Corporate communicators seeking to use social media to connect with customers and other constituents should concentrate on ...
If you ask Peter Hirshberg, CEO of The Re:imagine Group, he'd say "empathy."
Brands are shaped by conversations "out there" and the brand messages a company puts out must be in sync with those conversations or they will have no traction in the market. You probably know that already.
But there's something even more basic to success in social media engagement, Hirshberg says. Our ability to shape conversations depends on our ability to truly empathize with the people inside those conversations.
Hirshberg provided the keynote address last night at the Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations' second annual Celebration of Leaders in Chicago. Hirshberg's credentials are most impressive: a nine-year run at Apple, followed by Chairman/CEO roles at Elemental Software, Interpacket Networks, Gloss.com and Technorati (the world's leading aggregator of user-generated content).
Social media provides the on-going narrative to learning empathy, he says. That means more than just listening and responding to what we might see as factual errors. It means putting ourselves in our customers' -- or our critics -- shoes and seeing the world from their point of view before responding.
A not surprising viewpoint if you consider another aspect of Hirshberg's impressive resume. He is a Henry Crown Fellow of the Aspen Institute -- the Henry Crown Fellowship seeks "to develop the next generation of community-spririted leaders by honing their skills in value-centered leadership."
The Mubarak government shut off all Internet access in the country early Friday morning (shut down made possible because of single Internet provider in Egypt unlike most countries). By Saturday, unconfirmed reports had some Internet transmission restored, although cell phone service is still out.
Like the images of protesters riding jubiliantly on tanks, the return of Internet and cell phone service could be a sign that powers within the government are siding with the populist uprising. With incredible pressure on Mubarak to resign, the world is watching to see how a power vaccuum may be filled. Transition government until national elections can be held? Will the people prevail pushing Egypt to emerge as a more democratic republic? Will radical fundamentalists seize power? How will the uprisings continue to spread throughout the Arab world?
Watching the massive protests in Egypt live on Al Jazeera English is fascinating but disconcerting. By all accounts a genuine ground-swell of protest, with no identifiable leader.
What will be the outcome of this tsunami of disenchantment?
Like Tunisia, where the government of President/dictator Zine al-Abidine Ben-ali was toppled two weeks ago, the insurrection seems to fueled by the economic and social discontent of young people.
And like the protests in Iran in 2009 over that country's rigged national election, social media has been a galvanizing force, even as the besieged leaders have tried to "turn off" Internet access and cell phone transmission. The images and the stories inevitably get out, and take on even greater meaning.
In Iran, the jubilant, youthful energy of the "Green party" protesters in 2009 did not lead to regime change. Indeed, "President'"Mahmoud Ahmadinejad continues to be recognized as the legitimate head of state nearly two years after the highly dubious elections. Will the apparent success of the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings provide a new spark to the young populists in Iran?
And, what of the upheaval in Lebanon and Yemen? Will all this popular discontent lead to greater freedoms or provide an opportunity of instability for new fanatical regimes to seize power?
The world is watching. And thousands of on-the-spot images from cell phone cameras and other forms of citizen social media provide not only a fascinating window into the chaos but a galvanizing force as well.
Today I'm thankful for family brought together by the holiday. Just having our four sons and future daughter-in-law together is fantastic, but we also are blessed to be joined by my older brother's family. They've come from near and far, mostly far: Michigan, Indiana, Florida, Maryland and downstate Illinois to our Chicago home.
Modern careerism means mobility in all its forms. Skype, Facebook, email and texting, and good 'ol fashioned cell phones help keep us connected.
But nothing can replace a real, honest-to-goodness, in-person visit.
Newspapers simply will not survive under their existing business model. Readers and advertisers are leaving in droves. Newspapers are losing out to competition from alternative news sites--including aggregators such as Yahoo! News and Google--delivering pithy electronic news bites to on-the-go consumers. Newspapers' own websites are increasingly displacing the printed word, but they haven't been able to sufficiently monetize content as on-line readers resist having to pay for content and advertising hasn't delivered enough revenue.
In the six months from April to September, the top 400 newspaper in the U.S. saw their weekday circulation decline by a staggering 10.6%, and that followed what had been considered a horrific circulation decline of 6.1% the previous six months, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulation's latest data.
Unless something changes quickly, you can write the newspaper's obituary.
Along with similar pressures facing traditional television news operations, the death of the newspaper could spell the end to strong, competent news reporting. Who will provide the reporting for the news aggregators to collect and distribute? Or will hard reporting largely go by the waste side, largely replaced by entertainment fluff and gossip? And even if a few strong, national news organizations--such as the Wall Street Journal and USA Today--survive, who will do the indispensable but not very lucrative work of reporting on local issues?
One possible remedy to this dark picture could be provided by local news co-ops. The New York Times has begun publishing a local edition in San Francisco and is moving ahead with plans for a Chicago edition as well, stepping into voids in those markets caused by newspaper bankruptcies. The Wall Street Journal has similar plans. While these localized national papers will put additional financial pressure on truly local newspapers in those markets, they also are spawning news co-ops that may be the future of serious local news journalism.
In Chicago, the non-profit news co-op will be headed by James E. O’Shea, a former editor of the Los Angeles Times and a former managing editor of the Chicago Tribune, and other well-regarded journalists will step into key reporting and editing responsibilities. The co-op will provide content for the NY Times' Chicago edition as well as for Chicago public TV and radio stations. It will compete with the news organizations of the Tribune and Sun-Times, both in bankruptcy, at least as long as those newspapers continue to exist.
In smaller markets, perhaps non-profit news co-ops will supply reporting for all of the area's newspaper, broadcast and web news outlets just as pool arrangements today cover national news stories that are either prohibitively expensive or are not conducive to being covered by the full circus of dozens of camera and sound crews.
Whenever a full complement of news organizations are replaced with a single reporting operation, the worry grows about compromised or less than fully objective news coverage. But as the economics of news organizations grows increasingly dismal, it may be the only local alternative.
P.S. - Nearly three years ago, I posed the question here: "Does the newspaper have a future?" But I certainly did not foresee the dire situation newspapers find themselves in currently. In fact, the lead of my post was: "Reports of the death of the newspaper have been greatly exaggerated."
The Federal Communications Commission appears to be moving ahead in establishing regulations that would enforce so-called "net neutrality" on Internet providers.
"The FCC voted 5-0 to begin the rule-making process, with the agency's two Republicans dissenting with parts of agency's initial findings," reported MarketWatch.
Once the rule-making process begins, it is almost a foregone conclusion that the regulations will be enacted. That's a good step forward in maintaining an open Internet. Under net neutrality, Internet providers would not be allowed to block access to users of competitive Internet providers.
The FCC appears to be wisely allowing for exceptions--as long as they are openly disclosed--for providers to block spam or other unwanted content, such as child pornography. (Any reasonable step taken to limit child pornography, as well as minors' accidental exposure to pornography, is certainly positive. And consistent with the "Blogger Power" initiative championed here two years ago that gained a groundswell of support from around the globe. Blogger Power achieved some small success in highlighting the issue but we always knew that government action was required for any real victories to be declared. A special thanks to Michigan Congressman Thadeus McCotter for his leadership and support.)
"Net neutrality" is a concept often taken for granted. It is assumed to be a sacred right -- isn't in the Constitution somewhere? But net neutrality may be rapidly becoming untenable in our mobile world as streaming video to handheld devices puts huge new strains on available wireless capacity.
Net neutrality refers to the principle that an internet provider should always allow its users to connect with the users of other internet providers, and should not block the applications and content of other providers. It also has become an article of internet faith that net neutrality means unlimited usage (as opposed to surcharges based on consumption of wireless capacity).
Consider: A single You Tube viewing consumes nearly 100 times as much cellular bandwidth as a voice call. In Asia, some 200 million people already watch video on their smart-phones...AdMob reports that mobile Web page requests grew 9% from July to August--a 180% annual growth rate. And Motorola recently went public with worries that a handful of mobile Sling-box users could wipe out cell service in a whole neighborhood.
... the biggest political scrum in the near future won't be over classic net neutrality at all--it will be a battle over usage-based pricing, which is one of the few demands to keep excessive demand in check.
Jenkins calls on the Obama Administration to take steps to free up more wireless spectrum, allow mobile phone operators to merge and to "relax about net neutrality."
But don't expect champions of net neutrality and free, unfettered usage to go quietly in the night.
A couple of interesting pieces in the WSJ this week provide some useful perspective to social media mania.
In The New-Media Crisis of 1949, Terry Teachout, takes a look at the havoc new media is wrecking on today's traditional media -- including television programming, the music industry, as well of course as newspapers. And he compares that with the mortal blow television struck on radio. Lest we forget: "Video killed the radio star." The lesson from Teachout (is that really his name?) is that those who don't adapt to the new media will be made irrelevant. But those whose skills can be adapted to the new media will continue to shine, some brighter than before.
Resisting change is futile, he says.
Americans of all ages embraced TV unhesitatingly. They felt no loyalty to network radio, the medium that had entertained and informed them for a quarter-century. When something came along that they deemed superior, they switched off their radios without a second thought. That's the biggest lesson taught by the new-media crisis of 1949. Nostalgia, like guilt, is a rope that wears thin.
I don't give a hoot that you are "having a busy Monday," your child "took 30 minutes to brush his teeth," your dog "just ate an ant trap" or you want to "save the piglets." And I really, really don't care which Addams Family member you most resemble. (I could have told you the answer before you took the quiz on Facebook.)
Too much annoying detail can poison your opinion of friends and, especially, casual acquaintances. And she opines that quick responses can be dangerous to relationships at times, when a cooler, more thoughtful response might be better.
I wrote earlier this summer that Twitter was "growing up" providing useful insight and access to information from on-the-spot citizen reporting. But there is still plenty of room for restraint. Wouldn't it be great if we were spared all the stupid, boring Tweets from even the trusted-to-be-newsworthy people we follow?
I continue to promise to Tweet only when I have something to say. Followers will be spared details of my breakfast this morning (cold cereal and a banana for those hanging breathlessly -- NOT! -- on worthless detail).
At the end of my last post, I asked, "How do you identify VIP influencers among social media? and How do you cultivate a relationship with them?"
Kris Schindler, managing partner at Start Thinking, provides this well-thought-out response:
If you know who the VIPs are, search for them on Twitter.
If VIPs you currently have a relationship with are on Linked In, connect with them.
At conferences and business meetings, when someone says something interesting, see if they are on Twitter and if so, follow them.
Have to miss a professional meeting? If the speaker or panelists interest you, look for and follow them on Twitterand contact them after their presentation to see if the presentation was recorded or if it's on SlideShare.
Read an insightful article online or in print? See if the author has an online presence–blog or Twitter.
When you meet and connect with someone at a conference or business meeting, connect with them on LinkedIn.
When you find the people you are following on Twitter are interesting, see who they are following.
People using social media are putting themselves "out there." If you have a relevant response to their posts, let your voice be heard. Almost all social media outlets have controls for privacy settings. If someone doesn't want feedback form people they don't know, they'll adjust those settings accordingly.
Make it easy for people to follow YOU by including links to your online outlets in your e-mail signature. People are putting their Twitter handles on their business cards now too.
If you aren't getting what you need/want from your online circle of friends, join another clique.
Now, same questions but applied to using social media to spread buzz or news about a product or event. Let's pick that up with the next post.