Don't miss Michael Geist at Third Monday

Do you own an MP3 player? Download music or video? Are you interested in the future of copyright? Digital Rights Management (DRM)? Privacy on the Web? Are you concerned about maintaining free and open access to the Internet for all users – individuals as well as large businesses?

Michael GeistIf you answered yes to any of these questions, then you won’t want to miss the next Third Monday social media meetup. Because we’ve got Michael Geist as our guest speaker.

Dr. Geist is the Canada Research Chair of Internet and E-commerce Law at the University of Ottawa. He is a prolific and thought provoking blogger and a columnist on technology law issues in the Toronto Star, Ottawa Citizen, and BBC. He is a must-read for opinion leaders, policy makers and others interested in evolving our copyright and legal regimes to promote innovation in the use of the Web.

Third MondayIn the past year, Michael was a keynote speakers at the first mesh conference in Toronto as well as delivering the Hart House Lecture.

We’re very lucky to be able to have Michael speak to Third Monday.

So, if you’re interested in an evening of great conversation with an outstanding, thought provoking speaker, register online to attend Third Monday on March 26 with Michael Geist.

Have you been to Gnomedex? Would you recommend it?

Is this Chris Pirillo?I’m thinking of attending Gnomedex this year. Gnomedex bills itself as “The Blogosphere’s Tech Conference.”

There are now so many blogging and social media conferences out there that I want to try to narrow down my attendance to only the best.

So, if you’ve attended Gnomedex in the past, could you please leave a comment telling me whether you’d recommend it to a new attendee? What sets it apart from other conferences?

Thanks in advance for your advice.

Leaving Las Vegas and the NewComm Forum

Leaving Las VegasSo, here I am at McCarran Airport and I’ve had a pleasant surprise. Free Wi-Fi in the International Terminal. This is the first time I’ve been in an airport with free Wi-Fi. I hope that other airports consider that Wi-Fi has become an essential tool for the business travellers that wander their halls. Not charging for this is refreshing. Thank you to the people of Clark County!

I had to leave midway through Shel Holtz‘s wrap-up of NewComm Forum. But Chip Griffin was able to stay for the session and he’s posted an excellent summary of Shel’s presentation. It sounds like Shel really did tie together everything we heard over the past two days.

And did we ever hear a lot! As always at these sessions, I go home with a lot to think about. And during the next few days I know I’ll turn back to my postings and rediscover things that were said that I’ll want to pursue further. That’s what’s great about conferences like this. Five or six nuggets that come out of the blue in different sessions. And that’s enough to keep me attending.

NewComm ForumBut the other great perk of attending this year was to renew old friendships and meet other people for the first time whose blogs I have read and appreciated during the past year. People like Kami Huyse, Shel Israel, Shel Holtz, Susan Getgood, David Parmet, Josh Hallett, Todd Defren, Phil Gomes, Brian Oberkirch, Chris Heuer, Giovanni Rodriguez and Jen McClure. (Thank you Jen for spearheading NewComm and the SNCR.)
Check out the photos from NewComm Forum on flickr.

So that’s it. Now for the schlep home to Ottawa – where the temperature’s -10C and there’s another good week of skiing left. And I’m … leaving Las Vegas.

Blogs and crises

The final panel at NewComm Forum featured Brian Oberkirch, Josh Hallett, Joel Richman, and David Parmet, on Managing crisis communications in the blogosphere.

Joel Richman led off the session with the case of PubSub, in which one of the company’s founders suprised the company’s management and his cofounder by announcing the imminent demise of the company on his personal blog. As a result of the post, virtually all of the key employees quit and gave up on the company. Richman and Parmet were consulting to the company at the time this happened.

So, what did they learn from this experience? What do you do if employees air dirty laundry into the blogosphere?

Josh Hallett argued that the blogosphere is a different medium, but that communications professionals should apply the set of experience and skills that they have built up in traditional media. The tried and true best practices will work in the blogosphere.

And what of accuracy in the emotional statements that rattle around the blogosphere in a crisis? Hallet suggests that the free monitoring tools allow communicators to pick up inaccuracies quickly. Search engines also support quick retrieval of original source articles and quotes in order to verify accuracy and establish context. Using these will enable a crisis manager to respond quickly to misinformation.

Hallett advises Corporate communicators to prepare to respond to potential crises by researching and bookmarking relevant entries on Wikipedia

Brian Oberkirch pointed out that the blogosphere enables communicators to listen into the conversation before a crisis. To identify opinion leaders and to understand the major beliefs and mood of the discussion. This foreknowledge will enable a crisis manager to enter into the discussion more effectively.

“It’s not that behaviours are different. It’s that the speed of the behaviours is accelerated enormously.” This is a real challenge for corporate communicators and management processes that are geared to the slower pace of traditional Mainstream Media.

How about Taco Bell’s recent experience with the consumer generated video of rats infesting a Manhattan store? Taco Bell responded initially with statements and traditional releases. It was clear that these did not match the visceral impact of the video. Finally, after five days, the company posted a response video on youTube. Unfortunately, the company’s response was a talking head video of a corporate manager speaking in corporatese. Which do you think was more compelling? The consumer generated video or the company response?

Josh Hallett suggested that “The social manifesto for blogging is forcing corporations and organizations to behave more responsibly.” Communications advisers should remember this and advise their clients to alter behaviour that might lead to crises.

Brian Oberkirch suggests the Slidell Hurricane Blog as an example of the potential for social media to play a positive role in crises. Oberkirch began this blog to share information on the status of friends affected by a hurricane. As time passed, the community began to share broader information and the Blog for a period became the primary source of information for people affected by the Hurricane.

Oberkirch also points out that in times of civil emergencies, text messaging may still be working when other media have failed.

Josh Hallett suggests that local emergency measures organizations should also maintain a list of the most prolific and most read blogs in their area. In the time of a crisis, these people may be helpful in distributing and amplifying information.

Brian Oberkirch suggests that crisis planners should be looking in the early hours of a crisis to identify the voices that are speaking out in the crisis. They may come from unlikely places. But when they do speak, they have the same access to an audience as anyone else.

One of the audience members pointed out that it is better to think about blogs as “opportunity communications” not crisis communications. There are many new avenues of communication and opportunities to connect with communities and concerned people, not only during the crisis but in advance of a crisis.

Joel: “Have a plan. A plan will allow you to act much more quickly. … You can do a lot to shape the conversation. You’re not going to be able to control the conversation. But you will be able to influence it.”

Josh: “Act more responsibly.”

Last word to Brian Oberkirch: “There is no magic bullet. There’s a lot of stuff out there and it will take a lot of work.”

Small business corporate culture fits social media

I began my last morning at NewComm Forum with a session by Zane Safrit and John Cass on The importance of corporate culture to the success of social media programs.

Safrit is CEO of Conference Calls Unlimited, a small business in the phone and web conferencing business.

Safrit indicated that CCU abandoned traditional advertising in favour of social media.

He saw cost of paid search engine marketing increasing substantially at a time that he was cutting prices and costs. So, they pulled out of traditional advertising, including pay per click on Google and Yahoo.

They did not make a considered entry into social media. Instead, they were driven by necessity. Safrit was looking for a way to convey the unique attribute of his brand – the company’s employees.

He came across Seth Godin and was impressed with the potential of blogging for having conversations with customers. He tried it and learned through experience “There is nothing that cuts through that clutter like a blog – like a CEO’s blog.”

Safrit characterizes his corporate culture as “a band of creative control freaks. … Our brand is that little bit of space between the customers and everyone in the company. … I’ll do anything I can to give them the tools they need. … What everybody began to understand is that for us to be successful when we come to work we need to communicate very well.”

The IT Department can be a problem for this type of program. But it is essential to ensure that IT serves the strategy and doesn’t try to set it.

Safrit began his blogging as a personal project. And he did it this way for about a year. He moved it into the company strategy only when he felt comfortable that it would work for the group.

He then proposed to each of the company’s eight employees that they begin blogging. And he encouraged and guided them in their efforts. Some found that it wasn’t for them. Others thrived. And as the social media took hold, Safrit made social media the focus of the company’s marketing

Now, the company’s online press room features their employee bloggers front and center. There are also RSS feeds for the company newsletter and the Safrit’s CEO blog.

CCU also uses a Wiki for internal collaboration and discussions. Safrit encourages everyone to contribute, freely and openly, to the discussion. And he posts his own ideas on the Wiki. And by doing this, he believes that he sets a standard that encourages employees to feel comfortable to communicate honestly. It’s taken about a year for people to begin to feel comfortable that they can participate in this way.

Safrit believes that training is very important in introducing blogging into a corporate environment. “You have to tell people how it fits into the overall plan at the same time as you help them to learn how to use it.”

“I want something back from my investment in this. What I want back is participation.”

NewComm Forum Sessions that I'm hoping to cover (2)

NewComm Forum 2007

The second and last day of NewComm Forum in Las Vegas. Only half a day of sessions before I head home to Canada. If you’re still with me, here are the sessions I’m hoping to cover on Friday.

That’s it. NewComm Forum 2007. If my fingers are still functioning, I’ll post on each of these sessions.

The social media release: the jury's still out

A panel of Todd Defren, Tom Foremski, Brian Solis George Vasquez and Laura Sturaitis, chaired by Chris Heuer tackled How to optimize the social media press release for the future of PR.

Todd Defren pointed out that over 3,000 releases are published everday in the U.S. A fraction of them actually lead to meaningful coverage.

Why perpetuate such a demonstrably unsuccessful vehicle? There is so much good technology out there. Why not incorporate it into a new take on the release?

Five years from now, I’d like to hope that every piece of news that comes out becomes a micro-site in itself that enables every person who cares to engage with it and to discuss it.

George Vasquez believes that the social media release vaults beyond the traditional release to enable communicators to engage directly with their audience without first going through journalists. The press release isn’t going anywhere, but it will morph into something new.Journalists are relying increasingly on search engines. They will also find the information from social media releases this way.

Tom Foremski wonders why the press release hasn’t changed a bit in 25 years. Why doesn’t it take advantage of the tools and technologies of the new media. A huge amount of work goes into press releases, but they are not very useful. “I just wanted to make my life easier. Do other journalists use [the social media release]? I don’t know. I’ve never used one. I’ve never really come across one.”

Laura Sturaitis suggested that the social media release is a foundation document. However, the elements of clear thinking and good writing will remain essential to its success. There are three types of releases: A releases that you are compelled to put out for regulatory purposes. B releases promote products and major announcements. These will continue to be distributed on the wire. C releases tell other stories of interest to specific audiences. These will be distributed in other ways to reach a targeted audience.

Brian Solis argued that the social media release requires people to think about what there story is actually about. “If you have to think about it that hard, you’ll take out all the b-llsh-t from the press release.”

Solis pointed out that there is a difference between a new media release and a social media release. A new media release has links in it. But it doesn’t allow conversation. “I think that a blog post is a killer social media release.” It enables people to find it. It is tagged. It allows conversations. It is searchable.

Todd Defren agrees with the blogging functionality as the essence of the social media release. Whether it is in a social media newsroom. Or in a blog. Or somewhere else.

Tom Foremski questioned the value of the newswires in the era of the RSS feed. RSS allows companies and others to create a relationship with journalists and others that delivers information they are interested in as soon as it is released. What continuing purpose do the wire services?

George Vasquez suggested that the wires will continue to be necessary as “push” mechanisms.

Chris Heur argued that we live in a world of varying technical abilities and personal preferences. There are some journalists who will never want to subscribe to an RSS feed. And we need to use all of the traditional channels of communication, including both wires and personal contact to reach them.

Interestingly, despite the amount of discussion around the social media news release, there is as yet no case study of the successful use of a social media release. It has been used. But most of the anecdotal evidence suggests that the coverage garnered has been due to the novelty of the format, not due to the power of the format itself.

Tom Foremski pointed out that form and content are completely separate in this discussion. Whatever package you use, bad content is unlikely to generate coverage or interest.

Are there social media best practices?

An all star panel of Shel Israel, Giovanni Rodriguez, Debbie Weil, Josh Hallett and John Cass, chaired by Mike Manuel, tackled Best practices for corporate blogging and social media programs.

 John Cass led off with a preview of the SNCR’s best practices study. What are the underpinnings of successful corporate blogging?

  • Culture: The company must have a culture that values feedback and is open to what its customers, clients and employees are telling them
  • Trust: A company must really trust its employees to behave responsibly.
  • Training is important. Blogging has its own special culture and conventions. Employees must be provided with training to understand how to do it well.

Josh Hallett focused his initial comments on Blog design. Too many times organizations place their blogs on free or minimum-cost blog platforms. They don’t own their own domain names. This can present problems later. Every corporation should invest in securing their domain name and ensuring that they own their content.

Do corporate bloggers require a lot of technical knowledge? Not really. What they need to remember is that what looks easiest may not be. And so they should seek advice from others with the necessary technical skills.

 Shel Israel,advised that it’s time to take some risks. If you take risks, you will make some mistakes. But what’s different and unique for people and corporations who blog is that it allows others to see that the company or organization is composed of humans. Fallible. Forgivable.

How about worst practices? When a blog becomes focused on numbers, it loses its focus on what makes blogs worthwhile: passion and distinctive voice.

 Debbie Weil noted that in most conversations about social media, blogs are listed first. And she tied this to their ease of use, broad adoption and the fact that very often the most original ideas appear first on blogs.

Best practices? Confront your fear. Fear of losing control. Fear of criticism. Fear of new technologies.

Embrace experimentation. Be prepared to make some mistakes. If you don’t do that, you won’t learn.

Honesty. Openness. Transparency. It’s not just about blogs. It’s about a new way of doing business that customers are demanding. You need to open your culture – even if it’s just for you employees.

 Giovanni Rodriguez talked about the experience of social media in the Bay area. He noted that there is some degree of insularity in the Valley.

Something has happened in the PR world that is quite profound. For years, we have been niched in a small area – media relations. As a result of social media, we have been able to talk to people directly. We’re using different tools that enable that. Blogging has shown that we are ready to speak. But many people have not yet learned how to listen. It requires fine understanding of how to read people and their concerns.

It’s not a world for everyone. Blogging requires a lot of time and commitment. We can’t and shouldn’t expect the entire world to become bloggers. But we should expect people to learn the lessons of conversation that it illustrates.

The five panelists engaged in a free-wheeling discussion of the relationship between marketing, public relations and blogging.

ROI? Shel Israel: What is the ROI of the phone on your desk? Of the Corporate CEO speaking at a conference like this? Of a corporate contribution to Katrina victims?

Giovanni Rodriguez: A recent study shows that the people who are most interested in the potential for blogging and conversations are the CEOs. CFOs seem to be talking a different language. Don’t underestimate the importance of this senior executive appetite for converstion. But to realize the potential, it will be important for PR people to learn to speak a different language to reach the CFOs in terms they can understand and will value.

Is blogging the flavour of the month? Debbie Weil: Blogging is the next generation of interactive Web platform. It defines the new standard.

Shel Israel: We want companies to behave as responsibly as out spouses do. And the tools are there to do that. For those that fail to do this, they will pay a price.

John Cass: Companies will come to blogging from a different starting point. And therefore they’ll go through different stages and focus on different things. A good example of this is Dell. They started out as a company that eschewed blogging. When they launched their first blog, they had a policy on it suggesting that it was not the place to post questions about customers service and individual problems. But once they started blogging and found that customers ignored that policy, they learned from it. And over time they began to loosen up. This points out that companies can try things in steps. They don’t have to be right the first time. They can adjust and they can improve. What counts is that they move forward.

Measuring consumer-generated media

Katie Delahaye Paine led off the afternon with a presentation on New Rulers for a new century: How to measure consumer-generated media.

Why bother? Christian Science Monitor found that information distributed to bloggers generated 3.4 times more traffic than ABC News. Bloggers fit the profile of “influentials.” Blogs have eyeballs.

How to measure blogs? The methodology is similar to traditional media. Measure traffic. Examine content. Analyse.

Another indicators to look at with blogs: The ratio of postings to comments. If you post regularly but generate few comments, you might conclude that your content is not really having impact.

Measure three things:

  1. Outputs: What did you send out?
  2. Outtakes: What did your audience hear and remember?
  3. Outcomes: What did you change? Attitudes? Behaviour?

Steps to perfect measurement:

  1. Define your mission and goals. You have to know what you want to do to know if you did it.
  2. Prioritize your audiences and your needs. Social media is not “one audience.” It’s a variety of groups and individuals with a special interest or perspective on you.
  3. What’s the measure of success? Decide what you want to quantify as an expression of your goals. Sales? Complaints? Reputation? Something else?
  4. Pick a tool and undertake research. Traffic to Web site?  Sales? Increase in the conversation index? Share of positioning on key issues? Share of recommendations?
  5. Determine what you are benchmarking against. Previous performance? Competitors?
  6. Analyse results and figure out what it means.
  7. Pick a tool. There are good free tools: Google News/Google blogs. Technorati. Sphere. There are good for-pay tools: Cyberalert. CustomScoop. e-Watch. RSS feeds. Use automated tools to handle the gross aspects of measurement. Monitoring and searching. Use human judgment to interpret.
  8. Analyse the content. The data without analysis has no value. Focus your analysis on issues that will be meaningful or have a direct bearing on the decisions your management must take or the questions they want answered.
  9. Take action

And how about ROI? With blogging, why bother? If it costs you $14.99 to do something  – and blogs can be done for virtually no cost – why spend thousands to measure it.

But if you are spending a lot on a social media program, be prepared to spend a lot measuring it’s results.

As I listened to Katie – who is one of THE experts on measurement – I realized just how much work is still to be done in developing broadly accepted measurement indices for social media. It’s still early days. But right now, we seem to be attempting to stretch ill fitting traditional measures to match the new shape of social media. It may look like it’s working. But anyone who’s involved in it knows it’s not comfortable.

See the future through Second Life

I took in Kami Huyse‘s and Linda Zimmer‘s session on Second Life, second chance: Why you should be marketing in the virtual world.

Kami and Linda are in second life. They use it to meet clients. They use it for business.

Linda: Second Life is seriously engaging. If you go into Second Life, you must be willing to engage fully with it. Some companies have gone into Second Life and not delivered. This leads to backlash.

Why is Second Life so engaging? It’s ours. We’ve created it. We’re creating the world. And much of it is shared.

It’s spatial, interactive and persistent. You can move through the world and interact with others and with objects. When we log out, what we have created continues to exist. We can go back and continue where we left off.

BMW is using Second Life successfully. It’s actual property is only sparsely furnished. However, BMW is successfully using this platform to engage online communities. Social network has been pushed into the fore. Building corporate cathedrals is secondary.

IBM has allocated a multi-million budget to explore what Second Life means for collaboration and how new business models may emerge within the 3D Web.

Other companies are exploring Second Life’s potential for low cost prototyping. Starwood Hotels has had success in prototyping its aloft hotel concept. Cisco prototyped their vision of the “connected home” in Second Life.

MTV has developed a Virtual Laguna Second Life environment as a companion for their Laguna Beach series, offering fans of the television show and opportunity to place themselves in the show’s setting.

Second Life is about the future as much as the now. Kami provided a live demonstration. When she signed in, the login page showed that only about 30,000 people were signed in at that time. That’s a fraction of the number of people who have joined Second Life. Much of what we saw was empty rooms, which seems to be one aspect of the experience that drives skepticism.

Kami and Linda showed a series of slides demonstrating that, while the absolute numbers are still low, hours users were signed on is increasingly dramatically. Moreover, users span a broad age range.

Yes, there are limitations to Second Life. Usage is relatively low. The learning curve is steep. It’s still early days. However, the 3D Web has great potential and Second Life will give us insight into how people will interact as social networks become 3D.

For more info, Kami prepared some dedicated resources at