Ooops Greenpeace!

This week I attended a public affairs conference entitled True Spin, held by the Walkleys/MEAA.

There were conflicts, inconsistencies and knowledge gaps that struck me during the presentations at the conference, but one thing that consistently stood out was the consensus that Shell had badly dealt with Greepeace’s Let’s Go! arctic campaign.

Disappointingly, while several presenters were happy to pile on Shell for their lack of issues management savvy, not one suggested a course of action that could have proved successful for Shell.

I have to admit that the answer does not come easily to me either, which is why I’m less prepared to damn Shell for their inadequacy.

Since then I’ve been pondering what I would have done, and have come to the conclusion that I would have advised Shell to take out full page ads with the text provided below, backed up by a good old fashioned media release that includes a Shell estimate of how much a slick website like that would have cost to establish and run.

I chose MSM rather than social media because corporate messages on Facebook and particularly Twitter can be too easily highjacked: there’s a greater chance that your message will remain undiluted if it’s distributed by the mainstream media via new media platforms than if you do it yourself.

Similarly, the call to action is through email and not Facebook or Twitter where the message can quickly be highjacked and distorted.

So, this is the text of the full page I think Shell should have placed. What do you think they should have done?

New ABC social media role an empty gesture

Why has the ABC’s appointment of a Social Media Reporter given me the irrits?

It’s certainly nothing personal against the reporter herself, who’s shown admirable ingenuity, not to mention dexterity, in live-tweeting from doorstops and press conferences and then following up with radio news stories while regularly refreshing the content on her Facebook pages. If the ABC job was to report ON social media as well to USE it, then this journalist certainly would be the right person for the job.

But the role is to report on politics. The award-winning radio journalist will be attached to the ABC’s existing radio news and current affairs team and will be “part of a range of measures designed to explore how social media can be used to enhance and extend the ABC’s coverage of national politics”.

So in fact the ABC has appointed a new Political Reporter who will use radio and social media to file her stories. That’s not quite as sexy, is it?

And perhaps this is the nub: I am irked by the fact that the ABC sees the need to explicitly create a social media role – it is to my mind an empty gesture, a case of affirmative action gone mad.

If the ABC truly did see social media as a legitimate new way to report politics, then they would not have created a specific role for one reporter: they would have simply opened up the platform for all ABC reporters to use.

Autism badly served by “Communication Shutdown”

Am I the only person offended by tomorrow’s “Communication Shutdown”.

The campaign website says the event is a global initiative to “raise much-needed funds for autism groups in over 40 countries. By shutting down social networks for one day on November 1, we hope to encourage a greater understanding of people with autism who find social communication a challenge.”

So, this slick PR campaign encourages people to raise funds and awareness by superficially mimicking the social isolation experienced by those with autism. This tribute-form of autism is to be manifested apparently by swearing off Twitter and Facebook for a day.

Did no-one give this campaign a test-run before launching it globally? Did no-one wonder whether this clumsy attempt at empathy would be perceived as counter-intuitive, patronising and offensive?

Social media is in fact a godsend for childen and adults with autism, as well as their families and friends.

Jean Winegardner’s son Jack has autism and she blogs on Autism Unexpected. I was particularly taken with the blog Jean wrote on social media and autism earlier this year. Jean said:

It’s easy to make fun of social media. How many ways do you need to broadcast what you are doing right this second? For parents of children with autism and people with autism themselves, however, social media can be a lifesaving conduit to a social world that is too difficult to interact with IRL—in real life. For people like us, social media is real life. Having a child with autism can be extremely isolating. Friends who don’t understand what you’re going through or who don’t want to be around a difficult child may fall away. It gets harder to take an unpredictable child into public. It can be hard to plan playdates ahead of time if you don’t know how your child will be feeling at a specific time in the future.

Activities that typical kids enjoy may be too overstimulating for a child on the spectrum. Sometimes even when your child wants to and is capable of participating in the social sphere, the invites just don’t come. Some days it’s just too hard to face the stares and judgments of onlookers, so parents end up staying home.

This is where the beauty of social media lies. When there is no one in your life to turn to in the middle of the day (or the middle of the night), Twitter is there. When you have a question about a treatment and you want to know others’ experiences, blogs are there. When you just need some adult contact to take your mind off of all that is so difficult, Facebook steps up. For people on the spectrum themselves, online communication eliminates the pressure to respond immediately in conversation and lets an individual choose what conversations they want to take part in. Web conversation is also more black and white, reducing the need to understand all the non-verbal parts of communication that can be so difficult for those with autism.

Undoubtedly, the organisations that research autism and provide support to families coping with autism would benefit from greater public awareness and better funding.

But is abstaining from social media the right mechanism to achieve this and does it send the right message?

The Communications Shutdown campaign would appear to be yet another philanthropic gesture badly advised by PR and social media “experts”. I place the Generation One campaign in the same boat.

Tomorrow, let’s raise awareness of autism by reading blogs such as Jean’s and tweeting them to others in our Twitter communities. I truly believe more will be achieved by doing so.

New media prejudice based on fear of the unknown

It’s human nature to dislike, even hate, what we fear and to fear that which is foreign to us. These drivers underpin many of the entrenched prejudices that exist in this world, to humanity’s great shame and dismay. Prejudice and its implications can occur on a grand scale or at the micro level. The most profound cast a shadow over people’s gender, sexuality, colour and religion.

At the micro level it may be the cut of your suit, the ink on your skin or even the way you speak that fans the embers of ignorance into the flames of prejudice. While these biases are nothing compared to the ones mentioned above, they still exist and should be challenged.

Well, at least that’s what we always say about prejudice – that it should be challenged. Perhaps it’s more a matter of deconstructing prejudice through personal experience. Attitudes are very hard to shift, but they can be altered with knowledge gained through first hand experience. There are many (but clearly not enough) examples of people relinquishing their prejudices once the unknown becomes the personally known, either through a friend or relative coming out, or by getting to know someone of a different colour or religion.

It’s the micro level of prejudice that I’ve pondered since attending the Media140 social media conference last month. Quite a number of mainstream media journalists participated in panel discussions and I was struck by the disdainful way several referred to social media platforms. One explained that they didn’t often tweet but monitored the Twitter stream to plunder it for stories. Another said they used Twitter mostly to publicise their own stories. At one point in the discussion, Facebook was summarily dismissed as being the place where you post your holiday snaps to satisfy the extended family.

It occurred to me then that many working journalists just don’t get social media and it may be for this reason that they’ve formed negative attitudes toward it. Apart from the few journalists who actively blog and engage in conversations on Twitter, it seems that many mainstream journalists see social media as a fad, but nevertheless a potential threat in the identification and reporting of news. I’m not suggesting they’re luddites, but that their unwillingness to personally experience these online phenomena has created a negatively biased perception.

I suppose I could challenge this prejudice by saying that the world has changed and people are no longer using the old ways to shop, talk, promote, research, learn, share, celebrate or mourn. I could show how models for business, advocacy and information exchange are constantly mutating in an effort to keep pace. Or even point to the fact that 54% of Fortune 100 companies have a presence on Twitter and 29% are on Facebook.

I could challenge the prejudice by showing that Australians in particular have embraced social media; that 70% of all Australian internet users visit social networking sites, and we also spend more time on these sites than our overseas online colleagues.

I could point to Facebook as another case in point. It’s not just a place for happy snaps but inhabited and regularly used not only by individuals but hundreds of thousands of businesses. Facebook has 500 million members who spend over 500 billion minutes per month on Facebook pages. Over 9 million people on Facebook are Australians, and these are not just kids sharing fart jokes or embarrassing photos; 43.4% of all Australians on Facebook are aged 26 to 44. The communities that exist on Facebook are a marketer’s dream. Any kind of demographic or interest group can be reached cheaply and on a targeted basis using Facebook ads. Facebook is also used by NGOs, advocates, companies and individuals to build communities of support or loyal customer followings that would otherwise be impossible to create or maintain.

Sadly, any challenge would not be enough. There is no way to understand social media platforms “in theory”. Understanding can only be gained through direct experience. Mainstream journalists will never get Twitter until they actively join one of the many communities that exist in the Twitterverse. They can’t just monitor the Twitter stream or broadcast into it but truly engage in conversations as they would with friends at the pub or a dinner party to understand the dynamics and attraction of this medium. Twitter is not just about politics either; its communities are numerous and incredibly diverse. For my part, I participate in Twitter communities that are interested in politics, social media, science fiction on TV and in films, fashion and rugby league.

The reality is that social media is not a fad, it won’t fade away and its influence on the corporate, policy and political worlds will grow even more with time. Mainstream media journalists would know this, and perhaps even accept it, if they engaged fully with social media platforms and joined with the rest of us in exploring their seemingly limitless potential for information, creativity, relationships and dialogue.

This post appeared on ABC’s The Drum – Unleashed

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