Strategy: The Wind Book

Musashi

A Book of Five Rings, written by Miyamoto Musashi in 1645, is one of the world’s classic sources of strategy. Its influence extends beyond military schools to the entire Japanese business culture, and has made its way into Western culture, too. Musashi’s work is one of the texts that comprises the foundation of Zoetica’s strategy services. This blog series looks at each of the Five Rings (chapters), and discusses how some of the phrases apply to the modern communications market.

The Wind Book is the fourth primary chapter of the Five Rings, following the Ground Book, the Water Book, and the Fire Book. It is the last real lengthy chapter of the Five Rings, with the final “ring” serving as a one page treatise on the “Void”. In the Wind Book, Musashi examines some of the competing samurai schools of his times, and the lessons one can draw from them. Here are five interpretations about how these approaches apply to today’s communications marketplace.

1) Don’t Overfocus on a Tool Set

Tooled Flatty
Image by flattop341

Some other schools have a liking for extra-long swords. From the point of view of my strategy these must be seen as weak schools. This is because they do not appreciate the principle of cutting the enemy by any means. Musashi

It doesn’t matter how you achieve communications objectives, so long as you achieve them. Using one tool set because it’s hot, shiny or comfortable is not the way of a strategist. When considering objectives, a strategist finds the commonality between organization and stakeholder(s), examines budgets, and selects the tools that will achieve the objective with the least amount of unnecessary action and expenditure. Successful efficiency is the sign of a great strategist.

If raising money is a nonprofit’s primary objective, suggesting spending $100,000 on a social fundraising campaign instead of hiring a development director would be a strategic error. charity: water does a great job fundraising, but they also have a development team.

Say one needed to reach moms aged 20-30 in urban and suburban areas. Solely focusing on blogger relations would be a mistake. One needs an integrated outreach that combined advertising, traditional PR, direct marketing and blogger relations. The Gap Magic campaign used blogger relations to market to this demographic, but they also advertised.

If one needed to strengthen word of mouth reputation, relying solely on advertising would be a mistake, you need to engage in two-way social conversations, on and offline backed with substantive action. BP made this mistake trying to clean up its reputation after the oil spill.

2) Success Means Avoiding Distractions

Flip
Image by Nick Webb

…if you fix your eyes on details and neglect important things, your spirit will become bewildered, and victory will escape you. Musashi

Ever become distracted in the midst of a communications program? Organizational or personal ideals suddenly come before the effort (though they both seem to work toward the same goal), ankle biting issues arise, individual events happen. All of these seem very important. Perhaps they are, but if one focuses on achieving secondary goals rather than the primary objective, then they become distractions. And distractions detract from one’s ability to attain success. So if an action is obviously going to waste time, don’t do it.

The difficulty comes with knowing whether an activity is worth the investment, or if it is just a distraction. Measurement can be a great aid in determining success with these secondary actions. If they do not contribute to the desired outcome in due time, cut them from your program. To some extent given the speedy evolution of media these days, experimentation is necessary, but long term investment is not necessary. Knowing when to cut a program is part of a strategist’s job.

Last week, Cisco announced that it would cease manufacturing Flip cameras to focus on its core business to business objectives. Flip was a successful brand within the online social media space, but it became a distraction for Cisco and hurt its core business. Obviously, profits weren’t high enough to justify retaining the brand. Cisco’s move to shut down Flip is a great example of making a tough, unpopular decision to achieve an end result.

3) No Right Way

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Image by Kaiban

In as much as men’s opinions differ, so there must be differing ideas on the same matter. Thus no one man’s conception is valid for any school. Musashi

We live in a time where people differentiate their skills by declaring the right and wrong way to communicate. The right way can only be determined by a successful outcome, one that achieves objectives while not tarnishing a brand. Everything else is just opinion.

Dell often gets cited as an organization that communicates well within social media forms. Apple is viewed as a company that doesn’t participate in the conversation, and is antisocial. In reality, neither assessment is 100% accurate.

Dell successfully achieves its desired result, and therefore practices A right way. Apple clearly uses bloggers indirectly to maintain interest in its products, and it listens online, too, as demonstrated by responses to prior moments of consumer outrage on the interwebs. Its success as a brand within social media worlds cannot be dismissed. While not offering an orthodox social media conversation, Apple practices A right way.

4) Measured Expenditure Matters

Quora

If you try to beat too quickly you will get out of time. Of course, slowness is bad. Really skillful people never get out of time, and are always deliberate, and never appear busy. Musashi.

Expending time and effort in a meaningful, purposeful way is an art. It means knowing when to communicate, and understanding how long it takes to achieve a result. Sometimes this is includes the art of saying no, or at least not yet. Saying no can be very difficult acts for marketers. Turning away a sale or an opportunity can be scary. However, going full speed and “red-lining” a marketing effort can break a brand or an organization.

In many ways, Quora’s hype bubble this past winter is a great example of this. There was too much attention, too quickly for the question-based social network. The service (and its community managers) were not ready for the massive amount of traffic it received. The result was a negative experience for many.

Is Quora done? The above chart shows the social network is recovering from the bubble burst, but it still has not reached the levels of traffic during its peak hype cycle. Rebuilding after a disappointment is a hard road, and it takes time. The more measured approach seems to be working for the company.

5) Hams Violate the Profession

#306 Melon & Parma hamImage by Like the Grand Canyon

…it is held in other schools that there are many methods of using the long sword in order to gain the admiration of beginners. This is the selling of the Way. It is a vile spirit in strategy. Musashi

As has been said before, the use of social media to build popularity as a professional communicator is a mindless, elitist approach that hurts the business, and violates the purpose of using these tools. To some extent serving as a public spokesperson may be necessary to achieve a communications goal; however, it is done so as a path to an outcome (for example, attracting clients as a marketer). When personal fame and popularity becomes a primary objective, that communicator sacrifices professional integrity.

Calling oneself a ninja/jedi/synthesizer/[fill in the blank]; creating schema to become an A Lister, telling people that Facebook should not be measured; and, encouraging communicators to build personal brands rather helping their organizations achieve results all represent examples of this transgression. It’s not worth rehashing (or giving links to) individual cases. They are distractions, and in the worst cases, typify the timeless practice of carpetbagging. Be wary of those cultivating endless admiration instead of fulfilling a larger purpose.

This series will conclude with the next and final installment, The Book of the Void.

Strategy Lessons: The Fire Book

Musashi

A Book of Five Rings, written by Miyamoto Musashi in 1645, is one of the world’s classic sources of strategy. Its influence extends beyond military schools to the entire Japanese business culture, and has made its way into Western culture, too. Musashi’s work is one of the texts that comprises the foundation of Zoetica’s strategy services. This blog series looks at each of the Five Rings (chapters), and discusses how some of the phrases apply to the modern communications market.

The Fire Book is the third primary chapter of the Five Rings, following the Ground Book and the Water Book. This book is probably the most exciting of the five books from a strategic positioning standpoint as it delves into direct interactions. Here are five interpretations about how these approaches apply to today’s communications marketplace.

1) Seize First Place

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“Because you can win quickly by taking the lead it is one of the most important things in strategy.” Musashi

This is a timeless truth in marketing. Once you have the lead, it becomes very difficult for competitors to unseat you. The superiority of the leadership position prompted one of the most famous ad campaigns from second place rental car company Avis, “We Try Harder.” Microsoft still has the leading computer operating system on the market in spite of numerous missteps with Windows. GM only surrendered its lead as top U.S. car manufacturer after an epic bankruptcy.

Leadership is a matter of seizing an open marketplace through marketshare. Achieving marketshare usually comes down to a single or a combination of critical differentiators with a product or service, such as quality, cost, or ease of use. Marketing the differentiator as unique and superior to competitive offerings fuels demand. If word of mouth ensues a leadership position can begin to develop. Marketing’s role at that point is to communicate the leadership position, why the product is superior and to expand market share to a dominant position.

Before Twitter became the globe’s leading microblogging service it faced significant competition from Pownce, Jaiku, Friendfeed and later Plurk and Brightkite. However, Twitter’s very simple premise of 140 characters differentiated it, and at SxSW 2007 the company caught a break and word of mouth created a huge spike in new users. The microblogging network, err information service, hasn’t looked back.

2) Create Desire

Beijing, China

“You must look down on the enemy, and take your attitude on slightly higher places.” Musashi

Taking the high ground has long been a strategic truism for physical engagements. Translating that to products, services and causes is really about finding a market need or creating desire. If there is an obvious market need for a solution or if you can create one, communicating becomes much easier. Conversely, if you don’t have a need, your marketing “attacks” from the low ground, constantly trying to justify itself to potential buyers and donors.

Product marketing is the process that companies engage in BEFORE releasing new goods and services into the marketplace. It is a fundamental precursor that examines the marketplace from a variety of competitive, technological and market positions using extensive research. This is where Apple excels over its computing brethren. The principal of understanding a market to effectively position any kind of offering is a strategic value that all sectors can learn from…

For example, one of the continuing failings of the environmental movement has been its inability to effectively demonstrate or create a need for conservation. In many ways this failure stems from the approach environmentalists take as opposed to the actual scientific evidence. No one wants to be brow-beaten into behavior change.

However, one environmentalist organization, 350.org, has broken through in recent years, moving from a position of guilt to a position of making the cause fun and easy. Most recently, its day of action via work parties successfully created more than 7,000 climate “work parties” with citizens in 188 countries participating. 350’s efforts have made environmentalism approachable while keeping a serious tone about the issue. This is a result of smart engineering before initiating its campaigns.

3) Bridge the Gap

The domino project seth godin

In strategy also it is important to ‘cross at a ford.’ … knowing your own strong points, ‘cross the ford’ at the advantageous place, as a good captain crosses a sea route… This is how to win in large-scale strategy. The spirit of crossing the ford is necessary in both large and small-scale strategy.” Musashi

Ultimately communications between organizations and their stakeholders is about building bridges and relationships. Because many companies and nonprofits approach their marketing from aggressive positions a gap exists between their organizations and their people. Great communications efforts successfully bridge that gap. Smart organizations understand that they need to cross this gap, that a bridge needs to be built between customers/donors/volunteers to create successful, loyal communities of people that provide support. They foster the ombudsperson role and communicate to fill the gap.

The concept of PR serving as the ombudsman goes back several decades. In this role, the PR person acts as a trusted intermediary between community and people. In more recent years customer service and online community managers have filled this role (while PR devolved in many ways).

An example is the movement to move towards self publishing, a result of the publishing industry creating a massive gap between its market practices, authors and readers. Seth Godin’s Domino Project seeks to bridge that gap by creating a new means of self publishing. It claims to reinvent “what it means to be a publisher, and along the way, spreading ideas that we’re proud to spread… Ideas for our readers, not more readers for our ideas.” You can see how the positioning bridges the gap.

However, like the publishing industry the project only takes very select high quality ideas. One criticism on the author back channel is that the Domino Project selects authors in the same ways that the traditional publishing industry does, specifically seeking out high caliber voices that have marketing reach as opposed to publishing the best ideas. The proof will be in the pudding. If the product doesn’t match the Domino Project’s promise, it may soon find itself regarded as yet another publisher.

4) The Element of Surprise

“Attack in an unsuspected manner, knowing his metre and modulation and the appropriate timing.” Musashi

Boring marketing is just that. Providing the same formulaic approach to a communications effort yields little interest or value to stakeholder communities. This is why the “Mad Men” of Madison Avenue get paid millions of dollars for creative. There needs to be an element of refreshing excitement to a winning campaign, something that makes it feel unique or new.

Last month, Radiohead released a new album, “The King of Limbs” online. The King of Limbs announcement was marked by the release of the album’s first single, “Lotus Flower” on YouTube. But what was surprising abut their approach was not that they again circumnavigated the traditional recording industry, but that they also trumped its traditional release pattern. Radiohead offered the album for sale online a mere three days after announcing it!

This type of short “premarketing” ramp is unheralded, but it worked. The new single has been viewed almost 8 million times. While sales are unknown as Radiohead owns its own distribution system, it’s clear they have paved interest for the new album, which will be physically released in stores this week.

5) Testing for Surety

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“…if the enemy takes up a rear or side attitude of the long sword so that you cannot see his intention, make a feint attack, and the enemy will show his long sword, thinking he sees your spirit. Benefiting from what you are shown, you can win with certainty.” Musashi

Sometimes we don’t know how a market will react to a new approach or an idea. Product marketing and research aside, there are too many intangibles. That is when it makes the most sense to test the market with an initial foray. This can take the form of focus groups, invite only alpha groups, announcement of intent, etc.

A classic example of this was Southwest Airlines’ decision to blog about seating policy changes. The would-be revised seating would create a business class assigned section. The negative response was overwhelming with seven hundred loyal Southwest customers expressing their disdain on the blog post. They did not want to lose the ability to choose their own seat based on check-in order.

The airline went back to the drawing board and created its now current seating system, A, B and C priority seating. Poles at the gates have groups of five to prioritize by check-in, but now Southwest has tiers of tickets, which allows people to buy priority pole position. A workable compromise was found to meet revenue needs, business customer wants, and appease the existing loyal customer base.

These are just a several of the lessons gleaned from Musashi’s The Fire Book. The next part in the series is The Wind Book.

Strategy Lessons: The Water Book

Musashi

A Book of Five Rings, written by Miyamoto Musashi in 1645, is one of the world’s classic sources of strategy. Its influence extends beyond military schools to the entire Japanese business culture, and has made its way into Western culture, too. Musashi’s work is one of the texts that comprises the foundation of Zoetica’s strategy services. This blog series looks at each of the Five Rings (chapters), and discusses how some of the phrases apply to the modern communications market.

The Water Book is the second primary chapter of the Five Rings, following the Ground Book. This book primarily focuses on the The Five Attitudes and Approaches to strategy; Upper, Middle, Lower, Right Side and Left Side. Here are interpretations about how these approaches apply to today’s communications marketplace.

1) Read the Tea Leaves

Loose Leaf Tea Sparrows (Stray Dog) Coffee 1-6-08 2292
Image by Steve Depolo

“Your attitude should be large or small according to the situation. Upper, Lower and Middle attitudes are decisive. Left Side and Right Side attitudes are fluid.” Musashi.

To be successful in strategy, one must be able to assess the situation, which in turn determines your approach. This requires research to garner a basic knowledge of the marketplace dynamics and stakeholder motivations. By assessing this data, a strategist should see obvious paths towards attaining desired outcomes, and choose the one that is most likely to succeed with the resources at hand.

In social media, the meme is to listen before participation, content marketing and other actions. This is no different than focus groups in advertising or public relations, market research studies prior to product marketing, or competitive research in all fields. The market landscape, current attitudes and opportunities should be revealed in research.

Dell is one of the better modern examples of consistency when it comes to listening and research. From its original online reputation turnaround campaign Dell Listens to its current social command center efforts in Austin, the company constantly reads its community to anticipate response and direction.

2) Direct Community Interaction with Stakeholders

Lance Armstrong pre-Boston Marathon Event at Macys 6
Image by Stewart Dawson

“The Middle attitude is the heart of attitudes. If we look at strategy on a broad scale, the Middle attitude is the seat of the commander, with the other four attitudes following the commander.” Musashi

Whenever possible, marketers and communicators want to directly interact with their primary stakeholders. This is the best and fastest way to achieve an outcome, if it is mutually advantageous to all parties. Whether that is sales, donations, input on ideas, agreements on civil action, public resolutions of customer or donor issues, customer reviews, or other actions, direct communications are more likely to produce outcomes.

One of the great benefits of social media to the strategist is the ability to build relationships and conduct direct interactions. Direct community interaction through conversation is one of the most powerful Middle Attitudes that a strategist can take.The travesty of the media form has been the use of it like a PR newswire or advertising media, when these media clearly lend themselves to different tasks.

Other direct interactions include a true opt-in email list (in some cases a preferred interaction to social media for core community members), live events like conferences and trade shows, and direct mail. Some of these approaches are more effective than others, and depend on execution. Integrating several approaches may be necessary for success.

One of the best examples of direct community engagement remains the Lance Armstrong Foundation via its LIVESTRONG brand. From its very visible Facebook, Twitter and blog efforts to its grassroots fundraising platform, email efforts, and experimental marketing via platforms like Gowalla, LIVESTRONG consistently directly engages its community with great successes.

3) Top Down Influence Approaches

Steve Jobs and Bill Gates

Image by Joi

“In the second approach with the long sword, from the Upper attitude cut the enemy just as he attacks… In this method there are various changes in timing and spirit.” Musashi

The Upper attitude is one where media and influencers are used to “inform” the marketplace about the right direction. One addresses the marketplace from a position of authority, in essence hoping that the position of media voices and bloggers are enough to trickle down to the community and persuade it.

This has varying levels of success depending on the communicating organization’s position of trust within the community. When an organization has a prominent place in the market and is trusted, it is likely that the approach will be accepted easily. Apple masters this approach better than any company or nonprofit in the marketplace. Consider how Apple successfully uses blogs to leak information, media to report on blogs and vice versa. Every product announcement is like watching a symphony.

When trust is not in place, dissent occurs. Both Facebook and Komen suffer from dissent because they are not fully trusted.

If an organization does not have either a prominent place or trust, than at best influence can buy the entity an opportunity at success. Quora’s hype bubble and subsequent reduction in traffic, and Jumo’s unsuccessful launch are both examples of the inherent weakness in this approach.

Top down PR and PR 2.0 approaches are good as a primary tactical direction when an organization can dominate a market, or cannot engage with its community directly. Otherwise it should be used as a tactic to galvanize a community within a larger strategy.

4) The Groundswell

Tahrir Square Country
Image by magdinio20

“In the third approach, adopt the Lower attitude, anticipating scooping up. When the enemy attacks, hit his hands from below.” Musashi

A more powerful, yet difficult approach to successfully garnering strong community interaction is the Groundswell, as first discussed in concept by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff. The Groundswell and its Technographics ladder helped dissect online grassroots actions, but really word of mouth and grassroots efforts occur just as frequently offline as online. A synergy between both is ideal as the Obama presidential and GOP 2010 midterm elections have shown us.

To successfully influence a market using a groundswell, one most focus on both content creators and critics (commenters). Both have voices, and as they continue to speak they create momentum that trickles up until the heart of the community is abuzz. There are a variety of ways to achieve groundswells and word of mouth, including David Sifry’s Magic Middle theory on the social webs, a trickle up media relations theory via trade press to influence mainstream press, and the use of community gatherings to drive larger community and media attention.

In many ways, the Middle East uprisings with their blend of community protests, behind the scenes, organizing, social media peer-to-peer networking activities, and blogging from outspoken dissidents created the most powerful groundswell we have seen since Europe’s nationalist revolutions of the 19th century. On the for-profit side, one of the greatest examples of word of mouth is Zappos.

This is a hard strategy that requires time, patience and constant effort. Do not assume you can achieve it over night. It takes practice.

5) Flanking Techniques

“Left and Right attitudes should be used if there is an obstruction overhead or to one side.” Musashi

The techniques discussed so far — the middle, top and bottom — are from the social, public relations, networking or direct marketing disciplines. But sometimes there is no community in place at all, no way to engage with the media, and/or there may not be time or the means to use a direct approach. This could be because of lack of market attention as a start-up, the need to circumnavigate an entrenched market leader, or other market factors, such as restraining communications or legal policies.

It is in such times when flanking techniques such as advertising, content marketing or SEO must become a primary thrust for a communications effort. BP’s failed communications effort last year — grounded in ethics issues and fear of liability claims — resorted to advertising and SEO placement to combat negative publicity about the Deep Horizon oil spill.

Perhaps a better example is Chrysler’s Super Bowl ad. The Chrysler product deservedly suffers in market perception, and the acclaimed Eminem ad may have bought the car company an opportunity for reconsideration. While there is good reason to be skeptical of the car company based on the overall product, given the handicaps at play, this ad did more than almost any other communications technique could have for Chrysler‘s chances.

All of these strategies work best when integrated as part of a holistic campaign, but invariably one technique or another is the primary lead for an effort. In addition, the Water Book has many more interpretative lessons to offer from bearing and stance to specific tactical technique.

Related Reading

Strategy Lessons: The Ground Book

The Ethics of Flash Mobs

Anonymous hackers
Image by Anorak News

In December of last year, Anonymous hackers teamed to hack U.S. sites and post angry messages of dissent against U.S. companies that withdrew support of Wikileaks. Last October, when ace photography blogger Scott Bourne posted on Twitter’s digital copyrights, angry photographers flash mobbed his site, causing Bourne to close comments. In 2007 Greenpeace targeted Apple for poor environmental standards with its Webby award winning GreenMyApple campaign, which in part featured calls to action to comment negatively on Apple blogs.

While usually used to organize rallies or market consumer products, online flash mobs are a favorite tactic to silence or overpower opposing viewpoints. Sometimes they involve a negative commenting campaign on a Facebook fan page or a blog. Other instances feature more risque action, such as sending supporters in to report a fan page as spam or taking down someone’s web site.

The above examples are the public ones. Many are not. From animal rights and pro-life activists to political voices and free speech advocates, some deploy attacks to silence their opponents, anonymously organizing in the background and acting publicly. What are the ethics of the flash mob as a means of dissent?

Anonymity, the Mark of Unethical Behavior

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The core of flash mob ethics revolves around anonymity. If organizations and people disclose their identity as part of their mass action, they are acting in accordance within the norms of public communication. In addition to publicly disclosing who they are, mindful civil discourse should be used.

“If you’re going to ask folks to comment, en masse, each person who posts a comment is obligated to reveal his or her affiliation,” said Bill Sledzik, associate professor in the School of Journalism, Kent State University. “It’s the only way the process can be transparent. Of course, rules of civility should also be followed, but folks do tend to get out of control when the issue is an emotional one. The ethical rules really don’t change from one platform to the next. So long as the intent of those posting is to make their case, and they do so with transparency and civility, I don’t see a violation.”

In the end, from a larger objective standpoint, strategists have to decide whether the negativity of such attacks really helps the larger effort. Winning may tarnish an online brand. In essence, by attacking with a public flash mob, a group may win the battle, but lose the war. For example, PETA often wins many of its core public issues, but lacks respect outside of its immediate circle of supporters in large part because of its questionable tactics.

“I know a lot of people will disagree, but is there any victory in winning through negativity,” asked Danny Brown, communications blogger and co-founder of Bonsai Interactive. “Why not get the same followers to promote all the good your organization does, and really push that to others as opposed to trying to change minds that are already made up, not to mention the negative response you could bring on yourself?”

Flash Mobs as Bullies

PETA

Sometimes the mob can be unruly and down right mean spirited, resorting to nasty personal attacks and even threats. Individual voices act with passion and virtual force to achieve their objectives, creating charged situations where feelings are hurt. The loudness and sheer magnitude of the attacks silence the opposition.

“Using whatever communication means available, whether social networking sites, blog comments, Twitter and others to effectively gag another’s ability to express themselves is dishonoring freedom of speech and in my view, not defensible,” said Andrea Weckerle, founder of the nonprofit Civilination. “That doesn’t mean that all views are socially or morally defensible, but as an approach, in a free society we need to defend others’ right to expression and not use strong-arm tactics to force them into silence… When the methods of expression reflect personal attacks, insults, hominem attacks, and threats against individuals and groups, the intent is pretty clear.”

The civility issue seems to come up the most in politics with a focus on extreme elements in U.S. political parties. The outcry that occurred after Arizona shootings in January brought this matter to a new level of public discourse. At the heart of it was Sarah Palin’s efforts to rally on and offline Tea Party activism using gun sights targeted at Democratic Congressional districts, including the critically wounded Representative Giffords’ seat. How appropriate are extreme online and public attacks?

“I prefer to live in a society in which laws, however corruptly enforced, not mobs, decide who is guilty and how to punish them,” said Howard Rheinghold, author of Smart Mobs. “There is the public sphere in which demonstrations and boycotts are legitimate actions, and online flash mobs tipped presidential elections in Korea and Spain. But drowning out voices of dissent has no place in a democracy.”

It is a hard discussion, one that balances free speech versus decency. As we have seen with Anonymous’s most recent target of the often controversial Westboro Baptist Church, two wrongs don’t make a right.

Recourse for the Flash Mobbed?

Recourse is the first instinct for the flash mobbed organization or person left with a blog littered by negative comments and in-bound links, or worse, a fan page or web site that’s down. But it’s not as easy as a gut reaction to fight back. Sometimes fighting back simply prolongs the issue, even validating it. An organization or individual needs to take the time to respond intelligently rather than simply react.

The first and most obvious area of recourse is negative commenting that’s anonymous and/or attacks personas. It is increasingly acceptable to delete such attacks on one’s own fan page or blog. It is advisable to have a publicly stated social media policy that clearly states the organization’s position on anonymous comments and attacks before an incident.

“First, I would delete all comments that use profanity or resort to personal attacks,” said Kent State’s Bill Sledzik. “If the comments are transparent and civil, we have to live with it. When they’re not, we have to call them out for their dirty deeds – and fight back as best we can.”

“If comments are being left on one’s own blog, for example, the blog owner can decide which to allow and which not to publish,” added Civilination’s Andrea Weckerle. “This is not censorship, as far too many people believe – censorship applies to suppression of speech by a government body”.

The next level of recourse is a public statement. It’s important to do this when the situation involves negative, incorrect information about an organization or a person. But it may be best to weigh the gravity of the flash mob attack. Statements and counter actions should be reserved for serious situations that damage a person or an organization’s long-term reputation. In such cases, engaging one’s own community to help makes sense.

“Reach out to your community and ask if they can write about their experiences with you,” said Danny Brown. “Continue to monitor sites and postings about you, and if need be, ask for complete lies and non-facts to be removed. Try and counter bad exposure with facts and good exposure, and use SEO to work in your favor to (hopefully) counter the bad over a sustained period of time. It’ll be tough but it can eventually be countered.”

In the worst situations, people and organizations should seek legal recourse. Certainly violent threats and illegal actions like shutting down web sites require the attention of law enforcement officials.

4 Netsquared Social Good Trends for 2010

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This Ushahidi Crowdmap visualizes the Haitian earthquake aftermath

The folks over at TechSoup/NetSquared have an end-of-year Net2Think Challenge is coming to a close on Saturday. People are submitting their reflections about the hottest trends from the world of innovation and social benefit in 2010. Here are some reflections — big and small — from the year.

1) The big news was the use of mobile as a legitimate grassroots platform in 2010. We first saw this with texting and the American Red Cross’s incredible fundraising drive during the initial Haiti relief drive. Then it continued with the DNC’s canvassing app on the iPhone, a new way to organize grassroots volunteers. And finally, we saw the Apple iPhone app donation issue (led by Beth Kanter) come to the fore at the end of the year, a sure sign of the medium’s importance to the sector.

2) Mark Horvath took the homeless issue and made it a favorite on the social web. One video at a time, one tweet at a time, whether it was walking the parties at SxSW or driving across the country, Mark worked it. His latest initiative WeAreVisible gives the homeless an opportunity to experience networked communities and the opportunities they bring, too. A big hat tip to Mark!

3) Widgets, gadgets and platforms like Crowdrise continued to evolve with sector specific solutions. Often overlooked by the main online space as a secondary market, seeing innovation for social good has been awesome. Grassroots tools are getting better every month, well except when Jumo launeches.

4) Ushahidi flowered this year and became a hot tool for visualizing geographic data. Oil spill, Russian wild fires, earthquakes, etc., all saw Ushahidi used as a tool to better manage situational crisis. Further, it was another example of how mobile, traditional social and geolocation can mash-up, and do it for good.

What are some of the trends you enjoyed in 2010? Don’t forget to submit them for the Net2Think Tank!

Messaging Still Fails

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One of the greatest triumphs of the social web remains the open citizen revolt against marketing messages (bored image by Samael Trip). Note how well the Apple iPad name flew yesterday online (ahem, let’s not go there). Nonprofits experience the same disinterest from their stakeholders as companies due.

In fact, a recent report by marketer Nancy Schwartz (hat tip to Beth Kanter for forwarding me these stats), 84 percent of 915 nonprofit leaders who completed the survey last month said their messages connect with their target audiences only somewhat or not at all. Nancy’s post includes comments from survey participants explaining why their messages fail to connect:

  • “Our messages need to be more succinct to communicate how effective we really are.”
  • “We don’t move our base to action.”
  • “We have individual elements that are ok solo, but no unified path.”
  • “Our messages aren’t hard-hitting or targeted enough. So they fall flat.”
  • “We need to shape messages that are simple enough for staff to remember and feel comfortable in repeating it to others.”
  • “Too much jargon. I can’t even understand what we’re saying.”

Maybe, but… Let’s be frank as I’ve written about this over and over again in the past on the Buzz Bin: The Cluetrain Manifesto was right! “There’s no market for messages.”

It doesn’t matter if you have a compelling cause or a public interest, or if your company contributes to society. If you drill people with messages, they will absolutely turn their back on you.

And you know what? You deserve it. It’s like entering a party and spamming people with solicitations, stale lines, and hucksterisms. Thanks for talking about yourself and what you want from me all night. Cause or not.

The 20th century approach of communications is over, regardless of medium. Mass communicating at people no longer works. Even Super Bowl ads are starting to fail now, thus Pepsi’s $20 million (troubled) social refresh program.

Whether its social or not, cause and corporate communicators alike need to stop and retool their strategic approach towards messaging. What we learned in business or communications school has changed. The old dynamics of media, specifically the concept that there are limited channels of media that people get information from, no longer applies.

Look at messages as conversation starters (see this post I wrote on the starter message premise). You won’t control the dialogue, but the fact of the matter is you already lost control and some argue, you never had it. Instead let’s have real interesting conversations that matter to us (organization and person), and society, in general.