Friday, March 31, 2006

33 Wikis: # 8 -- TheNewPRWiki -- Reform and Renewal for the PR Industry?

This is the eighth installment in "33 Wikis," a close look at best practices in wiki-based collaboration. Each day -- for 33 days -- we look at one wiki and briefly describe what the wiki is for, why we like it, and what we all can learn from it. If you want to nominate a wiki, please let us know. On day 34 we will post a public wiki featuring info on all nominees.

What this wiki is for: TheNewPRWiki, the brainchild of PR consultant/blogger Constantin Basturea, describes itself as:

*a repository of relevant information about how the PR practice is changing
*a collaboration tool for PR professionals and people interested in the practice of public relations
*an open space where anyone can ask questions, post ideas, or start a project.

Why we like it: At the end of a week when the PR blogosphere spent so much time anguishing over the musings of an anonymous blogger, TheNewPRWiki stands for the notion that there are better things to come ... or something else to talk about (we'll see). As we said yesterday in our discussion of SourceWatch, this is an industry that is undergoing major reform and renewal, and TheNewPRWiki, along with a couple of new industry groups (most notably NewCommForum) has done a lot to help PR folks educate themselves on both the theory and practice of new media. The wiki has good info, including case studies, corporate blogging policies, lists, and more.

What we all can learn from it: Bottom line: if SourceWatch is about getting rid of the old, TheNewPRWiki is about building the new. If you are in PR, this is a great resource. If you are not, this is a living case study on how to begin renewing an industry. It will surely take more than a wiki -- or a village -- but starting small, with a group of people who sometimes compete for business (because it's in their interests to collaborate) is a smart approach.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

33 Wikis: #7 -- SourceWatch -- The Scourge of the PR Industry

This is the seventh installment in "33 Wikis," a close look at best practices in wiki-based collaboration. Each day -- for 33 days -- we look at one wiki and briefly describe what the wiki is for, why we like it, and what we all can learn from it. If you want to nominate a wiki, please let us know. On day 34 we will post a public wiki featuring info on all nominees.

What this wiki is for: Formerly known as Disinfopedia, SourceWatch describes itself as "a collaborative project of the Center for Media and Democracy to produce a directory of the people, organizations and issues shaping the public agenda. SourceWatch's primary focus is on documenting PR firms, think tanks, industry-funded organizations, and industry-friendly experts that work to influence public opinion and public policy on behalf of corporations, governments and special interests. Over time, SourceWatch has broadened to include others involved in public debates including media outlets, journalists and government agencies."

Why we like it: Wait ... a PR agency is promoting SourceWatch, the scourge of the PR industry? Precisely. As many of you know, our world is undergoing a major transformation, and the twin trends of openness and transparency are changing everything. It only makes sense to get completely behind the right side of this battle. We may not always like what Disinfopedia has to say about world, but we like that they have figured out a way to say it, using an innovative approach -- the wiki approach -- to gather information on activities that many of us in the industry would rather ignore. Right from the front page, you'll find resources on how to research front groups, how to study propaganda, and how to do research on the Web.

What we all can learn from it: Wikis are ideal for projects like this -- they can be used to gather and expose disinformation as well as information. It's an approach that can be used in industry -- think of corporate crisis campaigns, e.g., -- as well as in politics. We'll look at the latter in the next few days.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

33 Wikis: # 6 -- The Start-up Exchange

This is the sixth installment in "33 Wikis," a close look at best practices in wiki-based collaboration. Each day -- for 33 days -- we look at one wiki and briefly describe what the wiki is for, why we like it, and what we all can learn from it. If you want to nominate a wiki, please let us know. On day 34 we will post a public wiki featuring info on all nominees.

Full disclosure -- today's wiki runs on the Socialtext platform. Socialtext is an Eastwick client.

What this wiki is for: "The Start-up Exchange" aims to provide a "renewable resource for those working with fewer resources." It's a wiki for entrepreneurs, with a special focus on folks trying to get started in the technology sector.

Why we like it: Of course, we have a lot of Socialtext-based wikis to choose from, but to be fair to other vendors we are limiting our selections to just a few. We are particularly impressed with this little wiki because it seeks to close the real-life business knowledge gap that makes life difficult for so many first-time entrepreneurs. We also like the small community look and feel. Check out the short list of contributors -- nay, become a contributor -- and you'll see you are in good company (pun intended).

What we all can learn from it: If you are looking to start a new company, but have no idea how to get started, this might be a good first stop. With a small community of contributors, the "Start-up Exchange" provides all sorts of info including a "start-up kit" (with info and forms on finance, law, HR, etc.), VC links and resources, an events calendar, and, yes, info on VCs and angel investors. By the way, the start-up kit is the brainchild of Andy Stack from Stata Labs, a start-up that Yahoo! acquired in 2004. As the kit notes, the "business integration into Yahoo! was one of the fastest completed integrations due in part to the procedures that were in place." The start-up kit captures what Stata learned from that experience.
But for folks outside the start-up world, the biggest takeaway is this: a wiki could be a good way to close information gaps that really do not need to exist. Projects like this can shift the focus from insider knowledge -- because it will become less precious -- to things that matter more (like a little something called innovation -- our wiki topic for tomorrow).

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

33 Wikis: #5 -- Davis Wiki

This is the fifth installment in "33 Wikis," a close look at best practices in wiki-based collaboration. Each day -- for 33 days -- we look at one wiki and briefly describe what the wiki is for, why we like it, and what we can all learn from it. If you want to nominate a wiki, please let us know. On day 34 we will post a public wiki featuring info on all nominees.

Thanks to Eastwick-client Ross Mayfield (CEO at Socialtext) for reminding us about this great wiki, which has a great recipe for the Wiki Waki Woo, the unofficial cocktail of wiki people.

What this wiki is for: "Davis Wiki" is a community site for Davis, California, the home of U.C. Davis, one of the top schools in the California university system. The organizers describe the wiki as an "interconnected community effort to explore, discuss and compile anything and everything about Davis — especially the little, enjoyable things."

Why we like it: There has been lots of talk about collaborative sites at the local community level, but the Davis folks actually appear to be doing it. And they've done such a good job building out the content that it is sometimes difficult to describe it without comparing it to other things. Citizen journalism, consumer information exchange, birds-of-a-feather discussion groups -- the "Davis Wiki" does all these things ... and more. Like other good wikis, it also has a super-simple users guide to drive use and adoption -- the two things that trip up so many wikis.

What we all can learn from it: The way this wiki blurs the lines between various categories should qualify this as an ongoing case study for various types of wiki watchers (e.g., newspapers, business directories, political organizers). But just as important are the numbers that this wiki openly provides around use and adoption. The user stats page -- which is often missing or buried on a wiki -- should be interesting to people who are trying to get big wiki projects going. If you were to take these numbers and build a graph -- where the y axis is number of edits, and where the x axis is the number of participants -- you'd get an expression resembling what the social network folks call a power-law distribution, where a small number of people are generating the most output. The lesson here would be what many of us in the wiki world already know -- that you need to identify people who both produce and can connect with lots of other people. [Suw Charman calls these people supernodes]. In the meantime, note that there are 122 people on "Davis Wiki" who have made more than 100 edits. How many wikis today can claim numbers like that? I expect we'll find out.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Is Phil Gomes Half Right?

He says "h-o." We say h-o-a-x. A beautiful hoax.

Is this about the oldest profession, or the oldest Internet trick in the book?

33 Wikis: #4 -- The Flu Wiki

This is the fourth installment in "33 Wikis," a close look at best practices in wiki-based collaboration. Each day -- for 33 days -- we look at one wiki and briefly describe what the wiki is for, why we like it, and what we can all learn from it. If you want to nominate a wiki, please let us know. On day 34 we will post a public wiki featuring info on all nominees.

Several readers of this blog have nominated
"Flu Wiki" for the "33 Wikis" round-up. We thank Shaula Evans, Zoli Erdos, and others.

What this wiki is for: "The purpose of the Flu Wiki is to help local communities prepare for and perhaps cope with a possible influenza pandemic. This is a task previously ceded to local, state and national governmental public health agencies.... But no one, in any health department or government agency, knows all the things needed to cope with an influenza pandemic." "Flu Wiki" serves as a virtual clearinghouse of current information on the spread of flu strains, public policy, and legal issues. It also has a lively discussion forum, dealing with questions as small and specific as "recipes using can goods only." That's one of the beautiful things about a wiki -- the easy ability to support and archive micro-conversations.

Why we like it: Not only is this wiki timely; it also aims to fill the substantial gap that exists between community needs and institutional resources. As the organizers note, "Flu Wiki is not meant to be a substitute for planning, preparation and implementation by civil authorities, but instead is a parallel effort that complements, supports and extends those efforts." We also like it because it employs a similar "wisdom of the crowds" approach to information gathering that Healthline (Eastwick client) is using on "Flu Central."

What we can all learn from it: If wikis can be shown to be useful in bridging the gap between needs and existing services, we'll see many more projects like this. "Flu Wiki" is a wiki worth watching.

A Full-Service PR Business

It was bound to happen. The PR blogging world was a big fat target for someone with, er, great social skills. Here's how Amanda Chapel (Strumpette) describes herself in her bio:

"Bottom line professionally speaking, I am 5’ 4” tall, athletic, Pantine shoulder-length black hair, perfect perky boobs. I present well and am most accomodating. I’ve slept with clients. I sleep with my boss. I am the consummate PR strumpette."

Welcome, Amanda. I think you are going to be plenty busy.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

33 Wikis: #3 -- This Might Be a Wiki

This is the third installment in "33 Wikis," a close look at best practices in wiki-based collaboration. Each day -- for 33 days -- we look at one wiki and briefly describe what the wiki is for, why we like it, and what we can all learn from it. If you want to nominate a wiki, please let us know. On day 34 we will post a public wiki featuring info on all nominees.

What this wiki is for: "This Might Be a Wiki" -- a collaborative Web site for the rock band, They Might Be Giants -- might be the best fan site ever. In fact, that's how we rewrote the tagline for this wonderful site, which anyone can edit (after all, this is a wiki). The creators of the wiki, Scott Redd and Brad Will, have provided a place where fans from all over the world can share info, upload files, post guitar lines, publish show dates, and intrepret the complex, inventive lyrics that have won over so many fans since the 1980's.

Why we like it: as the wiki creators note, "there are a zillion TMBG web sites on the internet, but we're pretty sure this is the only one that you (yes, you) can edit." "This Might Be a Wiki" demonstrates that a wiki might in fact be the best platform for a fan site, whose readers are motivated to provide updates on the most minute levels of detail. "This Might Be a Wiki" is also innovative on the technical side. Check out ThisMightBeABot, a tool for automating various "tedious tasks" such as site navigation, categorization, and archiving.

What we can all learn from it: This is "wisdom of crowds," pure and simple -- a super-motivated community that works hard to make the wiki complete and -- just as important -- to make it correct. A great example of this is the revision history for TMBG co-founder John Sidney Linnell's bio -- dozens of edits from multiple authors, working together to get things right. We can think of several types of communities that can learn from this experiment. [Think, for example, of wiki communities for Democratic or Republican nominees -- party fans and faithfuls can collect and vet all sorts of information.] But for now, this site should light a fire in the general marketing community. I can think of no better way of connecting with customers than to let them in, let them participate in the great information machine, and let them make their own birdhouse in their soul.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

33 Wikis: #2 -- The Autism Spectrum Wiki

This is the second installment in "33 Wikis," a close look at best practices in wiki-based collaboration. Each day -- for 33 days -- we look at one wiki and briefly describe what the wiki is for, why we like it, and what we can all learn from it. If you want to nominate a wiki, please let us know. On day 34 we will post a public wiki featuring info on all nominees.

What this wiki is for: As some of you know, there's someone very close to me who is on the autistic spectrum. For friends and family of the autistic, finding information and resources from kindred folks can be a frustrating, lonely experience. The Austistic Spectrum Wiki -- a project by Aspies for Freedom -- seeks to make life easier by tapping the collective knowledge of people around the globe.

Why we like it: Like many other disorders, autism has many different support groups working on similar and overlapping projects. The Autistic Spectrum Wiki seeks to bridge these efforts by providing a centralized clearinghouse of information and links.

What we can all learn from it: This is clear example of how a community can organize in an ad hoc fashion to respond to a challenge that institutional resources cannot meet. We expect to see many ad hoc communities like these, especially in areas where resources and learning are fragmented -- e.g., health, education and government.

Friday, March 24, 2006

33 Wikis: #1 -- WikiLaw

from eastwikkers:

This is the first installment in "33 Wikis," a close look at best practices in wiki-based collaboration. Each day -- for 33 days -- we look at one wiki and briefly describe what the wiki is for, why we like it, and we can all learn from it. If you want to nominate a wiki, please let us know. On day 34 we will post a public wiki featuring info on all nominees.

Thanks to Jeff Nolan for nominating the first wiki in this series, Wikilaw, which describes itself as follows:

Wikilaw's goal is to build the largest open-content legal resource in the world. To accomplish this goal, Wikilaw needs your help! We encourage all law professors, practitioners, and students to share their knowledge. Currently, there are roughly 1,000,000 lawyers in the United States. If every lawyer in America contributed a fraction of their legal knowledge to this site, Wikilaw would become one of the largest libraries of legal information in the world.

What this wiki is for: this is an example of large-group collaboration, in which participants can tap the "wisdom of crowds" to get quality information at no cost. The fact that this experiment is happening in a market where there are commercial alternatives makes Wikilaw a lot like Wikipedia. In fact, we can think of it as a Wikipedia for law, for practitioners and laypeople alike.

We we like it: In a past life, I worked in the law and public policy, so personally I am thrilled to see a resource like this. But we also like it because the scale of its ambition. In addition to the legal reference portions of this site, there is a project called Democracy 2.0 that aims to develop consensus on law and legal principles, outside of any institutional structure. This is an interesting example of the kind of ad hoc political organization that we expect to see more of in the next few years.

What we can all learn from it: this is a new experiment in the making, but the Wikipedia-like approach might encourage other professions to attempt similar projects.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

PR Case Study: Krugle

If you are a PR person, and you are still not convinced that social media can make a big difference, you must read Don Thorsen's well-written case study on the Krugle launch. Don is an old friend of the agency, and we shared ideas with him when he was still Don Thorsen 1.0 -- oh, about a few months ago. His rapid transformation into a savvy practitioner of social media is thrilling.

Two big takeaways, from my side of the table. First, Don was mature enough to seek counsel from really knowledgeable people, including Doc Searls and Shel Israel. His beginner's-mind approach -- rare in someone as experienced as Don -- is refreshing. Second, he understood the relationship between big media and new media, and he didn't sacrifice one for the other. My favorite quote is about his experience at DEMO, a big show that continues to be relevant in the post-blogging world: "Much of the value of DEMO comes from the press. In Krugle's case it was the press that ignited the blog community, who in turn, spread the messages around the world."

Saturday, March 18, 2006

New PR Jobs -- Part II

from eastwikkers

The first post in this series generated great conversation on an important topic: that is, whether Neville Hobson's good looks and accent should earn him the title of "king" of new media.

That's an interesting job title, but we'll stay true to the non-monarchical spirit of this discussion by offering up five -- count 'em -- more PR jobs that non-royals can aspire to in the near future. In the first post, we credited three personality-profile models: Myers-Briggs, StrengthsFinder, and The Ten Faces of Innovation. For this post, we'll need to credit two more: the very popular-and-excellent The Tipping Point, and the not-so-popular-but-excellent Linked.

Some of you were probably wondering whether we forgot Jen McClure. You'll find her here --but like most of the others, she could have been named in several categories.

The Connector -- Anyone who has read Malcolm Gladwell -- or who is familiar with network theory -- will recognize the role of the "connector." The PR profession has always been able to attract people who are exceptionally gifted at creating and maintaining vast networks of contacts. In the new world, this skill is in larger demand because we now have the tools to make networks more efficient, intelligent, dynamic. Historical role model: Dwight D. Eisenhower, who rose to the presidency by maintaining one of the biggest and busiest Rolodexes in history. New-media role model: Renee Blodget (Renee: I hope you are OK that I am pairing you up with a Republican).

The Professor -- Hey, we are talking about a major transformation -- if not a revolution -- and no transformation is real without the help of people from academia. A number of college professors are literally breaking ranks from the "old school" and making great contributions to the knowledge base. But note: you don't have to be a teacher to be a teacher. We can all use a professor -- and MaryAnn -- in our lives. Historical role model: Horace Mann. New media: Robert French, David Phillips, and Philip Young.

The Social Reformer -- One of the most interesting things about social media is that they are, er, "social." And over the last year, we've noticed that some of the more ambitious social-media projects trend toward the promotion of social values. A few PR folks are taking this one step further and applying new media to promote social causes. This will benefit our world -- and the world -- in numerous ways. Historical role model: Eleanor Roosevelt. New media: Dan Forbush (for his work in education and Katrina), Brian Oberkirch (Katrina), and the gang at Eastwick for their work in 2004 on voting reform (they'll be doing more in the next few years).

The Critic -- Again, this is an industry transformation, and transformations always require people who are brave enough to do the job of destroying the old to make way for the new (reminds me of a friend of mine in college who studied architecture; he vowed to go into a related profession called "demolition"). This is a tough role, and you won't get much love for the work you do. But the role is critical, especially in the context of general reform. Historical/spiritual role model: Shiva, the Destroyer. New media: Shel Israel and B.L. Ochman.

The Hub -- And after we destroy what shouldn't survive, we must get into the business of repairing and building the industry. To describe what's involved here, we need to invoke another network metaphor, because the most important builders are "queen bees" in their networks (alas, we may in fact have a monarch). They are among the few people in our world who have met most of the researchers, anthropologists, gardeners, architects, impresarios, connectors, professors, idealists, and critics. In fact, two of our new-media hubs recently brought our world together, and for a brief moment we were all in one place. Let's see what the future will bring. Historical role model: Abraham Lincoln. New media: Jen McClure and Elizabeth Albrycht (Jen and Elizabeth: I hope you are OK that I am pairing you up with a Republican).

Five New Roles for PR People

from eastwikkers:

Yes, we've been thinking a lot about the ways our profession is changing, and about the need to reimagine the role of the PR professional. Seems to us that there's more than just one role. No matter where you find yourself on the personality grid (think Myers-Briggs, or StrengthsFinder, or The Ten Faces of Innovation, the inspiration for this post), there's probably a good role for you in your organization.

To make things simple, here are five new roles for PR people that have already emerged in our profession. For each role, we name an historical role model (or "archetype," for the Jungians out there), and contemporary role models (PR people who are already doing great stuff in the industry today).

Note to the contemporary role models: no pressure. And you won't have to stand before classrooms urging kids to behave well (yet).

The Researcher -- This one is way obvious. In this age of conversational PR, which is largely happening in the digital world, research and measurement people have a privileged place. They've always understood the value of listening, as well as the value of numbers. But unlike the pollsters and researchers of old, the new leaders will not use what they find to respin the message, but rather to enable the teams they support to enter the conversation truthfully. Historical role model: George Gallup. New-media role models: Katie Paine and Tony Obregon.

The Anthropologist -- corporate communications will learn a lot from the world of design that companies like IDEO has helped to evolve. Like the product and experience designers, communications people will go into the field and observe how people are actually using the tools (and we thank IDEO's Tom Kelley for the anthropologist metaphor). We'll see a lot more of this as companies accelerate the adoption of DIY community tools such as wikis. It's the social rule, not the tool, that many new communications professionals bring to the table. Historical role models: Margaret Mead. New media: Elizabeth Albrycht and Dianna Miller, who are studying wikis for SNCR.

The Gardener -- to build and maintain communities, you need more than just anthropologists. You also need people who are talented in "caring and feeding" the community, and sustaining online environments that sometimes get fractious, unstructured, unproductive. This is a special talent, in rare supply, and the most enlightened members of this lot will always have work. Historical role model: Voltaire ("we must cultivate our garden"). New media: Constantin Basturea, Dan Forbush.

The Communications Architect -- Sometime the tools are just as important as the rules ... if you are smart enough to really know how to use them. A few folks in the PR world are way ahead of others on the technical side and are helping their clients to make sense of the technology tool kit so that they can actually do stuff, and build things (what a concept). Note: building is as much of an art as it is a science. The best folks in this group are creatives. Historical role model: Frank Lloyd Wright. New media: Phil Gomes, Mike Manuel, Jeremy Pepper.

The Impresario -- some PR people will lead by the sheer force of their personality, their work output, or the artistry/fun of their writing (after all, blogging is a writer's medium). For these folks, it's an opportunity to define and shape a new industry. We expect a number of people to emerge here, each with a different strength or style. Historical role models: Ivy Ledbetter Lee and Edward Bernays. New media: Richard Edelman, Steve Rubel, Scott Baradell, Neville Hobson.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Danah Boyd: It Ain't Easy

So, David Callisch (Ruckus) and I will soon be behind the mics at Heather Gold's SxSW panel on "Open Source Management." In prepping for this, I remembered that there are basically three things that have happened to marketing, and online communication has been the catalyst: (1) marketing is getting more transparent, (2) it is becoming more collaborative, and (3) most interesting of all -- from my perspective -- it is becoming more ad hoc. Thus all the interest in DIY community tools which theoretically might help companies to more easily and more cost-effectively enlist the masses, tap the wisdom of crowds, and attempt big things in marketing that years ago would have required a massive budget. The idea is really appealling to small companies, of course, who will never have such a budget. But how easy is it to this? What's actually involved in getting a community up and running, and sustainable over time?

Check out Danah Boyd's recent article on the challenges of building heterogeneous communities. If you are thinking that your company can become the next Craig's List, Flickr or MySpace, you'll need to first understand the skills, stamina and creativity that are required of a good community manager.

These three sites have many attributes in common. They all grew organically. They each have public personalities that early adopters feel connected to. The early adopters really felt as though they were participating in and creating an intimate community, even as the community grew to millions. Users are passionate. Designers are passionate. They feel a responsibility to it and are deeply invested in making users happy. Character was not boiled out of the site; the text on the system is natural and goofy, reflecting the personality quirks of the developers rather than the formal speech of a corporation. Each site has a unique culture that was born early on and evolved through years of use and growth. The culture evolves with the designers and users working in tandem.

Customer service is not a segregated group who simply answers questions of a finalized product. They are completely integrated into the design system and the senior people are the most deeply embedded in user culture. There is a strong commitment to the needs and desires of the users.

Open Letter to PR Week: Join the "Conversation"

I'm at SxSW Interactive today, prepping for a panel on Open Source Management -- a communications methodology invented by writer/provacateur/performer Heather Gold. The theory is that if you get one company and a bunch of folks together in one room, you can help the company shake free from bad (unchallenged) ideas that might be preventing it from connecting more directly with key constituencies (customers, partners, employees, etc.).

That idea was on my mind when I got together last night for beers with Keith O'Brien, the online guru for PR Week. It's rare I get QT with anyone at this increasingly important trade, so I took the opportunity to tell Keith that I really like how much the publication has "opened up" -- more free content, a more Web 2.0-y look and feel, and a more open approach generally -- but that I still felt frustated how much content was trapped behind the firewall. Two problems: if you are the kind of person who forgets or loses passwords (ahem), you're going to struggle keeping up with all the stuff in PR Week that only appears online (including most of what Keith writes, which, by the way, happens to be very good). Second, at a time when PR Week's coverage has begun to focus on new media and its effect on the PR profession, online writers/bloggers have no easy way to link to what PR Week has to say. In effect, they are shutting themselves out of the conversation.

I know it's tough to change a distribution model, and I've spent some time talking to other publishers who are scared. But there's a big opportunity here to become a more relevant publication with influence beyond the traditional reach. For better or for worse, the way organizations communicate and comport themselves online has become a matter of intense public scrutiny, and PR Week has the license and talent to educate and shape opinion. I urge Keith and his colleagues to keep pushing in the direction they are going. It feels right to me.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Fifteen Minutes of Shame

from eastwikkers:

On the eve of the PRSA/Puget Sound event, I met with a few of the organizers for dinner. One of my dinner companions, a young PR pro, led a discussion about the recent Edelman/Wal-Mart blogger "scandal." She thought it was strange that the now infamous Edelman blogger had been doing outreach to the already converted -- a preaching-to-the-choir strategy. Wouldn't it be more effective, she argued, if Edelman/Wal-Mart tried reaching out to the unconverted. I quickly pointed to the elephant in the room. Sticking with the converted has worked very well for Republican political campaigns, given the Democrat's historic struggle to find a single voice. So practically speaking, wasn't the blogger's strategy smart if not ethical? The table sort of agreed, but I later realized why I was wrong and my younger colleague was right: Wal-Mart is not running for president. It is attempting to rehabilitate its image in a medium where there is hyper-transparency. How do you think the unconverted and the "MSM" (the mainstream media) felt reading the blogger's email, posted for everyone to read in The New York Times? I doubt Wal-Mart profited from last week's publicity.

A number of PR people appear to be OK with the Edelman/Wal-Mart team's approach (Shel Holtz is one), and it's because the debate has mostly revolved around whether what the team did was wrong or right. Putting aside ethics, we can still agree that what the team did, in retrospect, was counter-productive. I wouldn't call it a scandal (worse things have happened, and the Edelman agency has a well-deserved reputation for integrity), but I would call it a communications crisis, and it was caused in part by the people who are supposed to handle crisis communications. Lesson learned, I'll bet.

UPDATE: In another story this week (New York Observer), Richard Edelman talks about the shift of power from reporters to bloggers:

“It used to be I would schmooze you and I was your flack,” said Mr. Edelman, whose firm netted about $260 million in 2005. “Today, if we want to get a message into the public’s conversation, we just make a post on a blog. If The Wall Street Journal goes after a client, we don’t have to accept that anymore. Let’s post the documents we gave The Journal; let’s show the interviews the newspaper decided not to show.

“You’re not God anymore,” he said.

Tis true. Along with transparency comes the democratization of influence. Tough new world, and we applaud Richard Edelman for traversing it, and for taking a few of the bruises along the way as we figure things out.

We used to talk about 15 minutes of fame. In the new world we will all have 15 minutes of shame.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Are PR People "Challenged"

As an agency principal (a new role for me), I am often preoccupied with two big HR challenges: attracting great people to the agency, then keeping them. In PR, as in other consulting businesses, it's all about the people. And if you look closely at the two most vexing challenges, it’s about (1) the younger folks who represent the future of the business, and (2) the somewhat older folks who are capable of defining the business today. Both are in short supply.

Let’s start with the younger folks. In a nutshell, here's the problem: no one ever grows up thinking, "I want to become a PR person."

There are several good reasons for this. First, the role that the profession plays in our society has never been well understood (case in point, my parents still struggle to understand how what I do meaningfully differs from what advertisers do).

Second, this is not a profession that gets much love from the world at large. Why expose yourself to the ridicule of your peers who are entering "real professions like journalism," as one communications student recently framed it to me.

Third -- if you're looking for role models, good luck. Unless you actually know someone in the profession, chances are you wouldn't know the attributes that define the ideal PR pro.

Hollywood is no help here. Future lawyers have "A Few Good Men." Budding journalists have "All the President's Men." I've searched far and wide, and the best I could come up with is a few hilarious scenes in "A Mighty Wind" (e.g., click on the clip called "He'll Make it a Fire.") The scenes are hilarious because they remind us of the public's dim view of our profession. In cinema, there are no inspirational role models for PR; instead we have clowns.

The PR pros in "A Mighty Wind" make us laugh because they are so "challenged" -- they are challenged professionally, ethically, and, most painful of all (the sharpest edge of the joke), intellectually. This problem -- the "dumb PR person" caricature -- has always plagued our profession.

But now we have an even greater challenge to deal with: the fear that new media signals the end to our profession, because PR people (duh) will have little to do. A number of prominent PR bloggers have been debating whether new media poses a real threat, which at first glance seems real enough. After all, new media provides business with DIY tools. Blogging, in essence, enables DIY publishing. Podcasting is DIY broadcasting (a reality so stark, it has to be sending shivers through the VNR community). And wikis, one of our favorite tools at Eastwick, enables DIY communities, markets, and, conceivably, social movements. Who needs PR people in this new world, unless you are going to keep them just to do traditional media relations?

But therein lies the biggest challenge for PR. For many years, particularly in technology, PR meant media relations, and little else. Now, many of us for the first time see there's an opportunity to assist our clients in doing what our profession professes we do: "relating to the public." And forward-l0oking PR people have already awakened to this reality, and are beginning to see how what we have always been good at may in fact command a premium in the new world. It's a little thing called "social intelligence."

In the old world, some of the best PR pros stood out for their extraordinary ability to connect their clients and socialize them into important communities. Today, that innate intelligence is in even greater demand as businesses realize that have the ability to create their own communities. But the social intelligence that has always rewarded the top professionals in our industry has always been a scarce commodity. It will continue to be scarce, and we can comfortably predict that the best in our profession will always have work.

And here's the great news: the pool of applicants will get even better. Clue: take a look at some of the social rules that govern online behavior. This is our own assessment, yes, but it's safe to say that in order for someone to be successful today in the online world, they will need to be particularly smart and/or sensitive about ethics, group dynamics, and some of the nice, mechanical efficiencies that exist in the online world. Today, at Eastwick, we're getting interest from recent graduates who studied things like social sciences, management, and public policy; those disciplines have always sent gifted people to our profession. But the anecdotal evidence suggests that for these new applicants, the connection between what they studied and what they can now do as professionals -- well, it's a lot more real.

But it's not just the young people that are excited. There appears to be a general reawakening for the entire profession, and it is energizing and redirecting many industry veterans, some of whom admit to have lost their way over the years. Shel Israel, who now calls himself a recovering publicist, is a hot item on the PR lecture circuit and appears to be genuinely happy playing the role of industry gadfly. And I've witnessed a change in my partners, my peers, and, yes, even myself. It's a good time to be in PR because we have an opportunity to not only transform the profession and elevate it beyond the point of ridicule, but to also direct its path toward some truly good and decent things for society. The best PR folks always had this sense of purpose (they are not "challenged" -- they are doing the challenging) but the hope is that now even more people will understand what we do, and why what we do is good. Who knows, maybe we'll even get better Hollywood role models.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Supernodes Drive Wiki Adoption

Eastwick client Ross Mayfield (CEO, Socialtext) links to a great primer on wiki adoption. The author is Suw Charman, who has been working with Socialtext onsite at Dresdner Klienwort Wasserstein, home of one of the largest (if not the largest) corporate wiki. We like Suw's observation that a top-down strategy alone will not drive wiki adoption (that's been our experience at Eastwick). Behold the "supernode," one of the key drivers of wiki adoption:

2. Identify and understand key users Once you have identified key user groups, you need to know which users within that group are both influential and likely to be enthusiastic. Then consider how social software fits in to the context of their job, their daily working processes and the wider context of their group's goals.

What specific problems does social software solve?

What are the benefits for this person?

How can the software be simply integrated into their existing working processes?
How does social software lower their work load, or the cognitive load associated with doing specific tasks?

Ideally, key users will be 'supernodes' - highly connected, in contact with a lot of people on a daily basis, and heavily involved with the function of their department and the transfer of information within the group and between groups. This may not be the group executive, but could well be his PA or a direct report. Frequently, people's supernode status is not reflected by official hierarchy.

Into the Fold

Here's a nice new take on an increasingly important idea. Fold provides computer users with a start page that incorporates most everything they need including favorites links, feeds, etc. Similar to MyYahoo, but a bit more Web 2.0-y. I've been experimenting with different start pages to better manage my professional and personal computing life, and I am going to give this service a shot.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Small Screens/Big Ideas

We were surprised to hear Manohla Dargis (NYTimes) lament that Hollywood's embrace of the small movie ("Brokeback," "Crash," others) signals the end to the good old days when we could all go to a theater to enjoy "the oceanic feeling that comes with watching a film with a crowd, finding communion in the dark." You'd think that any film critic would be thrilled to see quality trumping size at the Academy Awards. But the way Dargis described the experience of sitting in a theater was even more interesting. "Oceanic," "dark," "communion" -- I felt like I was listening to someone talk about an old church -- another building that seems to be losing an audience, as more informal religious gatherings are beginning to happen in the home (see this great article in Time Magazine).

I can relate to what Dargis is saying, but I doubt very much that small screens will separate us in any meaningful way from the rest of humanity -- the damage, if any, has already been done by a medium that more often promotes values we detest. If anything, small films enable multiple audiences to commune with each other around things that really matter to them. And that's the true meaning of the long tail -- niche matters, and some niches are rather large. Is there any other way of explaining why some many people were disappointed when "Brokeback" lost and "Crash" won?

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Trouble

I enjoyed my time at New Communications Forum this year, and the best thing was the "hallway conversation." A few of my favorites:

The UK Phillips: David Phillips (Leeds Metropolitan University) and Philip Young (University of Sunderland) were two of the funniest and brightest barroom conversants on nights one and two. David (man with the mike) also participated in the Wiki 101 workshop, and posed the mightiest of the "Five Questions": Is Marketing Dead? The good professor examined the cadaver while debating with half a dozen PR, marketing, and tech folks who remain unconvinced. But I am so impressed that our new U.K. professor friend is committed to making trouble in this area.

Dr. Jonas: Jonas Luster, the new "community manager" at Socialtext (Eastwick client) is wild and wonderful. I was amazed at his ability to weave in and out of dozens of little stories and lecturettes on brain science, social computing, and neurologically-driven dating rituals. Jonas, who has a Ph.D. in social psychology, is our favorite kind of troublemaker: opinionated, passionate, personal. Make an appointment with the doctor today (he does house calls, I bet).

Tom Foremski: it is always good talking with Tom, the biggest troublemaker of them all. Tom thinks everything -- marketing, journalism, and PR -- is going to "hell in a handbasket." Cheerful guy. We chatted in the parking lot about the new world we're living in, a great bargain called Yahoo! Music, and my three-year old son's fixation on The White Stripes (supported in part by Yahoo! Music).

PR Peers: I got to speak with Phil Gomes (Edelman) and connected briefly with Jeremy Pepper (Weber Shandwick) and the Voce guys (Mike Manuel and Matthew Podboy). And it was nice to spend time with former Eastwick colleague Tony Obregon, who is now toiling at a small outfit called Cohn & Wolfe. Tony -- who on good days bears an uncanny resemblance to a Hollywood star -- has an excellent blog on research. I highly recommend it.

For a few weeks, our peers have been talking about starting a local meet-up for Bay Area PR people. At some point, all the great troublemakers will take part in this. You'll be hearing more soon.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Business Models Versus Role Models

I moderated a New Communications Forum panel yesterday on the topic of new business models for online publishing. I agree with panelist Tom Foremski's assessment that there are no business models yet ... it's too early, and we're at a stage of experimentation. But there are new businesses, and some of them are doing quite well, as some of the other panelists demonstrated.

Colin Crawford, senior vp for online at IDG, is helping transform the publishing powerhouse's print properties into vibrant, profitable online properties, using a variety of leading-edge tools such as vertical search, communities, and lead-generation programs. Francois Gossieaux, president of Corante, gave a brilliant presentation of the many experiments that blog network has conducted as well as some of Corante's guiding principles (key = "subscribe to the person," not the content). Chris Alden, CEO at Rojo, spoke about how his company is enabling publishers to stay connected with readers with sophisticated uses of syndication (RSS with mojo, as he likes to say).

So, maybe there are no business models -- after all you can only model when there is a templated idea that can easily be replicated -- but a number of online publishers are succeeding, and we can certainly think of them as role models. Look for the common themes -- experimentation, innovation, community -- and see what we can learn.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

The tour begins!

We began our Winter/Spring tour tonight at the New Communications Forum, the three-day new-media luvfest brought to you by the most excellent Jennifer McClure and Elizabeth Albrycht. We led a Wiki 101 workshop this afternoon, and the assignment was to build out the NCF event wiki. It was a fun, engaging project, and you can see a live snapshot of it here (check out the "five questions").

Tomorrow, we're moderating a panel on the future of online publishing; the group includes Tom Foremski and folks from Corrante, IDG and Rojo. Then next week, we're on the road, with a first stop at PRSA Seattle, where we'll mix it up with people from SAP Labs, Microsoft, Port of Seattle, and others. And then, we're off to SXSW, where we will participate on Heather Gold's panel, "Open Source Marketing." Fun tour -- we're talking about some of the more interesting community experiments we're involved in at Eastwick.