Tuesday, October 04, 2005

The Wiki Way

We're at Web 2.0 tomorrow, a show so hot, say the organizers, that the fire marshalls forbid them to sell another ticket. Client Socialtext is there, along with several other Eastwick compatriots, and they all plan to partake in what looks like the most fun, underground event of the three-day fest: an evening of dining, networking, and partying, "the wiki way." Guest of honor during the first leg is Ward Cunningham, inventor of the wiki.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Groupbytes

The following article ran last week at Global PR Week 2.0. Again, if you want to join the groupbytes wiki, send me an email at giovanni at eastwick dot com. We'll be in a password-protected environment in the early stages, but going public soon.

Groupbytes

Digital/social rules for the post-Google Economy

…Technology and business leaders are now importing offline social rules into online environments. The winners will be those who best understand those rules, because the rules will influence all markets - online and offline. But how can we all get smarter?

It was a little less than a year ago that I began life as a PR blogger. I was, admittedly, a bit late to the game, and I quickly discovered that I had numerous peers in the blogosphere who had been plugging away for months (if not years), building quite a respectable online repository of insights, data and wisdom on new media. But my first glimpse into the world of PR blogging made a strong and formative impression: I understood that the endgame for all these vast and distributed experiments is collaboration, and this hunch - right or wrong - almost instantly shaped the approach I asked my agency to adopt. Since then we've been advising clients on how they can use new media to extend their market reach though online collaboration with their customers, partners and influencers.

Today we are launching a new collaborative project, but of a very different kind. With the help of the PR blogger community - which is showing up in full force at Global PR Blog Week 2.0 - we hope to begin capturing the rules, lessons and best practices that the PR industry is learning as it continues helping organizations to build online communities. We're launching a wiki, linking from the eastwikkers group blog, where we're inviting anyone and everyone from the business community to help us define and understand the rules that govern online behavior. Our earliest experiences in community-building taught us that, indeed, rules exist. And we're beginning the dialog here, by proposing twelve of these rules, which we are calling "groupbytes" because of the digital environment in which these rules are being tested, and because they are bite-sized and easy to digest (the key to new-media communication). More about that in a bit. First, a word about how we're approaching the project.

How we got here (the online world)

As a technology PR agency, based in Silicon Valley, we felt it was critical to place new media in an historical context. We'll post a great deal more on this subject on the wiki as the conversation gets going. In the meantime, we're offering this simple (perhaps simplistic) hypothesis about the evolution of new-media tools.

The three waves:
-the great migration
-the socialization of the Web
-back to the Old World

To understand the power and force of new media, it's important to appreciate what came before it. From our perspective, the most important driver and antecedent for new media is search, for this one technology alone has recruited many millions of people to go online for their many information needs. Granted, other technologies have helped to create the very large online population that exists today. But search is the dominant driver for the huge wave of recruitment we're calling "the great migration."

The second wave is where most of us - the PR bloggers reviewing this short paper - live. We're calling this "the socialization of the Web." In part, this socialization is a reaction, for one of the defining attributes of the first wave is that many people who have migrated to the Web for their many information needs have abandoned - willfully or inadvertently - offline communities. This has created both a crisis and opportunity for business and technology leaders. The groupbytes below are a distillation of the social rules that technology leaders have been importing or that have naturally arisen in a very large online experiment that's underway. Which leads to the controlling idea of this paper, and our wiki: technology and business leaders are now importing offline social rules into online environments. The winners will be those who best understand those rules, because the rules will influence all markets - online and offline. But how can we all get smarter?

Finally, we expect the lessons from the second wave to dramatically influence the third: the offline world's eventual adoption of lessons from the online world. This is already happening (the three waves are not exactly sequential), and it is one reason that the rules should matter to everyone, whether they are sold on the idea that they should have a new-media strategy. It's also the reason why we've chosen the New World/Old World metaphor to illustrate some of our thinking: as we'll see in the groupbytes below, the social experiments that are happening online are some of the most innovative experiments in representative governance, just as the New World provided an environment for testing some of the most radical notions from the Old World (nod to the Scottish Philosophers who influenced the intellectual U.S. Colonials), and later exported their findings to anyone in the Old World who cared to listen.

But one more pause before we start: the digital world is different. The reason we're calling this paper "groupbytes" - as opposed to the simpler "grouprules," or the snappier "groupwise" (which happens to be the name of a well-known collaboration tool) is that we felt it's important to remind everyone of the environment in which these rules are being tested. As many practitioners of new media know, certain social rules in the digital world thrive and flourish, while others could not have originated in any other environment; on the whole, the digital world is more inclusive, open and efficient. We believe this will have a dramatic effect on some markets - e.g., politics - where very few organizations have developed the strategies for being more open, inclusive and efficient. We've been surprised with the many market innovations/disruptions that many organizations have made - most notably, the Wikimedia Foundation - but our gut tells us that we ain't seen nothing yet.

As we have said, it's important to remember that the "waves" are not quite sequential, even though we can be certain that the third wave (Old World adoption) is just beginning to rise. And one thing we're noticing is that many of the giants from the first wave are the giants and innovators in the second wave. Still, there are others. But to simplify, we believe that the technology innovators to watch - the companies that will influence those who will follow - are market leaders or innovators in search and e-commerce. In fact, the innovators in online communities seem to have taken best practices from each of these worlds and combined them with the simplicity, low-cost and ease-of-use of new media. True, these attributes of the new-media toolset - simplicity, low-cost and ease-of-use - have made the development of online communities sure and swift. But new media is driven by the force that has made the leaders in search and e-commerce so forbidding. It is the force of the people.

Groupbytes

Here are twelve easy rules we've learned in our own work and in conversations with our peers. Many of these rules will be familiar to PR bloggers, but there should be one or two surprises for novices and experts alike.

Twelve: be inclusive

Many bloggers recognize this as the "rule of participation." In fact, it's one of the fundamental rules of new media, and you only ignore it at your peril. The PR precinct of the blogosphere was quick to organize around this principle, and it has punished newcomers for shutting down communication with unwanted or filtered visitors. This may not be the norm in every market — we are all becoming more lenient — but in the PR world, this has almost become the cardinal rule. Note: early corporate bloggers got extra credit for providing a free-and-open online forum for customers. And there were a few surprises from the world of brick-and-mortar. Our wiki will track the companies who improvise and innovate with this rule.

Eleven: be open

PR bloggers know this as the rule of transparency. "Conversations" - the preferred form of communication in our world - have forced businesses that blog to be more transparent. A few companies that proactively have embraced this rule have dramatically altered their brand. Again, there were surprises. A company that had earned a bad reputation with the public quickly and dramatically altered its identity with the help of an open, honest blogger with a human face. Our wiki will attempt to track others that follow and innovate.

Another reason to embrace rule eleven: among the many ways the Web is beginning to socialize is with what some folks are calling "reputation systems." New leaders in business will look at how to incorporate tools such as ratings and rankings to build trust for the content they provide.

Ten: Be purposeful with your technology

Many organizations have stumbled in their online experiments by providing the wrong tools for the wrong audience (cf. the L.A. Times and their failed experiment with "the wikitorial," with the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and their success with a different approach). The rule here is to know your audience, and provide them the right tools, and the right policies, for what you need it to do. For mixed groups of people - with mixed goals and purpose - provide the right mix of tools. (e.g. Yahoo!, which boasts numerous new-media tools and environments for its heterogeneous crowd of visitors; and eBay, which very recently stunned the business world by paying a very large sum to add Skype to its technology toolkit).

Nine: Focus on values, not selling

Remember - you are creating a community, and communities do not automatically organize to sell to one another; they organize around values, interest and trust. Build environments where people can join around the things that most matter to them. The "selling" (be open to what that means) will follow.

Eight: Don't be groupwise/self-foolish

The best online communities - which integrate a number of new-media tools - understand how to appeal to self-interest and community. Early experiments have engaged with young audiences, but other experiments will follow. The important thing to keep in mind when building a community is to understand the motivation of your constituents, and meet their needs. As the story goes, Craigslist began as a simple resource for friends looking for jobs, apartments and furnishings. That small circle of friends has grown into a large, market-disruptive community.

Seven: Leverage the wisdom and power of crowds

This is a rule that rests on the efficiency of online communities. With the right people, and the right scale, organizations can tap the power and intelligence that only communities can provide. Leaders are using this power to write one of the world's most reliable information sources, the world's largest corporate blogging initiative, and one of the first attempts to unleash the power of citizen reporters to conduct large-scale investigations.

Six: Wag the "long tail"

This is another efficiency rule. Organizations are learning to sell more "inventory" by providing online environments that better match buyers and sellers for niche products (the biggest success to date: Google Adwords, the financial engine of the company's spectacular growth). The same applies to conversations.

Five: Use community to build consensus

A group can scale by bridging the gaps - the differences that splinter and hurt groups, New media can also be used to mobilize communities to work on projects that build consensus for the common good. This is particularly interesting in organizations that have struggled for consensus.

Four: Integrate the offline community into the technology. We're calling this the "Reeses Rule" (80's commercial: "your peanut butter is in my chocolate … your chocolate is in my peanut butter)"

Search companies are experimenting with approaches that provide the wisdom of crowds in the technology itself. Make way for companies that provide guided search and collaborative search.

Three: integrate the technology into the offline community (the Reeses Rule, part II)

In the past few months, we've seen new technology offerings that are essentially integrating technology into the physical social world. First we got Google maps — the satellite edition, which literally enables Google to crawl the earth (we've always wondered if this was, in part, a PR move, signaling the direction for this company in a most surprising way). And now we're hearing about tech companies that are helping parents to locate and monitor their teens. And, as Jupiter's Gary Stein writes in his blog, Google is beginning to experiment with ways to apply its ad-serving technology — the financial engine of its incredible growth — to the print world.

Two: replicate the entire ideal social structure online … if you can

The next wave of innovation will come from online organizations that are attempting to replicate ideal social structures that may or may not exist in the offline world. The first experiments will occur in markets that are highly fragmented and inefficient (e.g., health care, education, government).

One: Because we are playing in a social world, aim for the big social causes … if you can.

Businesses, non-profits and governments will compete for the privilege of solving the most challenging social issues and concerns. The impact on the private and public sectors will be transformative.

Conclusion

We'll be on our wiki, looking for your edits and comments. But most of all, we look forward to you additions. There are many more groupbytes yet to be identified, and with the wisdom of this particular crowd, we can learn how to put them to practice.

Three Things You Need to Know About Frames

[From Eastwick's Fall 2005 Newsletter]

When was the last time the art and science of PR made the cover story of The New York Times Magazine? It happened a few months ago, in one of the most widely discussed articles of the summer. The specific topic at hand was UC Berkeley Professor George Lakoff's recent efforts to educate the Democratic Party on a communications theory called "framing." The article arrived at the height of Lakoff's popularity this year, following a groundswell of support for his bestselling political PR primer, Don't Think of an Elephant.

We're not sure about this, but the last time a theory from our world got this kind of airplay was the 1960s, when Marshall McLuhan was counseling the New York intelligentsia on how the "medium is the message." And how many of us are old enough to remember that?

Lakoff's mission is a pretty big deal, and not just because it may have a lasting influence on political PR. The very fact that the New York Times and several other leading publications (like this one which picked a fight with Lakoff, and this one which used the theory of framing to build a cover story) have devoted so much space to this story has made framing, if anything, a cultural artifact. We can safely predict that framing will become a commonplace term in the PR vocabulary. But there are several things that the recent coverage has obscured, and we would like to address them here. As with many a cultural phenomenon, with framing, there's more than meets the eye.

One: Hard Wires

Simply put, a frame is a mental construct that defines – and limits – the way people communicate and receive information. In our world – PR – frames generally come in three varieties (Eastwick's translation of Lakoff): concepts, containers, and stories. Great concepts that both define and limit are easy to recognize ("utility computing," "open-source," "Web 2.0"). Containers are a bit trickier because they are designed to convey "in this article, you are getting all you need" (e.g., anything titled "Three Things You Need to Know …"). As for story, as any good PR person will tell you, this is the single most important communication tool of all. A great story, well told, will certainly define who and what are important, and exclude who and what are not.

If Lakoff had stopped right there, we wouldn't have much to talk about. The science of framing – whatever one might say about its merits – has also introduced the notion that frames are hard-wired, a part of our neural anatomy. What that means, practically, is that frames may be harder to make and harder to break. According to Lakoff and other cognitive scientists, the only way to break a frame is to make a new frame. It's simply not enough to tell someone they are wrong. You need to convey the new data in the context of another compelling idea. Anyone who has ever called a reporter to tell him that he "got the story wrong" will know that. Reporters trade in stories, not corrections.

Two: Customer Research

But what makes a compelling idea? Here's something that was almost completely obscured in mainstream coverage of Lakoff's work. The best and brightest framing pros do not rely on their imaginations. They are devout practitioners and pioneers in the field of customer research. Reporters who have written about the war of the political framers (George Lakoff on the left, versus Frank Luntz on the right) have glossed over the true role that quality primary research has played in successful, mass communication campaigns; the war-of-the-propagandists frame, perhaps, is sexier. But in Silicon Valley, where a surprising number of companies shun customer research – in product design, in sales, and, yes, even in PR – no one can afford to ignore this lesson from the trenches. If you care about frames, you need to speak with your customers. With new media, there are so many new and creative approaches to doing that.

Three: Bridges

There's at least one more thing that has been lost in all the sensational coverage. Framing, even in its hardest form, is not the invention of Professor Lakoff. Several writers have incorrectly identified Lakoff as the "father of framing" (the father frame is tough to break). But framing has been understood and practiced for many years in the world of negotiation and labor-dispute resolution, where legal professionals and laypeople are constantly challenged to break down assumptions that keep two sides apart. The world of ADR – alternative dispute resolution – has a rich history captured in articles and case studies that can greatly educate marketing pros on the practice of building communities. This is important. Community-building, in a frame-fatigued world, may in fact be the next frontier in PR innovation, and it is one reason that Eastwick has spent time developing expertise in collaborative media tools.

Our Own Community Frame

When drafting this article, we were reminded of a recent project at the agency, where we were forced to put aside our differences to work toward a common cause. The client, a research group at UC Berkeley (no connection to Lakoff), found an alarming discrepancy in the Florida vote in the 2004 presidential election. After several initial consultations, we advised the Berkeley team to use the study to influence the debate on electronic voting, rather than challenge the 2004 election. We didn't quite realize it at the time, but we were framing the debate in a way that encouraged many people – on the left and the right – to listen. In fact, at Eastwick, the new frame inspired both donkeys and elephants to join the effort. We're proud to say that we recently won kudos for this effort. But we are even more proud to talk about the Berkeley project as a case study in community-building. To paraphrase the celebrated-but-misunderstood Professor Lakoff, the community frame at Eastwick got "activated," and it is even stronger today.