Politics of Social – Social Media Week Sydney 2014

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As part of Social Media Week Sydney 2014 I was honoured to host a panel discussion about the Politics of Social.

The panel made for a lively and interesting chat – wish we could have had more time as there was much more to discuss!

Panel Members

  • Ariadne Vromen – Associate Professor, The University of Sydney
  • Alex Greenwich – Independent Member for Sydney, Parliament of NSW
  • Stilgherrian – Journalist, Commentator, Producer, Podcaster
  • Steph Harmon – Managing Editor , Junkee at The Sound Alliance

Ariadne Vromen  Alex Greenwich
Stilgherrian Steph Harmon.

Here’s the video of our discussion…

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Bad management, ethics and philosophy: what can we learn from News of the World?

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The demise of a 168 year old (and reportedly profitable) newspaper in Britain called the News of the World (NoTW) gives us some valuable insights on a number of levels.

Every day over the past few weeks we have been gobsmacked by the revelations about NoTW and assume nothing could be more shocking.

But then there’s a new revelation about the way NoTW practised its business and we’re even more shocked.

An important insight they offer us is how management practice in the real world is informed by management thinking about business and ethics. And how thinking about business and ethics translates into behaviour in the workplace.

Bruce Guthrie, writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, recounts that in 1988 at a conference of News Corporation editors in Aspen, Colorado:

“I asked about ethics and Rupert called me a wanker”.

This article is interesting because it gives us a view into the behaviour that the top leader in that organisation demonstrated to his senior leaders and managers.

As Guthrie notes:

“I left that conference in Colorado more than 20 years ago concerned that Murdoch saw ethics or, at least, the discussion of them, as an inconvenience that got in the way of the newspaper business.”

When the top leader of an organisation gives that kind of strong message then it is extremely unlikely that any other leaders or managers will explore issues like ethics or managerial accountability. It is also unlikely that exploring those kinds of issues is part of the reward and remuneration structure within the organisation.

Further, it is also unlikely that the business leaders, given that kind of strong message from the top, will ever take the time to consider philosophical issues about management, leadership and the kind of business they want to run for customers, employees or society.

With that kind of leadership message we get a soulless automaton of an organisation that does whatever it takes to deliver shareholder value, no matter what cost to the people involved in the process.

And now, with News of the World, we see the results of that kind of leadership and management.

Where does the buck stop with the kinds of bad behaviour we saw in News of the World? Where did the people at the front line get the message that their appalling practices were okay? What kind of management philosophy was in place there?

Perhaps just a quick check of the News Corporation corporate governance page demonstrates their current thinking on corporate governance?

It seems that there are interesting questions for all leaders and managers to ask ourselves arising from this tragic tale of a corporation gone wild.

Most importantly we must ask ourselves “would I have gone along with business practices like those in evidence at News of the World?” – it is easy to say no from the comfort of an armchair and with full hindsight.  More pertinent to consider is the challenge of saying no during the cut-and-thrust of a busy day in the office when your job is on the line?

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It's not content that matters, it's the stories

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When I checked on a major search engine the other day there were 247,000,000 results for the term “content is king”. Many people have said it to me over the past few years, and I admit to having said it myself on occasion. It seems that Bill Gates was saying it way back in 1996 (thanks to Craig Bailey for tracking it down)

But I’ve been thinking about this saying a bit lately. In particular I’ve been pondering what really matters online. This question arose because I’ve been doing research in recent times and the sheer amount of dross on the internet is truly remarkable.

It is clear that people on the internet are so busy creating, stealing, replicating and sharing content that many of us are too busy to tell stories. This includes those upon whom we have relied to tell our stories as a society, that is, the professional writers who are employed by newspapers and magazines.

Compelling narratives help to bring ideas to life and call us to action. And it is these that we are willing to invest our time and money to hear.

Many of our traditional newspapers are losing the art of sharing those compelling narratives, instead opting for cutting and pasting AP, AAP or Reuters news feeds. Thus they are losing their ability to tell stories in the rush to create content rather than stories.

It means that we end up with sites like Huffington Post that are finely calibrated search engine optimised content repositories. And, while there is a need and place for these kind of online publishers, it also means that we are at risk of losing the stories that do not fit into the immediacy of the search engine optimised advertising revenue generating model.

Once stories in newspapers (in the days when we had newspapers of record) and magazines were subsidised by the so-called ‘rivers of gold’ from advertising. Nothing has appeared to replace those rivers of gold to enable the continued production of stories on the previous scale (as opposed to the growing practice of regurgitating paid news feeds).

If the *business model (and cross-subsidization) that made it possible to create stories is broken then it is up to the amateurs to tell our stories. Bloggers have already begun to fill this gap, and have incurred the wrath of the establishment writers from the mainstream media organisations as a result.

Rearguard sniping and condescension from the ‘professional’ writers towards the ‘amateurs’ is amusing given the likelihood that most writers of stories will be unpaid by organisations in the not to distant future. Instead the few remaining paid jobs will be for analysts to populate the search engine optimised advertising driven sites. And that is only likely until they can find a machine to undertake that somewhat mechanical task.

It’s going to be interesting to see where our stories go in this brave new world.

* The only exception I can see to this is organisations that are either government funded or which have independent funding like The Guardian. The big risk for government funded organisations is that increasing economic constraints are likely to constrain their operations in turn.

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Interview with 2 of my favourite entrepreneurs @jason @garyvee

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If you’ve got time it’s worth taking some of it to watch this interview with Jason and Gary.

Jason Calacanis, himself a serial entrepreneur, is a great supporter of startups with his LAUNCH Conference.

Gary Vaynerchuk is a well known entrepreneur who built up his family business to a major player using social media and the force of his remarkable personality.

Having met both of these guys, one thing that stands out about each of them for me is that they are truth tellers. You might not like what they say, but they call it as they see it. The corollary is that they often put out a helping hand for people who are working on their own startups. Good guys, with good experience, worth listening to.

Gary raises some important issues about how social marketing is not about push. If you’re trying to sell stuff using social media then this is a crucial conversation to understand. As Gary says:

“If Content is King, then Context is God”

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Who does Alan Jones think he is to speak to the Prime Minister like that?

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I was completely appalled to hear how a well known radio personality in Sydney spoke to the Prime Minister of Australia on air. The details are outlined well by Barrie Cassidy on The Drum in Liar, liar, shock jocks on fire; and you can listen to the entire interview here.

This radio shock jock berated the Prime Minister of this country on air for arriving late for a media interview. Further he called her by her first name throughout the interview. He called her a liar to her face.

I’ve heard him interview Prime Ministers of Australia before. He referred to them civilly to their face and called them Mr so-and-so, or addressed them as Prime Minister. But now, when confronted with a woman Prime Minister, he seems to think he can disrespect her and her office.

I’ve got no problem with people having an opinion that is different to mine or to anyone else’s. And that shock jock has as much right to his opinion as anyone. But what he did to our Prime Minister went beyond the pale. Agree with Julia Gillard and her politics or not, as Prime Minister she deserves to be treated with the same respect as every other Prime Minister that went before.

I can only hypothesise that misogyny drove his behaviour, misogyny coupled with a deep hatred of non-conservative politicians. When confronted with a woman holding that office he seems to have felt that it was acceptable to berate and speak so un-civilly; and to do so in ways he’s never done with a male office-holder.

It reminds me of the continuing misogyny that exists in Australia. It reminds me that women are still not considered equal to men, even if they are the Prime Minister of the country. It makes me sigh. It makes me sad. It makes me wonder how we can change things.

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The future of shopping is social

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These are some thoughts that I presented at the AMP Social Media Cafe in Sydney on 11 November 2010, the slides and references follow below.

The future of shopping is social. But that is nothing new – shopping has always been social. The difference is that now we are seeing social interaction on a hyperconnected scale and the emergence of new competitors. It is still shopping, but social shopping is on steroids.

Firstly I want to give you a sense of the broader shopping landscape in the digital age.

There is a growing body of empirical research on retail effectiveness and the statistics are quite scary. As Sorenson notes “The shopper comes to the store to buy things. The retailer creates stores to sell things. Manufacturers create products to sell. Yet most of the shopper’s time in the store is spent not buying.”  And he notes further that “a single item in a store might attract only 300 seconds [of attention] from all shoppers in an entire week, about five minutes [in total]”.

This means that not only are shopping centres fighting to get and maintain traffic, but also that the traffic is not necessarily being well used by the retailers to sell products effectively. And this leaves each of them vulnerable to competition.

Yet the work we have been doing in the shopping business over the years can summarised quite nicely by this diagram by Robert Kozimets. And the model works equally well for retailers or for shopping malls. We have been building spaces for brands that cluster around either the transactional (think supermarkets) or the iconic (think of one of the new high fashion shopping centres).

But all of this is happening in a broader context. The economy is changing around us. We are moving into what I have come to call the engagement economy. But there are so many competitors how for a share of that attention ( as well as for a share of wallet) that it is important to be able to grab attention and then to drive ongoing engagement.

We’ve had social shopping for a long time – since commerce began. But the nature of competitors is changing. Before it was the other mall or the retailer down the road that we had to worry about. Now competitors include farmers’ markets in grocery and fresh food; virtual goods like digital video and music from iTunes; large online aggregators like Amazon (who perform many of the functions of a department store and are often cheaper); and new entrants such as online shopping clubs (of which more later).

This competitive landscape has evolved very fast – just look at this timeline from Sean Carton to see how fast. Two and a half thousand years ago we were writing on clay tablets and in the last decade the digital revolution has changed our lives. Many of us cannot imagine a world without the internet anymore.

Also media has been changed by this digital revolution too. Marketing and advertising are being reborn in this new digital world; while many newspapers around the globe cling tenuously to existence. This diagram by David Armano illustrates this phenomenon very well.  He nicely illustrates the fact that we are moving from lower engagement traditional media to higher engagement online social media.  After all not many people check their newspaper first thing in the morning, but some recent research indicated that many people check Facebook (or Twitter) before they go to the loo or brush their teeth in the morning.

And the tools of the digital revolution – web 2.0, social media, social networking and mobile devices – have changed the way people interact with each other and with brands.

Facebook is probably the best example of this change (although there are other similar services such as Twitter that are gaining ground). Facebook is important because it is changing what real people are doing with real time and attention every day all around the world.

But now hold that thought for a little while as we consider some other trends.

Let’s have a brief look at the evolution of shopping in the digital age.

There are a number of trends here:

  • Rise of mobile devices
  • Word of mouth via social networks
  • Social shopping
  • Collaborative shopping
  • Geo-social services (location based)
  • Putting geo-social into perspective

Social and collaborative shopping is reshaping the power relations between consumers and sellers.  New intermediaries are arising, ones who aggregate consumer demand via shopping clubs.  The fight for better value by consumers is shifting onto new territory.  And this shift will begin to manifest as changes in share of wallet for traditional retail channels.

The growing role of mobile devices also means that the shopping dynamic is changing.  Consumers can share realtime information and collaborate while they are on the move.  In the past we had to connect online via fixed PCs,but now the devices are always on and in our pockets and handbags.

Sites like Facebook are picking up on this trend with their adoption of Places – a geo-social application that enables users to share their physical location with friends (there are other contenders in the geo-social space too). And now the interesting thing is that we are seeing the merging of online and offline social activities with shopping and the integration of micropayments.  For example Facebook’s relatively recent addition of Buxter to enable peer to peer payments between friends.

It is very early days yet. We do not know where these trends are heading in particular. However, it is clear that geo-social applications have the potential to close the loop between online social networks and real world activity, especially when these are connected by online micropayment capabilities.

What we do know is that consumers are:

  • Going mobile
  • Sharing information via social networks
  • Collaborating via social networks
  • Shopping for virtual goods
  • Starting to use augmented reality

References
Sorensen, Herb, Inside the mind of the shopper: the science of retailing,  Safari Tech Books (ISBN: 0131366130), 2009
Lowrey, Tina, Brick & Mortar Shopping in the 21st Century (ISBN: 9781410618252), Psychology Press, 2007
Report: Consumer Shopping Experiences, Preferences, and Behaviors, Oct 2010, Art Technology Group, Inc. , http://www.atg.com/resource-library/white-papers/atg-online-shopping-study.pdf

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Presenting with power means PowerPoint must not be a crutch

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We are currently planning the next Social Innovation BarCamp for 6 Nov 2010 in Sydney and I’ve just written a post about it called 4 Principles and 2 Laws of Social Innovation BarCamp.

Thinking about the state of conferences over the past few years I have become enamoured of unconferences. In the case of Social Innovation BarCamp, the sessions are facilitated conversations. That is, there is no speaker at the front of a room in a traditional sense, nor is there an audience per se.

Instead there is a facilitator or session leader who frames and encourages a conversation about the topic that they have proposed. Participants come along ready to get involved and not just sit back as an audience.

This is similar to the process Dave Winer outlines as used at the well-known BloggerCon and updates it here:

“…there is no audience, there are no speakers. There is a discussion leader, a person responsible for the flow of the discussion.”

I have concluded that the old conference model with experts out front and a passive audience is no longer sufficient to grapple with the big ideas that we must confront in business and society today. The old conference model harnesses only a small fraction of the brainpower, passion and intelligence in the room.

Further, I have come to realise that many of us are not focused on communication any longer . Instead we tend to  focus on the presentation itself. This is because the presentation tools we use – things like PowerPoint, Keynote or Prezi – tend to conform our communications to their own patterns.

I realised how much of a communications crutch that PowerPoint had become for me while delivering a talk at Parliament House earlier in the year.  At the last minute I discovered that it was not possible to use my carefully prepared PowerPoint slides.  It was a cathartic experience in many ways.  It also led me to define the following law for the next Social Innovation BarCamp:

“The Law of No PowerPoint, which states simply, we know you’re used to the crutch of PowerPoint (or Keynote or Prezi, etc) but you need to leave it behind for the day. Instead use other forms of communication (perhaps draw a poster or write on a whiteboard?) to help get your message across.”
Source: Kate Carruthers

It’s going to be interesting to see what happens without the comfort of a data projector and slideshow. Now is as good a time as any to re-discover the joys of communication without relying on technology to mediate our ideas.

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Twitter, commonsense and journalism #groggate

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I’ve been observing the discourse in the mainstream and social media worlds about the ‘outing’ of the blogger Grog’s Gamut – the so-called #groggate. Craig Thomler has made an excellent aggregation of the various sources of comment.

There were two things that really irritated me recently:

These articles irritated me because they each conflated ideas that were not necessarily related – activism and social networks.  And, in the case of Elliott’s article, he disingenuously used Gladwell’s arguments to continue the justification of The Australian’s recently declared war on bloggers and Twitter.

In my opinion Gladwell does his usual trick of lightweight commentary without bothering to delve into any level of depth or subtlety. This seems to be his stock in trade (and he writes entertainingly) so I tend to let it pass by.

But the value of Twitter in respect of creating loose ties than enable the development of deep, real life, and personal relationships cannot be underestimated. Twitter provides the regular interaction – much like at the water cooler in the office – that let’s us understand who we might want to get to know on a deeper level.

The ambient knowledge about people in your network that Twitter affords is invaluable.  It assists us in transcending physical separation and allows us to stay in contact with friends without the need for physical co-location. Another great benefit with Twitter is the ease of making new connections with people who share common interests.  The recent Social Innovation BarCamp in Sydney is a good example of an event that brought together many people with common interests – it was organised and publicised mainly via Twitter.

But Elliott notes “Malcolm Gladwell writes that social media is really activism-lite and a tool that makes participation in a cause more efficient: that is, through the click of a mouse one can make a donation to a cause or send a supportive tweet”.  He then argues that because Greg Jericho (who we now know as the author of the blog Grog’s Gamut) was not entitled to privacy because he was merely a “commentator” and not a “whistleblower”.

Elliott then goes on to compare Jericho’s situation with that of famous activists like Martin Luther King or Steve Biko and to note that Jericho is “now even more popular, thanks to The Australian“.  This comparison of Jericho to famous activists is spurious.  He never claimed to be an activist.  Jericho’s only claims were:

I’m a guy interested in sport, literature and politics. I have in turn wanted to be captain of the Australian cricket team, Olympic gold medalist, PM and Booker prize winner. Now I’ll just settle for blogger.

Thus no claim by Jericho to special privilege or “whistleblower” status.  Just an ordinary citizen taking advantage of the freedom of speech afforded in Australia to share his opinions and insights.

And, as for action by the people in the Twitter-sphere in response to Jericho’s outing by The Australian, no physical action was meaningful or relevant to the situation.

What physical action was possible, reasonable or sensible in the recent #groggate case? No physical action would do anything for Jericho except to inflame the situation. There is no direct analogy between the Grog’s Gamut case and calls to action like those issued by Martin Luther King or Steve Biko. Twitter is not peopled entirely by complete idiots.

Using Twitter to organise a picket line at The Australian’s offices would have been foolhardy and would have made Jericho’s situation at work more difficult. No need to take up a collection for Jericho’s legal fund as The Australian did nothing illegal.

All we can do is express our dislike of the actions of the publication and the journalists involved and express our disapproval of their continued self-serving justifications. We can mourn the death of any notion of journalistic decency.  We can feel sad that Australian mainstream news media is becoming as polarised and polemical as that in the US.  And we can note that by their actions James Massola and his colleagues have done a huge disservice to freedom of speech in Australia, especially for public servants. The use of pseudonyms has been an important part of free speech for a very long time. Pseudonyms proliferate in the mainstream news media – so why are they unacceptable from a blogger?

This whole affair does make me seriously question the journalists – what are their positions on political, social and religious matters. I want to know more about their backgrounds. What are their political and religious affiliations? And what about these mysterious people called Editors? Who are they, what do they stand for? Perhaps they’ve unwittingly raised the issue? But we need transparency from journalists as well as bloggers. It’s time for journalists to come clean about their personal viewpoints and perspectives, no more pretending to present facts in an objective and disinterested way. We need to admit that there is no such as as unbiased reporting and embrace transparency for journalists too.

As for activism, we are seeing real action happen as the result of social networks.  GetUp! is a good local example of this. Say what you like, but  raising enough money to put ads up on prime time TV via social media channels counts as real action, as does winning a High Court action regarding the enrolment of voters.

Many other NGOs are also working out how they can embrace the new media. It’s a pity the old media folks are so busy fighting a rearguard action to save the past that it seems they cannot consider the future in a positive way.

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Does your company have a “message gap” problem?

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Burson-Marsteller has just realased a study on Message Gap Analysis where they investigate the cut through of corporate messaging to mainstream media.

Their research indicates some scary results:

“… a 48% gap between the messages a company communicates and the message conveyed by the media. The study also found that the gap is even bigger between a company’s message and bloggers’ messages (69%). ”
Source: Burson-Marsteller

Some other key insights from the study include:

1. “Aspirational” branding language needs to be supported by concrete facts and messages or it will be ignored. Messages that tied back to the company’s core values and identity were more successful.

2. Tell the whole story or the media will tell it for you. While this is age-old advice, companies that focused only on their own message paid the price by having their message become relatively more diluted in the broader story.

3. Avoid using jargon, as the mainstream media and bloggers either ignore it or must create their own explanation of the potentially confusing company message. Make communications as accessible as possible.

4. Press releases are being reprinted extensively, which affects the strategy for the communications professional. Communicators should realise that the audience for press releases is no longer just the media, and their language should be adapted for consumers, financial analysts, and other stakeholders, as well as media.

5. Bloggers are more likely to make comparisons to competitors and to speculate about an organisations intentions and strategy. Because bloggers are more likely to incorporate their opinions and include messages from multiple sources, companies should consider developing messaging that is more targeted for a blogger’s needs.

via News – Public Relations Institute of Australia.

It is interesting to ask how we can apply these insights into our corporate messaging on an everyday basis. How much of our corporate messaging is actually getting through? How much of it is jargon ridden waste?

Time to start looking seriously at our language and the way we present our organisations to the world. It’s time to fight corporate gobbledegook and jargon and to start putting a human face on our organisations.

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