Archive for the ‘government’ Category

Digital Miscellany: Media vs Government / Speed vs Accuracy

posted by Brendan Hodgson

Following a week-long (yet far too short) respite in Baskerville country, and endless hours playing catch-up on email and my various feeds, several items caught my eye that further reinforced the good, bad and ugly of this wild west world of social media.

It would seem that not without a few scratches, scrapes and bruises are those who seek to both ignore and embrace the changing communications and media landscape emerging from the social media scullery. 

Case in point #1:

(h/t to the crisisblogger) So it’s not enough that we exist in a culture of misinformation defined by media democratization and fragmentation, immediate electronic delivery and increasing “sensationalism”, but now it appears the Wall Street Journal has decided to throw caution and, quite possibly, common sense to the wind:

According to the story, WSJ managing editor Robert Thomson recently outlined in a memo to staff his new vision around breaking news: “A breaking corporate, economic or political news story is of crucial value to our Newswires subscribers, who are being relentlessly wooed by less worthy competitors. Even a headstart of a few seconds is priceless for a commodities trader or a bond dealer – that same story can be repurposed for a range of different audiences, but its value diminishes with the passing of time. 

“Given that revenue reality, henceforth all Journal reporters will be judged, in significant part, by whether they break news for the Newswires.”

 Without question, traditional journalism is in the fight of its life. And for most traditional media outlets any hope of emerging unscathed (or, in some extreme cases, even staying afloat) as the digital tsunami rolls ashore is clearly folly. Brutally translated, however, what this edict says to me (despite assurances that might be made to the contrary) is simply this: the need to be first will henceforth trump the need for accuracy and context.

Case in point #2

As with the good writers at the Torch (who also offered up some useful tips for engaging with bloggers), I too applaud Conservative MP and parliamentary defence secretary Laurie Hawn’s foray into social media engagement, specifically his recent response to a posting by Ottawa Citizen Journalist and Defencewatch blogger David Pugliese (You can read Pugliese’s take on it here, and Hawn’s comments here - and below).

Just noticed this silly piece and, although I know I shouldn’t do this, I can’t help it this once.  Like a lot of jouranlists, Mr. Pugliese is not averse to being selective with facts and context, so let me add what he forgot to tell you.  My question to VAdm McFadden was in response to an earlier question from one of the opposition members who implied that the CF was ill-prepared to react effectively to an airspace incursion at the Olympics, similar to what we had seen in the North.  VAdm McFadden knew exactly why I was asking the question and it was intended to show the ridiculous nature of the opposition member’s suggestion.  Since Mr. Pugliese is selective with his facts, one should be equally selective in using him as a source of truth and accuracy in journalism.  As for the other inaccuracies in some of the contributions, I’ll let you labour on in self-delusion.  Rage on, my friends.”

It’s juicy stuff, and perhaps – per the comments via the Torch writers – a tad heated. That said, I’m all for journalists and bloggers being held to account for what they write. Moreover, to see our elected officials engaging in the conversation is something I’d like to see more of. My hope is that the outcome of this doesn’t scare such folk away.

The critical learnings: 1) If you’re going to play in the sandbox, get your facts right and be prepared to back them up. As a trained journalist, Pugliese appears to have done his homework. And I trust that he has (although I’ve not read the transcript in question). Can the same be said for Hawn?  2) When you jump in, be prepared to swim. Should Hawn feel obliged to answer every question thrown back at him by Hawn. I’m not so sure, for a variety of reasons. However, some form of response, if even to acknowledge the questions and to point him to the right folk (although it seems that David’s appreciation for DND’s public affairs team isn’t overly high) would be appropriate.

Canada’s first ‘embedded’ blogger?

posted by Brendan Hodgson

Update: Mr. Brooks is on the ground and (sort of) reporting.

Impressive, indeed… and a further sign that pockets within the Government of Canada really do get social media, and can see the PR value in making this sort of thing happen. Likewise, it acknowledges the increasingly important role of well-written, widely-read and respected blogs such as the Torch in guiding and influencing complex issues – military, political or otherwise.

Things that I’d be interested in learning more from the authors include specifics on the rules of engagement (if any), approval processes of posts (if any), and the Department’s own positioning of such an initiative, specifically, why now?

Most importantly of all, however, I wish the author a safe yet rewarding on-the-ground experience. I believe firmly that Canadians are not exposed to the full reality of the Afghan mission. I hope this helps shed a broader light on the good works our men and women in the forces are doing.

Put 60 people in a room with beer and you’re bound to learn something…

posted by Brendan Hodgson

Another Third Tuesday is behind us and, like those before it, generated some interesting and healthy debate. And although intended to focus on “Shiny New Objects” (SNOs), last night’s discussion really did anything but – to the consternation of some, but not I think to others (myself included)… Key takeaways? In no particular order of importance, I felt they were as follows:

  1. It re-affirmed that while SNO’s are emerging every day, the reality is that the majority of our clients are only now taking their first steps into what might best be described as the “tried and true” – blogs, Youtube, Facebook etc. – for the most part because it is these tools that align best with their objectives, and where the most examples of success exist.
  2. It highlighted the challenge of co-organizing a meetup that attracts a broad cross-section of people who not only represent communicators experienced with social media, but also newcomers, designers, advertisers, developers, enthusiasts, those who work in the private sector, those who represent start-ups and not-for-profit, and those in government. Personally, I’m not sure we can continue to try to be all things to all people. At the same time, the networking is always fun.
  3. It hammered home that social media – within the context of my work (and that of many others) - must be viewed for what it is: an enabler of communication and interaction. More important still is the quality of the content delivered by that technology (be it a video, a blog post, a comment etc.) that makes that communication relevant, or simply turns it into “white noise”.
  4. It begged raised the question as to whether social media will ever be adopted in a significant way, within an enterprise context, so long as the application is in “permanent beta”?
  5. Not surprisingly (though I would certainly argue this fact), it demonstrated that social media in a corporate context remains, for many, an apparent contradiction (in their eyes) between the “motivations” that drives corporate behaviour and the social media ethos of transparency, engagement, and community.
  6. It clearly showcased the hunger among public servants to expand the use of social media more broadly within government, despite the apparent roadblocks (political and otherwise).
  7. It revealed Joe Thornley’s fascination with video – particularly when witnessing his attempt at getting those low-to-the-ground angles (double-chin, anyone)
  8. It gave as good as it got – and that’s something I think we don’t do enough of in this space. Glad to see we challenged each other.


There’s more to digital PR than social media

posted by Brendan Hodgson

In recent months, I’ve become somewhat concerned by the overwhelming attention being paid to social media at the expense of other digital PR functions.

While social media is inherently an extension of that function, for the benefit of younger PR professionals and those who are still exploring the role that digital plays within a PR context, I thought it important to outline some other activities – in addition to what we are doing in the social media space – that are taking place within H&K Digital here in Canada.

The point being, that we need to avoid the same issue currently faced by our industry around the mistaken association that PR is synonymous with media relations and nothing more. We can’t ignore that social media, like media relations, is becoming a key (and highly visible) subset of our respective offerings, overshadowing many other PR disciplines and areas of expertise.

But we have to avoid falling into that same trap, and yet do so intelligently. Clearly opportunities exist for forward-thinking PR firms and practitioners. But we must also be aware of the challenges related to finding those practitioners with the right skillsets required to undertake these types of assignments – namely the capacity to bridge the chasm that often separates the traditional PR practitioner with the digital specialist (not only the social media specialist) trained in areas such as functional design, information architecture and content management.

The opportunities exist. Here’s a quick sampling of digital projects currently underway in our shop that extend beyond social media:

  • Auditing the electronic communications (EC) function of a federal government department, and providing recommendations on how to position the EC team to more effectively address emerging trends in digital communications, and the changing expectations of their internal clients.
  • Undertaking various training sessions, including conducting a half-day ”Writing for the Web” course for another government department
  • Auditing the communications function of a large energy company as it relates to that organization’s overall emergency response protocol, and making recommendations for digital integration within that function.
  • Providing strategic guidance on the development of a crisis dark site for another large corporation
  • Developing an over-arching online strategy (that will likely include social media) for a large technology firm’s sponsorship of a major cultural event.
  • Supporting an organization’s online efforts to reach out to, and effectively communicate with, both institutional and retail shareholders on a key issue.

To repeat: social media is undeniably a critical component of many campaigns that we now execute on behalf of clients. And while we regularly bake social media into our strategies and programs, and as we are increasingly engaged to create, feed into, or support various corporate blogging strategies, blogger outreach campaigns, and other social media initiatives, connecting ourselves too aggressively to that one segment of the digital universe could result in our being excluded from other more “traditional digital” opportunities… which would be a bad thing for PR as its seeks to re-define its role in the changing communications landscape.

Alberta Election Predictor 2008 launches… What’s your take on the numbers?

posted by Brendan Hodgson

2008 Alberta Election PredictorOnce more into the breach! H&K Canada has today unveiled the newest edition of its highly popular Election Predictor franchise in time for the March 3rd election in Alberta, home to much of Canada’s oil and gas industry, and key driver of Canada’s economy.

As with previous versions, we’re giving Albertans (and anyone else with an interest in Alberta politics) to test their predictions and view how those predictions translate into seats.

You can also register to save your prediction and share it via your own blog or Facebook profile, and to see your predictions and the saved predictions of others via our Google Map.

As bloggers of all stripes jump into the debate, we hope the election predictor will provide an informative and entertaining perspective on the numbers. As always, we look forward to your feedback.

Update: Those of you seeking a good summary overview of the election platforms of the various parties, current polls, and links to a variety of relevant sources, can find it here and here.

Kerry Diotte at the Calgary Sun is also seeking your predictions on his blog here.

Check out the Globe & Mail’s Alberta Election blog (Alberta Votes) here.

Evolution of Security an Evolution in Public Sector Reputation Management

posted by Brendan Hodgson

At its simplest, effective reputation management is the sum of performance + communication — in other words, doing the right thing and being seen by your most important audiences to be doing the right thing. But that begs a whole slew of questions: Do your audiences understand and agree with what the right thing to do is? Is your communication helping me to better understand what you are doing and why? Are there other things you could be doing and if so, why aren’t you doing them?  And so forth…

Which is why I applaud the efforts of the U.S. Transportation Security Administration to use their new blog to address the concerns of travellers with respect to the myriad security protocols and procedures they’re faced with everytime they want to board a plane. It is, in my view, a clear example of how public sector organizations can use social media to manage reputation through enhanced transparency and proactive communication.

While I would suggest that they might create less “scripted” videos and utilize the capacity of sites such as Youtube to amplify the footprint of their communication, their efforts to “humanize” their organization, to demonstrate sincere concern for the issues faced by the travelling public, and do so in a way that goes beyond simple text, is laudable and – I would suggest – a best practice (contingent, of course, upon how effectively they use the site to truly reflect passenger concerns and questions versus simply patting themselves on the back – which they appear to have avoided doing so far.) 

The tone of the site is extremely personable and, given the profiles of the authors and the experts used, credible. They appear highly responsive despite the deluge of comments and questions they’ve received since launching the blog in late January. Their use of blog to seek comments on inconsistencies, for example, has the potential to become a powerful catalyst for change and improvement across the organization – and is, essentially, free polling of a highly vocal community. Lastly, I see this vehicle as a potential rapid-response communication tool to be activated should an incident take place in the future.

Is this a model for all government departments and agencies to follow?  Perhaps not all, but certainly for those who deal with specific communities of interest and concern on a daily basis. Now we need to figure out who isn’t included in that response.

Update (Feb 8):  (Via Boing Boing) An example of how social media can act as an effective tool for timely crisis and issues response, the TSA today utilized its blog to clarify its search policies following questions raised in this Washington Post article.  

Social Media and the City – Spending a day with City of Calgary Communicators

posted by Brendan Hodgson

A month or so ago, the good people at the City of Calgary invited me to participate in a day-long session on the impact of social media and local government.

Over the course of the event, which happened last week and was co-organized by the City’s Corprate Marketing and Communications (CMC) division and its Customer Service and Communications Communication Partners Services (CPS) Division, I presented twice: first, to a group of 70+ city managers on the implications of social media as it related to such areas as trust, transparency, and the role of emerging technologies in transforming the relationships between the City, its citizens, and its employees. In the afternoon, I presented a second time to a similarly-sized group of communicators and marketers on social media and reputation management… with a focus on crisis.

From the perspective of this participant, it was an impressive exercise in mass education and immersion into the new communications dynamic, and one that I have rarely seen undertaken within a public sector organization at any level previously (although that’s not to say these events are not happening elsewhere. I just haven’t heard about them).

And it makes sense, particularly as it relates to municipal government. In the same way we tend to ignore local politics despite the fact that it often impacts our daily lives more so than any other level of government, the current emphasis on social media and PR tends to skew toward the more sexy interactions between consumers and brands at the expense of government-citizen engagement, which is perhaps where the potential for social media is even greater. When you look at tragic events such as this (recognizing that this was captured within the confines of Vancouver Airport, although it involved federal law enforcement, but hopefully you get my point), or this, or this, the implications of citizen journalism and social media to impose transparency on the behaviours of government – at any level – are only further reinforced. 

The next day, I joined a smaller group of 20 or so communicators, web team members and others to brainstorm ideas on where the City might focus some of its efforts in the areas of social media – from both internal and external perspectives, including a discussion on the role of social media in times of crisis (which is a discussion that I seem to be having increasingly often). And while obstacles clearly existed, the will to find ways to overcome these obstacles – political or otherwise – was also evident, and refreshing to see.

I figure that my role in this exercise was perhaps the easiest – to put it bluntly, instill fear and motivate people to action. And I think that was accomplished. The hard part, in my view – and the role of City communicators – will be to drive this forward, and to help Managers better understand these tools, develop meaningful strategies that integrate old and new while remaining relevant to and focused on their respective business lines, and (most importantly, in my view) to manage expectations as it relates to how these tools will impact what the City does now. Likewise, they will also need to educate elected officials on the benefits of these tools and the need to embrace a more open and transparent approach to communications and engagement, and work with legal teams to determine how best to accelerate approvals and turnaround times and provide clear direction on what should and should not be done as it relates to social media, particularly in times of crisis.

No small undertaking. But based on the collective enthusiasm I witnessed last week, I wouldn’t bet against this team being able to pull it off.