Astroturf or legitimate grassroots mobilization? Kami Huyse answers my question

Anti-astroturfingI’ve been following the discussion about astroturfing initiated by Paull Young.

The first participants rushed in to condemn astroturfing. Who wouldn’t?

Well, a lot of people, it seemed. And why were people holding back from such an important discussion?

Much of the early discussion focused on examples of outrageously bad behaviour. Of course, it’s easy to condemn clear cut, extreme cases. But what the average practitioner encounters on a daily basis is much less clear cut.

For serious practitioners that I talked to, the real issue is a working definition of behaviour that we can agree defines the line between acceptable and unacceptable behaviour.

I raised this question in a comment on Canuckflack. (Unfortunately, I can’t link back to the post, which wasn’t ported to Colin’s new site when he switched to WordPress in August.) The response to my comment was positive and thoughtful. Paull Young picked up the question in a post and added a related heading on the New PR Wiki Astroturf page. And then Steve Field nudged the issue forward.
Kami HuyseNow, Kami Huyse has published an Anti-Astroturfing Code of Ethics that I think will serve to guide practitioners as they encounter real world situations. Kami’s code:

  • I will not fabricate a public concern by paying or coercing individuals to falsely act as concerned citizens. I will only seek to help give voice to those who already hold an existing concern and/or provide education to stakeholders that might be affected by a particular issue.
  • When supporting grassroots efforts, I will ensure that I am transparent in all my actions and clearly and publicly state what actions I am taking and which organization or client I represent.
  • I will never knowingly distort or falsify information to help my client/interest achieve a strategic/emotional advantage in a public debate.
  • I will encourage all grassroots supporters to be open and honest in all of their communications, just as I will be open and honest in mine.

Well said Kami. I can live by that.

Toronto and Ottawa PR meetups to discuss social media

Public relations practitioners in Toronto and Ottawa have a new monthly forum to discuss social media from a PR perspective.

Ottawa meetup The Ottawa meetup is called Third Monday. The Toronto group is called Third Tuesday. And, you guessed it, they’ll generally be held on Mondays or Tuesdays.

A great group of bloggers and social media enthusiasts have come together to get these meetups going. Joining me in organizing the groups are David Jones, Terry Fallis, Ed Lee and Chris Clarke in Toronto and Colin McKay, Brendan Hodgson and Ian Ketcheson in Ottawa.

Toronto MeetupWe believe that public relations practitioners have a unique perspective on social media.  We look at social media as an extension of the conversations we have always had with journalists and stakeholders to now include a much larger group of citizen journalists and interested people whose online conversations lead to the formation of communities of interest.

Others groups have different starting points and different perspectives on social media. Advertisers, for example, start from the perspective of disaggregating mass media and the need to find new advertising vehicles and strategies that will replace failing mass media campaigns.

Because we have this unique perspective, public relations folks have different conversations than do those people who are grounded in other disciplines. First Monday and First Tuesday will provide us with the opportunity to talk about social media framed as a public relations challenge. We will be able to focus on its potential for and impact on our profession. How we can extend our capablities by embracing social media. How we can enhance our careers. How we can better serve our clients. And how we can then take our best thoughts forward into the broader discussion with others. Ensuring that public relations is well represented. Ensuring that public relations is in a leadership position in exploring and applying social media.

Shel IsraelWe have a great first speaker to launch our meetups. Shel Israel, co-author of Naked Conversations, will kick off the gatherings with back to back sessions on September 25 in Ottawa and September 26 in Toronto. I can’t think of a better way to kick off the discussion than with a man who hails from PR and who wrote THE book on blogging.

So, if you are a public relations practitioner who wants to meet other PR folks to talk about practical applications of social media, join the conversation. Sign up for Third Monday (Ottawa) or Third Tuesday (Toronto).

And, for those who’ve spotted a similarity to the SF Bay Area Third Thursday group organized by Mike Manuel, Jeremy Pepper, Giovanni Rodriguez, and Phil Gomes, you’re right. In looking for a model, we thought that Third Thursday was exactly what we wanted to replicate in Canada. Mike gave us the go ahead to borrow from the Third Thursday and that’s what we’ve done. Thank you Mike!


Practical tips to help people look their best in your photos

You can look this good!I’m a “word” guy. And my photography skills are limited to point and click. That’s never really been a problem so long as my photography was limited to pictures of the family and pets.

But as I try to make ProPR visually appealing, I find myself taking photos of people both at events and in interviews. The results often are not flattering to my subjects.

So I was happy to see some practical tips at Digital Camera U to make my subjects more photogenic. These tips don’t involve playing with F stops and shutter speeds (what are these?) Instead, they focus on making the subject feel comfortable and appear natural in front of the lense through body posture, expression and dress. Even a technically challenged person like me can master these.

Thanks to Mike Yamamoto at Besoterica Blog for pointing to this site.

Conference Blogging: The FPRA shows how it should be done

FPRA 2006 ConferenceA hat tip to the Florida Public Relations Association for the very successful live blogging around the recent FPRA annual conference. To my mind, FPRA blog established a new standard that other PR organizations should study and emulate at their next meetings.

What did FPRA do right?

First, they publicized it in advance of the start of the conference through established blogs. I spotted lead up posts by Josh Hallett at hyku and Erin Caldwell at the Forward Blog. By having established bloggers post about the conference blog in advance of the conference, their established communities of readers were able to subscribe to the conference blog in time to catch all of the action.

Second, the bloggers actually blogged frequently. In my experience, this has been the most frequent failure of other organizations that established conference blogs that remained virtually empty (and unvisited?) throughout the conference. FPRA’s conference bloggers – Josh Hallett, Chris Gent, Jennifer Wakefield and Bob O’Malley – posted more than 70 times leading up to and during the conference. More than enough to attract attention.

Third, the quality of the posts was high – a good mix of informative longer posts with quick hits. This sustained attention.

Fourth, the posts prompted a real discussion. Some posts had as many as 14 comments – which is a lot compared to other PR conference blogs I’ve visited.

Finally, they used multimedia to give visitors that “being there” feeling. A nod to Josh Hallett for introducing hallway interview MP3s to his posts in addition to Flickr photos. A nice touch.

The complete conference postings can be viewed under the Annual Conference category on the FPRA blog.

Congratulations to the FPRA, especially their hardworking bloggers, Josh, Chris, Jennifer and Bob!

A shortcut to finding value in blogs?

Mark EvansMark Evans has an interesting summertime post. Writing from lakeside at the cottage, he ponders the value that he derives from blogging.

As for the blogging community, it’s getting bigger but I’m not convinced it’s getting better. There’s what I would describe as a lot of piling on going on – people blogging for the sake of blogging rather doing it because they something to say. … [B]logging should be adding to the conversation. I come across too many posts that are simply cut and paste jobs of other peoples’ posts or press releases with no value-add. Where’s the value in that?

Truth be told, blogging is a labour of love. To do it well takes a lot of time and work, which probably explains why many blogs are left wanting. It’s the search for quality that makes me so interested in tools that can separate the wheat from the chaff. I want something that brings me the well-written, thoughtful, insightful blogs – perhaps some kind of recommendation engine that uses my blogroll or RSS feeds as a guide. That’s not a lot to ask is it?

Mark is bang on in his observation that blogging does take a lot of time. Not just the time to write, but even more importantly, the time required to explore and participate in the conversation initiated by others. I probably read 3 to 4 hours for every hour I spend posting. Does that make me a prolific poster? Not by a long shot. But it enables me to listen, consider and learn before I initiate my own posts.

I’ve heard many people express the desire for a “recommendation engine.” And I’ll be honest, I use the New PR peer recommendation site to check in with what other PR practitioners are reading. However, I think there is no substitute for reading extensively myself. It is in the act of exploration of new blogs, reading not only the most recent post but looking back at previous posts, that I gain a real sense for each new blogger I discover. And it is this critical reading that enables me to separate the chaff from the wheat.

I remember in high school that we all longed for the magic shortcut. For many people that was “Coles Notes.” Of course, we quickly learned that while Coles Notes would let us fake it on an exam, providing the basic plot and a superficial sheen of analysis, there was no substitute for reading the original book. Only by immersing ourselves in the full text could we truly be transported to the alternate world that the author had created and truly appreciate what he or she was trying to convey beyond the mere storyline.

I believe that the same is true with the blogosphere. Beware shortcuts. They may create the illusion of engagement in the conversation. But that’s all it is – an illusion. To properly participate in the conversation, we must spend much more time listening than we do talking. Listening as much as writing. Only then will we derive the full benefit of communication and community that this medium offers us.

State of the Blogosphere – It's the trend that is important, not the snapshot

In the wake of David Sifry’s latest State of the Blogosphere post, a number of thoughtful commentators are challenging Sifry’s estimate of Technorati50 million blogs. A principal line of argument revolves around whether the Technorati numbers create a distorted, inflated picture by including inactive blogs. Some argue that the actual size of the active blogosphere is much smaller, perhaps closer to 1.6 million blogs.

It is important to gain a better understanding of the actual participation in the blogosphere by developing a more sophisticated, refined data on the distribution and actual behaviour of bloggers.

Having said that, some of the discussion reminds me of the debate that political pollsters often engage in. They focus on differences in the results between their competing polls and argue at length about whose methodology is superior.

On the other hand, political pros – the people who actually use the polls – assume from the start that methodology will vary between pollsters and that these different methodologies will yield different results at any given time. What they focus on is the trends over time between polls with known and consistent methodology. This analysis enables them to understand what is really going on and to look for the drivers of behaviour, not simply the manifestation of that behaviour.

When I look at David Sifry’s (or anybody’s) stats, I look for consistency of methodology and trends over time. The ongoing addition of new bloggers. The accelaration of the discussion through both new posts and comments. And the understanding that many bloggers post rarely or abandon their blogs altogether. That’s the real value for me.

And of course, once I’ve drawn everything I can from his results, I will look for other data sets that will show me other things (e.g. active blogs.)

So, I hope the conversation continues. I will be an active follower of it (and occasional participant.) But let’s remember, there is real value in following Sifry’s results over time, regardless of whether we agree with the details of the snapshot at any particular time.