All in Web/Tech

It had to happen . . . the navel gazing about the impact of Twitter on journalism is now in full Zen musing. Rob Paterson at Fast Forward points out that Chris Cillizza at the Washington Post is now twittering the White House. David Schlesinger of Reuters has been sending tweets from Davos and inquiring about its impact on the future of journalism

Athough I like what Schlesinger has to say ("I have little patience for those who cling to sentimental (and frankly inaccurate) memories of the good old halcyon days of journalism that were somehow purer and better than a world where tweets and blogs compete with news wires and newspapers."), the question for me about whether tweeting can be journalism . . . It's Who cares?

When you have 142 characters to say what you want, there is little to distinguish the tweets of social media consultant Rahaf Harfoush from Davos from those of Schlesinger, except Harfoush's tweets are more fun.

When it comes to following Twitter reports of events, the question is who is the best eyewitness. If the real events at Davos are happening in plenaries and in conversations in the halls, bars and restaurants -- and not in staged news conferences -- then the more witty, insightful and diagnostic witness, whose point of view is closest to 'mine', and who is the one moreover ready to respond to an @ reply, is going to get the tweet "readership" . . . journalist or not.

By the way, although Cillizza has about 2000 followers on Twitter, he follows only six. I guess others who might Twitter about White House proceedings (and may not be journalists) must not have anything interesting to say. Doesn't that speak much about the myopia of some journalists who use social media tools?

Josh Reynolds, global head of H&K's technology practice, is one of my smartest colleagues, otherwise I would avoid the blatant corporate self-promotion of suggesting you spend 15 minutes watching this interview by Robert Scoble in which Josh talks about why our current economy is making digital the preferred marketing and corporate communication tool. (I have included the link since the embedded video below is only working intermittently.)

And just so you don't think that Josh is acting with such expressiveness only for the camera, I can confirm that he is like this in person . . . especially in client presentations.

In spite of Casey Stengel's warning to "Never make predictions, especially about the future", I will anyway.

  1. Companies will continue to struggle over the question of creating a corporate blog. In fact, there will likely be only minimal incremental uptake, at least by North American CEOs. The risks are frankly great and the perceived benefits too marginal. A CEO would have to accept three things in order to blog: There is value in being seen as a leader who is willing to have his or her personality, ideas and quirks on show; Freedom from weakness, miscalculation and error are not commodities valued by citizens, markets and employees -- honesty is; Disagreement, discussion and criticism are necessary for progress. (All three ideas are at the core of Web 2.0.) 
  2. Trust in corporations will continue to decline, although it is hard to imagine it getting any lower given recent examples of the manipulative shenanigans of U.S. financial industry executives. The latest evidence? Researchers at Forrester found that when it comes to trust " Only 16% of online consumers who read corporate blogs say they trust them." Yes, this says something about corporate blogs (see #1). But it is really about the endemic mistrust of corporate executives given their propensity to ignore ethical lapses.
  3. Corporate social responsibility will not decline in 2009. Even the most obdurate CEOs will recognize the trust deficit won't be chipped away if they sidestep expectations for sustainable business decisions and ethical conduct.
  4. Further, more companies will recognize that business strategy can benefit from assimilating care for the impact of products and services on the environment. As Peter Drucker pointed out in 1968 “Social responsibility objectives need to be built into the strategy of a business, rather than merely be statements of good intentions.”
  5. Twitter, which for me is a means of staying surrounded by smart ideas, will not be the social media panacea dreamed of by marketers. Attempts to get people to "follow" product-based tweets will be ignored unless, like @jacqsava at Soak Wash (not a client), you bring the person behind the product to the dance.
  6. My posts will cover the same subjects, but will feature more creative presentation. Think charts, diagrams, pictures and videos.

Bricks_clipart

Only number six is in my wheelhouse to do something about . . . show me how and you can hold me to it.
 

I will be posting something over the next week or so, either here or on forceforgood.com, about the value of moving corporate responsibility (CR) reporting to some form of social media facilitated platform rather than the traditional print CR report.

In the mean time, my Washington colleague Chad Tragakis directed me to a report in Environmental Leader from the Natural Marketing Institute which ranks the most effective sources of communication about corporate responsibility programs. Interestingly, the chart below ranks a company's website as a legitimate and effective method of communication on equal footing with reports from independent third parties or independent ratings and well ahead of a company's CSR report:

News-and-websites-7408

 More on the implications of this soon.

There are two words that dominate reputation discourse these days -- transparency and authenticity. Both are beginning to feel worn out, as dogma has a tendency to do when it lacks substance and proof.

But some companies give the words meaning. Writing in The Globe and Mail a couple of weeks ago, Fabrice Taylor congratulated Gold Fields Ltd. CEO Nick Holland for "revolutionizing the way the industry (gold mining) portrays itself. Here is what Gold Fields has decided to do:

"So Gold Fields management has decided to buck the industry trend and tell the company's owners the total cost of mining an ounce of gold, from operations (labour, power and so on) to capital investment (the cost of buying long-life equipment, extending a mining shaft etc.)"

So what's the big deal? From a financial perspective providing information on "total cost" gives shareholders a better sense of projected cash flow since you have to make capital investments with, well, cash. (Naysayers will point out, as one analyst does, that this may allow you to game the numbers in the future simply by altering capital expenditures.)

The important issue here is that Mr. Holland's actions are evidence of the transparency we have all been talking about at least dating from Don Tapscott and David Ticoll's book The Naked Corporation. Mr. Holland (disclosure - not a client) recognizes that admitting total costs gives a better picture of potential revenues, especially when gold prices are rising.

Enterprise201-211x300 As my colleague Niall Cook writes in his new book Enterprise 2.0, some believe that transparency "simply doesn't reflect the real world" in which companies have no choice but to keep business secrets. The point, though, is that some like Mr. Holland are apparently looking for ways to gain trust, if not advantage,  by pushing reporting boundaries. The effect on share price, or buy-side analyst recommendations, may be slight, but the "trust" will stick to Gold Fields' reputation at least among some mining industry watchers and critics. And that in itself may mean being open around total costs will be worth it.

Twitter

It is hard to take Twitter seriously with a name like that . . . but I do, and can think of a number of serious (as opposed to 'fun' or 'social') applications of a micro-blogging platform.

Last year there were some useful posts about various uses for Twitter. A couple of the more complete lists were:

But this post was prompted specifically by a John Dickerson article in Slate addressed to journalists called "Don't Fear Twitter".  Chief political correspondent for Slate, Dickerson addresses the idea that with the traditional "space" for journalism shrinking (read fewer publications, reduced lineage, serious writing replaced by celebrity gossip and other trashy amusements) no journalist would want to take up a medium restricted to 140 characters.

On the contrary, says Dickerson . . .  

"If written the right way, Twitter entries build a community of readers who find their way to longer articles because they are lured by these moment-by-moment observations. As a reader, I've found that I'm exposed to a wider variety of news because I read articles suggested to me by the wide variety of people I follow on Twitter. I'm also exposed to some keen political observers and sharp writers who have never practiced journalism."

So here three personal reasons for tweeting on and off throughout the day, all of which suggest uses for Twitter in a corporate context:

  1. Similar to Dickerson, I get exposed quickly and without much editorializing to a variety of links -- some worthwhile, others trivial -- from people whose ideas I generally respect and whose knowledge adds to mine. Since I "follow" people who share an interest in social media, politics, public relations, literature and film, the tweets are nearly always 'productive'.
  2. Similar to reason one, Twitter democratizes the sharing of ideas. There are no inferred hierarchies, only that derived from the value to me of the content posted. The focus is content and point of view, not position or role.
  3. The possibilities of Twitter as a form of instant, broad communication to different groupings and 'classes' of people are made manifest each time a subject is picked and pursued. Twitter reveals the potential for quick discussion, concept sharing or action by cohorts of people sharing common cause. I can see activists creating dedicated Twitter groups to synchronize action, or companies constructing Twitter crisis management teams for coordinating emergency response.

Yes . . . it is also fun to know that @leahjones in San Francisco is standing at the bus stop smelling cotton candy at 7:00 a.m. on a Monday morning (a tweet from five minutes ago) . . . someone who I have never met.

Enterprise2_155x220 Congratulations to my U.K. colleague Niall Cook on the publication of his book called Enterprise 2.0: How Social Software Will Change the Future of Work.

It is, to quote WPP's official book site, "one of the first books to explain the impact that social software will have inside the corporate firewall, and ultimately how staff will work together in the future."

It is only available for pre-ordering on Amazon.com. But I know Niall so I can say with confidence it will be a thoughtful, contemporary and practical read.

I make it a habit to read Jeremiah Owyang's blog nearly every day, in addition to those of my colleagues Brendan Hodgson, David Jones and Anil Dilawri (who blog less frequently unfortunately).

Mr. Owyang is a  senior analyst at Forrester Research and celebrates his second anniversary of blogging at web-strategist.com with another useful 'how to' post on making a blog successful. His three most valuable ideas:

  1. "Create focused content"
  2. "Publish frequently" 
  3. "Interact"

Point taken. I will try to do better.

Starting next post . . . because as something of a grammar Nazi, I do want to point everyone to a post called Loosey-Goosey Latin by Todd Defren. He reviews the provenance and usage rules for “i.e.”,  “e.g.”, “etc.” and “et al.” My only comment, other than complete support for defending decent usage, is that the post would have been thoroughly invaluable if he had taken some of his readers to task for verbalizing 'etc.' as 'eckcetera''.  Awful.

Note One:

One of the questions asked by corporate communicators about corporate blogging is how you handle negative comments. The answer is straightforward . . . with grace, patience and diplomacy, even if what you feel like saying is screw you. There is an instructive example of how to do it right in a response by Adam Nash of Linkedin to a nasty live blogged post at Web 2.OH really?(By the way, the blog's subtitle is 'A skeptic's guide to emerging web 2.0 technology.') On Nash's reaction the blogger commented "He started with a compliment and shifted into a clarification that reframed [and corrected] what I’d written. He ended with another compliment . . . This is a near-perfect display of best practices when responding to a negative post."

Note Two:

Steelmaker Arcelor MIttal today is holding its first in a series of investor and analyst meetings in the Second Life virtual world with the goal of reaching potential investors in a different demographic than its current pensioner retail investor base. Future intentions include offering Second Lifers the option of buying shares in Linden dollars. According to ArcelorMittal (Disclosure . . . a former H&K client) investor relations head Julien Onillon said the company will be happy if even 10 people turnout to the Second Life meeting. I hope ArcelorMittal will report publicly on whether this target is exceeded or at least reached. 

Note Three:

To provide a little balance to social media evangelism (including my own), here is a post with cautions about using YouTube as a corporate social media tool. The tone is off-putting. But the cautions and recommendations are useful. 

Web_shot The people at Tomorrow's Company will launch a new beta web site next week called Force for Good. (Its holding page can be found here until the official launch scheduled for July 15th.) The group will be using the site to build a community of interest, news and debate focused on what I think is a unique and strong point of view on the evolving relationship between business, society and government.

The vision of Tomorrow's Company (TC) is "to create a future for business which makes equal sense to staff, shareholders and society" and it describes itself as a 'think-and-do-tank'  (nice that!)

There are many organizations and consultants (including me under the auspices of Hill & Knowlton) who look to help businesses understand and apply corporate responsibility and sustainability principles and ideas to corporate policies, programs, governance and reporting. 

But TC has a different starting point than many non-government organizations, if indeed that's the right descriptor. In a meeting yesterday with TC's CEO Tony Manwaring and Force for Good web manager Ivor Gibbons they outlined an inclusive point of view on corporate responsibility that underscores the interdependence of business, civil society and government. It is a more realistic, ideology-resistant and sane framework within which to think about the future of business in a troubled world. 

When up and running, TC's Force For Good will be an online platform for case studies, essays, toolkits, and sustainbility and CR news with functionality allowing videos, podcasts, blogs and it is hoped user-focused forums. Given TC's inclusive standpoint, the web site will bring a refreshingly sensible tone to the CR and sustainability conversation.

And, yes, they are going to let me blog on the site.

Thanks to Will Hardie of Pinnacle PR, I am relieved of the task of blogging about the presentation I gave about 60 minutes ago at the International Public Relations Association Summit in London.

Will is live blogging the conference and doing a better job of reporting me than I could. I go on auto-pilot when I present and can't remember the detail of what I said. Conference presentations are performances.

So take a look here for my contribution . . . and you can link back to his digest of other presentations.

The Fast Forward Blog is one of my favourites sources of thoughtful comment on social media and enterprise trends, and although I don't very often comment only on a single post I do suggest taking a look at this one by Joe McKendrick about 'news' versus 'noise'.

Echoing Robert Scoble, who says "the news isn’t where the action is: the high value bits are stuck in the noise.”, McKendrick makes the supportive case that listening closely to the noise of conversation and chatter can reveal more about what is going on than analyzing the news in print or broadcast. There are sources of news -- the noise -- that can be more immediate, instructive and accurate.

And where is the noise coming from? . . . "The tools we have at our disposal these days — Twitter, Friendfeed, Facebook, MySpace, et al  —  deliver information long before the 'official' sources get a hold of it."

An interesting and spirited discussion taking place at my colleague Brendan Hodgson's blog on whether communications can take place in Canada's two official languages -- English and French -- during a disaster, accident or highly time sensitive crisis. As Gerald Baron at CrisisBlogger points out: "The determining factor for speed used to be 'how soon will the news helicopters arrive?' Now it is 'how soon will someone with a cellphone and cell camera convey it to the news media?' Instant news is now instant news."

I am not sure on which side I come down on in the debate. The question I would ask is this: If the chief communicator responsible for managing communications during the crisis is a francophone and is more comfortable writing clear messaging in French, should the organization wait until it is translated into English?  Communication in a crisis is never perfect, usually more ad hoc than we would like, and frequently stalled by over-cautious executives and legal counsel. You just do your best. 

Part of the solution, though, is to have as much back-up data and messaging in a crisis dark site -- pre-translated if that is a requirement under federal government regulations -- so that at least some core messaging and information is vetted and translated and ready to go in the event of a serious incident.

The New York Times business section today (which I never have the chance to peruse in my Canadian home city -- excpet on Sunday -- but read over breakfast this morning since I am in Houston on business) has two front page stories on blogging which raise the value of authenticity in social media and the potentially terrible consequences of anonymous reputation bashing.

After a couple of high profile, and from a reputation perspective, damaging missteps in social media marketing, Wal-Mart seems to have got it right with its new Check Out corporate blog. Written by a group of Wal-Mart employees, primarily technology and entertainment buyers, the basic difference is that the new voice is authentic. Today's post by "Alex" is simple, friendly and in no way related to sales or overt corporate positioning. Nice.

More disturbing is an article about the suicide of advertising executive Paul Tilley who had apparently been the subject of some nasty personal attacks in a couple of "sharp-tongued" blogs (AgencySpy and AdScam). Slagging personal reputations online is not new. And it is not evident that such slagging in this case triggered this unfortunate death. What is troubling is that according to the article some of the offensive posts were anonymous as were some of the attendant comments.

It may be true as the writer of one of the offending AgencySpy pieces (who remains anonymous) that "This new medium has different rules and that may include the scope of who and who isn't in the public eye." But if you are going to slag someone, reveal yourself.

Header700slice_01_2 Apropos of my post yesterday, I just came across an edition of the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication from  October 2007 focused on social networking.

This is the academic approach. While some of the subjects are typically arcane -- what else to make of an article called Social Network Profiles as Taste Performances: "A social network profile's lists of interests can function as an expressive arena for taste performance. Based on a semiotic approach, different types of taste statements are identified and further investigated through a statistical analysis of 127,477 profiles collected from MySpace." -- certainly danah boyd's (Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship) deserves a closer read.

Far be it from me to buck a fashion, so here is my annotated list of the top ten posts or articles on corporate reputation, managing intangibles or navigating social media dynamics for 2007:

  1. PR Disasters Lurk in Web 2.0 Chicanery by Roger Dooley if only for its warning that online community administrators can "sniff out bogus posts very quickly most of the time".
  2. Issue Management and the social web - black or white or shades of gray? by Brendan Hodgson, and not because he is a colleague but because of his cautions about companies or organizations over-reacting to reputation assaults in social networks. The social web is often "self-policing", says Brendan
  3. Managing Country Reputation - Not Easy by Leslie Gaines Ross because frankly it shows just how far even the smartest PR pundit (Dr. Gaines Ross among them) sometimes stretches reputation research to find a single nugget of purported insight. Take this for example . . . "Leading a large multinational company might be a complex and challenging task, but global business leaders believe that heads of state have a much tougher job than they do when it comes to managing reputation." Gee . . . who would have guessed?
  4. Strumpette's Encore: 10-Headed Hydra Eats PR Biz because any self-aware communications professional who considers social media strategies as part of the new reputation management tool kit needs to hear from such apostates to counter evangelical hype. How can you not like a post that throws out this kind of challenging system of belief . . . "Hierarchies are socially natural and necessary. But today we are rapidly tearing down those institutions and replacing them with a system (the Web) that doesn't vet information well and certainly does not learn. Is that so bad? Indeed it is. History has shown that societies built on moral and informational relativism are poor, inequitable and DANGEROUS!"
  5. Eleven lessons learned about blogging, so far by Marc Andreessen because he is a high profile CEO and entrepreneur and he is still blogging six months later. And for added measure here is what Mark Rose (of PR Blog News) has to say about it.
  6. Shakespeare and the Art of Reputation Management by me because it was fun to write and contains a few bon mots from the master dramatist.
  7. Social Media can be a Boon or a Bust for your Business by Lewis Green which has the merit of containing a ridiculously simple framework for assessing whether an organization should should engage in social media.
  8. The Clash of Advertising and PR - Part 2 by Douglas Walker and its predecessor (which actually appeared in 2006 so doesn't really fit my criteria) because he is not afraid to identify the limits of his own profession and, by doing so, adds great value to the discourse on effective corporate communication in the 21st century.
  9. Putting a Price on Reputation by Lloyd Kurtz who blogs infrequently at SRI Notes because as a finance professor he is willing to accept that there "are still plenty of people in the financial profession who are somewhat dismissive of the impact of reputational effects, despite many cautionary examples."
  10. Finally this post by Kami Huyse at Communication Overtones called Top Ten Risks for Corporate Blogs because, well, there is a symmetry to ending a top ten list with another one and moreover she assigns a value to each of the risks, with complete subjectivity. Combine this post with number seven above and you have a decision algorithm of sorts for your organization.

If you want to send me links to your favorite posts on corporate reputation or public relations and social media, perhaps I can do a top ten list next week of the "tangible" (maybe) PR ideas I should have tagged. Of course, I won't hold my breath . . . this is a blog and not a newspaper column after all.

Two bits of news/information of random, although useful, interest:

Random Matter One: Estonian Embassy in Second Life

1013_1_3The Republic of Estonia in Northern Europe is the first government to open an official embassy in Second Life. Daniel Vaarik, head of Hill & Knowlton Estonia (disclosure -- H&K is my employer, but I had nothing to do with this work) and known as 'Distant Signals' in Second Life, spearheaded the development of Estonia's presence in the virtual world. Second Life architect Scope Cleave designed the build. The embassy features photos of the country, an art exhibit and conference area.

Random Matter Two: MSM Coming to Terms with Blogging

Thanks to Judy Gombita (who blogs at PR Conversations) for pointing out this article about mainstream media coming to terms with blogging. I especially liked this comment about accountability and proofs, the lack of both being the usual charge leveled against blogs by mainstream media:

Blogging is also a highly accountable medium - if you have evidence, the convention is to cite it with a hyperlink. Readers can then check your sources with a single click. And if a blogger gets something wrong, attentive readers can quickly point out errors in the comments section, or on their own blog.

The article points to the fact that the most important bloggers in many fields are people who bring experience, insight, knowledge and judgment to what they write. Not all journalists covering the same fields -- including politics and business -- can say the same.