Giovnani Rodriguez… rising

I first learned about social media, blogs, RSS, Wikis, streaming and podcasts from Giovanni Rodriguez, in a breakfast roundtable at Counselors Academy a few years back. And I left his session excited, energized and with my head swimming. I’d tasted the ‘forbidden fruit’ (content creation) and knew there was no turning back.

Over the years, I’ve gotten to know Giovanni, personally and professionally. He’s a soft-spoken thinker, insightful and highly intelligent. And he’s able to connect some very disparate concepts in a way that not only makes sense; he helps you see things in a new light.

That’s why I’m so excited about Giovanni’s newest blog, All Things That Rise. It’s focusing on ideas that impact ‘culture, commerce and consumers’. You will find informative links and ephemera combined with longer pieces. In many ways it reminds me of the kind of content I used to anticipate in certain general interest, literary magazines.

Here’s how Giovanni describes it:

A broad inquiry into the physical, intellectual, and emotional limits of human beings at the dawn of “the age of intelligent machines.” I will look at how people, businesses, and governments are using a range of intelligence-enhancing technologies — from consumer gadgetry, to the full panoply of social technologies, to the new frontier of artificial intelligence and robotics — to rise above those limits. My hypothesis is that the socializing effects of these technologies is driving the evolution — evolution with a little “e” — of smarter, more competitive, and, ultimately, more ethical organizations and systems. But I will be looking at the negative effects as well — information overload, public safety, cultural divides, etc. Evolution is a complex affair, and it pays to look at winners and losers — and saints and sinners — all around. Hope you will join me on this little journey. I’m just getting started.

One post of special note is Giovanni’s take on the evolution of a new kind of PR agent. I agree that we have to look at the new landscape and develop a more relevant and social model.

And while you’re at it, have a look at Giovanni’s other blog, The Hubbub and especially the in depth series he wrote on characters in marketing/ads.

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Three things I’ve learned from the recession (so far)

I am just plain tired of the recession. (I know, who isn’t?)

But I’m not simply talking about the state of the economy. I’m sick of the negative attitudes and the fact that good news has come to mean news that’s not as horrible as anticipated.

Now, I don’t say we should run headlong into the lend-to-spend world that got us into this mess. But do I feel it’s time for us to instill a renewed confidence in ourselves, our businesses and the economy.

I’m going to start by listing three things I’ve learned from this adventure and how they changed my view of the world:

  1. You get very different advice in good times and bad. Basically you go from from spend, spend, spend to cut, cut, cut. Pendulum thinking, really. Personally, I think we should fall somewhere in between and adopt a philosophy of ‘risk and sensibility’.
  2. There are no guarantees. Contracts may disappear. Clients may cut back at a moment’s notice. Someone who calls you in for a new business opportunity one day could be laid off before the meeting ever occurs (this actually happened). What that means for business and individuals is that we need to honestly assess every situation and be prepared to turn on a dime. If you’re an entrepreneur, it’s a bit like being in perennial start-up mode, familiar, fun, yet occasionally a bit exhausting.
  3. Don’t wear rose coloured glasses, but don’t lose hope either. This isn’t easy when you’re exposed to dire news at every turn. But that’s a time to step back and put things in perspective; be thankful for what you do have and appreciate the truly important things in your life. And try to be cautiously optimistic amid the turmoil. At the risk of sounding schmaltzy, I’d like to invoke Jerry Lewis and his telethon finale: ‘When you walk through a storm, hold your head up high…’

Oh, and for PR people there’s a fourth thing too. The recession has accelerated a change in the communications industry. And while no one knows exactly where we’re heading, there’s no denying we aren’t going back. Social media is part of our landscape. And it’s going to continue to grow in importance for our practice and profession. Whether we become leaders or followers is entirely up to us.

What have you learned?

Who’s your filter?

It wasn’t that long ago when MSM was our main filter (and source) for news. And it was usually quite reliable. Sure something outrageous might slip through and cause a stir, but generally what you read in the paper was considered to be accurate.

Then along came blogs, the rise of citizen journalists and Twitter. Now, credibility is pretty much in the eye of the beholder.

And as the old Johnny Carson show used to ask, ‘Who Do You Trust?’

I thought about this again after reading an article in the NY Times that noted how the deaths of Ed McMahon, Farah Fawcett and Michael Jackson spawned a spate of false celebrity deaths including Jeff Goldblum, Harrison Ford, George Clooney and Miley Cyrus. All were quickly denied. But only after the word had spread on Twitter.

It sounds like the rumours emanated from the same source, a somewhat macabre website, where people can plug in a celebrity’s name and various details and the site will generate an article speculating about their death.

Now I do like practical jokes and humorous hoaxes (and, full disclosure, have been involved in a few myself). However, in a world where silliness can instantly morph into news, I think it’s up to all of us to establish our own system to filter truth from idle gossip.

It’s easy to do. When something juicy comes across our stream (of consciousness), instead of simply hitting RT (or posting it on Facebook or another social site), take a moment to research the veracity of the item.

As communicators, we should know how importance it is to dig deeper, analyse and verify; and not simply believe/repeat everything we read, see or hear.

In other words, look both ways before we tweet.

Is follow the opposite of lead?

I don’t think so. Actually, it seems that Twitter may have a better handle on this notion. You follow / are followed back. There are no sections on the microblog about leading (thought leadership aside, of course).

Too often we equate strong leaders with how many so-called disciples they have. People who are willing to blindly jump off (or blow up) a bridge. Now while that might work in banana republics and assorted dictatorships, it doesn’t seem like a smart model for business or the arts, where you’d hope the emphasis would be on looking for new ideas and insights; reflection that sparks imagination and provokes debate.

I got to thinking about this when I read what I’d call a truly inspirational blog post by Randy Hall on ‘Self leadership’. In it, he contends that great leaders must first learn how lead themselves. And by that that he means going outside your comfort zone, not being afraid to dream big, try something new, fail and then try again; keep learning, have passion and truly believe in the vision you are trying to achieve.

I couldn’t agree more. And, from a PR agency perspective, now seems like a great time for us to ‘follow’-OK embrace-these principles so we can provide real leadership and guidance to our clients, encourage them to get beyond the tried and true practices and see the communications light at the end of a social tunnel.

And while we’re on the subject, you may want to check out this post on ‘How to be an effective CEO’.

Special thanks to my friend and agency-owner Gini Dietrich for being a such a superb RSS feed and pointing to so much relevant and worthwhile content.

CPRS 2009 national conference – Twitter notes

If you’re following me on Twitter, you’ve probably noticed my recent propensity to live-tweet at events. I’ve tried to take my cue from Joe Thornley, who sets the bar high. And while I do like being an ersatz ‘reporter’, I know there’s a trade off between filing stories in 140 and full concentration. (I’m sure some psychologist will conduct a study to measure it.)

Here are some of my Twitter highlights from the CPRS national conference in Vancouver (or search the hashtag #CPRS2009):
@thornley Old PR is dying, our eyeballs are moving over to social media; the world is changing, media is evolving

@briansolis Press release just over 100 yrs old; journalists and bloggers have yet to get as excited about it as PR folks

@briansolis Reason why PR is in a state of crisis – we act like publicists, not evangelists

@dbarefoot: Social media sin 3: foist not thine spam upon yon rabble

@julieszabo: Social media sin 6 abandon not thy blog (try not to lose steam-that is easier said than done)

@terryflynn: 74 pct of Canadians felt Maple Leaf CEO had credibility during crisis; higher than Obama had on inauguration day

@maggiefox: In Social Media it’s important to focus on relentless innovation; the internet never sleeps

And finally…
@martin waxman: How much to we miss by live tweeting? I like doing it, but have to admit some trains of thought do leave the station without me. Just asking

Special thanks to the On The Edge organizers and to the student bloggers, @LesleyChang, @apparently_so, @mikedefault, @ashletts, and @stephleung who really added a lot of content and energy as they chronicled the event.

Should a business have a website?

It’s hard to believe that question was seriously debated by companies not that long ago (OK, in the ’90s). There was this newfangled worldwide web thingy and many organizations were just not convinced it was going to last.

I actually worked at a PR agency at the time where the senior partners felt it was too forward for a communications firm to have a website; they didn’t want to give away ‘proprietary’ information like the fact we did media and investor relations.

No kidding!

I even wrote a site for the agency (on my dime) and bartered my hours by doing pro bono work for a design firm who brought it to life. And even when I showed the principals the finished product, it was still shot down (post Y2K, no less). Bitter? Not anymore. But I don’t mind saying the lack of a website put us out of the running for a number of great accounts.

So why do I bring this up? Well, my very good friend, Gini Dietrich, wrote a post yesterday where she convincingly disputes a Newsweek story that contends there’s no value in social network if you’re a CEO.

And it took me back to the fearful, wrong-headed, backward-thinking, anti-internet agency I once worked at – and (thankfully) left.

Granted, change is difficult for many individuals and organizations. But ignoring an emerging trend is worse. Especially when that new technology can help you build and strengthen relationships.

Yes, it’s important to be strategic, think critically, make smart choices, not fall for all the pretty, shiny things. But wouldn’t we, as business leaders, want to embrace meaningful ways of engaging with our customers and actually having an honest and open dialogue with them?

I think CEOs are missing out on many potential opportunities if they’re not listening, understanding and participating in social communities of relevance to their businesses and them.

Who knows what we might learn?