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Corporate Public Diplomacy: Engaging and Improving Stakeholder Communities


This post was originally published in Public Diplomacy Magazine (a publication of the University of Southern California) on July 14, 2010.

Usually, when someone hears the word “diplomacy,” they think of the government. Who can blame them? Diplomacy has long been the province of old men in dark suits and red ties, and before that of elite members of society trusted by presidents, emperors, and kings. But now, particularly with the rise of inexpensive personal communications technology, vast changes in the mainstream and other kinds of media, and an evolution in how consumers interact with and make decisions about “brands,” this is changing.

Public diplomacy is the formal and proactive practice of governments communicating with citizens in foreign countries through diverse forms of media, events, and other engagement. Such activities may include broadcast radio, specially tailored films, and educational programs. But while public diplomacy is still widely thought of as being performed only by governments, there is a good deal of value in applying many of its principles to corporations and indeed other entities like non-profits. It especially makes sense when a brand (broadly defined) could be perceived as large, monolithic, and out of touch with the common person.

While my job title is not formally “public diplomat,” I have been incorporating some of these ideals into my new role at the Microsoft Corporation, by any standard a large entity with a global reach into science and technology, research and development, jobs and commerce, a wide range of government policy and related issues, and numerous philanthropies, causes, and movements. Yet despite this influence, while the company has a tremendous number of customers and fans, at the same time a fair amount of other consumers have a negative perception of the company for a variety of reasons, or they simply don’t think about it very much. One of my roles is to conduct positive activities of value for communities of consumers in order to, yes, change the perception of Microsoft – but also to improve those communities in the process.

Diverse Backgrounds Yield Good Public Diplomats

For a good part of my career, I was a scientist researching how animal behavior is controlled by genes and neurons. Building on that foundation of critical thinking and an understanding of complex behavioral systems, I received a fellowship from the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2006 and was able to conduct science and technology policy research at the Department of Defense for a few years. That experience opened my eyes to everything from the inner workings of military organizational behavior to how social technology is changing how the government conducts its operations.

After my three year stint at the Defense Department, I did a lot of thinking, reading, and writing. I taught a university class about “entrepreneurial journalism,” and consulted some private sector clients about how emerging technologies are changing and democratizing media, marketing, and other specialties. During that period, I also consulted with Microsoft about what I now see as a public diplomacy effort run out of their U.S. Public Sector division based in Washington, D.C.. The division is responsible for Microsoft business across federal, state and local government, higher education and K-12 markets, as well as a significant portion of the U.S. healthcare market.

In my role as Director of U.S. Public Sector Social Engagement, I conduct a number of activities, not all of which are germane to this article. But with regard to my public-facing activities, I think of much of it as corporate public diplomacy. From a business point of view, my role differs in many ways from traditional public relations or public affairs, which despite a recent influx of new technologies still mainly involves “providing information for the public” at its core. Corporate public diplomacy, on the other hand, involves actively shaping the communications environment within which corporate activities are performed, and reducing the degree to which misperceptions complicate relations between the company and its customers. In my view, this complex mission is conducted using what I call “innovative social engagement.”

I don’t think I could have arrived at this role through more traditional routes like studying technology, business, journalism, or marketing. None of those routes provide the skill set that, in my opinion, are required for corporate public diplomacy. One must understand enough business to work within one, but not so much that one loses empathy for outsiders. One must have enough knowledge of technology to use it for various purposes, but not so much that one is unable to speak to people at a basic level about it. One must have public speaking and writing skills, but also be able to adapt those to company goals. A corporate public diplomat should be an insider and outsider, independent and dependent, creative and conservative, all at once. And they must above all be agile enough to know when to switch between behavioral states.

When people ask me how I got where I am with a doctorate in animal behavior, I often think, “Really?” – It’s all animal behavior.

What is Innovative Social Engagement?

When people ask me to explain my job, I often tell them that they can get the 30 second version, or the 30 minute version. That’s largely because corporate public diplomacy, as I see it, amalgamates many aspects of other people’s jobs, re-packages them in novel ways, and then adds some unique skills on top of that. Simple, no?

The simple way to start is to tell you what it is not. After observing many people whose jobs variously involve public relations, marketing, communications, advertising, technology, sales, and “being digital natives,” let me describe what corporate public diplomacy is not “merely”:

  • It’s not merely leveraging my personal brand to promote a corporate brand, though that’s part of it.
  • It’s not merely using social media platforms to connect with audiences in the public sector, though that’s part of it.
  • It’s not merely making social connections with influential people in real life, though that’s part of it.
  • It’s not merely engaging people complaining about the company online and conducting after-the-fact customer service, though that’s part of it.
  • It’s not merely creating public relations events to get people’s attention, though that’s part of it.
  • It’s not merely developing word-of-mouth marketing campaigns or helping the company go against type and poke fun at itself, though that’s part of it.
  • It’s not merely chasing the coolest, latest trends and incorporating them into strategies, nor reviewing cutting-edge tech gadgetry, though that’s part of it.
  • It’s not merely reporting live from events nor interviewing people inside the company on video (something like what Robert Scoble famously did for Microsoft), though that’s part of it.
  • It’s not merely being a product evangelist, though that’s part of it.
  • It’s not merely measuring the effect of online communications on customers, though that’s part of it.
  • It’s not merely creating a blog and writing about the best ideas or latest news or providing the most value to the most people, though that’s part of it.
  • It’s not merely creating new online opportunities for product sales, though that’s part of it.

My vision of corporate public diplomacy via innovative social engagement includes many if not all of these things, but it is not simply one or a few of these things. My charges include creating lasting and meaningful experiences for audiences, engaging willing participants in my work-related social activities, creating emotional responses with Microsoft brands of relevance to the public sector, volunteer sector, and general public good, transcending brand expectations to add value to people’s lives, and generally being remarkable (in the vein of Seth Godin) to specific people I desire to engage with and even influence.

Some Examples of Corporate Public Diplomacy

About a year ago when I wrote a blog post announcing and describing my new Microsoft role, I wrote that I’d be doing at least seven things immediately:

(1)  Interacting with and socially empowering the other members of the seven-person Applied Innovations Team;

(2)  Discussing my opinions about science and technology in the public sector and continuing to be a thought leader there;

(3)  Experimenting with new pre-sale information and social technology, often beta or free products that potentially have a public sector role;

(4)  Showing the human side of Microsoft and engaging audiences through multimedia channel content production and other online activities;

(5)  Participating actively in the public sector communities of government, education, and healthcare;

(6)  Measuring and understanding public sentiment about Microsoft using innovative techniques;

(7)  Acting as a competent resource for senior Microsoft decision makers, corporate partners, and customers, and public sector decision makers.

To some degree or another, I have been doing all of these things. But life in a newly-created role is always a bit different than you imagine after you take time to understand what is, and is not, happening inside a huge organization, and figure out your role within it. Thus, during the past 10 months or so, in something akin to a “think-and-do tank” mode, I’ve been creating and promoting fresh, innovative ways of engaging different audiences. These engagements – online and offline – tend to leverage Microsoft’s existing strengths, applied in novel ways. Here are three examples, in brief.

An online magazine, SECTOR: PUBLIC

While there is certainly some good writing on different aspects of new technology and the public and volunteer sectors, I recognized a need for an overarching publication that leveraged Microsoft’s natural intellectual assets to provide thought leadership on all aspects of technology and innovation, and how they are changing the business of the public and volunteer sectors and empowering new forms of public service and social change. I edit this online magazine, named SECTOR: PUBLIC, and manage a group of writers from the company. We are obviously pro-Microsoft, but the stories are written with the audience in mind, and encompass ideas that go beyond strictly Microsoft products and initiatives.

An event series, Geek 2 Chic

This initiative recognizes that while Microsoft is very good at reaching certain kinds of customers – mainly very large, complicated institutions – we don’t necessarily do a good job of reaching out to certain types of influential communities, artists and fashion mavens, for example. Geek 2 Chic began as a fashion show to attract Washington, D.C. fashionistas to us in a genuine way – by showing off great styles in partnership with Bloomingdales, and having a fun social event around that (which also raised money for a good cause). But the trick was that all the models were “geeks” and we were able to highlight their terrific work during the show. This is evolving into a more general series that may involve cocktail hours, fashion shows, and intimate workshops, all designed to help “chic” people learn how to be more geeky in ways that help them with their careers. Here, our natural strength is that through Microsoft networks, we know many of the geeks that can give advice to chic people; thus we can structure creative networking opportunities for all involved that are also fun.

A networking space, Project Pivot

Another need I recognized is that entrepreneurially spirited people often don’t have great places to work. These people are also often interested in public good and social change, and are tech-savvy to some degree. In a few cities like San Francisco and New York, this group is better catered to, but in many others like Washington, D.C., Chicago, and Los Angeles, they are less so. Leveraging the excess office space and wi-fi that Microsoft has in many of its buildings, I am just about ready to launch something I’ve tentatively named Project Pivot, which is a private, invite-only entrepreneurial co-working space (starting in Washington, D.C.) that also has members-only benefits like luncheon speakers and a private discussion board. Not only does this provide great things for this community – office space, networking opportunities, free coffee – but it also helps Microsoft better understand what this group of talented young people is doing in their communities, and how our technologies might help them as well.

Corporate Public Diplomacy: One Year In

It’s a little too early to say how successful these efforts will be. But I have been forming a set of mental “design principles” which govern how I decide what a given engagement might be. I’m not prepared to write them up at the moment (and they’re outside the scope of this article), but one of them certainly is that I think about what the audience needs before I think about what Microsoft needs. Once I know who an audience is, and understand what their needs are, I look at how Microsoft’s assets – financial, human, other – might be deployed to serve those needs.

It’s one thing to talk to audiences and try to influence them. Anyone can say whatever they want. But the way to gradually change the communications environment around a brand that many people already have an opinion about, is to be somewhat selfless and provide genuine value which resonates with that audience. Actions speak louder than words.

Mark D. Drapeau, Ph.D. is the Director of U.S. Public Sector Social Engagement for Microsoft Corporation, where he engages audiences at the intersection of technology and innovation and the public and volunteer sectors. He is the editor-in-chief of the online magazine SECTOR: PUBLIC, which provides thought leadership on these topics. Prior to joining Microsoft, Dr. Drapeau was an adjunct professor at The George Washington University, an Associate Fellow at the National Defense University, and a Postdoctoral Fellow at New York University. He has a B.S. and Ph.D. in animal behavior from the University of Rochester and the University of California – Irvine, respectively.

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Microblogging Needs to Be Decentralized and Reliable


This post was originally published on Huffington Post Tech on January 20, 2010.

This morning I woke up to find that Twitter was down. The website tells you in a really cute way, with a little “fail whale” – it’s so sweet. But why is this lack of reliability tolerated by governments, large corporations, emergency workers, and other serious people?

Mashable.com reports that the best theory for the downtime was a deluge of tweets caused by a second Haiti earthquake. A second earthquake in Haiti? No offense to Haiti, that is a horrible situation, but imagine if we had a really, really serious situation (say, the Pentagon the Golden Gate Bridge get hit by drones controlled by terrorists) – could you rely on Twitter?

I’m still surprised that no serious competitor to Twitter has emerged. Sure, companies like Google or Microsoft, or others, could just buy it, but they’d be purchasing an unreliable product with questionable customer service and a cute children’s language and a steep learning curve.

Where’s the competitive product for 50 year old insurance salesmen? For UN relief workers?

Sure, Twitter could improve. I use it. I don’t really want to see them fail. But if, as they claim, they want to make it “communications infrastructure” (a lofty goal to think they will be the next AT&T), then it needs to be decentralized and partially redundant. Email doesn’t just “go down” and neither does RSS. People like Dave Winer can write much better about this than I can, but here’s one brief post by entrepreneur Andrew Baron about decentralizing Twitter for you.

Two years ago, when I first started using Twitter to study its use for the government, I thought that it was a great new tool which was potentially useful for unified communications in a crisis. Two years later, little has changed. It’s useful when it works.

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What If Government Were On-The-Record 24/7?


This post was originally published on Huffington Post tech on December 21, 2009.

Recently, I wrote a post about Government 2.0 predictions for 2010-12, and one of them was that government would “always be on-the-record.”

By that I meant that the combination of (1) the proliferation of tech-savvy citizens with mobile camera/video devices, (2) the prevalence of wi-fi or other Web connections, (3) the massive number of people using social networks like MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter, and (4) the great interest that people have right now in a number of controversial issues like our current wars, health care, and climate change that people could and probably would start documenting everything that government officials do and say, where they go, who they meet with, for how long, what their staffers eat for lunch and with whom, and so on.

And you don’t need to be a professional journalist to do this, or even to do it well. An entire site along the lines of Gawker.com could be started around this, in fact. GovernmentGawker.com, anyone?

Well, I was doing some research to look at planes versus trains to get home for the holidays (in light of the recent blizzard that’s affected transport in the DC-NY-Boston corridor), and I came across a fantastic video that essentially puts the Amtrak Acela First Class service on the record for the trip between New York and Boston (7 min edited clip). Check it out.

Now, imagine if someone did the same thing, but wanted to document a day in the life of Senator Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), currently in the middle of heated debate about health care legislation. It’s not hard.

You check the general schedules of his committees and such beforehand, research powerful, under-the-radar staff and other relevant people on the Washington Post’s WhoRunsGov.com, go through simple security at the Capitol (far easier than an airport), find Nelson’s office in the Hart building, camp out in his waiting area, maybe ask the person at the front desk some questions, find some press in the hallways and ask some questions (maybe visit the Russell rotunda, where the television crews do their spots), stalk the cafeteria (there’s a great coffee shop called Cups in the basement) and listen for people saying “Nelson,” go back to his office and see him leaving to walk down the hall to a committee hearing, take photos of the staff with him on your Samsung ST-1000 with wi-fi and geo-tagging and upload the pics to Bing Maps and Facebook, go to the sub-committee hearing and tape it from a Flip in your coat pocket while you tweet live notes, upload your Flip video to YouTube while you follow Nelson to his next meeting, and so forth.

(Note: This post has nothing in particular to do with Sen. Nelson or health care, it’s just an example “ripped from the headlines” – I’ve even met and chatted with him when he spoke about energy at the Defense Department, he’s a nice person.)

You can surely imagine at this point many variations on this for political appointees you don’t like, lobbyists you’re interested in, principal deputy assistant secretaries that make important decisions but don’t necessarily travel in armored vehicles with bodyguards, various members of the press who might be meeting with sources at Capitol Hill bars, etc. Trust me, this isn’t hard. If you live in Washington, DC, you probably realize how very easy this is, in fact, when combined with some good traditional news sources like the Post, Times, The Hill, and Politico. (If you live in Washington, DC, you also know that it’s incredibly common to know where various officials live, eat, and so forth – I used to live about two blocks from Senator Obama’s pad.)

But why would someone want to create an “ambient stream” of Senator Nelson or anyone else’s life? (Besides it being fascinating in a lowbrow, Gossip Girl kind of way, of course.) Well, most people wouldn’t. But so what? It’s just like Wikipedia – only about 1% of people who use Wikipedia actively edit it; about 9% do sometimes, and 90% just read it. Twitter is not unlike that either – only about 10% of users contribute 90% of the tweets.

So what if 1% of U.S. citizens started doing this? Roughly there are 300 million people in the U.S., say half of them are adults, so we have 1% of 150 million as 1.5 million. Now, if everyone just did this at the state, local, or federal level one day a year, and generated one “amateur journalism piece” from that day, that’s about 4,100 videos/blog posts/tweet sets generated PER DAY. That’s a lot of government on-the-record.

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Watching the Retweeted Get Retweeted-er


This post was originally published on O’Reilly Radar and Mediaite on November 23, 2009.

When Twitter decided to slowly roll out a new, official retweeting feature, people waited in anticipation. When they let their users know what it might look like, people debated whether that was the right way to deploy it. When it actually became available, people almost universally disliked it.

But my post is about why I love the new Twitter retweet feature, without ever having to think about it. The reason is that official retweeting represents the new-new arms race for authority among power users. The new-new arms race, you say? Yes, because the new arms race was to get on as many lists as possible, with the most-followed lists having a special significance.

The new-new arms race is the race to get officially retweeted the most. The idea is that in a sea of boring or useless or narrow-topic tweets, people who have “authority” will get retweeted the most. And finally, Twitter has built its own system for keeping track of that – officially. Think of that silly “RT” thing that users generated as a wristwatch at a track meet; Twitter operates the official Rolex timeclock.

Getting officially retweeted has two huge benefits for users that disproportionately benefit the already popular. One, the already popular gain even more authority that will enable their profiles or tweets to be featured, for example, higher in Google and Bing search results. Two, their profile link, photo, and original tweet appear in other people’s tweet streams, even if those people don’t follow the already very popular person.

Both of these have the potential to drive a tremendous amount of traffic to a person’s Twitter account, and the people with the most official retweets will become recommended-users-list version 2.0, I believe (see the ninth paragraph of this story). With all the hub-bub about advertising within one’s Twitter stream, driving traffiic is becoming more important to more users than ever before. Who isn’t tempted to sign up to push one ad a day and make $30,000 per month in bonus cash?

But not everyone will make $30,000 or $3,000 or even $300 a month. The official retweet system tends to disproportionately favor the already-massively popular. Their authority, already very high, will only become higher relative to that of the average user. To modify the common saying, the common person will watch the retweeted will get retweeted-er.

Not sure if you are part of the retweeted-er class? It’s easy to find out. Go to your account on Twitter.com, click the “Retweets” tab, then click on the “Your tweets, retweeted” tab. Is almost every single one of your original tweets in there? Didn’t even realize that was happening? Welcome to the club.

Of course, it’s not really the fault of the massively popular Twitter users (I don’t think Twitter consulted many of them before creating this feature), so don’t blame them for trading in on their fame. The petit-bourgeois wealth of authority no doubt creates opportunities for the working-class Twitter users, under the theory of trickle-down tweetonomics. The real question is, will Twitter’s proletariat class stand by and watch this happen, or form an uprising?

Addendum: Shortly after I wrote this I came across a Valleywag post with a similar theme.

Dr. Mark Drapeau is a columnist for Mediaite. As a scientist, he studies the behavior of insects when they decide to get social with each other. As a consultant, he advises organizations on how to innovatively communicate using social media tools. As a writer, he writes for True/Slant, Federal Computer Week, and other publications on social behavior at the intersection of science, technology, government, politics, and society. Reprinted from O’Reilly Radar.

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IBM Knows How To Monetize Your Friends


IBM researcher Ching Yun Lin gave an interesting talk about the monetary value of having friends today at Web 2.0 Expo in New York. IBM is a gigantic company with thousands of people – mobile, global, and moving around. How do you find the right person to answer a unique question or problem? How does one unlock the power of existing social networks? Where within networks does knowledge actually reside?

I can’t hope to summarize the talk, injected with math and graphics and jargon as it was. But here’s the big takeaway: Your friends are worth money to your organization. Somehow, IBM scientists have not only determined that network size is positively correlated with performance, they also somehow know that every email in an address book is worth 948 dollars!

Researchers also found that stuctural diverse networks within which few people are connected are correlated with higher performance, and that having strong social links to managers also was positively correlated with performance. Some of the research information should be available here: http://smallblue.research.ibm.com

To me, this is really cool because I am an advocate of social networking as a positive influence on the workplace, even if such networking is not strictly work-related. IBM seems to have data that back up my more anecdotal and street-smart notions about this, which I’ve been speaking about lately under the guide of “Social Networking: The Two Dirtiest Words in Government 2.0” – and I will continue to do so!

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Gov 2.0 Event – “Open Government: Pages From the Playbook”


Today I’m attending a Government 2.0 unconference called Open Government: Pages From the Playbook at the MLK library in DC. If you’re not here, you’re missing out. Attendees are hearing from govies and contractors about how they are adopting the Administration’s directive on open government. I hear and read a lot in this area, and I’ve definitely heard some new stuff.

My favorite five-minute talk so far was from Virginia Hill of NIH-NIDA, who spoke about a project called “Drug Facts Chat Day,” which leverages the brand and scientific expertise of the National Institute on Drug Abuse to answer teens’ questions about substance abuse. It’s hard to reach audiences (of citizens) that are, shall we say, “shy” but they seem to be doing a great job.

Primary organizer Lucas Cioffi tells me that many govies who wanted to speak couldn’t make it for this initial event, and so there almost certainly will be another one. This is not only a great opportunity to hear a lot of quick talks from people working on open government in the trenches, but also a great opportunity for sponsors to get involved at a modest level.

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What Does Innovative Social Engagement Look Like?


As many of you know, I’ve been thinking about the topic of Government 2.0 a lot lately. Part of this topic deals with the multi-directional engagement between government and citizens. This is what the White House and others have termed a more transparent, collaborative, and participatory government.

Unfortunately, the engagement for the most part is not very authentic nor meaningful. Boring “fan pages” on Facebook are one example I’ve written about, but there are many others. Often, engagement, when it does happen has so many rules associated with it, or such a high barrier to entry, or such a limited window as to be practically meaningless.

It seems to me that everyone can celebrate the fact that government entities merely have a YouTube channel here, a Twitter account there, or a Blogger profile some other place (the so-called “TGIF revolution“), or we can think a little harder about what the goals of citizen engagement really might be.

On the evening of Nov 2nd, I tweeted from my phone about a local restaurant, Co Co Sala, just as I was leaving. We had a nice experience, but the hostess had been a little, shall we say, disinterested in helping us? So I commented as much.

Less than a week later, the co-owner of Co Co Sala sent me an email and cc’d his general manager. He apologized for the treatment I experienced, assured me it was not policy, introduced me to the manager, and said he’d talk to his staff. It was a four-paragraph email. I’ve never met him before, and furthermore, my personal email is discoverable but not the most easy thing to find.

This is what real social innovation looks like. This is what customer service looks like. This is what true engagement with stakeholders looks like. I want to give this great lounge Co Co Sala a hearty shout-out for not only having a great product, but also really caring about their customers.

Now, imagine we weren’t talking about a restaurant here. Imagine we are talking about the Department of Motor Vehicles, or the Patent and Trademark Office, or your Congressman. If you tweeted, would they see it? Would they care? Would they react in any way? I think the answer in many cases is no.

Let’s look at a sliver of data. According to TweetStats.com, the people behind the White House Twitter account reply to individuals less than 2% of the time, and seem to have never @ replied to any single more than once (i.e., they have never come close to a conversation). They re-tweet others’ tweets about 6.5% of the time, but they only seem to re-tweet other government accounts and the New York Times. Granted, there are more people tweeting about White House issues than Co Co Sala, but does the above data represent any caring in any way, shape or form?

The terrific TechPresident blog recently noted that actor Vin Diesel is the single most followed living person on Facebook – and that he recently passed up President Obama. Perhaps that’s because Vin Diesel’s Facebook fan page is awesome. He is engaged, his fans are engaged, and the tone is informal and fun. When did “serious and formal” become a substitute for “informative and meaningful” in government circles? Why is everyone scared of letting their guard down in public?

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Tweetup: The Term Is Played Out


Do you know what a “tweetup” is? If you don’t, trust me, that’s okay. Don’t bother learning it. The term is already played out.

A tweetup is a meet up that is planned on Twitter, or at least it’s supposed to be. At first it was a cool, insider thing. Now it’s an uncool, wannabe thing.

In 2009, I was invited to “tweetups” in person, on EventBrite, on Facebook, by email, and by e-newsletter. Guess what – that’s a meet up, not a tweetup, folks.

Just because you use Twitter and are having a gathering of people who may happen to use it to does not mean you’ve having a tweetup. Just call it a happy hour, or a fundraiser, or a gathering, or a salon, or just a bunch of techies having drinks. Stop calling it a tweetup. The word has become meaningless.

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My Philosophical Review of the Audience Conference


Loren Feldman. 1938 Media. Audience Conference.

That’s about as much of a summary as you’ll find about the Audience Conference held in New York last Friday. That’s because there were no open laptops allowed during the performances. There was also no Wi-Fi, no video streaming, no tweeting, and no blogging. Something akin to omertà joined the members of the Audience Conference together.

This bond of silence was at the core of the Audience Conference, and it goes against everything that technology and Web 2.0 events normally stand for: openness, transparency, and participation. You would be hard-pressed to find any information anywhere on the web about any of the Audience Conference content. Tweets during the event were generic (“just arrived at the Audience Conference”) and posts after the event were vague (“loved the conference, got to meet Calacanis”). Nobody knows what happened unless you were a genuine member of the audience.

Many other features of the event were also unfamiliar. There were no sponsor booths, banners, and signs all over the place, the speakers had no slideshows, internet connections, or videos to keep us interested, and there were no press or even questions from the audience allowed. No problem.

Read the rest of my new post, “Quarantined Conferences: Claustrophobic Technophiles or Attentive Audiences,” at O’Reilly Radar today!

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Don’t Understand New Media? Maybe You’re Not Old-Fashioned Enough


Yesterday I wrote a post contrasting Twitter with the ancient honeybee “waggle dance” that is used by a single forager bee to signal where food resources are located to the hive. It was my little metaphor to explain the larger point that the instinct to tell a group of people that a cafe you got to first doesn’t have wi-fi, or that the line at the nightclub is too long so we should rendezvous somewhere else is an ancient as, well, humans. Sure, cavemen applied it differently (probably more like bees – “Big. Animals. There.”) but it’s the same instinct.

Well, a newcomer to the Government 2.0 space, Strategic Social (who I am an advisor to as they are “leveraging the social web for national security”), is actually studying this notion more formally. In a recent post on their website, they outline a new project in which they will study online “tribes” of people in combination with anthropology studies in South America and Africa. I wholeheartedly believe in their approach:

“The key to understanding the power of Web 2.0 communication tools is the application of an anthropological approach. Strategic Social firmly believes that social media represents just one more arena in which we can conduct field research.”

New media is not about “new” and not really about “media” either (see Gary Vaynerchuk’s vlog on the latter point here). It’s about behavioral communications, instincts that pre-date man. As a behavioral neurogeneticist I studied some genes that are very similar in insects and man, and indeed virtually all animals, that similarly affect behavior instincts. This stuff is old-fashioned.

What is new is the shiny objects in the so-called “TGIF Revolution” (Twitter, Google, Internet, Facebook). Yes, the tools are new. They are exciting. But what we do with them is not.

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