Let’s never forget we are ALL Americans

Once again we are remembering what happened 12 years ago today. And while it–like the Kennedy Assassination, the first Moon landing, and many other historical events during my 58 years on this planet–remain ingrained in my memory, I feel strangely detached from it today. And that’s bad.

Yes, I changed my Facebook cover photo to a 9/11 photo and my profile pic to something more somber for the day. The flag is out and I have a 9/11 photo on my Twitter profile. I’ve resurrected my blog post from September 11, 2009 reminiscing about the day.

MSNBC is repeating their coverage from that morning, in real time, as if it were playing out live. That’s really surreal.

Two years ago, for the tenth anniversary (“anniversary” sounds so crass), I was interviewed by Eric Adelson for Yahoo News about the terrorist attacks and how the existence of social media might have changed things that day–news coverage, families messaging each other, last goodbyes. It’s all speculation of course, and most of it was too awful to contemplate. I still remember that phone interview, and how Eric was so concerned about covering the story with sensitivity. He’s a sports reporter–and a good one–but recounted how he and his family were talking about 9/11 and the ways they found out about the attacks that day, and he decided to write about it in terms of social media. He said he wrestled with the idea of doing a story, because it’s still so raw for all of us. think we can all imagine what social media would be like if, God forbid, something like this ever happened again. We’ve seen it with all kinds of disasters, big and small, local and regional. Good and bad people get on social media and the online universe goes nuts–and that sometimes becomes the story itself.

Divided or Separate?

For a time after 9/11/2001 we were one nation, united in front of a common enemy. Today we are more divided than ever, and that’s sad. We’re winding down the second of two unproductive, unwinnable wars since 2001 and debating starting a third. Our nation’s finances are a shambles, Congress won’t do anything but disagree with the other side and nobody else can agree on anything except perhaps that Miley Cyrus is controversial right now. Development of the 9/11 Memorial Museum was riddled with controversy. So on this day of commemorations, resolutions, memorials, and probably some tasteless newsjacking by some clueless marketing person with a fast Twitter trigger, take five minutes to watch this video and remember we are all Americans.

As Tiny Tim of Dickens fame said, “God Bless us, Everyone.”

The Seismic Shift in Public Relations Measurement

Over the past few years the world of public relations has gone through a radical change in the way program success is measured. The days of measuring how much space your press release occupied in the paper and calculating how much it would have cost to buy an equivalent sized ad are fading fast (for the most part). Ad Value Equivalency has been considered a bogus means of measuring public relations success for a variety of reasons. The simplest reason I cite is it assumes an ad can be purchased and placed in that location in the paper. This is not usually the case with front page stories. More important, AVE doesn’t measure any business outcomes–the number of widgets sold, for example.

The use of AVE in PR measurement has been debated for decades, and was questioned as far back as 1949. This article by Professor Tom Watson gives a history of AVE and its controversial evolution and (I hope) demise. It is still in use. Many executives and nonprofit board members insist on it because it’s simple to understand. Respected monitoring companies still use it, mainly to keep their competitors from stealing customers who insist on AVE as a measurement tool. But even they admit it’s bogus.

Things got serious in 2010 with the acceptance of the Barcelona Principles, which sound like an international treaty or trade agreement, but are the results of a major international effort to build industry consensus on measurement.

Working from that document, the International Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communications just released The PR Professional’s Definitive Guide to Measurement. The entire history of its development is long, and thoughtful. This is not a snap judgment by any means. It’s a seismic shift in communications evaluation. And it applies to social media as well.

A vocal proponent of outcome-based PR measurement is K.D. Paine, whose blog, The Measurement Standard, is a must-read for anybody in a field even remotely related to public relations.

Back in June she posted about The Conclave, a group of cross-industry professionals hammering out vendor-neutral standards for social media measurement. While these are not finalized yet, it looks like the world of public relations and the world of social media are getting their respective acts together regarding evaluation.

Originally posted on the Eagle Strategies blog, the class blog of the social media course I teach in the Mayborn School of Journalism at the University of North Texas.

Halftime in America

As usual, I watched this year’s Super Bowl more for the commercials than the game, although I’m glad the Giants won. Not that I’m a fan, I’m just not crazy about Tom Brady.

The Twitterverse was full of comments about the ads, and there was the usual complement of racy Go Daddy ads and refreshingly a dearth of juvenile, frat-house beer ads involving flatulence and below-the-belt pratfalls.

The car ads that stood out were the Chevy ads–with my favorite also being controversial. Seems Ford saw the ad ahead of time on You Tube and objected, asking NBC to pull the ad. Apparently the good folks at Ford didn’t get the joke.

Audi’s vampire party ad is a hoot, and does a great job of focusing on one product attribute–daylight headlights.

But here’s what everyone is talking about: [<a href=”http://storify.com/samjb/is-halftime-in-america-a-rip-off-of-morning-in-ame” target=”_blank”>View the story “Is \”Halftime in America\” a rip-off of \”Morning in America?\”” on Storify</a>]

Reflections on Martin Luther King Day, with a nod to social media

Today we celebrate the birthday of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. I was a young child when he was leading change in America, and I’m sorry to say very few people in my family were impressed with him or his message. Perhaps it’s because my parents were older and grew up in a different time. My dad was in a segregated military; my mother grew up in a family where “colored people” were servants. I know my mother died without ever having a meaningful conversation–one between equals–with any African-American person, but she was always kind and polite when she encountered them. She cautioned me that “they are different.” Daddy mellowed in his later years. He loved soul food and had a diverse collection of fishing buddies and fellow woodworking craftsmen that he could hang out with despite Mother’s concerns about what other people would think.

Like many white Americans during the civil rights era, my parents expressed fear. Seeing large crowds of black marchers singing “We Shall Overcome” scared them, and they, like many of their peers, thought that song meant “they” wanted to take over America and marginalize white people. The news media in those days–remember, we were limited to three TV networks, some radio and our daily newspapers–didn’t do a good job of explaining what was going on.  My parents never went to college, so they made their assumptions based on high school educations from small towns in southern Indiana. I’m pretty sure the thought never entered their minds–or that of those teaching them–that all people are truly equal, and no race is superior to any other.
Somehow, despite growing up in a world where the “N” word was freely used, I never understood why “they” were different, other than their appearance. My first questioning of this came in kindergarten. I had a new blue dress with a really pretty front detail that was different and stylish. To this day I remember what that dress looked like, down to the white topstitching and button trim.  The first time I wore it to school there was another girl in my class wearing the same dress. She was African-American and wore her hair in braids with matching blue barrettes.  The teacher had us both stand up in front of class to show off our matching outfits, then we resumed our normal activities.  I remember playing with that girl on the playground during recess. She was really nice and we had fun together in kindergarten.That evening at dinner I related the story to my parents. I remember the sidelong glances at each other, and Mother cautioned me not to get too friendly with her, but nothing much else was said.
The dress disappeared from my closet and I never saw it again.  
When we moved to a small town in Kentucky a few year later the city schools had just been desegregated. My school had their first Black student, a young boy in 2nd or 3rd grade. I overheard the teachers talking in the halls about what to do about him. It was as if he needed special education or something because he wasn’t white. I never understood what the big deal was, but I felt empathy because I was the only Catholic in that school, and the teachers didn’t know what to do with me, either.
Small town America in those days was more isolated than it is now. Limited communications kept ideas concentrated in one geographic area, and didn’t allow for much in the way of additional perspectives. There was no Internet to provide a wide world of ideas. Anybody who was different in any way was viewed suspiciously. I never met a foreign-born person until I was a senior in high school. College exposed me to foreign students and a desire to travel and see what the rest of the world was like, but I never felt like any person of another race or ethnicity was any better or worse than me. Somehow, without being openly defiant, I rebelled against my parents by becoming more open minded. Perhaps it’s because I was bullied and treated badly for being an outsider in a small town, and a Catholic in an environment where we were treated with great suspicion.
In the 1970s Congress passed the Equal Rights Amendment and President Richard Nixon endorsed it. It was never ratified by the required 38 states, despite an extension of the deadline, and several states that did ratify it rescinded their ratification. Even though the amendment has been introduced in every session of Congress since 1982, the sad fact is, it will probably never pass. Because the wording is interpreted to include the LGBT community, conservatives are working hard to keep the amendment dead in the water.
Remembering back to the political rhetoric and rumormongering of the ’70s I can only imagine what the ERA ratification process would be like today with the popularity of social media and its ability to spread fear. One of the more sensational arguments against the ERA was a belief that it would make separate men’s and women’s restrooms unconstitutional. I can only imagine how that falsehood and others presented by organizations like Phyllis Schlafly’s  Eagle Forum would go viral and mutate into a constitutional monster that would distract media pundits and politicians from actual governing issues.
All of this reminiscing is a rambling introduction to a great blog I read today from Radian6, a media measurement firm. This blog provides an excellent assessment of how the late Rev. King and his organization might have used social media. It’s also a useful outline of social media strategies that could be employed by any activist organization seeking to make an impression on a wide audience.  I think anybody with an interest in civil rights (or any kind of activism) as well as social media can use it as a guide.

Using social media for life

It’s almost a month since graduation. I’ve watched the kids walk across the stage, written letters of recommendation to employers and graduate schools, and tried to provide moral support and advice to job hunters while celebrating the relatively large number of recent grads (compared to last year) who are gainfully employed in their field.

The NBA playoffs are over and the Dallas Mavericks won, in a shade of blue very similar to my beloved UK blue—with a Kentucky alum on the coaching staff and another in the communications office.

I went to two funerals in two days—one for a beloved colleague who died too suddenly and too soon, the other for a dear former pastor who was one of the most amazing men of God I’ve ever known.

I’ve also re-landscaped half the back yard, dealt with foundation leveling at our house, continued the archeological dig through the “junk room” we inherited, and kept vigil on a wren’s nest (with 5 babies) directly above the front door, all while trying to get caught up on sleep, swimming, and summer office work. I’m trying to brush up on my Spanish, too, for a second mission trip to Patzun Guatemala. Sometime I’ll act on the paint samples taped to the walls inside and outside the house and start painting.

It’s been a busy month of summer vacation—but I can tell this summer vacation will be too short. I still have a zillion things on my personal “to do” list, a stack of books to read (paper and e-reader), projects to finish, and I try to spend a couple of hours a day monitoring new trends and technologies in social media and communications. The learning and preparation for the next semester never takes a break.

So why am I rambling on like this? Because as much as technology has evolved and made our lives “easier,” we still have to do stuff the old fashioned way. Flower beds needed to be re-built, holes dug, plants watered and mulched. Social media couldn’t do that for me, although it could help me find good deals on plants, tools and supplies, and is helping me figure out what varmint is chewing on my Turk’s Cap plants.

Social media helped spread the word about the two fine people who died, and connected all of us with memorials and funeral arrangements while sharing fond memories.

Foundation repair still involved men digging holes, installing piers and jacking up the house, although social media helped us find recommendations and reviews of potential contractors.

Social media didn’t help me pick out paint colors, and it won’t apply the paint but it did lead me to good instructions for painting over 1960s-vintage wood paneling. And when we found a number of interesting vintage articles in the junk room, social media and the internet helped me find out the history and value of those quirky items.

Social media is making it easier for me to keep up with trends and bookmark source material for my fall classes, which I’ll start planning in August when I return from Guatemala. Social media is also helping me locate donated school supplies to take to Guatemala, and to connect with those group members I don’t know yet. Coffee Break Spanish Podcasts are a big help in refreshing my bad Spanish.

Social media connected me with a local bird expert who reassured me the wrens wouldn’t abandon the nest as long as we minimized our time on the porch.

I could go on and on about how social media is useful in my everyday life. It’s not just for marketers, not just for sharing party pictures, and not just for sharing links to articles I want my students to read. In my life, at least, social media and the internet have become my “go to” sources for the mundane as well as the more exciting aspects of my life.

How are you using social media for your everyday life?

I’m feeling very Egyptian this week

Instead of a new blog post, I’ll just link you to the item I just posted on the Eagle Strategies blog, the blog maintained by my students in Journalism 4210, the strategic social media class I teach at UNT.  I really have been moved by the events in Egypt this week, and pray that the Egyptian people see the freedom and security they–and all people–deserve in this world.

Click here to read the Eagle Strategies blog.

I confess–I like the idea of the iConfession app

I’m kind of getting a kick out of this whole iPhone confession app.  Not about the app itself—as a practicing Catholic, I think it’s a great idea. Most of us have a little wallet card or brochure with a list of bullet points to consider when examining our conscience before confession, and there are plenty of books out there about preparing for the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Making that checklist available electronically on a device that’s almost surgically attached makes sense to someone like me who can never find that little wallet card when it’s time to make nice with God. And the idea of making a list of transgressions on the gadget will replace the need (for me at least) to take a legal pad with a list of sins into the confessional.

What I’m getting a kick out of is the media—and public—reaction to it. A quick Google search of “iconfession” turns up 840 news articles at the moment I’m writing this.  My students have even blogged about it.

Starting with a snarky blog on Time Magazine’s site, the headline (and we all know most people only read the headline and lead these days) gives the impression that you can now phone in your confession.

I have no way of knowing if this is the article that started all the misinformation in the media and the blogosphere, but it does point out two problems with journalism today: Writers who don’t check their facts and writers who go for the sensational over facts.

This bnet blog would be offensive if it didn’t betray how ignorant the writer is. That’s another problem with the blogosphere—people who are too lazy or stupid to research a story write out of incompetence or misinformation—deliberate or accidental—and get Tweeted, Facebooked, Digged, Delicioused, Reddited and otherwise given credibility by readers as ignorant as the writer.

After several days of innuendo, misinformation and complete nonsense, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops finally blogged about it, and presented a pretty thorough assessment of the app and the crazy media case study it has become. Read that blog, and be sure to check out the links imbedded in it. It would be a great case study for students to follow.

To me, this whole thing is a perfect example of what happens when people read part of a story and rush to judgment—and writing, and tweeting—before getting all the facts straight. Journalists are taught to be skeptical and check facts multiple times before running with a story. Bloggers with no journalism education or scruples are only interested in massaging their egos and running with sensationalism because they know it will be forwarded and read by people who should know better.

As for me, if I had an iPhone, I’d have downloaded the app by now. I can never find the little brochure or card that reminds me of what I need to consider before confession, but I’m never far from my Blackberry. Hopefully by the time I upgrade to an Android the Android version of the app will be available.

The overwhelming responsibilities of teaching social media

I’m finding myself a little overwhelmed these days. Like my students, friends and colleagues, life is suddenly overwhelming. There are simply not enough hours in the day or days in the week to get everything done. If I didn’t have a husband who knows his way around the kitchen and laundry room without a map, I’d be starving and look like a homeless person. Teaching three writing classes and one graduate PR class is too much for one mortal, but somehow I’m doing it, although I’m constantly terrified I’m not serving my students well. And then there are the faculty committees, and the few outside activities I allow time for. The house isn’t as clean as I’d like it to be, but it’s livable. The dog and cats still recognize me, and that’s good.

But what do we really need to do? I just spent two hours on Tweet chats with online friends, students and strangers from all over the world. I got some good ideas, but is my life changed by these information exchanges? Probably not. But it’s one of those things I “have” to do. And who makes me feel like I have to do it? I do. It’s self-inflicted overachievement torture.

I’m also feeling overwhelmed because I’m trying to absorb every detail about social media that I can find before classes start in January. You see, I’ve been asked by the faculty to teach a much-needed social media class at UNT. It’s much needed because PR and advertising students are expected to know social media applications and strategies before they graduate. But at the beginning of this semester, a large proportion of my students didn’t have a Twitter account, weren’t blogging, and still don’t know about Digg, Delicious, and Google Analytics. They start internships and come to me in a panic because their supervisors expect them to take over social media for the clients. They’re overwhelmed, too.

There’s simply too much information out there for one person to know and disseminate to eager young minds. So that’s why I’ll be crowdsourcing many aspects of the social media class next semester.

Why should that class be based on one person’s point of view? You can’t tell me there’s one human being anywhere who knows everything about social media and its strategic uses. The topic is a moving target, changing and evolving like rapidly mutating cellular material. I expect my students will be contributing as much to the class as I am, along with my expert guest speakers. 

Isn’t that the point of social media? To share and disseminate information? To work in communities with the expertise of the best and brightest coming to the forefront?  I look forward to their input, which is why I’ve already set up a Facebook page (Eagle Strategies) and a LinkedIn group. Get them started early. Start the conversation now, so it’s up and running by the first day of class. Bring my professional friends into the conversation.  We all learn from each other.

I’m not feeling as overwhelmed now.  I’ve decided to facilitate the social media class rather than teach it.  Because the learning will come from the doing, and I can’t make them do, only facilitate what they’re doing.

Let me know what you think.

Pope Benedict’s lesson on strategic communication

I came home from Sunday Mass today and opened up the Dallas Morning News to this headline: “Pope to Priests: Go forth and blog.”

On the feast day of St. Francis de Sales, the patron saint of journalists and writers, it’s a timely announcement. While I’m the first to admit that John Paul II would be a very hard act to follow, Benedict XVI has shown a remarkable interest in using new media to spread the Gospel, and he has a broad following among youth. The Vatican now has a YouTube channel, a papal Web portal (Pope2You) and an iPhone APP, although I don’t think he’s playing “Farmville” on Facebook.

In his message the Holy Father states that a mere presence on the Web is not enough, and he implied knowledge of strategic communications that I’ve not witnessed from the Vatican before now. It’s almost like he’s taken my “PR Communication” class, in which everyone must have a blog.

In fact, this directive is part of the Pope’s message “The Priest and Pastoral Ministry in a Digital World: New Media at the Service of the Word” announcing the theme of World Communications Day on Sunday May 16.

Now I’m pretty sure the Holy Father isn’t expecting our pastors to replace their homilies with a blog, nor do I see us texting in confession any time soon. But it is encouraging to see the strategic use of social media being endorsed by the leader of the world’s largest Christian denomination. When he says “The increased availability of the new technologies demands greater responsibility on the part of those called to proclaim the Word, but it also requires them to become more focused, efficient and compelling in their efforts” he’s also describing what all communicators should be doing: Targeting the message to the audience and using appropriate tools.

The pope reminds priests (and us) that social media can be used to build “a vast and real fellowship” which is a lesson all of us in the communications field should know and use to the benefit of our clients. The document reminds us that the prophet Isaiah envisioned “…a house of prayer for all peoples” (Is 56:7) and suggests that we can use the Web much as the “Court of Gentiles” was used in the Temple of Jerusalem–as a place “for those who have not yet come to know God.”

While I’m not sure the Holy See would appreciate my secularizing their message, the truth is social media is already being used by marketers and issues managers to build awareness of their products and causes, and to engage a loyal community in fruitful discussion and activism to mutual benefit. Recent tragic events indicate that radical Islamists are already on the Internet bandwagon in order to strategically proselytize and recruit people to their cause. So I think it’s good that the Vatican is taking some cues from the real world and encouraging the use of social media by those on the homefront of spiritual leadership.