A model use of Social media to increase government accountability

Parliament of CanadaI believe that social media can be used to enhance our sense of connection with government and to increase the accountability of our elected representatives.

Ian Ketcheson posts about Theyworkforyou.com, which, according to Ian, “blows the doors off of any other project I’ve seen for shining the light on what happens within a public institution.”

I’d love to see something like this introduced in Canada.

SNAFU of the Week – PR briefing given to journalist

Wired coverOur craving for titillation is satisfied today by the coverage of a memo from Waggener Edstrom intended to prepare a Microsoft exec for an interview with a Wired Magazine writer but which found its way into the hands of the reporter.

As I read the comments on sites covering this story, I see many expressions of disapprobation at the fact that a public relations firm would invest a significant amount of energy in researching a reporter, his predispositions, interests and past writings. I can’t agree with this sentiment.

An interview with a reporter and a news outlet is a conversation. Bad media relations comes from people who simply spout their message repeatedly and endlessly without regard for the interests or perspective of the journalist they are talking to.

We should communicate to be understood, not simply to be heard. And we can be better understood if we communicate in terms that make sense and are of interest to the reporter writing the story.

Every news outlet has different readers and a unique perspective. A well prepared interviewee should be familiar with a reporter’s previous writings, the topics she has covered, the issues that interest her and the perspective she has on them.

That’s the PR person’s job. We research news outlets and reporters as thoroughly as they research their interviewees.

And let’s remember that regardless of how much preparation Microsoft/Waggener Edstrom did, the Wired reporter still had his fingers on the keyboard. No respectable journalist ever writes a story off only one source. Wired’s readers would expect it to develop perspective on the story through independent research and by interviewing a number of different sources.

I can understand the fascination with this issue. It concerns big names – Wired, Microsoft, Waggener Edstrom. And there’s an element of schadenfreude in many of the comments.

What’s really interesting here is that we get to see behind the curtain. And we’re fascinated by how things really work. So, it’s only natural that it should draw an audience. And many people will not like what they see going on. (Have you ever gone into the garage while the mechanics have the parts of your car engine spread around like so much flotsam?)

But at the end, what the Microsoft memo shows is people doing their jobs. And with one big exception, they are doing them well. That exception, of course, is that the memo ended up in the wrong hands. A pretty big mistake. But not the end of the world. And not a great scandal either.

*Thank you to Thomas Hawk for having pointed this story out earlier today.

UPDATE: Posts on this topic that are worth reading: Giovanni Rodriguez, Jon Udell, Mathew Ingram, Eric Eggertson, and Steve Cody.

Tod Maffin and the Sting of the Webswarm

Blogging broadcaster Tod Maffin talked to a group of about 100 IABC Toronto members about the power of social media to shape and break reputations.

Webswarming is when masses of people congregate in the same place on the Internet. Swarms are led from the inside – like a swarm of bees. Corporate communications is very often out of sync with this way of thinking. Instead corporate communicators more often try to direct from the front, hoping that people will fall into formation behind them. With social media, we can position ourselves inside swarms to take advantage of many-to-many communications.

When a critical Webswarm forms around your company, you can respond with a simple five step S-W-A-R-M strategy:

  1. Sweeten the honeypot. Match your tone to the swarm. Be self-deprecating. Use humour. Be humble.
  2. Win-win.  Let them feel like they’ve “won”in some way.
  3. Advise them how you’ve changed. And do it within the first few sentences.
  4. Right wrongs: Correct inaccuracies. Don’t let errors stand in Google’s cache forever.
  5. Make friends. Email specific compatants and invite them to continue to provide suggestions, perhaps through an advisory panel.

If you want to be effective in the swarm, you must have an active and respected member within the swarm if you expect to communicate within it and learn from it.

Above all, put a human face on your postings and comments. Step out from behind corporate speak and be genuine.

Michael Geist on the power of blogging and issues that should concern every netizen

Dr. Michael Geist, blogger, columnist and Canada Research Chair of Internet and E-Commerce Law at the University of Ottawa was the featured speaker at this month’s Third Monday social media meetup.

Michael led off his presentation by remarking that blogging had taken on increasing importance for him in the past two years: If you’d asked me this time last year, I wouldn’t have known which I’d give up – the blog or my print column. This year, I know what I’d keep. I’d keep the blog. Because of the people who read it and the interaction I can have with them.

Blogging has enabled Michael to engage a broader community in discussions of significant issues, including Access Copyright’s Captain Copyright and erstwhile Canadian Heritage Parliamentary Secretary Sam Bulte’s relationship with the traditional copyright lobby. Time after time, he has found that people would become engaged in the issues he addressed and respond to his positions. And in doing so, they would advance not only his thinking but also have potential for broader impact.

 Project Cleanfeed is a good example of the potential for blogging discussions to flow over into real world impacts. Project Cleanfeed is an initiative to block access to child pornography. The idea is that the group alerts ISPs to the existence of child pornography images so that the ISPs can block access to them. Michael wrote a post that supported this initiative. This prompted about 60 comments in a few days. Not all agreed with his position. Many offered suggestions for change. Soon after his post, Michael received a call from the Director of Project Cleanfeed. And he was able to make several suggestions that flowed directly from the suggestions that came in on his blog.

This ability to have impact makes blogging highly attractive to anyone who has something to say.

So, what are the big issues that Michael is concerned about these days.

Connectivity: We need a strategy to ensure access to broadband for more Canadians. Michael noted that even a best case scenario will leave 5% of Canadians without access to broadband. At one time Canada stood at #2 in the world in access to broadband. Unfortunately, Canada’s access ranking is “sinking like a stone” and we are now around # 13.

Net Neutrality: This is fundamentally important. And it’s not just a U.S. phenomenon. It affects Canadians. The worst case scenario will come if parties like Google and Amazon decide to pay ISPs for top level service. They can afford it. The ordinary citizen can’t . And to be on the slow lane will hold back the access of those who cannot afford to pay. That will degrade the potential that many of us see in the new media. Canadians should press the government to address net neutraility at the same time it moves forward with telecom deregulation. And it’s the online community that has the opportunity and means to raise this issue.

Sidenote: Amber Mac and some of her friends started Canadians for Net Neutrality group in Facebook. When I looked today, 499 people had joined. 

Intermediaries: Michael recently received a legal notice relating to a comment on his site. This points to the legal protections and obligations of bloggers who allow others to comment on their blogs. In the U.S., parties that host content that is essentially not their own, are free of personal liability. In Canada, our situation is much different. The lack of clear protections creates an incentive for bloggers to delete contentious content. If we are concerned about people coming together to speak out on issues, then our legislators must advance legislation that will provide protection for people who speak out.

Copyright: Digital Rights Management (DRM) is a foundation issue. Think what will happen in a world in which we have all-digital TV that can be “locked down.” We are literally locked out of replicating the digital content for the purpose of ongoing conversation and comment. These discussions have implications beyond whatever you think about peer to peer file sharing. The U.S. already has legislation that tilts in favour of locking down content. Canada is being pressured to fall in line with this regime. Canadians should resist this pressure.

Fair dealing: The Canadian approach to fair dealing differs from that in the U.S. The current 1984/Hillary Clinton mash up would not be legal in Canada. This is another area of policy and law that requires review and updating.

One aspect of fair dealing is the right to share and distribute content that has been created by our government. The U.S. Congress has begun to distribute some content under Creative Commons licence. In Canada, the rights of sharing and republishing Crown Content – that is content that has been created by the government – are not as clear.  Under current Canadian law, the Speaker of the House of Commons seems to be able to determine use on an individual basis. From the perspective of fair dealing, why should we have to ask for permission on a case by case basis to use content generated by our own government? The issue of Crown Copyright is an important issue that should be dealt with to give Canadians free access to the government-generated content that they themselves have paid for.

All in all, an interesting presentation by Canada’s leading expert in e-law. Thanks to Michael for spending an evening with the Third Monday social media meetup group.

Blogging for dollars

Stuart MacDonald chaired a panel tackling the issue of monetizing blogs and podcasts. The panelists were Ryanne Hodson, co-author of The Secrets of Videoblogging, Michael O’Connor Clarke, Vice President of Thornley Fallis, Mark Evans, Vice President Operations of b5media, and Shel Israel, co-author of Naked Conversations.

What is the motivation for bloggers? Is it dollars?

Mark Evans argued that the first requirment for bloggers is passion. Shel Israel added that the best blogs are started by someone who has something they really want to say. However, once a blogger starts a blogger they will inevitably come to the realization that they are putting tremendous effort into and ask what they are doing it for. Michael O’Connor Clarke pointed out that there is a distinction between making money from blogging and making money because of blogging. Google doesn’t actually make money from search. They make money because they are a great search company. And the same thing applies to blogging.

 Ryanne Hodson agreed that blogging can help achieve other objectives. She hasn’t made a great deal of money directly from her vlog. But she has received job offers because she is a vlogger.

Mark Evans suggested that he is finding that established bloggers now are talking more about receiving a fair return from their blogging.

Shel Israel pointed out that the people who produce content have historically been the most poorly compensated relative to aggregators, distributors and exhibitors.

Ryanne Hodson indicated that many creators are seeking aggregator sites like blip.tv that provide a return to creators and show respect for creators’ rights over their content.

 Mark Evans said that b5media is trying to follow this course by defining a compensation plan for b5 bloggers that give them a share of the success along with a minimum monthly payment.

What about Lonelygirl15 or Bridezilla? These are examples of advertising thinking trying to find ways to fit social media into traditional marketing think. Stuart MacDonald suggested that the concern with them seemed to be more about driving traffic than building community.

Ryanne Hodson argued that its a fine line. You can do multiple things. Ryanne is making a living from video blogging.

Stuart suggested that the best monetization model may not be to derive revenue directly from blogging, but to instead look to monetize the activites as they support other enterprises. A means to a job (Ryanne Hodson). A means to position a corporation (Microsoft and Scoble). 

Michael O’Connor Clarke suggested that Bridezilla and Lonelygirl are examples of where things are going wrong – the attempt to create something artificial in a medium that is all about genuine, open and transparent communications.

Mark Evans said that b5media is trying to do online what trditional media companies have done online. To be a one stop shop for advertisers.

How about corporate blogs? Shel Israel pointed out that companies don’t blog, people do. And one of the problems with corporate and CEO blogs very often is that the people are afraid to expose themselves in an open and honest fashion. So their blogs end up being boring and not widely read.

Citizen Journalism: Weapon of 'Mass' Destruction?

The second day of ICE07 opened with a panel of Michael Tippet, Founder of NowPublic, Paul Sullivan, Editor-in-Chief of Orato.com, Mark Evans, VP Operations of b5media and Angus Frame, Editor of globeandmail.com discussing citizen journalism.
Angus FrameAccording to Angus Frame, Globeandmail.com expects to receive 100,000 comments in March from readers. Frame feels that this greatly enhances the online paper’s relationship with its readers and adds an additional dimension to its coverage of news.

Paul SullivanPaul Sullivan talked about dealing with the “wing nuts.” Orato exercises some editorial control by pushing better stories and contributions to the front page. Other stories “that only their mother could love” languish in a back corner.
Michael TippetMichael Tippet indicated that NowPublic does not edit material. It counts on the community to police itself. He has found that members keep each other moderate through comments. NowPublic’s group of 30 to 40 volunteer editors attempt to demonstrate leadership in this area by flagging both good content and bad content.

Mark EvansMark Evans argued that very few people are citizen journalists. Most people would be better called “citizen observers.” They write about events but they don’t practise journalism. Michael Tippet agreed with Evans, noting that NowPublic sees itself as a news gathering site, not a citizen journalism site.

Paul Sullivan says that he thinks of people as “citizen correspondents.” We’re giving people who would otherwise be voiceless access to the public discussion. “The whole idea of citizen journalism is dangerous in the same way that citizen dentistry would be dangerous.” There is a place for amateur journalism. These voices add something unique and something new.

Angus Frame said that the conversation is really one about what the pool of the masses have to contribute and how they can participate in debate. It’s a new world in how many people can participate and the instantaneous fashion in which they can do it.

And what of concerns about libel laws? Mark Evans indicated that insurance is a necessary element of b5media’s business. Michael Tippet takes the view that NowPublic is not a publisher, but is more like a telephone common carrier. They simply provide the channel for the content. Angus Frame indicated that the Globeandmail.com uses a mediated moderation process. Comments go directly to the site. However, readers can flag content they find problematic and Globeandmail.com editorial staff will then review the comment in question.

Paul Sullivan suggests that he has tried to keep people focused on writing stories more than comments. From the outset, Orato has encouraged people to communicate first person stories. That enables people to talk about things they know best. And in return, they are given final control over their content.

And what of violent and questionable content like the Saddam Hussein beheading video? Angus Frame suggested that globeandmail.com would treat this the same as its current text contributions, relying on its community and staff editors to make the call about the suitability of the content for the site. Michael Tippet argued that as questionable as some content is, it is important to get the information out. Paul Sullivan added that it is a matter of taste. The content is already available on numerous sites. So removing it from an online news site will note eliminate access to it.

Paul Sullivan added that the content on Orato comes “from a different place” than the content generated by professional news organizations. It reflects the interests and the background of the contributors in a way that professional journalism tries not to. It also comes from places that have fallen out of the catchment patterns of traditional news organizations. Remote places and places in which front page news is not being generated.

Angus Frame acknowledged that the new engagement of readers in conversation with the news outlet has led to much more feedback on the quality and content of the coverage generated by the news organization. This is humbling. But it also makes the news organization better as it receives and incorporates this feedback.

Back to the question of whether it is citizen ‘journalism.’ Michael Tippet says whether ‘it’ is journalism is not important. What is important is that people want to do ‘it’. They are writing. They are videotaping. And they are uploading new content. What is important is that it’s happening – whatever it is called. Angus Frame asked, if it’s of value and used by the audience, why does it matter what it is called? If we can achieve a discourse between citizens, then that is what is important. Webster’s dictionary can decide what to call it.

Broadcasters and distributors discuss alternate channels for media content delivery

Non-traditional media delivery of content has moved into the mainstream. And a panel of Scott Dyer, EVP of Corus Kids, Claude Galipeau, Senior VP Digital Media at Alliance Atlantis, Michael Hennessy, VP, Wireless, Broadband and Content Policy at TELUS and Brady Gilchrist, EVP Strategy and Head of BlueScience at Fuel Industries gathered to discuss its implications.

Scott: Webkinz can be thought of as programming. It’s providing a compelling content experience. It’s generating a huge amount of loyalty. And it appears to have some kind of revenue behind it. Is it a channel? Not now. A channel is an aggregator. Could it be a launching point for a channel? Yes, possibly.

Claude Galipeau: Three years ago, no one thought of social media as a likely source of assembling huge audiences. But it certainly is now. And for Canadian programmers, it’s a giant sucking sound going south. The social media sites are experiencing massive growth. And there’s no Canadian site that competes in this space. So, not only is Canada losing eyeballs, but we are losing opportunities to monetize this area.

Michael Hennessy: Telus is in the channels business. Today, half of the company’s revenue is from the wireless business. And Telus is trying to combine content and channels in new ways. We’re reinventing the business because we have to. We got into the television business because the cable guys got into the telecom business. We’re now a multi-platform company. What does this do? Well, if you look at our 5 million customers, we will have 10 to 15 million connection points as customers connect to more than one channel. The social media are bringing people together in communities of interest. And the television networks are picking up on the fact that they can tap into these communities by tapping into the different channels of delivery. At the end of the day, the traditional networks will end up owning this business.

Scott Dyer: From my point of view a channel is an aggregator of content of a particular kind. The narrowness of the niche of the aggregation is a function of the audience you trying to reach and the potential size of it. For us, television has been extremely successful. We’ve always believed that television is the best device to watch television. But if you deliver content that’s appropriate to the delivery channel – for example shorter on mobile – I don’t really care about the platform.

Claude Galipeau: The convention broadcasting channel as a brand has withered away. Channels that are developing brand now are focused on a niche or theme. We want to control the presentation to ensure the integrity of the programming. The issue for us is can we have channels that are monetizable?

Brady Gilchrist: Fuel Industries is a Canadian company that does most of its work in the US. Fuel does branded entertainment. Not a lot of this is being done in Canada. We do a lot of work with brands that are getting into brandcasting. Like Wrigleys. One thing we haven’t been able to invent more of is time. All of the channels are competing for the finite supply of consumer time. With the new generation of gaming we will see the introduction of “smarts” into set top boxes. Even with traditional television, people are using PVRs to use traditional channels as a content pipe. The brand loyalty is being shifted from the broadcaster to the content. This creates challenges for the traditional program distributors in figuring out how to diversify.

Claude Galipeau: The On Demand world is transforming the monarchy of the programmers. But if you look at the ratings, you can see that scheduling flow still works. But we’re certainly seeing the audience act as its own programmer with PVRs. And a lot of broadcasters see this as accretive to the linear broadcast schedule. And it’s particular helpful to serialized drama.

Scott Dyer: Looking at viewership, the research among kids suggests that television consumption is remaining stable, but that consumption of other media is increasing. The On Demand space is additive to the linear space. And even thought our On Demand programming may seem like we are passing control pack to the consumer, we still program it very carefully. It is another way of presenting the brand to the consumer. Linear and On Demand are two sides of the same coin. Looking at our TreeHouse On Demand as an example, it is hugely additive to the traditional lineary TreeHouse schedule.

Michael Hennessy: We really look at broadcasters as partners. Our business is On Demand. It is additive. Never forget that a lot of the drive for content in the On Demand space is the top content in the linear space. What distributors like Telus are becoming is aggregators. Aggregating channels and programming. Helping advertisers to target audiences and niches. However, a lot of this stuff that looks like television isn’t. It’s social activity. And as the time in this online social interaction increases, the opportunities for monetization grow as well. It’s a huge opportunity.

Claude Galipeau: Television is still a very strong medium. Mobile providers are functioning as brand gatekeepers. However, you don’t have this on broadband. So, broadband offers a great opportunities to reach through directly to the consumer.

Scott Dyer: When you look at an aggregation of content, those are the brands that are meaningful. The flattening of distribution gives us the opportunity to program narrower and narrower to interests. The narrower brands will inspire even greater loyalty.

Michael Hennessy: Our game is like the broadcaster did in the past: It’s to aggregate as much content as possible in as many ways to appeal to the broadest audience. The traditional broadcasters are not disappearing. We just want to deliver numbers to advertisers. We want to be huge, but we don’t want to be failures. And being a failure would come from thinking of content as a walled garden.

Brady Gilchrist: The market will dictate what it finds interesting.

The New World Order

The ICE07 conference followed Robert J. Sawyer’s keynote with a cross-platform panel. A few points that struck me as interesting:

Maria HaleMaria Hale, CHUM’s Vice President of Content Business Development, indicated that CHUM is managing Much Music as a multi-platform brand.

Brian Seth HurstBrian Seth Hurst uses CHUM as an example of a big media company that is accompanying its audiences on their exploration of the new media. CHUM is smart in the way it creates a bond with its audience and looks over their shoulders to see what they like and what they are moving toward.

Shel IsraelBlogger and author Shel Israel suggested that the next generation of consumers will be teflon resistant to marketing. They will be comfortable with the decentralization of content production. He argued that platforms like Joost won’t replace television. He likened it to rock and roll. “Rock and Roll didn’t replace Opera. But is sure did change the world of music.” Joost and platforms like it will have an equally profound impact on traditional television.

Brian Seth Hurst suggested that future business opportunities can be found in: profiling, aggregating, and automating. Profiling: As the consumer is able to express her preferences, understanding these preferences and the clusters of users will be essential. Aggregating: the distribution model of the future. Automation: Don’t make me look for content manually. Know my profile, find the content and deliver it to me automatically.

Mike Lee, Chief Strategy Officer of Rogers Communications Inc. suggested that Canada’s broadcast and distribution regulatory regime holds back companies from innovating as rapidly as they’d like. Changes in regulations are necessary to enable Canadian companies to thrive in the new era.

Broadband and the end of the dinosaurs…

The explosion in broadband capacity is having a transformative impact on our world of content and connection similar to the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs millions of years ago.
Hugo Award winning author and futurist Robert J. Sawyer offered this metaphor in his opening keynote speech at the ice07 conference in Toronto.

Sawyer told the audience, composed primarily of broadcasters and program producers that they can expect that change will only accelerate. The world has changed dramatically in the past 25 years. But as great as that change feels, we will experience a similar magnitude of change in the next 10 years. And change equal to that in the subsequent five years. And the next 2.5 years…

The future is 3D. The future is virtual reality. The future will eliminate the distinction between our online life and our real world life. The distinction in resolution of the online world will reach parity with the real world. And as it does, we will not distinguish between the two.

We will see the end of downloads. All content will stream. Storage will become virtually limitless.

Robert J. Sawyer

We will see an enormous uplifting in the quality of the content produced by prosumers. They will take advantage of higher resolution, unlimited bandwidth and storage along with the tools that exist today to produce content that equals that which is currently produced by the studios and big networks.

We’re moving away from the big studio. We’re moving away from the big company. Companies will only be able to cope with the pace of change by breaking down the vertical silos.

As corporate producers find themselves competing with prosumer content that is virtually free, they will face the challenge of finding a way to monetize their own content.

Branding will be important in any attempt to do this. Content producers must raise awareness of their personal brand in a world in which the branding of aggregators like YouTube has been superimposed on the creators’ brand.

Traditional media companies will only be able to survive if they go beyond copying prosumer trends to imagine the next innovations, the next trends and move to try them before the prosumers do.

Independent and prosumer content producers will be in a struggle with large traditional companies. In an era in which the traditional economics have scarcity have been superseded by the economics of digital abundance, the large companies have lost their advantage over the independents and prosumers.

As both large and small producers struggle to succeed in this new world, the winners will be those who connect more. New connections will yield new ideas and new patterns. Traditional media must recognize this and accelerate their contact with the new prosumer and independent producers.

These will be the new corporate and production organisms that emerge in the new world much as man emerged after asteroid wiped out the dinosaurs. The dawn of a new era.

I'll be covering the ICE07 conference today and tomorrow

ICE07I’ll be attending the ICE07 conference in Toronto for the next two days.

The conference draws an audience composed primarily of broadcasters and program producers. This year, there’s a social media thread in the program. It will be interesting to see how traditional media integrates this thinking into their discussions.
I hope to post on several sessions. So, stay tuned to this channel… feed.