Things That Make You Go hmmm…

I heard a little bit about the kerfuffle last week when First Lady Michelle Obama “touched” the Queen – which, according to reports, is a horrendous break in protocol. It slipped my mind for a few days, until I sat down to write today’s blog post and thought about what news events happened last week that are relevant to our Bridging Two Worlds blog.

Time ran a piece on it, as did countless other media outlets. I haven’t even checked the blogs yet. It seems to me that this is a perfect example of the old paradigm (respect because I said so, do what I say or you will be in trouble, etc.) and the new world colliding.

Michelle Obama reached out and touched the Queen in a gesture of affection or warmth. I certainly don’t know her motives, but Michelle Obama seems like a pretty touchy, hands-on kind of person – and the Obama Whitehouse is one that we aren’t used to. They blog, they’re on Twitter, they’re being as transparent as possible, they are doing their best to touch the people and—oh my goodness—encourage them to touch back, all from that big powerful place in Washington, DC. Who would have thought it could happen; human beings in powerful positions acting…well, human.

Times are changing—and as much as I appreciate the tradition and history of the monarchy—why is the rule still in place? Why is the Queen untouchable unless she extends her hand first? Who says she gets to go first? Why does she want to be removed from real people? What is the point of this piece of oh-so-serious protocol?

The world is changing and this style of “you should know your place and mine (which is better than yours) because I live and breathe rarified air above the commoner” status isn’t acceptable anymore. The same thing is going on with the brand reputation of your organization. If your organization stands back, aloof and out of touch, it is going to hurt you in the long run.

People want leaders and organizations to interact with them on an equal footing. We “commoners” are tired of being told what’s available to us and what isn’t. We want to work for and with organizations that become a part of our community, not ones that believe they are “untouchable” or “unreachable.” Control belongs to the consumer and good organizations will benefit greatly from this. It provides an opportunity to authentically connect with stakeholders, to hear the good and the bad, and to learn from both. Not so good organizations can use this as an opportunity to improve. As for the organizations that still believe that they will tell us what to do, how to do it and when to do it instead of engaging us in a conversation…well, let’s see where they sit in a year or two.

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I was watching the late news on Friday night and saw a story on the challenges that CTVglobemedia is facing. The Vancouver Sun has a good article on what the media giant is dealing with. Being a media junkie and a communicator, I have been watching the shift in the media for quite some time – but on Friday, it really hit me that the news business is in trouble and not just in Canada. Denver’s Rocky Mountain News closed its doors on Friday. According to many reports, there are a lot of other print papers in economic trouble – including the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune.

The recession has certainly hurt all of these media outlets. The big advertisers aren’t buying what they were and everyone is being affected by cut backs in spending.

For some of these media conglomerates, like CTVglobemedia, there are other issues that are facing, including the cost of doing business in the face of growing cable networks. These are big issues and ones that these companies and the CRTC need to find a way to solve to everyone’s satisfaction and benefit.

There is another point that I think isn’t being covered as much and I believe it has had a huge impact on mainstream media – it’s the online world. The Internet has changed everything. People want to be communicated with differently now and this is a challenge for some of the big news organizations. When we had Kirk LaPointe of The Vancouver Sun in as a guest speaker to one of our Conversation Over Coffee sessions earlier this year, he spoke quite candidly on the topic. I think Kirk really “gets it” and is focused on finding a new paradigm for media. But they aren’t there yet, in part because the audience is still evolving and discovering what and how we want it – when it comes to receiving and sharing information online.

While it has taken more than a decade, the majority of us turn to the Internet for news, information and connection. There are more opportunities now for an organization to share information. Your story might not make it onto the television broadcast or in the newspaper, but it might be covered online. And of course, it isn’t just mainstream media that puts out news and information now – bloggers, people on Twitter, Facebook, MySpace and YouTube are all sources that people turn to. There are great opportunities to reach out and tell a story through other channels, often channels that provide an opportunity for feedback, conversation and an authentic connection.

I read a lot of blogs and I love them. But I can usually tell if a blog writer has a journalism background without reading their bio. There is a recognizable approach to reporting and writing that trained journalists bring to their work.

Journalists are an important part of how we hear about what is going on in the world and they are crucial in our society. A great journalist can bring clarity to a complex situation. Well researched articles that are thought out and provide an unbiased context are invaluable.

I worked at Maclean’s for a long time and while I still look forward to receiving the hard copy magazine each week, I don’t wait. I am online checking it out, along with about a dozen other mainstream media, a whole lot of blogs, and other online publications. My Twitter feed (I use Twitterpod) sits on my desktop and I watch information roll as I work. I think it is going to take people like Kirk to help lead mainstream media into a sustainable business model – and I hope it happens sooner than later. Good journalism is an important component of an informed society. And as a communicator, I am a big fan of a community that has access to a range of information from a variety of sources.

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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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It’s always interesting to see what catches the interest of people. There is an article in today’s Vancouver Sun about the launch of Google Chrome, which is a new browser set to take on Internet Explorer, Firefox and Safari.

This follows the announcement earlier this year that Google had launched a suite of online office applications – which are free – and set to compete against Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint.

For those who are just getting a handle on the new names and definitions, check out Wikipedia’s definition of a browser.

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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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