Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘reputation management’ Category

I was inspired by Chris Brogan’s post today in which he discusses confidence and conviction. Before you read my comment (below), go check out his post and come back. Here are some highlights:

The guest at the table next to mine asked their server, “What do you think of the halibut special?”

The server replied, “I’m not really sure. What did you have in mind when you came in? You know, people really are much happier when they have something in mind. I think it’s okay. I’ve sold a lot of it. I haven’t personally tried it, but it looks good.”

All I was thinking was, if I were the server, I’d say this:

“It’s a great presentation: crispy top and served over our lime rice. I’ve sold lots of it today.”

[…]

No waffling allowed.

Confidence and conviction are the key to many things in life.

A frequent critic (and someone I admire a lot), Ben Kunz, once said something like this about me (not his exact words): “What I hate most about you is that you always sound like you know exactly what you’re talking about, and that’s dangerous.”

I took this to be a great compliment. Again, I admire Ben a lot. He doesn’t let me rest on my laurels.

I take great pride in my confidence and conviction in matters that are important to me. I use confidence as a leadership trait all the time. And I admit when I’m wrong as often as is necessary to make those two traits worth a damn.

This got me thinking. This is a pretty important topic, especially given Ben’s “dangerous” comment thrown in. It may not seem like it, but confidence and conviction are two of the most important building blocks of professional competence. And in an “industry” (Social Media) drowning in incompetence, the danger isn’t that someone should speak with conviction about what they are competent in. Incompetence posing as competence is the danger, not confidence and conviction. Here is my response to Chris’ post:

Reminds me of rule #3: Know your sh*t. As a waiter, an executive, a cultural anthropologist, a politician, a teacher, a doctor or whatever. Just know your sh*t. A waiter who hasn’t tasted everything on the menu isn’t taking their job seriously.

Knowing exactly what you’re talking about isn’t dangerous. It just means that when you bother to open your mouth, you aren’t just making monkey noises for the sake of getting attention. You speak with purpose about something you know about. I’ve watched you in action, Chris. If the common advice is to listen 80% of the time and talk 20% of it, you have the uncommon trait of pushing the ratio to its limits: You listen about 95% of the time and talk 5% of it, if that. That tells me that when you DO say something, I had better listen. And so far, even what you think is just improv is still seeped in insight. You have good instincts, Chris. It’s why you rarely say something dumb.

Likewise, when you don’t know something, you have no problem saying “I don’t know but let’s find out,” which takes confidence as well, and lays the foundations for conviction when someone asks the question again next time and you actually know the answer.

With all due respect to Ben, the danger isn’t to speak with confidence and conviction about things you know. The danger is to speak with false confidence and a facade of conviction about things you don’t know well enough. Too many people choose the latter as their MO. You don’t. It’s why I read your stuff.

We saw this last year with the Social Media R.O.I. debacle, which few of the self-professed “experts” and “gurus” who blabbed about the “mysterious” acronym bothered to even look up in wikepedia, much less learn about from a business class or an actual management job. Instead of either learning how to define R.O.I. or (god forbid) tie to a P&L, many just made up their own versions. Others dismissed the need for R.O.I. completely. Precious few admitted that R.O.I. was outside of their expertise, which was the right thing to do. The professional thing to do.

Here’s a tip: Community managers don’t necessarily need to be experts in R.O.I. – Case in point: If you’re an expert in customer service on Twitter, or community management, or online reputation management, speak with confidence and conviction about that. The guy responding to negative comments on facebook doesn’t need to be an expert in doing anything but creating content and managing positive and negative comments. The R.O.I. piece, let it go to someone better equipped and trained to deal with it. Leave the stuff you don’t know to people who DO know. Businesses need real expertise, not smoke and mirrors and made-up “expertise.”

As an aside, you will get a lot further in life by learning how to get good at something than pretending to be good at something you suck at.

Don’t lie. Don’t make it up, hoping you won’t get found out. Learn what you can, be honest about what you know and don’t know yet, and make sure that you know what you’re talking about before opening your mouth. In other words, just know your sh*t.

Read Full Post »

You guys asked for me to re-post this piece, and your wish is my command. Share this with hiring managers, your CMO, and everyone looking into considering either creating or filling a position requiring Social Media management skills:

Tip #1: Social Media Directors should know how to do their jobs without having to ask for help every five minutes:

So I look down and the (twitter) DM reads: “Hey, can you help me out? Not sure how to do this. How do I use Twitter to gain traction for my company? Thanks!” I stare at it for a while and decide to blow it off for now, not because I have better things to do (which I do) and not because I don’t really have time to build a Twitter business plan for this person right this second (which I don’t), but because that DM comes from a newly minted Social Media Director at a fairly visible company who basically just asked me to help them hold on to a job they obviously didn’t deserve to be hired for.

I slide my Blackberry Storm into my back pocket and find myself flashbacking to 11th grade: It’s final exams time and I am in hour two of IB Biology. The essay section. One of the kids in my class is behind me, gently kicking my chair, whispering, begging me to move my scrap/notes where they can read them.

And I am almost tempted to do it.

That same conversation starts taking place in my head. I’m in a position to help someone in need. But wait… cheating is cheating. Don’t do it. But still, I feel that I should help. Arrrgh…

I reach for the blackberry, launch Twitterberry (which is not my favorite app, by the way), and respond: “Wait… You got the job, right? Don’t you know how to do this? Isn’t that why you were hired?”

For hours, no response. And then it comes. “Yeah, but I’m in a little over my head. I’ve never worked with Social Media in a business context before. ;)”

Again. This from a Director-level individual now working for a pretty well known company.

Not cool.

I suffer through similar exchanges weekly now, and I am not happy about it. What does this trend say about what types of people are going after Social Media management jobs – and landing them with alarming frequency these days? At the very least, I am worried about how this is going to end up hurting Social Media’s legitimacy in the business world. (Watch the video for my reasoning on this specific point.)

If the video doesn’t launch, you can go watch it here. Thanks, Viddler).

Tip #2: There are three types of people currently vying for Social Media Management jobs. Be very careful whom you consider for this key position:

With this disturbing development weighing on me more and more these past few months, I’ve been thinking long and hard about what is going on in the Social Media “management” world, and I’ve basically come down to two conclusions: The first (which we’ll get back to in a few minutes) is that the qualifications of Social Media Directors may not be entirely clear to the folks interviewing and hiring applicants for those positions. The second is that as a result of this, confusion, we are now looking at three distinct types of Social Media Directors/Managers scampering about in the corporate world, some good, some okay, and some really bad.

The first type is the best type: These folks are super smart, talented, experienced in a broad range of disciplines, have an established footprint in the Social Media space (through blogs, Twitter, Ning, various communities), are recognized as thought leaders (or as emerging thought leaders), and are unquestionably passionate about what they do. Folks like Chris Brogan, Frank Eliason, Amber Naslund, Mack Collier, Beth Harte, Valeria Maltoni, etc. These are folks who are truly writing the book on how to build social media practices and smoothly integrate them in the organizations they work with.

The second type isn’t quite as savvy, but it isn’t lacking in talent, smarts and enthusiasm. These are people who basically don’t know how to be Social Media directors yet, but are learning fast. And most importantly, they are completely open about the fact that they are still in that learning stage, which means that their employers are okay with it. In spite of the fact that they are still very junior, the companies they work for saw in them a lot of potential and decided to hire them toward that end. (I dig people like this a lot.)

The third type is what I would call the bad type. Not bad as in cool, but rather… bad as in unethical, inept and unprofessional. These are the con artists. The shams. The hacks. The folks whose egos and selfishness led them to a moment in their lives when they unapologetically took a job they knew they weren’t qualified for. And now here they are: Social Media Director for Company ABC, soon to move over to Company XYZ, and so on. One position validating the next, one impressive brand on their resume justifying consideration by the next, and so it goes: A perpetual daisy chain of high profile Social Media management job built on unadulterated douchebaggery and thinly-disguised mediocrity.

(Ironically, this third group tends to be the same one that perpetuates the notion that Social Media ROI either doesn’t exist or is “unwise” to try and measure. Yeah. Convenient, isn’t it?)

Note: Having been a Social Media manager for a major brand doesn’t mean jackaloo. Don’t fall for the old name-dropping trick. Even if the applicant was indeed “Social Media VP” for superbrand XYZ, what did they accomplish while in the position? What did they actually do? Hint: You don’t want to be some idiot’s next unfortunate employer. Don’t let someone’s previous job title dazzle you. We’ve already established that any idiot  with a little game can be a Social Media Director these days. Be careful.

Tip #3: Before we go on, here are some red flags to help you identify deadbeat Social Media Directors:

A) Every time you see a major global consumer brand engaging with less than 5% of its active (vocal) customers on a popular Social Media platform like Twitter after 8-10 months of activity, you can bet that their Social Media Director belongs to that third category.

B) If every time you walk into your monthly status meeting with your new Social Media Director and ask them for the latest, they either talk to you about Google analytics, confuse you with endless spreadsheets or launch into a “Social Media takes time” monologue, chances are that they belong to that third category.

C) If you ask your Social Media Director why their efforts aren’t scaling very fast or producing the numbers you expected and they give you a story about engagement not being a numbers game, chances are that they belong in that third category.*

D) If when you ask them for real business metrics, impact analysis and (god forbid) ROI and they either give you a blank stare or explain that these things don’t apply to Social Media, they probably belong to that third category.

E) If they measure Social Media effectiveness mostly in terms of “engagement metrics” and after six months, you still don’t understand what or how they are measuring “engagement” (most likely through some arcane equation that magically merges followers, the media value of a tweet and number of blog comments), guess what: Third category.

F) And when you ask them how they plan to integrate Social Media into customer service, Human Resources, Public Relations, Marketing, Business Development or any other silo in your organization and they schedule a later meeting to address that instead of answering on the spot, guess what category they probably belong to.

The thing about that third category is that they’ll never admit that they don’t know something. Because they get by every day by producing massive amounts of bulls**t, they will automatically default to making something up on the spot or deflecting questions with well crafted excuses. That’s their most damning trait, and what gives them away every time: They always know, and they’re never wrong (except… they don’t, and they are, and now you’re wise to it).

* Simple test to prove or disprove a “depth before breadth” response:

First – On Twitter, look at the number of brand mentions vs. the number of your brand’s account mentions. Big difference? Ask why. Then ask your Social Media Director what they are doing to raise awareness for your presence in the space. Breadth matters, no matter what your overpaid hack of a Social Media honcho tells you.

Second – Look at the number of comments directly aimed at your account. 20 per day? 50 per day? Now look at how many of these requests for attention were acknowledged with some sort of reply. 100%? 80%? Less than 25%? If your Social Media Director claims that they are focusing on depth of engagement instead of breadth, yet they only respond to less than half of the handshakes thrown at them daily, maybe it’s time you found out what he/she actually does with his/her time.

Tip #4: What should you be looking for in an applicant interested in becoming your next Social Media Director ? (The only Social Media Director requisition primer you’ll ever need)

I could go on with my indictment of poser Social Media Directors all day long, but I would rather put this post to a more productive use: Since so many of these hacks are getting through the recruiting filter, why don’t we focus on helping interviewers distinguish good applicants from bad ones, starting with some traits and skills they want and need in a Social Media Director. Think of this as a checklist for would-be Social Media Directors, and please feel free to add your own suggestions by leaving a comment.

  • Applicant has developed and managed marketing programs before. Not just campaigns but programs.
  • Applicant has had a continuous professional presence in the Social Media space (via blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Ning or other platforms) for at least one year.
  • Applicant has managed a business blog and/or business community for a minimum of one year.
  • Applicant has built or managed a community for longer than one year.
  • Applicant has at least two years of experience managing projects and working across organizational silos.
  • Applicant has managed a brand or product line for more than one year.
  • Applicant has demonstrated a strong ability to forge lasting relationships across a variety of media platforms over the course of his/her career.
  • Applicant understand the difference between vertical and lateral action when it comes to customer/community engagement – and has working knowledge of how to leverage both.
  • Applicant demonstrates a thorough knowledge of the Social Media space, including usage and demographic statistics for the most popular/relevant platforms as well as a few niche platforms of his/her choice.
  • Applicant has managed national market research projects.
  • Applicant demonstrates a thorough understanding of the nuances between Social Media platforms and the communities they serve. (Example: MySpace vs. Facebook or YouTube vs. Seesmic)
  • Applicant understands the breadth of tools and methods at his/her disposal to set goals and measure success in the Social Media space. (Applicant’s toolkit is not limited to Google analytics.)
  • Applicant can cite examples of companies with successful social media programs and companies with ineffective social media programs. He/she can also argue comfortably why each was either successful or unsuccessful.
  • Applicant has been active on Twitter for more than 8 months.
  • Applicant knows who Chris Brogan, Jeremiah Owyang and Peter Kim are.
  • Applicant is comfortable enough with business measurement methods to know the difference between financial impact (ROI) and non-financial impact. He/she also knows why the difference between the two is relevant.
  • Applicant demonstrates the ability to build and manage a Social Media practice that works seamlessly with PR, product marketing, event management and customer support teams within the organization.
  • Applicant has managed a work team for more than one year. He/she was responsible for the training and development of that team.
  • Applicant has spent at least one year in a project management role outside of an ad agency, PR or other Marketing firm.
  • Applicant can tell a personal story involving either Digg, Seesmic or both.
  • Applicant has been responsible for managing a budget/P&L.
  • Applicant demonstrates a high level of proficiency working with popular Social Media platforms and apps such as FaceBook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Flickr, Ning, Seesmic, YouTube, FriendFeed, WordPress, FriendFeed and Tumblr.
  • Applicant is capable of mapping out a basic Social Media monitoring plan on a cocktail napkin.
  • Applicant is more excited about engagement, building an internal practice and finding out about your business’ pain points than he/she is about firebombing you with the full scope of their Social Media skills’ awesomeness.
  • Applicant already has the framework of a Social Media plan for your company before he/she even walks through the front door, and thankfully, it doesn’t involve setting up a fan page on FaceBook.
  • Applicant actually knows how to use Twitter to help your company build brand equity online and offline without having to DM people like me for newbie level help.

Your turn. What do you think is missing from this checklist?

Let me know if this is helpful. Please, please, please, for the love of puppies, STOP. Don’t hire “that guy” because his resume says he worked with Brand XYZ in Digital or Social. It isn’t enough. (Who hasn’t?) Dig deeper. Get knowledgeable about this space. Don’t get suckered into hiring an unscrupulous hack job looking for another free ride off an unsuspecting company.

If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask.

One last thing: Will this topic be covered in Red Chair executive trainings (the next one is in Portland, OR on March 11)? You bet. To register for the Portland event, click here. (The first 5 registrations get $100 off, so sign up fast!)

Read Full Post »

An astute brand valuation reminder from Tom Fishburne today:

“If you act enough like a commodity, sooner or later consumers will treat you like one.”

(Yes, even in uncertain economic times.)  BOGO isn’t for everyone. Don’t fall into that trap.

Read his post here.

Read Full Post »


Awesome post from Chris Brogan today:

I believe we’re going to shift back to thinking customer service and community management are the core and not the fringe. I believe we’re going to move our communications practices back in-house for lots of what is currently pushed out to agencies and organizations. I believe that integrity, reputation, skills, and personality are going to trump some of our previous measures of professional ability. I believe the web and our devices will continue to move into tighter friendships, and that we will continue to train our devices to interpret more of the world around us on our behalf.

Read the rest here.

Yes, yes, yes, and yes. Chris also talks about bringing value-add and core competencies together – which is actually the bandwagon I have been driving hard for the last couple of months with my management team.

Chris mentions that working remotely will become the norm… I’m not so sure we’re quite there yet. Maybe in our lifetimes, but probably not. Too many organizations rely on “sales floors” and “departments.” The old “asses in seats” mentality. Not that there’s anything wrong with it, mind you – each company has its own specific needs – but most companies still don’t have the tools at their disposal to allow their staff to work from home or remote offices. (We’re getting there though, and if any of you have ever taken the information worker of the future demo/tour at Microsoft, you’ll know what I’m talking about.) The tools are here now – will be fluid and 100% user-friendly in less than a decade, and widespread adoption won’t be too far behind.

The issue will never be the technology, it will be the people: Velocity and a sense of expediency/urgency don’t usually go hand in hand with working from home. There is something to be said for having a boss breathing down your neck – literally.

But I digress. Chris’ post rocks, and for the most part, he’s right.

Oh, and I almost forgot: Here’s the best piece of advice I’ve heard/read all month, (perhaps even all year) also from Chris:

Here’s a quick way to really turn around your clients: be helpful.

Duh, sure, but… when was the last time you actually said those two words outloud during a strategy meeting or quarterly business review?

Read Full Post »

If you want to see me get heated, ask me about doping and sports. Hopefully, you aren’t a football fan (American rules) or a baseball fan – as my opinion of steroid use is pretty cut and dry. You see, I’m a purist when it comes to athletic performance. Any athlete who uses a drug or other substance to enhance their performance, strength, endurance, recovery, etc. is a cheater. Period.

I understand the need for bigger and bigger hits in football, I understand the need for baseball players to be able to hit the ball out of the park with one arm, time and time again, and yes, I understand the need for track athletes to break speed records in the 100, 200, 400 and 800.

More to the point, I completely understand the temptation to dope in the world of grand tour cycling – especially when I am sprinting up a steep hill, my heart beating so hard I can taste blood in the back of my throat, and I still get dropped by guys more talented and better trained than me. If only I could take a pill or drink some kind of special shake that made me just 5% faster. 5% stronger. Gave me 5% more endurance. Yeah, on the verge of puking my guts out at the top of a climb, I often wish Accelerade or GU came up with a little magic pill that would make climbing a wee bit easier.

And as competitive as I may be, I am just a recreational athlete.

Imagine if I were a pro, and my paycheck depended on my getting to the top of a mountain in first place as opposed to… fifth or sixth or seventh place.

Imagine if the difference between success and failure depended on just 5% more output from my body.

Imagine if the majority of the athletes I competed against were doping up, and the only way for me to even-up the scales were to shoot up?

What if I lived and worked in an environment, a culture, an industry that not only encouraged me to cheat, but also made it easy for me to do so? What if every single day of working in this environment, everything led me to rationalize that… well, if everyone else is cheating, it isn’t cheating since all I am really doing is evening the playing field?

It would be difficult. I can sit here on my high horse and pretend that the choice not to dope is easy, but it isn’t. It can’t be. Not when the culture of your sport and the incredibly high stakes make doping the solution of choice when it comes to not getting churned out like a chump.

The problem with professional cycling is that blood doping has been at the core of the Grand Tour culture for quite some time, and it is nigh impossible to change that kind of behavior overnight. But some athletes, teams and directeurs sportifs are trying. They really are. The problem is that we still can’t tell for sure who’s cheating and who isn’t, because doping science is always just a step ahead of testing science.

If you were to ask me if doping scandals have turned me off from the Tour, my answer would be yes and no. No, I will never be completely turned off by the Tour De France because it is such an awesome event to watch and be a part of. It is inspiring. It is exciting. You can’t be a cyclist and not watch at least the mountain stages of the Tour… or the TT, or maybe the first week’s sprint finishes. But yes, I am a bit turned off because every seemingly superhuman performance raises a little red flag in the back of my head: Is this guy really that much of a badass, or is he on a very expensive cocktail of hemoglobin and top secret meds?

That’s the part that sucks: Not knowing. Doubting that the performance is genuine. As much as I enjoy watching an athlete crush his competitors the way Lance Armstrong did a few years ago, not being able to buy into his victory 100% affects the value of the experience. It also affects the relevance of the event, and of the sport in general. And that sucks.

Today, there still is no definitive way to absolutely 100% identify cyclists on the juice from those not on the juice… and until that changes, the Tour De France will be only half the race it could be.

In light of this, here is an email I received over the weekend:

On February 13th, the Amaury Sports Organization (ASO) barred Team Astana from competing in any race or event organized by the ASO in 2008. The ASO owns premiere cycling events like Paris-Nice, Paris-Roubaix, Paris-Tours, and the famed Tour de France.
To justify its decision, the ASO has cited the doping scandals of last year’s Tour de France.There can be no comparison between the Astana team of 2007 and the new Astana. The entire organizational structure has been rebuilt under the direction of the team’s new General Manager, Johan Bruyneel, who has thoroughly cleaned house. What’s more, Astana has adopted the rigorous doping controls developed by anti-doping expert Dr. Rasmus Damsgaard, and Astana now spends more money on anti-doping controls than any other team in the pro peloton.
“That the happenings of last year…prompted the Tour organizers to leave Astana out of the season’s most important race sounds understandable,” notes Bruyneel. “However, Astana Cycling Team 2008 has nothing to do with the team of last year. We have done everything to change the dynamics of the team. New management, new riders, new philosophy. Only the name of the sponsor remained.”
The ASO has turned a blind eye to Johan’s efforts. By barring the entire team from competing in ASO events, outstanding athletes like Levi Leipheimer, who was not a member of last year’s Astana team and who has never been implicated in any doping affair, are forced to sit on the sidelines while their life’s work passes them by.
“When I saw the Tour de France on TV when I was young,” laments Leipheimer, “I knew that someday I wanted to do that race. I sacrificed my life to participate. After finishing on the podium last year I want to do even better. Now I’m a victim of an illogical decision and have been excluded from the race.”

I don’t claim to know the exact chemistry of Levi’s blood, but I’ll say this: Give the guy and his team a chance to race. Punishing a team for past misdeeds when its membership, management and anti-doping measures have all been overhauled is moronic. Sure, the team’s ownership may be rightly punished (something hefty fines would do just as well), but in the end, it is the riders and the public who suffer – and unjustly at that.

Whether in the world of sport or the world of business, when an organization completely rebuilds itself in the wake of a scandal and commits to rebuilding its reputation, why punish them? Why not embrace their effort and their spirit? Why not make them the poster child for the kind of change you want to see? Test them to death, scrutinize their every move, but let them prove themselves. Give them the opportunity to fail.

What could be worse than not punishing athletes and teams when they cheat?
Punishing the wrong people.

Though I am not a huge fan of Levi’s riding, I admire the way he is fighting for his right to race in this year’s Tour. His fight isn’t about winning – it’s about wanting to race, which is at the core of cycling (and sport’s) very spirit. That is sonething I can both relate to and stand behind. So Levi, you have my vote.

To voice your opinion, click here.

Read Full Post »

Davia Temin – of Temin & Company sent me an terrific email a few days ago that outlined seven considerations that could help you strengthen company or brand in 2008:

Challenge Assumptions – Daily
An older corporate Board Director once said to me, “Do you know when we Directors know it is time to step down? When the things we believe to be undeniably, incontrovertibly true – aren’t any more.”

Things are moving so fast, fueled by technology, by globalization, by a troubled economy, by what is possible today that was not before, that it is crucial to challenge every assumption you have, all the time.

Especially in communications and reputation. One day Barry Bonds is riding high; the next he is a candidate for indictment. The same is true with CEO after CEO. But rehabilitation is possible. Take even the bizarre example of Joan Rivers. She was once a Johnny Carson wanna-be, almost a joke; today she is a QVC mogul, a fashion icon selling tens of millions of dollars worth of products over TV.

Reputations are no longer only slowly and deliberately built – they soar, they plummet, they crash, they resurrect. They are kinetic things and one must keep on top of them – monitoring them, readjusting them, and reinventing them –
constantly.

“News” is Being Redefined

As traditional print and broadcast media such as newspapers, magazines and TV news shrink and hemorrhage profitability, and information delivery continues its transit to the web, the influence of “editors” lessens. Press releases, oft maligned as organizational hype (and mostly are), have taken on new potency in the web world.

If you issue a release over the pay wires, it is immediately picked up, whole, by tens or hundreds of websites, which are in turn linked to hundreds of other sites, referenced in blogs, and sometimes received as unadulterated truth. Not always, of course, but more often than before.

And reported, researched, edited, thoughtful articles can sometimes be placed next to these marketing-messaged releases, and to blog postings, as just another form of news distribution, instead of being valued more highly.

Why else would organizations like ProPublica, the independent, non-profit newsroom that will produce investigative journalism in the public interest, crop up? Because a group of the most thoughtful, experienced news experts, such as former Wall Street Journal editor-in-chief Paul Steiger, Dick Tofel and Steve Engelberg, see that impartial, investigative journalism is no longer going to be economically viable. But it is still crucial to our world, and thus needs to be supported as a non-profit public endeavor.

Expect this trend to continue to grow. We need to understand the system in order to embrace it, while still honoring the difference between marketing messages and news. Believe it or not, that will hold marketers in the best stead.

We Won’t Be Fooled Again – Or Will We?
Osama/Saddam/Obama – The cynicism of those who seek to manipulate public perception cannot be overrated.

Communicators – especially in the political arena – have counted on the gullibility and lack of perceptivity of the public. They deliver muddied messages and expect the populace to not see clearly enough to uncover crucial distinctions, or the
truth.

How else could the current US administration have counted upon its constituents to confuse Saddam with Osama, half-believe that Saddam was responsible for the 9/11 attacks, and sanction the Iraqi war? (See the Wall Street Journal’s July 10, 2003 article, “The Fog of Deceit.”)

Well, we’ve seen where that leads us. And we’re smarter now – or are we? Will it work again? Watch, if Barack Obama reaches the ticket as Vice President or President, whether we begin seeing messages confusing “Osama” and “Obama.” Watch who puts those messages out, and who consumes them whole.

And let’s make sure that our own messages are clear and distinct, and that we help the public see crucial distinctions, as opposed to gloss over them.

Lies, Lies and More Damn Lies – Do They Matter?
To embellish on the previous point: perhaps it has ever been thus, but I think it is more true today – we are officially jaded by lies, and may no longer even care that we are being lied to.

“These CDO’s are safe, highly-rated investments.” “The value of your home will only go up.” “ Iraq has weapons of mass destruction.” “The US does not engage in torture.” “These products for your children are safe – and so is this cough
medicine….”

Public institutions are lying in profusion. Product safety breaches continue to rock various industries. But, is the traditional way of dealing with contamination still needed? Traditionally, a mea culpa, plan for remediation, and then follow-through were needed to repair product “tainting” problems.

Disturbingly, a headline in the December 21, 2007 WSJ proclaimed: “In the US , Playthings Stay on Customer Shopping Lists; Parents ‘Couldn’t Care Less,’” right before Christmas.

Privately, executives have criticized Mattel for overly-ambitious recalls, instead of “toughing out” its lead contamination issues.

What is the balance that beleaguered companies need to strike between defending themselves and apologizing, taking a hit, correcting and moving on? Millions of factors affect that balance – like the facts – but the trend seems to be shifting to a hardball stance. As the populace becomes more and more jaded, and expects less truth from its institutions, they seem to accept tougher corporate responses, and a lack of responsiveness. Is that a trend to take advantage of, or fight? What is best for share price, stakeholders and reputation?

Conflicting Trends: Transparency vs. Complexity
A dialectic is emerging between an increasingly interconnected, complex world – everywhere from the global supply chain to new derivative financial instruments – and calls for increasing public “transparency” and simplicity.

It is no wonder, because complexity and interconnectedness are as weak as their weakest links, and we often don’t know what they are until they fail. So complexity is scary.

But transparency and simplicity are hard to come by, and at best can only serve as an “executive summary” of the complexity that underlies them. Because complexity, fueled by technology and creativity, is not going away any time soon….

How will organizations, products and individuals need to publicly negotiate between these two trends? Proclaim transparency, but operate opaquely? How they come to a synthesis in their public profiles will determine their success in ‘08.

The Consequences of Our Loss of Privacy
It goes without saying that the concept of privacy is fast disappearing. People are being fired for indiscretions memorialized on the web—from ill-advised social networking postings to indecorous photos, often posted by others. There is nothing we do that might not be outed on the web…and even if it has not been yet, that does not mean it may not be in the future.

I can’t tell you how many times we have been hired not just for web site “optimization,” or to increase the exposure of organizations on the searchable web, but also for what I would call “deoptimization,” or trying to remove or bury certain items on the web. Of course, you can seek to correct incorrect data or lies in many ways, up to and including litigation, but as for dealing with breaches of your privacy, that is a different story.

The concept of an “open” society is taking on a new meaning. And in the future it will mean that either we all will have a much higher tolerance for human idiosyncrasy, or we had better be pretty careful of our behavior…even in Tahiti , on a private beach!

The Web as a Living Thing
Some scientists I have been working with talk about future inventions that will “read the web” like a living thing. Now I don’t just mean data mining Google to see who is looking at what at any given moment. Or researching how the web is valuing an organization’s “reputation” by crawling through and evaluating everything being written about it in real time.

These are already being done.

I am talking about several steps beyond: being able to model, visualize and understand the web as a sentient, growing, meta-organism that has a psychology, personality, moods, quirks, and powers that mirrors its users, en masse, and perhaps surpasses them. Call it Web 4.0, or maybe Web 5.0 squared.

This, over time, may be the reputation engine that supercedes all reputation engines.

Have a great weekend, everyone. 🙂

Read Full Post »