Archive for the ‘social trends’ Category
I saw a very disappointing infographic this morning, via Dave Forde’s PR in Canada site. Produced by the Max Borges Agency, it chronicles the history of public relations. I was interested to scan it. And so I did. I invite you to do the same:
Okay. Notice something?
- Ben Franklin.
- Tom Paine.
- Ivy Lee advising John D. Rockefeller.
- Edward Bernays advising Coolidge on foreign affairs.
And what do we have representing the last 13 years, the 2000s?
- Taco Bell and the crash of Mir.
- A PR stunt for The Dictator, a movie that hasn’t even made its budget back yet.
- And Oreo tweeting about a power failure.
As entertaining as these entries are, are they telling us something? I think they are. PR practitioners should look at this and ask themselves on what side they fall. Are they contributing substance, or are they simply carrying out stunts? Are they using the tools of communication at their disposal (obviously including the suite of tools that make up “social media”) to make change, to influence people on important issues, or is it about a cookie or a taco?
And if we’re seeking to summarize our contributions to society, are those the best examples we can find? What about the role of Twitter in the Iranian demonstrations? What about the ability of people to organize using social media to create events like Twestival? What about the Tylenol crisis? I could go on.
If public relations is to be considered a serious discipline, doesn’t it makes sense that we take on serious work, and talk about serious issues? And talk about them in public? Sometimes I think I oughtta find a new career.
As the tragedy of the Rana Plaza in Bangladesh unfolds, I’ve been thinking about something that happened more than 100 years ago.
In April 1911, a tragic fire in a clothing factory in New York killed 146 garment workers at the Triangle Waist Company and injured 71. Until 9/11, it was the second-deadliest disaster in that city’s history.
When I was a kid, I saw a TV movie based on this tragedy, and for some reason it stuck with me. Perhaps it was because at about 13, I was watching child actors portray workers in danger at the factory and dying from burns, or from jumping from the 10th storey or higher, as the flames became more intense.
And that fire’s come back to me now as rescuers give up hope in Dhaka and the body count rises past 400. The dead in New York in 1911 were the bottom of the barrel. They were recent immigrants, young women, desperately trying to gain a foothold in their new country. They worked making women’s blouses (known as shirtwaists) nine hours a day Monday to Friday, and seven hours on Saturday, for the princely sum of $12 per week.
When the fire broke out, apparently when someone dropped a match or cigarette in some cloth scraps, it raged through the factory, helped by the fact that far too much scrap cloth had been left in bins. And the doors to the factory were locked.
So the workers tried to escape. The fire escape, a compromise between the factory owners and the city, was shoddy, and 20 workers fell to their deaths when it collapsed and fell 100 feet to the ground.
Horrified onlookers watched dozens of people leap from the building, some described as “living torches.”
Now compare that to the thousands of garment workers in Bangladesh, making less than $40 per month as compensation for their contribution to the Bangladeshi export economy, which accounts for 80% of the nation’s exports.
The tragedy of this collapse is infuriating, given the fact that the building was constructed without the slightest apparent regard for building code regulations, and that the owner apparently tried to escape the country once the collapse occurred.
And when it was discovered that Canadian brand Joe Fresh was one of the brands being produced there, Canadians began to ask themselves whether they should be buying cloths. Talk of a boycott of Bangladeshi products began.
The issue was then complicated by people pointing out that a boycott of Bangladeshi goods might well result in hurting the very workers that it was intended to support and assist. As the Globe and Mail’s Doug Saunders wrote:
“The garment boom has reduced poverty sharply and raised the status of women. This has coincided with a five-year period of democratic stability. But the cities are corrupt and virtually ungoverned – almost certainly the root cause of the building collapse. Changes to building codes, safety standards and hygiene are unlikely to happen unless pressure comes from outside.
We know it can work. In 2010, Dhaka’s garment workers held huge protests: They won a historic minimum-wage increase of 80 per cent, to around $50 a month. And pressure from North American companies, chastened and embarrassed by events such as last year’s lethal fire, has increased safety and working standards in factories that sell to the West. Similar pressure can force companies to pay workers fairly and keep them safe from disaster and abuse.
The garment boom has helped reduce poverty in the West (by reducing clothing costs) and in the East (by providing wages far higher than subsistence farming or casual labour). The next step is to remain connected, and to demand the sort of workplace standards that should be universal. Bangladeshi workers should have the same protections that our own workers won, through tragedy and horror, a century ago.”
As you can see, I’m far from the only person thinking about this tragedy and relating it to the Triangle fire.
When over decades, living standards for workers in the West increased, and worker protections increased apace, we’ve seen that production go overseas, to places in which those protections and standards don’t exist. The Bangladeshi workers share many characteristics with their sisters who died 100 years ago.
But knee-jerk reactions don’t make for concerted change. It’s important for us to learn and to listen to those who know more about what’s happening on the ground, and then to figure out what the best thing to do is and to try to help our fellow man and woman by supporting in the BEST way possible, not simply the one that makes us feel good. And if we truly believe this is an important issue, we should be willing to act in a more substantive way than just clicking like on a Facebook page or signing an online petition.
Here’s a documentary about the Triangle fire that I found on Youtube.
The world was abuzz this week with the story of Karen Klein, a woman from upstate New York who was taunted mercilessly while working as a school bus monitor. As is so often the case, the taunters were not only mean and vile, but stupid enough to record their actions. If you haven’t seen this, you may or may not want to expose yourself to the 10 minutes of evil vapidity.
The video, as is the cliché, went viral. Millions of views. Then a guy in Toronto named Max Sidorov was touched by the video. He set up a campaign on Indiegogo to give her a vacation. He set a goal of $5,000, saying “There’s even a point in the video where one of the kids touches Karen’s arm in an attempt to make fun of her. I’m not sure why these kids would want to bully a senior citizen to tears, but I feel we should do something, or at least try. She doesn’t earn nearly enough ($15,506) to deal with some of the trash she is surrounded by. Lets give her something she will never forget, a vacation of a lifetime!”
Then Sidorov’s campaign went viral too — in spades. In a matter of days, the campaign raised more than $545,000.
All of this is heartwarming. This is a 68-year-old woman who was treated more than shabbily, and it’s lovely to think that she’s going to be helped by this.
But let’s be honest here. Does Karen Klein need a half-million nest egg? Does the pain or embarrassment she suffered warrant a half-million payday?
Let’s take another example — Caine’s Arcade. The release of a short film about Caine’s Arcade led to a college fund of more than $200,000 and a matching fund to help other kids as creative and deserving as Caine.
There’s no doubt that these stories are inspiring. But I have this feeling that even the desire to good using the tools of social media can go too far. In themselves, the 25,000 donors to the Klein campaign each did an undeniably good thing. But is the best use of the $545,000 and counting that has been raised to simply go to Ms. Klein?
The other side of this is the response by viewers to reach out to the school or the school district.
The school district website has a message which reads in part:
“The behaviors displayed on this video are not representative of all Greece Central students and this is certainly not what we would like our students to be known for. We have worked very hard to educate students on the damaging impact of bullying and will continue to do so.
We have received thousands of phone calls and emails from people across the country wanting to convey their thoughts. People are outraged by what has happened and they feel the students should be punished. While we agree that discipline is warranted, we cannot condone the kind of vigilante justice some people are calling for. This is just another form of bullying and cannot be tolerated.
We all need to take a step back and look at how we treat each other. It is our job as educators and parents to teach children and lead by example. We encourage parents to use this as a springboard to begin a dialogue with their children about bullying, respect and consequences. As a school community, we will continue to take the lead in bullying education and we encourage all students and employees subjected to bullying and harassment to report it as soon as it occurs and to take a stand if they are witness to bullying in their lives.”
I can only imagine the sheer volume of contacts. How could a small upstate New York school or district reasonably handle this level of outrage and demand for response? And what would my angry e-mail add to the situtation?
I don’t really have any answers here; I’m just trying to think through how a bad thing can, through social media, lead to a good thing and then, again through social media, perhaps the good thing becomes too much of a good thing.
What do you think?
I tend to end up volunteering for a lot of stuff. Part of it is because I have a hard time saying no to good causes, part of it because I enjoy doing the work, part of it because it makes me feel good to help, part of it because often it’s friends asking, and part of it because I might learn something or hang out with cool people.
One of the things I think has been changed most fundamentally by social media is the relationship between not-for-profit organizations and people wishing to do good things for them.
Back in the day, charities and not-for-profits relied on long-term relationships with volunteers and donors. Every year, Jane Bloggs would “collect” for the Heart Foundation, the March of Dimes, or the Cancer Society (Of course, this still happens.) Every year, people would write cheques (as my parents still do, in memory of my brother) to the local children’s hospital. Memorial donations.
And not-for-profits would have committees which would provide muscle and brainpower to organize events and fundraisers. Need a fashion show? A charity tea? Casino night? Strike a committee, likely with one or more of the same people who canvassed and knitted and hosted the dinner etc… and the event comes together.
I suspect that in many ways, there was even a parallel thing happening with genders. Men would join “service clubs” like Rotary, Kinsmen, and the like, and women would have parallel clubs (in Canada, the IODE or the Catholic Women’s League).
But things are changing. Traditional service clubs are declining in popularity, as noted both by media and by club believers. But at the same time, there are good things happening too. And that’s where social media comes in.
The ability for people to self-organize and act via social media is awe-inspiring. Let me give you a bunch of examples:
- Twestival‘s remarkable success (nearly $2M raised in three years) comes to mind (and I feel justifiably proud in pointing to Ottawa’s superbly done Twestival event last year, organized by Stéphanie Montreuil and a gang of other smart people).
- The recent example of Caine’s Arcade is another heartwarming story, especially now that in addition to providing Caine with the world’s first crowdsourced scholarship (I’m guessing), a foundation has paired up to match those funds and help other kids like Caine.
- Hélène Campbell, a young woman from Ottawa, took her diagnosis of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis and turned it into a campaign for organ donation that took the province of Ontario’s Trillium Gift of Life Network by surprise — when she got celebrities such as Jann Arden, Justin Bieber, and Ellen Degeneres involved in urging organ donation, their registrations went from about 50 per day up to hundreds per day. She bumped the whole province’s registration number by two percent — nearly 250,000!
- 12for12K was a campaign organized by Danny Brown back in 2008, which raised more than $100,000 for a number of charities.
- And a couple of years ago, this was brought home to me when I found myself raising money and collecting goods for a local women’s shelter that had suffered a terrible fire.
So what makes all this different? A few things:
- People don’t have the same sort of connection to the organization they’re working on behalf of.
I didn’t know Cornerstone from a hole in the ground beforehand. I’m not a woman. I’ve never had to live in a shelter. I didn’t know any of the staff or volunteers. I just got riled up by the fire. I don’t think Hélène Campbell was involved in organ donation before she got sick. This sort of spontaneous engagement has good and bad implications. First, it can be an unexpected and serendipitous boon. Yay. Second, it can create unexpected work for charity staff or established volunteers. Not exactly Boo, but uh-oh.
- Not-for-profits can sometimes do best by staying out of the way
Organizations that aren’t familiar with the ad-hoc, high-energy, short-term nature of these movements might stifle them with excessive bureaucracy, caution, or general wet-blanketing. That in no way means you let people run with a valuable brand. But you don’t want to oversee and second-guess every decision.
- Trying to court these folks into becoming longtime donors or volunteers may not work, or even backfire.
The irony of these “flash-givers” is that while they may well believe in your cause, be willing to use social media, traditional media, public relations, and the like to boost it, and make a big difference… it may be a one-night stand. They may feel little to no long-term interest in the organization, and may well be too busy or lack the long-term interest to come back to the organization, volunteer, join a board, etc.
- Use this new energy to leverage your organization.
In the media relations game, ”earned media” implies a third-party endorsement of an organization. Well, someone coming out of the blue to support your organization financially or with an event is an EXPLICIT endorsement of what you do. Use them (with their permission and support) to solidify or expand your organization’s brand in the media, to increase your website’s Google juice, or to further promote your own social media initiatives. All parties will benefit.
- Smart charities and NFPs will figure out ways of encouraging and supporting these flash-gives.
Just as you could stifle an initiative with too much “management”, you can fan the flames with some judicious support. Ask how you can help. Have resources ready for them — logos, sound bites, etc. Be ready to include news about them in your organization’s online presence. Work your existing networks to help the new folks achieve their goals, or at least offer to.
As the old ways of cultivating and managing volunteers become less effective, the NFP sector needs to find ways to harness this somewhat anarchic force. Those who do can reap great benefits.
Some great resources for not-for-profits:
On April Fool’s Day, I was one of a bunch of people who announced that we had created a spoof site called PinPal, which promised to match up similarly Klouted and Pinterested people for loooove.
Hahahaha, right? April Fool! Well apparently the joke was on us.
Tawkify is apparently a quite serious site, created by someone named “E. Jean Carr”, who writes for Elle magazine and someone else. Here’s their manifesto:
“Your Klout Score—which measures your online influence from your social networks like Twitter, Facebook, Linked In and Google+ —is just another way to calibrate your awesomeness. It’s a hipper, newer, fresher, more authentic, more modern, more romantic way to match your allure. Your Height? Your Weight? Bah! Soooo superficial. A Klout Score over 17 reveals that people find you so appealing that you inspire them to listen to the Adele song you just recommended or to share your comments about Jeremy Lin.”
I think Jimmy Addison is hunkered down in some San Francisco law office right now getting some papers prepared for service. As if Klout didn’t have enough mess on its hands already, does it really need to be offering up a tacit endorsement of an online dating service on its corporate blog?
One more reason I’m happy to be happily living in sin.
The backlash is burbling against infographics. For the last couple of years, these visual depictions of information have become more and more frequently used on the web. Seems you can hardly find a news release, a website, blog, tumblr, or whatever without seeing piles of infographics.
And that’s perhaps where the backlash begins. Katie Paine has identified bad infographics as her “Measurement Menace of the Month”, calling them “the Kardashians of measurement.” My friend Doug Haslam has created a Pinterest board called “Infographic Crimes Against Humanity” (and, to his chagrin, seen people re-pin the “crimes” as great infographics).
I think what’s happening here is a cycle of usage that I’ve seen happen a number of times in my time as a computer user / online denizen.
The cycle goes like this:
- A tool or communications medium is introduced. It’s expensive and/or difficult to do. (Think traditional page layout in the 1990s, early illustration programs, making presentations using transparencies or actual slides, word processing in the 70s, hardcoding HTML…or creating infographics)
Implication: only specialists create using the tool.
- Innovation and technology make the tool less expensive and easier to use.
Implication: a small group of people start “playing” with the tool.
- Some early adopters use the tool with great success, touting the “HEY! I DID IT ALL BY MYSELF!”
Implication: people think “If that shmuck can _____, I can!”
- Everybody jumps on the tool.
Implication: some truly heinous things are created.
When it comes to infographics, the current darling, it would be useful to remember that there’s a reason great infographics are great — it’s because skill and thought are put into their creation. Tools like Visual.ly don’t do the hard work of thinking through the information, any more than Pagemaker or Printmaster actually DID the design work, or Geocities or FrontPage created beautiful graphics.
I’m not against infographics. I love them. As long as they’re good. If they aren’t? Don’t use ‘em. If you can’t make good ones — either learn how, or pay someone who can. BREAK THE CYCLE!
After some time working on the staff side of Algonquin, I’m returning there as a part-time prof in the Social Media Certificate program. The program offers people an elementary education in social media. And I get to do the introduction to social media course.
While Joe will be teaching online, I’ll be sweating it out in the classroom. I suppose it’s fitting that the younger of us will be teaching online, while the … not so younger… of us will be doing it old-school.
Some might think an introductory course is not the most exciting. But I disagree — I think that the introductory course is the place where people should be coming in with questions and perceptions that challenge the status quo. I’m looking forward to providing a basis for the rest of their courses and to maybe even having some of my sacred cows given a bit of a going over too!
It’s been a while since I’ve taught on a regular basis, but doing training and guest lectures has kept me fairly sharp. If you want to subject yourself to me blathering on… Do so at your own risk. Hope to see you in class.
Last month I blogged about my frustration with a lack of solid Canadian data on Internet use.
That frustration has by no means abated. Since I wrote that post in mid-December, I’ve been trying to get information about the seemingly moribund Canadian Internet Project, but so far to no avail. The good news is that sometime between December 16 and early January, their site went back online. However, the last content added seems to be a 2008 report titled “Canada online!” based on 2007 data.
There was a glimmer or two of light on the horizon though. I learned that Industry Canada has a team working to refresh its Digital Economy site. That’s good. And then yesterday, my friend Lydia pointed me to a report from new research firm Abacus Data that’s just come out this morning.
“What’s the big deal with Facebook” is a 10-page report based on a public opinion survey that explored who’s using Facebook up here in Canada and what they’re using it for. There’s some fascinating data here. Some of it is confirmatory of hunches that most of us have — that the younger a person is, the more likely they are to use tools such as Facebook and the less likely they are to see sharing information as risky. But just having confirmation of this is useful.
But here’s the big story in the data for me:
The fact that the number of people identifying Facebook as the most likely source of information about their friends goes from 8% for 60+ folks to 46% for 18-29 year-olds is information. But look at that text messaging bar. That’s 1 in 5 young people getting friend information via text.
That’s an amazing shift in carrying information. It requires incredibly condensed language; it also requires incredible virality — that text needs to push the receipient to pass the information on to another person. And that means that within the incredibly condensed language, there has to be attention and time to pushing on information — the texts have to have “hooks”. I’m not suggesting that 18-29 year-olds are taking marketing classes — I’m suggesting that unconsciously they’re practicing a version of SEO for texts and interpersonal communication. What is that? Would you call it TFO — text forwarding optimization? I’m not sure.
I’m really excited that Abacus Data is doing this work. Perhaps eventually, we’ll have a lively and productive Canadian Internet Project doing the same thing.
And in the meantime, I’m still hoping that people will ask – or answer — themselves why we have so little native data on such an important phenomenon.
I had a coffee with Vincent White of Canada NewsWire today, the first time we’d had a chance to chat in person. He’s a recent transplant to Ottawa from his home town of Montreal. As we chatted about a number of things, with a special appearance from PR and Other Deadly Sins cohort Mark Blevis, an idea came up.
I had also met today with Kel Morin-Parsons for the first time, and while we were getting to know each other, I was able to introduce her to Kym, who photographed me earlier this year. What do Mark, Kym, and Kel have in common? Multiple lives. Not the reincarnated type.
Kym is a public servant. She is a travel addict. And she’s created a web site where she takes pictures of people (quite artfully making them look fantastic and catching a sense of who they are seemingly effortlessly, from the subject’s point of view.)
It occurred to me that these folks are far from unique in my life. Ryan works with Kel, and is a blogger. Kym has taken photos of Emily, who is a graphic designer, a t-shirt entrepreneur, and a fundraiser against cancer with her art. Rob is a singer, a revitalizer of community associations, a public servant, and the organizer of a great fundraiser. Andrea is a singer-songwriter whose work I love and who does media monitoring in the early mornings. Suze is a maker of videos, a teacher, and helped create a super web site with Cheryl, who is a videotape editor, an organizer of songwriting circles, and more. And I have this job as a public relations guy, in addition to helping to organize meetups, serving on a board, doing house concerts, podcasting about Stephen King, trying to write a novel…
This isn’t the way my parents lived. Not sure it was the way ANYone’s parents lived. As Vincent and I talked about that, he wondered if this was an Ottawa thing. One of the things he’s noticed in his time here is that this is a “community” thing that may be unique to Ottawa. (He also pointed out that when we Ottawa types go to a 5 à 7, we leave at 7 and go home, instead of heading to a restaurant and continuing the evening. That is a Montréal thing, along with the best smoked meat and Sicilian cannoli…)
So I’m asking you: is this an Ottawa thing? Are we doing this more than other people? Or is this the way we all live now?
Happy weekend, everyone.
Last night (Tuesday, May 25), Ian Capstick, Erik Hagborg and I were the panelists for a hugely fun (at least for me) panel discussion on social media and its effects on more “traditional” communications. The discussion was part of the Cafe Scientifique program. This discussion was organized by The Canada Museum of Science and Technology and the Canadian Museum of Nature. Particular thanks should to to Isabelle Kingsley, who organized the event.
Here’s roughly the entire evening in audio format. It’s about 100 minutes long, and it ranges from the future of cursive script, to the “art should / shouldn’t be free” debate, to the fundamental disadvantage of the e-book (hint: “Hey! Read this!”) to how we preserve the important things in a digital age that doesn’t preserve things in tangible format.
Apologies for any rough audio — it was a big room and I was recording only with my Edirol. Mostly pretty good, I think. The audio begins with Erik Hagborg’s opening remarks. Download it here, or use the player below.
- 00:00 — Opening statements. Erik takes us back to the beginning of communications with the run at Marathon, then moves on to the four questions of the evening: Are we conducting too many of our relationships via tech? Why do we choose to use technology to communicate? Does tech facilitate or impede face-to-face communications? Are technology and f2f interactions complementary or exclusive? (Bonus from Erik: The difference between a “friend” and a “good friend”?)
- 05:45 — Ian Capstick talks about his earliest experience with technology and F2F communication, when he was a teenager and met online friends in Ottawa at a choral conference.
- 09:20 – Ian’s train of thought is briefly interrupted as his dinner arrives.
- 11:40 — Ian recalls the phone phreakers as one of several examples of how humans hack technology for good and ill.
- 15:25 -- Bob acknowledges that concern about social media is fair, but fear is unreasonable. People will use technologies in the ways that best suit them, and that one of the tension points with social media is that they are changing and growing so rapidly that our collective, unconscious agreements on what’s proper — the norms of using the medicum — are being left behind. Social media killed geography as the defining limit of friendship.
- 23:00 — I inform the audience that Mel Blanc was allergic to carrots (as is Ian Capstick)
- 24:00 – Discussion kicks off with an anecdote from moderator Isabelle Kingsley about texting as distraction
- 26:00 — How to sift through “all the crap” on the Internet, and whether there’s more crap on the Internet than there was before, with a slight detour into Internet dating
- 34:00 — Ian recommends Andrew Potter’s “The Authenticity Hoax“
- 37:00 — Discussion about the idea of digital legacy, in which I deftly pimp out PAB 2010. Adele McAlear and Derek K. Miller, come on down to pick up your name-checks! Ian argues that the problem won’t be a lack of information left behind but TOO MUCH.
- 40:00 — Erik talks about the craft behind communication — the calligraphy and the content of handwritten letters, for example. We won’t lose the CONTENT; we’re going to lose the style and soul. Ian counters by saying “the pen stole oral history,” polls the audience on the use of cursive handwriting, and nominates Isabelle Kingsley as the leader of the future handwriting guild.
- 46:00 — Where will obsolete media be preserved? Punch cards, 8-inch floppies, 5.25s, 3.5s… Erik suggests most technologies will be backwards-compatible and that this is not a huge worry. He also admits to, as a child, ruining his father’s punch-card programs on their home mainframe (parenthetical note: Erik had a mainframe in his HOUSE?!)
- 49:00 — Bob shouts out to Project Gutenberg and Librivox as examples of how people are preserving ‘outdated’ content
- 51:00 — Do people have opinions on e-books? Ian is conflicted and thinks there’s a generational shift involved with the shift from paper to pixels. Bob hates the DRM, the lack of pass-on-ability and marginalia and mourns the loss of craft in e-books as well as the LP-CD-MP3 transition.
- 55:00 — Erik jumps on a DRM soapbox and ventures the “art wants to be free” argument, to be countered strongly by Ian and audience members, and weakly by house-concert presenter Bob (yes, I’m shamelessly whoring myself; it’s my blog.) Erik maintains that examples of commercial success exist.
- 59:00 — Ian begs to differ and betrays his proud socialist heritage by arguing creating content has to be valued and compensated (shoutout, Cory Doctorow)… “we must find alternative funding models!”, and takes a run at Robert Bateman (f-bomb warning)
- 1:06 — Discussion of the power of social media tools to connect people and to foster awareness and action internationally, with references to Iran, to Burma, Michael Jackson, balloon boy, and to the local experience of Ian and my blogging about Cornerstone.
- 1:16 – Does reliance on specific ways of communicating leave you excluded from some people because they don’t use the same channels? Discussion of how to get out of your “comfort zone”, how Bob’s next-door neighbour reached out using Facebook to make the introduction (thank God), and how Ian met his condo-mate at a ChangeCamp.
- 1:27 – Does the desire for texting / tweeting / constant “communicating” mean people miss out on genuine interactions?
- 1:30 — The difficulty of sloppy communication, and how interpretation of communication tells as much about the interpreter as about what is being interpreted.
- 1:34 — after an awkward jump-cut where I muffed the recorder, Ian gives his online parenting advice, which incorporates a story about his own adolescent online adventures in the land of shirtless men. Bob talks about tailoring communication media to the audience, whether family or not.