From the category archives:

SM Global Report

Edelman PR is the world’s largest independent PR agency, but I’m not really one to be impressed by the largeness of an organization. PR Week has voted Edelman the best large PR agency in the world, three out of the last four years, but I hold trade rags commending industry luminaries suspiciously.

What impresses me the most about Edelman PR is that it seems to be an agency of innovation and big ideas, more than other large agencies I have known. It was the first PR firm to conduct media tours. It set up the first-ever online crisis management service. It was the first Western PR firm in China, and perhaps most impressive to me, is it established trust as the key measurement for PR strategy.

What also has impressed me is Richard Edelman and the thought leadership he has demonstrated in the complex and nuanced area of social media and its impact on the PR industry. He was early to the blogosphere, and he led his own staff to become among the most social media active of all agencies. He also has been an undoubted influence on the heads of large companies, NGOs and even small countries in understanding and embracing social media.

I asked Richard his thoughts on social media and particularly the impact it is having on PR agencies and their images.

1. You recently posted a blog that disagreed with a NY Times piece about Silicon Valley PR practices in the social media era, saying that it used old, false stereotypes. Please summarize your bones of contention.

The NY Times article had an important lesson for communicators, who must recognize that the winnowing of mainstream media will require a different approach to PR. But the idea that PR folks can circumvent both MSM reporters and key bloggers by whispering in the ears of influencers is patently false. So was the characterization of PR executives (especially females in PR) as reliant on relationships to achieve results for clients. Classic stereotypes of PR executives can be summarized as evil spin room denizens as in the movie “Wag the Dog” or superficial party people with megaphones. Both of these canards must be refuted and resisted.

2. It does bode a couple of interesting questions. Here’s PR, which can be defined in many ways, but usually image has something to do with it. Why do you think PR has so many problems with its own image?

The PR industry has image issues because it allows itself to be defined by its least common denominators, from celebrity publicists to Silicon Valley relationship masters. In fact, what we do is more important than ever before. The dispersion of authority, lack of trust in institutions, rise of stakeholder society, need to connect to broader group of influencers are tectonic plates moving. We are pushing the concept of Public Engagement, with action tied to communication, to our corporate clients.

3. How do you feel social media has changed the role of the PR practitioner?

Social media has allowed PR people to have more personal and more continuous connection to stakeholders. The mainstream media news hole has allowed only episodic coverage of companies and has been focused most often on the CEO. Now we can bring a more true-to-life picture of companies, with consumer-generated views of products, blog posts from corporate researchers, and discussions around important issues (ethically sourced product etc.)

4. Let’s go back a few years. You were, without dispute, the earliest prominent member of the PR community to whole-heartedly embrace social media. You started blogging in 2004 and you also started advocating that PR practitioners adapt to the changes that had started to occur. What did you see at that time that convinced you it would be wise to jump in?

I must give all of the credit to my cousin, Linda Stone, / formerly of Microsoft, whose pioneering work on “continuous partial attention” best describes my teen-aged kids. She listened over lunch after my middle child’s Bat Mitzvah, where I carried on about the new role of civil society, the rise of empowered employees and consumers.

She walked me over to the PC, sat me down, and pointed to early bloggers such as Dan Gillmor. In short, she pushed me to get into the game. It is my weekly appointment with the community; what will be new and interesting.

5. So you were early in incorporating social media into your personal brand. How did that impact the Edelman brand, and for that matter, the Edelman business practice? How often is social media a factor today in Edelman being selected, vs. 2004?

My blog, and the 40 others that are featured at, have made us the most popular web site of any company in the communications sector (yes, ahead of Ogilvy, McCann and other giants).

My blog is the leveling element in conversations with potential employees or when I visit companies on new business calls. We don’t have to talk about baseball or golf; we can make a connection on topics in my blog. Social media is a key reason why Edelman is selected by prospective clients; we have also persuaded our clients to be much more open in their communications with the world as control and credibility are at opposite ends of the spectrum.

6. What are the constants for the PR practitioner? What professional skills have remained the same since you started in PR? What’s changed?

A PR person must be more broadly knowledgeable and technically proficient. The opportunity to offer advice to the C-suite has never been greater, but we have to earn that position every day by being connected to new voices of employees, consumers, civil society and social influencers. There is a tendency to become narrow and deep, to know your industry top to bottom. That is not sufficient; it is not as if health care or technology exist in a vacuum. There will be pressures on privacy, IP, payment modality, fairness of compensation, green policy; we must offer insight on these and more.

7. Is there any sort of business–any size, any sector– that can afford to ignore social media in its communications practices?

I thought that the financial services industry could ignore social media, as it was so heavily covered by mainstream media.
I was wrong, particularly as government has become enmeshed in the sector through the bailout last fall. Health care companies are overcoming their fear of regulatory intervention in order to participate in the conversation on diseases and drug treatment.

8. Would you advise young people to go into either PR or corporate communications in this day and age? Why or why not?

A career in public relations should hold great appeal to students graduating from college. The secular trend towards PR and away from advertising has enabled the industry to withstand the present recession in much better condition than in 2001-3. The basics of the job, from writing to media relations, remain the same. But the additional responsibilities, from connecting with new influencers to conversing with social media to creating programs that change policy for corporations, are truly exciting and important.

9. Here’s an easy one for you: What’s the future of media? Does traditional media continue to wane until it hits the vanishing point? Does social media continue to ascend in importance?  Do the two media categories eventually merge and become “just media?”

I had breakfast last week with Jim Warren, until a year ago the editor of the Chicago Tribune. He told me that the Hartford Courant had reduced its newsroom from 400 reporters to 150 reporters in the past six years; the Tribune is down by nearly 50%. Local papers are becoming hyper-local but even that is no protection against incursions by ESPN (note launch of their new Chicago and LA sports web product).

The local TV news outlets are under terrific pressure as key advertisers in auto, banking and retail evaporate. It is clear we will have five national newspapers, including the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, NY Times, Financial Times, perhaps the Washington Post. Network news will gradually ebb, as the average viewer today is 65 years old.

The consumption of media has not diminished; it is the mix that has changed. The average person sees or reads eight sources of media on a given day, according to the Pew Foundation. So there will be more demand for immediate, short form content, delivered on all three screens (TV, PC, mobile). Social media will fill a hole by offering  personal experience, deep knowledge of sector and opinion.

10. Additional comments?

I am happy to be part of an independent, family-owned business that gives me the ability to speak freely about issues in our industry.

Most of us have had an experience involving someone we love and cancer. Even when the beast is defeated there simply nothing funny about cancer. About 13% of all people who died in 2007 were taken by cancer.

In the US in 2008, some 11 million people were afflicted by cancer. Drew Olanoff, 29, a Philadelphia-raised developer became one of them, when a lump on his neck turned out to be lymphoma, one of the most treatable of all cancers when caught in early phases. Except Drew’s cancer was detected in Stage 3, which is not an early phase. It had first appeared on his neck but had spread into his chest and abdomen.

It meant Drew would have to cancel plans to move to Los Angeles where he had just been hired as online communities director for mobile text pioneer GOGII. Instead, he moved in with his mom in Swedesboro, NJ where he immediately began chemo treatment and neulasta shots every 2
weeks.  He has completed 4, and has 5 to

Drew is a self-admitted geek, known and popular in the Web 2.0 community and long active, particularly in social media and Twitter. Like many people with cancer and other chronic and threatening diseases, Drew turned to social media for support.

What is different for Drew is his injection of humor. He created a Twitter hashtag called #BlameDrewsCancer. Read through that list of thousands of tags, and I’m wagering you will have no choice but to smile if not bursting out laughing. Then you stop and think, “Wait, I’m laughing about some guy’s cancer.”

Your entertainment helps Drew. It supports and encourages him to fight the fight he has to face. He knows he is not alone. He knows people are on his side.

Drew started what has become a Twitter meme, by blaming his cancer on his missing keys or yet another loss by his beloved Phillies. Soon others joined in. Among them is cancer survivor Lance Armstrong who blamed Drew’s cancer for a sore shoulder. This has led to Drew’s increasing involvement in LIVESTRONG, Armstrong’s online cancer-fighting community.

Drew has guest blogged at LIVESTRONG. When people blame Drew’s cancer at LIVESTRONG they are requested to donate a dollar per complaint. Drew is searching for a corporate sponsor to match the funds.

Here are my questions for Drew and his answers.

Q1 When you first noticed you had a lump, what was your initial response?
When you showed it to your mom, what was her response? How did the
doctor break the news of cancer to you?

I first noticed I had a lump a
week or two before I left San Francisco.  I took pictures of it and my
mom’s response was “it could be anything.”  I already knew I was coming
home to visit before I headed off to LA and GOGII, so it seemed
reasonable.  When I got the diagnosis, the doctor called me into the
office.  I knew it wasn’t good.  He was direct, and scheduled my first
chemo treatment right then and there.

Q2 What were your first thoughts when you discovered you had cancer?

Probably because I knew deep down something was not right.  Because of
the tests and the feedback from the doctor and surgeon, I knew it was a
probability.  (Lymphoma of some type, Hodgkin’s being the easier to
treat of the two)  When I got “the call” I broke down.  Both of my
parents were there at the time, luckily.

Q3 What made you decide to turn to social media?  Were you aware of other people in social media with cancer?

always feel like I want to share.  Not because I want attention, but
this is my chosen profession.  If I’m going to share something funny,
great, or sad … then I better keep things real.  And this was as real
as it got. I have a lot of friends on Twitter and various other
social networks … even if I haven’t met them in person.   I wasn’t
aware of that many people who were that public.  In retrospect I was

Q4 How did you get the idea for #BlameDrewsCancer?

started blaming things on my cancer a week before I was diagnosed
officially.   The doctor had said it looks like a lymphoma so I took that
as my diagnosis. I blamed things on my cancer, and my mom’s initial
response was “You don’t know that its cancer,” to which I’d respond
“Yes, I do.”  I wanted to turn it into a site since I’m a geek.  Ran
it by my longtime mentor Micki Krimmel and she said “Do it.”  So I
called Mike Demers whom I worked with for a long time in Seattle, and
not only one of my best friends, but a Hodgkins survivor.  He said yes
immediately and built what you see today.

Q5 What has #BlameDrewsCancer done for you? What about social media in general?

me, it has allowed me to talk about cancer in a way that not many
people can.  Cancer scares people, and rightfully so. But there are
things that can be done, and are being done. You see it every day with
LIVESTRONG and other foundations.   What it does for social media is
prove the medium even more.

Q6 What are some of your favorite anecdotes from #BlameDrewsCancer?

my cancer for Nickelback still makes me laugh.  But when I woke up to
Lance Armstrong blaming my cancer for his shoulder injury, I knew that
I struck a chord.   An unintended chord as far as reach, but a chord
none the less.  I’ve also woken up to people blaming my cancer for the
death of loved ones.  Difficult, but real.

Q7 Can you share with me some comments–pro or negative, the hashtag has caused.

negative whatsoever.  Do I know that things can be misused either for
spam or nastiness?  Yes.  It’s a part of the territory.  But I’d say
that 99% of the tweets come from the heart or the funny part of the
heart and that’s a wonderful thing.

Q8 What advice do you have for other people with serious or chronic diseases and using social media?

out.  You’re not alone.  If ONE person comes back to you with a sign of
support, or an offer of friendship, you’ve won and the disease has lost.

Q9 How did you become affiliated with LIVESTRONG and Lance
Armstrong? How much money have you raised? Just how does it work and
how do people contribute?

The day that we launched the
site, LIVESTRONG’s CEO and community team reached out to me.  They
asked me if I needed support, needed anything … and asked me how I was
feeling.  It meant a lot.   To date, we’ve raised $600 solely for
LIVESTRONG, but have raised over $3,000 for the American Cancer Society
and $500 for the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

People can donate directly to
LIVESTRONG via a link on or through our Facebook Cause Page. – The support has been amazing.  But I won’t rest until I find sponsors to donate $1 for each unique blamer to LIVESTRONG.

Q10 additional comments?

Cancer picked the wrong people to mess with.

Since 2005, I have used this blog to post interviews on people who are using social media to change their businesses and lives. So far, I've interviewed over 400 people in 38 countries. The diversity has been enormous–from CEOs of Global 100 companies to people fighting for human rights in countries' that abuse them. I've talked to students, government workers and people passionate about non profits.

At the core of my work has been the Social Media Global Report [SM Global Report]. When work there emerges into specific projects, like Twitterville, I move the conversation over to the new category.

Thanks to the completion of the book, and to BurrellesLuce coming on as a site sponsor, I am reinvigorating my SM Global Report. I am looking for new stories that are useful and interesting to people who are exploring social media. I am looking for stories with business or human angles. Yes, I like to write about prominent people, but equally so, I like to find the stories, that no one has previously told. For example, in Twitterville, one of my favorites is the story of United Linen, a restaurant laundry service in Bartlesville, Okla–a company born in the Great Depression, and using social media to get closer with customers in the current recession.

Please help me. Tell me your stories or stories that interest you. Leave a comment here, or send me email at Let me share your best social media stories.

Sandbox2 It has been a little over three weeks since I finished proofing Twitterville and sent it off to my publisher for the last time before I see the thing in hard cover.

Since then, I have been kicking back more than I usually do, playing in my garden, with my wife, dog, cat and a few friends who I've missed during the reclusive process I require to write a book. It's nice to get out.

It's also scary, when I wrap up a project that took so much time and attention. There is a feeling that I have touched the top of a mountain and have stepped into a vacuum, a bubble where my work and focus have been excluded.

But I have a great number activities coming up. And for a three-week rest period, there has been a lot of planning and thing and doing.

First, I am going to do everything I can, and go everywhere that time and budget allows me to promote Twitterville. I feel good about the book. I think the stories I've told about the incredible people I've met in Twitterville are stories worth telling and sharing.

I'm planning a big party sometime in August. I have begun to invite people who are my close friends and people who are in the book. My friend Tatyana Kanzaveli has agreed to produce it for me and we are currently raising sponsorship, which we of course need before we can open the floodgates to the public. So far, Network Solutions and Intuit have kicked in, so we are well on our way. I'll tell you more about that when I have more to tell and I hope that will be soon.

Next, I am thrilled, THRILLED to announce that BurrellesLuce, the media planning, monitoring and measurement service for social media, online and print has signed up to sponsor this blogsite starting July 15, and I have agreed to pst at least once weekly–thus the title of this post.

This bog has served me as a sandbox, I play in it, try things out and watch how they develop.  I allow myself to stray and wander to cover whatever interests me.

Since 2005, the core focus for me in this sandbox has been social media and how it is changing the lives of people and the structures of institutions. Essentially, what I do is I talk to people about how social media changes their work, play and cultures.

Over these past few years I have interviewed more than 400 people in 38 countries about how they use social media. A majority of these interviews have been in the section called the Social Media Global Report. Projects that start there have resulted in two hardcover books, Naked Conversations, Twitterville; The Conversational Conversations, a Dow Jones, eBook and contributions to, as well as FastCompany.TV.

For a while, I'm going to play in the sandbox, interviewing people about social media. I am looking for interesting and useful stories. I am happy to hear any that you think are useful and interesting.  am particularly interested in hearing those that are unique; that stretch the boundaries of social media. I am more interested in the human element, but I remain primarily a business writer. Please email me or leave a comment hear if you know someone or something you think I should cover.

I'm a sucker for a good story, so please tell me one.

At some point, a subject will come along that may lead to my next book. I certainly hope so and I am always searching for my next book. I will pursue a subject for a while and see if it fits for that topic, then either leap into it or move away.

For the past several months I have been talking to my friend Tom Stitt about a subject that has his passion and which invokes great interest on my part–the role of social media in healthcare. It's a great subject, and there are more than enough stories about cool people in healthcare who are changing the medical practice, respecting patient choices. There are also people like ePatientDave and Drew Olanoff who are using social media to share ideas and information and support.

But ultimately, I realized that a book we were going to call Conversational Healthcare, was not one I should help write. This subject greatly interests me, and I will write about healthcare and social media many times in the coming months. But it does not grab my passion as does another subject. Tom is continuing with the project and I have agreed to write the forward to his book which nw has a new working title.

What did grab my attention and my passion over the past few weeks is the role that Twitter has played in shedding light on the dark awfulness that has followed the Iran Election and I have little doubt that the hours I have spent following that story will be part of  my next book.

If it had not been for Twitter, Flickr and YouTube the world would not know and probably not care about what as happened there. Social media let people everywhere hear and see what has been happening to a people who were fooled into thinking they were part of a democracy when they were not. People bypassed governments and traditional media to inform each other. Truth in Iran keeps bypassing those who would suppress it via handheld devices and it is a fundamental change in how people connect.

This story has my passion. Iran itself may not be my next book, but it is likely to be a component. It seems a direct descendant of stories I covered in Twitterville including Mumbai, Israeli-Gaza, Janis Krums and US Air 1549 on the Hudson.

At this point, the likely focus of my new book will be an extension of what I call "Braided Journalism," the title of my favorite Twitterville Chapter. It is the idea that news requires both the efforts of traditional news-gathering organizations as well as the feet on the streets of the world being covered by people with connected devices in their hands.

I am in no great hurry to start the next book. There is still a great deal of time and effort needed in support of Twitterville. But for a while, much of my focus will be directed at the points where traditional and citizen journalism converge and intertwine to make something entirely new and perhaps, better.

It's nice to be playing in the sandbox again.

While there is still some work to do on Twitterville, the heavy lifting is over on my part as the publisher's efforts swing into full gear. Interviews about 125 people for the book and nearly 100 of them will be cited, to varying degrees in the book when it comes out Sept. 3. About that number are also acknowledged in the book for having contributed useful ideas or content.

It seems the core of my work since 2005, has been to talk with people about how social media is changing their work, culture and life in general. I have now interviewed more than 400 people in 41 countries for my two books and for my Social Media Global Report which has appeared on this blog off-and-on for three the last three years.

I put on hold last November when I started working fulltime on Twitterville. In better times, the SM Global Report had been sponsored by SAP, and Intel. I'd love a sponsor, but even without one, I will do the report as a labor of love. If you happen to think your brand would benefit by being associated with this ongoing project, I would of course like to talk with you.

But more than that, I would like your help in finding stories of how social media is changing work, culture and lives. My stories are about people. They can be business stories, but if you cannot personalize or humanize the story, I'm not the right guy to write it up. If you have a story idea, please contact me.

I have a particular interest these days in hearing stories about social media and health. I want to learn and report about people who use social media tools to learn, collaborate and share ideas about health conditions of all kinds. I am aware of the rising number of healthcare institutions joining the conversation, but for now, my focus is on people who have found support, encouragement, inspiration and– most of all–choices.

I have been talking for a while with a friend about doing a book on the topic of social media's growing role in health and healthcare and I'm curious to see what is happening in this area and what sort of difference it is making.

But please, do not confine any story ideas you have for me to just health. Send me anything you believe would be interesting or useful to my readers.

If you’re new to this project, Twitterville Notebook contains my selected notes for a book I’m writing called Twitterville, scheduled for September by Portfolio.I have just started writing Chapter 13: “Goodwill Funding,” about cause fund raising on Twitter. It’s organized into three bucket: (1) Random acts of generosity, (2) Grassroots generosity, and (3) Corporate cause marketing.

In the first category, there are few better-known or more-moving stories that of David Armano, VP of Experience Design for Chicago-based Critical Mass. Armano had been blogging and tweeting for some time when he introduced his followers to Daniela and her three children shortly after New Year’ Day 2009. It’s worth noting, that he was a known entity who had established credibility over years.

He wasn’t sure at first, what he should do when his wife Belinda, came home with Daniela, a house cleaner who was
divorcing a consistently abusive husband. She had no money, no home and
three children, the youngest of whom had Down Syndrome.
The Armano’s had two kids of their own and a relatively small home. So he turned for help to a community he knew and where he was known.

He wrote a moving post, asking people to help him raise $5,000 so Daniela could get an apartment, furniture Armano
and cover deposits. He also asked his Twitter followers to spread the word.

In the next 24 hours Armano’s effort raised more than $12,000. In all, 545 people would donate $16,880.

With David serving as the fund’s steward, Daniela found a clean two-bedroom apartment in a north Chicago suburb. Through the awareness David raised some furniture was also donated. “They now have a huge advantage
as we’re taking care of the rent with the funds you donated,” David wrote in one of several posts that kept contributors and followers posted.

David doesn’t think this story of helping a family in transition would have happened without Twitter. Like so many stories in my book, this involved using blogs to go long and deep, and using Twitter to amplify a blogger’s voice and spread word rapidly.

“Twitter was perfect for raising awareness and generating a viral
effect which spilled outside of my network into others. I primed my
followers and they started paying attention quickly. When the word got
out, it was retweeted hundreds of times pushing #daniela into the
number one trending topic,” he told me. Blog traffic ran about 30 times his usual rate. “The immediacy of the donations would not have been possible had it not been for

He used TwitPic to add to his personal credibility in telling the story, showing photos of Daniela’s family property stored in his garage. Twitter also pointed people to an emotional video he produced a few hours after the original post and when contributions blew right past his stated goal.

David warns that Twitter itself is not sufficient for raising funds for causes. In my interchange with him, he kept going back to credibility-related issues.

“Having large networks doesn’t give us the right to ask for
anything. We found ourselves in a
crisis situation and didn’t know how else to get help and I have been
fortunate to have enough people who realized this and alerted others on
behalf. Like any other network, Twitter requires us to be transparent
and authentic in order to leverage the people who power the network to
get them to act.”

It also required follow-through. He regularly posted updates on how the family was doing. He used the #daniella Hashtag  so that interested parties could track the entire Twitterville conversation regarding Daniela.

He also shared that with the overwhelmingly positive experience, there was a downside, one that I will mention in my next charter called “Twitterville’s Dark Streets.” One tweeter became obsessed either with Daniela or her story. He started barraging the conversation with
unsubstantiated claims, sort of like throwing rocks in a tweetstream. David feared that the person might pose a real danger, and used Twitter’s “block” feature to delete the intruder from the conversation.

“If you are going to ask
for help, be prepared to help yourself because raising a significant
amount of money through a network will attract all kinds of attention.
Be ready for anything, especially the responsibility that comes with
it,” he warned.

[NOTE: Twitterville Notebook are selected notes from interviews I've conducted with over 150 people for my new book, Twitterville, which will be published in September by Portfolio. Twitterville tells the stories of people in enterprises, media and small businesses; consultants, media, government and non profit organizations have done so far on Twitter in the hope it will inform others of the enormous potential to thrive on Twitter even during tough times like these.

I am crowd sourcing the book. Over three-fourths of the stories I discuss in Twitterville came to me on Twitter. The book should take me about five months to complete. Had I not used Twitter and this blog, it would have taken more than two years to gather the research. Also comments I receive ere and on Twitter, greatly infuence which interviews get major--or minor--play.]

This post, which completes my research on my Twitter in Government & Politics chapter, results from my interview with Brian Humphrey, a 26-year veteran of the Los Angeles Fire Department [LAFD]. He is now a Public Information Officer. Humphrey has been awarded honors on the battle lines of countless
storms, conflagrations and disasters -

In the previous chapter, I discussed the citizen journalism that started with the video recording of the 1992 police beating of Rodney King. Humphrey’s story really begins in the aftermath, when riots broke out causing more than $1 billion in property damage and about 70 people dead. Humphrey was a rookie then and he was active on the front line when firefighter worked exhaustively to quell arsonist action plus provide First Aid to injured people in what can best be described as a war-torn zone.

Since 1993, he’s managed external relations, dealing firsthand with all aspects of print,
radio, television and internet journalism. From both a traditional and social media perspective, Humphrey very often is the face and voice of LAFD.

LAFD is generally considered the pioneer for both government and disaster activity in social media. The following is extracted from my email conversation wth him:

Q 1.How much of your work is related to social media?

I was an early proponent of Google’s ’70% Solution’:
… in my case: 70% for the ever-blurring line between traditional and
new media, 20% for personal interaction with those in the new media
sphere and 10% to development and better understanding of new media
tools and trends.

Q2. Can you tell me when and why the LAFD started using Twitter?

It was March 2007, admittedly as a ‘new shiny
thing.’ Within weeks – May 8, 2007 to be exact, we discovered the
potential of the now ubiquitous SMS tool during a wind-driven wildfire
in LA’s Griffith Park

Q3. Was LAFD the first crisis-repsonse organization to use it?

While we’ve never touted ourselves as the first, LAFD’s use of Twitter
does pre-date its oft-cited use during Southern California wildfires in
the fall of 2007.  In the years since our first use of Twitter, we’re
pleased not only to have been a springboard and proof of concept, but
also remain humbled by the mention of @LAFD by Twitter’s principals,
including this video keynote address by founder Jack Dorsey making
direct reference that LAFD and Twitter fit like hand in glove:

Q4. What was the original thinking?

We were notably different than most Twitter users’ in the early days. There were no corporate or other government participants to speak of, and
we shared a blissful and mistaken notion with many early adopters that
Twitter was a dissemination tool. Like the proverbial kitchen gadget at
the County Fair, we soon learned it was far more.

It wasn’t long, especially with the growth of API’s that we saw Twitter
as a multi-dimensional tool, specifically one that allowed us to have
situational awareness in times of duress with simultaneous immersion
into the lives and concerns of our many stakeholders.

Q5. Are you the sole author of @LAFD? Is it just used for alerts?

I am
but one of three persons that staff our LAFD Public and Media Relations
office around-the-clock every day of the year.  At this time, @LAFD is mostly an automated simulcast of our popular real-time LAFD_ALERT e-mail list ,which focuses on Breaking News. While we offer safety or public service messages every now and then. We are deeply sensitive to “signal to noise ratio” and the fact
that many of our wireless recipients are paying my the message.
Therefore, the outgoing messages via @LAFD seek to address the key
elements of the crisis messaging triangle: “What’s Happening?” “What Are You Doing About It?” “What Does It Mean To Me?”

We don’t get more conversational because our @LAFD format was driven by the legacy LAFD_ALERT e-mail system on Googlegroups which automatically sends to @LAFD via Twittermail . It simultaneously produces RSS Feeds and Widgets from which we encourage syndication.

But I do actively engage users of
Twitter and other social media by automated keyword searches. I read
and reply to every direct tweet and @ reply whenever possible.

The issue for us is engagement, and our approach is flexible.

Q6. When do you used @LAFD and when do you use your personal @BrianHumphrey?

As a public safety agency information officer, I’m often saddled
by the inability to share my opinion (as if anybody cares) on or
off-duty about anything more serious than the weather – which isn’t
really saying much in Southern California.

I know that many of the Twitterati used an on-line forum and wanted to know more about what I was doing, hence, I started @BrianHumphrey. I’ve also recently opened a side channel @LAFDtalk to discuss non-emergency issues.

Q7. Have you considered following more people or do you feel that sidesteps your primary mission?

I think @LAFDtalk account will follow more people,
and serve as an informal gathering place for Twitter conversation about
LAFD without polluting the potentially
lifesaving stream of incident and alert information sent via @LAFD.

Q8. What other social media tools does LAFD use?

For the most part, you name a
popular tool and we are using it or at least experimenting with it. I have a self-imposed limit
of 100 in the “LAFD Lab,” which exists wholly in my laptop computer. I hover around that
number, and sometimes have to scratch a marginally applicable tool for
one that is showing greater promise.

Q9. Do you think that Twitter has ever helped save lives? ‘

Yes.  A recent situation with an overcrowded nightclub in Los Angeles was recently brought to my attention . It was a matter of moments later that we dispatched
inspectors to close down a venue that could have resulted in a tragedy.

It is only matter of time before Twitter plays a life-saving role during
wildfires or floods.

Q10. Do you have a great story for me regarding LAFD and Twitter?

I have many. One of my favorites is the mention of the Starbuck’s
Barista contained in the post below, when my colleague Ron Myers and I
were off-duty, out of uniform – and nearly sprayed our coffee across
a local Starbuck’s.

[Howard Lindzon, Co-Founder of StocktTwits]

There were two quotes that I’m currently planning to use elsewhere in Twitterville, that came to mind today, when I dug into the story of StockTwits, the Twitter-based open community for investors. The first was originally the lead sentence:

“It is often in the very worst of times that the very best of things get started.”

The second is an idea that was to be used later in the book:

“Despite common perceptions, communities do not need to be touchy-feely by nature. They can be comprised of hard-nosed and pragmatic individuals who come together for a common interest and by forming a community they gather great benefits.”

I can point to StockTwits as a demonstration of both. In these tough times, the traditional investment community has lost power and credibility. They have also lost individuals more money than I can calculate. In their perception, this is a prolonged down cycle that will eventually turn around. In my perception this is a great opportunity for a new disruptive force to come along and change the way we are influenced to invest.

I see that potential in StockTwits. I almost hesitate to put the the company formed in October into the Little Companies, Big Footprint chapter because by the time Twitterville is published, they may no longer be just a little company. They may be a significant influence on new investment trends. It is already growing at a rapid rate. It will have 10,000 followers in  a few days and by the time my book comes out in September, my guess is it will have more than 50,000 active particpants influencing each other’s investment decisions. Some of the members, virtually unknown in the traditional investment community are already gathering reputations as savvy stock pickers.

The company was started by Phoenix-based Howard Lindzon , a sequential entrepreneur and hedge fund manager manager and Soren Macbeth, an Oakland-based currency exchanger enthusiast. In 2007, Lindzon sold his Wallstrips, video program a pop culture financial series to CBS. I have the sense he’s a busy guy. It took him a while to get his answers to me, and then he sent them deom his cellphone in two parts, stripping out the questions, which I had to the re-enter. This would have been frustrating except his answers seemed to me to be really good.

Q1. Can you walk me through  the thinking that created StockTwits? How did Soren Macbeth and you get together?

Soren and I got together from his consistent smart comments on my blog.
We became friends and I had been writing about the ‘idea power‘ of Twitter and how it was perfect for stocks. Soren agreed and we
partnered to create a Twitter account for stock chat.

Q2. All your investors are individuals known as financial players who are already adept at
social media. Did you approach them because they already understood how
social media works?

I am not
that smart, but one thing I have learned that is that along with good ideas and a
good network, money is a commodity.  So it is best to include investors
passionate about the space and/or idea and those that can add a unique
value to the whole vision and potential exit strategy. So the short
answer is we were very picky about who we wanted to invite and accept into
the round.

Q3. How has the economy impacted StockTwits?

The economy has helped StockTwits. People are scared. People are
upset. The stock market is a mood ring and StockTwits captures the
mood. We think that the wiser members are rising to the tip to help
support new investors through the process.

Q4. What is the intended ROI on their investment?

I believe that creating shareholder value is all
that matters. I am not a trained venture capitalist so I focus
on a fair valuation and pricing and don’t focus at the beginning on an

Q5. What is there about Twitter that made it ideally suited for  StockTwits?

Stock people are not technologists. We want FLOW. The
best traders can take in huge amounts of data, good and bad, and so
like with Bloomberg, the more the better. Twitter is great for stocks for a few reasons. One is that ideas in real time are what
matters. News is a commodity and with Twitter, our users can provide
context. Also, with Twitter, although archaic, the reputation feature is
a huge move forward. The reputation makes it harder to just walk away.
You must protect your reputation in the finance business. Also, blocking and filtering who you follow in Twitter are simple–but key–element that we brought to the stock segment. The one-to-many ability also
turns every wannnabe analyst into a potential superstar…if he or she is

Q6. Were there any barriers you had to consider or overcome to starting StockTwits?

We needed to find a way to separate chat about a product or company
that was no stock related to that about ideas and by creating the “$” tag
ahead of ticker symbols, we did just that.  We think the “$” really is a
simple tag to remember for stocks and finance because well, the symbol equals
money.  Other than that, there were no real
barriers. The best defense
is a good offense, so we are mostly thinking of feature acceleration,
rather than protecting what we have built.  Keep the company small,
flexible and lightweight on the burn.

What sorts of filtering does StockTwits use? What stops a group of
speculators from touting a stock or forcing it into an artificial short

StockTwits only filters out bulletin board and penny
stocks. I bet that 90 percent of all Yahoo spam originated from the
penny stocks and the PR/Investment Relation firms that are set up to
push stocks from the hands of  a few into the hands of many.  You
can’t chat about those on our site.

We also have an early and aggressive anti-spam policy and we police
the stream to catch spammers.  The community itself does a good job of
filtering out the noisemakers and troublemakers.

What stops
people from making reckless recommendations should be that a person has no followers. His recommendation falls upon deaf ears.  StockTwits is about
reputation and trust. You earn that.  You can’t show up the first day
and have it. If you ARE talented though, the community is set up to
promote the best traders as fast as possible. Think DIGG for stocks
but with a human, feature that helps manage who rises to the top. StockTwits is all about building a farm system for ideas generators. Ideas that will make the community members money.

Q8.  Are there any legal issues that you had to consider in starting and running StockTwits?

We have a pretty detailed disclaimer but we are not
recommending securities. Bulletin boards/message boards have been
around a long time. That said, we take our responsibility seriously
and we want to make sure that the site’s integrity is high. The way
the feed is structured should help us do that better than previous
technologies and message boards.

Q9. Do you have a great story of something that happened on StockTwits that could not have occurred if it weren’t on Twitter?

Traders are generally alone in a room and therefore lack a
sense of community. It is a lonely profession as most good traders are
isolated. StockTwits has helped create some positive camaraderie,
despite the market ugliness. There are cheers and fighting songs used
to lead the community into trades. We are loving the support the
community members are lending one another.

Q10. Longterm, how do you see social media in general and Twitter specifically impacting the way stock investing will work?

This stock market crash of 2008 has brought down most of the
big financial institutions and distributed the talent across the world
into very small buckets.  Our job at StockTwits, using the social web,
is to re-aggregate the people who love stocks and the markets.  We do
that by helping analysts and traders build audiences built on trust,
transparency and performance.  You won’t be able to raise money inside
a black box operation.  The days of the massive sized hedge funds are
over.  I see a day of smaller, more transparent hedge funds and the
social webs will be integral in the new fin/tech world.

Using Facebook to Serve Constituents & Stay Alive


Jawad S. Boulos, MP Lebanon

                  [ Jawad S. Boulos. MP Lebanon. Public photo file]

In a couple of days, here in the US, we will elect a new president. Many people think both sides played hardball in the two campaigns. We have no idea. In Lebanon, where Jawad S. Boulos, was elected in 2005 to a four-year term in Parliament, opponents are assassinating members of his party in order to trim the voting majority and he is clearly a target.

For this reason, Jawad, a Sorbonne-educated lawyer, his wife and their three children live much of their lives either in hiding, or behind a formidable wall of security. This is not easy for a politician who wants to see and mix with constituents.

To talk to his constituents and to exchange ideas as well as receive epitaphs and insults from those who disagree with his freedom-loving views, Jawad uses Facebook–at least when Facebook’s watchdog employees aren’t shutting him down as a suspected spammer.

This is the 112th interview in this series and Lebanon is the 34th country we have visited. Although, Jawad speaks in a calm and level-headed voice, this is among the most dramatic and inspirational stories I’ve reported on so far.

[Special thanks to Stan Magniant for connecting me to Jawad and making this interview possible]


1. As a Member of the Lebanese Parliament (MP), you sometimes have to take extreme precautions to ensure your safety. Why? And can you tell me more about this?

I was first elected in June 2005, a few months after the horrific assassination of Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri and then Minister of Economy and MP Bassel Fleihan. These followed a previous attempt on the life of former Minister and MP Marwan Hamadeh.

All three had been active in attempting to free Lebanon from Syrian control. These events were the straw that broke the camel’s back and brought the Lebanese people into the streets. During a full month of demonstrations culminating in a massive rally on March 14, 2005 more than 1.5 million Lebanese took to the streets in what became known as the Cedar Revolution.

They demanded the departure of Syrian troops and the end of Syrian hegemony and control over the country. This massive turnout of nearly one half of the Lebanese resident population (an equivalent rally in the US would require the participation of more than 150 million Americans) finally convinced the international community, which had been complacently blind to the occupation, to put pressure on the Syrian government to pull their troops out of Lebanon.
Hariri’s assassination led to international outrage an an international investigation into the assassination to unmask the responsible party. The investigation has been ongoing for three years now in utmost secrecy while, in parallel, the legal, financial and operational requirements for setting up an international tribunal to judge those responsible for the assassinations proceeds apace with the investigation.

The elections that were held right after the Syrian pullout gave the independent faction, known as the 14 March Alliance, a majority of seats in Parliament and therefore control over the apparatus of government. This control was not complete because of the presence of Hezbollah, an armed organization operating outside of the scope of the state. Hezbollah constituted the nucleus around which the pro-Syrian opposition, strengthened by 30 years of occupation, coalesced.

Despite the international investigation, assassinations continued at a pace targeting majority MPs, journalists and leaders of opinion as well as officers in the army and police force. The common thread was the political affiliation of the victims to the “Sovereignist “coalition.

In less than a year, four Sovereignist MPs were murdered, whittling down the independent majority in Parliament at a time when holding by-elections was becoming more and more problematic in the face of mounting security threats and the influence of a heavily armed Hezbollah. As a consequence, surviving MPs were advised to take extreme security measures to protect themselves against assassinations with a view towards destroying the parliamentary majority.

During certain periods, the security threats were so prevalent that MPs had to regroup in severely fortified and protected premises away from their homes and families but also to completely curtail our movements. Though the security threat has decreased somewhat as security services, which were previously subservient to Syrian whim are rebuilt and acquire better capabilities to thwart threats but also after the UN Security Council voted a resolution to create the international tribunal for Lebanon rendering ratification by Parliament unnecessary.

2. Why do you continue? Why do you not just decide to step out of Parliament and perhaps move to another country where it is safer for you and your family?

I do it because I believe in Lebanese exceptionalism. Besides, there is no place like home. Let me expand:

Lebanon has always been the odd player in this region.

We have managed to create a parliamentary democracy that is open and tolerant with constitutional protection of individual and community rights and equality for all citizens. This is unique to the Middle East.

In Lebanon, there is no state religion and religion is not a source of legislation as in all other Middle East countries. It is a system where the military is subservient to the civilian authorities unlike Turkey, for example, where legislation does not discriminate according to religious affiliation (such as the law of return in Israel) and where power proceeds from the people (unlike Iran which is a theocracy). It is also a democracy unlike the Monarchies of the Gulf and the authoritarian states of the Levant and North Africa.

Lebanon has a market economy, a liberal bent, an open society– and we worship our freedoms. Unfortunately, our openness as well as our geographical location between two states that have territorial designs over our country, coupled with the presence of a very large Palestinian refugee community, have negatively affected our stability since our country gained independence from France in 1943.

The very openness of our system has rendered us vulnerable to shocks resulting from the conflicts that rage in the Middle East. Despite all this, the Lebanese people have been unanimous in defending their system and their country and have consistently refused to succumb to totalitarianism or to theocratic tendencies. Ours is a country worth defending and worth sacrificing for.

3. Tell me about technology in your country. How many people have computers? How many people use mobile communications devices?

Figures are a bit sketchy but there is a relatively high penetration of the Internet and computer literacy is broad. Mobile telephony was a hit since it was introduced. Indeed most people prefer their mobiles to fixed lines and most people own mobiles, which are a must in country with a high level of social interaction and where most business is conducted over the phone. Lebanese software companies, while small, have radiated in the region and the Lebanese are pioneers in the use of communication devices and software in marketing and advertising in the Arab world. Access to computers is widely available in schools, businesses and private homes. However, our infrastructure is not up to par. We sorely need investment in our telecommunications infrastructure.

4. Why did you decide to start using Facebook?

As I mentioned, security considerations had forced me to curtail my movements and draconian security measures made it difficult for me to meet with my constituents–or even friends and family. I had to find a way to communicate with people and connect. This was early in 2007 and Facebook and other social utilities had started to really take off in Lebanon.

It was “cool” to be on Facebook and fun too. I first connected just to see what the excitement was about. But I soon discovered the potential of the tool to communicate with a very large constituency of socially diverse and geographically dispersed population. The Lebanese are like the Irish. They tend to emigrate in large numbers in search of better opportunities. But they remain connected and keenly interested in developments at home. It is a common occurrence for me to be informed about something happening literally next door to me from a constituent who has emigrated to Australia 10 or 20 years ago. The constituent from abroad would call to inquire about an event that I wouldn’t know had occurred in my neighborhood or in my circle.

Quite soon, I started using Facebook as a tool to reach out and exchange views with constituents. That’s when the facebook service started disconnecting me. After the 30th or 50th message, Facebook would interpret my activities as spamming and shut me down. After the third disconnect, the Facebook Help Desk warned me that I would not be reconnected next time. So I had to learn to manage the tool in a less expansive way.

5.  How many of your constituents use Facebook? What sort of conversations do you have with them?

I really don’t know how many of them do, but I am surprised by their numbers. I currently have about 1100 friends most of whom are constituents.

But I receive a huge number of messages from people who don’t solicit an “add.” They just want to ask a question or inquire about an issue or clarify a position. I get some hate mail, of course, from people who sometimes later become friends as we talk about issues.

But mostly, it is people with legitimate concerns or who are just curious or who, for one reason or another, simply do not want to appear on my profile.

I often use my friends as sounding boards for positions I wish to take publicly in order to obtain their feedback and fine tune the message. I also take note of complaints and requests from citizens who require services or who are sometimes blocked by the bureaucracy and who require my assistance. So it is a mixed bag really.

6. Who else do you speak with on Facebook? You seem to encounter some people there who are bitterly opposed to your views. Do you feel these conversations can be constructive?

They are. Facebook is an excellent means to customize a message and explain issues. Modern media favor the sound bite over a more nuanced delivery of a political position.

People are very often confused by issues and need to be walked through the details. I often discover that there is a lot of common ground with people who come across as intransigent or radical in the first exchange.

This is not to say that Facebook outreach is a miracle mind changer. We often agree to disagree but keep up the contact. This is very important in a small constituency where people like to vote for candidates they happen to know personally or have access to. This may be a sufficient incentive for them to vote across the political divide. But is it certainly enriching–and time-consuming though I certainly don’t mind receiving hundreds of birthday good wishes.

7. How do you feel Facebook has changed your role in Parliament How has it changed you as an individual?

I don’t think Facebook is an issue as far as my parliamentary duties are concerned. So there is not much of a plus there though I sometimes wish I could connect during a particularly boring session in commissions.

On the individual level, it has allowed me to connect with friends and family spread across the globe. I have been able to stay in touch with friends I haven’t seen in years. It is very rewarding to be able to share in the lives of people who have touched your own life at one moment or another. Though I am a private person, which is pretty unusual for a Lebanese politician, I enjoy being part of a worldwide network of friends, family, supporters or just ordinary people who want to reach out.

8. What is your vision for the future of Lebanon? How can social media play a role in that future?

I definitely want my children to grow up in a free country where stability does not come at the price of liberty. I want a country that is ruled by laws and where rights are preserved and defended. I want a sovereign country where the right of the state to exercise it’s sovereignty over it’s institutions and territory is not in question as it is today, where citizens are unarmed and where the courts are free and equitable. I want a country that has good schools and respected universities.

This may sound like pretty basic stuff to many of your readers but not in my country. We are still struggling with existential issues. How to secure our borders, how to defend our skies and waters from daily Israeli encroachments, how to sterilize Syrian influence born from 30 years of hegemony, how to avoid paying the price of regional conflicts in which we are intimately embroiled without denying our basic values, how to conduct a dialog between religious communities in a region where religious convictions are an important part of identity and where fundamentalism is on the rise. How do we stabilize and rebuild for the umpteenth time after the latest war?

I do not think that social media can replace broadcast media or come close to the impact these media have. But I am sure that, as far as politics are concerned, that social media can have niche roles such as the one that is the subject of your questions.

I think it really depends on the personality of the individual who wishes to harness its use. It doesn’t make sense to delegate when using a media such as Facebook. You can’t ask a staffer to do the job because the whole point of it is that people want to talk to the person they are trying to connect with. So one has to be able to allocate the time it needs and therefore design a unique role for it in his or her outreach strategy.

9. Is there something that the global social media community can do to help Lebanon’s plight?

One of the problems we face is that Lebanon is a very complex society with unusual problems. Our issues do not lend themselves to over-simplification yet they are extremely important.

Had the world community heeded the lessons of our historical experience, many of the issues that are being debated now in crisis mode could have been addressed earlier and solutions found. I would cite the example of the role of Islam in politics for example or the protection of the rights of religious minorities in societies where a complete separation of church and state is impossible.

Had the US made better use of the experience of the Lebanese, it may have avoided many of the mistakes it has made in Iraq. It is not by design that Pope John Paul II described Lebanon as “much more than a country, it is a message”.  We are sometimes amazed by the misrepresentations and superficiality of reporting on Lebanese issues that far exceed the small size of our country in their importance. We would like to see more serious, thoughtful and unprejudiced reporting on Lebanon

10. Any additional comments?

If you are a politician and you are not using social media, you had better start learning fast.

[Interested in sponsoring the SM Global Report? Email me for details.

The Return on Hurricane Tweeting


Nick Ayres, Home Depot

                        [Home Depot's Nick Ayres. Photo by his wife]

When hurricanes hit, The Home Depot, world’s largest home improvement retailer, understands there’s a lot of business and reputation at stake.

Such emergency preparedness items as home generators and gas cans must be stocked up in advance. That might be simple enough, except that hurricanes are moving targets. They zig and zag on short notice to endanger communities that can be hundreds of miles apart. Stocking the right stores before disaster hits can be a supply chain nightmare. Trucks, loaded with goods that can bring comfort and safety to a community sometimes need to be rerouted fast. Cold meals for thousands of employees who may work all night to prepare for emergency disasters need to be ordered before other places shut down and sent to the right stores.

Home Depot is an old hand at this stuff, however.  It has a system in place, a tight act that has been  refined over a good many years. As this year’s  parade of hurricanes meandered up the Caribbean toward the US Gulf Coast,often varying abruptly in direction and magnitude, Home Depot’s Atlanta-based corporate headquarters activated it’s four-room Hurricane Command Center. Its veteran crew took their places amid walls covered with maps and monitors, where they could watch an array of news channels as well as "Pulse," Home Depot’s own proprietary monitoring software. This War Room could watch and respond to supply chain issues fast. As sophiccated as this all was, it was all on the supply side. The Hurricane Command Center had no direct contact with customers.

Until this year, when the company integrated it’s relatively new Twitter account into the system to help customers repare and to earn what was happening to people has the storms encroached their lives.


Social media has long been active in disaster news sharing. Evelyn Rodriguez blogged her experiences when a tsunami hit Phuket in 2004. Brian Oberkirch, helped people in his small hometown of Slidell, La, find loved one’s when Katrina flooded it in 2005.  Emergency service organizations such as the Los Angeles Fire Department and the American Red Cross have already used Twitter to provide realtime information during natural disasters. And the Wells Fargo Bank Guided by History blog has served communities during emergencies, particularly fires. Traditional media, almost always short staffed have turned to social media to provide feet-on-the-street first person reporting in disasters.

But The Home Depot is the first commercial enterprise to use Twitter in an emergency to support customers–and increase sales–during a natural disaster. The company could have taken a mercenary approach, but it was extremely careful to not exploit the situation, but rather to serve communities in need.

The Home Deport is an unlikely social media pioneer. Until Spring 2008, its only social social media program was a YouTube channel
where it posted do-it-yourself instructional videos–useful, but not ground-breaking stuff. The company had also tried polling and online contests as well as The Home Depot Garden Club , which the cimpany considers to be an online community, but essentially they were laggards in terms of breaking new ground in social media, at least from my perspective.

Nick Ayres, Home Depot’s interactive marketing manager told me. "We kept looking at social media, but we just couldn’t quite figure out what would make sense for us. Ayres said he remained unconvinced when he decided to check out the Blog Council, an organization comprised of some of the world’s largest companies such as Coke, GM, Dell Computer, SAP all of whom were struggling with many of the same issues related to social media. Formed in December 2007, the Blog Council received a chilly reception in the social media community. But the Council is not intended for SM enthusiasts but to provide a safe and private way for members, who extoll its virtues.

John Pope, a Dell communications officer told me, "Members have been quite
willing to share what works and what doesn’t, and I believe that peer-to-peer
openess has been a catalyst for some large companies to seriously engage in
social media."

"In Florida, I engaged in several conversations that convinced me it was time to give social media a try," Ayres said. "We picked Twitter because it seemed like a low-cost, low-risk entry point."

The Home Depot assigned Sarah Molinari, a corporate communications manager to start @TheHomeDepot spend a part of her time playing with Twitter and talking with customers about local stores and hometown events. Early on, Sarah showed an ability to join conversations rather than just hype corporate policy and available goods. She showed candor and humor and started building a modest following in Twitterville.

When Gustav started rolling toward the Gulf Coast, the company started wondering if Twitter might serve a communications role. According to Ayres, the thought was that Twitter could help the company "reach further and faster. Twitter was an obvious tool for us to use to 
offer meaningful advice and help. To be honest,  we weren’t sure how the approach was going to go over or how effective it would be." The company decided on four facets to incorporate into a Twitter strategy: timeliness, relevance, accuracy and most important, appropriateness.
"This was not going to be a hard-sell situation. We were not going to post: ‘We still have generators, and you can buy them for $xx.’"

As Gustav approached, Sarah put her other PR activities aside and moved into the Hurricane Control Center. She posted almost continuously and was present to report when decisions were made. For example, when company officers decided to keep 12 stores open all night, Sarah tweeted the news in near realtime so customers knew what stores had which supplies.

"Before Twitter, we simply had no way to get the information out this quickly and this accurately," Ayres told me.

The more she posted, the ore it was noticed in Twitterville. The number of @TheHomeDepot followers spiked, reaching just north of 1000. News media turned to The Home Depot as a primary source of information. Home Depot management attention went to the Twitter account as well.

I asked Ayres about this and he conceded, "We didn’t plan it this way. But the fact is that people greatly appreciated what we did. If gives me some pleasure to think that the next time someone needs home improvement goods in one of these communities, he or she is likely to drive right past Lowe’s [Home Depot's leading competitor] to get to one of out stores." Lowe’s has no social media programs.

According to Marketing Profs’ Michael Rubin, @TheHomeDepot’s emergency reporting/preparedness worked because Sarah used clear, direct and personal language. It never tried to hard sell to people in an emergency situation and the Twitter site became an invaluable source for spreading timely valuable information as a community participant.

Ayres added that a few additional benefit that go beyond disaster preparedness. Engaging the community during an emotionally charged time "is a great way to learn from others in real-time. Engaging the Twitter 
community has become a great way for me to not only learn from others in  the social media industry in a real-time fashion. More important, it taught me the value of just listening to what our customers are saying  during emotionally charged situations."

This carries over, Ayres thinks, into more general situations. Home improvement projects are intensely personal and emotionally charged. Through social media, we can tap into that emotion."

Still another benefit is letting customers help each other. Often Sarah steps back at Twitter and lets her followers advise each other.

Then there’s the issue of competitive advantage. Neither press, nor customers could turn to Lowe’s for tips and timely information. Their competitor did not embed itself into the community like Home Depot. By lagging further behind, Lowe’s can only be a follower in this particular area. As a result, Ayres added, "I have to admit that I get a good deal of pleasure realizing that because of what we’ve done, some people will drive right past Lowe’s [Home Depot's largest competitor, inactive in social media] to get to one of our stores.

This is an example of what I recently called "lethal generosity." In social media, the companies who are the most generous to their communities will be the most influential and those who are the most influential will prevail, particularly during tough economic times that most businesses are now facing.

The Home Depot is still digesting what it has learned by this first truly interactive foray into social media. It is looking at what role it can play in other types of disasters. It is also thinking hard about how it can benefit plumbers and other mainstay customers through online conversations.

Until this Report, I’ve posted mostly about leaders and pioneers. The Home Depot neither claims nor does it aspire to be either. Like most companies, it’s really looking for better ways to interact with customer efficiently. It seems to me that the Twitter hurricane blog has lessons for a great number of companies trying to figure out how to get closer with customer precisely when traditional marketing budgets are being reduced.

[NOTE: Interested in sponsoring SM Global Report? Contact me for information.

Straddling 2 Worlds with Balance & Understanding

              Kaiser Kuo

             [Photo by Guenevere, Kaiser Kuo's daughter, 4&1/2]

I leave for my first visit to China in just 18 days, so this interview is particularly timely for me. For the 55 percent of my readers
based in the US, I believe it is also timely for you. It seems to me
that China is America’s most important relationship. It is also among
the most complex with apparent misconceptions on both sides of a very
large ocean.

That is why Kaiser Kuo,
Ogilvy China Group Director for Digital Strategy, is an ideal subject
of this 112th SM Global Report. Both charismatic and articulate, Kaiser
seems to straddle the two worlds more comfortably than anyone else. 

Born in upstate New York and raised in Arizona with degrees from
both UC Berkeley and the University of Arizona, Kaiser has lived
full-time in Beijing since the early 1990s and his passion and
understanding of his adopted country comes through clearly in this

Kaiser has had what one might call a quixotic career. It includes a
good deal of professional writing including a stint as Red Herring
magazine Asia bureau chief, where he covered the tech business in China
and East Asia and as Editor-in-Chief for the now defunct multi-city online
guide. He chronicles his life in Beijing in the popular
back page column of English-language magazine  The Beijinger—a
column called "Ich Bin Ein Beijinger, which is also the name of his former personal blog." A collection of those columns will soon be published as a book.

He also served previously in a couple of Internet companies, Mobile
Internet Games and Linktone, where he created successful
mobile game concepts and currently advises seven additional start ups.

But before that, Kaiser was really a rock star and I mean that
literally. Co-founder of China’s first and most successful Heavy Metal
band, Tang
, Kaiser remains active in the music scene, performing and
recording with his band Chunqiu. [YouTube], which goes on tour the day after I meet up with him in China.

1. When and why did you decide to move to China? What is the single biggest change in your life because of that move?

On trips to China with my family in the 1980s, it had become clear to me that the genie was out of the bottle, and that once unleashed, there wasn’t any turning back. It was pretty obvious to anyone paying attention that the entrepreneurial talents of China’s enormous population, once unleashed, were going to bring on changes of historic proportion.

I realized that as someone with some facility in the language I’d be in an excellent position to watch how things transpired from up close, and perhaps hitch my wagon to any number of opportunities that would come up. I first intended to settle in China in 1988, right after finishing my undergrad studies at Cal Berkeley. I came to Beijing as planned, and very interesting things started happening for me–particularly in the world of rock music, in which I quickly became involved.

But the political upheaval of the Spring of ’89 cut my plans short and I wound up high-tailing it back to the States and enrolling in a graduate program in East Asian Studies at Arizona. I spent much of my time there trying to make sense of what I’d seen happen in Beijing. Once I realized that when the smoke cleared, the reform and the opening-up of the country was proceeding apace, I started coming back during summers. After my MA, I dropped out of a Ph.D. program and returned to Beijing in 1996, more or less for good. Initially the lure remained primarily music, but the nascent dynamism–social, economic, cultural–was a huge draw for me too.

If I had to identify one single biggest change in my life, it’s that by having spent so much time on both sides of the Pacific I’ve become something of a credible bridge individual: someone to whom many Americans looked to have China "explained" to them, and conversely, someone to whom Chinese looked to have certain aspects of the West demystified. I’m lucky that I’ve been able to serve in that capacity both as a rock musician and as an Internet commentator. I’ve learned, I hope, to see how each side views the other, and to empathize with the perspectives of both.

2. You have spoken and written–perhaps more than anyone else–about the misconceptions the US and Chinese social community members have about each other. You’ve described what’s happening online as "when Worlds Collide." Can you give a quick summary of what we in the West misunderstand the most?

First off, I want to make clear that there are many, many Westerners, whether academics, journalists, bloggers or pundits, who "get" China–who get it as well as anyone can, anyway. On balance I believe the media–especially journalists who live here in China and have taken the time to learn the language and cultivate excellent networks of contacts–do a laudable job reporting China. (I’m referring to Anglo-American media outlets; I don’t read other Western languages). That said, their excellent work still can’t overcome some deeply-rooted misconceptions. The sad truth about people is that they’ll come away from the most balanced of news stories with their own misconceptions reinforced. Social media community members are no exception. Social media lets us choose our own communities and we tend to move in even more like-minded circles than we might in our offline lives. So the same misconceptions persist, are often amplified and continue to color and inform the western sides of citizen-to-citizen dialogs that happen between denizens of the Anglo and Chinese online worlds. Here are a few that I see crop up a lot:

  • The monolithic myth. The assumption that Chinese political authority speaks with a single voice. China is a continent-sized country, and its enormous, parallel hierarchies of Party and state are not the perfect transmission lines that run from Beijing down to every village that some people imagine. There’s a lot that goes on at the sub-provincial level that has little or nothing to do with the Party line from on high. Even within the Party there are a wide range of viewpoints on the burning questions of the day, to include issues of personal freedoms. But there’s this persistent notion that any time someone’s rights are violated in a small town thousands of kilometers from Beijing, the order must have somehow come down from Hu Jintao himself.

  • The myth of continuity. When someone like Jack Cafferty on CNN calls the Chinese leadership "the same goons and thugs they were 50 years ago," he’s simply wrong. China underwent a momentous, revolutionary change 30 years ago when Deng Xiaoping inaugurated his reforms deliberately reshaping the leadership to create one of the most thoroughly technocratic regimes the world has ever seen. Jiang Zemin, his successor, continued to change the very nature of the leadership by embracing capitalists and entrepreneurs–the "most advanced forces of production"–who had had been excluded previously. And now the leadership under President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao have shifted emphasis and are addressing many of the excesses of earlier freewheeling market-led development.

They’re genuinely focused on issues like sustainability, energy and the environment, and the terrible unevenness of development between the countryside and the cities and between the coastal provinces and the hinterland. Civil society and the public sphere have made major advances–the latter especially on the Internet–and while there have been lamentable setbacks at times, the general trend toward a more open society increasingly tolerant of criticism is undeniable.

  • Historicism. There’s a tendency by some westerners to discount or even dismiss China’s claims that history still has a strong hold on China’s political culture. You see this crop up in discussions online between Chinese and Westerners constantly. China’s position is that long-entrenched habits of mind aren’t so easily discarded and that leaping, for instance, to a more pluralistic, open society would be dangerous and destabilizing–that it could well reverse the gains in quality of life that 30 years of gradualist reform have built, that it would be bad for the world in ways Western critics of the Communist Party’s monopoly on power haven’t thought through. China’s leadership, as well as private citizens, both play this card so often that I can see why Westerners might have gotten sick of hearing it, but among Chinese this notion that China’s historical realities circumscribe the possible rate of change is widely–indeed, nearly universally–held. Americans in particular, are relatively free (blessedly so, some would say) of historic baggage, and there’s a prevalent sentiment that change can happen overnight through collective will, a faith that things can turn on a dime.

3. And what do the Chinese most misunderstand about the West, in particular our social media community?

As to Chinese misconceptions about the West’s social media community, I think it’s unfortunate but fair to say that the number of Chinese who’ve even bothered forming impressions of it are few and far between.
The vast majority simply pay it no mind, just as the vast majority of western Internet users pay little mind to the Chinese social media community, except to convey pity for the oppressive yoke they assume it lives under.

Those Chinese who do pay attention–generally, more tech-savvy, cosmopolitan urbanites who read English and may have spent some time abroad–are uniformly impressed with the ingenuity that social media entrepreneurs continue to display, impressed with the enthusiasm with which social media apps are adopted, and with the level of thought that and reflection one sees in the West about the impact of social media on everything from marketing to politics.

But in the last year, especially after the riots in Tibet, the disruption of the Olympic Torch relay, the controversy over the Olympic Games and China’s human rights record, many have been jolted into an awareness that China’s image, even among the tech-savvy Americans they so admire, isn’t a good one. From their online encounters this year, many–even among China’s most Westernized young people–have come away with the impression that Americans and other Westerners are woefully ignorant of China. That’s not, of course, uniformly true–and ignorance of the West among Chinese is also widespread and lamentable.

4. You’ve published a list of Forbidden cliches Western journalists should avoid saying about
Beijing. I get there in 15 days. What advice do you have for me about
what I should look at when I’m there? What stories should I go after
that other Western journalists have missed?

In terms of Internet stories, I don’t think enough gets written
about the specific ways in which the emerging Chinese Internet culture
really differs from digital culture in the West, or Japan, or other
developed markets. So many writers on this sector get all breathless
with the huge numbers (and I’m still not invulnerable to that) that
they miss the human dimension to ICT stories.

Articles (and books) that address innovation here are too
polemical: either China’s doomed to copy Valley business models for
eternity, or it’s going to upend the whole world with some
super-disruptive Next Big Thing. I’d love to see more stories that
explore in a more nuanced way the balance of forces holding China back
and propelling it ahead.

Also, not enough gets written about the culture of tech
entrepreneurship here–about this fascinating ecosystem that involves
nerdy Tsinghua engineers
with big ideas, worldly returnees with their Valley experience and
their Harvard MBAs, silver-tongued lawyers and placement agents, and
all those VCs–from the parachutist who comes to China and expects to
be buried in business plans as soon as he lands, to the jaded,
world-weary China veteran who’s seen it all and knows every trick.

I don’t think anyone’s written the definitive story–not one that’s
well-reported and addressed from all the right angles–about how
China’s tech industry is going to be impacted by the meltdown of the
global financial system. That’s what’s really on my mind these days. So
many moving parts–it’s really a fascinating story.

5. One of the elephants in the room for Western journalists
is the issue of censorship. Help me to understand why Western
perceptions may be overblown? Is there no "Great Firewall of China?"

First, I don’t think Western journalists have been at all shy about
the elephant, about covering the issue of censorship. It’s actually
rare for me to speak to someone who doesn’t bring the topic up in some
capacity. And I wouldn’t by any means say that Western perceptions of
censorship are uniformly overblown. I’ve seen some absolutely spot-on
reporting by American mainstream media reporters, most notably James Fallows of The Atlantic.

For me the most persistent problem, and one that creates real
misunderstandings between the Chinese technorati and their counterparts
in the West, is this myth of a blinkered netizenry. There’s often an
assumption by Westerners that China’s Internet is much more closely
regulated and tightly fettered than it in fact is.

The Internet is censored, yes: Of that there’s no doubt. But the
parameters within which online discussion is allowed to take place is
surprisingly large, and circumscribing walls are stretched daily. Not a
day goes by when Internet forums aren’t abuzz with some instance of
official malfeasance, and criticisms are directed at anyone from the
lowliest county cadres to the loftiest politburo members.

The image that many westerners have of a benighted netizenry
cowering behind a Great Firewall is a terribly misleading caricature,
and one that causes fierce resentment among those Chinese aware of it.
another problem with the west’s understanding of censorship in China.
They tend–and I think this is sadly western-centric–to think of
Chinese Internet censorship mainly in terms of the blocking of external

The BBC, or Wikipedia, or CNN (none of which are currently blocked,
by the way). The truth is, most Chinese aren’t interested in looking at
sites hosted outside of China, and by far the more significant form of
censorship is that demanded of operating companies within China–the
blog hosting companies, the Internet forums, the news portals and so
on. That impacts on the lives of Chinese Internet users far, far more
than say Typepad or WordPress blogs outside of China being blocked.
Besides, most tech-savvy Chinese interested in accessing that content
easily find ways around the so-called Great Firewall, through VPNs,
tools like Tor, or numerous proxy servers.

6. Do you think social media will help increase understanding between the two cultures over time, or do we just keep inscrutably bumping? How and why or why not?

I think 2008 has been an unlucky year for cross-cultural misunderstandings in cyberspace: the pace and timing of events never allowed things to cool off, never allowed a respite for emotions to subside. I’m optimistic, though, because I see a growing number of people who’ve spent time on both sides of the divide stepping up and, out of purely unselfish motives, trying to bridge the chasm and help each side to better understand why the other side behaves the way it does.

Social media communities to which I belong–Twitter, and various social networks like Facebook–are heavily populated with both Chinese and Anglos. I do believe that these two dominant cultures in cyberspace–the Anglophone Internet culture and the Sinophone Internet culture–ultimately have a lot in common. Just as the Chinese-American relationship will be the most important bilateral relationship in coming decades in a purely geopolitical or geo-strategic sense, so too will the relationship between the respective netizens of the two dominant nations. With ever-improving translation tools, talking to one another is going to get easier. I’m confident that a more civil conversation will eventually emerge.

7. Just what does the top social media guy at Ogilvy do?

I’m an evangelist and what you might call an "intelligence officer."

Externally, I try to raise Ogilvy China‘s profile as the best digital shop among agencies in China through frequent public speaking, writing, and blogging. Internally, I organize workshops and seminars with leading entrepreneurs and innovators, as well as put internal training materials together to help Ogilvy people better understand the fast-transforming media landscape, to keep up with what’s new in digital technology, and how to talk about it and sell it to clients.

By "intelligence officer," I mean that anyone within the company–whether from our interactive agency, from our traditional above-the-line agency O&M, from PR, or from our activation practice, can come to me with their questions about what vendors they should work with to get advice on what channels they might be pitching to clients for a particular campaign, to bounce ideas off me for digital components of campaigns they’re working on, or just to bone up on some aspect of digital they don’t quite get. Another part of my job involves identifying tech companies in China that we (either Ogilvy or our parent company, WPP) might want to make strategic investments in. I love that part of it because it puts me on the ground with a lot of start-ups and I can get a sense for where things are moving.

8. Can you give me a brief picture of how Chinese business is using social media?

Chinese companies–and multinationals operating in China–frankly haven’t been as quick to embrace social media as their counterparts in the West have been, but that’s changing. Companies and their brands are aware, at least, that they need to be monitoring social media. It’s not the blogs that they worry about so much: It’s really the BBS.

You’ve probably read stats on how widespread BBS use is in China. More than a third of Internet users post to BBSs regularly. 80% of China’s 1.5 million Internet sites have BBSs attached to them. Tens of millions of posts go up a day. It’s on BBSs where most of the big controversies, the scandals, the crises all break these days. It’s where people are really talking about your brand. A raft of companies has popped up to try to help manage a brand’s digital reputation. Most focus, correctly, on BBS. Some of them are quite reputable while others behave with almost comically grotesque lack of ethics, using the most egregious astroturfing techniques you’ve ever seen.

In social networks, brands are taking cautious first steps to enlist brand ambassadors and corral fans but the social networks themselves have been cautious about user experience and haven’t opened the floodgates to targeted advertising just yet. The Internet video sites, which must also count as social media, are making a big push to engage Chinese businesses. Seed ads, either professionally produced or user-generated, are commonplace now on sites like Youku , Tudou, and Ku6 .

9. Do you see some disruptive technologies emerging in China that will impact US business and/or social media?

I’ve seen some very nifty things developed in China that may very will impact the global social media landscape. Just last Friday I was at lunch with a new crew of entrepreneurs who are building a hybrid SNS/virtual world. And that’s the second one I’ve seen in China. Doubtless, similar efforts are already underway in Silicon Valley or Tel Aviv or in Scandinavia. I have a couple of friends who’ve developed a terrific Firefox plug-in–a smart, learning discovery engine with a strong social component–which I believe will radically change the way people use their browsers.

At present, these sorts of things are the exceptions. For the most part, Chinese Internet companies still copy business models they’ve seen in the West so that there’s a Chinese counterpart for just about every well-known social media platform or app that’s come out of North America or Europe. But I believe that’s changing. Valley VCs were apt to fund companies whose business models were easily intelligible to them–to pick the low-hanging fruit. But that fruit’s largely been picked clean and as venture starts reaching into higher branches, entrepreneurs will start bearing fruit in those higher branches.

A guy I know at Intellectual Ventures once pointed out that over time, Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea all moved from being net IP importers to enjoying a relative balance of payments in royalties and licensing fees and did so at increasingly steep trajectories. China’s been no slouch about learning from what its neighbors have done to stimulate innovation. It has some real advantages in innovating–a huge domestic market, like the U.S. had after the Second World War, massive manufacturing capabilities and leadership committed to creating a more innovation-friendly business environment. China’s business leaders, educators and increasingly its political leadership are on the same page when it comes to their understanding of the obstacles: China’s traditional pedagogy, the lack of credit available to private sector start-ups and so forth.

10. There are more than 100 million "regular" bloggers in China according to Isaac Mao. Yet very few, I am told use social media for business purposes. Is business use increasing? What are some of the main subjects of conversation in the Chinese blogosphere?

Isaac is right that there aren’t a lot of businesses using social media, unless you count Instant Messaging (IM) as a social medium. IM is a commonplace business tool not only within an enterprise but for communicating between companies. It’s quite routine, for instance, for a sales staffer to have lunch with a potential client, exchange IM account names or numbers and IM each other when they get back to their respective offices to keep in touch.

As I mentioned, BBS, arguably a very primitive form of social media, still trumps blogging in China. Part of that seems to be because of the relative anonymity of BBS compared to blogs whose hosting companies, in theory at least, are supposed to insist on real-name registration.

There may be, as Isaac suggests, a huge number of "regular" bloggers in China but we have a strange phenomena here whereby there aren’t really any "celebrity bloggers" like we have in the U.S. — the Glenn Reynolds, the Drudges, the Perez Hiltons — but there are rather a lot of "blogging celebrities" — actors and actresses, well-known writers, and traditional media personalities who write some of China’s most popular blogs.

My purely unscientific, anecdotal surmise as to the main subjects of conversation in China: Basically, your pedestrian comings-and-goings blogs: "my kitty got sick and I had to take her to the vet," or "I’m so depressed that my girlfriend dumped me," entertainment (boy bands, Korean soaps, Jay Chou and other pop stars or the latest Hollywood blockbusters. Cars are a big topic–it’s like the 50s in the U.S., where young people are car-crazy and of course there’s technology, online games and that sort of thing. There is a surprising number devoted to literature. Political blogs are rare.

11. What are the most popular social media tools in China?

In terms of sheer user numbers, Shenzhen-based Tencent, which operates China’s most popular IM, QQ [Google Translate] has a suite of social media tools that have to rank up there among the most popular.

Tencent cleverly weaves together a complementary offering including their ubiquitous IM (340 million active accounts, when there are only 253 million Internet users in China!), a traditional portal , a LiveJournal-like mini-blog-cum-social network called QZone and casual and MMO game offerings and keeps it sticky and low-churning by unifying it with a virtual currency.

Social networks are all the rage right now and you basically have three who’ve carved out strong niches themselves in three separate demographics: is the dominant campus-based SNS, relative newcomer has come to dominate among first-tier city white collar workers and professionals, and rules the hinterland and the secondary/tertiary cities of the coastal provinces.
Most bloggers in China blog either through a service provided by one of the leading Internet portals, or, or through one of the major blog service providers like,, or A great many also use mini-blog services like MSN Spaces or Tencent’s above-mentioned QZone.

Social bookmarking tools haven’t really caught on with the mainstream Internet user in China yet, so the Digg or clones haven’t really taken off. But consumer rating sites–one particularly popular one is [Link is Google translated], where books, movies, TV shows and music are rated and discussed–are quite popular.

Video sites are extraordinarily popular. In a study last year by MTV and Microsoft, 33% of Chinese answered "always" or "most of the time" when asked how frequently they visit Internet video sites when they go online. That was more than in any other geography surveyed. The dominant Internet video sites in China, [Goog Transl.] and [Trans] actually have quite large ratios of professionally-produced content, and so calling them "video sharing sites" isn’t quite accurate.

Youku, a company I consult, is, for instance, ranked between the 5th and 7th most popular site on the Chinese Internet in terms of time spent on site. In China, more searches are done per day on Youku than on Google.

12. Can you give me any statistics regarding the number of Chinese bloggers who understand and read English blogs?

I don’t believe I’ve ever seen any such statistics, but I reckon the numbers to be very, very low. Some level of English reading ability is common, as it’s compulsory in schools, but the outward-facing fringe of the blogging community is still small.

A Daily Breakfast of Fun & the Human Condition


  Father Roderick


I seem to have a lot in common with Father Roderick, the Dutch podcasting priest. We both have a fascination with technology, yet we both are more interested in how to use technology for story telling than for love of source code and silicon. We also both love to write about our travel experiences and the people we meet and we both find ourselves more than a little concerned with the human condition. Sometimes, we use humor, to lightened our subject matter.

There are two essential differences in us. First, from my perspective, his collar is juxtaposed and my in is not.He’s also more prone to wearing black than I am. Second, he is an extremely good podcaster, while I have learned to stick with text. Father Roderick is in my opinion, is among the best there is in mass audience podcasting, and trust me, you need not be Catholic or religious to enjoy his highly entertaining Daily Breakfast shows.

My point of these comparisons is to point out something, that he reveals almost daily. People everywhere are pretty much alike, even if our diverse cultures sometimes make that hard to see. The technology we both use, however, lets more people understand the similarities of each other.

This guy is entertaining, conversational, observant and every morning talks with a diverse group of people on current events ranging from travel, to the causes of the sinking American economy. I have been an irregular listener to the most recent of his more than 550 Daily Breakfasts and have almost always walked away in a good mood with a new interesting or useful insight.

Father Roderick has been active in podcasting since the pre-historic year of AD 2001. He is founder of the impressive and effective SQPN, Catholic podcasting network and 100s of thousands of people tune in to him every morning. I suggest you go listen to a few of his Daily Breakfast episodes, now. then come back to hear his

1. Where were you born and raised? When and why did you decide to become a priest? What was your assignment prior to starting SQPN?

I was born in Leidschendam, not far from The Hague in the Netherlands and was raised in Bleiswijk, a town in the middle of a region dominated by polders, windmills and greenhouses. I went to school in the fast-growing, modern city of Zoetermeer, and contemplated various careers: comic-book artist, writer, movie director, computer game programmer, lawyer and even army officer. 

The idea of the priesthood never even entered my mind: although I was brought up in a Catholic family, I always thought of priests as old men, out of touch with modern culture, leading a life that couldn’t be further away from my ambitions and dreams. As an altar boy, my thoughts during Mass often drifted to galaxies far, far away, where I would fight evil as a Jedi knight instead of paying attention to what was said by the priest.

All that changed around the age of 17, when I was challenged by my classmates and teachers to explain why I still went to Church, and I started to read and study what this Catholic Church was all about. My curiosity quickly evolved into fascination: beyond the appearances of an old, dusty institution I discovered a living, active, worldwide community with an incredibly rich tradition and a balanced view on life and on modern issues. An international youth gathering in the French place of pilgrimage Lourdes triggered the idea of getting involved in this Church as a priest. 

I thought this vocation would mean a definitive farewell to my fascination with computers, movies and media. Little did I know that all this would be an important part of my work as a priest today.

2. Tell me how and when SQPN got started. What came first the Daily Breakfast or the network? Can you give me some sense of how big the SQPN and the overall Catholic media network is? How many shows, listeners, countries–any numbers you feel free to share.

In 2001, my bishop sent me to Rome, where I studied social communications at the Gregorian University, one of the oldest universities in the world. Although the university was old, their media formation was very modern. While studying mass communications, journalism, radio and television production and marketing, I realized that this was exactly what I needed to do: help the Catholic Church use modern media to communicate its message to the world.

While speaking at a communications conference in the Vatican, news broke that Pope John Paul II had been hospitalized. Switching on my portable recorder, I ran to Saint Peter’s square to find out what had happened, jumped in a cab to the hospital and recorded a report on the situation. The world had just been introduced to the medium of podcasting, and I decided to upload the file to the internet and create a series called the ‘Catholic Insider’.

Encouraged by hundreds of reactions from all over the world, I returned to Rome to report on the final days of John Paul II, his funeral and the election process of Pope Benedict XVI. As a priest, I had access to areas and people that were out of reach for regular journalists. The success of these audio documentaries, with over 15,000 listeners per episode and lots of media attention from CNN to BusinessWeek inspired me to set up a network for Catholic media producers, the Star Quest Production Network (SQPN).

undefined soon offered more than 25 audio and video programs, reaching around 250,000 people each month. About 60% of the audience is from North America, 25% from Europe, and 15% from South America, Asia and Oceania.

Half our audience is not Catholic. Our listeners and viewers range from convinced atheists to Protestants to people with Jewish, Buddhist or even Muslim backgrounds. I now host two daily shows: The Daily Breakfast in English and Katholiek Leven in Dutch and I produce a number of other audio and video shows when I have time.

3. The SQPN website says your focus is to build, "bridges between the dominant popular culture of the Western world and the religious culture and tradition of the Catholic Church in order to reach an audience that has little or no relationship with that Church." Why?

The Catholic Church has always reached out to the culture in which it existed, often integrating its language and symbols and transforming the culture from within. Saint Paul’s advise to "examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good" has given the Catholic tradition a consistent openness to the world outside its Church walls.

Social Communications studies show that in order to establish successful communications, you first need to have a common language. The problem of the Catholic Church today, is that that common language seems to have disappeared. There is a wide gap between the age-old culture of the Church and the popular culture in our western world.

With SQPN, we try to bridge that gap by engaging popular culture with the same openness that the apostle Paul encouraged. Many popular movies and books contain symbols, events and themes that are inspired by the Christian tradition.

That is why we have a show like The Secrets of Harry Potter, or The Secrets of the Lord of the Rings. By explaining the deeper layers of these popular imaginary worlds, we try to show how a better understanding of the Christian inspiration in these books adds new value and enjoyment of these stories.

4. In a recent video episode, you are strolling atop the frozen Winnipeg River, joking about walking on water. In another, you are disappointed that a chapel on a cliff in Southern Portugal has a locked door, keeping tourists out. Do any of your quips get you in trouble with your superiors? How does the Vatican regard SQPN? What obstacles in the Church did you have to overcome to get The Daily Breakfast show going?

I have always enjoyed a lot of support and encouragement from the official Church. My bishop allows me to dedicate 70% of my work to Catholic media and Vatican Radio even started podcasting after I introduced them to the medium. The Vatican strongly encourages the use of the internet and modern communications to build community and to enter a dialog with society.

The only difficult aspect of our work is to find funding. Podcasting, internet video, blogging and social networking are very new phenomena, whereas many potential sponsors are still completely focused on the ‘old’, traditional media. It would be much easier to raise money for a magazine or a radio show than for the kind of productions that we make at SQPN.

5. You get an amazing array of live call-ins. Are they mostly American? Are they mostly Catholic? Are they screened before they come on air?  What makes you decide to give your listeners 30 seconds of croaking frogs in a storm-flooded backyard?

One thing that sets podcasting apart from more traditional media is the strong, interactive and personal relationship between the host and the audience.

Listeners to the Daily Breakfast are very involved with the show and quickly respond to any question or topic that I launch on the program. The majority of callers are from the US, but I also receive voice feedback from Canada, Europe and Australia on a regular basis.

I always listen to the feedback before I play it, so that I can respond in an adequate way to their questions or remarks. Two types of feedback are very popular: the bit at the start of the Daily Breakfast where listeners can share what is going on in their part of the world, and the Q&A segment about the ‘Peculiar Bunch’: the Catholics.

It is again, a matter of creating a common language. The more you know your audience and the situation in which they live, the better you will communicate. And the more my listeners get to know each other, the easier it will be to form an online community around the show.

I think that religion is a natural part of our daily lives, and not something that should be confined to specific days or places of worship. The Daily Breakfast is about everything that makes life interesting – from croaking frogs in a storm-flooded backyard to praying monks in a silent monastery.

6. What have you learned from your audiences? How has it changed you? How do you think it may change the Church?

Producing these audio and video programs has had a huge impact on my own communications as a priest.

Getting to know my audience, whether they are listeners in China or my own parishioners in Amersfoort, is of capital importance. Only when I know what people need and are searching for can I hope to contribute something meaningful to their lives.

Communication begins with listening. The same is true for prayer, by the way. I hope that our work at SQPN will lead the way in Catholic new media–that it will show the Church that there are more ways to reach out to the world than ever before.

New media creates new community. The social networking revolution reflects something that the Church has been doing for 2000 years–bringing people together around a common inspiration. Catholics have always used a wide range of communication tools to create these communities, from Bibles to newspapers to radio and television. Why not use the new digital tools as well? When pope Benedict XVI visited Vatican Radio some time ago, they gave him an iPod full of Catholic podcasts. If the Pope uses new media, hopefully the rest of the Church will follow soon.

7.  Do you see a lesson in this social media experience that may be applicable to business or other institutions such as government?

There are a lot of similarities between an old institution like the Church and other business or governmental institutions. The world is embracing new media at a very fast pace. It expects institutions and businesses to do the same. Interactivity, personalized media and social networking, international branding, flexibility, niche marketing and the ability and willingness to involve customers or target audiences in the process are of vital importance for the survival and the success of modern organizations. Any company or organization that doesn’t embrace these changes in communication risks losing its audience. 

8.  How do you think SQPN will evolve in coming years? Describe what the network will look like five years from now?

I think that SQPN will continue to raise the bar in terms of quality and reach. Five years from now, I hope SQPN will have a collection of audio and video productions that can rival the best secular programs on radio and TV.

We will also work hard to get some of our best shows syndicated on existing radio and television channels. With about a billion Catholics on this planet, and an even larger potential audience, I am confident that we will be able to reach several million people on a regular basis. Most importantly, I hope that SQPN will continue to produce shows that will surprise people, challenge them to explore, to be curious, to get involved in a community, online or off line. When I look back at what we have been able to achieve in only two years, I have high hopes for the future.

The sky is the limit, or, in our case, heaven is :) .

NOTE: Special thanks to Bryan Person for pointing me to Fr. Roderick

How SM brings a team of 380,000 closer together

              George Faulkner, IBM SM Guy

                             [IBM's George Faulkner]

In my interview earlier this year with Firestoker’s Jevon MacDonald, I speculated there was probably more happening in social media behind the firewall than in front of it. In this talk with IBM’s George Faulkner, I would speculate that there is more happening behind IBM’s firewall than at any other company.

Faulkner, a 14-year veteran of IBM has played a key role in IBM internal social media, particularly podcasting since 2004, the first the audio social media tool was introduced. He is currently editor in chief of the prolific IBM Media Library, which curates more than seven million employee contributions.

I found the extent of internal social media activity to be far greater than I had expected. This is a company of nearly 400,000 employees residing in over 200 countries. One-third of them telecommute and social media has made it closer, more efficient and more agile. I found parts of what George told me to be remarkable, and as a social media evangelist, some of it was to me downright inspirational.

1. Can you walk me through what IBM is doing behind the firewall with social media? Can you tell me what is going on both with employees as well as with your partners and your ecosystem?

Before turning IBM’s 380,000 employees loose to self publish, we felt strongly that social computing could only exist and thrive if founded on some guiding principles and heightened cultural awareness. Like most large organizations, IBM staff  already adhered to Business Conduct Guidelines (BCG) covering responsible practices. With those BCGs, in mind, we initiated, socially drafted, and published a set of company values – created through a three-day, intranet IBM Jam, which is an open forum. From that, we established three cultural principles that we set in place immediately:

(1) Dedication to every client’s success

(2) Innovation that matters – for our company and the world

(3) Trust and personal responsibility in all relationships

We view, this third one–trust and personal responsibility in all relationships–as a foundation for all open social computing activities at IBM.

The Jam resulted in us socially drafting the IBM Blogging Guidelines which help IBMers to engage, utilize and represent themselves in all social spaces.

With these foundational elements in place, IBM began to launch internal publishing spaces enabling blogging, podcasting, file sharing, wikis, social networking etc. Most of these spaces support social tagging, comment functions, networking/personal connection abilities, private/public sharing, and have transformed the way in which we find experts, answers, information, and how we connect globally and culturally with one another.

These platforms are guided by the IBM community and are not policed. Intranet editorial calendars do not dictate use and employees may publish as they see fit. The often referenced yet mythological scenario of the "Wild West" that many large organizations fear when considering this sort of mass open publishing has manifested itself as the complete opposite. When IBMers publish their expert opinions or share insight into their work, we all win. When they share opinions – no matter how hard-hitting – it inspires productive conversation. We feel these conversations influence and help shape executive opinion and add tremendous value in supporting the talent, skills and character of our employees.

We are involved socially beyond the IBM intranet – both in external social media and community platforms – with clients and business partners, and find that where conversation and community building are involved, great progress can be achieved.

2. Which of these programs works best in your opinion? What works the least well? Why?

Our most successful social platform by far is Wiki Central. Between publishing, editing, and visitors, IBM wikis achieve over 1 million hits per day. This speaks volumes in regard to what IBMers want and need in collaborative publishing and knowledge-sharing.

Our second most popular platform is the IBM Media Library which supports subscription-based audio, video, presentation and document publishing along with html-friendly page building and much more. The Library has achieved over 7 million file downloads to-date and is home to over 28k files created by IBMers worldwide. Our blogging platform is active as is our file-sharing platform. Our social networking site is quite popular as well. What makes all of these platforms most interesting, when viewed holistically, is how they are all tied together through our Enterprise Tagging Service, which enables extremely valuable discovery/search for IBMers through a variety of aggregation tools.

3. How do you measure or judge the success of your social media programs?

We measure success very simply in all social media publishing efforts on our platforms. The primary measurement is based on the conversations that the content inspires and what we all learn from these conversations. There is deep value in this open dialog. It inspires us to think, to collaborate, to work through puzzles and share our vast expertise. We finally get to be the experts we were hired to be on an extremely broad scale. We have moved from mass communications to masses of communicators.

4. How do you think internal social media is changing IBM as a business? What about corporate culture?

For me, I am more connected than I have ever been in my 14 years at IBM. Vast amounts of information are now available to me, specific to virtually any topic I seek, with just a few clicks. I not only get information, but can access vast opinions, find subject matter experts and even launch broad-scale community initiatives if I so desire. My reach is much wider, my effectiveness multiplied, my profile and reputation enhanced. I understand more of the vast undertakings of IBM in new ways which makes me a more valuable asset to the company, and I am more culturally aware of who my peers are and what my company stands for.

This is a huge change – a massive flip of traditional big business information control that has placed trust into the hands of the employee and enriched our business and our culture, allowing us to be responsible adults who feel empowered, not followers waiting for the next strategic missive with no ability to participate in the conversation.

5. What have been the biggest barriers to getting social media going at IBM? How did you overcome them?

Biggest barriers were fear of the unknown prior to launch. Worries that there could be IBMers with difficult concerns and issues looking for discussion and finding nobody there. Worried some employees may be discourteous or irresponsible for some reason, even in light of our deep values. This never happened.

“The  Wisdom of Crowds,” is not a catch-phrase. It is real. Given the opportunity to publish, IBMers immediately embraced it and have been working together through thick and thin ever since. The fear was overcome in light of our very first Jam – the Values Jam.

During that three-day open forum, we saw how IBMers would react and interact in such a situation. Although it was a controlled experiment with a set length, it was tremendous. The blog platform followed shortly and the rest of the platforms came after that. In any instance – and there have been but a few – where an IBMer gets somewhere close to crossing the line of what our guidelines and values frame, the extended IBM community steps up and speaks up. It is inspiring to see and to be a part of. The community, at large, oversees these situations and always acts to effectively work through these bumps in the road with respect, thus effecting change and progress.

6. I’ve talked to several global enterprises in the last couple of years and there’s  a similar scenario. There is a small band of social media evangelists and a sea of other employees. In your case, you are part of a 5-member communications team serving 380,000 employees. How do you expect to succeed?

Setting guidelines, launching education materials, creating content that would be inspirational to those sitting on the fence, and evangelizing around all of this was difficult for the first few years. Our social media evangelists are a very widespread and enthusiastic bunch, but not the key here.

The key proved to be simple enablement and guidance built on deep trust. The evangelists were the early adopters, for sure, but as the years roll by, and although it is not as rapid as I had anticipated, these platforms offer such a remarkable opportunity for all IBMers that it is inevitable that most will use one or more at some point, or they will be left behind in our new knowledge-sharing community ecosystem.

Adoption at first for the general population was often done with skepticism. Now they are eager and wide-eyed. It just took some time. I should note that we never announced the launch of any of these platforms in our intranet homepage news spaces. They were all rolled out in a viral manner. This stemmed what I would guess could have been a mass of confusion and/or ambivalence and, in turn, created a slow and steady interest.

7. How do social media programs scale at IBM? When small, pilot programs succeed and require significant budget and oversight, how does it –or will it–occur? Who does social media report to?

All of our social computing platforms come from within the CIO’s office, IBM Software and IBM Research.

8. What percentage of IBM’s marketing or communications budget is dedicated to social media?

Many of these internal IBM social platforms were built for a variety of reasons by a variety of sources as mentioned above. Over the last six years, IBM Communications has simply played the role of leading IBMers to understand how to use these spaces and take advantage of the opportunities they present.

Our mantra is in teaching IBMers to understand why and how to use them, how to create low-cost content with existing tools and how to focus more on quality of message and creativity (and follow-through) than expensive, slick and sleek productions.

I dare not speak for IBM content creators worldwide – we are a massive group of self-publishers without an editorial board – but investments have surely been made by some to aid in content creation. We feel strongly that low-cost options should always be considered because, when done well, they can be extremely effective and are very often going to prove to be more genuine at heart, thus generating a larger audience and inspiring deeper conversations.

Content created by ‘people like me’ – non-professional media producers – is compelling and is often devoid of traditional marketing hallmarks and people react very well to that. From my humble cubicle, I’ve spent the last four years conceptualizing, recording, editing, publishing, promoting and nurturing a large volume of podcast content on a total $1,500 investment in audio equipment and software. My internal podcasts have generated over 266,000 downloads, and I feel IBM has enjoyed a healthy return on that investment.

9. How do internal social media programs impact the lives of IBM’s significant number of employee telecommuters?

Some of these IBMers have never met their managers face-to-face. Social media has enabled many of these folks to hear the voices of their peers and to feel and experience our culture and brand in new ways. It’s important to realize that globally, fewer than half of all IBMers work in traditional offices. The remainder work remotely from customer sites, from home, are mobile with no fixed office.

IBM employees are bombarded with more content than ever before from more sources than ever before via multiple devices. As a result, they’re consuming large amounts of bite-size content, and later deciding where to more fully invest their time. And they’re exercising unprecedented control over assembling and customizing their content — thanks to wikis, RSS feeds, and meta-tagging. Today’s young opinion elites have a different way of gathering and validating information about companies. Unlike older influencers, they graze for information constantly, trust a multitude of sources, and prefer first-person testimonials to statements by traditional business authority figures.

IBMers are more likely to trust company information coming from regular employees than that being issued from the C suite. And in places like Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, and the U.S., “a person like me” (i.e., one with shared values and interests) is considered the most credible source of information about our company.

By providing IBMers with self-publishing abilities, tied together through subscription and social tagging, telecommuters participating in this are now more integrated and culturally connected than remote workers have ever been before. At the most basic level, we have found that IBMers react extremely positively to media embedded in traditional intranet news articles, due to the personal nature of most of our social media content and the trust they have in the information. But we also find that telecommuters truly appreciate the aural and visual window into other IBM work locations and the community spirit they encounter in the comment spaces as a result. I telecommute sporadically, and can speak from experience that it feels a lot more like being at IBM than it used to.

10. Any additional comments?

I have been stunned and overjoyed at what has occurred here at IBM in this social media space. IBMers publish a wide range of content, some worthwhile to only a few, some that connects on a widespread basis. Some have ‘blogged their way into a new job,’ some have prompted procedural change as a result. I’m not joking when I say it has transformed my personal work-life and how it has enhanced my productivity. Such widespread self-publishing enablement is unique to IBM as far as I know, but I see it as the inevitable future for many large organizations.

Using Social Media in Disasters


Charles Brownstein, Homeland Security Institute>

                [Charles Brownstein, HSI. from his file.]

It seems to me that social media is at its best during times of life-threatening crises. Robert Scoble was the first person in the US to report the devastating China Earthquake earlier this year. Not only did he find out about it through Twitter, he used social media to report it about 45 minutes sooner than did the US Geologic Service. There are other stories about social media being used in disasters. Back in the days of Katrina, Ernie the Attorney was blogging about the shortage of human services in New Orleans long before mainstream media gave it a mention. The Los Angeles Fire Department has several social media accounts. it seems that whenever there is a natural or human-started emergency, new social media stories emerge.

So when my friend Jeremiah Owyang mentioned he had represented Forrester at a day-long seminar put on by the Homeland Security Institute(HSI), I was more than a little curious to find out more about what is going on. First, I learned that HSI, is an entirely different entity than the Homeland Security Department (HSD). The former group is a think tank, formed in 2002 and operating since 2004 to provide research all matters of homeland security. It reports to the Homeland Security secretary, but also conducts projects work with the US Departments of Defense, Education, Interior, Intelligence and even the Smithsonian Institute.

Jeremiah connected me to HSI Fellow Charles Brownstein who ran the workshop. A 20–year veteran of the National Academies,Brownstein joined HSI in 2005, where he serves as a Fellow. In his role there, he leads projects involving information sharing, innovation and collaboration,
personal identification systems, national and regional small vessel
security, and cyber security R&D planning, among others.

Rather than using SM tools in their own operations, HSI is more focused on empowering on-the-scene orgranizations where the tools can be used to help people at ground zero of an emergency.

1. Before we get to social media, can you give me an example or two of the kind of thinking developed at HSI that has impacted domestic security in the US?

HSI is tasked to undertake a broad array of studies and analyses for DHS,  but to remain independent in its approach and implementation.  Our work has ranged from doing fundamental work on a national response plan to integrating Federal agencies as they respond to various kinds of emergencies, to specific technical assessments on the adequacy of the testing for the Advanced Spectrographic Portal [which scans US ports for nuclear devices]. In the first instance, we helped the government get its act together; in the second we helped to avoid moving too fast with technology not ready for deployment.

2. What sort of social media programs are you using? Are these used for internal collaborative purposes or are they public?

HSI does not use social media programs, if what you have in mind is Twitter, Facebook and the like. We support our internal operations as a matrix organization with shared drives and operational procedures that don’t permit stovepipes. We use wikis on a project-by-project basis where the staff finds them useful. 
My particular interest in social media is part of a project that I manage to look at innovation and how to make use of it for Homeland Security applications of DHS. 

Folks at DHS who try to look to the future asked us to do that.

3. My sense of Homeland Security is that it is very top down in it’s approach. Social media, conversely, works best when it is bottom up. Are you concerned that social media could wrest control from those currently in charge?

I personally have no such concerns and the folks at DHS who asked me to look into it have no such concerns. The application that we are exploring for DHS is the ad hoc incremental use of social media by end users for self assistance in response to emergencies.

DHS asked us to explore how it has been used, its efficacy for self assistance, how to promote its use for efficacious purposes, and then to see how the sort of formal response institutions (police, fire, emergency response, FEMA, etc)  might take advantage of what the public does and can be expected to do, to improve their own operations.

4. In an earlier conversation, you told me, "HSI got some people together to explore" social media’s possibilities." Can you tell me more about that session?

We put on a one-day workshop that brought together a diverse group of officials from the DHS Policy Office, including Assistant Homeland Security Secretary Stewart Baker, state and local emergency responders from the local FEMA Region, and the California Office of Homeland Security, representatives of national fire and emergency responder professional groups, large and small companies and university researchers. Among private sector and non-government participants were representatives from Google, Cisco, Apple, Forrester Research, Microsoft, UConn, UC San Diego, University of Colorado,  Stanford University and representatives from emergency preparedness organizations.

5. Lets talk about disasters. As you’ve noted, during Katrina, 9/11,during forest fires and earthquakes, Americans have become very active in social media. How can that be braided into HSI & DHS activities?

Again, we are not exploring how to weave social networking into HSI or DHS- but rather doing research into how national, state and local authorities can use social networking in THEIR operations, and advising
DHS on how it can promote such uses. There seems to me to be a number of ways.

First, emergency responders, especially the younger ones, use all of the same social media tools that you use. So they are tuned into how Facebook was used at Virginia Tech by school authorities and students to gain a more accurate picture of events on the ground than the police, the mass media and the public had. So their bosses want to know how to factor their own workers uses into official operations. Police in the Phoenix area, the LA Fire Department and New York City are weaving Twitter into daily operations.
So, from that point of view, we want to make sure that DHS does nothing to stop this from happening more- or better yet, makes it legitimate for local authorities to spend block grant funds to find their own uses.

Second, DHS can look at what information is readily made available by end users of social networking technology, and figure out how to incorporate that information into FEMA and other agency emergency response operations at command centers, such as common operating picture and logistics support systems. To some extent, this means getting local authorities to figure out what works for them, doing some training, or at some point when its well-understood, offering assistance and promoting standards.
Or, perhaps, it means designing and operation "back end" information processing systems dedicated to effectively using the bits that individuals generate for their own purposes.

Third, DHS can look at how the underlying common use infrastructure for social networking, such as application servers, terrestrial or mobile access links and data processing facilities, can be made or kept sufficient resilient, and reliable to be trustworthy in emergency situations.

6. Can you walk me through an example? How would a social media tool, such as Twitter,  be helpful to your purposes?

There’s a Twitter client for the iPhone that has an "emergency" button . It has a pre-typed message asking for help and it sends the geo-location and a picture if the user desires, to whomever is following that user. In an ideal world, authorities could have individuals configure their device to send such tweets to the authorities where a back-end system parses the messages and resends it and the rest of the bits from it to the appropriate response agency (fire, police, etc etc.),and they, in turn, use that information to do triage and issue orders or "trouble tickets" to responders, or set up direct communications to the sender or whatever is appropriate. So imagine an event like an earthquake, and contemplate the utility of such a system if it were available.

7. How transparent can HSI and HSD be in telling the public what they are up to related to social media? What would you say to people who are apprehensive about Homeland Security watching what people say and do in online conversations?

I believe that this stuff will be useful at scale only if authorities are100% transparent and if authorities are very careful in official ways to be appropriate about privacy and about use. The critical variable for citizens and authorities is TRUST. Without that, I believe the use of the technology by all parties will be marginal  and unimportant.

8. Do you see a point in the future when you will be able to say that social media made America a safer place? How far into the future might that be?


It has been going on for some time. It started the first time emergency responders started using available tech like instant messenger unofficially years ago, picked up steam with deployments of 802.11 around events like Katrina and California wildfires, and began picking up steam with cities supporting Twitter and other applications. I think it’s not "social media" that is important- its mobile social media applications and the entire infrastructure that supports it.

It is still in its infancy, but I think it will grow as rapidly as mobile technology innovations that look and operate like the iPhone are diffused and become more ubiquitous. That will include many non-Apple products and operating systems. To the extent that the many applications that support Homeland Security find a place in this space, we will be safer or at least better able to respond.

9. What technical improvements could be made to social media, making it more useful to Homeland Security?

I think that the key things needed are to keep the infrastructure inexpensive and make it more reliable, and to do the many things needed make the information for any particular application trustworthy.

Putting Twitterville Closer to Candidates

Mario Anima, Current

[Current TV's Mario Anima. Photo by Laughing Squid.]

I have always been extremely optimistic about social media’s potential for bringing people and politicians closer to each other. After all, the guys running are supposed to serve the rest of us, aren’t they. Four years ago many people got excited when Howard Dean appeared to have started a blog and was answering comments. But then it turned out that Dean was using Joe Trippi to handle the blog while he remained adamantly clueless about them.

This year, most candidates have been very active in SM, setting up Twitter, Facebook and other accounts. Unfortunately, it has seemed to me, the tools have been used to get messages out and campaign contributions in.

No candidate has really tried using social media to actually listen to the people, which I believe is the killer app for government, politicians and constituencies. For the first time, there is technology that allows significant numbers of voter voices to be heard in venues larger than their own living rooms.

So, I was instantly elated when an announcement came a couple of days ago about a deal that will let Current TV and Twitter combine efforts to let people stream comments while during the four upcoming presidential debates, starting in Sept. 26 in symbolic Oxford, Mississippi.

Essentially, this is a massive mashup called Hack the Debate. Current TV was co-founded by Al Gore and former TV pop lawyer Joel Hyatt. There have been previous attempts to add online video and commentary to political events, particularly by uStream. But to my knowledge, there has never been anything like Hack the Debate. While this first effort, may be pock-marked with tech issues and Neanderthals who may slip by screeners to write nastiness, I believe it is a major step in the right direction for the future of democracy.

To understand exactly what is going on and what we can expect, I turned Mario Anima, director of online community for Current [tweet: @manima) to get some of the details that the initial stories seem to have skirted over.

1. Mario, is this a wide open project. Who can comment through Hack the Debate and how do others find our comments?

The  debate page is 100% open to submissions on relevant topics. Anyone interested in clipping stories can tag their submissions with “Hack the Debate” and they will appear on that page. It’s sort of like a pre-debate mash-up of related information.

Also, we’ll be keeping an eye on the broader discussions taking place around the Twittersphere, but we’ll be focusing on tweets that include the #current hashtag. We’ll try to monitor all comments, but it makes sense to focus on anyone who’s choosing to participate in the discussion via the hashtag.

2. Is Al Gore actually involved in Current or is this a case of him co-founding, adding the credibility of his name and moving on?

Al Gore is definitely involved. He weighs in on what we cook up in-house, and he’s very supportive in regards to this sort of thing.

3. Why was Current TV selected to participate in the debates rather than say uStream? What will you be doing that is different than what other live streamers may do?

We purchased the rights to air the debates because we know our audience is engaged in this election. The main differentiator between CurrentTV and uStream is the finished output — we have a cable TV network to utilize, so one of our focus points on the side of things is figuring out how to make a two-screen experience (from online to television) a reality. It’s a tough problem to solve, because it requires sewing together two vastly different ways of doing things.

4. Why did CurrentTV decide to partner with Twitter on this project?

When you look at microblogging, as a form of back channeling during major events, its obvious that Twitter is at the hub of this type of thing. Since I arrived at Current in February, it’s become clear that we need to get out there and let others know a little bit more about what we’re up to, what we’re open to try, and some of the things that interest us in regards to experimenting in both online and broadcast arenas. Melding the online and broadcast experience is really at the center of this Twitter/Current debate initiative, and it’s sort of a Phase I for what we refer to as building out a set of APIs for online content and communities in regards to television.

5. How challenging is the technology involved?

It’s a pretty hefty undertaking. We’re working steadily to get our platforms in place to help facilitate more of these types of ventures more often, so while we’re confident with where we’re at for the debates, we’re trying to make the process more robust yet streamlined for the future.

6. How challenging will the logistics be? What happens if 100,000 tweeters all wish to tweet at once?

We’d love to automate everything, but there’s going to be some manual activity. The tweets will all be rendered in flash in an overlay stream during the broadcast. We’re also cognizant of the broadcast restrictions that are out there, so we’ll be filtering out inappropriate tweets from the rest of the bunch. Our goal is to show as much of the Twitter conversation on-air as we can, while still maintaining a good viewing experience. Bottom line, we’re trying to make this as flexible as possible so we can adjust as needed.

7. How do you think the Current-Twitter participation will change the world.

I hope it has an impact. Reading through the tweets during the primaries, DNC, and RNC, there was a lot of really intelligent discussion taking place. Sure, there was noise too, but people have insights that are worth getting out there. I have a group of friends who have been partaking in a non-stop debate via email since before the primaries. They are all extremely intelligent people who hold high positions in their respective fields, but all of this knowledge and discussion is buried in the inboxes of 30 or so recipients. If our little effort does anything, I hope it gives people like them the opportunity to weigh in on the issues discussed in a very visible way. Ultimately it would be nice if this was a small step towards moving traditional broadcast television away from the voices of the few to a conversation of the many.

I am starting my 16th month of writing my Social Media Global Reports. To date, I have interviewed 108 people in 34 countries. They are a diverse lot, ranging from Michael Dell, founder of the world’s second largest computer company to Wael Abbas who uploads hidden camera videos of police brutality in Egypt. The point of these stories is to investigate social media’s impact on culture and business.

This project, sponsored and encouraged by Intel, is among my core activities. I have a great deal of passion about it. To date I have posted over 150,000 words on this subject, just about double the number of words in Naked Conversations. Some day, the stories I have gathered may be condensed into a book.

I am saying all this, because I am constantly looking for stories of people–prominent and obscure–who show the wide range of events that are changing business, education, government, communications and just about everything else. From time to time I post on Twitter that I am looking for new stories and I get flooded. While this method has landed me a few gems, I also get lots of stories that just won’t fly. In fact, I end up covering about one in 14 ideas that get presented to me. This frustrates me and I’m sure it frustrates all those people who took the time to pitch me only to get rejected.

First let me clear up some stories that I simply do and do not cover:

  • I almost never cover a start up on a first launch. I am looking for technologies that are changing business and life. There’s a guy named Scoble who just LOVES tech stories. Pitch him at Tell him I urged you to go there.
  • I am not really focused on technology per se, but on business and people. If you do represent a tech vendor, please send me the customer who has the most remarkable story.
  • I am interested in human elements and how remarkably social media has impacted real people, such as the Kenya orphans who blog to raise money for running shoes, or the Erik Hersman who helped Kenyans by creating a mobile wiki so they could see where violence erupted and avoided it or Laurel Papworth who went to Saudi Arabia to help Muslim women set up a social network, or Isaac Mao, China’s first blogger who is now investing in disruptive startups in China.
  • The interview that I most covet would be with Queen Rania of Jordan who posts videos on YouTube that educate me about Islamic culture and inspire me in many ways. Perhaps this link will catch her attention more than my email pitches have so far.
  • I am interested in behind the firewall stories, such as Peter Reiser, who architected SunSpace, where 15,000 engineers share what they know in a Facebook-type environment and who figured out the ROI is in shared knowledge. I just loved the story I posted earlier this week about Francois Gossieaux interview this week, where he showed how tribalism is a key factor in understand business social networks. I loved Ethan Bodnar’s story last year when he was a high school student that he would never work for a company that would not let him blog or Pawel Nowacki of Poland who told me how citizen journalism in his country has greater impact than traditional newpapers.

And so on.

I am looking for stories that will help professionals understand how to use social media to move the needle inside their organizations and will help people to move mountains in their culture. I’m looking for stories that will inspire other people to use social media in ways that most of us have not yet even dreamed about.

In fact, if you do want to pitch me for a story, I strongly suggest you push the SM Global Survey button to your right as you read this page and take the time to read a few. That will get you to understand that if you are pitching a Twitter for the enterprise, there are venues that will treat you with much greater veneration than I will.

I’m looking for diamonds in a coal mine. I will be very grateful if you have one to share with my readers.

Oh yes. One other thing. Most pitches I hear are American-based. I am really eager to hear more from other parts of the world. After all, the name of this space is Global Neighbourhoods.

A couple of weeks back, I wrote a piece on the future of social media. It was not my best-received post. It is one of the few times that I have ever been criticized for brevity. But the issue was that I had a thought that has not fully developed, one that has been coming out in drips and drabs for several years.

The key thought is that while tools keep changing people don’t. We behave, for the most part, the same way we did when we were cave dwellers. The online tools we use today have allowed us to scale out conversations and eliminate many barriers such as geography, allowing us to build global neighborhoods whose members sometimes reside thousands of miles apart. The relevance of social media is that it allows us to interact in the world increasingly more like we behave in our own physical neighborhoods.

Yesterday, I was pleased that my SM Global Report on Francois Gossieaux’s study of Online Tribalism was so much better received. It is among my favorites in the series of more than 100 interviews I have done in the past 15 months. By providing data gathered through conversations with online community managers at 140 organizations, Francois has added numerous valuable insights into how people behave in online communities.

His key point fall right in the crosshairs of what I have been trying to say. Humans are tribal by nature. It is in our DNA. It has to do with why we are passionate about sports team and rock bands. It has to do with those whose roots are in heartlands or the burrows of New York City, or the barrios of Mexico. It has to do with why most people want to marry people of their own race or religion and it has to do with the unfortunate human tendency to mistrust or downright dislike people of apparently different tribes.

Let’s go back for a moment to a time before social media or the internet, before electricities or the cave; before the development of synthetic music and genocidal bombs. Let’s go back to the caves and how we lived and communicated.

We collaborated for food, in the same ways that we now collaborate in global workgroups. We self-organized to achieve a common goal. Before we could perform the magic of binary languages, we grunted and gestured. And the result was that we and the ones we loved back in the cave ate and were clothed. We signaled to our tribes the success or failure of the hunt, by banging rocks on hollow logs in certain rhythms, inadvertently inventing music. Back in the cave, after we feasted, we told our stories by drawing lines in the dirt with fingers and sticks, and we narrated with increasingly refined grunts. Eventually, we illustrated our stories by using blood and berries to draw pictures on the cave walls.

hen we were out foraging, we sometimes encountered "others," people from tribes we did not know, people who may have looked differently than we look, who used different series of grunts and rhythms and gestures. Sometimes we ended up trading with them and perhaps sharing food.. At other times, perhaps because a gesture was misunderstood, we bashed each others heads in.

The refinements continued in a near-linear direction over millennia. We evolved relentlessly from stone to iron to steel to silicon to something we have not yet dreamed of. Our communications and our tools allowed us to travel further, to leave our neighborhoods for other places, some at the bottom of the ocean and some into the first inches of the space beyond our planet.

Yesterday and this morning I watched the response to Francois’ perceptive comments about online communities. I saw thoughtful professionals take his contribution and begin to work the problem. They will take the information he has gathered and shared and apply it in varying ways to a great many online communities. He has moved the needle on the body of knowledge that will be used to extend and refine the online community.

From my perspective, Francois has shown that people behave online as we do offline. We behave a certain way in small communities that is different from large communities. He has shown that what is needed is more tools and greater focus on letting people behave online as they do in real life and he has given ample evidence that communities online are about people, not technology as much as communities in the real word are about people not bricks, mortars and machines.

I am glad to have played some role in amplifying his findings and I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Tribalism in the Online Community

fgsupernova (2).jpg

            [Francois Gossieaux speaking at SuperNova. From his file photos]

Back in Naked Conversations, we talked about how people were hot-wired to collaborate and that people have remained essentially unchanged since the time when we hung out in caves and collaborated for survival. Of course, we had scant evidence to back this up, just our usually strong opinions.

Now comes Francois Gossieaux, a co-founder and partner in Beeline Labs, a marketing 2.0 firm and the substantive Tribalization of Business study. Beeline, Deloitte and the Society for New Communications
have produced the first report drilling into the
early experiences of more than 140 organizations who are pioneering online communities at business-to-business and business-to-consumer
companies and nonprofits. The communities range from fewer
than 100, to more than 10,000 members.

Francois’ interview answers should prove valuable to anyone managing, participating in or considering a business-related community.

1. What was the study’s objective? Did you achieve it? There were 140 corporate officers interviewed. What were their most common titles?

We wanted to understand how companies leverage communities as part of their business processes and how they measure the progress and success of those efforts.
We quickly realized that for those companies who were doing it right we were looking at something that was transformational. We were tapping into an age-old human behavior, which we came to recognize as “tribalism.” Halfway through the project, we changed the title because of that observation.

2. Who did you speak to? What were the most common titles?

Most community efforts ended up reporting in to the CMO, even though that is not where they all originated. In the recent past, most community activities started somewhere as a skunkworks project – only to be rolled into the CMO’s turf after the program gained recognition. It is a more recent and still relatively rare phenomenon in which companies launch community activities as corporate marketing initiatives from the get-go.

3. What surprised you? What didn’t?

Perhaps the biggest surprise was the scalability issue. Many reported that community initiatives, especially for large companies, did not have enough business impact to make it onto the CMO’s dashboard.

When asked about the associated budgets and expenses, those same budgets and expenses did not make it onto their radar screen either. So, in effect, many CMOs keep programs deliberately small and then complain that they cannot see results that move the needle.

Another surprise was how many companies started their community initiatives as a technology platform decision – only to realize that if you build it, they may not come. Some very successful community executives suggested that if your community cannot survive in a Yahoo! Group-like discussion environment, it will probably not survive anywhere. One of the more important factors for the success of community initiatives is the content strategy for the community – not the technology strategy.
Least surprising  is probably what motivates community members. They want to talk to other people, not companies, and they want to help one another.

4.  What do you think makes us tribal by nature and why should a business strategist care?

People want to hang out with like-minded people and want to help and be helped by people who care. By providing a massive platform for participation, social media has allowed that tribal behavior to return to the forefront. Whether you like it or not, there is probably a good chance that your consumer tribe already hangs out in some corner of the online world. While at times a bit dense, you can find a collection on the most recent research Consumer Tribes.

5. Your survey showed the five most frequent goals of a corporate online community were close to tied: (1)insight, (2)idea generation, (3)loyalty, (4)word-of-mouth and (5)marketing. Did you find communities do better when they serve multiple purposes or a single purpose?

Communities can start out with a single purpose, but inevitably, they will end up serving multiple purposes. You need to prepare for that. If you start a customer support community, for example, people will eventually give you new product ideas. If you are not set up to execute against those product or service suggestions that the community finds important, they will lose interest and leave – it’s as if you are not listening to them. They don’t care what your internal goals are for the community. They care about having a better complete life-cycle experience with your product.

6. Your study seems to indicate that engagement is a more valid goal of an online community than say, revenue per customer. How would you measure either?

I am not sure that we found engagement to be a more valid goal of an online community, but it is what many companies try to measure. I assume that much of the reason why companies are looking at engagement as a success metric is because many of them are building their communities in partnership with their agencies.

What we did find is that those companies who were most satisfied with their community efforts were those who measured the effectiveness of their communities in the same way as they would measure the effectiveness of the business processes that the community was intended to support. For example, if you measure the success of your customer support call center in a certain way, then measure the impact of your online community-based support program in the same way.

The same is true for new product innovation-focused communities or co-marketing communities. Whether the original measurement framework is the right one or not, it is one that the department heads understands and which tends to be institutionalized across the company.

It was amazing to see companies, who normally measure all their marketing programs based on increased sales, all of sudden measure community efforts based on page views and time spent on the site – even when the community interactions were happening mostly through email and text messages. These are all clearly signs of an early market with lots of customer confusion.

7. Speaking of measurement, your report indicates that companies could do a better job of measuring communities. What would you suggest?

Besides measuring their community efforts the same way that they measure the underlying business process, we also found that those companies who were most satisfied with their communities effectiveness were those who were funded by the various business groups they were supported, instead of by a central community slush fund. When you have to justify results to the business units in order to get your funding, it’s amazing how you automatically align the way you measure success to the way that the rest of the company measures its success.

8. You seem to think an online community should be the purview of marketing and ultimately the CMO. Why? Why not have it under a Chief Communications Officer, reporting to the president or CEO?

We believe that CMOs have an opportunity to transform their role into that of Chief Customer Officer – and represent the Voice of the Customer at the executive table. As Peter Drucker said many years ago: "Because the purpose of business is to create a customer, the business enterprise has two – and only two – basic functions: marketing and innovation."

Leveraging the power of communities and the customer insights that they provide could put CMOs back in the strategic seats where they belong. I know that we have had a long history of marketers with very bad habits, which is why many people want to do away with them. But, at the end of the day, companies will need to fix the problem–not bypass it.

I believe the CMO role will evolve–encompassing all touch points that a customer can have with the company instead of being primarily pre-sale focused.

9. In that case, will the CMO obsession with ROI go away?

ROI is not something that will go away anytime soon – although, hopefully, it will shift away from a programs-based ROI thinking to a customer life-cycle ROI mentality.  You should also note that CMOs are not the ones who are so ROI focused. It’s their companies.

10. What core differences do you see in running an internal social network, v. an external one?

In many ways, the dynamics are the same. Yet there are also fundamental differences. Many companies confuse collaboration projects with community projects. You can have a core product innovation team whose mission it is to develop your company’s next big thing. If and when that team seeks participation from broader employee communities whose job is not to come up with the next big thing, then the dynamics are fundamentally different.
The core team is driven by team dynamics – clear goals, well-known project beginning and end times, and a well-understood process – it’s their job.
The broader community does not behave like a team, nor does it have visibility into most of the things that drive your core team, and it’s not their job – they will only do it because they feel passionate about your company’s success.

11. Do you have a good anecdote about something that happened while conducting the survey?

I like Cisco’s iPrize project story. They set out to develop a program that would lead to Cisco’s next billion-dollar business. They were not focused on developing an external product innovation community, but that is exactly what they ended up with. Not only did posses develop to self-police the rating and ranking process, but many teams formed online to compete for the iPrize.

12. What is the single most important piece of advice you have for a company starting a social network?

Use Barry Nalebuff’s PARTS acronym.  Start with taking an inventory of the “parts” of your game plan:

•    Who are the Players?
•    What’s the Added value (especially for the community members)?
•     What are the rules?
•    What tactics should you use?
•    What’s the Scope of your effort?

Then, develop a detailed roadmap for how you will approach the project: With whom will you launch? Will you start by engaging people on other sites or will you just start by sensing what is going on so you can decide how to engage? Which business processes you will activate, etc?
Also, realize that the dynamics of small scale community efforts are very different from those of large scale efforts – so the lessons learned from small pilots may not apply to big deployments, and the reasons why small communities fail are not at all the same as to why large ones fail.
And please, don’t start your community project as a technology platform selection.

Why Sun spent 5 years building a Facebook for engineers

           Peter Reiser

  [Peter Reiser, SunSpace architect. Photo from his file.]

I interviewed Peter H.Reiser back in March for GNTV. At that time, he was completing a five-year project as Chief Architect for a behind-the-firewall social network for Sun Engineers then called CE 2.0. Recently, it came out of beta and was renamed SunSpace.

When I first saw CE 2.0, I was pretty certain that the work of this 25-year veteran of IT would closely resemble a Rube Goldberg drawing, filled with complexity and confusing we of a nontechnical ilk.

I was wrong. More than anything, it looked like Facebook. It looked like it would be fun to play with. It had all sorts of "consumery" features. For example, you got ranked for your contribution and the ranking was public.

Recently, the project, after more than five years of effort, has left beta and has been renamed SunSpace. It’s usage is growing exponentially month-over-month and it seems to me that there are lessons in SunSpace for any company who understands the power of sharing knowledge.

Here’s Peter.

1. CE 2.0 has been a massive project, requiring years of effort. What did Sun see at the outset to make the effort worthwhile? How has it turned out?

About two years ago, we kicked off Sun’s Customer Engineering 2.0 (CE 2.0) project. First, we created a shared vision based on four observations:

  • The old fashioned intranet has evolved into a vibrant online social network, aligned with Sun’s core business processes.
  • Our employees actively participate in forums, wikis, blogs and share their best practices, experience in real time.
  • Our employees usually find what they need in seconds even if they  don’t know exactly know what they are looking for.
  • Our employees  feel valued for their participation and contribution and have fun doing their job.

Based on that, our main objective was to consolidate technical web venues and knowledge repositories into a single, integrated Web 2.0 experience. Then we looked at all components we would need to build, drive and connect vibrant communities. We designed a community model which consisting of three building blocks:

1. Architecture. The new platform employs federated services architecture, which consolidates existing websites, but also enables new  web content to be aggregated and used for highly personalized mashup services.

2. Methodology. Vibrant Communities are about people and we need to understand the physiological and social aspects on how to build and run virtual communities  Members needed to understand the value they create as well as the value they get back. We integrated a community value system which dynamically calculates the values of each person, community and information based on contribution. 

3. Value System. Community members need to understand the value they create in communities and what value they get back from the community.
wanted to integrate a community value system which dynamically
calculates the values of a person, community and information based on
the active
participation and contribution of a user


Over the last eight years we collected a lot of best practices on how to build and sustain communities. A good example is OneStop, our most valued and trusted field engineering community. We created a Community Cookbook, consolidating best practices. In addition, we created a Community Drivers community across all communities on SunSpace were we facilitate best practice sharing, common policies.

2. So, if we can boil it down, what’s the key issue?

The key is telling the participants what’s in it for them.

To answer, Sun created our Community Equity system, which dynamically calculates the contribution and participation equity for a person, community or content.  More information can be found here .

It took about two years to implement CE 2.0. We started our formal pilot in September 2007  and went into beta in February 2008. In July 2008, we formally launched SunSpace – the final site of the CE 2.0 project.

Today we have around 15,000 users, over 200 communities and SunSpace is growing  at around 50% per month.

3. How has SunSpace changed Sun Micro?

One  user wrote, "SunSpace is now at the center of our team operations as part of our collective team identity. It enables all virtual project teams and their members to function as systems interfacing with each other and other groups, including executive groups. It is effective and productive." Another  added, " SunSpace helps crucial systems generate useful work without overheating!"

We also get a lot of interest from other Sun organizations like Marketing, Sales, IT, HR etc. who want to implement a similar model for their organizations.

4. How much time and energy goes into managing and refining SunSpace?

The most time we spend is educating the users because we have moved from a web-centric intranet portal to Facebooklike user centric model. We provide end-user support  and coach the community drivers to  build their communities and establish their community charter, policy etc.

5. What has surprised you about this project?

What is fascinating to watch is that more  people want to start a community around a topic where we did not have a community before. We get around 5-10 new community requests per day. This is a great indicator that users want to share their knowledge if it is easy.

6. Why base a social network on search?

The old Knowledge Management model was about "know-how." The new model
is about "know-who-knows-how." By adding individual social graphs to
the community model, we can provide both the former and the latter

.One example: Based on the Tag Equity model, SunSpace automatically learns who the experts are in a given area by evaluating the social activities. To display the experts – the search engine just needs to display/rank people with the highest Tag Equity for a given subject matter.

7. What are some of the most frequent activities for the engineers? Is it more work than social?

A field engineer typically tries to find a solution for  technical questions or problems very quickly  and more important–finds results he/she can trust.  Through the automated social evaluation of the content quality. we’ve added a new dimension to the  "Socially enabled communities."

8. You’ve gone through considerable energy to make CE 2.0 fun. Explain how that works. Why bother to make it fun?

Fortunately, communities are all  about people. If you want to build  stickiness and attractiveness to a site like SunSpace, you should  surprise people once daily and let them have some fun, as well.

Some examples:

  • When someone contributes,  we show her/his picture and national flag.
  • We’ve installed a "My Community Equity" widget, which shows a person’s current ranking by contribution and participation   A lot of users would like to gain a better  ranking by .. more contribution or participation .. and the widget real time updates the ranking .
  • People can browse trough the social network of a person and the system shows common contacts – users can add various widgets to their wiki pages, which show their contribution, ranking, etc. When a user adds a document, SunSpace automatically analyzes the content and proposes title, description and tags.

9. When we talked back in March, you told me that the ROI was in engineers sharing knowledge and not reinventing the wheel for each new project. Have you been able to put any measurement benchmarks on that?

    We are able to measure the re-use of artifacts within projects. We have metrics in place for re-use of content versus win-rate and project margin. We are planning to integrate these measures into SunSpace in a future release.

10. What about anecdotal? Can you give me a case study on how a project was accelerated or improved because of CE 2.0?

    Not really, but we’ve had a few people who try to hack into our rating service. Wow. Have you ever seen a hack on a website site which does not provide value?

11. Last time we talked, you said that eventually, Sun Micro might put CE 2.0 technology on an Open Source stack. Why would Sun go through all the time and expense to create something like this, then make it available to competitors?

    We believe in  innovation of the community. Open Office is a great example where a technology has been developed by a company and through open sourcing the technology, it became much more ubiquitous  and richer in functionality.

    In my opinion Community Equity is the next logical step of the Social networking evolution – specially within the enterprise, where we need to transform the mindset  from "Knowledge is Power" to  the "Sharing is Power."

12. Additional Comments?

    We have a lot of interest from customers who want to pilot/implement social enabled communities  – aka SunSpace. Based on various customer meetings I had over the last few months I have posted a summary presentation here.

A year of milestones finds her on her own

  Charlene Li

Charlene Li becomes the first person I’ve interviewed twice in this Global Report. I justify that because in the 54 weeks since the previous interview, a great deal has happened. She co-authored Groundswell the enterprise playbook for enterprise multimedia. She completed a nine-year tenure at Forrester Research and as I write this report, is putting the finishing touches on Altimeter, her new speaking and consulting service.

Charlene is one of the most frequently-quoted social media experts and
has appeared on 60 Minutes, The McNeil NewsHour, ABC News, CNN, and
CNBC, the Wall Street Journal, The New
York Times, USAToday, Reuters, Associated Press and even this blog. She’s a Harvard MBA and graduated the College magna cum laude.

She took the time to answer these questions while flying back from New York where  AdAge had just honored her as one of the Women To Watch in 2008.

1. It has been just about a month since you stepped out of Forrester. How has your life changed during this brief period? What do you miss the most? What do you miss least?

Life is great – I’m spending my time doing more of the things I love, such as thinking and talking about social and emerging technologies, rather than dealing with typical analyst activities such as sales calls and inbound client inquiries. I’m also busy getting my independent business set up, such as getting a name, Web site, and most importantly, an assistant!!  I miss  is my colleagues at Forrester most. They are the brainiest, most honest, supportive group of people I have ever had the privilege to work with. What I miss least are calls from clients asking me to explain what Web 2.0 is.

Best of all, I have the freedom to spend time that I want and need with my family, and on myself. My kids love it. My  house is clean–or at least, less cluttered–and I’m meeting with a personal trainer regularly.

Life is good.

2. Speaking professionally, what do you plan to do with your time moving forward?

I’m going to be an independent thought leader on social and emerging technologies. I’ll be researching and thinking about a spectrum of new technologies, and will be blogging about them. I’ll be giving paid speeches and also be taking on a few consulting engagements on retainer. My goal is to have only a few clients who can really leverage my thinking and expertise.

3. What inspired you to write Groundswell? How has the experience changed you?

Simply put, I had a story to tell. And that story couldn’t be told in a series of blog posts or in a Forrester report. It needed the time, expansiveness, and detail of a book to bring that story to life. The experience has been amazing — my definition of success was that someone would come up to me with a copy of their dog-eared, heavily underlined book and tell me how it made an impact. It’s been extremely gratifying to have that experience over and over again.

4. Groundswell is clearly for corporate audiences. How do you hope reading Groundswell will move the social media needle in the enterprise?

There’s so much fear and confusion about what social media is and what it can do. My hope is that they will see it as an opportunity, rather than something to be loathed and feared. By breaking it down to the essentials, and putting it into the language of business, I hope people in businesses would see social media as a natural extension of what they do already.

5. There are three books that are being called seminal in social media. Cluetrain, published in 1999; Naked Conversations written in 2006 and now Groundswell. How would you describe the similarities and differences of these three books? How are they different?

Each book was written for the sensibilities of their time. Cluetrain was about the burgeoning power of the Internet and people’s ability to connect with each other at the most basic levels – its role was to get us to think about the power of conversations. Naked Conversations was at the advent of social media, and exhorted people to put aside their fears and think about the possibilities — it awakened the nascent interest in social media. And Groundswell is the handbook — once you buy into the power of the groundswell, what do you do about it? The tools are available now and an ecosystem of agencies stand at the ready to support businesses.

6. You have spent a fair amount of time on the issue of ROI. You took GM FastLane and compared it at first with the cost of a monthly Focus Group, then you ran it again against a dated PR agency practice called "advertising equivalency." Do you think that focus groups and ad equivalence are fair and accurate measurement bookmarks or did you intend them more as place keepers?  Even if you accept focus groups and ad equivalence as fair comparison benchmarks, how does showing the lower cost of a blog against them, actually achieve an ROI for the blog?

Supplementing/replacing focus groups and ad equivalence are just some of the ways to gauge the value of blogs and other types of social media. The best way to measure ROI is to have a clear OBJECTIVE in the first place. Then decide how you will measure progress towards reaching that objective. For example, let’s say one objective of the blog is to listen to what your audience is saying about the company, and to get feedback quickly on new ideas that you are considering for a product. The speed and detail of the feedback has a certain value to the company, just as the insights from a focus group has value. So to measure the effectiveness of the blog against the objective of listening to your customer, simply use the same measurement of ROI as you use for focus groups. What’s that you say – the company does’t measure the ROI of focus groups, or for that matter, any type of listening/feedback tool? Then I think the company has bigger problems than trying to figure out the ROI of a blog!

7. You stated in Groundswell that any corporate social media endeavor should start with the goal in mind and measurement would evolve from understanding the goal. Can you expand on that a little bit.

You can’t manage what you don’t measure. And to know what you want to measure, you have to know your goal, your definition of success. Otherwise, you’re just spinning your wheels. All too often, I get asked what’s the ROI of blogging. The right question should be what’s the ROI of being able to listen to, talk to, energize, support, and embrace your groundswell of supporters? If you understand the value of these activities, of these objectives, then you can figure out how specific social media support your pursuit of that objective.

8. You inspired the title of this blog and much of my professional efforts when you stated that "Geography is becoming less relevant." When I interviewed you last August, you added that the advent of location-based technologies will make geography more relevant once again. How has your thinking on geography evolved over the past 12 months?

Geography is relevant in that it provides temporal context for relationships and content, but it’s irrelevant as an arbitrary determinant of value. For example, a review for a restaurant in San Francisco from someone who lives in Boston may not seem to have much credibility. But if that person happens to be a gourmet chef, then geography is irrelevant. The reverse of that is if someone you know is nearby — for example, I was using Twinkle at SFO, and a follower was also there. He noticed and blogged about it. If there had been time, we could have met up. Add social profiles, and I could start connecting with friends during flight delays.

9.  Cluetrain, Naked and Groundswell were all the result of collaborative efforts that exuded businesses to collaborate more. In retrospect, I found collaborating on a book to have been a Hellish experience, even if the result was good. Two members of the Cluetrain team have told me that the collaboration part was extremely difficult. Was this the case for you and Josh Bernoff, your co-author? What advice do you have regarding social media for author wannabees? Did the experience of collaborating impact or alter your thoughts on enterprise workgroup collaboration?

Trust is at the foundation of all great collaborations. Josh and I had a wonderful time writing the book, and the true test is that both of us would love to do it AGAIN. Here’s the secret to a great book collaboration: Work together for eight years, during which time you’ve made each other write a bullet point over and over again until it’s just right. Repeat that editing exercise at least a couple of times every month. Disagree strenuously and push each other to think about a topic so deeply that your brain hurts. Also manage and review each other at some point during that period. Do all this and then you’ll be ready for a great book writing experience!

We were on opposite sides of the country so we used tools like wikis and Google Docs to collaborate. We also used these tools to collaborate with our Harvard Business Press editor as well as the marketing, PR, and sales teams at both HBP and Forrester. I thoroughly believe that enterprise workgroup collaboration works — but only if the right culture and trust levels are in place outside of the collaboration platforms.

Last piece of advice for social media authors, or for that matter, any business book author. Know your audience and write to their needs. We knew our audience backwards and forwards because we talked to Forrester clients every single day. We tested the ideas, frameworks, and data every day. And we also knew what we wanted to accomplish with the book. The very first thing we wrote was the first paragraph that appears on the inside cover. That text was the guiding light for the book and it appears almost exactly the same as when we first wrote it. That shared clarity of vision of what the finished book would be was a key part of our successful collaboration, and also why I think the book presents itself so coherently.

10 Additional Comments?

Publishing a book is a long, long process. We started in January 2007, finished writing the book in November, edits in December, and then finally got reader copies in early March. But it wasn’t until the end of March that I opened a box containing a single copy of the finished book. I tore open the box, held the finished book in my hands, and promptly burst into tears.


Using Social Media to Build a Global Culture & Happier Customers

       [Robert Stephens presenting, photo by dougfl07.]

In 1994, with a personal investment of $200, and a used car, Robert Stephens started a little home computer business in Minnesota. To add a little flair, he called it "Geek Squad." In 2002, the organization had grown considerably when Best Buy, the world’s largest consumer electronics retailer. Unlike most entrepreneurs who get acquired, Stevens elected to stay on board.

Today, Stephens oversees the world’s largest tech support organization, with 17,000 employees, or "Agents," as his technicians are called. There are Geek Squad service departments in all Best Buy US and Canadian stores offering phone, in-store, and in-home
support. It also has operations in Shanghai, UK, Spain and Shanghai.

Home tech and product installation support is conducted via a fleet of 5,100 "Geekmobiles" including  2,300 oddly painted and modified Volkswagen bugs. Wherever customers encounter Geek Squad members they see individuals dressed in white short-sleeved shirts and black ties.

At the core of it all is a behind-the-firewall social network on which Squad Agents play computer games, share information and solve customer problems. The social network maintains a cultural solidarity that seems to carry over from one store to the next.

Your Louisville repair center labels it’s sections as "First Street,"  "City Council Chambers," for the executive offices, etc. What’s the idea behind building a community culture in this way?

Every company has a culture. The key is to start at the source and build from there. When I first saw the size of the Louisville facility, I said "It’s a city.  Let’s call it Geek Squad City.  700 Agents living in harmony under one roof." The theme stuck and we used it – to define who we are. Even within companies, there are subcultures. Geek Squad City is distinct from other Best Buy divisions. We encourage individual department identity pride as a simple means of reinforcing quality.

How does all that serve your customer’s needs?

The Geek Squad is a master brand with distinct subcultures.  Each department is branded.  This generates pride.  Pride helps inspire people to pursue quality.

Is it true that Geek Squad even has a Minister of Culture and a Public Defender’s office? Can you give me the job descriptions for these positions?

There is no Minister of culture. Culture is everywhere and nowhere – so we would never have that department or title. Culture is the product of everything a company does and stands for.  The Public Defenders are a specific group who "detect disturbances in the force." They listen to blogs, podcasts, twitters, etc so we can make it easy for customer to communicate with us. We have been doing this for a few years and we continue to evolve our process. We believe customers won’t write letters to us anymore. Instead they will blog it.

Why do Geek Squad members dress like 1960 FBI agents?

Every company that has any customer-facing employees needs a uniform. We looked around in 1994 and saw only a sea of polo shirts and mini vans. When you have no money for marketing, everything you do is marketing.  We looked at several ideas and were inspired by the dress of NASA circa the Apollo Era.  NASA of those days remains a great symbol of teamwork, impossible goals, and technical ability. 

Wearing a tie used to be a sign of conformity, but now dressing nice is an act of rebellion.

Why do they drive Volkswagens that look like Irish Police cars?

The "Black and White" motif gives us the flexibility to use a variety of vehicles that also maintain a consistent look and feel. Most of our business is word of mouth, so we need to be visible. The police are complaining that they are getting pulled over by civilians and being asked tech support questions.  We only realized later that we have been borrowing a large amount of our fashion sense from the Federal government.

I understand that Geek Squad has a private social network. Not even other Best Buy employees are allowed to join it. Is that true?

We employ wikis, forums, blogs, etc. We intend to merge them all for the entire company at some point. It’s not integrated yet only due to technical issues. Long term, we intend to open up parts of it to the public as well. For example, we are completing a new system to combine internal knowledge management with a public "support wiki" for customers to get self-help on any consumer devices – and help from us if they need more.

What is the purpose of that social network?

Socialization is a primal form of learning. To maintain culture, keep your people talking. We use all of the new tools to spread knowledge. Especially with tech support. We need to "know everything." Since that is impossible, we use the power of our network to make everyone smarter. I guess you could say we are a subset of Google.

How does all this serve the customer?

We get answers to them faster if our internal network of people can talk with each other. New solutions get to all members of our global network faster.

Can you give me a couple of good examples of how the social network has served customers with problems?

Agent discovers a problem with a device and a software update.  They post it on a wiki.  Everyone else finds out and avoids problems.

I understand that the Geek Squad SocNet started as a networked game. Tell me about that.

We began to think about how culture can be preserved and strengthened as it grows larger. We noticed our Agents are already socializing with each other when they play online games. We foster that by hosting free gaming servers. The assumption is the more we can do that, the more they will feel comfortable to help each other out solving customer problems.

How do you measure the success of failure of your social network in terms of customer service?

I think participation is the first metric.  The more the merrier.

Do you measure it for ROI in any way? Just what do you measure?

I don’t know if models have evolved to be able to measure the long term benefit but thankfully, the cost to try this stuff is low.  Everybody should be playing with these ideas.

We have seen movement on each of these metrics:

  • Lower return and exchange rates
  • Lower incidents of "damage claims" meaning Agents make fewer mistakes
  • Increased customer satisfaction
  • Profit margins are protected from erosion,
  • Agent retention improves.

I am sure we will see others.

Is it true that you personally monitor social media for unhappy customers and sometimes call them up to talk?

Yes – and we have expanded this to an internal team called Public Defenders.

What’s the thinking behind that?

Common Sense.  No customer expects a company to be perfect, but they expect you to try.  If we reach out, they know that at least we are trying. We then plan to collect data on this and use a feedback loop into what we call our Stage4  process – based on plane crashes.

  • Detection– What did the customer report to us? (or we detected)
  • Treatment –What did we do to resolve the issue? (apology, repair, free house call, refund, all of the above)
  • Cause — What caused this to occur? (system failure, SOP, improper training, bad part, poor diagnosis)
  • Prevention — What need to be done to prevent this from EVER happening again?

I think our Stage4 process will provide an ROI and reduce the occurrence of every negative into 1000 positives.

How has social media improved Geek Squad?

It keeps us on our toes.  It provides real time feedback into our quality and systems.  It gives us new ideas for services and quality improvements.

Additional Comments?

All companies are in the service business, whether they realize it or not. If you have a web site, a store, a line, or a phone number, you are in the service business. As companies realize their margins erode thanks to commoditization, they will realize services are profitable. Then they have to decide: Will they ‘own" or "outsource" their service operations. After that, they have to decide how authentic their experience will be.  Lastly, if they ask and answer these questions, eventually they will have to answer the questions above.

I recommend Pine and Gilmore’s book that came out recently called Authenticity.  They called the experience economy in ’99, and now authenticity is the next gold standard – and authenticity cannot be faked.

I am very pleased to announce that Intel will sponsor my Social Media Global Report starting immediately.  Formerly, the SAP Global Report, the new GM Social report will begin with new episodes within the next week and will run approximately once weekly. It will continue to feature Q&As with people who are changing their businesses or culture with social media tools.

Started in June 2007, there have been 103 SM Global Reports so far. I have talked with a diverse group of people in 33 contries. They’ve ranged from Michael Dell, founder and CEO of Dell Computer who talked about why social media was a strategic imperative for his company to Wael Abbas, who talked about why he uploaded videos of Egyptian police brutality onto YouTube.

If you have a story of social media impacting culture or business anywhere on Earth, please tell me about it via email []. Just a note: I rarely cover start ups. I am more interested in case studies that will help people struggling with social media to understand the amazing things that can be accomplished through social media.

Thanks Intel. I hope to do you proud.

Does Comcast Really Care? Frank Eliason sure seems to.

Frank Eliason, the Comcast Cares guy

 [ Frank Eliason, the Comcast Cares guy on Twitter. Photo from his file.]

Between the time I requested an interview with Frank Eliason and the time I got his answers to my questions, he was profiled by the NY Times and USA Today. Frank is the Comcast Cares Twitter guy and right, now, that is a hot story, hot because a cable company is generating a chorus of happy customer voices a cable company that has an historic record of finishing at or near the bottom of many customer satisfaction survey rankings.

Eliason is part of a team that scans social media and responds quickly to customer complaints with offers to help. His beat is Twitter and in a short while he has generated more favorable commentary than I have heard in my lifetime for any company that is called a carrier–and Comcast is a carrier who is clearly not always beloved by its customers.

The Comcast Twitter story began back in April, before the now-famous @comcastcares Twitter account even existed. Public attention was first generated before the Comcast Cares Twitter account started, when Frank reached out to celebrity blogger Michael Arrington, who gushed about Comcast service.

This ignited a general conversation of social media people who wondered whether Comcast Cares was a real support system, or had just been created as a clever PR ruse to appear responsive when in fact it was the same old cable service that so many people complained about. The cynicism was offset when bloggers less known than the TechCrunch impresario started reporting they too were receiving the same quick response as Arrington.

In this interview, I asked Frank a couple of tough questions in that area. You can decide for yourself what motivates him and the company he represents. My impression is that Frank Eliason is passionate about customer service and neither thinks nor acts as a PR operative. But more than that, good PR should be closely intertwined with customer support anyway.

Of even greater importance is that by virtue of so much public attention, Comcast is learning the importance of listening to customers and how social media makes that so much easier. Perhaps other companies will follow the Comcast lead. If they do, many customers will win and Comcast Cares will evolve from an interesting case study into an established best practice for the enterprise.

Here’s Frank:

1. Before “Comcast Cares” was a Twitter-based customer service, it was a volunteer day for your corporate staff in Philadelphia. Please tell me how it evolved from what it was to what it now is.

Comcast Cares is still our company’s service day. This year about 50,000 employees, their families and friends volunteered to perform public services across the country.   My choice of Comcast Cares was more coincidental than anything else.  One of the first sites I registered would not let me have any of my choices for a user ID. It finally accepted Comcast Cares and I’ve been using it ever since.

2. How many people are involved in your Comcast Cares group? What do they do besides tweet? Are they PR people, customer service people or what?

Our team is actually called Comcast Customer Connect or C-Cubed and there are 7 of us today growing to 10 by year-end.  Right now, I am the only member of the team on Twitter, but I credit the other six with making the program such a great success.  Our primary goal is to get customer feedback and assisting when we can.  In addition to using blogs, Twitter and community forums, we also manage an email feedback program through our website.  Members of the team also serve as forum moderators in our help and support forums.

3. Can you tell me a mind-blowing story of how Comcast Cares helped solve a customer problem?

What excites me most is developing positive relationships with customers online. Some conversations have started with customers expressing negative feelings but, in the end, we became friends.

Some of the most memorable stories were not about people with great difficulties, but rather unique individuals who I got to know. One example is Granny Annie , a great woman who uses her blog to communicate with children and grandchildren who live all over the country.

Surprises are often the most memorable events. One time, I mistyped a term during a search and accidentally landed on a blog whose author was expressing disfavor with Comcast.

When I checked, I couldn’t find his Comcast account, but I did find his phone number as the site domain holder. It was a Saturday morning when I called and he answered the phone a little groggy so he rushed me off the phone. A day or two later he posted a new entry explaining that  he had thought I was calling to complain because he had changed Comcast’s logo on his blog.

He posted that I should call back.  Of course I obliged.  He’s now a very happy customer.

We have numerous examples where bloggers have written back that we have converted them into raving fans.  That’s the ultimate compliment for someone in customer service person.

4. You have about 2700 followers on Twitter. How many problems a day does your team deal with? How many customers does Comcast have overall? How would you compare the Twitter service quality with the service your other customers receive?

It is hard to say the amount of people we help because for many of them we simply answer questions.  Since starting the Twitter effort we have had over 9500 public tweets and almost 2000 private tweets.  Comcast has over 24 million customers.  The quality of service they receive should be at the same level that is received through other channels.  At the same time, we started this effort to gather Customer feedback so we can work to improve the experience.  So we do recognize we need to improve our Customer Service and we do learn a lot from this channel.

5. How do you think Comcast Cares is impacting Com cast’s overall corporate culture?

Twitter feedback has been a great asset in our efforts to improve the customer experience.  I also think we have shown the benefits to being involved in the conversation. We’re learning from our customers and we are listening to them – when they have suggestions I’m a direct link to the business to share their feedback.


6. What advice do you have for professionals from other companies considering Twitter as a customer support tool?

Twitter is not for every company and it is not a place for every individual.  The first key for any organization is to do what we did.  We were first told about Twitter from @ComcastScott, a leader in the Southwest area of the company.  He thought it was a good place to go based on our successful blog outreach activities.  He told us about it in February and we watched it before we started.  We learned what was being said and what the conversation was like.  We used tools like Twitter Search (formerly to listen to what customers were saying.

We reached out to a few customers privately.  One was Michael Arrington.  When he blogged about it, we decided it was time to take a more active role.  The key to being successful is being personal and listening to what you are being told.  I have received the best help from others on Twitter.

7. Where is Comcast going in social media?  What will your Twitter effort look like 2-3 years down the line? What other social media tools is Comcast considering?

Our social media involvement will continue to expand, and my predication is that it will expand quickly.  We will continue to look at other places to participate and utilize our own website even further.  Social media is an important part of our organization. With a business that moves this quickly, it’s difficult to predict out 2-3 years.


8. A prominent blogger has called Comcast cares a concierge service where high profile members of the social media community get preferential treatment so that they’ll speak highly of Comcast. How would you respond?

Actually my team treats every Customer we deal with in the same manner.  This includes those in the blogosphere, but also customers who share feedback through our website. Also we have received calls from customers and we provide them the same treatment.  This same argument came when we reached out to Michael Arrington, but if you review the comments you will see many people who said they helped me too.

9. How do you hope or expect Twitter to have moved the needle for Comcast? Do you think marketplace perceptions are being changed? How so?

My goal is change the perception individual customers who may have had a bad experience or reinforce the positive opinion of anyone who has a good experience.  I have one real goal, and it is a common start to conversations:  “Can I help?”  That to me is what it is all about.

Building Communities Behind the Firewall

        Jevon MacDonald

[ NOTE--This is the 101st report in my ongoing series on social media's impact on business and culture. Formerly, the SAP Global Survey, it is now the Social Media Global Report. This and future posts will be tagged SM Global Report.]

I’ve heard several times recently that there is more social media activity going on behind the enterprise firewall than in front of it. It is an unprovable assertion however, since there is no way to actually count or monitor what organizations are actually doing in the privacy of their own secure spaces.

What is clear is that there is a lot of activity going on. At Best Buy, for example, 22,000 in-store sales people have joined BlueShirt nation and Geek Squad, the  company’s computer service group also collaborates online. At Sun MicroSystems, 9000 engineers are sharing what they know in a behind firewall social network where engineers score points by helping each other.

Jevon MacDonald, co-founder & CEO of Toronto-based has been building private social networks for organizations of diverse size and type since the coarse and buggy days of 2002. I turned to Jevon to get a sense of what is going on behind firewalls.

1.  The Firestoker story has an
interesting beginning as a program for students who are hearing
impaired. Tell me how it started and how it evolved into an enterprise
collaboration platform.

Around 2001, my partner, Rob Paterson and I were management consultants. About the same time we were getting pretty excited about
what was happening at and with social tools like Greymatter. Guys
like Ross Mayfield were saying that all this stuff might make sense for
business. We started playing with blogging
behind the firewall, to see how it might help our clients.
Our opportunity came
up in 2002 while we were redesigning departments for York University in Ottawa, Canada’s third largest university. Rob spent some time with students representing disability-related groups. He
came away determined that we could help deaf and hard of hearing
students connect with each other online.
We built a private community for hearing impaired students behind the university firewall. It had everything you see in
community sites today. Everyone had a blog and a rich profile,
and there were even widgets in the sidebars and features like an events
calendar. What was amazing was that the site actually got used. I
like to think it made a difference.

The experience had a real and lasting impact on us, because we saw that the use cases were clear.
This wasn’t about processes or heavy duty metrics, the value was in
letting people connect to each other in a meaningful way. All we had to do was trust them to do smart things with
the connections.

I think that bit, the part
about humans connecting, is lost in most enterprise software. Even
most of the Enterprise 2.0 tools out there, fancy platforms and big
software that just doesn’t mean anything to people. Sure we need those
enterprise-level bits, that’s the engineering. But, what we REALLY need is
beautiful, livable, architecture.
2. Give me some sense of who your customers are, how many, how big and where located?
They vary dramatically. We served a five-person company that was just trying to keep track of day-to-day stuff while people are
on the road. We have also completed deployments in Fortune 500 companies, and quite a bit in between . Almost
all are in North America.

Why stay behind the firewall?  How is the technology different behind
the firewall than it is in front? Aren’t you leaving money on the
table by staying behind the firewall?

you are building social tools behind the firewall there is just one focus. People need to get their work done. The differences between internal communities and
external are big enough that different approaches are required.
The two do meet eventually, when the organization is ready to listen to the customer, but that often occurs only time.
lot of social software companies who started
behind the firewall, now  focus on
building external communities. We have avoided that–leaving money on
the table in the process–for a few reasons. The main one is that I
think there are amazing tools out there that address the external
problem, and they hardly cost anything. Ning is a great example. I don’t
know why anyone would spend $50,000 and up for something they can get
for $200 a month, and it is usually better.
Trying to
straddle both sides of the firewall is an easy short term strategy. But, I believe, the most successful company in the internal enterprise social media
world will not be one that is doing both.  Doing both properly would require two sales operations,
two design ideologies, two different partner networks, fractured
marketing and ultimately: confused users.

What percentage of your customers use social media exclusively behind
the firewall? Why?  Are they using it to talk with customers,
employees, entire ecosystems or what?

Most of
our customers use social media
almost exclusively behind the firewall.
A lot of them are looking at
ways to step into the broader
marketing/PR side of things, but there is usually so much work to be
done behind the firewall that many of them get preoccupied
with what they can accomplish there.

I also believe
that a company needs to be able to listen to itself first before it can
engage with its customers. A company that goes out and says to its
customers "let’s have a conversation," but can’t have a conversation between employees, executives and partners is doing a
disservice to everyone. So much about external social media tends to be
about communicating a message, but social media is by definition two-way,
and when you ignore the customer’s voice on the return path, it can get
dangerous. Nothing pisses me off more than when I reach out, and receive no worthwhile response.
If you can do this
inside the firewall, you are going to have a chance to not just listen
to your customers, but to let them transform your organization. It’s a
powerful idea that we often forget.

5. You
told me a story a while back about how Jay’s Burgers, a Canadian fast food chain of
about 250 locations that uses Firestoker to ensure food quality &
safety. Can you recount it for your studio audience?

is my favorite use case for not only Firestoker, but for enterprise
social media in general.

Our customer isn’t actually called Jay’s
Burgers. We still haven’t gotten a permission to use their name, so we’ve
substituted Jay’s. A lot of our customers feel their use of social
media behind the firewall is a competitive advantage, and many are
really shy about talking about it.

Jay’s Burgers considers their competitive advantage to be in the buns, which are made fresh daily at each restaurant in the chain. Just before a busy holiday week end, a manager posted on the social network we had built for them that he
was having problems with the bread dough, and that he had done all
the usual troubleshooting to address the problem. He had assumed his staff was somehow to blame.

Very quickly, other store managers, chefs and franchise owners joined into the conversation. Other sites were having similar problems. Through the social network, the senior staff self organized into problem solving teams.

It turned out the staff was not to blame. There was a flour-yeast mixing problem. Because of the private community, 250 individual
restaurants did not have to figure it out on their own, 250 times. Just a few worked it out and and then shared the solution with everyone else, all  within a few hours. If these people weren’t able to
communicate with each other, the problem would have plagued the system
all weekend.

6.  I’ve been told that in 2008
there is more activity behind the enterprise firewall than in front of
it. Is that what you are seeing as well? Why do you think this trend is

I can’t be sure that it is the case,
but it makes sense to me, especially if you count the clandestine use
of social media by people who are just trying to get their jobs done.
We aren’t talking about big IT-installed software, but about
the assistant who might be using a Google Doc in the same way many of
us use Wikis, or the office might be using Instant Messaging and
BlackBerry IM constantly.
Instant messaging is
one of the least celebrated successes of social media inside the
enterprise. The one-to-one nature of IM means that a lot of people
don’t think of it as social media, but it remains, by far, one of the
most viral and social tools out there. IM really mimics how we share a
lot of information in the real world. Where a lot of tools, blogs
included, are a sort of soapbox, IM is more like a gossip channel we
are comfortable with. Each of us chatting idly, but sharing massive
amounts of information.

7. Your
customer base is pretty diverse. How do the issues
change or stay the same as the enterprise size changes?

are a lot of issues that seem to creep in as deployments get to a
certain size. Findability is one thing we think we have done a good job
in addressing. The idea that there are things you will browse for,
things you will search for and then there are things that your network
will push to you.

All have to be factored in, and there
are actually different ways to display all that information to the user
based on how large and active the deployment is. Subtle (and sometimes
not so subtle) changes in how the application displays things can be
critical in making the leap from a deployment for 10 people to one with

The biggest and most
important issues never change. Those are the basic human issues
that we see everywhere. The vast majority of problem solving comes down
to having a few smart people watching who can say "hey, cool it", or
whatever else needs to be said. The important thing is that it is
happening in public, so those things rarely happen twice.

8. What tips do you have for companies planning to use social software behind the firewall?

be honest, the most important piece of advice is the same advice I was
given when I got married. That was: "Be nice".

If you are the person
who wants to push this forward, you are in for a tough road. Nobody
gets to ride in on their horse and chop off the kings head, you are
leading a revolution of sorts and you have to win the hearts of the
peasants and farmers first.

It sounds silly:
but go sit in the coffee room and meet some people you haven’t spoken
to yet. Do something nice for people near you and go out of your way to
keep doing the right thing.
The change that
comes with bringing social media inside the firewall is incredible, and
it is (I think) totally underestimated. If you can show people that
these tools will give them a chance to speak their mind, to share their
ideas and to make a positive change, then they WILL get behind it. But
if you aren’t a person that they have ever felt those same feelings
with in person, then they won’t believe you can do it online. You have
to earn that respect first. It is going to be a lot easier to disarm
opponents than it is to take them on by force.
You aren’t the smart one- They are.

9. What measurement/monitoring tools to you recommend for behind-firewall use? What should be measured?

measurements are really basic stuff. Almost CRM-like in nature. We
provide a suite of tools that will monitor usage and if certain people,
departments or other groups are not engaging in a meaningful way, then
a set of notifications can go out. If those don’t work, then the right
person or people can be notified so that they can follow up in person.
A lot of people just need some reassurance, or they ran in to a
particular problem and just need some guidance. It has taken us a long
time to get those queues right, and we still have a lot of work to do.

metrics, like meme-tracking, are baked in to the user experience, so
they aren’t so much analytics, but more of a flag that gets put up when
interesting things are

Steve Rochlin, AccountAbility

 [Steve Rochlin from his photo file]

Quite recently, I learned that "Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) was more than just a platitude. It is an emerging category. Large companies are employing staff to work on it full time. CSR professionals are forming networks where they share information, insights and resources. Increasingly, they are using social media to further their goals.

Is CSR just some form of new do-good tokenism used by large enterprises to hide their vices between a thin veil of good behavior?  There are certainly some cases of that. But, at  the recent SAPphire gathering in Orlando, I attended a roundtable of nearly 30 people from such diverse groups as Kimberly-Clark and the Carnegie Council. While there was a high level of passion expressed by participants, there was clearly a level-headed and pragmatic approach to it. These were people who wanted to move the needle on enterprise behavior toward people and the planet.

It was the most interesting event I attended at SAPphire, not counting the Eric Clapton concert.

This was due, in no small part, to the workshop’s co-leadership of SAP’s James Farrar, VP for corporate citizenship and Steve Rochlin, North American head of Accountability, an international nonprofit that partners with business to promote CSR. He has built a career on the issue of corporate citizenship.

I asked Steve to describe what CSR is and is not and to describe how social media is being used to generate a global CSR conversation. He also explains why CSR is good business.

Exactly what is Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and who cares
about it


In plain terms, CSR asks companies to be accountable for good, bad, or indifferent impacts their actions have on the environment, to communities,
employees or people. What constitutes “good” or “bad” is
subject to negotiation between companies and stakeholders– groups, individuals, and communities who
could be significantly affected by the way a business behaves.

CSR asks business to report
transparently on both the harms and benefits it creates for the
environment, individuals, and communities. And finally, it asks
business to contribute positively to improve environmental
sustainability, the development opportunities of low income
individuals, and the overall quality of life. CSR expects a company to
make these efforts in ways that can actually benefit its own
competitive position.

2. How do you respond to the cynic’s viewpoint that CSR is just
lipstick on a greedy, smoke-spewing dragon? In other words, some folks argue that CSR
lets a company say all the right things while continuing to conduct
irresponsible activities in the name of profit?

The problem is that there’s no consensus on CSR’s definition. So this does, in fact, leave room for companies to make CSR an
exercise in PR or worse. There are too many examples of companies
giving a few thousand bucks to a charity, then paying in the low six
figures to advertise how great they are for giving the money. My favorite
story is of a funeral home that promised an elementary school a brand
new computer center if it made sure to encourage the kids to send the
grandparents their way when their time was up.

Too many try to make CSR about giving a few pennies here and there. But
it’s not about that. As our name underscores, accountability is at the core of CSR. What exactly do we expect companies to be
accountable for in the way they treat the environment, communities,
customers, employees, and shareholders?

Do companies share enough with
us about their performance? Do they transparently report on what they
are up to? Do they listen to criticism and work to
improve? Do they give their most important stakeholders—the
individuals whose lives could really be affected by the corporate decisions—some kind of voice and influence?

3.  Tell me about AccountAbility. How did it get started and why? How
has it emerged? What does the head of AccountAbility do on a typical
day–assuming you have typical days?

In 1995, a group of really visionary folk saw that the relationship between business and
society was changing. They predicted that companies would
be pressured to issue annual “CSR” reports documenting their
environmental, social, and economic impacts.

They envisioned the
proliferation of independent, global efforts to establish “standards”
or codes of conduct for companies to adopt on everything from climate
change, to human rights, to labor practices, and dozens of other
issues. They said, “we’re going to need an organization that is always
looking around the corner, seeing what’s coming, helping us prepare to
meet it, and not letting us get too complacent or self-satisfied about
what the rest of us are up to.” They created AccountAbility. We work to
be innovative, but clear-eyed and practical. We try to make CSR work by
really getting at the heart of what we hold business accountable for,
and what others in the world need to be accountable for too. It’s not
all one-way and dumped on business. We need mutual accountability,
shared responsibility and ways of working collaboratively.

So we designed frameworks and tools. With IBM and The Boston College
Center for Corporate Citizenship we founded the Global Leadership
Network (GLN)
, a network of about 40 companies collaborating to define the terms of performance excellence for CSR
and then demonstrate leadership. The World Bank’s International Finance
Corporation and the United Nations Global Compact is involved as well. We have networks in China, Brazil, and India. We use an
online, interactive, web platform to help companies self assess, plan
CSR strategy, and benchmark.

We do a lot of work with companies to help them build collaboratively
designed strategies with stakeholders. We’ve worked with
SAP, GE, Nestle and many others on this. We designed one of the leading
systems to assure — or verify — these CSR reports I mentioned earlier.
It’s called AA1000. We partner with Fortune International and others to
rate the accountability of the largest 100 corporations in the world.
And we rate countries on how well they create a business climate that
allows companies to be competitive and responsible to the environment
and communities. Finally, we help companies, “non-governmental
organizations (NGOs),” and governments partners to solve tough problems. So
there is no typical day for me.

4. How does social media come in? What Social Media projects has
AccountAbility started or participated in? Are you considering blogs,
Twitter, FaceBook or online video?

In addition to our GLN, we are just finishing a worldwide wiki process to update our
AA1000 standard on assuring — or verifying — CSR reports. We struggled
with this at first, but got the hang of it, and it is been just a great
and powerful process to use the power of social media communities to
make vital improvements in this standard.

Third, we’ve just created a relationship with OpenDemocracy. It is a
leader in creating blogs and other content vehicles to promote
discussion on globalization and strengthening democracy. We often guest-post on OpenDemocracy and we host them in our offices.

We also have a Facebook account.

Fifth, SAP has supported a fascinating effort we’re leading with Web
2.0 analyst RedmonkBusiness for Social Responsibility (BSR) on Web 2.0 on the sustainable enterprise
and the International Business
Leaders Forum (IBLF)
are helping to lead this as well. Among the things we’re
doing is having debate and dialogue via a wiki platform. Those
interested should email me and I’ll be happy to send you an invite.

5. Why has AccountAbility opted to embrace social media at this time? Where are you going with it?

Social media tools could be a veritable godsend for those working to advance a progressive vision of the relationship of business to society. And
since this vision bolts squarely onto big challenges like climate
change, biodiversity, energy policy, poverty, access to education,
human rights, food and hunger, disaster relief and recovery, access to
medicines for poor people, health and quality of life, and numerous
other concerns, these tools could be a godsend for work on these
specific issues too. But too many of us are playing the role of late
adopters (if not out-and-out skeptics). We think that too many working
on these issues have overlooked the power of social media.

We need to
catch up and we need to help others catch up too.

6. Can you give me a good example of a company that has changed an activity because of CSR?

Oh, there are too many to mention. I get excited when I see companies
like IBM using CSR as a vehicle to enhance R&D. It’s led to some
truly profound initiatives like the World Community Grid , which gives supercomputing power to AIDS researchers, voice recognition
technology for the elderly and disabled, and an SME toolkit for
entrepreneurs in low income communities.

I look at General Electric,
which has created a whole business model called ecomagination designed
to help customers reduce energy consumption and greenhouse emissions. I
look at cement manufacturer CEMEX which has created a new business
model to help poor people get affordable housing and sell ready-mix
bags of cement to markets they never thought about before. I look at
Shell Oil helping to provide innovative, sustainable alternative energy
solutions to poor, rural communities.

I look at Dow Chemical, British Telecom, Nokia, and so many others who are
making big commitments to reduce greenhouse gases. I look at the
network of major companies joining Business Leaders Initiative on Human
Rights to make sure the rights of workers in supply chains are

There is just so much that’s going on.

7. Can you give me a great AccountAbility CSR success story?

Our Responsible Competitive Index
inspired the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to enter into an agreement with us
to improve its performance. They see this as part of
their effort to become one of the top 10 most competitive countries in
the world.

We’ve helped one of the largest companies in the world
design the first, worldwide human rights policy in its industry. We
have a partnership to help revive the garment industries of poor
countries now that World Trade Organization-imposed purchasing quotas have been lifted.

manage a partnership of over 70 organizations that include WalMart, Levi Strauss, Nike, CARE, Oxfam, the World Bank
and others. This work has helped save some good jobs and created
conditions to prevent sweatshops in countries like Bangladesh and

We have helped another top 100 company to acknowledge that it
must take seriously the potential health impacts of one of its
signature products. We’ll be facilitating a series of dialogues on what
it can do over the next few months. We also helped a very famous
apparel brand avoid a mistake that would have been devastating to its
reputation. Its marketing team got too aggressive and was about to
launch a major campaign about become “carbon negative.” We showed them
that this would be a very problematic idea. I’m proud to say we have
many other examples.

8. From an enterprise perspective, where’s the ROI in CSR?

I have a love-hate relationship with this question. It is absolutely
clear that CSR can generate top-line revenues for a company. It can
inspire innovation. It can support new product development. It can open
new markets and reignite moribund ones. It can acquire customers. It
can recruit and retain employees. It can enhance brand and reputation.
It can reduce costs. It can mitigate risks by protecting the so-called
“social license to operate.” It can help raise share price.

Or it can do none of these things. Or it can do the exact opposite.

People approach CSR like the movie Field of Dreams. “Build it and they
will come.” That doesn’t work for CSR. In fact, it just about doesn’t
work for anything a business does. Very few experience the dream where
you launch a product that sells itself.

Any company whether B2B or B2C in any industry can generate ROI from
CSR. But that company has to be smart and strategic. It has to identify
what the most material social and environmental issues are. It needs to
assess what kinds of investments will produce what kinds of returns.

Most companies don’t do this. They see CSR as a type of PR. It’s not.
It is fundamental and core to the business. Or they see CSR as a
“do-gooder” exercise of “giving back.” This drives me crazy. Don’t
“give back.” Understand what you are accountable for. Think
strategically about how responding to your accountabilities can
actually drive business success.

9. You seem to be in a triangulated alliance with Redmonk and SAP? Why
do they work so closely with you? Can you name some other
AccountAbility allies?

Well we did work with SAP to help it build a CSR strategy, identify
material social and environmental issues, and engage with key
stakeholders. Out of this we brainstormed an opportunity to look into
Social Media as a potential driver of responsible business performance.
Redmonk has a great reputation as an industry analyst that uses social
media creatively. And it has begun to look into sustainability issues
in a big way. It’s been a great partnership all the way around.

10. Additional Comments?

We’re learning that social media puts some amazing tools at our disposal. Whether we use
them to construct the kind of society we all want to live, work, play,
and do business in is up to us. We’d love to connect with those
interested in applying these tools to advance the responsible
performance of business.