Monday, December 29, 2008

Working with Social Media (1)

As a part of my ongoing study of online social media, I've been looking at YouTube (YT). I think there are some significant opportunities here for my organization (a major not-for-profit) to tap into a burgeoning communications phenomenon and build our brand significantly.

Most of what we see and hear of YT consists of independently uploaded videos from users to the YT home site. This is how hundreds (if not thousands) of organizationally-related pieces have already been posted on the YT site. There are other options for us, however.

1. We can integrate You Tube controls (widgets) into our own site(s) in an embedded player. This would bring some of the brand power of YT to our own advantage, giving visitors a familiar means of searching and playing back video. YT freely distributes the proprietary code (API) to make this possible. We'd use it to add a YT link and button to our public-facing site. This code can be applied to authenticated sites as well--allowing us to YT brand our video on the MyBSA site. In this option, we would upload our own videos to our own YT account. Their API also enables commenting and rating, which would add powerfully to the value of both our authenticated and public sites.

2. We may be able to establish a BSA-branded site under YouTube itself. Here, we could build the BSA brand by exploiting the YT brand even more fully. YT has a program for qualifying non-profits that allows them a self-branded spot on the You Tube Channel. The page would offer full YT functionality and content under our own control. There are additional options: taking donations (through am affordance in the Google API). And of course, offering a place to submit registration inquiries. A fine example of a non-profit adoption of this is the World Bank Channel ( This option needs to be applied for, and we have not done that as yet.

Both of these options allow us to leverage YT and our own sites to cross-plug one another. In the first option, we'd make our site somewhat more "mainstream" looking and functional. In the second, we'd use our YT video description field and branded banner URL to drive users to our public website, and link them back from there to our branded YouTube channel, all the while encouraging users to comment on what they see. All of this content would reside on the YT server.

Even though the YT component is "free", adopting either option will call for more intensive management of our online video assets than we currently afford ourselves. Aside from the work required to build the API into our site design, we'd be entering a post-broadcast use of video in which user feedback is encouraged and reported. We'd need to be very selective about what we post on our behalf, and we'd have to keep it fresh. The good news is that there is a lot of perfectly wholesome video out there, already being posted by our members and friends. Establishment of a YT window for video can help us project a positive image, coming not just from our professional ranks but from members. That’s what “movements” look like.

We have a similar opportunity at Flickr, for still images, and at FaceBook, to extend our reach via a popular online brand. In future papers, I’ll look at opportunities these and related social apps can provide.

An underlying assumption here is that our brand will benefit from collaboration with these widely used sites. Not only do YouTube and FaceBook reach a far broader audience than anything official coming out of our HQ, they tap into a very favorable demographic for recruiting among youth and young families. Appearing here can do a lot to shape our image among heavy online users.

But we will have to do more than just publish here. We’ll need to interact. Aside from an occasional press release our organization has little public voice. The CSE's Blog is the closest we’ve come to an ongoing presentation of ideas and interpretation of events. To date, we’ve chosen to limit this content to an internal professional audience. Why not re-tune the idea and enter into the public space with it? Why not add the occasional editorial from the President, or other prominent internal spokespersont? One concern that will be raised of course is the “ lightning rod” effect. Won’t this expose us to more criticism? Sure it will. But occasional criticism is the price of gaining public attention. We can’t run from that and expect to be considered part of “mainstream” American culture.

Friday, December 12, 2008

The big ideas

Every year, I think it would be a good idea to drag these out and see if they still apply. Then, tell a story abut how each idea has occured in my experience.

Monday, December 08, 2008

The next big deal in cameras?

Canon and Nikon now offer cameras that combine HD Video capture with high-end stills in a 35MM SLR form factor. The Canon EOS 5D MKII and the Nikon D90 cost 2900 and 1000 dollars respectively. More models are sure to come from others as well as the two camera biggies in the next few months.

Could these be the beginning of a new generation of hybrid tools suited to the photojournalistic and documentary missions? It's hard not to overstate the promise here: a tool that costs under a grand (the Nikon, anyway) but offers production values unheard of at over twenty times that price just a few years ago.

The first widely-seen work on this new device is a thrill to look at:

The audio capability is very limited on the Nikon camera, but better with the Canon. There's a rudimentary on-body mic on the former, but no provision for external input from your higher-end audio gear, forcing one to use a dual system record setup for now. That's gonna change.

I know my "tipping point" to a purchase: the next Nikon DSLR +HD Cam that comes along with pro audio hookups and >30minute clip limit.

The question is, who will use these and how?

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Thoughts on leaving "management"

Well, it's time for me to leave this job and pick up another. I'll be an "individual contributor" for a while, maybe for good. I will miss the people on my team. I will wonder how they will do under new leadership. I will wonder what we have each learned from one another during mine.

It took me a long time, but I think have finally learned something about leadership and teamwork.
Leadership is what it takes to produce teamwork. Teamwork is essential to real productivity. So how do you succeed at being a manager of people?

I've given this a lot of thought over 18 years of people-management. I've finally learned that you don't "manage" people, in any direct sense and you certainly do not create a team by issuing instructions. Many factors go into the "team" behavior of a given group: setting, history, individual drive and capability, external challenges, and sheer accident: they all come down to something very simple: trust.

You do that by working with yourself first. The burden of proof will always work against you.

Behavior trumps claims. You cannot merely ask to be trusted. You must act so that others learn you can be trusted.

Paradoxically, you have to place trust others, even when you have insufficient evidence to do so.

When you let others down, expect to work a good while to re-gain their trust. When people let you down, you have to give them the benefit of the doubt.

As the leader, you create the atmosphere for trust to be learned. Eventually, most people will live up to your example.

No matter what you do, not everyone will strive to be trust-able to the rest of the team. The hardest part of being a manager is to know when it's time to take a person off the team. When that determination is made, it's essential to act decisively.

This simple but nearly useless bit of wisdom is all I can manage.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Appreciating Obama's Speech Style

We've got a new super-communicator on the political scene. Like him or not (I do), Barack Obama and his cadre of young speechwriters are treating us to some of the finest examples of oratory we've seen in years. So, as a communications buff, I'd like to reflect a bit on the Obama style. Below is the full text of his June 4th speech:

Tonight, after fifty-four hard-fought contests, our primary season has finally come to an end.

Sixteen months have passed since we first stood together on the steps of the Old State Capitol in Springfield, Illinois. Thousands of miles have been traveled. Millions of voices have been heard. And because of what you said – because you decided that change must come to Washington; because you believed that this year must be different than all the rest; because you chose to listen not to your doubts or your fears but to your greatest hopes and highest aspirations, tonight we mark the end of one historic journey with the beginning of another – a journey that will bring a new and better day to America. Tonight, I can stand before you and say that I will be the Democratic nominee for President of the United States.
Note the hallmarks of this style:
repetition, parallel construction
at the phrase and sentence level
(in classical rhetoric, "Anaphora") and alliteration.

A "journey" figure is established
placing the candidate in history.

I want to thank every American who stood with us over the course of this campaign – through the good days and the bad; from the snows of Cedar Rapids to the sunshine of Sioux Falls. And tonight I also want to thank the men and woman who took this journey with me as fellow candidates for President.
Alliteration again in the "s" consonants
and a vivid image suggesting seasonal change.
The "journey" figure is restated,
now referring to his fellow candidates.

At this defining moment for our nation, we should be proud that our party put forth one of the most talented, qualified field of individuals ever to run for this office. I have not just competed with them as rivals, I have learned from them as friends, as public servants, and as patriots who love America and are willing to work tirelessly to make this country better. They are leaders of this party, and leaders that America will turn to for years to come.

He praises his competitors, an act of humility.

That is particularly true for the candidate who has traveled further on this journey than anyone else. Senator Hillary Clinton has made history in this campaign not just because she’s a woman who has done what no woman has done before, but because she’s a leader who inspires millions of Americans with her strength, her courage, and her commitment to the causes that brought us here tonight.
"Journey" and "history" are repeated, reinforcing
the importance of all of these events.
He's building a context for something
even more portentious.

We’ve certainly had our differences over the last sixteen months. But as someone who’s shared a stage with her many times, I can tell you that what gets Hillary Clinton up in the morning – even in the face of tough odds – is exactly what sent her and Bill Clinton to sign up for their first campaign in Texas all those years ago; what sent her to work at the Children’s Defense Fund and made her fight for health care as First Lady; what led her to the United States Senate and fueled her barrier-breaking campaign for the presidency – an unyielding desire to improve the lives of ordinary Americans, no matter how difficult the fight may be. And you can rest assured that when we finally win the battle for universal health care in this country, she will be central to that victory. When we transform our energy policy and lift our children out of poverty, it will be because she worked to help make it happen. Our party and our country are better off because of her, and I am a better candidate for having had the honor to compete with Hillary Rodham Clinton.

There are those who say that this primary has somehow left us weaker and more divided. Well I say that because of this primary, there are millions of Americans who have cast their ballot for the very first time. There are Independents and Republicans who understand that this election isn’t just about the party in charge of Washington, it’s about the need to change Washington. There are young people, and African-Americans, and Latinos, and women of all ages who have voted in numbers that have broken records and inspired a nation.

All of you chose to support a candidate you believe in deeply. But at the end of the day, we aren’t the reason you came out and waited in lines that stretched block after block to make your voice heard. You didn’t do that because of me or Senator Clinton or anyone else. You did it because you know in your hearts that at this moment – a moment that will define a generation – we cannot afford to keep doing what we’ve been doing. We owe our children a better future. We owe our country a better future. And for all those who dream of that future tonight, I say – let us begin the work together. Let us unite in common effort to chart a new course for America.

In just a few short months, the Republican Party will arrive in St. Paul with a very different agenda. They will come here to nominate John McCain, a man who has served this country heroically. I honor that service, and I respect his many accomplishments, even if he chooses to deny mine. My differences with him are not personal; they are with the policies he has proposed in this campaign.

Because while John McCain can legitimately tout moments of independence from his party in the past, such independence has not been the hallmark of his presidential campaign.

It’s not change when John McCain decided to stand with George Bush ninety-five percent of the time, as he did in the Senate last year.

It’s not change when he offers four more years of Bush economic policies that have failed to create well-paying jobs, or insure our workers, or help Americans afford the skyrocketing cost of college – policies that have lowered the real incomes of the average American family, widened the gap between Wall Street and Main Street, and left our children with a mountain of debt.

And it’s not change when he promises to continue a policy in Iraq that asks everything of our brave men and women in uniform and nothing of Iraqi politicians – a policy where all we look for are reasons to stay in Iraq, while we spend billions of dollars a month on a war that isn’t making the American people any safer.

So I’ll say this – there are many words to describe John McCain’s attempt to pass off his embrace of George Bush’s policies as bipartisan and new. But change is not one of them.

Change is a foreign policy that doesn’t begin and end with a war that should’ve never been authorized and never been waged. I won’t stand here and pretend that there are many good options left in Iraq, but what’s not an option is leaving our troops in that country for the next hundred years – especially at a time when our military is overstretched, our nation is isolated, and nearly every other threat to America is being ignored.

We must be as careful getting out of Iraq as we were careless getting in - but start leaving we must. It’s time for Iraqis to take responsibility for their future. It’s time to rebuild our military and give our veterans the care they need and the benefits they deserve when they come home. It’s time to refocus our efforts on al Qaeda’s leadership and Afghanistan, and rally the world against the common threats of the 21st century – terrorism and nuclear weapons; climate change and poverty; genocide and disease. That’s what change is.

Change is realizing that meeting today’s threats requires not just our firepower, but the power of our diplomacy – tough, direct diplomacy where the President of the United States isn’t afraid to let any petty dictator know where America stands and what we stand for. We must once again have the courage and conviction to lead the free world. That is the legacy of Roosevelt, and Truman, and Kennedy. That’s what the American people want. That’s what change is.

Change is building an economy that rewards not just wealth, but the work and workers who created it. It’s understanding that the struggles facing working families can’t be solved by spending billions of dollars on more tax breaks for big corporations and wealthy CEOs, but by giving a the middle-class a tax break, and investing in our crumbling infrastructure, and transforming how we use energy, and improving our schools, and renewing our commitment to science and innovation. It’s understanding that fiscal responsibility and shared prosperity can go hand-in-hand, as they did when Bill Clinton was President.

John McCain has spent a lot of time talking about trips to Iraq in the last few weeks, but maybe if he spent some time taking trips to the cities and towns that have been hardest hit by this economy – cities in Michigan, and Ohio, and right here in Minnesota – he’d understand the kind of change that people are looking for.

Maybe if he went to Iowa and met the student who works the night shift after a full day of class and still can’t pay the medical bills for a sister who’s ill, he’d understand that she can’t afford four more years of a health care plan that only takes care of the healthy and wealthy. She needs us to pass health care plan that guarantees insurance to every American who wants it and brings down premiums for every family who needs it. That’s the change we need.

Maybe if he went to Pennsylvania and met the man who lost his job but can’t even afford the gas to drive around and look for a new one, he’d understand that we can’t afford four more years of our addiction to oil from dictators. That man needs us to pass an energy policy that works with automakers to raise fuel standards, and makes corporations pay for their pollution, and oil companies invest their record profits in a clean energy future – an energy policy that will create millions of new jobs that pay well and can’t be outsourced. That’s the change we need.

And maybe if he spent some time in the schools of South Carolina or St. Paul or where he spoke tonight in New Orleans, he’d understand that we can’t afford to leave the money behind for No Child Left Behind; that we owe it to our children to invest in early childhood education; to recruit an army of new teachers and give them better pay and more support; to finally decide that in this global economy, the chance to get a college education should not be a privilege for the wealthy few, but the birthright of every American. That’s the change we need in America. That’s why I’m running for President.

The other side will come here in September and offer a very different set of policies and positions, and that is a debate I look forward to. It is a debate the American people deserve. But what you don’t deserve is another election that’s governed by fear, and innuendo, and division. What you won’t hear from this campaign or this party is the kind of politics that uses religion as a wedge, and patriotism as a bludgeon – that sees our opponents not as competitors to challenge, but enemies to demonize. Because we may call ourselves Democrats and Republicans, but we are Americans first. We are always Americans first.

Despite what the good Senator from Arizona said tonight, I have seen people of differing views and opinions find common cause many times during my two decades in public life, and I have brought many together myself. I’ve walked arm-in-arm with community leaders on the South Side of Chicago and watched tensions fade as black, white, and Latino fought together for good jobs and good schools. I’ve sat across the table from law enforcement and civil rights advocates to reform a criminal justice system that sent thirteen innocent people to death row. And I’ve worked with friends in the other party to provide more children with health insurance and more working families with a tax break; to curb the spread of nuclear weapons and ensure that the American people know where their tax dollars are being spent; and to reduce the influence of lobbyists who have all too often set the agenda in Washington.

In our country, I have found that this cooperation happens not because we agree on everything, but because behind all the labels and false divisions and categories that define us; beyond all the petty bickering and point-scoring in Washington, Americans are a decent, generous, compassionate people, united by common challenges and common hopes. And every so often, there are moments which call on that fundamental goodness to make this country great again.

So it was for that band of patriots who declared in a Philadelphia hall the formation of a more perfect union; and for all those who gave on the fields of Gettysburg and Antietam their last full measure of devotion to save that same union.

So it was for the Greatest Generation that conquered fear itself, and liberated a continent from tyranny, and made this country home to untold opportunity and prosperity.

So it was for the workers who stood out on the picket lines; the women who shattered glass ceilings; the children who braved a Selma bridge for freedom’s cause.

So it has been for every generation that faced down the greatest challenges and the most improbable odds to leave their children a world that’s better, and kinder, and more just.

And so it must be for us.

America, this is our moment. This is our time. Our time to turn the page on the policies of the past. Our time to bring new energy and new ideas to the challenges we face. Our time to offer a new direction for the country we love.

The journey will be difficult. The road will be long. I face this challenge with profound humility, and knowledge of my own limitations. But I also face it with limitless faith in the capacity of the American people. Because if we are willing to work for it, and fight for it, and believe in it, then I am absolutely certain that generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless; this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal; this was the moment when we ended a war and secured our nation and restored our image as the last, best hope on Earth. This was the moment – this was the time – when we came together to remake this great nation so that it may always reflect our very best selves, and our highest ideals. Thank you, God Bless you, and may God Bless the United States of America.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Audience to Actience (2)

(Today;'s NYT heralds another wrinkle in the emergence of actiences: the Wii exercise machine:)

"Women, parents, even nursing-home residents have been drawn to the Wii’s simple evocations of games such as tennis and bowling. The Wii has become the best-selling game machine of the current generation, selling more than 25 million worldwide, and remains scarce on store shelves across the nation.

Now Nintendo’s latest brainchild, Wii Fit, could send similar ripples through the home-fitness market. Scheduled to be released in North America next week, Wii Fit is not meant to replace a gym. But in a world of $3,000 elliptical machines and $150-an-hour personal trainers, it has at least a chance of becoming a global, affordable, mass-market interactive home-fitness system. (On its overseas debut last month, it became one of the fastest-selling games ever in Britain.)

Exercising with Wii Fit is like having a Bob Harper or a Denise Austin who talks back — gently cajoling you through exercises, praising, nudging, even reminding you to eat a banana once in a while. It also lets you see how you stack up against friends or family members; each user creates a cartoony avatar called a “Mii.”

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Audiences to actiences

I’ve been thinking a lot about audiences lately. We've all tended to think of audiences as passive, enthralled by us, totally attending to our presentation. But this old engraving suggests a more knowing reality.

Our audiences may be present, sitting politely in their chairs, but who knows what they are thinking? The artist seems to say, "Yes, there are some enjoying the show, but there are other things that may be more immediate and interesting to the audience, like each other.”

They aren't really an audience if they aren't listening. So you really haven't counted what “counts” if you count the bodies or the "eyeballs" in the online world.

Suppose I get up and speak for 5 minutes. If there are 100 people in the room, more or less listening to me, I figure I'll get 500 minutes of net attention. That’s just about 8 hours. Not bad for one ordinary person.

But the big audiences have changed. In 1956, when we had just 3 national television channels, 81% of all American TV sets were tuned in to see the “Lucy Goes to the Hospital”episode. Multiplying that audience by the 30 minutes it was on the air, I figure Lucy got 22 million hours of net attention. Makes my 8 hours look pretty pathetic.

The fact is of course that the share of audience was much better (when there were three major networks and no cable ) than anybody gets these days. Those were the glory days of audiences.
But audiences are getting harder to come by. Attention is now scarce too. Both attention and audience are getting expensive, and choosy.

In 2008 for instance, a long-haired fellow of modest talents, a Mr. Jason Castro, appears on American Idol for weekly appearances over a few months. Multiply the show's rated audience of 27 million and, giving Jason say, four minutes of airtime, he gets 18million hours of attention. Almost as much as Lucy, albeit with a much smaller share (31% of television homes) of a much bigger pie. Not incidentally, Jason is there because this audience votes on the continued presence of the would-be "idols".

A voting audience has more skin in the game, no?

Niko Bellic is the antihero of Grand Theft Auto IV. This new video game is selling like crazy. Industry watchers predict that GTA IV could sell over 12 million units in its first year. This is a game of course, not a linear presentation, although it looks more like a realistically animated movie thn a game. The producers claim that there is 60 hours of total story arc to be explored within the numerous choice points embedded in the action.

Now we have to re-appraise our net attention measure. Multiplying the expected sales of 12 million units times 60 hours nets a whopping 460 million hours of attention--beating Lucy and the American Idols by an order of magnitude. GTA users say that this interactive experience is "compelling" and "addictive". You really can’t call these users an "audience" in the old-fashioned passive sense.

The users of such multimedia entertainments are now making hundreds of choices, driving the action forward. They have become actors (in the broadest sense of the word). And here's a final HUGE point: Unlike TV or movies, (and more like books) nothing happens unless the users are attending and acting.

Attention is the game. How do contemporary media get it?
Next time you pass through an airport, stop at the magazine rack. The eye-stopping images appeal to our basic drives: food, sex and shelter. No changes in subject matter from month to month, just the images. This may grab us but holding attention takes a bit more work.

Just as we are hardwired to look at nubile human beings, our attention is drawn to what’s shiny and moves (reptilian brain). What psychologists call the “orienting reflex” draws our attention to movement in our visual field. We evolved this way so we could see our dinner before it saw us. Even six-month old babies will sit and stare at a televison.

It’s hard for any adult NOT to watch a car chase. But movement alone only goes so far. We get drawn into the magazines (or movies, or TV shows) with STORY. Lucy, GTA IV and even untalented Jason all hook us with STORY. The next step up in the media battle for our minds is to draw us into the ACTION. Idol does a this with audience voting; onlime media get us clicking, putting us into action even more immediately.

Play is the next level of involvement. GTA does it by letting us cheat, steal and bang away at the characters. We have a growing “playdience” of those who game online and on computers. The numbers for gaming are staggering. Over the course of the first quarter, total hardware sales absolutely ballooned 94 percent to $1.3 billion, with console hardware again comprising most of that total—$958 million (a 129 percent increase).

They say that GTA is a rush. I’m not so sure that’s a good thing, but it may tell us something about the future of media. Maybe the old notion of audience needs to be replaced with what you might call a growing actience.

You coud define actience as any group of media users who, simultaneously or independently, attend to and actively engage in a media object, changing it's eventual performance. Those media objects that enable actiences have mechansims that enable play, choice, design, or other elicted behavior whic arise from outside the media object itself. More straightforwardly: an actience exerts control of the presentation in some way.

To the extent that the online users of today are shopping, buying, donating to candidates and causes, mapping, designing, commenting, arguing, and voting they are actiences. They are also blogging or, shooting their own video and photos, and in many cases are creating their own applications.

For those of us who consider ourselves communicators, we need to leave "audiences" behind and create actiences. (more to come)