Archive for October, 2009

An analysis of the Superfreakonomics debate

October 31, 2009

don’t have time to comment much as busy helping work a major response at the moment but this WSJ article captures much of what I was trying to say about this debate.


More examples of news via Twitter, plus: Is Social Media a fad?

October 28, 2009

I’ve been talking in my presentations quite a bit about how Twitter is how the mainstream is getting more of its news and how increasingly Twitter itself is spreading the news. Here’s another great example–the debris on the Bay bridge that snarled traffic for hours or more.

Thanks to Gabe, I was alerted to this YouTube video (nearly a million views so obviously I’m not the first to see it) that seeks to answer the question of whether or not Social Media is a fad. I think it is a great video, very well done and interesting accumulation of facts, but one thing keeps bothering me.

Why Social Media? Why not call it the internet, or even Web 2.0 like social media used to be called. After all, what is called social media today is really internet applications that have been very widely adopted and adopted in particular to help people do what they’ve been doing since hiding out in caves: connecting with each other talking about things that interest them. The internet as a series of related technologies makes that connecting possible in ways never dreamt of before. Twitter, Facebook, YouTube are all just examples of some of those related technologies that have gotten tremendous interest and public play. I can virtually guarantee that all things hot now in social media are already well on the way to becoming dodo birds (even Facebook growth has tailed off significantly and Twitters’ precipitously). That doesn’t mean that social media will go away. The real question ought to be is the internet a fad? But the answer to that is so obvious that obviously if someone did that they wouldn’t get a million views.


The best resource for social media and internet use policy

October 27, 2009

At least it is the best resource I’ve seen.

Here is a very extensive list of sample policy statements and policies in place at various prominent organizations.

I found it on a blog post providing some good advice about dealing with legal obstacles to social media use in organizations.

The hot debate on global warming

October 27, 2009

I’m finding the continuing blogwar and public interchange over Levitt and Dubner’s new book Superfreakonomics and its discussion of geoengineering as a possible solution to global warming very interesting. I want to thank Joseph Romm, the environmental blogger heavily engaged in this debate, for taking the time to comment here.

The attacks and counterattacks go on and here is the latest from the Superfreakonomics blog on the New York Times website. In it Dubner, who is a very clear writer, tries to clear the air and get to the heart of the matter about the issues they raised and the storm of controversy these issues appear to have caused.

I am trying hard not to get involved in the substance of the debate because global warming is certainly not my area of expertise. Instead, I am trying to look at this from an issue management and crisis management standpoint to see what I and others can learn from how this blogwar and controversy is being handled by both sides.

My comment here is that Dubner makes a valiant effort to separate the arguments and get some clarity around what the real issues are. I think he does a pretty good job of that but no doubt his critics will disagree. And that gets to the fundamental problem. The real issue is about really about motive and agenda I believe. Who Dubner is tangling with are environmental activists with a very clear motivation: they want people to change their behavior, governments to change policy, industry to change processes in order to reduce our imprint on the world and the climate. The data that has emerged about climate change has given them strong scientific backing. They do not want to have any solutions seriously considered that would take the pressure off the actions of individuals, companies and governments. Certainly not now, when it looks like there is solid progress being made in stimulating the kind of change that many of these activists have been working for for years. In my mind, the rational presentation of geoengineering as one of many potential solutions to the huge challenge is extremely disturbing to them because it may divert attention and reduce the progress that is being made.

If I am right, it explains the hyperbole and emotional reaction to this book. There is fear evident in this reaction. Fear that the science and reason behind a geoengineering solution might just be sound and the sounder it is, the more it diverts from the mission.

What does this have to do with issue management? A lot, because it doesn’t really make sense to conduct a debate on one level when the real debate is going on at a different level. I’ve dealt with similar situations on not such a global scale several times. I think it is useful to take a step back, try to understand where the objections really lie, and address them as directly and openly as you can. For Dubner that would probably mean asking a question–if saving the world from catastrophe is the main goal, wouldn’t any and all potential solutions be welcomed? And if those solutions are not welcomed, is it because saving the world from catastrophe is not the goal but perhaps, getting people to live and act and behave in ways better for the planet is really the goal? The two are not the same. That is where this debate is really at in my mind–what is honestly and truly the goal.


Documenting the accelerating decline of mainstream media

October 26, 2009

Any longtime crisisblogger reader, and certainly any reader of my book Now Is Too Late, will note that I have referred to the post media world many times. In fact, it was the working title for Now Is Too Late until my publisher suggested a title change. Today two news stories came to my attention that seems to make it more and more clear that we are getting closer to a post media world if we can’t say we are in one already.

First, the LA Times documents the continuing and dramatic slide in newspaper circulation. A 10.6% decline in 6 months compared to same period the year before. That’s pretty amazing.

But this next story, about how marketers are forgoing advertising with traditional media in order to reach mass audiences with brand building is even more telling. You would think advertisers would be flocking to the media–certainly there have to be some awesome deals in buying advertising and advertising is typically bought in a pretty straightforward way with a cost per thousand calculation. Match up the right demographics and buy by the numbers at the best price. Those numbers have to be pretty attractive right now, some smoking deals I would think. But advertisers are finding they can create their own channels–on YouTube. (There is a chapter in Now Is Too Late, written in 2001 that is titled: You Are the Broadcaster). Here’s what Mark Haas from one marketing firm had to say:

“You build a channel on YouTube and you get millions of views,” Mr. Hass said. “And these people are coming from all over, and it’s more about their interest in your product, as opposed to the readership and viewership of a particular medium. It’s horizontal. If you wanted to reach that many people using traditional media, you would have to pitch and place in dozens of outlets.”

For crisis communicators, the lesson should be clear. Stop thinking media first. Stop thinking your job is to put out a press release about what is going on. Stop thinking the most important thing you will do in a crisis is set up and run a good press conference. Stop thinking the only questions you have time to answer are from reporters. Stop being so media-centric.

Start thinking direct. Start thinking about the people who matter most to your future–the people who if they thought bad of you would cause your organization some nightmares. Start thinking about engaging rather than distributing. Start thinking about participating instead of controlling. Start thinking about how you are going to interact with hundreds or thousands–personally–when you really need to. Start realizing that You are the Broadcaster.


Anatomy of a credibility war–global warming and Superfreakonomics

October 22, 2009

Here’s a blog war that seems to be heating up faster than our climate: The New York Times guest editorial column by Freakonomics co-author Stephen Dubner takes on a very strident attack by a prominent environmental blogger.

From a reputation management standpoint, this kind of interchange is fascinating. Here are a few of my observations:

1) Your viewpoint on this–whether you agree with blogger Joe Romm or Dubner depends mostly on your own biases and perceptions. We never really start on neutral ground. I happen to be a big fan of Freakonomics and admired their courage to bring up issues such as abortion and falling crime rates in the face of the political correctness police. So that is my bias and I approach this war from that standpoint.

2) It’s all about credibility. If you take the time to dissect Dubner’s response to Romm’s attack you can see it goes directly to the heart of whether or not Romm can be trusted and believed. This is where such reputation wars always end up in my mind which means the first caution to any communicator is never ever ever give your opponents any reason to question your complete honesty–including what you don’t say.

3) Borrowed credibility–here the debate is largely over what position one of the subjects in the book–Ken Caldeira who according to both seems to be one of the most respected climate scientists in the world. Both are making claims about what he says and doesn’t say about the reporting. From that standpoint, it seems to be that Dubner delivered a knockout punch to Romm when he demonstrated that Caldeira’s denial of a statement in the book was from Caldeira’s failure to carefully edit it and not due to the author’s lack of integrity as Romm is trying to prove.

4) Tone matters–Romm can’t help himself in his outrage. There are certainly times when outrage is appropriate and should be used. But Dubner’s even tone and very careful dissection of the argument vs. Romm’s more emotional ranting communicates that Romm is just deeply disturbed by what the book is saying and Dubner is understanding this is about who is to be believed more than who is most passionate. Romm does his argument a disservice in my mind by his tone. Lending a lot of credence to the statement in the book about the religion of global warming.

Two healthcare communication webinars coming up

October 21, 2009

I’m very pleased to have been asked to present two national webinars on healthcare communications next week.

PRSA is offering one on swine flu (or H1N1) communications and lessons learned–I’ll be doing with with respected health communication expert Stephen Davidow. This one will be Tuesday, October 27 at 3 pm EDT (noon my time on PDT).

The second one is for Progressive Healthcare Conferences on October 29 at 1 pm. This is on Twitter, Social Media, etc. for healthcare crisis communication. This will deal somewhat with communicating with employees as well as external audiences and the media.

Hope you can make it to one of these!

Fake press releases turn into breaking news–the high price of immediacy

October 20, 2009

You remember what happened on Sept 11, 2009. Breaking news from CNN about a possible terrorist attack on the Potomac near where Pres. Obama passed by. Got picked up and broadcast around the world in moments. Turns out it was just a routine Coast Guard drill. Some citizen overheard a private radio message that included the words “bang bang” to simulate gun shots and CNN immediately took off with the story.

Here’s another example: CNBC and Reuters both jumped on a press release from US Chamber of Commerce saying they reversed their stance on climate change legislation. Breaking News! Only, it wasn’t. It was a hoax.

You might think that news organizations like CNN, CNBC and Reuters would start exercising a little more editorial care. Don’t bet on it. Media today live or die on immediacy–they simply can’t afford to be too slow so they will take the risks of such false reporting. That’s they way it is and I don’t see it changing any time soon.

That’s why my advice to clients is a rapid response team focused on rumor management. Organizations need to see that a primary task today is monitoring and then very quickly responding to false information. My question is, what US Chamber prepared to identify the problem and quickly set it straight with an immediate posting on their website, distribution to all media outlets and statements their spokespeople could use in the moments after this aired? That’s what’s critical in crisis communication today.


—Oh my gosh, this gets stranger and stranger:

Fox News (runs with the breaking news only to change course mid-stream)

And then this “fake news conference”  wow!

Obama and Fox News war–now this I just don’t get

October 19, 2009

There are only a couple of explanations I can come up with to explain why the Obama administration would declare open war on Fox News. Either the arrogance of power is so great that it has clouded what for the most part has been sterling political judgment. Or, the anger overbeing so stridently and consistently attacked has got the better of them.

It is one thing to express concern about Fox News’ brand of journalism and how it may be proving detrimental to the nature of political discussion in the US, but to go so far as Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod in saying it wasn’t even a news organization is really quite incredible to me. This, I would think would be true whether your perspective is of the right or the left.

If it is of the left, it totally misses one thing that has been happening with news in general and social media in particularly which is making it clear that objective reporting is gone, has been gone and may never have really existed. This judgment would be offensive, it seems to me, to the likes of Adrianna Huffington and many other political writers/reporters/bloggers, etc., who are championing the cause of reporting with a point of view. The Economist is one big exception in the decline of major news media, and there is not an article in that publication that doesn’t come at the topic with a strong slant and an editorial opinion completely embedded in the story. There is no apology and no need to–they make their biases and their mission completely known. But to suggest that because opinion is mixed with reporting the Economist is not a news organization would be ridiculous.

On the right, which I must say must be rejoicing with this turn of events, this attack only demonstrates what they have been saying for some time. Which is that the left-leaning news organizations such as New York Times, and major networks, have been pretending to be balanced and middle of the road when to any right winger it was clear they were far from balanced. Fox comes along and takes a quite different slant on the news. By doing so they demonstrate that being right or left is in the eye of the news viewer. In other words, if you are strongly right leaning Fox will appear fair and balanced, if you are left they will not, but New York Times will appear fair and balanced. Who is? Like the theory of relativity, it all depends on your own position and motion.

I would think that the likes of Axelrod and Emanuel would be sophisticated enough to have that understanding of media. To disparage Fox by declaring that all other media (more in line with their perspective perhaps) are legitimate news organizations, but Fox is not is not just insulting to the huge Fox audience (much bigger than the others) but also strikes me as naive. Nothing I would have ever thought to say about these very sophisticated and successful political operatives.

Like I said, the only explanation I can come up with is a weariness that overcame their good senses, or much worse, the first real sign of a frightening arrogance of power. I hope not. Somebody better call off this ill-conceived war. Mr. President, book your time on Hannity soon.

How social media is changing emergency and crisis communication

October 19, 2009

I blogged on this at which is my blog more focused on government communication and emergency management. But, it may be of more general interest to those involved in crisis communication so, here it is. It’s my crisis management take-off on an excellent post by Soren Gordhamer on the five ways social media has changed our lives.