Archive for the ‘web 2.0’ Category
I’m writing this on the day after Canada Day, which always feels like the start of the week to me. Living in Canada’s capital city means that you’re going to get involved in some way, no matter how low-key, in our national celebration. Yesterday’s revelry took place in lots of heat and humidity, and in the afternoon, there was a tornado warning — something that isn’t exactly commonplace for Ottawa.
Today, I was surprised by news that a music festival in my home province of Nova Scotia is cancelling its 2014 edition (scheduled for July 4-6) because a very early tropical storm seems like it will hit Canso, the home of the Stan Rogers Folk Festival, right when they’re supposed to be making music for an adoring crowd.
Outdoor events are by definition unpredictable. I was on the board of the Ottawa Folk Festival in 2010 when torrential rains made most of the site unusable and dealt a crippling blow to our finances. And in 2011, I was in the crowd at the Ottawa Bluesfest to enjoy a Cheap Trick show when a freak storm blew in and this happened (video shot by another bystander):
Fortunately, nobody died during that stage collapse, although there were injuries. Litigation over the collapse is still going on.
My experiences with music festivals have left me with an abiding interest in crisis preparation and response. And one of the most important things you can do as an organization is to have a “dark page” ready. What’s that, you ask?
A dark page, or a dark site, is a pre-developed website that you can use in place of your organization’s normal site in the event of a crisis of some sort. Why do this?
Well, if you look at the Stan Rogers Festival site, the cancellation media release is two clicks in. The main page, merrily promoting the festival and selling tickets, is what I see when I visit. Fortunately, you can’t actually complete a ticket purchase, but a casual visitor wouldn’t know what was happening.
If the Stanfest site had pulled down its normal page and replaced it with a simple site explaining the situation and informing various groups (ticketholders, performers, etc) of what they needed to know and how to get more information, the communication would be much more clear and straightforward.
Also, if anyone tries to share the news of the cancellation on Facebook, the site feeds FB information about the 2013 and 2012 dates, a fault in the HTML coding of the site:
Fortunately for Stanfest, their fans seem understanding and conciliatory. But if those fans begin to ask for information about refunds or rescheduling without quick answers, the patience may wear thin.
I fervently hope that the storm amounts to very little and that the folks behind Stanfest are able to put something together to salvage the festival.
Whatever your business, you should put a little thought into this. Crises happen everywhere, all the time. If you want to learn more about this, feel free to contact me, or you could read my friend Ann Marie van den Hurk’s book “Social Media Crisis Communications.” She’s a superb thinker on this topic.
If you’ve never seen or experienced some form of online harassment, you are in a TINY minority. This was brought home to me recently with the impact of a hammer on a nail. Survey results from a poll by a coalition of three organizations (Rad Campaign, Lincoln Park Strategies, and Craig Connects) got released June 4, and it is a sad story.
Among the “highlights” from the infographic the group produced:
- 47% of respondents under 35 reported being harassed.
- Facebook is a particular hotspot for online harassment.
- Women and men report sexual harassment at nearly identical rates (44% of women, 43% of men).
- Half of the people who were harassed did not report it.
- Nearly 30% of people surveyed report being afraid for their life as a result of online harassment.
- 3 in 5 people surveyed think laws concerning both online and in-person harassment are not strong enough.
Perhaps you are lucky enough to not have experienced harassment online. However, chances are that you’ve seen someone — a friend, colleague, whatever — harassed online. So whether you have experienced it directly or secondhand, you have a stake in changing this. We ALL do.
There’s no doubt that much harassment both exemplifies and reinforces deep and toxic threads of hatred: racism, intolerance, misogyny. But it’s simplistic and unproductive to throw up our hands in the air and simply blame “attitudes” for this problem. To my mind, we fall into one of three categories when it comes to online harassment:
If you’re a harasser: stop it, or the rest of us are going to stop you.
If you’re a victim: don’t swallow this. Don’t hide it, or hide from it. Tell the people who care about you. Take action. Report the behaviour. If you don’t feel strong enough, ask for help with it.
If you’re an onlooker (like me): Step up.
There have been countless examples of people being affected by this, from respected bloggers going silent to comic book artists being threatened with death to people at conferences being harassed online and offline to young people killing themselves. All of it is unacceptable. And we all have two duties: to support those being harassed and to confront the harassers.
There are more of us than them. We don’t need to become virtual lynch mobs, doing to the harassers what they’ve done to others. We just need to tell these bullies that we see them, that they must stop, and that they are not going to do this anymore.
Later on comes the change of attitudes. At some point, we need to figure out why these people are doing what they’re doing, how we can help them understand how wrong it is, and make them change their beliefs. But first, the behaviour has to stop. And the biggest thing you can do? Call people out. And if we become targets, we should expect the same support from others that we give.
Can we eliminate this problem? Not quickly, easily, or likely ever. Can we improve it? Undoubtedly.
Are you looking for more help responding to online harassment? I can’t recommend the organization CiviliNation highly enough. They have lots of resources, and CiviliNation founder Andrea Weckerle’s book Civility in the Digital Age is excellent.
A bit of a media — well, not a storm — drizzle began in my city last week. My local newspaper ran the story “Four staff work on widely-unwatched PMO promo videos.”
The nub of the story: in January of this year, our country’s Prime Minister (already the subject of some severe criticism for his inaccessibility to media) launched a YouTube feature called “24-Seven” (“24-sept” en français). The videos, at least one each week, are published to the PMO’s YouTube channel. And viewership has been less than revolutionary. The March 20-26 edition has 30 views in English as I write this, and 12 in French. Four public servants produce those sparsely-viewed videos “as part of their regular web publishing duties.” Those public servants include a director (annual salary at least $105K), a “multimedia specialist” (starting salary $56K), a “project coordinator” (starting salary $72K), and an “analyst” (starting salary $52K). The story notes that information wasn’t available about the people who actually shot and edited the video.
It’s easy to scoff at videos that have two-digit view counts, and equally easy to be sniffy about the expenditures. But this initiative is far from the only federal one that has failed on YouTube. Canada’s National Research Council has a four-year-old channel with 29 videos. Two of them have more than 2,000 views. Industry Canada’s channel has 15 videos, of which one has more than 1,000 views. Health Canada has posted 97 videos over the last four years, and has relative success, with some videos approaching 70,000 views. Environment Canada’s most popular video of its 30 has 9,300 views.
This week, the opposition parties to our federal government are continuing to ask questions about the videos, according to a post by intrepid CBC blogger Kady O’Malley. The opposition parties are assuming, I guess, that there may be tidbits they can use to hold the government up to ridicule or attack.
It’s surprisingly hard to get high-level numbers about YT views. A 2009 study by Tubemogul showed that less than five per cent of Youtube videos got more than 5,000 views. If those numbers are still even close to accurate, even 1000 views is not a definite failure.
Why don’t videos produced by our government do that well? Because Canada’s federal government does not do a good job with social media. It’s that simple. It consciously turns its back on the things that differentiate social media from traditional government communications methods. What do I mean by that?
In no particular order:
- Closed comments and strangled sharing options
- Lack of promotion
- Lack of interaction with potential viewers
- Focus on the channel and not the strategy or the content
Comments and sharing. If you put your videos up and disable comments and prevent people from embedding them in other pages, you tell the viewer that you’re not interested in the conversation.
Lack of promotion. Videos rarely just magically find viewerships. You need to get them out there, with concerted effort at sharing. When even the most innocuous tweet is subject to a truly onerous process, it’s impractical to promote your video assets. Imagine if someone were to tweet “Would love to do my taxes, but I don’t think I know how”, and someone from CRA replied with a pointer to a video tutorial! But if that tweet has to be seen and approved by dozens of people, it’s never going to make a difference. That’s just one example of how social media could be used to promote video assets but isn’t. Another example: the Public Health Agency of Canada has a channel with 29 videos. It also has a FB page with 7,854 likes. I went through the FB page for 2014 and 2013, and there were no posts pointing people to the Youtube channel or to a specific Youtube video. Those types of cross-promotion have no “hard costs” attached; it’s not like you’re buying Google Adwords or FB “boosts” and spending real money. It’s someone’s time.
Lack of interaction with potential viewers. Canada’s federal government doesn’t allow its public servants to take individual voices online. There’s a long tradition in Canada where the Prime Minister speaks for Canada, his or her cabinet ministers speak for their departments, and the public service works impartially and anonymously, away from the public sphere. There are rare exceptions: Environment Canada meteorologist David Phillips is a bona fide star, doing countless interviews about weather. But Phillips has no online brand — no Twitter account, FB profile (that I can find), no blog. So his public persona is based on doing interviews with journalists, not with interacting with “normal people.” Other jurisdictions allow their public servants more latitude. For example, the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office has nearly 200 of its employees on a blogroll. These posts are often engaging and VERY personal. They even allow UK citizens to guest blog, like this expat who now lives in Sofia, Bulgaria. Another example: the US FDA has a Twitter account, and while I don’t know who is behind its Tweets, they do engage with their readers from time to time, like this:
When everything is collective, impersonal, and when there’s no conversation at all, there’s no opportunity to build relationships with the people who might be interested in your content.
No focus on the strategy, content or presentation. Many federal government videos lack creativity and end up looking and feeling like really second-rate corporate products. I frequently point to this video, produced by the National Research Council as an example of what government gets wrong with YouTube:
Sadly, this is not a particularly isolated example. Slick? Yes. Professionally shot and edited, from the look of it. But the supers (the text that flies by) have no relationship to the images. The images themselves are simply an amalgam of people doing things that are more or less understandable. There’s no human voice to it. There’s no call to action; there’s no strategy or plan underlying the shooting.
Even when the NRC has cool content — NRC scientists spent two nights in the Louvre doing amazingly detailed scans of the Mona Lisa — the presentation of this content has a pedantic, “this is good for you but you won’t like it” feel. Why not speak with one of the scientists doing the work? Why not have him or her walk you through the painting? Why not explain why of all the countries of the world, the NRC’s equipment was the best to do this job?
I teach a lot of public servants about social media. And often, the classes are punctuated with “we can’t do that”s, with rueful head-shaking, with eye-rolling. I understand that there’s a value to government proceeding slowly in terms of its adoption of technology. But there is — or at least there should be — a premium placed on innovation. The US Centers for Disease Control must believe that; they published an emergency preparedness guide to a zombie apocalypse, and garnered huge acclaim and attention.
The only thing surprising to me about the Prime Minister’s video channel is that it exists at all. That it’s poorly watched and takes four people to make the videos? No surprise. That its content is uninspiring and its presentation is not innovative at all? No surprise.
There’s one more thing that is disturbing about how our federal government uses social media, and it was stated perfectly by Ken Mueller in his recent post “Social media: where marketing goes to die.” I can’t say it any better than he did, so here’s his key paragraph:
When it comes to social media, I think most failed efforts are pretty much the same. It’s not that social media doesn’t work, it’s just that those in charge are generally guilty of some form of neglect. We spend a lot of time and effort on all sorts of marketing and communications campaigns, but somehow, social media comes last. Social media suffers from neglect. And then I hear “I guess it doesn’t work.”
No, you just let it die.
I worry that public servants will look at moribund Youtube channels, not understand the context of social media, and decide that even 70,000 views is a failure. And with no commenting or embedding, there’s no way to show other things that might indicate a video is catching people’s attention.
I don’t expect government videos to be as creative as those done by two creative individuals like Pomplamoose (keep in mind, these folks compose, perform, and record the music AND shoot and edit their videos themselves). Trust me. In an enterprise as large as the federal government, there are people who have the technical and creative skills needed to make truly good videos. But they’re hamstrung. Same thing with every social media channel. The potential for excellence is there. But surely there’s an inch of play that the government’s communications policies could allow the talented communicators who work there to exercise.
Since I have a foot in the music “industry”, one of my regular reads in my RSS Reader is the Musician Coaching blog by Rick Goetz. He quite often has posts of interest to me. But last week, he had one that hit me right in the bull’s-eye: an interview with a singer-songwriter about how she built her career around house concerts.
About now, you’re asking what a house concert is. Quick explanation: a house concert is a musical event where a host opens up his or her home to a performing musician, and that musician is paid by donations from the audience. My partner and I started doing house concerts in 2007, and have had about 40 evenings where amazing musicians have left audiences laughing, crying, or just about any reaction in between.
After I carefully read the post, I left a comment praising the post, adding some background and context, and correcting (politely and constructively) some misstatements. That was on March 21. I waited a while, then dropped back to the site to see if there was any response to my comment. It was still in moderation. And, as I write this, there it remains, in moderation. After a few days I emailed Goetz to ask if there was some reason my comment wasn’t being approved, and I tweeted him as well. To this point, I haven’t heard from him. It’s been five days.
I’m not egotistical enough to think that being deprived of my comment is something that will affect anybody. But I do want to point out a problem that many websites face – handling comments well.
To effectively manage commenting, there are two things to keep in mind: your policy, and your technology.
First, policy. Decide if you even want comments. Most of the time, the advantage of comments — the extension of the conversation — outweighs the disadvantages. But if you are concerned about abusive comments, about spam or malware, or have another reason for not wanting to allow comments, then that’s a choice you have the right to make. For example, übersite Copyblogger has just ended commenting on its site, arguing that the conversation shouldn’t be confined to its own property, but should be “in the cloud.” I don’t quite get that, but hey, they’re way more important than me, so …
You need to think about whether you are going to allow anonymous comments. I am generally of the belief that you should be confident enough in what you say that you’re willing to say it under your own name. Much of the worst vitriol online is generated by people using anonymous handles rather than real names. There’s no “right” answer to this beyond the answer you decide is right.
If you decide to accept comments, then you need to think about how you’re going to do it. You can let the floodgates open up and allow people to comment willy-nilly, without moderation. You can have people moderated the first time, but are given free rein once they’ve had a first comment approved. You can always have comments moderated. If I’m working in that environment, I get email notifications when I have comments, and I pretty much ALWAYS immediately click on them. If you’re going to moderate, you’re pretty much committing to TIMELY moderation or you’re going to take the wind out of the conversational sail.
If you moderate, you also need to make clear somewhere on your site why you moderate, and under what circumstances you won’t approve a comment. It’s much easier to point people to your house rules and explain why what they wrote is not going up on the site: personally abusive, obscene language, racist content, etc. are some of the reasons that are quite valid for rejecting a comment. AND DO NOT rewrite anyone’s comments. That’s just not done.
Now, to the technology.
Most modern blog software have built-in commenting systems. My usual recommendation is to ditch those. They’re pretty rudimentary, and there are better ones that you can plug in with little difficulty. There are three that are commonly used: Livefyre, Disqus, and Facebook. The nice thing about these commenting systems is that they allow things like threaded discussions, so that you can follow the flow of a discussion. They also allow people to sign in using a variety of social media tools (e.g. Sign in using Twitter, Google, etc. etc.). That makes it easy for people to sign in. While I’m not a giant fan of Facebook-based comments, there’s one undeniable advantage to them — when people comment using the FB comments, it will more often than not pop up on their wall, which may lead to people discovering your post from the commenter’s wall.
So put a little thought into your strategy around blog commenting. It’ll pay off down the road.
I spent a week with my mom this month. It was the first anniversary of my dad’s death, and it had been a while since I’d seen her, and I thought it was a good time for me to be in Cape Breton. So there I was.
Spending time with an 88-year-old where my access to the Internet was distinctly limited changed my behaviour a little bit. Rather than sitting in my second-floor office typing, I spent a lot of time with her, talking. Or listening to her. I think she’s a bit lonely, and having another person in the house made her want to talk. So I let her.
And so, one day we ended up in Baddeck. Baddeck is a tourist town at one end of the Cabot Trail in Cape Breton. It’s probably best known for its association with Alexander Graham Bell, who lived there for a long time and built the Silver Dart, the first plane to fly in the British Commonwealth (in 1909) and the HD4 hydrofoil that held a speed record for boats for 20 years, and was a giant booster of Cape Breton as a place of pastoral beauty.
Today, it’s got lots of gift shops, ice cream, a museum or two, and a stunning bay full of pleasure boats. And an antique store. We went into the antique store, which had some interesting books (which I didn’t buy), some neat militaria (which I found interesting), and some china (my mom found a lovely cup and saucer). When she got to the counter with her purchase, I jokingly said “Thank God you don’t have any fountain pens, or I’d be in real trouble here.” At which point the proprietor brought out the fountain pens, and I walked away with a classic black and silver Parker 51 for twenty bucks.
It writes like a dream. I’ve used it in a notebook, on some paper, and in a handbound leather journal that I bought in Pisa at Legatoria Dante. Why am I telling you this long preamble? Because of a column I read in my morning paper. In the column, titled “The end of the printed word, revisited”, journalism professor Andrew Cohen argues
“Just when you thought that ink was over and paper was passé, along comes word that the world of books isn’t disappearing after all. In fact, its death has been greatly exaggerated.
Skeptics of the virtual life are scorned as Luddites or antiquarians. With the arrival of every new laptop, tablet and smart phone, we are to fall on our knees in wonder and gratitude.
In two particular but significant ways, though, we may be having second thoughts. One is how we are reading. The other is how we are writing.”
Plainly put, this is a bollocks straw-man argument, which Cohen himself proves in the column. As Shel Holtz so frequently says, “New media does not push out old media.” E-books don’t mean the end of paper books. TV didn’t end movies. The keyboard hasn’t ended the pen. About the only things that have almost entirely disappeared that I can think of are the typewriter, the floppy, and the 8-track. And even typewriters are still being sought out (by the nichiest of niche markets, mind you). The car and the motorcycle didn’t eliminate the bicycle or the train.
I suspect that nobody’s ever made the kind of statements that Cohen uses as the basis of his argument. I love technology. I started using computers with my TI99/4A and haven’t stopped since. I have an e-reader (thanks to a contest run by blogger Andrea Tomkins); I have shelves and shelves of books. I have an iPod crammed with music, and I have hundreds of CDs. I have a computer I’m using to write this post. I have my pens and books to write thoughts and ideas and stories and yes, sometimes blog posts too.
Sometimes I read things digitally. Other times I want a printed version. Sometimes I grab my iPod. Others, I pop in a CD. Or I plug headphones into my computer. It’s not about either-ors. It’s about options. None of us are binary. When it comes to technologies, we’re all omnivores. Dichotomies in this world are all false ones.
If you read or hear something suggesting that A means the end of B, or that the writer or speaker is a member of a scorned minority by virtue of not liking this or that piece of technology, or social media, or whatever — do yourself and the person in question a favour. Politely tell them they’re wrong, and that reducing the remarkable complexities and subtleties of human behaviour to a binary choice is silly.
Because I’ve spent a lot of time over the last few years teaching at Algonquin College and at Eliquo Training and Development, and because I’ve done a fair amount of speaking on social media and communications topics, I’ve found myself doing lots of “social media 101″ talks. And I’ve written dozens of posts here under the “how-to” or “SMB101″ categories, which are posts particularly useful for people trying to get started in social media.
Do I find that repetitious or tiring? I suppose that would be possible. But as I’ve been doing this, I’ve become more and more convinced that even though “going deep” is appealing, business as a whole is still at the beginning stages of exploiting social media.
Given that social media has been a “thing” for a number of years, the following stats may surprise you:
- Two-thirds of businesses in one survey said they weren’t doing any social media monitoring for business purposes.
- Nearly half of people with smartphones look up information on a product they’re considering buying right there in the store. And more than 40% people will not return to a website with a crappy mobile experience.
- Four out of 10 businesses either seldom or never monitor online reviews about their business. And yet… sentiments expressed about a product online have been shown to reduce customers’ willingness to pay.
- Three-quarters of small business have fewer than two people dedicated to social media.
- Six out of 10 small businesses spend $100 or less on social media.
These stats, and the feedback I get from students, tell me that while those of us who think about social media all the time are busy talking about some of the minutiae, trying to figure out the latest changes to the Facebook algorithm, and pushing the discipline forward, a large portion of the people who are actually working with customers are still trying madly to figure out if and how to do a blog, start a Facebook page, or get on Twitter. And another large group of businesses have started using some or all of those tools, but are floundering.
While it’s a joy to be on the cutting edge, it’s important to realize there are a lot of people out there running businesses who are just struggling to get by. It’s easy to say “Well, they just need to buckle down and get going,” but it’s nowhere near that easy to DO. Let’s not leave them behind.
If you’re here regularly, you’ll know I love me some measurement. So when I saw a recommendation to read a paper from Katie Paine, I was pretty much immediately going to the site to download it.
“Social Media Measurement: A Step-by -Step Approach” by Angela Jeffrey, a Texas-based communications consultant with Measurement Match, is exactly what the title implies — a no-BS guide to doing solid measurement of social media initiatives for organizations, published by the excellent Institute for Public Relations. When I saw a thanks to Kami Huyse, a communicator who I like and respect a great deal, that made me even more positively disposed to the paper.
And the content does not disappoint.
She starts with the depressing information that measurement is NOT being embedded in organization’s social media campaigns and points to three different surveys with disturbing numbers. Perhaps the worst? An eConsultancy survey that reported only 22% of communicators had a strategy that linked data and analysis to business objectives.
So perhaps you’re in the three-quarters of that sample. Drop the shame, and read the rest of the paper. In under 20 pages (before the appendices), she lays out an eight-step process for a solid — and achievable — social media evaluation process.
Here’s my paraphrase of her steps. And if any of this is shocking, you need to really brush up.
- Identify goals
- Research and prioritize your stakeholders for each goal
- Set objectives
- Set key performance indicators
- Choose your tools and benchmark
- Analyze your results and compare them to your costs
- Present to your management
- Lather, rinse, repeat.
If you’re holding back, or you haven’t done a measurement component to your social media activities, read this paper and then tell me why you can’t.
Hell, you don’t even have to pay for her paper. So .. get to it. And if you want some more support, feel free to contact me for a consultation, or to take the next social media measurement course I’m teaching later this month.
I have to admit to some shock at the announcement that the just-announced successor to Ted Koppel at ABC News’s Nightline program is Dan Abrams. Why?
Because while Dan Abrams has some significant experience in journalism, he’s most recently been a CEO in the PR and marketing industry. Koppel, by contrast, was a lifelong journalist (and, of course, remains a journalist and commentator).
Many journalists leave that trade to begin working as public relations practitioners. That’s nothing new; there are decades of history pointing to that, including my personal history. It’s much less frequent to see people move from the PR industry back to journalism.
For what it’s worth, I think there are good reasons that PR people should be PR people and journalists should be journalists. When you embark on a media relations initiative, the theory is that media coverage tells the reader / listener / viewer that while there may be a “PR angle” to the story, the “media” have judged it worthy of coverage. Hence the phrase “newsworthy.”
There are many ways in which the wall between editorial decision-making and the advertising / marketing / PR / communications world gets chipped away. When I edited some magazines nearly 25 years ago, I would regularly have the sales manager come to me, saying “You know, it’d be great if you covered something about McBlatherston’s, they just took a full page…” I didn’t do that. And the ongoing tension and conflict was a big reason I left that job.
Publications often create “special advertising sections” that use cheaply produced or free copy that surrounds ads. There are “infomercials” that try to mimic the look and feel of news reports or programs. There was the VNR, or Video News Release, which caused quite a scandal in the 2000s. And there are publications which simply sell their editorial space. Sometimes it’s completely obvious, as in a full-page article on a business with a facing page ad for the business; other times, it’s much more subtle.
When Abrams left journalism to start PR businesses, his first idea was to have working journalists consult with corporate clients on communications strategy. That didn’t fly, so he moved on to a suite of websites (probably led by Mediaite, a media news blog) and Abrams Research, “a full service digital and social media agency, specializing in the development of web-based digital marketing campaigns, in addition to advising on social media strategy for non-profit, international, financial, political, sports, entertainment and Fortune 500 clients. In a nutshell, we help brands direct their social media efforts to efficiently reach and engage their target audience(s).” Now, he’s back in journalism as the anchor of a TV show with a fearsome reputation for indepth journalism.
ABC has said that Abrams no longer has any responsibility within the companies that bear his name. But he remains an owner of those companies. I don’t like that. This is a game of perceptions. If and when I watch Nightline with Abrams, I don’t want to be asking myself if the guest is or was a client, or whether there were arrangements made with one of his companies regarding the questions to be asked.
I’ve noticed a trend in retail: auto parts stores selling grocery items; pharmacies selling electronics; office supply stores selling food; grocery stores selling DVDs. I want to buy my drugs and antiperspirant at the pharmacy; I want to buy my food at the grocery store. AND I WANT MY JOURNALISTS TO BE JOURNALISTS, NOT PR PEOPLE.
I think that this sort of thing not only harms journalism, but also reduces the ability of a public relations campaign to actually influence its audience. If there’s no editorial coverage that isn’t bought, if there’s no more trust, why bother doing media relations at all? Just do social media.
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.
In a fit of perversity, I decided to submit a proposal to the 2013 Social Capital Conference with the title “Why you are Stupid.” I wanted to talk about some of the things that we social media people do that are… stupid. Generally speaking, I was thinking of:
- Stupid offensive
- Stupid boring
- Stupid and poor (budgetwise)
I decided that I thought I’d see if I could turn the crowd (assuming there WAS one) away and then try to pull them back in.
Here’s how I promoted the session:
I THINK I did okay at living up to the billing. But I’ll leave that for the audience to decide, and perhaps share. You can chime in based on the slides here:
More importantly than my own presentation is the success of the conference. Lara Wellman and Karen Wilson of the eponymous Wellman Wilson Communications led the organization with many other volunteers, and they pulled off a great conference. Why did I enjoy it so much? Here are a few reasons:
- Keynotes. I got the opportunity to see friend Danny Brown do a keynote for the first time. And I got a totally different sense of why he’s so smart from seeing him in that context. Made me proud to be friends with him. The other keynote was delivered by Gini Dietrich, who for me existed in that odd world of having been friends for literally YEARS online without ever having met. I told someone yesterday that before Gini and her colleague Lindsay Bell-Wheeler arrived at a Friday night reception, I was literally a bundle of nerves inside, desperately hoping that I wouldn’t be too much of a dork in their presence. That jury may still be out, but there’s no doubt that Gini is a charming and polished and top-notch speaker, and that Lindsay just might prove the sayings about the relative depth of the Atlantic Canadian gene pool. She feels like a sister after just one meeting. Which is likely bad news for her, since that just means more insults.
- Collaboration. When Danny was confirmed as keynote, I really wanted to do something to celebrate the launch of Influence Marketing, the book he just published with Sam Fiorella. So I got in touch with Caitlin Kealey at MediaStyle, another Ottawa communications consultancy, and they jumped in with both feet, putting together (with some help from me) a super fun event called Gin and Talkin‘. MediaStyle President Ian Capstick interviewed Danny, there was great food and better drink, and several dozen people ended up with complementary copies of the book, courtesy of Translucid and of MediaStyle. It was a great kickoff to a hectic weekend. And I never could have put together an event that good on my own.
- Connection. While it’s rewarding to go to events like #socapott and reconnect with the people you already know, it’s just as exciting to meet new people and learn from them and discover what makes them cool. While I was a bit limited in doing that due to a family wedding in the middle of all this, I got to know a number of people at the conference that I hope to know better in the future.
Oh, and one bonus:
- Karaoke. A group of us decided on post-conference festivities at Ottawa’s legendary Shanghai Restaurant, home to Saturday night Karaoke with the one and only China Doll. We got there to discover two bachelorette parties already heating up the mics, and then China Doll made a late appearance to show off Ottawa’s best to some locals and out of towners.
If I can leave you with one takeaway from my presentation, it’s this:
Raise your own expectations is a double-edged sword. If you expect your own work to be better, to be smarter, you will spread that expectation to others. Your boss, your clients, your friends will expect you to be that good NORMALLY. That’s intimidating, but it’s also necessary. Push beyond the stupid and the easy.
That’s one of the things that I’m going to try to do. Might not be a bad idea to take my own advice.