Archive for May, 2009

Google wave: a peek into the future

May 29, 2009

Google cleverly stole the thunder from Microsoft as they were trying to launch their new search engine called Bing. They did it by giving us a tantalizing look into the future and it is called “wave.”

Take Twitter, Instant Messaging, email, Facebook, Linkedin and just about any other bright idea that has shown up on the Internet to facilitate communication and you may have wave–or at least part of it. Somebody gasped on a webinar I was doing when I said Twitter would die. Hey, that is no great prognostication. Other than death being the future of almost everything, it is easy to see that the phenomenon of the past few months is certain to become passe. I do believe that the basic function of Twitter–using text message to post to web and easily connect to registrants–will be with us for a long time. I just predicted that it would be built into almost any application–as Facebook so quickly did with their upgrade and we are doing with PIER. Now comes wave. We’re all going to get wet.


Who’s a reporter when it comes to press credentials?

May 29, 2009

One of my esteemed colleagues sent me a question about policy relating to press credentials today. A very relevant issue for many. The old rules don’t apply in the era of new media. But it certainly doesn’t mean you give equal access to anyone who happens to know how to turn on wordpress. Below is the answer I provided. What’s yours?

That’s a tough one. The advice I give to clients is that while there may be 300 million citizen journalists out there (anyone with a cell camera can quickly send images to any major news outlet) that doesn’t mean that you need to treat all of them the same. The same basic criteria should apply to reporters–the stringer from a wild and crazy sometime newspaper with four readers should not necessarily receive the same focus as the reporter from the New York Times. Of course, if we are talking about adding to a list to send out updates, that is different–include everyone. But press credentials is more difficult. The truth is blogs are media. There are now 400,000 bloggers who make their livings with their blogs. Many have thousands of readers (my daughter is one of the top food bloggers in the country according to Financial Times anyway). And some have influence far beyond their limited readership.

My suggestion is to start with the understanding that bloggers are journalists and some far more reputable than others. Your group may have to come up with some criteria to decide if a blogger should be treated as a legitimate journalist some of which could be objective–how many visitors per month, how many commenters, etc., and part subjective: does this “journalist” have any credibility, is he/she responsible in the way information is treated, etc. Arianna Huffington of Huffington Post is one of the keynote speakers at the fall PRSA conference. She is hardly unbiased but her blog is considered one of the most influential in the nation–and most heavily visited. It would be insane not to grant her press credentials because she doesn’t write for newsprint.

I don’t know if that helps but my suggestion is work on a criteria for admission that is based on credibility and reach and include bloggers.

Taking transparency too far: webcasting brain surgeries

May 27, 2009

As this New York Times story comments, twittering during surgery is one thing, but doing a live webcast of brain surgery is taking things one step too far. We always knew there would be a line, but this is one that should not be crossed as far as I’m concerned.

How today’s public affairs leaders are using social media

May 21, 2009

Yesterday I was very pleased to be the host of two webinars about how social media is being integrated into the communications efforts of government agencies. The webinar was one of a series we have put together for communication managers who use PIER called the PIER Strategy Forum. Presenters were Andy Kendrick, head of Public Affairs for Coast Guard District 5, Lachlan Mullen, head of web communications for Fort Bend (Houston area) County Office of Emergency Management, and Paul Roszkowski, Chief, Public Affairs for Coast Guard District 13.

The three presented how using PIER as the control center of all their communication activities, they have integrated various social media and web 2.0 tools into their operations. These include “Share This” to quickly distribute content to a variety of info sharing sites including the agency’s Facebook page. IntenseDebate as a means of managing interaction on every info release distributed. Vimeo and YouTube for video distribution integrated with their releases on the public information website. Flckr for photos–one advantage being not having to respond to requests to package up photos and distribute. SlideShare for sharing presentations. Twitter of course for instant updates of information–but in their cases, run through PIER to maintain it as part of releases that are distributed to the website, email and other notification tools as well as maintain information discipline and approval processes.

There was great discussion and information sharing around topics like:

how much work does all this take? (Answer, we are all short staffed but have to work it in because it is that important).

How much of it can be automated?(answer: a lot).

Is Twitter really a good way to get info out? (Answer: it’s only one of many ways but Twitter followers tend to be highly influential–media, plus those very engaged and often critical)

How do you manage expectation about on-going engagement? (Set expectations, but also people will see by how (and when) you are responding)

How can using this instant info tools work when there are strict release processes? (Answer: policies have to reflect today’s realities. Coast Guard has high level commitment to social media from Commandant on down. But their policy of empowering everyone as a spokesperson–limited to their area of responsibility–is critical to making it work)

If you are interested in getting invited to future PIER Strategy Forum webinars (you don’t have to be a PIER client or user to be invited) you can go to, select Strategic Services and you fill find a Forum registration form.

More survey results–media and business at the bottom of confidence measures

May 20, 2009

Here’s another survey that shows what most of us already know and has been discussed on this blog quite a bit: the “public” doesn’t much like, trust or have confidence in our major institutions. What’s surprising in this study is not necessarily the abysmally low numbers, but the rankings to see who is even a little better than others.

Here’s a quick summary showing those reporting a “high level of confidence” in:

Media — 5%

Corporations — 8%

Government — 23%

Small Business  — 40%

Churches — 50%

The question I have is what have the media and big business done to themselves to warrant these incredibly low numbers?

What’s happening to the news and what will it become?

May 19, 2009

You have to be living under a rock to not be aware that we are living in one of the largest shifts in media, public information and news. The speed of the transition is probably unprecedented. Will newspapers go away forever? Will radio, cable tv and local television news survive; if they do, in what form? The Economist this week has an article called “The Rebirth of News.” While the headline is far more optimistic than the content of the article would warrant, there are some very significant aspects of the change that are revealed.

– As major papers like the Seattle PI and San Francisco Chronicle go under, “people under 30 won’t even notice.”

– Young people (18-24) according to Pew reporting they got any news the previous day dropped from 34% ten years ago to 25% today. Does this mean young people aren’t getting news and don’t care what is going on? I doubt it. But I would guess than the “news” or relevant information they get is being mediated now not so much by major news outlets but through the complex network of social interactions that this group has through social media tools. Watching fast breaking stories roll through Twitter is revealing.

– Major news outlets still have not figured out a new business model that will sustain them as the old print and broadcast products go away. Wall Street Journal may be closest by offering the flashy, general info free but charging a premium for more specific, high interest categories.

– Mircopayments, now being explored on many fronts, may offer some hope.

– Enhanced mobile devices optimized for reading such as new iphones and Amazon’s Kindle may breathe some life into traditional journalism (but I doubt a whole lot)

Overall, I think the Economist downplayed the most significant thing happening in news–the democratization of journalism. While many decry it and it has some very significant downsides as lack of accountability, but there are some significant upsides as well. We have seen in active blog and wikipedia that when a broadbase group gets involved, the truth will emerge from the process. Maybe like making sausage but while the process may be ugly, I happen to really like sausage–the result is quite good.

Another point missed here is that a new form of professional journalist has emerged. There are now more than 400,000 people in the US making a living as bloggers. Those are 400,000 new paid “journalists” — not only that but there are millions of new news or information outlets. It is segmentation of the media to the extreme.

While the outlines of the shift are becoming more clear, what is not is what it really means for all of us. How is this affecting who we are and how we interact with each other? Do these changes work to bring us closer into community or do they work to divide us further? How does the new way we get our news impact our opinions and decision making about political choices, consumer choices and lifestyle choices? These are the interesting questions to me but I haven’t seen a lot of prognostication or analysis about it–yet. Any thoughts?

What’s in a name? Swine flu vs. H1N1

May 14, 2009

Interesting conversation this morning with a public affairs professional working with the pork industry–a follow up to our PRSA teleseminar on flu communications. We were discussing the naming of this outbreak the “swine flu” and how that has impacted the pork industry.

As I commented earlier in this blog, I was amazed at how effective the pork industry was at getting the name changed to H1N1, but then the change seemed to peter out. Organizations like WHO and CDC announced they would no longer refer to it as the swine flu and it really started to take effect. But the change didn’t last and it appears now that swine flu has pretty well won out for the long term–much to the consternation of the industry.

How did this happen. My comment was that while I think the pork industry was remarkably effective at first in getting the change started, it lost momentum. My guess is that the media including social media commenters were participating in the change but found their audiences preferred use of swine flu. Plus, frankly H1N1 doesn’t roll off the tongue or keyboard nearly as easily as swine flu. (Plus you can’t make jokes about pigs flying with H1N1). I related it to a ball game with momentum shifts. The momentum was against the industry with the early moniker, but they made a heavy and effective push and got momentum going in the other direction. But I sense they underestimated the challenges and even if they didn’t let up, they didn’t have the reserve power to maintain the momentum in a critical few days about a week ago. If they had had the resources to steadily mount an attack on the name whereever its use occurred I think the media and public would be referring to this consistently as H1N1 (not too sure about the “novel” part–sounds too scientific).

Brings us to the long term issue of flu pandemic naming. The 1918 pandemic was the Spanish flu. This could have been called the Mexican flu but I suspect Mexico would have been as unhappy as the swine industry. What will the next one be called? The apricot flu? The mere mention of that might cause me to get unhappy emails from the apricot industry? How about the teletubby flu? Or the Hollywood flu?

I hope that the major health organizations have a discussion about this. I suspect they already are. Unless they come up with some innocuous naming system (like used for Hurricanes–although all females named Katrina might object) but one that works with the media and the public much better than H1N1 or H52N98, I suspect every outbreak is going to have similar naming issues. Funny thing to think about branding pandemics–but just ask the pork industry how important it is to get it right.

Warning to police (and others): the video camera is always on

May 13, 2009

This has happened so often before that you would think it would lesson number one in police academy now. A suspect is lying flat on the ground, clearly not resisting, the police officer comes up and kicks him viciously in the head. Is the numbskull not aware of the news helicopter videotaping overhead? Here right in front of you is a lawsuit in its earliest stages.

Not sure where this happened or when. But I do know that I got it from Twitter and chances are I am one of hundreds if not thousands spreading this disgusting act around to potentially hundreds of thousands of others. Lesson: don’t be stupid. Message to the head of this police force: fire this idiot or be prepared to explain why not.

PRSA Teleseminar on Pandemic Flu communications

May 12, 2009

It was my privilege today to present a teleseminar for PRSA on Pandemic Flu communications. My co-presenter was Stephen Davidow of Davidow Communications out of Chicago–an experienced professional in healthcare crisis communication.

Content for this can be found at PRSA, but I wanted to share a brief overview of the discussion:

1) This was a great dry run–not that the risk is gone, but the fact that it has not yet become overwhelming gives everyone an opportunity to learn valuable lessons in preparation for a pandemic that experts all predict is all but certain.

2) While media interest has waned, the need to communicate has not. Day by day the numbers grow, significantly. But, for most of the media, the story has run its course. For communicators, it simply means that the job goes on long after mainstream media is on to more immediate or exciting stories.

3) Make necessary connections now. There are a lot of people you need to work with in a major event such as this. Don’t wait until it hits to build your contact lists and your relationships. Get to know them now–hospitals, health dept officials, gov responders, major employers, etc., etc.

4) Address IT needs. The right technology is critical. It needs to:

– allow communicator control over web content and pushing info out to audiences–not a multistep webmaster process

– facilitate push, pull and interactive communication management–managing multiple inquiries is increasingly critical

– provide means of pushing info out via multiple modes–text, voice, websites, RSS, email, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube–all and more are now important

– provide for work collaboration to enable social distancing–your team may have to stay at home to protect themselves and others. Technology is now readily available to allow full communicator collaboration. In a pandemic, it becomes essential.

5) Constant info push–the best way to control the influx of questions is to keep a constant stream of updates going out. Not only that, in this age of Twitter and instant social media, it is expected. Press releases are out of date and largely unnecessary. Short, continuous information releases are now required.

6) Your people are the critical path–plans matter, technology matters, but you need to train, select, prepare and staff deep enough to sustain a long event and one in which it is likely that some if not many of your key players will not be available.

There was more that was covered, but you’ll have to do the download at PRSA. Thanks to Judy Voss of PRSA and Stephen Davidow for the opportunity to work on this.

Testing Email posting

May 12, 2009

WordPress added a feature where you can make direct blog posts via email. This is my test. If this shows up on crisisblogger you know it works, and it is pretty darn slick.

(Edited version–it worked great, just had to remove the signature which is supposed to automatically removed. Need to check into that.)