Secrets of the Little Blue Box.

    “… (Joe)Engressia might have gone on whistling in the dark for a few friends for the rest of his life if the phone company hadn’t decided to expose him. He was warned, disciplined by the college, and the whole case became public. In the months following media reports of his talent, Engressia began receiving strange calls. There were calls from a group of kids in Los Angeles who could do some very strange things with the quirky General Telephone and Electronics circuitry in L.A. suburbs. There were calls from a group of mostly blind kids in —-, California, who had been doing some interesting experiments with Cap’n Crunch whistles and test loops. There was a group in Seattle, a group in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a few from New York, a few scattered across the country. Some of them had already equipped themselves with cassette and electronic M-F devices. For some of these groups, it was the first time they knew of the others.

    The exposure of Engressia was the catalyst that linked the separate phone-phreak centers together. They all called Engressia. They talked to him about what he was doing and what they were doing. And then he told them — the scattered regional centers and lonely independent phone phreakers — about each other, gave them each other’s numbers to call, and within a year the scattered phone-phreak centers had grown into a nationwide underground. …

    … The last big conference — the historic “2111” conference — had been arranged through an unused Telex test-board trunk somewhere in the innards of a 4A switching machine in Vancouver, Canada. For months phone phreaks could M-F their way into Vancouver, beep out 604 (the Vancouver area code) and then beep out 2111 (the internal phone-company code for Telex testing), and find themselves at any time, day or night, on an open wire talking with an array of phone phreaks from coast to coast, operators from Bermuda, Tokyo and London who are phone-phreak sympathizers, and miscellaneous guests and technical experts. The conference was a massive exchange of information.

    Phone phreaks picked each other’s brains clean, then developed new ways to pick the phone company’s brains clean. Ralph gave M F Boogies concerts with his home-entertainment-type electric organ, Captain Crunch demonstrated his round-the-world prowess with his notorious computerized unit and dropped leering hints of the “action” he was getting with his girl friends. (The Captain lives out or pretends to live out several kinds of fantasies to the gossipy delight of the blind phone phreaks who urge him on to further triumphs on behalf of all of them.)

    The somewhat rowdy Northwest phone-phreak crowd let their bitter internal feud spill over into the peaceable conference line, escalating shortly into guerrilla warfare; Carl the East Coast international tone relations expert demonstrated newly opened direct M-F routes to central offices on the island of Bahrein in the Persian Gulf, introduced a new phone-phreak friend of his in Pretoria, and explained the technical operation of the new Oakland-to Vietnam linkages. (Many phone phreaks pick up spending money by M-F-ing calls from relatives to Vietnam G.I.’s, charging $5 for a whole hour of trans-Pacific conversation.)

    Day and night the conference line was never dead. Blind phone phreaks all over the country, lonely and isolated in homes filled with active sighted brothers and sisters, or trapped with slow and unimaginative blind kids in straitjacket schools for the blind, knew that no matter how late it got they could dial up the conference and find instant electronic communion with two or three other blind kids awake over on the other side of America.

    Talking together on a phone hookup, the blind phone phreaks say, is not much different from being there together. Physically, there was nothing more than a two-inch-square wafer of titanium inside a vast machine on Vancouver Island. For the blind kids there meant an exhilarating feeling of being in touch, through a kind of skill and magic which was peculiarly their own…”

    [tags] Facebook, Friendster, MySpace, blue box, phreak, Engressia  [/tags]

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    Get a second shot at spinning that negative article


    Thanks to Google News, your spokesperson or technical expert may have another opportunity to present their case in the news – AFTER the journalist has filed.

    Google’s about to add a comment feature to Google News – but with a twist. Only people directly involved with the story, like those quoted in it, can submit a comment to be moderated by the Google News staff.

    “We’ll be trying out a mechanism for publishing comments from a special subset of readers: those people or organizations who were actual participants in the story in question. Our long-term vision is that any participant will be able to send in their comments, and we’ll show them next to the articles about the story. Comments will be published in full, without any edits, but marked as “comments” so readers know it’s the individual’s perspective, rather than part of a journalist’s report.”(Google News Blog)

    This signals another shift toward the corporate interpretation of how social media should be managed.

    For those of you following on the home game, the comments appended to a Google News story will have gone through TWO filters – the original reporter’s judgement of who should participate in the story, and Google’s own test of authenticity.

    How about that? You can just throw the egalitarian nature of comments under the bus now. Traditional media, as interpreted and annotated by the gatekeepers.

    For public relations specialists, this opens up a whole new channel of communication: pointing readers to your evidence and your record of the interview.

    Especially for you paranoid and obsessive types that make it a habit of recording every moment your senior executive comes within a restraining order of a journalist.

    And, judging from the FAQ on the new comments policy, your comments may have greater longevity than the story itself:

    “However, we’ll try to be in touch with you and possibly include your comments in future stories that mention you. “

    Communicators and media relations experts now have another channel to consider when evaluating the impact of their media coverage.

    Why not respond to how your interview, fact sheet or news release were interpreted in the article?

    [tags] Google News, comment policy, retaliation [/tags]

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    PR is a passel of of crooked bastards who turn the other cheek


    I’ve been digging through the archives (more than 1300 posts) for something suitably intelligent and prescient to post in anticipation of BuzzCanuck’s 1% army bracket.

    Instead, I’ve come up with a thought – two and a half years old – that seems right off the pages of this week’s Strumpette.

    Ketchum, Williams, Rosen and the wood shed

    Jay Rosen has rightly taken the PR blogging community to the wood shed for our (relative) lack of commentary on the Williams/Ketchum contract.

    Many PR bloggers DID comment on the controversy – even those of us who do not work or live in the United States. Nonetheless, we can be critcized for not feeding this important debate on PR ethics at the speed or volume expected by most inhabitants of the blogosphere.

    Not that we’re dealing with an isolated case. As Jeremy pointed out, the industry seems to be backsliding when it comes to transparency and ethical behaviour.

    Public relations has long harboured underhanded operatives and unscrupulous tactics: the only way to demonstrate our commitment to open, honest and two-way communication is with the unstinting and outspoken leadership of prominent professionals, firms and associations (maybe even bloggers!) in the industry.

    Neville Hobson, among others, hit the nail on the head when he asked where our professional associations have been hiding during this ethical imbroglio.

    Several bloggers have suggested the associations’ low-key reaction may be a defensive tactic, designed to preserve their relationship with prominent members and sponsors.

    If so, what is the worth of their codes of ethics? Are they just another page in a boring membership package, or a laminated plaque for the firm’s lunch room?

    But why was the PR blogging community so subdued in its reaction? Why didn’t a feeding frenzy of debate and recrimination erupt, as in other parts of the blogosphere, building and tearing down arguments by the minute?

    This, I think, reflect the differing motivations of the global PR blogger community: as Steve and Jeremy point out, we have individual areas of interest and concentration, and we don’t necessarily jump on the issue of the day when writing for our blogs.

    Of course, our collective reaction could simply reflect natural aversion of all PR pros to becoming part of the story.

    And that would be a shame.

    Originally posted January 20, 2005.

    [tags] public relations ethics, PRSA, CPRS, IABC, ethical blogging, values, morals [/tags]

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    Listen to me roar


    After nearly six years, I’m back to being an official spokesperson. And I like it. The back room’s a fine place to work, but I also like speaking to researchers, reporters, clients and Canadians in general.

    There’s a sense of personal accountability and professional pride that comes with actually explaining and debating your organization’s programs and policies.

    In some fashion, the change in jobs has prompted an adrenaline rush, like Hunter S. Thompson’s jackrabbits.

    Oh – and there’s the google juice too. Your personal and professional profile benefits from the online media coverage. – unless you really screw up.

    That’s one thing that’s changed since we were partying like it was 1999.

    [tags] spokesperson, online media relations [/tags]

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    Social media, online identity and privacy


    I’ve been doing some thinking about data collection and personal privacy lately, and it’s struck me that a lot of early adopters, online cognoscenti and bandwagoners are rushing headlong into a world framed by the overarching principles of transparency, honesty and personal interaction – without thinking of about how much of their personal information they are leaving exposed.

    This isn’t a new development. Without understanding something of how customer relationship marketing, market segmentation and direct marketing works, the average person really doesn’t understand how their personal information swirls in currents and eddies of databases, mail lists, dodgy piles of index cards and thumb keys.

    I’ll give you an example: at the right is a set of keys. Attached are the key tags for four loyalty programs: Albertson’s grocery, GNC vitamin shop, Ace Hardware and some Canadian chain. To the key’s owners, those tags are worth 5% off purchases.

    To someone with access to one or all those databases, those tags represent a considerable amount of detail about the key owner’s shopping habits, product preferences, fondness for discounts or particular brand names, and even their travelling habits.

    With that information, marketers and political strategists can micro-market to increasingly targeted segments of the population – and your neighbourhood. And your group of friends. And members of your family.

    But we’re only discussing information consciously handed over to marketers and consumer companies in exchange for quantifiable benefits: I’ll let you track my shopping patterns in exchange for a discount on bulk purchases of panty liners; I’ll sign up for your program so I receive advance emails about Memorial Day sales.

    What about the personal information you leave hanging, for all to see, in your online profiles?

    • your birthday
    • your home address
    • your kid’s names
    • your vacation schedule

    Would you post a picture of your driver’s licence? Considered as individual data points, this information does not seem like much. In total, you are giving out far more information for free – and to everyone – than you would agree to let a marketer collect.

    I’ve already posted about the dangers of mistaken or outright stolen identity online. But don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that social media is evil.

    Instead, we all need to get into the habit of maintaining an inventory of our online identity. Nothing complicated, just a personal awareness of how much information you’ve revealed, and to who.

    Even on social networks that are password protected and offer tools to restrict access to your profile information, you may end up “friending” people who you barely know. And that increases the risk.
    After all, you need to be aware whether some hacker knows more about you than your best friend.

    And you better not lose that keychain.
    [tags] facebook, identity theft, online identity, personality [/tags]

    Comments (1)

    Age of Conversation


    Coming, just for you, on Monday!

    The Age of Conversation, an e-book collaboration by over 100 authors in marketing, advertising, public relations and big thinking.

    All profits going to Variety, the Children’s Charity.
    More details available on my custom Age of Conversation page.

    Thanks to Drew and Gavin for organizing this!

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    Past Work


    Over the years, I have published a number of papers, presentations and booklets on public relations, marketing, social media and government communications.

    Incorporating Blogs into the Marketing Mix – an e-guide prepared in December 2005

    I spoke to a Third Tuesday Ottawa meetup about government communications and the implementation of a social media strategy at my government department. (MP3 audio available)

    Secret Underground Guide to Social Media for Organizations – prepared in March 2008, this is meant to help communicators within large organizations to build the support for social media tactics and campaigns within their organization. It was very well received.

    Basic Principles for Crisis Communications – prepared for Global PR Blog Week 1.0, October 2004

    The complexities of government blogging in a dynamic policy environment – prepared for Global PR Blog Week 2.0, September 2005

    And, for old school cred, Canuckflack was Marketing Sherpa’s best PR Blog of 2004.

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