Social Media

There has been a great deal of mudslinging in the political arena recently. The upcoming election has everyone involved out there looking for skeletons – or nakedness or pot smoking – in the closet. Today marks the last day to nominate candidates for the federal election, so we may see it quiet down for at least a little bit.

There was also, of course, the comments of Gerry Ritz, Minister of Agriculture and Food where he made what some are calling dark humour jokes about the tragic listeriosis outbreak.

People do things that they wouldn’t necessarily want to have put under a spotlight. If you are on Facebook, check out some of the things your friends have posted – things that might come back and haunt the very people that put them up. Gerry Ritz thought he was on the phone with “friends” when he made the “death from a thousand cold cuts” remark – well, someone was taking good notes and released what he said.

The world really has changed. We keep saying it, but judging by the photos and videos I see online, not everyone understands that yet. We are a wired world. Many cell phones now have the capability to tape you and upload the clip to YouTube within minutes. I’ve tried it – I can tape someone and have it showing on YouTube in less than three minutes. Think about what that means for those funny, dark humoured quips you put out there – meant only for the person beside you. What if they made it online – what would that mean for you or your organization?

Does this concern you? Have you had something go public that you didn’t want out there? How do you handle living with the potential of having the spotlight hit you – 24/7? It would be interesting to hear what you think about this.

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There was a time, not so long ago, when almost everyone shook their heads and looked away when we brought up online or social media. Now, it is everywhere and people are engaged in discovering what it can do for their organization.

Locally, here in British Columbia, the Saanich Police Department has done something innovative and a little different. They have set up an ongoing series of podcasts (online audio) and vodcasts (online video) — and are the first police department in Canada to do this.

The City of Calgary is also using social media, and has been for over a year.

I was at a social media conference earlier this year in Las Vegas (it’s a tough job, but someone’s got to go to these things!) and I sat beside a communicator who worked with the U.S. Army, specializing in social media. His role is to work with the troops to make sure that information being uploaded by the men and women in uniform on Facebook, MySpace and YouTube doesn’t inadvertently share key points that might put campaigns or people in jeopardy. He worked on policy and procedure, but also was insightful enough to understand the human element of connection for the troops. He was at the conference looking for ways to better understand how social media could be used and, in his case, effectively managed.

Interestingly enough, one of the speakers at the conference was the head of communications for the U.S. government. The Pentagon is using social media, the White House is in the pool and even Homeland Security sees the value in it. There is an interesting blog post on what some of the government is using by Daya Baran that is worth a read.

These are all organizations that you wouldn’t expect to be using social media and giving up control of the message. However, they see the value in it. None of them took a leap off a cliff, they did their research, developed a strategy and they built out – and are still building out the social media component of their communications plan to support their overall strategy. They were smart about it. Taking that first step online doesn’t have to be a flying leap into the middle of the ocean, get your feet wet first. Develop a plan and then take small steps as you get used to the water.

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Over the past few days, I have spoken with quite a few communicators about B2W. There seems to be some fear attached to online media — fear of losing control of the message, fear of not being able to manage the brand, fear that others (public, stakeholders, consumers, customers…people) now have the balance of power. It is a natural and normal fear for communicators. However, let me tell you — it has never been a better time to be in this profession or to communicate.

Great communications or PR has never been about “spin” or about slanting the truth to suit an organization’s needs…it has always been about being authentic, being open and honest and about connecting. About, first and foremost, doing the right thing and then, if appropriate, being seen as doing the right thing.

With social media, being authentic and transparent are at the foundation of it all. Doing and being seen are one and the same. Don’t get me wrong – brand, positioning, messaging – it is all still very important, but it has become collaborative. We don’t “tell” people what our organization is all about anymore, we share it with them and listen for their feedback, input and response. Or, in some cases, they share what they think first – letting us in on some incredible things that we might not have even known were being talked about.

The fact is, we have never really been in control of the message. People talked about things all the time, but in smaller groups at home, at the water cooler, at the coffee shop, in the pub, on the bus … it happened. And they had their own opinions and ideas and experiences of your organization. They had their own perception of your brand. Now, it’s online 24/7 and accessible by more people. And that’s where the opportunity lies.

Today – if someone has something good or bad to say about your organization, you have the opportunity to reach out and start a conversation that is open and transparent – and authentic. We know that people, organizations and (my goodness!) even politicians are going to make mistakes. That’s what happens with human beings…we just want to know that you acknowledge it and are accountable. With social media, you have that opportunity to reach out immediately and start a conversation with us. Make it right and chances are, we will forgive you. Ignore it, hide it or try to “spin” it – and it will come back and bite you.

For people like us, this is the era we have all been waiting for (whether you knew it or not!). With an approach based in authenticity and integrity, there are huge opportunities to connect with stakeholders, with each other, with individuals and groups that are finding each other online and reaching out in the “real” world.  Technology has brought us opportunity – and with that some challenges. But once you get past the fear of the unknown (and that really is all it is), you will see how much can be accomplished by reaching out this way.

It is a great time to communicate.

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Today is a special day for all of us at Bridging Two Worlds (B2W). While the QUAY and AHA teams have been working together for quite some time now, today is the “official” launch day for B2W. My blog posting for today is a bit longer than usual, but since it is Launch Day, I thought it might be ok.

The online world is busy. While the whole team is online regularly and are always checking things out, I think it is safe to say that I am probably the most obsessed with it all. (Although I do have to tell you that Della Smith from QUAY is a close second!) I think that B2W brings something unique to the marketplace, and that is strategy. The online world is pretty young (someone said that the Internet that we, as the public know it, is only about 5000 days old…) and I think one of the key components that has been missing is a strategic approach to communication online. B2W does that. We understand both the online and “real” world and we know that without a strategy that bridges the two, then it’s just a series of tactics. There is both great opportunity and great risk online. It’s an exciting time to be a communicator and I know that our clients will benefit from our expertise. We’re not new to strategic communication or to the online world. That’s a powerful and valuable combination.

I have been online for more than a decade. As a matter of fact, I can remember as a senior associate at QUAY (I worked with Della and Patsy for a little over two years in the mid-90s), being the instigator of email and a website for the organization. At that time, not everyone was buying into the whole website thing, but they did. I don’t think any of us knew how or when, but we knew things were changing. They “got it” then and they “get it” now.

I was also fortunate enough to work as Communications Director at Vancouver Film School (VFS). I helped to launch their new media program (it has since been split up into several programs including digital design, sound design and I think most of their programs include some element of online media) and through VFS, I got to meet – and have stayed connected – with some of the Web’s best and brightest.

With all of the influence of smart, forward-thinking people, I couldn’t help but be interested in what the online world would become and how it would impact how the world communicates, professionally and personally. I have been online checking things out, seeing what works and what doesn’t, searching out best practices and watching as organizations wade through online media with some successes and some failures.

Years ago, we made a strategic decision NOT to become active online, but to be observers, listeners, researchers – lurkers (that’s the online term for someone like me who hangs around checking things out, but doesn’t participate). Don’t get me wrong, as soon as something new comes along, I am an early adopter, I sign up, I log in, I beta test. We should all take the time to check things out, to try new things, but my role is to see how others use new technology and opportunities. Through all of the new tools and the bells and whistles and the rapid pace of change in technology…one thing remains constant. People want to have a conversation. They want to participate and engage and connect. Organizations have a huge opportunity to reach out and extend their communities right now. They are also facing a huge threat – no longer does the organization control the message or their own brand. That’s now in the hands of the people that are online.

With the click of a mouse, you can reach out to the world with good news or bad. Individuals and groups now have a voice and they are making it clear that they are ready to talk. Our role is to help our clients to understand the online world and how it can fit into their overall strategy, to help them strategically bridge the two worlds.

It will be interesting to see what the next 5000 days will bring.

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