Leadership

There is an interesting article in AdAge.com about the Royal Caribbean Cruise Line’s decision to continue to make a scheduled stop at a private resort in Labadee, Haiti. It’s a pretty strong article with a great deal of criticism from PR pros. As I was reading it, I was wondering where the other side was…there are no quotes from PR pros saying that they “get” why Royal Caribbean made the decision to continue to make stops in Labadee.

As I read the piece, I was thinking that I must not be reading this article right because I would have advised this cruise line to do exactly what they have done (I would have also prepared them to take some criticism about it and to be ready to solidly respond to critics with their rationale).

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There has been a great deal of coverage on the acquisition of online retailer Zappos.com by Amazon. I had the privilege of hearing Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh speak earlier this year at the Ragan Social Media Conference in Las Vegas.

I have to admit that when I saw Tony’s name on the program as a keynote and realized he was speaking about corporate culture, I wasn’t that excited about it. However, you can’t deny that Zappos.com has a great reputation as does Tony, so I went to see him speak because, well – he was there and so was I.

His keynote changed how I view the world.

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There is a very interesting blog post at techpresident.com focusing on the tech side of Obama’s first 100 days in office. Don’t let the word “tech” throw you off – the technology used is important, but it’s just a vehicle for communication and conversation. As a communicator, this article hits some key points that you will find relevant.

In speaking at events, delivering workshops and collaborating with clients – many of the points touched upon in this article come up. Obama has made a commitment to move toward a more open and transparent form of Government – and while there are steps being taken to do this, it takes time. This is a big paradigm shift. Not just for the people implementing the tools, technology and developing the strategy, policy and process, but also for the people who are being asked to join the conversation. The logistical side takes time and resources, so does the culture shift.

This article also points out some of the misses from the Obama team; some initiatives are slower on the uptake or haven’t hit their stride yet. There are no hard and fast “blueprints” for opening up the conversation and making it work. There is some experimentation involved and some things will resonate with your community (the people formerly called “The Audience”) and some won’t. Sometimes, no matter how much research you do, you won’t know until you try.

We often refer to The Obama Standard. He has done a good job of starting the process of creating a government that provides a voice – through a range of initiatives including social media – to the people. While he has a much bigger budget than most organizations, he is still working through it step-by-step, project-by-project, and asking for input as they learn what works and what doesn’t.

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Yesterday we hosted the first of what we hope will be a series of events focused on social/online media topics. We were very fortunate to have Kirk LaPointe, Managing Editor of The Vancouver Sun, as our guest speaker. (If you didn’t get an invite to this one, please don’t worry. Because of the small size of the events, we aren’t able to include everyone…but we haven’t forgotten you, I promise. We will invite you to the next one. If you want to make sure you are on the next invite, send me an email at ruth@ahacreative.com.)

Kirk participates online. He has a blog, he has been engaged and involved for quite some time and is a driving force at the Sun in their online evolution. Kirk is insightful and his experience as a media executive (he has worked in print and broadcast) gives an interesting and highly valuable perspective on how media and journalism are changing in response to Web 2.0.

We had a group of about 25 senior communicators and their CEOs in attendance – a bright and early morning with a 7:30 am start, I might add. It was a room full of smart, experienced business people that are genuinely interested in understanding how our professional (and personal) lives are changing.

Kirk has a healthy balance of skepticism and a desire to authentically communicate, peppered with a solid sense of humour and an appreciation of the absurd. He has embraced social media, but he sees its challenges, its flaws and its potential, and he is realistic about it. I found his candor inspiring and refreshing – and his presentation and the following group discussion provided me with some great food for thought.

The discussion continued long after Kirk had headed back to the newsroom and our guests had left. We thought it would be interesting to share the points that Kirk made that resonated with us. For those of you that were able to attend, please feel free to tell us what you found of interest or of value and what you might like to hear about in future Bridging Two Worlds Conversation Over Coffee. (Or, as some of you suggested, calling it Connecting Over Chardonnay, Meetings Over Merlot, Brainstorms Over Bourbon…really, we got it!)

Some of the points that hit home for us:

– I was excited when Kirk touched on the opportunity in the future to “customize” news and information for specific audiences. This is an approach that makes sense to me. Rather than reach out to a huge audience and hope that someone in there is interested, creating a reason for those that are interested to connect seems like a much more effective, efficient – and valuable approach. Along with this is another point that Kirk made, it all comes down to content – interesting content. Whether it is entertaining, informative, controversial or inspiring, it has to be accurate and authentic and it needs to be well written, no matter what the medium. When I think about the opportunity that organizations have to open a conversation with individuals or groups; to extend their communities; to create a connection with people that provides an open, interactive, two-way discussion; or in the case of Twitter – more than a two-way discussion, it energizes me. (Ruth Atherley, AHA)

– I particularly liked his recommendation to communicators “don’t spin – be transparent.”  I also liked his view on newspapers of the future (hard copies) – that they are already evolving into a medium that provides more analytical views versus just presenting the news (because it is not new to most readers by the time their newspapers land on their door steps)!  Newspapers will become “viewspapers.” (Patsy Worrall, QUAY)

– I was very interested in their plans for using a wiki to let readers help report on some specific news items in the future. When I put that into context around how we work with clients to help them to engage their stakeholder communities both internally and externally, I think that it supports the idea that there is great value in inclusive and collaborative approaches. There is a great deal of talent and knowledge out there (in the world and in organizations) that goes untapped and unacknowledged. Wiki technology allows us to connect with this expertise and create a positive and valuable experience through collaboration. (Paul Holman, AHA)

– I was very interested in hearing Kirk’s perspective of the future of newspapers online.  Specifically, the pay-per-use feature where people could have access to all the information that gets sent to media (I’m an information junkie). Or rather than pay-per-use, the possibility that certain companies could sponsor a specific section (i.e. Nike and the sports section).  Another interesting point was the possibility of wiki-articles online where experts in a certain field would be encouraged to “add-on” to an article.  And finally, I was surprised to hear that newspapers write their content for the web first and then for the hard copy. (Fareedah Rasoul Kim, QUAY)

– I think that the part that resonated with me most was how Kirk spoke of the evolution of the online world.  As he said, we are hard-wired to read paper. Looking at a computer screen all day is not conducive to our nature and he feels that in the future we will be reading from digital ink.  I thought that this was a really interesting juxtaposition between what we are traditionally used to and what we have become accustomed to. It will be interesting to see, in a couple of years, if such a thing comes to fruition.

I loved the term he used in reference to linking to other sites – Link Economy.  The name says it all and as online media continues to become more prevalent, we will want this easy access to other sites to help reference the topic of interest.  (Julie Owen, QUAY)

– I really enjoyed how Kirk spoke about the opportunity journalists have to become a reliable and collaborative source for reporting online.  Bloggers can be motivated by their own interest or a rumour they heard “somewhere.”  I am reassured knowing that journalists who write online adhere to the highest standards of reporting and are being encouraged (by people like Kirk) to link and collaborate with other news agencies and reporters.  It will result in a higher calibre of reporting and information available online.  (Julia Cameron, QUAY)

– Kirk’s point about recognizing other media (your competition) and sources for good information resonated with me. You can only do that if you come from a position of confidence and strength. Sharing of knowledge and information is the way of the online world and is now transcending into mainstream. It reminded me of the old movie – Miracle on 34th Street when the Macy’s Santa starts recommending customers go to the competition and how that led to more business and a good reputation for Macy’s.  That movie was made in 1947.  We have always believed in friendly competition.  Life is too short to live any other way. 

I also was intrigued by the movement of media into the world of databases. Public sector salaries, parking tickets….what could be next?

It is great to have people like Kirk at the helm of our major daily papers. He truly demonstrates the transparency, candor and forward thinking the business needs to survive. (Della Smith, QUAY)

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There is change in the air in America – and it smells fresh and new. As President Obama was giving his inaugural speech yesterday and taking over the office of the Commander-in-Chief, a switch was flipped on www.whitehouse.gov. This site got a makeover that includes a new blog. With a focus on transparency, the new administration is posting all non-emergency legislation on this site so that the public can read it and comment before the President signs it.

Last year, I attended a social media conference where Bev Godwin, Director of USA.gov spoke. It’s not as though President Obama is introducing the Federal Government to Web 2.0, there has been movement towards a more transparent and interactive approach online for quite some time. The Department of Defense, Homeland Security, U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force are all active and interactive online. At the conference, Ms. Godwin spoke about the opportunity that social media presents in reaching out and creating authentic conversations that provide value for everyone involved, not just the politicians.

Now, with a leader who really “gets it,” it will be very interesting to see what happens when social media is embraced from the highest office in the U.S. and what kind of change will be created by embracing and increasing this kind of two-way communication.

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