Free as We Want to Be

We’re as free as we want to be. Perhaps it’s a trite statement, yet with the Fourth of July holiday upon us, I cannot help but consider it.

Freedom is a choice. At least for those of us that are fortunate enough to live in countries where we aren’t punished for speaking our mind in private conversation or online. You need only look at Turkey’s ongoing crisis to realize that free speech is not certain in this world.

Yet many of us don’t feel free. We feel trapped by the rat race, that we’re not engaging enough online. We feel like we should meet preached expectations of social media success.

Some fear being viewed as positive or negative, or having our personal views and feelings exploited by friends, family, employers, and yes, the government. Others of us feel like we’re suffering through litanies of rants and negativity while desperately seeking meaningful connectivity.

Government and big business offer their own dangers, perhaps taking away our rights to privacy. In recent months we’ learned that our social network conversations are compromised via the NSA’s PRISM programs. The major social networks have a council of censors or free speech advocates (depending on your perspective) that decide what conversations should and should not be taken off the Internet.
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Will We Care About the Earth in May?

This Bactrian camel lives in the Miami zoo. Only 800 live in the wild still.

This Bactrian camel lives in the Miami zoo. Only 800 live in the wild still.

Every spring we go through a litany of environmental cause days. Last Friday was World Water Day, Saturday marked Earth Hour, Monday, April 22 will be the Grand Daddy, Earth Day, and finally Arbor Day is April 26.

All of these days and others are important, educating youth and adults alike about the need to become more environmentally conscious. But one has to wonder, will we care about the Earth in May?
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Inescapable Groupthink

Mass Yoga

Often cursed by reactionary pundits responding to the popular, groupthink remains an inescapable behavior pattern in social networks.

For those unfamiliar, groupthink is when a community’s desire for harmony overrides rational examination of ideas and concepts. Conflict is stamped out in favor of consensus.

So long as people act in tribal ways, we will always have groupthink regardless of media, idealism, culture or geography.

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How PR 2.0 Created the Social Media Bubble

Bubble Bokeh
Image by John Petrick

The social media influence bubble finds its basis in measurement of inaccurate barometers. While one can use glittering generalities in defining influence — such as the ability “to cause desirable and measurable actions and outcomes” — in reality, those desirable actions are vapid benchmarks. Specifically, PR 2.0 measurements are participation oriented: retweets, impressions, follower counts, blog rankings, and other public measures of “conversation.”

Responsibility for the resulting social media bubble and the increasing demand for impact belongs to the PR industry in its 2.0 incarnation. It’s the same industry that during the 1.0 era relied on similar metrics, such as number of press clippings, impressions (sound familiar?), and the winner of all metrics, ad equivalency. Current PR definitions of success online will always be suspect, just as the industry’s prior metrics always led CEOs to question the value of public relations.

As the Harvard Business Review so adequately stated it, “‘social’ media is trading in low-quality connections — linkages that are unlikely to yield meaningful, lasting relationships.” PR 2.0’s popularity based metrics gauge attention, but not business actions. Common business actions include sales and brand reputation for companies, and donations and advocacy for causes. For that matter, current social media metrics fail to measure attitude (reputation), the hallmark of PR.

Three As of Measurement_thumb[2].png
See Kami Huyse’s post on the the three As of measurement.

Measuring attention has created the very strange ongoing conversation about influencers, and their thoughts. Influential talking heads — as determined by attention metrics — dominate today’s social web conversation. Influence also allows PR pros to build lists of “important people” to target for pitching in the hopes of achieving earned social media impressions. Sound a little like the old media relations game?

Like PR 1.0’s impressions, attention in social media has its value. There’s a reason why attention represents one of the three As. But it only represents a piece of the puzzle. Because inexperienced businesses and nonprofits were desperate to adapt they accepted the PR industry’s social media metrics as the answer. And as such, over-reliance on PR 2.0 metrics have created the increasingly discussed bubble.

Attitudes and Actions

Social media communications represents a confluence of disciplines, from the already discussed PR to advertising and relationship development (called business development, sales or development depending on the type of organization). Social can also include HR, customer service, etc., but from a pure marketing standpoint, these are the three primary internal disciplines. Traditionally, while all three intersect at times within social, advertising’s call to action and networking yield sales and long-term relationships.

Three Primary Skill Sets Used in Social Communications

That doesn’t mean that advertising would have done a better job defining metrics. Pay per click, and more specifically the click through rate, still hang over the industry as debatable cost metrics for online properties. But advertising’s legacy is that a campaign works if sales increase. In the case of branding campaigns, advertising works if reputation and awareness increase. Advertising skills have their role in the art of getting people to the site, then getting them to commit to an action.

Yet advertising’s downfall has always been its inability to develop one-on-one relationships, which for many organizations falls to the development team. In business-to-business organizations and nonprofits this role and title should be familiar. Even large consumer product organizations have relationship developers that vie for channels and distribution. In consumer product and service companies after the sale, the customer relations department often takes over.

These people create, build and sustain critical relationships for years, even decades. Applied, development skills bring that irreplaceable relationship element to social media marketing and communications. Relationship development builds a sense of loyalty within a community. This extends beyond the momentary casual interaction to continued participation and actions over time.

To become more effective, social media metrics need to take into account the other marketing disciplines at play. That means measuring real actions such as sales/donations as well as reputation, advocacy and strength of community. A retweet algorithm won’t cut it, nor should a business or cause blindly accept attention metrics as the sole determination of program success.

What Will Happen When the Bubble Bursts

Bubble Burst

Businesses and causes are already questioning the value of social media programs. Their highly touted Facebook fan pages and Twitter accounts aren’t answering the right kinds of questions about impact. Navigating truths and myths about disruptive communication technologies will force a much deeper level of accountability for communicators and other professionals using social tools.

This change in tone and accountability is already being felt. The recession is forcing organizations and companies to make their communications programs work correctly, or drop them altogether.

Unfortunately, the backlash towards attention based metrics could be severe. More and more voices are quick to cry smokescreen, and communicators who can’t navigate delivering hard business results will likely struggle. Claims of social media expertise may become a great big red flag, while understanding how to integrate and measure online communications within a larger marketing program will be a sought after skill set.

What would be unfortunate is if the backlash is too severe and swings completely towards sales goals without respect for relationships, or the necessary step of garnering community attention. As with most things in life, the middle road is the best course. Only time can tell what will actually happen.

What do you think of the social media bubble? Are PR 2.0 metrics and the organizations that accepted them to blame?

Don’t Believe the BP Hype!

How The Hell Are We Supposed Feed Our Kids Now

Let’s be frank, lots of people are helping with #citizengulf and it’s awesome. There are so many people spreading the word, I can’t even begin to thank them. But this is not Haiti, in large part because of BP’s responsibility for causing the oil spill, and its moral and legal obligation to clean up the mess.

Many people express this to me, “Why should I help? It’s BP’s fault!”

But as we have seen over and over again, BP continues to promise fully responsible actions, only to have its actions completely contradict its PR and messaging. Consider the most recent lies that have been exposed this week:

1) The oil is not gone from the Gulf waters. In fact, University of Georgia scientists have done a study showing that 70-79% of the oil remains in the water. Now we see the role dispersants have played in this Dantean nightmare.

2) Phytoplankton, the base element of the fishing food chain, have been poisoned by this oil. This means the entire Gulf food supply has been affected and will have crude oil poisoning to contend with.

This continued public lying (and the co-signing of this behavior by the Obama Administration) should tell all of us one thing: BP will abandon its responsibility to clean up the Gulf at the first opportunity. The Gulf cannot count on BP or the federal government to resolve this situation.

Any of us would be furious if our homes and livelihoods were treated in such a fashion. In fact, many of us who do not live in the Gulf are angered by the public hucksterism we are being offered by BP and the Obama Administration. But what can we do about it? Plenty, and as my trip to the Gulf convinced me, this hurricane ravaged region definitely needs our help.

The citizengulf program was designed to provide easy, mindful actions to affect change, specifically, by using education to provide fishing families new opportunities for a brighter, more sustainable future. I hope you’ll join us on August 25 as we take a day of action together by attending an event, donating or voting.

Beyond the citizengulf program, there are more mindful actions: Write your elected officials and tell them to stand up to big oil and large corporations ruining our country, live a better sustainable life, and restore ethics to the communications profession. Want more? The AARP offers six ways you can make a difference for the Gulf.

No , it’s not Haiti. But it’s happening in our own back yard at the hands of corrupt oil company with the federal government cosigning it. Whatever you do, friends, I encourage you not to sit this one out. In my mind, it’s a civic duty. Take mindful action and say no to BP.

Best #citizengulf Photos & What’s Coming Next

Above find a slideshow of my favorite photos from our Citizen Effect Gulf Mission trip. The slideshow really tells the story of what we saw. Quite a crushing blow has been dealt to the Gulf marine environment and the communities built around it.

The fact-finding trip, representing the listening phase of our effort, is complete. You can find links to all of the content — from CNN iReports, photos and podcasts to Mashable, Live Earth and other blog posts — aggregated on the Citizen Effect Gulf Mission project page. We will likely write an executive summary over the next week.

Next steps will be a public gathering here in Washington, DC the week of July 12. Time and location to be determined, but we will U-Stream it. At that time, the Citizen Effect team will review our findings (find my initial conclusions here), take questions, and announce our program of action, which will likely be a Day of Citizen Action.

The entire purpose of the trip was to assess the situation first hand, and then create a way for Americans across the country who want to find mindful ways to help. This Day of Citizen Action will be the start of the program, and will provide several ways, from a simple Facebook Like to full on grassroots activism, for people to act. Stay tuned.