All in Social Media

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.

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 . . . ?

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.

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.

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).

Maple Leaf Foods (not a client) today launched a blog in response to the 2008 Listeria deaths caused by eating its deli meats and, as with much of how the company handled the crisis, it is a very good model for the language and tone of effective messaging . . . frank, honest and contrite. (Although its design is quite lackluster.)

The first post is by CEO Michael McCain and here is how it begins: "Since August 2008 twenty-one Canadians have died after eating Maple Leaf deli meats contaminated with Listeria.  We all watched in horror as the worst food safety crisis in modern Canadian history rolled across the country." Now that's frank and the antithesis of how many companies begin apologies after serious events.

Later in the post Mr. McCain writes "This was by far the most awful event in the one hundred year history of our company.  I can’t properly describe the overwhelming sense of grief and responsibility we all felt … I felt, personally (emphasis added).  You may remember seeing me on television back then, apologizing for the tragedy and vowing to develop the most comprehensive anti-Listeria program of any food company in Canada." He then goes on to outline in details the changes Maple Leaf has made to reduce Listeria findings in its plants.

Even more significant he actually raises three subsequent issues related to Maple Leaf Foods' safety performance that most people had likely forgotten.

Textbook . . .

Buried in a recent survey of corporate directors conducted by McKinsey is a finding that 29% of respondents report that one of the procedural changes corporate boards are making to deal with economic turmoil is "Promoting conversations that are more frank than usual"; further, 24% believe this is an additional change boards should make "to become more effective in managing the global economic crisis".

No mention is made of whether Twitter is a preferred tool for intermediating this new focus on conversation.

An extensive analysis in Toronto's The Globe and Mail newspaper by Sinclair Stewart and Grant Robertson repeats a popular question: "(I)f print is a dinosaur, what will take up its traditional roles -- informing the public, animating civic culture and holding government accountable?" Jon Slattery picks it up in the U.K.'s The Guardian in a piece with the earthy title 'Where the hell do we go now?' And Canadian blogger and former journalist Mark Evans chimes in with his worry about maintaining the quality of journalism in the face of dissection of the newsroom . . . . without, however, taking a stand on the future of news journalism and without drawing a picture of an alternative news cosmos.

The background to the soul-searching is the precipitous disappearance of major newspapers in print form (The Seattle Intelligencer most recently and The San Francisco Chronicle likely next). At the core of the discussion, other than the loss of jobs and the "decline" of quality (The quotation marks are purposeful since quality has been in retreat in broadcast and print journalism from before social media became a threat.) is the question of whether social discourse, investigative inquiry and democracy will suffer without an energetic and well-financed fourth estate playing the role of critical watchdog.

The model is changing. That much is self-evident. But there is an embryonic new model within the decline (which nearly always happens in transition periods) and it is based on an unprecedented ability to gather, share and act collectively. Clay Shirky in 'Here Comes Everybody' calls it a new communications "ecology":

"The change isn't a shift from one kind of news institution to another, but rather in the definition of news: from news as an institutional prerogative to news as part of a communications ecosystem, occupied by a mix of formal organizations, informal collectives, and individuals."

Some of the critical pieces of the prototype are already in place.

The ability of people using social networks to form and act together in groups means that problems like corruption and malfeasance among legislators, clergy and citizens can be discovered and fought with even greater speed than when we depended on investigative journalism to root it out. Shirky again . . . "social tools don't create collective action - they merely remove the obstacles to it." Without the obstacles to discovery and action, the social criminals and demagogues won't be able to hide for long.

With the ability of anyone to publish, for the time being we have lost the beauty of fine writing. But not the capacity to find and report significant events. In exchange, we've got speed in reporting news, depth, breadth and personality in what is understood as "news", and often now quirky and energetic prose. The result may be hyper-local community reportage (and publications), but it can also become national and international news if warranted or needed. The disappearance of some print and broadcast outlets doesn't mean that news is not being revealed, or that criticism isn't being coalesced into opposition, only that the agent has changed.

As for print newspapers providing a sense of community and hence their disappearance leading to a decline in a sense of place, this is silly. Where we get a sense of community is simply shifting to social networks built around communities and communities of interest. I can learn as much (and find out more immediately) about Toronto from as from the Toronto Star or the Toronto Sun.

Newspapers as we know them won't all disappear. We need journalistic models of quality, thoroughness and objectivity to learn from and against which to measure citizen journalism. And they're wonderful to sit with on a Sunday morning while enjoying a cappuccino. Nevertheless, their influence will surely continue to decline. However, democracy is safe in the hands of all of us.

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.


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


Although it may appear counterintuitive when the economy seems totally derailed, the most successful companies use turbulence as a time to acquire undervalued assets.

A McKinsey study (requires registration) of 200 companies released in September of this year found that "The best growth companies take a different approach. They view the downturn as a time to increase their leads and make acquisitions. They pounce on the opportunities it creates with an alacrity that is the stuff of legends: think of GE's speedy dispatch of deal makers to Asia after the financial markets took a downturn in 1998."

Here are some other things to think about:

A company that approaches a downturn with laser focus on what will create value for shareholders in the long-run may see better returns, but will most certainly have that opportunity-hunting personality accrue to its reputation account. Why? Because investors reward confidence and foresight. As the McKinsey authors put it "countercyclical investment can separate the leaders from the also-rans." 

Confident companies that target undervalued assets must still plan for post-acquisition integration. It is common knowledge now that most acquisitions and mergers fail to realize the anticipated value because the after-deal integration is so badly managed. In the haste to acquire and demonstrate a willingness to take countercyclical risk, companies must still have a well thought out internal communication plan to ensure the newly acquired operations add value, again for the long run.

Markets (and even analysts) won't intuitively recognize the value of an acquisition, and may even be doubtful because the business crowd is standing still waiting for 'better times'. The case has to be made immediately, publicly and continuously that the risk of acquiring in a downturn is outweighed by the upside of significant future value to shareholders. That means using all the tools in the communications arsenal to position the deal in this way . . . including web, social and mainstream media strategies.   

There will be books written about the brilliant use of social media in the Barack Obama campaign for the U.S. presidency. Richard Edelman, head of the eponymous public relations agency (and a competitor), pointed out recently

Consider this single statistic from the recently completed Obama for President Campaign. Three million donors made a total of 6.5 million donations on-line adding up to more than $500 million in funds raised. Of those donations, 6 million were in increments of $100 or less. His email list has 13 million addresses. A million people signed up for the text-messaging program. Two million profiles were created on, his social network, plus 5 million supporters in other venues such as Facebook and MySpace.

I don't know if she has a book planned but Canadian Rahaf Harfoush, who was deeply involved in the social networking aspects of the campaign at new media HQ in Chicago, gave a captivating presentation last night at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management on lessons learned from the campaign from the inside.

Here are her six lessons:

  1. Give new media a seat at the strategy table.
  2. The new digital tools are useless without a blueprint. 
  3. As with any communications campaign, social media campaigns require consistency in messaging.
  4. Map out the digital landscape of your target audiences (find the conversations relevant to your strategy).
  5. Include a call to offline action.
  6. Be ready to give up control to your communities

None of the lessons are unique in and of themselves. Our digital team recommends them to our clients all the time . . . as do I. But the success of the social media dimension of the Obama battle may be the final proof needed to get senior executives and Canadian political campaigners out of their obtuse fog and increasingly strained and silly denial of the obvious about the power of a crowd-sourced innovation and influence . . . even in the exercise of democratic action. 

I took four additional lessons away from the presentation that aren't part of Ms Harfoush's list, but are central to her thesis: 

  1. Social media strategies should be built on smoothing the progress of intimacy, connection and conversation among target audiences, consumers or voters;
  2. A new media strategy slapped on to an old business or political strategy framework will fail (The Obama new media campaign's success was achieved in the context of an innovative political strategy, including a willingness to let online communities create their own offline actions and events);
  3. There are no off-the-shelf social media solutions;
  4. Find the digital sweet spot but prize agility

Ten days or so of campaigns being waged online:

  1. Young drivers in Ontario are using Facebook to challenge a new piece of legislation adding new restrictions on licensing of teenage drivers, including zero tolerance policies on speeding and drinking for drivers under 21 years old. Facebook group membership is at 79,000 or so and growing. The provincial government in Ontario says it will have no impact on progress of the legislation, dismissing the protest as involving what the Ontario Minister of Transportation James Bradley calls "for the most part, kids who are 16 or 17". I wonder how he determined that demographic mix of group members? A bit presumptuous I think and likely to push a spike in membership.
  2. The now famous Twitter assault on Motrin has apparently occasioned backlash from advertising executives because such campaigns may "kill creativity." The value of such hand-wringing aside, I wonder what exactly was creative about such copy as "It totally makes me look like an official mom." Judge for yourself whether this is creative or discourteous.

And finally, although I can't find a Facebook group or Twitter campaign underway on it yet, there's a movement just waiting for a digital hero. Here's the story. It was reported this week in Canada's National Post that "Queen's University in Kingston, Ont., has hired six students whose jobs as "dialogue facilitators" will involve intervening in conversations among students in dining halls and common rooms to encourage discussion of such social justice issues as race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, ability and social class." This followed hard on the heels of the university moving the controversial -- although very popular -- homecoming celebrations (read 'street party') to May when most students have all left the university. Anyone for re-reading Orwell's 1984

With a hat tip to @Monika29 (Twitter) for bringing to my attention this - albeit pretty basic - visual demonstration of social networking for business from VizEdu.

It is valuable in part because it summarizes in about 30 seconds case studies of the effective use of social networking to solve business challenges: Cooper Systems use of 'Linked in' as a recruitment tool; and H&R Block's 'Facebook' presence as a means of creating awareness of its products and maintaining relationships with its "fans". 

Beyond that, VizEdu's simple visual platform is an example of how social media can be used to communicate, teach or present through creative application of animation and words.

I have an idea for my next new business pitch presentation!

Former senior journalist and media executive Adrian Monck, who blogs at --well -- Adrian Monck has come out with an apparently critical book called Can You Trust the Media which according to one commentary argues the need to "understand the media's limitations and its boundaries, and make information as freely available as possible."


I'll buy that . . . and indeed Monck's book, although it seems the only place it is available at the moment is the U.K.'s The Parliamentary Bookshop. There you can also add to your check-out cart, these two. . . 

1842751360  9780745326887

The accusation leveled against communications and public relations professionals is that what they (we) do is "spin" facts on behalf of clients to evade truth. Anyone who has actually practiced the profession knows that this is in large measure stupid and ahistorical.

To quote myself (for the second time . . .forgive me again) from a previous post on messaging and spin:

"This is nonsense and I have written about it elsewhere. Forgive me if I quote myself from that post:

Messaging to my way of thinking is making a point of view apparent . . .  with simplicity, clarity and force. It is an element of Aristotelian rhetoric and is the foundation of ordinary discourse. Using it on behalf of a client to explain -- truthfully and openly -- a point of view is much less manipulative than juxtaposing a terrifying image with an alarmist headline. Of course, when messages are treated as dogma they can't help but sound like spin."

Two things have led me to reprise the idea: A unique beta website (hat tip to colleague Alan Chumley for bringing it to my attention) called SpinSpotter and an article in The Globe and Mail on the 'L' word in the current Canadian and American elections.

SpinSpotter is "a website and software tool that exposes new spin and bias, misuse of sources, and suspect factual support." You turn on SpinSpotter and it will flag words and phrases in an article that evidence bias, are just recycled phrases from a press release, or favor slant and opinion to reporting. What constitutes "spin" is defined by an advisory group of journalists assembled by the SpinSpotter folks. A computer algorithm allows all users to contribute to the knowledge base of "spin". And truth mongers can share with others their own "spin markers" when they come across an egregious example of the uniquely subjective writing that sometimes passes for reporting today. 

The Globe and Mail story talks about the Democratic Party launching a 'Count the Lies' site which keeps a running tally of the number of lies John McCain tells during his campaign. This may seem redundant since political campaigns are about power not truth, and truth (like civility and decency) is easily sacrificed in politics. But at least the Democrats have given political campaigning its true name.

I love both because they are small proofs that social media and and the web encourage the democratization of ideas and facilitate honesty. And if you need further evidence, Jeremiah Owyang at Forrester has developed (although it isn't clear from his post if he is the progenitor of the concept) a protocol for using Twitter to score the candidates in the first presidential debate on September 26th.

His scoring guide looks like this:

-3 for a personal attack
-2 for a false statement
-1 for avoiding the issue, or not answering the question
+1 for a successful assertion
+2 for a successful counterpoint to opponents assertion
+3 Quotable sound bite

I will be posting something over the next week or so, either here or on, 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:


 More on the implications of this soon.

There are a million "stories" online, and some of them say a lot about the different attributes that now constitute reputation:

Relentless PR, which I guess is a competitor of sorts, each month thanks people who have contributed to the 'conversation' on its collective blog. Because it features a former colleague, Leo Bottary, I have paid more attention to it than I might otherwise . . . and have even commented on posts. But the very fact that my name is included in the list boosts my willingness to put in more time on the blog.

Politeness evidently builds reputation.

The Chicago Tribune featured a piece on Monday about the use of Twitter and other social media tools during Hurricane Gustav. (Hat tip to Mark Shadle for this.) According to the Tribune, "Bloggers said their fascination with the possibilities of using online networks to track the storm and help others was fueled by new technology available to them as well as lingering frustration over the response to Hurricane Katrina three years ago."

People trust those with whom they share social networks, even if they are not "friends" as traditionally understood.

Gerald Barron at Crisisblogger points to a top notch analysis of the impact of social media on corporate reputation and customer behaviour. Michael Hyatt, president and CEO of Thomson Nelson Publishers, blogs about how quickly a brand can be damaged through viral criticism online. In particular, Hyatt talks about how Twitter was used to spread a specific example of poor customer service and uses that as a jumping of point for offering seven lessons for defending a company's reputation and brand in our digital age. The lessons are commonplace (no offence meant Mr. Hyatt.) But the fact they are coming from a CEO might cause others in the C-suite to pause as they consider reputation management strategies.Two lessons that stand out: Respond quickly and admit your mistakes.

As Gerald Barron observes,"The old Chinese proverb needs to be updated: 'It takes a lifetime to build a reputation, a single tweet to destroy it.' "

And below is a nice image from a post (no attribution of the image is given) by Jay Thompson that captures it all: