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Debate about the future of newspapers won't die for some time yet I think . . . at least among journalists, news media watchers, some bloggers and Clay Shirky.

Roy Greenslade on Greenslade Blog wrote this week on newspapers and magazines charging for their online content. Greenslade's title alone raises the key question: "Paid content is all the rage with US publishers - but where's the proof that anyone will pay?"

I chuckled over the comment from Steven Brill, founder of Journalism Online, in the piece that JO "has helped shift the debate over charging for online news from 'if' to 'when and how'" because beleaguered publishers have moved past the "abstract debate" to agree that paid content is the way ahead." (JO's goal is to help them get there.)

Now there's a shock right? Publishers think the solution to declining print revenues is to charge people for accessing onlne content.

Megan McArdlein The Atlantic online framed the debate marvellously this way "The problem besetting newspapers is not that there are hordes of bloggers giving it away for free . . . Even if every newspaper and magazine in the country entered into a binding cartel agreement not to put more than a smidgen of free content on their websites, newspapers would still be losing money, and closing by the dozens.  It's the economics, stupid . . . We're witnessing the death of a business model."

So how exactly is pushing people to pay for online content recognizing, as people like Shirky and McArdle (and dozens of others) have been rightly trying to point out, that the paid online content model which has been tried many times before will not revive the fortunes of "old" media.

One of the more tangible of intangible assets is a company's corporate responsibility (CR) program. Since I consult with a number of companies and organizations on these programs, I try to stay current on new ideas and points of view.

I was in the middle of writing about the sites and blogs I use to try to stay current when a colleague pointed out I had been scooped by Chris Jarvis at Fast Company in a post on the top ten sites which encourage conversation about social media and CSR

There are some overlaps between my list and his (Just Means and Taking It Global) but here are a couple more smart websites and blogs tagged in my RSS reader. I also follow a few Twitter 'friends' who direct me to useful CR and sustainability studies and reports.

Here are some of the most valuable . . . to me at least:

Please post a comment if you have others to recommend.

Some bickering broke out this week between Michael Arrington at TechCrunch and the folks at Twitter about some documents leaked to Mr. Arrington and then published in a column/post. I haven't been following the chatter about it, but there is a good summary at Social Media Today.

What caught my eye from Amy Mengel's report was this comment:

"But, let’s all remember that bloggers, like Arrington, aren’t journalists. They don’t operate under a professional code of ethics. they don’t report to an editor or publisher who tells them what to write about or what they can or can’t reveal. Many of them are ethical, many of them are former journalists, many of them would have chosen not to publish the documents."

Separate from the facts or otherwise of the particular events (now heading to the courts apparently), the question in my mind is this: When does a blogger who writes for a group-edited blog become de facto a journalist and perhaps subject to the same standards of ethical conduct to which journalists are expected to adhere (to the extent that they do in reality anyway)?

Wikipedia describes Mr. Arrington -- a lawyer -- as a "founder/co-editor" of TechCrunch. Many think of TechCrunch as an online news source. So, if it walks like a duck and talks like a duck . . . ?

Newcastle United FC is a storied franchise in English football and 'my club' in the sense that I was born a Geordie (the name used to describe people from the northeast of England) and therefore am genetically predisposed to being a member of The Toon Army, as frustrating as that can be. My father (long deceased) was a friend of one of the team's legends, Jackie Milburn ('Wor Jackie' as he is known), from when they both lived in Ashington in the 1940s.

This past season was a disaster for the club, with managers changing three times during a 38-game season and poor performances on the field by highly paid "stars'. The result is an ignominious demotion to the Coca-Cola Championship from the Barclays Premier League (where such other well-known franchises as Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool play).

The owner -- Mike Ashley, who has been problematic, if not a disaster, from the beginning according to most reports -- has been trying to sell the club since at least the last day of the Premiership season. It is now being coached by an interim manager.The players are furious and many of the first string players are asking for transfers. Even Ashley admits he has made a mess of things: “It has been catastrophic for everybody. I’ve lost my money and I’ve made terrible decisions. Now I want to sell it as soon as I can."

I have watched the public relations calamity unfold online on an almost daily basis through news reports from British newspapers and the NUFC's website (which tends to report absolutely zilch about what is going on). The extraordinary thing is that management appears to be saying naught. News reports are based almost exclusively on comments by players or "sources' close to the club.

From what I can tell, management has said nothing to reassure the city of Newcastle nor the club's extraordinarily devoted fans that the coming season in the lower division will be nothing short of a debacle. No reassurances are being given; no sympathy expressed; no plans outlined; no time frames given; no deadlines offered . . . in other words, completely counter to basic crisis communications principles.

Okay, maybe management doesn't see the situation as a crisis. Maybe management's solicitors or investment bankers have said it must say nothing. Maybe it is sending out news updates that no news outlet is picking up. Maybe it has a social network, YouTube channel, blog or Twitter presence which I just haven't been able to find. Or maybe management simply doesn't recognize the damage that is being done to its reputation.

The supporters will be there for the players on the pitch when the dust settles: but when Geordies are called on to support an NUFC management business initiative, when the city is asked for a concession or a tax, or when the club's history is written, who will be there to defend management's interest and its "license to operate" the Geordies' club?

In her book 'Yes We Did', which I just finished reading Rahaf Harfoush builds on recent presentations at Rotman Schoolf of Management at the Univeristy of Toronto o summarize what can be learned fro the Obama election campagain about social media.

Some of the conclusions. . .

While she strains in the book to make parallels beten buding the Obama brand and doing the same thing for a company . . . i am beginningto think it is too much of a stretch. gaging commuinicties in politics is far different from engaging customers with a brand.

Poltical campaigns move people on a level more visceral than the relationship between a consumer and a product.

At a recent speech to Toronto' Tird Tuesday, Bob Pearson, made the comment that people want to share ideas, share knowledge and solve problems: they don't want to talk about you as a company. Politics is about sharing and acting on ideas (when it isn't about naked power

I am not a political scientist, but I have the sense that Democratic party politics is more fertile ground for this kind of grassroots organizing.

The book's an easy read (suffering unfortunatgely from really poor editing), there are

Social media pundits are often critical of bloggers who devote too much of their digital space to referring to the posts of others. It is looked on as a form of solipsistic hackery.

But from time to time a writer posts something that is so to our advantage that it makes the charge worth bearing. So here goes.

Euan Semple, a fine writer and an intelligent, relaxed speaker (I heard him at an IPRA conference in London about three years ago) starts a short post with this almost axiomatic observation on the resistance of some in business (and to a frightful extent many communicators) to social computing:

"On an almost daily basis I am faced with someone asking me to tell them the return on investment of social computing in business or proclaiming that Twitter is all about people telling us what they had for breakfast. These interactions are always delivered in a particular tone -- at best pompous, at worst sneering and condescending."

Read the rest of the post here and be delighted that someone is pointing out what a waste of time - and how counterproductive - such conceit is.

According to James O'Toole and Warren Bennis, "An alarming number of board members today seem to succumb to the 'shimmer effect' -- they let the charismatic CEOs get away with murder (or outrageous greed, at any rate)."

They also argue that "Moving forward, it appears that the new metric of corpororate leaderhisp will be closer to this: the extent to which executives create organizations that are economically, ethically and socially sustainable."

I can't find the specific refernce to the above, but here six minute YouTube clip on them

Lots of juicy factoids and information today that add a little more to my thinking on new communication memes:

  • Twitter_logo_header Of the many striking statistics in a report called 'Inside Twitter' out of Canada's Sysomos people, this one stands out for evidence of the sheer stupidity of the hordes who now call themselves  'social media consultants': "Of people who identify themselves as social media marketers, 65.5% have never posted an update (on Twitter)."  I guess they just can't be bothered . . . or don't have time?
  • To be filed under the tab 'Public Relations Through the Rear View Mirror', according to an article today in the Ottawa Citizen Canada's National Defence HQ has a new 'conduit' approach to public relations (in which all media questions are funneled through public affairs staff, with the journalist never allowed to speak to a subject matter expert directly) that the writer calls the 24 DAY news cycle: "Into this brave new world of hyper-speed news gathering, NDHQ has rolled out what I’ve termed, the “24-day news cycle. Yes, 24 days…..That’s about the length of time I figure that it takes NDHQ to answer a question from the news media…..if it is answered at all."

  • Bear with me on this one. Those who follow me on Twitter will know that as a native 'Geordie' I am an ardent -- and frustrated, some would say foolish -- supporter of the Newcastle United football club, formerly of the English Premier League now relegated to tier two football as a result of an abysmal season this past year. Thankfully, the owner has put the club up for sale (at 0,,10278~3488677,00 about US$200 million). Before he did so, he published a statement in which he said "I'm sorry" about four or five times. Frankly, it sounded hollow given Ashley's unwillingness to invest in the club and his lack of commitment to its success in spite of having one of the most loyal fan bases of any football club. The lesson here is simple . . . saying 'Im sorry' in a crisis is not enough. An apology has to be backed up by action to resolve the underlying problem. In this case, the owner getting out is the right move, although that is not counsel I would give to many CEOs.

  • Finally, this about philanthropic giving . . . "Today, the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy (CECP) shares a first-look at results from its annual philanthropy survey of nearly 140 leading companies, revealing that 53% of companies increased their total philanthropic donations in 2008, and 27% increased their giving by more than 10% year-over-year." So things are not as bad as the CR critics would have us believe.

I was delighted to discover today that McKinsey & Company agrees with me about the reputation challenges facing companies globally and the new approaches needed to meet those challenges.

Okay, maybe I am not given credit anywhere in the McKinsey Quarterly article called Rebuilding corporate reputations (registration required). Yes, I know others have been saying the same thing for a number of years. And native humility prevents me from claiming anything more about my contribution to these discussions among public affairs specialists. But it was satisfying nonetheless to read that the consultants in McKinsey & Company's strategy practice ALSO agree there are three changes profoundly altering the reputation management landscape:

"Those changes include the growing importance of Web-based participatory media, the increasing significance of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and other third parties, and declining trust in advertising."

Add to this the recognition in the report that traditional media relations strategies alone are simply inadequate to deal with dispersed opinion shaping never mind stakeholder expectations for participation, dialogue and transparency, and you have the skeleton of most of what many of us who advise companies on reputation management have been clamoring about for a number of years.

Perhaps now that McKinsey & Company has said it senior executives will be more disposed to our strategies.

Reputation risk for companies is an underestimated consequence of global concern about climate change. Rather than expending more inventive energy on denying a relationship between CO2 concentrations and global temperature, smart businesses should be looking for ways to gain come reputation capital by managing climate change risks in cooperation with communities and global agencies.

Last week, the UN Global Compact and the Pacific Institute released a short paper on climate change and its impact on water which recommends a number of sensible management strategies. The context for the paper is the statement that:

"There is overwhelming scientific evidence that burning fossil fuels has altered the chemistry of the atmosphere. Figure 1 shows that atmospheric CO2 concentrations are reaching levels that are likely higher than in the last 20 million years.Rising CO2 concentrations along with other greenhouse gases (GHG) are changing the planet’s climate. Global mean temperatures have increased three-quarters of a degree Celsius since 1900 and 11 of the 12 warmest years since 1850 have occurred since 1996.These climatic changes are expected to accelerate over the coming decades."

The paper argues that a significant body of scientific evidence suggests climate change will affect the scarcity, sustainability and quality of the global water supply, which increases business risk, especially with respect to energy supply management, raw material inventories, industrial production systems and the associated financing costs.

Reputation risks can easily follow, for example as "people become more aware of their rights to access water . . . local businesses may find themselves using copious amounts of water in regions where people lack sufficient water to meet basic needs."

The paper outlines some business strategies which mirror two dominant themes on how businesses today need to think of corporate responsibility (CR): CR as part of business strategy discussions (integrating "water and climate change into strategic business planning and operational activities") and engagement of stakeholders in responsible planning (engaging "key stakeholders as a part of water and climate risk assessment, long-term planning and implementation activities").

Philip Sheppard, a past president of the International Public Relations Association, brought to my attention this exhilarating and numbing video called Did You KNow? posted on the Pilot Theatre (from Wakefield West Yorkshire) website . . . Lots to make you think about business, communications, knowledge management and North American education (strengths and failures).

The stock of CSX Corp., a Jacksonville Florida-based railway company has been discounted as a result of lingering criticism of "poor management", according to UBS analyst Rick Paterson as reported today in the Financial Post. (I can't find a link: The Financial Post's website doesn't make it easy.) It should be trading at a premium to its competitors according to Paterson.

He goes on to say "Four or five years ago that ("poor management") was probably true, but we think these days are long gone and (mis)perception is lagging reality."

If that's the case (and I have no idea if the company has been actively trying to restore its reputation), then why is it that investment bankers and equity analysts stubbornly resist the idea that a good reputation, consciously developed, nurtured and communicated, can have a measurable impact on valuation? And why is it that some companies have such a hard time understanding that reputations don't recover solely through solid financial performance?

There are strategies for reputation recovery. But they require commitment, humility and honesty . . . and the support of financial advisers, lenders and legal counsel.

The Economist, not normally a booster of corporate social responsibility (CSR) or sustainability as it  tends to be known in Europe, this week has a piece on CSR that hits the mark. The author concludes that corporate philanthropy (contributions to charitable causes) is being cleaved but the attention being paid to behaviour -- ethics and governance in particular -- is holding steady, as it should.

"There is one other important reason for thinking that companies will maintain their commitments to sustainability through the downturn and beyond: the need to restore confidence in business. The financial crisis was triggered by a bout of corporate social irresponsibility on a massive scale that has tarnished the reputations of even the bluest of blue-chip companies. Now corporate leaders have a chance to show that they are not just motivated by short-termism after all."

As Intel (a client) says in the management analysis and strategy portion of its 2008 corporate responsibility report (Note . . . I agree with ridding CSR of its restrictive 'S'),  "By incorporating corporate responsibility directly into our strategy and objectives, we manage our business more effectively and understand our impact on the world more clearly."

Corporate or 'strategic' philanthropy is a programmatic means by which a company contributes to its community. Philanthropy evidences a corporate recognition that profits are derived from the community and that a return to the community in the form of wages paid for labor and consistent dividend payments to shareholders as well as steady share price growth is -- at least in terms of today's social expectations -- insufficient.

Communities expect companies to give back, and companies have obliged either through random acts of kindness or more structured investments in causes which match company values or business goals.

But let's be honest. Philanthropy is unlikely to define or affect company behaviour when it comes to choosing business strategy, rewarding employees, managing supply chain relationships, committing to respectful and sensitive business principles and overseeing board and C-suite conduct. 

A generous philanthropy program, and commitment to a cause, can comfortably sit side-by-side with dishonest accounting, excessive senior executive compensation, autocratic and harsh management, deferential governance, poor labour and sourcing practices, and denial of environmental impact. Philanthropy provides a reputational sheen, but it doesn't de facto require ethical conduct or a socially astute business strategy. Philanthropy buys goodwill but it doesn't drive responsible behaviour nor build social trust.

If The Economist is right, and I think it is, and the decline in spending on smoke-screen philanthropy is NOT being matched by a retreat from investment (time, focus, intensity) in better behaviour, then maybe out of the current crisis we will see a steady push-back within companies against insular corporate boards, inappropriate rock star-like CEO salaries, and short-sighted and opaque business strategies.

Although it was a week or so ago, the event I moderated on Social Media and Corporate Trust in Toronto has resulted in a number of posts and articles.

For those who want to find out what others took away from the session take a look at these:

  1. From Paul Beier who blogs at One Degree ("The inside scoop on digital marketing and social media in Canada").
  2. Panelist Tom Watson did a follow-up post on the Canadian Business magazine blog.
  3. Brian Jackson, reported on the discussion for

I am grateful for the reports since it helps me remember what others said. As a moderator, I am too busy worrying about what the next question is to pay the attention I should to what the response was to my previous question. A failing I know, but one I'll work at overcoming. :)

I moderated a panel today at The Empire Club of Canada on Social Media and Corporate Trust which included Peter Aceto, CEO of ING Direct Canada,  Suzanne Fallender, manager of CSR for Intel USA and Tom Watson, senior writer with Canadian Business magazine. Thanks to some lively points of view, and sharp questions from the audience, the panel was deemed a success.

Here are the remarks I made to kick off the panel . . . sorry for the length:)

It is self-evident that trust in companies has declined significantly over the past few years, although if you want to argue the point I can direct you to any number of studies, including H&K’s own corporate reputation surveys which make the case.

It has also become manifest that what can be called social tools – YouTube, Flickr, Facebook, Twitter and blogging among others – have been catalysts for impugning corporate behavior (just ask Domino’s pizza, McNeil Consumer Healthcare, Taser Intl., Continental Airlines or Dalhousie University). What is less obvious is how these tools can be used by organizations and companies to build or rebuild trust.

There are a number of hypotheses about social media and trust which I hope we can test in our short panel discussion. By doing so I think we will get a better understanding of what those of us who manage reputation both inside and outside organizations have to think and do differently to be effective.

I would like to get things going by posing a few axiomatic beliefs of my own about social media. My point of view comes from four or five years of blogging, engaging in social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, providing counsel to clients on transforming crisis, reputation and issue management strategies through the analysis and application of new social tools, teaching new directions in communications at two Canadian universities and discussion online and in person with people much smarter than me.

Let me start by arguing that companies and organizations today are facing what can only be called a sea change in the universe of idea generation, news gathering and information sharing whose only precedent may be the impact that the creation of the printing press had on industrial society after the 15th century.

I can think of at least three things that social media change that can be both obstacles to and facilitators of creating trust, and make many of our past reputation management approaches obsolete:

First . . . the concepts of personal expression and friends first

In his recent book, Here Comes Everybody, NYU professor Clay Shirky says that “We are living through the largest increase in human expressive capability in history.” The midwife of this expression is the ability of anyone to post or publish anything, anytime and anywhere and to have an audience for this expression. Now the audience may be small and may only be an audience of friends, but you can never be sure that it will stay small or that it may not persuade a much larger network of people or dispose them to act.

It is important to recognize that this is not about the technology that makes interaction possible but about the anatomy of the interaction. It is an interaction that is consistent with our oral tradition of politics and storytelling. Like 17th century coffee houses, social media are now the place to assemble, to exchange ideas and if desired to organize action/dissent.

One of the most difficult things for senior executives and communications professionals to get our minds around about this change is that our strategies now require people more than communications products, because the expectation now is for personal relationship and responsiveness and not just facts and information.

Second . . . group formation

Clay Shirky also goes on to say that “By making it easier for groups to self-assemble and for individuals to contribute to group effort without requiring formal management (and its attendant overhead), (social media) tools have radically altered the old limits on the size, sophistication, and scope of unsupervised effort.” In other words, we now have what my colleague – Brendan Hodgson – calls empowered detractors and supporters – individuals and small groups who can challenge a point of view, force transparency, expose malfeasance and also become allies and friends.

What empowers them is the ease with which they can assemble in small but potent networks using social media. And because of the low barriers to participation and action, power increasingly resides in the hands of the committed and the concerned.  The Motrin Mom’s campaign is one recent example in which an angry individual used social tools like YouTube, Flickr and Twitter to defeat an advertising campaign.

Third . . . A vastly different “news” dynamic

Because news can come from anywhere, and increasingly frequently comes to the public consciousness not through the traditional news infrastructure but through social networks, listening, vigilance and conversation are more important than they have ever been in the past.

At the same time, although circulation for newspapers is declining and publications disappearing, our appetite for news (albeit news that we want to choose rather than have imposed) keeps growing. That means companies that want to affect the way they are seen will have to be prepared to provide a steady flow of news and information – supported by crystal -clear conversation and dialogue – rather than waiting only for what in the past they have judged as “worthy” of being released.

So what do these three observations mean for strategies meant to sustain, defend or build trust in corporations and organizations? I have at least four ideas:

Communication strategies that depended on influencing reporters in mainstream news infrastructure now must include ways to incite interest and engagement from a range of individuals, groups and networks. 

Communication strategies that depended on the publication of information must now be scrapped in favour of strategies that find and/or build communities of interest and small networks of advocates, champions or apostles.

Strategies meant to influence government or specific social behaviors or even encourage buying must now recognize that the new backbone of influence is the small – but highly connected – networks of ordinary people. Media “impressions” – the historic but oh so inadequate measure of the success of communications programs by counting how many people likely had access to a certain media piece – just doesn’t tell us much anymore.

And finally . . . Generic brand building strategies should now be supplemented – okay maybe even replaced – by programs that start from people, that engage networks, and that reveal personality because as a Deloitte consultant once wrote “It’s harder to distrust a person than it is to distrust a corporation.”