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September 2004
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Online Community Wants Conversation Not Canned Spiels

PR Week highlights the shifts facing public relations traditional communications strategy in the new world. The goal of any good communications campaign is to change behavior in a target audience. The goal of the communications campaigns will not change but increasingly the strategy is going to be to push the key message through conversation and engagement not traditional push and placement strategies.



PR execs who see blogs - the accepted shortened version of weblogs - as just another way to distribute press releases or tout carefully crafted client messages will soon find themselves floundering in a universe that wants conversation and insight, not canned spiels.

"It's not a marketing tool; it's an opinion tool. If there's marketing anywhere on the blog, that's death," says Richard Cline, president of Voce Communications, a PR firm in Palo Alto, CA. Blogs, he says, "are not a thing PR people should go into to exploit."


Volunteer Technical Support - Network-Centric Advocacy Services

Here is another example of aggregating skills and synchronizing contributions of SKILL to drive a campaign. It is from MoveOn on a national basis but there is no reason that river groups or other "trades" could not pool skill contributions in the same way (event planners, copy editors, phone bankers, logistics and delivery people, communications professionals, etc.)

We're looking for around 1000 enthusiastic volunteers who can commit to receiving phone calls from precinct leaders who need assistance with anything from basic computer functions to diagnosing and resolving issues using our online tool, the Leave No Voter Behind Web Action Center (WAC). Your phone number will remain confidential. You'll be 'on call' during your shift, and phone calls will go to a central number and bounce to your phone line when you're logged in. You'll have access to a tutorial, written materials, a help email account, and an online chat resource to help you answer questions.


What are the tasks your campaign needs help completing? How do you break the work into manageable chunks? How do you train people to finish the task (or target volunteers that have the right skills?) How do you distribute those blocks of work across the web to volunteers to complete successfully? How do you synchronize the contribution of the blocks of work back into a complete product?

Answer those questions appropriately and you are on your way to being ready for the advocacy in the age of connectivity.


Massive Objects Drag Space-Time around Themselves

For all of us that feel dragged into a space-time distortion every time we attempt to work with large organizations, foundations and egos.... a brief bit of sympathy for fellow satellites that are sucked into frames set by large objects. NASA project validates Einstein theory.

Dr Erricos Pavlis, from the Joint Center for Earth System Technology based at the American space agency Nasa’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, said: “General relativity predicts massive rotating objects should drag space-time around themselves as they rotate....Frame dragging is like what happens if a bowling ball spins in a thick fluid such as molasses. As the ball spins, it pulls the molasses around itself. Anything stuck in the molasses will also move around the ball....

Kind of like large campaigns setting a frame in language communications and tactics that drag smaller advocates into their rotation.


"Frame-dragging" is the effect wherein a massive body like Earth drags space-time around with it as it spins. It is also known as Lense-Thirring effect after the Austrian physicists who predicted it in 1918.
Neil Ashby of the University of Colorado, US, said the result was "the first reasonably accurate measurement of frame dragging."

The only way to escape the effect is to maintain distance or build mass. Who is defining the time-space frame in your campaigns? OK it is a bit of stretch to connect it to advocacy but the raw science is just so cool.


Slugging Away at Transit Problems: Network-Centric Response to Traffic and HOV

An article in the Washington Post over the weekend inspired me to look into "slugs" and "slug lines" around DC. This is an amazing self-organized transit solution.

Slugging is a term used to describe a unique form of commuting found in the Washington, DC area sometimes referred to as "Instant Carpooling" or "Casual Carpooling". It's unique because people commuting into the city stop to pickup other passengers even though they are total strangers! However, slugging is a very organized system with its own set of rules, proper etiquette, and specific pickup and drop-off locations. It has thousands of vehicles at its disposal, moves thousands of commuters daily, and the best part, it’s FREE! Not only is it free, but it gets people to and from work faster than the typical bus, metro, or train. I think you'll find that it is the most efficient, cost-effective form of commuting in the nation.

Thousands of commuters everyday. Organized by word of mouth, social norms and supported by a simple website. The website reinforces the norms and rules (includes reputation system, lost and found, message boards). The network teaches new comers how to use the system and is reinforced by the redundancy of lost of rides and riders with a back end of solid alternative "official mass transit."

It is truly network-centric.


Not Realized the Seriousness of the Allegations Until the Pictures Were Leaked to the Media

Rummyhead

I can't seem to shake the images in this story. I wanted to write ore as the story broke but I felt I need to wait. Images are part of the "situational awareness" and they are high value currency in information age campaigns.

The story of Abu Ghraib and Rumsfelds own comments are a powerful example of the changing dynamics in the age of connectivity. The links across the globe amplify the power of information in a connected world. The sad truth is that no one knows how long military would have left the commanders in place without the leaked images. The images of abuse changed the situation on the ground.

All struggles are visual. Now visuals can be distributed farther and faster than ever before.

The link to the BBC story contains graphic images of abuse to human beings. I have grabbed the relevant quotes here.

In his testimony to congressional committees, Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld indicated that the flood of pictures was now beyond the US authorities' control.

"There are a lot more photographs and videos that exist," he said. "If these are released to the public, obviously it is going to make matters worse... I looked at them last night and they are hard to believe."

Unapproved footage

Mr Rumsfeld was indignant at the publication of such images: "We're functioning with peacetime constraints, with legal requirements, in a wartime situation in the Information Age, where people are running around with digital cameras and taking these unbelievable photographs and then passing them off, against the law, to the media, to our surprise."

However, he admitted that he had not realised the seriousness of the allegations until the pictures were leaked to the media.

There is an old saying that says the true test of character is to see what people do when they are alone. Digital cameras are going to increasingly document our collective failure of character in dramatic and powerful resolution. What are the images of your work? What are the images of your opposition's activities they expect will never see the light of day? How is your campaign organizing the collection and distribution of powerful images?


Network-Centric Peace: Self-Organizing Voices for Peace

Andy Himes has created another peace venue with Voices in War Time. The site has created a space for connection and contribution. It is a powerful example of small group organizing a network contribution.

Our Mission: Enable millions of people to express themselves artistically and engage with each other to create a less violent world and heal the collective trauma caused by war.
From the burning towers of Illium to the killing fields of Rwanda to the deserts of the Middle East, violent conflict seems to be an inescapable fact of life—an impulse that is bred into our very bones. And yet, even as we do our very best to annihilate one another, history shows us that the human urge to destroy is counterbalanced by an equally powerful urge to create. Out of every great conflict comes great art: the poetry of Homer, the history of Thucydides, the art of El Greco, the memoirs of Primo Levi, the philosophies of Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. In the aftermath of trauma, violence and death, it is the artists, the philosophers and the historians who help us make sense of the senseless.
Voices in Wartime is a new online community that serves as a venue for the profound human urge to counter unspeakable fear, sadness, and anger in the face of war with creative action.

Read. Hear. Speak out. Participate. Contribute. You are a Voice in Wartime.


Advocacycasting an Airwave Challenge to Public Radio

At few times in recent history has it been more imperative that communities find ways to make their voices heard. As the FCC attempts to make it easier for radio stations to be co-opted by large corporations, and as the Corporation that runs our one National "Public" radio outlet conspires to exclude all other voices from the left end of the radio dial, individuals in the Bay Area are making it known that they will not be restricted from accessing the airwaves that are rightfully their own property.

Whether it is the San Francisco City Council coming out in support of San Francisco Liberation Radio, or the troublemakers of Pirate Cat Radio using a provision of the Patriot Act to justify unlicensed broadcasting, the Bay Area low power radio movement has responded to the attempts to take over the independent voice of KPFA, and followed in the footsteps of Free Radio Berkeley to build a chorus of voices demanding a liberation of the public airwaves.


Neighborhood Public radio is designed to be a critique of and alternative to the current notion of "public" broadcasting in the U.S.

There have been enough requests for the content that it seems about time to just put it out there and revise the quality as we go.

It is a thought provoking to play with the concepts of distributed broadcasting beyond the wire of the web. Added to audio podcasting and Ipods for advocacy the technology is coming into reach for activism and advocacy. The most important idea is to remove the barriers so that creative and talented audio producers can think of ways to apply talents to advocacy audio productions and to encourage groups to start grabbing audio content that could play a roll in educating people on ways to engage on the issues.


Mouse vs. Ivan : Save the little critters: Save Yourself

I love to see the stories of that reinforce all the hard work we do as environmentalists. I love the mouse just because it is. It is really nice when one of these little critters returns the favor. It is even cooler when it is something most folks never expected.

Beachmouse

The endangered Alabama beach mouse, long the bane of beachfront developers, may have turned out to be their best friend.

Major developments on the Fort Morgan peninsula were spared the waves that washed through other beachfront properties. Developers there were compelled to build farther back from the surf and to take steps to preserve mouse habitat in the primary and secondary dunes.

"Thank God for the beach mouse," said University of South Alabama civil engineering Professor Scott Douglass. "The developers hate that thing but it saved their developments."


OffShoring Activism

I remember having extended conversations with activists working on international issues that we will be off shoring activism in my life time.

I can see the office set up today. American radio, TV and culture piped into the office in India or Ireland. Employees crunching on American newspapers and street lingo. How many full time staff could these off shore sites employ to develop web content, newsletters, position papers, membership services, call centers and other advocacy backend services. Should a global climate change group have 5 people working in NYC or 15 in India? What is better for the environment?

Increasingly advocacy groups are engaged in toe-to-toe struggles with mulit-national companies. How are we multi-nationalizing the strategy.

Unfortunately, we have not even mastered the ability to pool labor skills from PA and NJ yet. However, advocacy and campaigning will make the distance leap from in the same office to across the state to international within the next 10 years.

Need to get a monthly email out to your members .. email your content writer in Jamaica.

Reuters, the financial news service, will today officially unveil an office in south India that will see 20 journalists cover 2,000 small to medium-sized American companies listed on the New York stock exchange.

The operation, based in Bangalore, has been running for six months with a six-strong editorial team reporting on companies' earnings, press releases and filings with the US Securities and Exchange Commission as well as analysts' stock alerts.

This is just the beginning for Reuters in Bangalore. The company's data unit, which archives material for 30,000 global firms, already employs 300 people and will grow by another 300 next year. The average age in the office is 25.

In outsourcing journalism and data processing, Reuters has become the first large media company to base US corporate reporting functions offshore.

The job of financial news reporter is just the latest in a long line of positions, ranging from call centre operator to legal researcher, which have been sent abroad in recent years. Part of the reason is improved global communications; the other is that work can be done more cheaply in poorer countries.

Reuters admits costs are 60% less in Bangalore than its "onshore" centres in New York, Britain and Singapore.


Ouch.. Cheney Hit by Self-Organized Advocacy Efforts

Here is a great example of network-centric advocacy in action. How hard is it to inject opinion into a Vice Presidential debate?

You may have listened to the Vice Presidential debates. It was surprising to hear Dick Cheney respond to the Hallibuton attacks with "(Edwards and Kerry) know the charges are false. They know that if you
go, for example, to www.factcheck.com, an independent Web site sponsored by the University of Pennsylvania, you can get the specific details with respect to Halliburton."

Unfortunately, the VP probably wanted to point people to www.factcheck.org.

Does it matter? Well, it does when you are fighting a network. A loosely organized network can seize opportunities very quickly.... the real owner of the domian pointed traffic at a George Soros site within
minutes of the gaffe. The site pointed it to a site with the headline "Why We Must Not Re-Elect President Bush". (50,000 hits in the first hour.)

The spin after the debate 24 hours later hard started to talk about the mistake, the moves and Soros strong opposition to Bush. Where will they point factcheck.com next? Since it is not Soros' address the traffic could be pointed a new site tomorrow.

Watch out.


Stand Your Ground: Distribute the Defense

Debate over content management, facts and databases continues to rage on in the world of IP law. It is nice to see the distributed group of students and civic activists standing up to the legal slap suits by a bigger company.

It is also interesting to see the distributed strategy in action. One group did not try to expose the "killer memos" on a single site but rather pushed the content to multiple places and encouraged other to do the same. The challenge worked because the documents were distributed and spread across a network of pro-democracy sites. One of the "nodes" had the skill and talent to fight.

"For people who are facing threats under the Safe Harbor provision of the DMCA, this gives them another tool in the arsenal to resist demands," Seltzer said. "If the ISP now has the right to cover its fees and costs, the ISP can now be more confident in standing up to its accusers."
Diebold will have to pay the students and the ISP their attorney fees, court costs and various other damages, which Seltzer said will probably be in the "low six figures." Seltzer said the figure wasn't going to bankrupt Diebold but she said that was never their goal.


Design a Web Form

I am not sure I have seen lots on the nonprofit or campaign design of web forums so I thought I would point out 37Signals.com. Here they took on FedEx for fun. However, I often think our campaigns add huge barriers to entry on the signup side of the page. I would assume that nonprofits have a big drop off at the registration and action page.


* We reduced the prominence of features that don't directly relate ..
...A "Shipping Shortcuts" feature saves frequent shipping presets, filling out the entire form based on past orders of your choice
...We added package tracking to the sidebar and reduced the link options to keep the options simple
..We also added a shipment history section of the sidebar to provide an overview of your recent shipments

I like these ideas for action centers. A simple forum, simple side bar, step by step form with actions to pressure congress, business, etc. based on past actions. Add issue tracking with donations made, actions taken and issue tracking on the success or failure of past efforts and updates on actions.


Annenberg's Ten Years and Ten Trends Report

This is a good read if you are planning to buy infrastructure, make grants or build a movement over the next ten years. After a few short days at NTEN, I am a little nervous we are getting excited to buy steam engine trains even though we have seen the new cars starting to appear on the road.

Ten Years, Ten Trends” Highlight the Major Findings in Year Four of the Digital Future Project’s Study of the Impact of the Internet on Americans

Are we planning new campaigns for a world of broadband, active engagement, online shopping, privacy protective and email weary? Or are we promoting passive participation models that consist of primarily of offering passive and responsive email participation in exchange for private information?


Culture for Campaigns

This is a sobering look at the dynamics that Amazon, Google , Microsoft and others are working to create. Obviously, social change is going to continue to accelerate and we are going to need to try to keep pace. We are going to need to use this more connected culture in rapid response efforts and swarming our campaign resources. The progressive sector is going to need to develop our own infrastructure for inserting opportunities for social engagement into the same info-sphere as the McDonalds awareness.

Here is a peak from USAtoday at the culture of your next campaign.

Infrastructure. Behind the Web, companies built infrastructure that stands ready to do much more than just run Web sites.

Orbitz started out as a site for selling airline tickets. It has since constructed a massive database of travel information and user preferences and a transaction system that can handle millions of purchases a day, says Chris Hjelm, Orbitz's chief technical officer. Now Orbitz can build on that, creating new kinds of services — perhaps like Travel Butler — at a low cost.

"We'll just continue to leverage that power," Hjelm says. One example that shows a glimpse of the future is Orbitz's Deal Detector, which monitors changing airfares on a particular route for a user.

Google, Amazon.com, eBay, Yahoo and other big Web players have built similarly turbocharged systems — powerful engines waiting for those companies to step on the gas. Amazon.com did exactly that on Sept. 15, when it unveiled A9, its new search engine. A9 meshes the personalization capabilities Amazon has built over the past decade with Google-style search, taking a step toward delivering more useful information.

•Hardware. Just think of what's been developed in the past decade. cell phones with cameras. BlackBerry e-mail devices. Pocket PCs such as Hewlett-Packard's iPaq. Music players such as the iPod. And $500 PCs with more power than anything that would cost 10 times that in 1994. All will play a role in the world network, helping messages, content and services reach users wherever they are.

•Software and more. Advances in software such as XML coding lets Web sites exchange information with each other automatically — crucial for something like Travel Butler. Wireless networks, whether new high-speed cell systems or Wi-Fi, enable information to follow people. Meanwhile GPS and cell phones that can pinpoint the user's location can help the network deliver information based on where he or she is.

Just as the progressive and socially conscious messages were marginalized from mainstream media the nonprofit sector is going to need to work hard to keep open channels into the networked world.