Archive for the ‘Media’ Category

Social Media or just “Media”?

posted by Brendan Hodgson

It caught the attention of many folks around the web. Mine as well. And from a PR agency perspective – let alone a corporate perspective – it is more critical than most of us likely imagine.

For the past three months, I’ve been consumed by my new role – that being to help guide H&K’s digital corporate and public affairs offering across both the US and Canada - commuting 3 days a week to Washington, DC – and learning a lot through exposure to new colleagues and new clients. At the same time, I’ve noticed that some of the same challenges exist that I faced in my Canadian-only role, challenges encapsulated by Adam Tinworth of One Man and His Blog in his October 7 post: “On the web, social media is just media“. In it, he expounds on a recent Tweet where he stated:

Officially bored of the phrase “social media” now. I’m just going to call it “media” and everything else can be “anti-social media”.

An off-the-cuff comment in under 140 characters perhaps. But when viewed through the lens of our industry, the importance of it cannot be understated. The past few years have been tumultuous as consultants and corporations, governments and media attempted to navigate this minefield of new behaviours, expectations and technologies. “Hype” and the myriad missteps along the way could – for the most part – be forgiven.

However, if communications agencies are to survive and thrive in the years ahead, the thinking that social media is something different from what we have traditionally done must be leeched – from corner offices to cubes. We must start thinking of it in the context of “media”… mainstream, social or otherwise. It must be holistic, it must be integrated, and it must be informed. If we don’t, it will remain sidelined, a novelty, the last slide within a deck, the last page within a proposal or RFP, bereft of substance, misinformed by hype, and the realm of junior consultants. As a consequence, our own relevance will likely, and all too soon, be seen as equally “optional” and throw-away.

The “hype” and novelty is over. It is a call-to-action that must now be heeded.

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.

Who cares about the future of media? We should

posted by Brendan Hodgson

There is a real and serious debate taking place among media-types about the future of “professional” journalism in this 2.0 world. Declining readerships, the 24-second (vs 24-hour) news cycle, the rise of Twitter are – among others - challenging media to re-define their role in an increasingly inter-networked world. And this is only being further exacerbated by the current economic brouhaha. The debate is often visceral and it is not all about trying to save what once was. As Mathew argues in his recent (and certainly daring) post for the Nieman Journalism Lab, the bloodletting overwhelming many in the mainstream media may even, in fact, be a good thing.

As a PR practitioner, it’s an issue that we need to pay very close attention to, and yet I fear we’re not (too often our strategies remain fixated on traditional media at the expense of all else). From a brutally simplistic standpoint, and if the current maelstrom continues, it will certainly diminish the impact of our “media relations” efforts. Fewer publications or news broadcasts. Fewer journalists. Fewer stories. Lower quality stories. Fewer eyeballs. Minimal impact on public perception or behaviour. Simple. Or is it?

At the same time, and in addition to considering how a calorie-reduced mainstream media will impact what we do from a pure “media relations” perspective, it forces us to pay attention to what will emerge in place of these media, regardless of whether we define it as ‘mainstream journalism’, ‘citizen journalism’ or ‘personal media’.

It begs some interesting questions: Once released, where will these journalists end up, and in what capacity? Will they join the ranks of the millions of ‘amateur’ bloggers and simply blend into the noise?  Will there be concerted efforts to create a totally different model of reporting?  Or will this re-structuring simply result in an engorged army of ‘professional’ freelancers feeding into massively scaled-down versions of what were once mighty media behemoths? Will the concept of a hyper-local media finally get off the ground in a meaningful capacity?

The answers matter. Because they could easily change (as social media already has in many respects) how we shape our strategies for reaching and influencing the people our clients care about. How does a business, government department, or not-for-profit communicate its message in a world where all media is becoming inherently personal, and where traditional filters are virtually nonexistant?

Terry Heaton speaks of the ‘personal media revolution’ in his recent post on Malia Obama filming the inauguration, and how our individual perspectives of the world are being re-shaped by the collision of personal and traditional media content.

“…it’s important to acknowledge that our view of such things is shaped by what we’re saying to each other in addition to what the people on TV are saying. This is the leading edge of the personal media revolution, and we’re increasingly seeing the mainstream press working with the people formerly known as the audience to help form the “official” record of the day. This is a good thing, and I think everybody agrees.”

It is a good thing. Now what the public relations industry needs to do is figure out what it means. Our business depends on it.

Seattle Post-Intelligencer – A case study in ‘radical transparency’

posted by Brendan Hodgson

Yeah, I know, it’s a blatant rip-off of my esteemed colleague’s blog title. But it pretty much says it all.

(source image from SeattleP-I / Hat tip to Lost Remote)

When the SeattleP-I announced earlier this month that it was going to shut its presses if it couldn’t find a buyer within 60 days – and potentially move to an all-online P-I, it did as it should and made it a breaking news story (you can see staff here writing the story even as the news is being broken). Moreover, they posted a video of the announcement by Hearst’s Steven Swartz to the newsroom staff (where the reaction of managing editor David McCumber pretty much said it all) and published the letter to employees. 

And they’ve done more: McCumber started a blog called Sixty Days to chronicle this critical moment in the life of the publication, while staff and others created a blog and a wiki to discuss the future of news reporting in the Seattle region and to seek out options to ensure its survival. If nothing else, it is a classic example of the degree to which social media has become permanently entwined into our landscape whether breaking news, commenting on it, or being a participant in it.

I am intrigued by this event for many other reasons, not only those outlined by Swartz as he clearly struggles to deliver his message (Note – it is a must listen re. the reasons behind the downfall). I am intrigued also by how this was communicated to staff and to the public at large. Granted, as a news organization, the SeattleP-I reporters clearly had a responsibility to report this news – and to do so to the best of their ability re. clarity, depth, lack of bias, accuracy etc. I am also intrigued by the words and actions of employees as they respond to this news via Twitter and other online channels – much as many other employees of other organizations have done and are doing during these difficult times.

However, it also raises questions: Is the level of transparency shown by the SeattleP-I staff (both management – willingly or no – and editorial) a model that could/should be emulated more aggressively by other non-media organizations as they handle difficult news that could impact staff as well as other external audiences? Is there value in not only communicating difficult decisions and actions in such a visible format, but also providing staff with the resources and tools to discuss such actions and add their voice to the discussion that would take place regardless if it was in-house or elsewhere on the web? Do the benefits outweigh the risks – real or perceived?

Should HR and internal communicators be looking at this and questioning traditional approaches to downsizing, re-structuring or the complete shuttering of businesses - approaches that often lean toward denial and obfuscation until the last minute, emails and letters bereft of emotion, and external strategies that often pit management against staff in increasingly visible he said – she said’s. In a world where such displays of disappointment and outrage - online and off – are increasing, being seen to acknowledge it, to encourage dialog around it, and to build from it are likely better for any organization’s reputation in the long run than trying to pretend that the world is anything but sunshine and milkshakes.  

As an aside – a sidebar in one of McCumber’s posts caught my eye:

– Just a few minutes ago, this email appeared in my inbox:

Dear Media Industry Professional,
I am writing to ask for your help with the second annual PRWeek/ PR Newswire Media Survey. This survey asks journalists and bloggers about the changing media environment and how it is impacting their specific outlets, job duties, interaction with PR professionals, and more. The survey results will be published in an article in the April 6 issue of PRWeek.

You know, I think I’m going to pass on that one.

I don’t blame him one bit.

"A case of one-dimensional data being represented by two-dimensional objects"

posted by Brendan Hodgson

As one who is fascinated by the collision of mainstream and social media, imagery and interpretation, transparency and ‘truth’, there’s so much here in this tidbit of a blog post to enjoy and dissect, where even to start?

  1. It (once again) highlights the power of the visual image over the written and spoken word to communicate a message or point of view (no matter how skewed, while further acknowledging that, for the digital native, the web is all about graphics before text).
  2. It nicely encapsulates today’s journalist / blogger / reader relationship (or what today’s relationship should be, meaning mutually respectful)
  3. It reinforces the entertainment value of ’smart’ dialog (and not simply that of the journalist)
  4. It is politely scolding to them’s that tried to ’spin’ it (vs degenerating into the usual orgy of condemnation and holier-than-thou-ishness)
  5. It shows that by admitting your mistake, you will be forgiven (or, at best, ignored)
  6. And nothing here seems to take itself too seriously

It’s like a breath of fresh air… that is, if the bigger issue being represented in the visual wasn’t so depressing.

Hat tip to Inner Diablog

Dialing the noise up to Eleven… US Airways Flight 1549 and citizen media

posted by Brendan Hodgson

Yesterday, my colleague David Jones pointed to an animation created by Niall Cook, H&Ker and fellow blogger, showing the rapid transformation of Wikipedia’s entry on the crash of US Airways Flight 1549 on Jan 15. By itself, it highlighted the extraordinary speed by which citizens are increasingly able to match and, very often, surpass the speed of media in accessing and distributing new information around the incident.

As a companion to that animation, H&K Canada’s digital team also captured (as the event unfolded) screen caps of key sites – search engines, blogs, social networks, corporate sites, aggregators etc. – that I believe further demonstrates and reinforces the sheer dynamism of the communications environment in which we now exist; as it relates to the speed by which information on an incident is communicated and shared (e.g. via Twitter), the competitiveness as well as the synergy shaping the relationship between traditional and citizen media, and the actions taken by corporations to respond within this new environment.

Not all the timestamps on this slide deck are accurate or absolute, although they are certainly captured within minutes (if not seconds) of the event occuring – particularly during the first hours. Nor is the deck intended to be an exhaustive summary of all activity simply those that we felt captured this landscape, and these new issues, most effectively. Most importantly, these slides are not intended to comment either positively or negatively on the actions of authors, witnesses, posters or organizations involved.

Toxic Shower Curtains… or a sign of things to come?

posted by Brendan Hodgson

Woke up to find a link to this New York Times story in my inbox.

Albeit a tad depressing given the context, it’s also an important reminder of the “art of strategic word selection” as a means to grab the attention of media and influencers via both the newswires and the search engines. Equally important, however, it highlights the rising “sensationalist” tide that pervades today’s media environment, and the potential for damage that it can cause.

“With varying amounts of credulousness, other outlets ran with it as well, including U.S. News & World Report, The Daily News in New York, MSNBC.com and The Los Angeles Times. The gist of some of the coverage was that it was all a tempest in a bathtub, though other reports took the information at face value.”

While this story about toxic shower curtains appears to have been successfully debunked by most mainstream media from the outset, the fact that even some took the information at “face value” is worrisome. Quite simply, the potential for other questionable research to cause significantly greater and longer-term damage to an organization or industry given the rush to publish, appears to be increasing, particularly as stories are picked up and shared across the social web. Vigilance will be critical.

On a lighter note, however, I agree fully with one PR expert’s assertion – cited in the same article – that such dreck as “solutions,” “leading edge,” “cutting edge,” “state of the art,” “mission critical,” and “turnkey” are, without question, the kiss of death.

"Supercuts" and their impact on reputation

posted by Brendan Hodgson

I was reading a recent post by Andy Baio on the proliferation of what he calls “supercuts” or video montages made by obsessive fans of their favourite TV shows, films or video games – and he lists quite a few classics.

What’s interesting is how easily I see this format transferring into both the political and corporate arena by organizations and individuals seeking to capture a litany of “promises” or statements made by elected officials or corporate spokespersons either to demonstrate support for or, more likely as in the case of this famous “flip-flop” video of John McCain (courtesy of Jeff Jarvis), highlight more negative behaviours.

As more and more “gotcha” moments are captured on film or audio and shared throughout the social web (here’s a recent, and extremely powerful, example) , the implication on corporate, political and personal reputation is significant. The aggregation of incidents such as these over time coupled with the permanence and searchability of the web, could become a significantly damaging force in times of crisis, and when organizations (and their reputations) are under the spotlight.

Nor is this “syndrome” restricted solely to the social web. Increasingly, mainstream media are collecting and presenting lists of “related” stories around organizations and issues that often - through selective aggregation – portray that organization in a negative light - typically highlighting recent stories of past tragedies, crashes, blow-outs etc., or other failings that have hit the media (case in point).

And the risk of reputation damage becomes even more acute when these clips and stories are aggregated without context, or with the intent to portray a specific bias, further propagating this culture of misinformation within which we increasingly exist.

For those charged to defend an organization’s reputation, it won’t be enough to simply cry out: Noooooooooo!

Transparency and the Media – a behind-the-scenes glimpse into why a story changes

posted by Brendan Hodgson

Transparency is a term oft-used in the web 2.0 context. Typically, however, it applies to the application of social media by consumers/citizens to impose a previously-unattainable level of transparency on corporate behaviour. Examples are legion – Sleeping Comcast Technicians, battlin’ AOL client service reps, breakable bike locks, leaking toilets on aircraft, astro-turfing – and many more (just check out the Consumerist for the latest juice).

But from the perspective of crisis and issues management, mainstream media are also facing increasing scrutiny (as they should) from the ranks of citizen journalists. Ever since the Dan Rather hullabaloo over reporting of George W. Bush’s war record, otherwise known as Memogate or Rathergate, the impact of bloggers as media watchdogs has only intensified. 

The implications are significant and should continue to be discussed. A recent email exchange purported to be between an activist and a BBC reporter over perceived ”inaccuracies” in a story on climate change offers a fascinating insight into today’s news environment, and raises some interesting questions:

Regardless if the changes made the story more accurate or, in the words of one blogger, ”(morphed) the article’s tenor from dialogue to lecture with a minimum of extorted word processing” (and that’s not the point of this post), should the reporter – for the sake of transparency - have made the changes as a discrete ”update” to the original with an adjusted timestamp, or was he within his rights to make the changes into the existing story without reflecting the fact that the original story had in fact been altered?

Secondly, does this not speak to the importance of including a comments section (as many media outlets now do) on all stories or features in order to allow interested parties to address perceived inaccuracies without injecting their potential bias into the actual story. A less optimal solution, perhaps, but could the journalist not simply have continued the story based on the email exchange that ensued?

In a crisis environment, where media are already under incredible pressure and where the need to be first often overrides the need to be accurate, incidents such as this (assuming that this is an accurate reflection of a real exchange – and I tend to believe it is) are worth considering. From this writer’s perspective, it compromises the trust that many place in the mainstream media to be as accurate and unbiased as possible, potentially leading those audiences to seek information elsewhere. At the same time, it acknowledges the need to work closely with media to ensure that what you provide in times of crisis go beyond soundbites and are substantiated by credible information and defensible proof points (since, clearly there will be pressure on the journalist from all fronts to “get it right”). And it further reinforces the importance of relying on your own channels to communicate versus relying solely on a “filtered” media. 

Because it’s not an either / or proposition…

posted by Brendan Hodgson

When it comes to the inter-relationships between professional and amateur creators of content, the smart folks at Wharton have it right.

“Pitting amateur and professional content against each other makes a good storyline, but it’s misleading to see them as fundamentally opposed,” says Werbach. “User-generated content will never match The New York Times for the overall quality of coverage of the Iraq war, for example, but reading Iraqi blogs, or political blogs about the war, provides some perspectives you won’t get from any newspaper.” And, he adds, “There’s no way a traditional encyclopedia will ever match the coverage of Wikipedia, because there are so many more contributors. On the other hand, while the quality of most Wikipedia entries is surprisingly good, there are times you want the certainty of a reference work that is professionally edited and vetted, or a smaller set of resources that have been pre-selected by experts.”

For PR professionals, understanding the interplay between amateur and professional journalism is critically important. And as we counsel clients, we need to be sure that this interplay is reflected in our strategies as neither should work in total isolation of the other. Each offers a unique value that can further elevated when appropriately integrated. 

Both bring value,” says Kendall Whitehouse, senior director of IT at Wharton, in the article. “The latter brings quickness and a personal viewpoint and the former provides analysis and consistent quality (hmmm?). The world I want to live in includes healthy doses of both categories.” (Amen)

But to think that this is simply about old and new media would be a mistake. As Joseph Turow, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication, states: “The digital environment is putting an enormous responsibility on the consumer.” No doubt. But I would also suggest that this notion of responsibility also touches organizations as well, although less from the consumer perspective of becoming better judges of content, and more from being the providers of authoritative and credible content. In the same way media have, for years, held governments and corporations to account, and as the media themselves are now being held to account by bloggers in terms of ensuring fair and accurate reporting, I wonder if it’s not time for organizations to re-think their own responsibility to their own stakeholders – customers, employees, partners alike – in terms of addressing issues of inconsistency, inaccuracy and lack of context that could flow from traditional and new media alike. 

For example, to assume that 300 words in a newspaper or a 30-second clip on television is enough to provide sufficient context and clarity around an issue of critical importance, no matter how accurate the reporting, is as flawed as putting one’s faith and trust in an “anonymous” blogger. At the same time, many organizations have access to subject experts whose commentary could help bridge the link between these various media in a highly credible way.

And this, in my view, spells opportunity for many organizations who get it. Appropriate and transparent outreach, built on a commitment to authoritative rigour and timely, proactive engagement, can provide organizations with the means to play a more visible role in helping stakeholders and consumers make more discerning judgements on specific issues being discussed in both the mainstream and citizen media.

Update: What do I mean by this? Primarily, strategic use of digital tools to provide deeper insight on specific issues being discussed in both traditional and online media, to reinforce messages through substantiated examples supported by video or imagery, to showcase interviews with subject matter experts posted online, to provide FAQ’s and visualizations that either expand upon, refute or clarify discussions taking place in the traditional or online media, or to support engagement in forums and sites external to the organization itself.

It’s a role that organizations need to be prepared to step up to.