Tag Archive | "theory"

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Government Ambassadors For Citizen Engagement


To the average person, government is represented by an anonymous person on the other end of the phone, a pile of mandatory paperwork, and perhaps at best a friendly neighborhood postal carrier. If you ask the average American not living inside the Beltway to name a single individual who works in the federal government, how would they reply? My guess is that the broad majority of them couldn’t give you the first and last name of a federal government employee; In reality they would find it much easier to name their local pharmacist, garage owner, or supermarket manager. And from the perspective of the government, this is a shame. How might emerging social technologies help to bridge that gap, in combination with a modification in thinking about government public relations?

The ideal end state when a citizen is asked to name a government employee would be that a person working in a micro-niche of interest to them – finance, farming, foot-and-mouth disease – immediately comes to mind. Unfortunately though, interesting and talented people working at Treasury, USDA, NIH and other places are not well-known to the public, despite the great effects their work has on everyday life in America. Why is this? Partly, it is a vestige from the days when communications were controlled by professionally trained public relations staff and mainstream journalism teams. This was understandable – equipment was expensive, channels were few, and citizens trusted authenticated, official sources for their information. But this media structure that worked well for 40 years is now outdated.

In the Web 2.0 world, every individual is empowered to be not only a consumer of information, but a producer of it. Writing is searchable, discoverable, sharable, usable, and yes, even alterable. The proverbial “pajama mafia” of bloggers has morphed into a powerful society class of listeners, questioners, writers, editors, publishers, and distributors. And in some outlying examples from the federal government, such as the TSA’s blog, we see this same power being harnessed by individual employees (with their agency’s approval, naturally) – Individuals from the TSA not only blog, but interact with citizens who comment on the articles. But this form of government-citizen interaction is, honestly, a primitive version of how social technologies can empower citizen engagement with government.

The modern citizen is not a vessel waiting to receive press releases and government website updates. Even a sophisticated government website like the White House’s new blog can only expect to attract a subset of citizens a subset of the time. Why? Simply, there are simply too many avenues of information flowing towards these people formerly known as a captive audience. No matter how compelling your government information, they are not waiting to hear from you about it. Nor are they necessarily waiting to hear from the New York Times, MSNBC, or any other mainstream organization.

Read more about how governments can harness the power of social media to reach the modern citizen at O’Reilly Radar.

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Your Digital Audience Listens In Multiple Theatres


Last night, a social media consultant and Massachusetts political candidate whose writing I follow, Ari Herzog, unfollowed everyone he was following on Twitter and started from scratch.  And he’s done this before, all the while engaging in conversation with people about why he’s following who he’s following, and why he’s changing his tactics.  He’s probably the only person I’ve seen wholesale delete all his followers and start over.  Sounds crazy, right?

Wrong.  First, it’s good to do your own thing, and you don’t have to explain yourself to anybody.  Second, it’s good to reassess things you’re doing to see if they still work, if they’re still relevant to meeting your goals.  Third, as Ari says, Twitter is not Facebook, it’s not an email list, it’s not a Rolodex – meaning, the people you interact with on different platforms do not necessarily have to be the same.

In fact, it’s probably better that all the people you know don’t use all platforms equally.  I know people that love Microsoft Outlook for sharing news and information, others that use Facebook a lot but don’t microblog, and still others that worship shiny digital objects like Twitter and Friendfeed.  A tenet of new marketing is to go where the people you want to talk to already are; well, if you mainly interact with someone on one platform and they rarely use another one, why bother trying to interact with them on the second one?  Streamline your operations and do things that work to meet your goals.

Update: Robert Scoble unfollows almost 100k people, and wants to start a new movement – http://friendfeed.com/scobleizer/03d1701f/new-twitter-movement-unfollow-everyone

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Strategic vs. Popular Event Attendance


People frequently ask me if I’m going to this or that event. Are you going to SXSW? Are you going to Gnomedex? And I often say no.

It’s okay to defy people’s expectations. Most people are followers and attend whatever events everyone else is attending, often without a great reason. When people ask me if I’m attending an event I don’t plan to attend, I do say “No” but then I usually ask, “Why should I go?” – and I usually don’t get a great answer.

To me that’s just more justification for not attending.

Everything starts with a strategy for you and your career. Don’t go to Gov 2.0 Summit or SXSW or Personal Democracy Forum or anything else without a great reason – and preferably more than one. You have to do what works for you. Events are just tools that help you complete your mission better. That’s all.

Personally, I mix small free events that are great for networking with some high profile events in my area where I can learn something new with academic conferences to think about things more abstractly with events outside my area to deliberately take me outside my element with conferences I speak at to get feedback about my ideas. That’s why I attend lots of events but any one person feels like they don’t see me very often.

This month I’ll speak to the Network of Entreprenurial Women in Washington, the World Tech Summit in New York, the Open Government & Innovations Conference back in Washington, then the 5th Annual National Veteran Small Business Conference and Expo in Las Vegas. All different, all broadening who I am and how I think.

Pick and choose your events according to what works for you, not peer pressure. Sometimes the event that “everyone is going to” works for you, and sometimes it doesn’t. Buck the crowd sometimes – that’s what will enhance you and set you apart.

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Negative Conversations With Your Attackers


I saw an interesting quotation this morning from a Social Media Club event in DC that focused on crisis communications: “Every negative attack is the start of a conversation.“  I’m not sure I agree.

“Conversation” is perhaps the hottest buzzword of Web 2.0 – your customers are having conversations, companies should participate in conversations, new media marketing is a conversation, if you’re not part of the conversation it’s happening without you, and so forth. Entire books have been written on the topic. Even I’m guilty of promoting this idea in the government space.

And conversations are fine. But is every negative attack truly the beginning of a conversation? Does every frown have the potential to be turned upside down? (And how does that scale?)

Having a conversation about some one’s negative reaction to your brand, company, government office, situation etc. is a nice strategy, but the concept of negative attacks leading to positive conversations is based on the assumption that people will always engage in rational discussions with you.

They don’t. Naivety, ideology, and stupidity are all common in society’s discourses. People make emotionally-fueled arguments all the time (this Fox News “discussion” about views on abortion and the President receiving an honorary degree from Notre Dame isn’t a bad example). People often cling to strongly-held beliefs, even in the face of contradictory information, or data that oppose their views. Many conversations are irrational, or at best only partly rational. I would go so far as to say that partly rational discussions are the norm.

Economics is perhaps the field of study most heavily influenced by the finding that people behave irrationally. Traditional assumptions about economic behavior included participants in financial markets having perfect information and making rational choices related to adding value (i.e., obtaining money). But more recent research has shown that this is often not the case, and that this irrationality can spawn larger effects through complex systems.

Perhaps also with the field of communications. As hip as the concept of “communications as conversations” is, sometimes it’s best to not touch your detractors with a ten-foot pole. When peoples’ comments are irrational, when their views ignore available facts, when they’re too busy or too dumb or too angry to care what you have to say, a negative attack isn’t the start of a conversation. It’s the end of a relationship.

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Web 2.0 Throwdown: Print vs. Post


There is a tremendous amount of interest in emerging media technologies in 2009. They are disrupting many areas of great interest – advertising, publishing, job searching, professional networking, military recruiting, charity fundraising, and political campaigning, to name a few. And in this economy, in this seeming moment of change, it is more important to keep up with trends in communications technology than ever before; that knowledge may be the difference between winning or losing a job, a contract, or even the leadership of a country.

Kate Michael is hosting an event called PRINT VS. POST on Wed, May 13th at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, in order to discuss some of these important issues with two great thought leaders: Andrew Keen of Berkeley, CA, and Peter Shankman from New York, NY.  Both are best-selling authors, both frequent keynote speakers, both incredibly outspoken and interesting, they will face off and discuss and debate issues related to new media and journalism, government, and politics for an hour. They’ll also be signing books and attending a charity after-party at local nightclub Lotus Lounge.

I’m really excited to be hosting such an important and timely event.  If you’re a writer, you need to attend. If you’re in public relations, you really need to attend. And if you’re a future 2010 Congressional campaign staffer, you super really need to attend, because now that the Obama campaign put new media on the radar, everybody wants in. And your knowledge will be useful. And from a learning and networking standpoint, getting a VIP ticketis the way to go – not only will you be able to attend the event in person, you’ll have a good chance of winning both of the author’s autographed books in a raffle, and will also gain access to the Newsbabes Bash for Breast Cancer afterwards, where you will see me, Kate, Andrew, Peter, and many media personalities having a great time!

Please click here and pick up a ticket before they’re all gone!!

Andrew Keen of Berkeley, CA has been called “the Antichrist of Silicon Valley” for his controversial views of Web 2.0 and its effects on society. His book The Cult of the Amateur is hated but well-read for its insight into how the democratization of data is changing everything about how we interact with one another and live our lives at their core. The demise of well-compensated experts, the influx of junk on the Web, and the accessibility of opinions over facts are just a few reasons that emerging Web 2.0 social technologies are destroying life as we know it.

Or are they? Peter Shankman from New York, NY is well known as a public relations maven from his days at AOL and his book Can We Do That? But more recently he has started the service best known as HARO, which stands for Help a Reporter Out. Peter makes a living by using social tools that connect people to effectively link up journalists with sources (a.k.a. “hacks and flacks”) – and keep reporters and writers in business. Leveraging old school email newsletters three times a day with new media like blogging and Twitter, HARO is a platform to keep experts around for a long time to come.

So which is it? Is Web 2.0 destroying our culture? Is it deconstructing the very nature of books, of words? What are the effects on the future of mainstream media, of newspapers, of television and radio? What should students be learning in journalism schools, and should they even bother going anymore? And how might these emerging technologies affect how the 2010 mid-term Congressional campaigns are conducted? And what’s unique about Twitter that’s making it so popular right now?

Keen and Shankman will face off in an hour long discussion moderated by Washington, DC’s very own Dr. Mark Drapeau, a prolific writer, animal behavior scientist, and strategic consultant to the government on social media issues. He knows these guys, he’s read their books, and he knows how to push their buttons. And he’ll get the most out of them for the audience in order to answer the questions above, and your unrehearsed questions too.

When: May 13, 2009, 6:00 – 7:00 PM
Where: National Press Club

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Why Hide the Twenty Dollar Bill?


Recently, I was in a fast food restaurant, paying for a meal that cost less than $10. Although I usually use a credit card for these kinds of transactions, in this case I handed the employee a twenty dollar bill. Out of habit, and policy no doubt, she put my $20 under the plastic cash tray inside the register, and then gave me my change.

Why?

Once upon a time, probably long before most people reading this became active shoppers, people put $20 and larger bills in ’secret’ locations for security – if someone tried to rob you, they might just take the contents of the top cash drawer and make a run for it, not noticing that the $20, $50, and $100 bills were stashed elsewhere.

But isn’t this habit a little quaint? We have security guards, video cameras, and other security features. And, more importantly, the perps know about the old ‘hide the high denominations’ trick. Co-evolution between thieves and victims in the last couple of decades has rendered this behavior useless – yet it’s rampant.

Sticking to legacy processes like hiding $20 bills under the register isn’t just seen in the fast food industry. We see it in large companies and other organizations like the government as well. Managers often cling to legacy processes for stability, and to avoid rocking the proverbial boat. What if one fast food franchise started bucking the rules? That might look bad for the owner – he might look like a ‘maverick’ or someone who’s ‘not a team player’ – and most people don’t want those monikers attached to them.

Legacy processes are often silly but relatively harmless.  Perhaps the time and energy invested in hiding a $20 bill is negligible. But is everything as harmless?

Some legacy behaviors actually become harmful when they get in the way of doing a good job at whatever it is that you do. Perhaps your harmful legacy process is doing the same analysis with slight variations on multiple government computer systems, because you report to three different masters within a huge bureaucracy. It’s harder to find your information, it wastes your personal time, it costs government money, and most crucial, it’s inefficient.

Secretary Gates is currently proposing the end of, or alteration to, some legacy military systems and processes within the Department of Defense – and he has quite a battle ahead of him. There are always entrenched interests battling for the status quo.

Whatever the situation, a true leader has to take a stand against legacy processes that don’t work. They have to put their individual gratification and advancement (possibly) at risk for the betterment of the organizational group. And it does happen. Sometimes they crash and burn, but when their ideas work these people are celebrated as visionaries. Few and far between, such mavericks are truly the agents of change.

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Business Adaptation and the Biology of Failure


I’m not a professor, but here’s my business school metaphor for adaptation and survival: Wear a business suit and act calm at all times; evade local detectives, the FBI, and Mexican gangsters while you assassinate a heavily guarded Asian badguy inside a nightclub blasting Paul Oakenfold (in Korean, no less); do this while you hold your own chauffeur hostage;  catch flight home at LAX. But most businesses are far more complacent than the adaptive, erudite character Tom Cruise portrays in Collateral.

Traditional newspapers in major U.S. cities are filing for bankruptcy under selection pressure from the changing environment they failed to adapt to: increased media outlets, more online readers, and less advertising revenue.  Jeff Jarvis recently noted the stark differences between a modern company like Google and a failing one like the San Francisco Chronicle in a blog post he aptly named “Time Travel”.

As economist Paul Ormerod points out in his excellent book, Why Most Things Fail, patterns of business extinction and species extinction are very similar, with long periods of stability interrupted by large spikes of failure (a.k.a. “punctuated equilibrium“). One of Omerod’s theses is that while the future can be quite difficult to predict, experimentation in the present can help adapt to an uncertain future.  The benefits of genetic diversity in living organisms operate on the same theory, and are useful in practice.

Just the opposite of experimenting, media coverage of newspaper failure focuses on giant office buildings filled with cubicles and landline phones, lists of addresses where employees hand deliver products daily, and disruptions of pension plans and workplace friendships. But in biology and business, the nimble, innovative, and adaptive do well in turbulent times. Somewhat ironically, this line from Citizen Kane sums it up: “I don’t know how to run a newspaper, Mr. Thatcher, I just try everything I can think of.”

Unfortunately, most things fail. Nearly all of the species that have ever existed are currently extinct. The Rocky Mountain News was published for nearly 150 years, making people sentimental about its demise. Past success is irrelevant to survival, however. Dinosaurs roamed for millions of years, but their extinction made the rise of mammals possible. So too will new companies fill niches abandoned by failed ones.

Students should ask why business schools offer so many courses on economic theory, operations management, and accounting principles that teach about “doing” business, but don’t offer many courses about “thinking” business. Here are some of my suggested topics: (a) ecological niche theory, (b) coevolution, cooperation, and competition, (c) genetic diversity and adaptation in fluctuating environments, (d) network science and emergent behaviors of complex systems. Does your business school make Darwin required reading?

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