Tag Archive | "technology"

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Cheezburger Network as a Model for Citizen Engagement?


I was fortunate enough to attend a talk series at Google DC earlier today featuring Ben Huh, the CEO of Cheezburger Networks. These are the folks responsible for fun, engaging, user-generated content sites like FAILblog, LOLcatz, GraphJam, ThereIFixedIt, and ThisIsPhotoBomb.com – good stuff. They get over 11 million viewers a month, and have more people vote on an average LOLcat than people that vote in a typical Congressional election.

The government and other large organizations, who typically are not great at engaging their citizens and customers, might want to take this stuff more seriously. Their motto, to “make people happy for five minutes a day” isn’t a bad one. Wouldn’t you like to work for an agency that had that motto?

Someone actually asked Ben a question about the topic of Government 2.0, being in DC as we were. What is the role of concepts like these websites contain in a participatory government? Paraphrasing greatly, to build big, fun communities that can accomplish something, the government must make it very simple to get involved. They have to “narrow the number of variables involved in the decision process,” Ben said. Then, people who want to get more involved can take a second and a third step in a process if they want. I think the key takeaway for getting busy people involved in something within five minutes is: “low barrier to entry.”  Does your government website meet that standard?

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I Unleash My Journalism Students To Critique Newsweek’s Daniel Lyons


September 17th, 2009 – a day that will live in infamy.  It is the day I officially became bored with defending Twitter to columnists that “don’t get” the popular microsharing service.  On that day, Newsweek columnist Daniel Lyons (who frankly, I’d never heard of until that day, even though I knew of his Fake Steve Jobs work – great PR!) wrote a piece called “Don’t Tweet On Me: Twitter shows that stupid stuff sells,” which I immediately hated for at least three reasons.  One, most things people say seem stupid and useless to random people, so this is not novel observation.  Two, everyone who has observed general society knows that stupid sells (maybe Lyons should visit a comedy club sometime?).  And three, Lyons effectively insults 99.9% of the population with his remarks (of course, they didn’t notice because they don’t read Newsweek – whew, bullet dodged).

But honestly, I’m bored with writing posts about Twitter.  I don’t really care if anyone “gets it” at this point – frankly, the less people and businesses use it the more advantage those that do gain over the others, and that’s much more fun to watch.  There are tangible benefits quantified and qualified out there – and I feel no need to share them here.  But please don’t think how busy I am means that I don’t think Daniel Lyons should escape a good skewering.

So, taking a page out of the Web 2.0 playbook I’m fond of, I crowdsourced the task to my journalism students (each writer volunteered and no one was graded) in the School of Media and Public Affairs at The George Washington University in Washington, DC.  I’m currently teaching a class called Sustainable Journalism in a New Media Age, and I felt this would be a perfect opportunity for some of my students to publish something on True/Slant, to work out their contrarian / critique style, and to perform a useful service to humanity – picking apart Daniel Lyons’ arguments about how stupid Twitter is.  (And maybe they will even personally experience mainstream media blowback!)

Starting on Monday, look for brief, funny, engaging, authentic and biting guest posts from four of my undergrad students in my column at True/Slant.  They’re going to be great.  Not only do they poke, poke, poke at Newsweek until its measly article looks like Swiss cheese (sorry Jon Meacham, I like you), but keep in mind that these writers are ages 18-21 – and by the time they graduate this hot young talent probably wouldn’t be caught dead working for a dinosaur like Newsweek.  But I’ll let them speak for themselves.

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Conversations Are Intelligence, Not Invitation


Fox’s recent experiment of overlaying live tweets on an episode of Fringe was an epic failure unwelcome to Twitter enthusiasts and traditional viewers alike.  It’s hard to imagine anyone who understands social technology thinking that this was a good idea. It’s almost impossible to imagine anyone working in entertainment thinking that this would add to, and not detract from, a fictional television drama. Conversations that happen via social media are not necessarily an invitation for businesses to join them. They are, however, business intelligence that can be collected, analyzed, and adapted to. In one of the best simple articles I’ve read on this topic, media and entertainment entrepreneur Patricia Handschiegel writes that,

If TV wants to have a presence online or integrate its offerings online, it needs to think like a user. Not BE a user, not be “part of the conversation,” but understand what is valuable to the user and deliver it. You all should be on Twitter telling us when your shows are going to air and what we can expect, showing trailers, driving us to YOUR website for contests, special footage, etc…Your job is to entertain and inform your audience. Nobody cares what people think of your shows but you, and nobody cares what people have to say about your shows but you… Just because you can “hear” the direct conversations about your brand via the web today doesn’t mean you have to go bananas with it. Listen, use it for insight, adapt your offerings around it, etc. Brands of all kinds are taking all of this way, way too seriously. Your message has always been reshaped and shared among people — the only difference now is that you can see and hear it. This is not something to be afraid of. This is something to use to your advantage.

This is related to what I’ve previously written about on O’Reilly Radar how for businesses and brands (including personal brands) Twitter should mainly be viewed not as a conversation to be involved in, but as a mechanism for providing great content to people. This can be derided by critics as “broadcasting” but there is a happy medium between being in a multiplex chatroom “engaging” with people and merely broadcasting. Listening, understanding, and some interacting is important – but it is not an end goal in itself. This is also related to what I’ve recently written about on PR 2.0, something I call proactive social media (or offensive social media) – filling the information space with great content that people will find if they’re looking for information about your area of expertise or your business sector. This is the strategy that I am beginning to talk about with individuals, government employees, and large and small companies that ask for my advice about how they should best be using social media to interact with the public.

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Proactive Social Media: Filling the Information Space With Great Content


I recently gave a talk titled Free the People! at the Potomac Forum’s Government 2.0 Leadership, Collaboration, and Public Engagement Symposium in Washington, DC that generated enough interest for me to post my slide deck and write a summary for a wider audience. These thoughts constitute some of my early ideas about “offensive social media” for organizations (this talk was particularly geared towards a government audience, but the fundamentals apply to the private and public sectors more broadly).

Read the rest of this article at the PR 2.0 blog!

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Would You Sign a One-Year Twitter Contract?


In a new post, tech blogger Robert Scoble posits that media darling Twitter is under-hyped and underappreciated as a business tool.  He suggests that Twitter is worth $5 billion based on the idea of selling business analytics and other professional services to clients, and has numerous, somewhat-hidden advantages over competition like Facebook.

It’s an interesting post to read.  But while it’s true that nightclubs, salons, bike stores and many other small and medium businesses are “using Twitter” that doesn’t mean they’re using it well, or it’s a priority, or generating revenue or word of mouth. And it doesn’t mean they’ll still be using it in 2010, or 2011.

Think about your subscriptions to cable television or mobile phone service, where you pay $50, or $80, or $130 per month and often commit to a three-month, one-year, etc. contract with Comcast or some other company.  Will a large number of businesses be willing to pay $100 or so a month for business analytic services from Twitter, Inc?  The real question for a business in my mind is, Would you commit to a one-year, $1200 contract with Twitter??

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First Impressions: Why Would Someone Want to be VP of Social Media at Ketchum?


Today I saw Twitter pushed past its professional limits. Pamela Rocco Von Lehmden, a Senior VP at Ketchum (a well-known PR firm) tweeted the following: “Ketchum seeking VP of Social Media. Interested? DM me @pamelavl.” This might appear like social media outreach, except for the fact that Ms. Von Lehnden is relatively inaccessible.

Someone like me, or in fact most anyone who would read her tweet, cannot DM (”direct message”) Ms. Von Lehnden because she doesn’t “follow” me on Twitter.  In order to DM someone, they must be following you. In the case of @pamelavl, she only follows 113 people (at the time of writing) so her “outreach” effectively goes to the 113 people she knows best. What she did wasn’t “wrong” but it doesn’t make any sense.

It gets a little worse. Before the tweet above, she sent another one that included a link to a job description, which would be awesome except that the link just goes to a page where you can search for jobs at Ketchum. Then, she re-tweeted her own tweet (for no apparent reason). Not very helpful. Maybe an intern or recent college grad would ignore all of this and jump through these hoops of social media mishaps for a great summer job, but would a highly-qualified social media expert at the VP level? Ironically, the true maven they’re looking for may be turned off from applying.

This follows on the heels of a completely different Ketchum social media mishap involving a certain employee  (Mr. Andrews) who tweeted some negative thoughts about Memphis when he was on a business trip there to deal with a big client, FedEx (which is headquartered there). This turned into a bit of a scandal about the blurred lines between personal and professional that I won’t relive here – but suffice it to say that this incident reflected poorly on Ketchum.

The career section of the Ketchum website claims that, “Clients who choose Ketchum ultiamtely choose us for only one reason – our people.” If that’s the case, I hope that the behaviors Ms. Von Lehmden and Mr. Andrews have exhibited are not representative of that of the company’s employees.

Wal-Mart or GM or Mass General Hospital or Hermes or Cadbury or Borders could be forgiven for having some employees screw up their tweets or other social media outreach. It happens. But a lauded public relations firm whose entire job is relating to the public? Not that I’m applying for the position, but were I to be recruited into the job of Ketchum’s future VP of Social Media, I’d expand my portfolio to include an educational agenda with the goal of protecting the rest of Ketchum’s employees from embarrassing themselves and the company. Sophistication perceived is sophistication achieved.

Cross-posted at True/Slant.

Update: Cam Burley asked via Twitter if there was a job description available. Response from Von Lehmden? The same link that goes to a generic Ketchum job search site.

Update 2: Here is a link to the job description (on a non-Ketchum site).

Update 3: Nicholas Tolson has some interesting additional analysis below in his comment.

Update 4: James Andrews, mentioned above, a former Ketchum VP and Director of Interactive, very recently left Ketchum to form his own firm.

Update 5: According to Wikipedia, Ketchum is no stranger to scandal within the public relations industry.

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Trend Preadaptation and Bandwagon Warfare


Life is a series of bandwagons, especially if you’re a successful person. Environments that you operate within change constantly, and if you don’t evolve with them you’ll probably go extinct. Working as an academic scientist for about a decade, I saw such environmental shifts all the time. Most professors, especially if they wanted spending money, worked on topics that they could obtain federal grant money to support.  Sure, other topics were important and interesting, but the realities of running an expensive laboratory cannot be forgotten. 

Trends in funding different topic areas come and go. Have you heard about research in “translational medicine” lately? That’s a hot topic. What about “functional MRI”? Sure, that’s hot too. Okay, how about “anatomy and physiology”? Yeah, thought so. It’s not that there aren’t any important questions left in anatomy and physiology, it’s just that it’s not perceived as cutting-edge anymore.

Some researchers follow these trends and evolve with them, and some don’t, with consequences to either choice. People who are great at exploiting trends in science funding often band together into collaborative packs, sharing data with each other, recommending others for panels at conferences, peer-reviewing each others’ work, and generally being collegial. It’s tribal behavior. It can certainly be hard to become part of a new tribe being the right person in the right place at the right time; but when you are it allows you to do more research than you could previously.

Meanwhile, have-nots without great research funding are noble loners without a powerful tribe. They’re doing equally good work perhaps, but feel overshadowed by more trendy researchers. And so often a good dose of spite separates these two sets of tribes. But why? The first group is mainly doing good science that Congress, the National Science Foundation, and so on feel is important now, and the latter group is sticking to their traditional topic and has maintained an academic freedom to pursue it. There really is no productive reason for warfare between these bandwagons. Yet it exists.

In my experience, people who exploit a changing environment successfully are often preadapted to it in some way. In science, people may have already been reading widely on the topic, interested in it for some other reason besides funding. Perhaps one lab fortuitously collected speculative preliminary results when a grad student rotated through the lab for three months, and those results proved critical to a later grant application. Rarely do I think a professor of physical chemistry wakes up in the morning, sits in front of his computer with a cup of coffee, sees new funding for breast cancer research, and starts carpetbagging on their turf. It just doesn’t work that way – you’ve “gotta have the chops” to go up against the competition.

Of course, none of this is limited to the practice of academic science. I would postulate it is unlimited because humans have banded together in tribes based around ideas for as long as recorded history. Lately, I’ve been writing a fair amount about the now-trendy topic of Government 2.0, or how emerging Web technologies are changing how government operates. And as this writing has garnered attention it’s also been implied that I’m carpetbagging the field rather than being a practitioner of its topic matter. In an interesting bit of co-evolution, even as an increasing number of people are finding my writing and public speaking useful, a bandwagon has formed to critique the bandwagon of people who have published “pop” writing about Gov 2.0 - and there has been a tiny bit of tribal bandwagon warfare.  

I don’t remember Gov 2.0 being a trendy topic in April 2008 when I started working on it. To the contrary, in my travels to Web 2.0 events of all kinds that started over a year ago, no one from government was there, and very few attendees at events outside the DC area knew anyone from the government, never mind someone who wanted to hear about their start-up company. My partial bridging of that gap led to writing some interesting articlesand allowed me to network with other thought leaders both inside and outside government who have certainly taught me a lot. Like the scientist with fortuitous preliminary data, I was preadapted to the new-found Gov 2.0 craze facilitated by an exciting presidential election season last fall.

This week, the hot topic around my office is pandemic flu. Why? Because it turns out that my research center distributed wildly successful pandemic flu preparedness posters in 2005 and a planning guide to operating a large organization during a pandemic in 2006.  A few months ago, I designed and printed a new poster that summarized the best of what we knew and made it more graphically palatable. Now, in the middle of a seemingly global swine flu outbreak, a lot of people suddenly want it. Am I again carpetbagging for personal gain, strategically moving from exploiting Gov 2.0 to exploiting pandemic flu? This hypothesis would be amusing if it weren’t so ridiculous.

The problem with bandwagon warfare is that it doesn’t help anyone. It annoys the trendy without affecting them, it satisfies the criticizers while effectively wasting their time, and it doesn’t do anything for the greater good; in the case of this article, that greater good involves citizens who want scientists conducting medical research, a military that puts an end to insurgencies, and a government that communicates better with them on health issues. Not unlike old arguments about the logic behind nuclear warfare, tribal bandwagon warfare is a useless stalemate that shouldn’t escalate. But when it is so easy to write something harmful online, what is the deterrent?

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Personally and Professionally: Are You Accessible?


One of the most interesting things about social media is that it makes people who previously seemed inaccessible less so. That applies to not only celebrities like Shaq and Ashton Kutcher, but also to people who are celebrities in your field of work; niche celebrities.

I’ve had a number of great experiences in which I’ve made connections with people within the government, in the media, and in other walks of life. It would have taken much more effort to do this in the past – being personally introduced, cornering them at an event I knew they’d attend, and so forth. But the method in which I approached them made the connection no less important – and when a new relationship benefits both parties, everyone is happy. Soon, no one will care if they initially received a letter typed on stationary or a Facebook message.

If you’re really new to social media tools like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, this is a profound shift in relationship- and network-building. But don’t worry – even the veterans are new to it. So read about how others are using new technology to build social networks and dive in.

Now, those who are already in positions of power and influence (let’s imagine Henry Kissinger, for the sake of discussion) may not think that being accessible is in their best interests. I know people who are at the height of their profession who think just like this. And maybe our thought-experiment Kissinger can get away with it.

But at some point, so many people will be commonly accessible through virtual universal ‘phone books’ like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter (and their successors) that there may be some backlash against those who aren’t. And who can predict how quickly that might happen? While these senior folks are content with their trusted coterie of friends and colleagues, other opportunities are passing them by.

So no matter what your age or experience, whether you are settled into a career path or changing the road you’re on, make sure you’re accessible. It’s not who you know, it’s who knows you.

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Social Media Is Not Customer Service


Lots of people enjoy following parts of my life using social media tools like Facebook and Twitter. But from time to time, I hear complaints about how I don’t have enough conversations, or I tweet too much, how I prefer my Twitter feed to my Facebook wall, and so forth.

I don’t care what you think. The reason for this is because these social media tools are ways in which I can express myself, for free. You’re not paying me for the Mark Drapeau Advice Service, you are not my clients, no one has an exclusive right to my content or time.

True, I do favor talking to some people more than others – they’re often people I know ‘IRL’ – in real life. And I do use Twitter more than my Facebook wall, which I use more than LinkedIn, which I use more than MySpace, etc. I do what suits me.

Social media isn’t Customer Service 2.0 for people who are interested in me. Not yet, anyway. If I start selling access to my information and advice, and you’re a customer of mine, then you can start asking for a callback, a tweet response, or a shoutout. Until then, while I’m really happy that people are interested in what I have to say, please stop taking social media so seriously.

There are many good reasons to use social media tools – to listen to conversations, to expand your social network, to publicize events or groups you’re involved with, and more. And everyone will do what they want.

When people sometimes ask me why I don’t follow them on Twitter or read their blog, I often say that they’re “not on my radar” – so rather than ask why someone isn’t paying attention to you, why don’t you spend your effort doing something so important that they feel compelled to follow you?

It’s not business, it’s just personal.

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Why I’m Writing for True/Slant


Yesterday, the alpha version of an exciting new journalism site called True/Slant became public. This is something I have been working on behind closed doors since January. True/Slant, a privately held company funded by Forbes Media and Velocity Interactive Group, is based in New York and has recruited about 60 writers, or ‘knowledge experts’ to write columns about things we’re interested in, along the lines of our motto: “News is More Than What Happens”. You can see my column, named Cheeky Geeky, here.

As the Wall Street Journal personal technology columnist Walter Mossberg points out in the premiere review of True/Slant this morning, the site is truly trying a new model of web journalism. When I had some initial discussions with the True/Slant team, particularly the Executive Director Coates Bateman (who will no doubt be challenged with ‘managing’ me), I was very excited to hear how social media tools would be mixed with original long form writing. And they were excited to hear about my knowledge of social networks and new marketing that’s come from experimenting with the tools for some time now.

Another quasi-news site based on blogging and funded by advertising, you say. What’s really different about True/Slant? Actually, a LOT.

For one, each contributor has their own platform under the True/Slant umbrella. That means that you can subscribe to just my articles from True/Slant, and not every author’s articles. That also means that advertisers can place ads about, say, technology on my column, and ads about food on my friend Robin Dorian’s ‘foodie’ column called Weird and Delicious. Hence, writers have a vested interest in exploring their niches and making their pages the best possible, worrying somewhat less about the overall True/Slant site.

True/Slant also wants you to know what it’s columnists are reading. Don’t you sometimes ask yourself where your favorite authors get their food for thought? At True/Slant, we tell you. We rip headlines of stories we’re reading and post links on our pages. And on the homepage, editors curate these headlines so you can see a mix of what everyone’s reading, and perhaps get a peek inside our minds as we work throughout the day.

Another thing that is different about True/Slant is a sense of community. As columnists we are strongly encouraged to follow other writers’ columns and post comments on their blog posts. This is already starting to build cohesion among the writers and throughout the site. Readers will learn more about our personalities and understand us more as people, and not just anonymous writers that put up a column once a week. I think this is not unlike the ‘ambient intimacy‘ that people feel when following someone on Twitter for a while.

Yet another unique feature of True/Slant is the plan for advertisers to have columns. Clearly marked as advertising, and perhaps similar to glossy special advertising sections of magazines, this is another potential revenue source that at the same time does not involve columnists in, say, getting paid to write about their views of brands – a highly controversial topic.

Finally, we want True/Slant to be a social network. The readers get involved too – when you comment on our posts, we can “call you out” for a great comment. Readers that get called out a lot will get recognition, as will readers that comment frequently. So, this is a multidirectional conversation – columnists are readers and commenters, and readers are commenters that join our social network. Even management is commenting on our columns – which is pretty cool if you ask me.

I truly believe that True/Slant is a step forward in combining the best of journalism and opinion writing with the best of social networking. It’s something I haven’t yet seen in sites like the Huffington Post, Slate, The Daily Beast, or Salon. Even great sites like Mashable and TechCrunch that cover the Web 2.0 sphere of news, for all their RSS subscribers and Twitter followers, do not empower their columnists nor engender a sense of community. So I think we are pushing the envelope. As I once heard Pete Cashmore, the CEO of Mashable, say – Return on Engagement is the new Return on Investment. True/Slant is poised to make a large ROE by creating a platform for the community that may evolve into loyal readers, in order to then generate a more traditional ROI.

And this is just the start. Looking towards a beta version in May 2009, in the near future True/Slant will have more WordPress plug-ins, integration with Facebook walls and Twitter posts, and other new features that should make the columnist and reader experiences even better. Remember, what you see now is just the early alpha site!

Every week, I plan to publish exclusive opinion pieces on Tuesdays, satires on Thursdays, and a feature called “The Best, The Worst, and The Weird” on Sundays, the latter of which will highlight the best, worst, and weird thing I read in the past week – so send me your ideas!

As Mossberg says in his review of True/Slant, there’s no guarantee that this will all work. But I think that the management of True/Slant is pushing the envelope with regard to the interface of old and new media, and so at the very least it is very exciting to be a part of a great experiment at its most nacent.

For now, check out my column, and start interacting with some of the other great writers on the site. They also author stories for Rolling Stone, Time, Financial Times, and other great outlets, and write about everything from politics to restaurants to neuroscience. Comment on the columns, and tell me about what you do and do not like about the site! From the CEO and Founder, Lewis Dvorkin on down, they are truly listening to what you have to say – and writing columns themselves!

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