Can the (digital) past be erased?

On April Fool’s Day, The New York Times published an article called “Erasing the Digital Past.”  I thought— is it possible?  Reading the stories like the one below, I cringed:

“And then there is the Philadelphia physiologist who became unwittingly linked to a consumer advocacy site, when it listed him as a graduate of a distance learning school that was shut down. “I felt totally victimized because there was nothing I could do,” said the physiologist, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he did not want added attention. “My case load started to dry up.”

Luckily, I don’t have any digital skeletons in my closet, but I could definitely see how one misstep or unlucky accident could lead to embarrassing results.  It turns out, if I did, I could hire an online reputation manager to help fix that.  Sites like literally bury search engine results by “spotlighting flattering features and concealing negative ones.”

Much like celebrities, who the article cites as employing reputation companies, politicians could do the same.

While there are some “scandals” that are just plain funny (i.e., Scott Brown’s Cosmo photoshoot), other blasts from the pasts could certainly rear their ugly heads to hurt a candidates reputation.  And as the article points out, even though something is on the 7th page of Google doesn’t mean that someone won’t find it— especially an angry voter or competitor.

As more and more people literally grow up online, it will be very interesting to see how that shapes the future of politics.  Will one Facebook picture of underage drinking sink a candidacy?  Will one Tweet about hating potatoes mean that Idaho voters would never support a campaign?  Even if it’s years later?


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What I thought of The Networked Nonprofit

I just finished reading The Networked Nonprofit: Connecting with Social Media to Drive Change by Beth Kanter and Allison H. Fine.  If you haven’t read it, you probably should.


Because it’s chock full of tangible, realistic changes that organizations can make in order to move towards becoming a Networked Nonprofit.  The book defines Networked Nonprofits as “simple and transparent organizations.”  They are simple in that they stick to what they are good at and they streamline their efforts according to what works and what doesn’t.  They are transparent in that they communicate with their audiences about their intentions, plans, successes, and failures.  Best of all, they engage in two-way dialogue with their audiences– acknowledging the essential role of people in enabling social change.

One of the examples that I found most interesting was from an organization I had never heard of– the Surfrider Foundation.  The Surfrider Foundation is the essential Networked Nonprofit in that it relies on its volunteers not just to spread the word, but to ignite action.  Though I had never heard of it, 10 seconds after visiting the organization’s Twitter feed, I found that members were doing good in my community along the Potomac/Capital Crescent Trail.

Though the book focuses on streamlining nonprofits and making them adept to change in order to succeed, I found much of the contents relevant to my every day life.  At work, I focus on social marketing– helping people become aware and able to make decisions that hopefully lead to a better, healthier life.  As this book attests (page 131), “social media can be used to affect change directly.”  I certainly am a believer that social media can be used to bring messages to wider, hard-to-reach audiences, but this book reminded me that it’s not just for pushing out messages– it’s for engaging in conversation.

For example, I hadn’t given crowdsourcing too much thought, but I loved the idea that engaging people early on, in the planning stages of a project, could actually lead to a much deeper engagement (more likely to lead to actual action).  The book mentions The Humane Society’s video contest launched in response to Michael Vick’s dogfighting scandal.  Check out what it ultimately resulted in– though controversial, it was a huge conversation-starter for the organization.

The focus on microplanning and learning loops, which emphasized  tweaking things along the way based on insights gleaned, related directly to my experiment with Google AdWords, which I made a few changes to along the way to encourage success.

Compared to the other books I’ve read over the past few months (Groundswell, The Long Tail, and Engage!), this came out on top, along with Groundswell, as a favorite.  I liked that it was simple with actionable steps that real organizations could take to facilitate change.  Similarly to all of the books, Networked Nonprofit pushes organizations to interact with audiences in a new way on social networks.  In order to be successful, organizations must not just talk and not just listen, but interact. In order to make the change from a fortress (least transparent) to a transactional (some transparency) and ultimately a transparent organization, humanizing communications is crucial.

Many of the ideas relayed in the book can be applied at any organization.  Imagine using to schedule meetings with partners (whose Outlook calendar availability is unaccessible) rather than lobbying 10 emails over the course of a week.  Imagine engaging in casual dialogue on Twitter and encouraging others to weigh in.  Imagine  editing documents in Google Docs and having access to them 24/7 via the cloud rather than a clunky shared drive.  Sound nice?  Sounds like the future to me.

For Mad River Glen, there are many lessons to be learned in this book.  In my opinion, they’ve done a great job at staying simple and sticking to what they’re good at.  Compared to many of their competitors, they’re more of a ski mountain than a ski resort, despite that a four-season resort might help them bring in money year-round.  Though they’re retweeting actively on Twitter, they could stand to interact more– actually using the platforms to facilitate conversation.  I would love to see them use crowdsourcing to engage their audiences– for example, they could use the new Facebook questions feature to encourage fans to vote for the name of a new trail, or in the social change realm, use Facebook events and Twtvite to mobilize their audiences to take part in a post-season clean up to gather any trail accumulated over the ski season.

PS: While Googling, I came across this MSNBC post on the same topic with some great nonprofit success stories in it. Check it out!

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Obama + New Media = #WINNING

Colin Delany’s Learning From Obama: Lessons for Online Communicators in 2009 & Beyond is a great insider’s look at the success stories that came out of the Obama campaign.

The following tools are identified as key elements to the success of the online component of his campaign:

  • Website
  • Email
  • Multichannel Online Outreach (i.e., YouTube, Facebook, Google Ads)
  • Grassroots Outreach/Data Collection
  • Text Messaging/Cell Phones

Personally, I am most interested to see how to mobile component of campaigning will continue to evolve.  As more and more Americans get smart phones, whether they be personal or for work, a whole new realm of communication opens up.  People normally have their phones at all times, so if urgent access is necessary, that’s likely the best way to reach them.  The fact that the Obama campaign had a list of roughly 1 million cell phone users is mindblowing— and I believe that those who can reach smart phone users in a creative way will continue to see success (this goes not just for politicians, but for organizations and brands as well).

It’s important to remember what Delany states on pg 11, that “plenty of people not named Barack Obama and not boosted by a vibrant and extensive network of active supporters also won on November 4th.”  Despite the fact that going online and “viral” are now recognized as of the utmost importance, that online works when they complement a solid offline campaign.  Delany points out that, “Even for online “movements” at the presidential level, the overall results are mixed: Obama may have won, but Dean didn’t in 2004 — and neither did Ron Paul in 2008.”

I loved reading about the structure  of the team, which was “separate and equal, but also integrated.”  I definitely think this was part of what led to success- not just the individuals, but how they worked as a team and within a larger structure played into it.  Also, the emphasis on online/offline integration really spoke to me.  This morning, I attended an event where a hashtag was prominently posted throughout the room.  Because those who were tweeting were aware of the hashtag, they were able to connect online and expand the conversation.  If the hashtag had not been posted, the tweets would not be connected and not be quite as valuable.

At the end of the day, for politicians, real-life supporters mean more than Twitter pundits who aren’t even constituents.  But when those Twitter pundits have the reach to influence constituents— that’s when the magic happens.

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The Long Tail in business and beyond

The Long Tail by Chris Anderson takes a comprehensive look at how the Internet has changed the way that business works. In short, rather than selling only the “hits,” or the most popular items, the Internet allows retailers to sell a variety of less-popular items, which make up the “long tail.” Although items in the long tail sell less than the hits in the “head,” there are far more of them, and thus they can make up a significant portion of an organization’s sales. The internet has also opened up new markets that allow for the amount of items available to be essentially unlimited. For example, iTunes does not sell tangible items, and thus the cost of selling 100 items versus 1,000 items is virtually the same. In contrast, a company that sells DVDs, like Best Buy, does have to actually store the selection somewhere– the wider the selection, the more overhead cost. Some companies have even devised solutions to this problem– Amazon can print books on-demand, meaning that they never have a surplus of unsold books, and they don’t have to keep their more obscure books in stock.

The deeper into niches that consumers can dive, the deeper they will go.  There are even niches within niches, like the YouTube video below, which I recorded a few years ago at an African Dance performance at American University.  When I checked it, I was quite surprised to see that it had gained more than 12,000 views– I only uploaded it so that it was easy to share with a few select friends!

Although there are not (yet) numbers that say that expanded stock/choices means increased sales, the Internet presents an opportunity for retailers to offer a consumer a wider selection and prevent them from straying to a competitor.

Of course, this expanded selection has implications not just for businesses, but for consumers. Using the Internet, we can find items in many more ways than the static organization a physical store offers: we can sort by price, by popularity, by color, we can find a sleeping bag in both the camping and the bedding aisle.

Anderson points out that along with expanded choices, the Internet arms us with much more information about the inventory that makes up the long tail. Reviews give us firsthand insight from people already familiar with the product, algorithms tell us what other products might pique our interest, and often we can preview content by listening to 30 seconds of a song or reading the first chapter of a book.

I really enjoyed this book and found myself nodding along to much of it.  It was a bit more theoretical than Groundswell and Engage!, so I felt like there was less that directly applied to Mad River Glen.  It would probably be more applicable to a consumer product company; however, the book did make a case for Mad River Glen to expand things like special packages or options for lift tickets.  For example, they could offer afternoon-only lift tickets for late risers rather than only full-day tickets, or special Sunday tickets for New Yorkers who plan to spend the afternoon driving home but want to ski in the morning.

The ski industry is less directly affected by technological developments like the Internet than many other industries, yet the most important thing to the industry–the customers–are feeling its effects every day.  As customers’ day to day lives change, The Long Tail makes the case for the ski industry– and every other industry to change along with consumer habits.  If a company can do what Anderson defines as two imperatives to creating a thriving Long Tail business, they can succeed:

1) Make everything available.

2)Help me find it.

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Social Media + Ethics = Mess

I always enjoy seeing familiar names in the media, so it was interesting to see Andrew Noyes quoted in the New York Times article I was reading with this blog post in mind. Noyes recently spoke at an Ogilvy Exchange held at my work about Gov 2.0.

In Ethical Quandary for Social Sites, Jennifer Preston looks at something that recent events (covered in a few previous blog posts) have called into question: “whether a company should maintain its commitment to remain neutral about content, even when politicized content could offend users or even put people in danger.”  Most sites with social aspects have terms of service that they can turn to in cases of questionable content, but the article points out that Flickr does not always enforce its own rules.

Andrew Noyes of Facebook sums up the view of many sites— “We want Facebook to be a place where people can openly discuss ideas and express their views, while respecting the rights and feelings of others.” In other words, they want to serve as a forum for their uses to communicate much like they would in other parts of their lives— what is said via text, email, and spoken word can also be communicated on Facebook (and on Twitter, on Flickr, and YouTube, to name a few).

Clearly Mark Zuckerburg never thought that by creating the next “hot or not” he would enter into a situation where the Israeli government has big asks— but now that is the case.  While a strict terms of service can help to justify removal of posts that incite violence, or of users who are not using their full names, if it is not always enforced (although realistically, that is not possible), isn’t it stifling to enforce the T.O.S. only in the controversial cases?

I don’t think that this article demonstrates the “end” of this issue in the social media realm— but if a site takes down a page at the request of a government/organization, it becomes a slippery slope— who is to say that the next person to request removal of a page does not deserve their wishes granted, as well?  And what role does a social media site play in these ethical/political/social struggles?

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Online and offline integration: there is no baseline

In a world where “there is no baseline,” Year One of Organizing for America tries to provide an aerial view of the activities of the group that formed out of the coalition that mobilized and elected President Obama.

The group is so large that it more or less embodies everything that a campaign can— in both the online and offline realms.  Offline, activities range from petition drives to local events and meetings, and online, activities include the extensive email list and dedicated community-building.  Communications with policy makers are encouraged both online and offline.

For the Obama campaign, digital media interaction actually did cause behavior in real life— the ultimate end-goal for most campaigns whether they aim to sell a product, encourage someone to quit smoking, watch a television show, or support an idea.  New media actual drove political action, like fundraising, event attendance, voter registration, and, ultimately, votes!  An effort as large is this is great because it shows the importance of tailored efforts.  For example, activities around health care were scaled back or increased depending on political action.

Despite the fact that it is an integral part of my job, I had never really stepped back to consider the importance of online and offline campaign integration.  The importance of this cannot be overstressed— not just for political campaigns, either.  It’s proven that the more times people see a message, the more likely they are to absorb it, and the more places a message lives, the more likely people are to see it more than once.  For example, Old Spice’s new advertising campaign is prevalent not only on YouTube, but on television, and I’ve also seen numerous Tweets and a few Facebook posts about it.

This concept was stressed at work this week as well— my employers’ Ogilvy Notes initiative gained much favorable coverage, including from Mashable, proving that sometimes the perfect compliment to something highly digital is something that’s about as old-fashioned as it gets.

In that light, Mobilizing Generation 2.0 was a very interesting compliment to the Organizing for America case study.  While there were some things I did not agree with (e.g., that young adults respond to traditional outreach such as phone calls at the same rates as older adults), on the whole it was a fantastic look at the lives of the newest voters— of which I am a part.  I could definitely relate to many parts of the book, seeing as I am among those who do not have a digital component to their lives, instead, digital is integrated into all of the things that I do.

The overarching theme of the book is that while new platforms are great ways to reach audiences, what’s crucial is the relationship building that these platforms allow, and thus participation in social networks requires research and strategies.  Knowing your audience is key— if you don’t know how they use a platform, how will you know how to reach them?  That’s where this book comes in handy— though it’s a bit out of date, it’s a great learning manual from Rock the Vote— an organization fully intrenched in the subject matter.

The book identifies Millennials as being politically involved, civically active, tech savvy, and influential— making them a group any organization would be remiss not to target.  What the book boils down to is: how can we activate this group ONLINE to mobilize them OFFLINE?  Through blogs, social networks, mobile phones, wikis, maps, and video and photo sharing: that’s how.

A few best practices from the book: authenticity is key — communicate like a person, not like a computer.  Know your audience and your influencers — influencers have their pulse on the audience, and have a wide, authentic reach. By reinforcing offline action with online support, Millennials can be driven to take action and can define a campaign.

Although there is no baseline— one thing is key.  Online relationships that can transition to offline interactions are extremely valuable, and learning to develop those types of relationships is key for the future of politicians, organizations, and corporations.

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Is Twitter just another place to run your mouth?

Lately, it seems that social media has converged with current events more than ever before.  But as much as the media is covering uprisings in the Middle East that are using social networks to mobilize, they are covering embarrassing gaffes by people who should know better.

For example, an employee of New Media Strategies (the workplace of a friend of mine) accidentally tweeted from the account of a client, @ChryslerAutos; “I find it ironic that Detroit is known as the #motorcity and yet no one here knows how to fucking drive.”  Clearly, the Tweet was meant to be sent from a personal account, but it was not deleted before some of the account’s nearly 9,000 followers retweeted the tweet— making actual deletion impossible.  The employee was fired, and the firm is enduring even more backlash, with Chrysler refusing to renew their contract.  The tweet was covered far and wide, from The New York Times to Mashable.

While the New Media Strategies/Chrysler incident was embarrassing and the employee should have never tweeted (even from a personal account) something that could be perceived so negatively by the client, clearly it was a mistake.  What’s even more damaging for reputations is when Twitter reveals that people held in high-regard are just ignorant racists.  For example, Cappie Pondexter, (@cappa23) a WNBA star with the New York Liberty tweeted that the earthquake and tsunami in Japan probably happened because “they did pearl harbor so u can’t expect anything less,” and stated that “What if God was tired of the way they treated their own people in there own country! Idk guys he makes no mistakes.”  Not only do these remarks make her look racist—they make her look just plain stupid and insensitive.

A final incident that caught recent media attention was at the expense of Gilbert Gottfried, a comedian of Aflac duck-voice fame.  He also tweeted (@RealGilbert) disparaging remarks about the earthquake/tsunami in Japan— one of Aflac’s largest markets.  Aflac let him go and pulled all commercials with his voice.

In an era where media interviews are no longer the only way to connect with the public, are politicians and other public figures more at risk than ever of committing gaffes that hurt their reputations?  Or is there so much clamor that no one even notices everything but the big stuff?  I think that this just reinforces the necessity for proofreading.  It is essential for people to remember that tone does not come across well online— so a backhanded remark meant to be funny can actually be quite damaging (i.e., Kenneth Cole’s tweet about uproar in Cairo).

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