Penn State and Silence

It’s been three months since my last post because on August 29th, my husband and I welcomed our first child home! He’s sleeping on me as I write this; he won’t sleep in his own bed during the day, and I’m told I should enjoy the experience while it lasts, since he won’t want to cuddle for long. At least these days, he’s content to sleep in a carrier and not strictly my arms so I can finally write.

Having a kid has made me think about everything a little bit differently; trite as that is, it’s much truer than I thought it would be. I’ve already written about my evolving opinions on privacy in light of having a kid. I’ve also spent a lot of time in the last three months reading about homeschooling, especially from Penelope Trunk and Kate Fridkis, and the future of education in this country. But the explosive controversy at Penn State has been rocking my mom-brain recently, which I’m sure is true for every parent out there.

It’s horrifying to think that an adult working at an organization you trust, that you think will help your kid overcome challenges, could hurt your kid in any way, much less in as terrible a way as rape and sexual abuse. I remember the horror I felt when the Catholic Church’s child abuse scandal broke and the situations are exceptionally similar: authority figures subtly encouraged, if not flat-out demanded, silence about and the covering up of these terrible abuses.

What gives me hope is my unwavering belief in the power of social media and the web to continue to break down the ability of authority figures to perpetuate crimes in silence.

The success of protestors in Egypt this spring made me proud and happy to bring a child into this world. And the success of the Occupy Wall Street movement to bring attention to serious problems in this country without resorting to violent, destructive riots (for the most part) made me even more proud.

It’s not that I think terrible crimes like those allegedly committed by Sandusky will stop happening in the future as social media and the web become ever more accessible and ubiquitous. Or that knowing the whole world is watching will prevent people from doing terrible things in Pennsylvania, Oakland, or Syria.

It’s just that it will be much harder for those who want it to enforce silence. It will be much easier for everyone’s story to be heard.


Social Media and Emergency Management

I’m married to an EMT who would prefer to live off the land in Maine somewhere, so survival and emergency planning are frequent topics of conversation in my house. And whenever an emergency situation of any sort comes up around the world, like the riots in London, we talk about it, the response of the authority (or lack thereof) to it, and how we think we would respond to it.

Part of that discussion, for me, always involves social media. Twitter especially but almost every web application you can think of has impacted how emergencies of all kinds around the world play out. For example, the Metropolitan Police in London are using Flickr to crowdsource the identification of suspects involved in the rioting. In May, representatives from FEMA attended a Senate hearing on the use of social media in emergency situations – which is pretty forward thinking for the Senate in my opinion.

That’s not to say social media has replaced traditional methods of emergency communications – I’m terrified that people could think to tweet instead of call 911 for example – but, as it has in so many ways, social media is augmenting what we already do and opening up channels of communication. Which is a good and important thing: the more people who receive information from the CDC, and the more people who provide information about the situation on the ground back to the CDC, for example, the better.

Thinking about social media in this light creates an interesting juxtaposition between the life-saving usefulness during an emergency situation of the same intrusive technologies we worry about. Take, for example, the use of Google Earth as an emergency response viewer, instead of as a creepy way for Google to catalog images of your neighborhood.

The social web is new territory and our expectations and definitions of privacy are changing as we explore it. Does posting a suspect’s face on Flickr presume guilt instead of innocence, for example?

Twitter for Newsrooms

I don’t know if this is a good thing for newspeople, but I know it’s a smart move by Twitter. First, excellent way to get the attention of the people who are going do your marketing for you: newspeople. As this post from RWW so exceptionally potined out:

Twitter was able to attract more journalists’ eyeballs to its platform than anything short of an overwhelming disaster could garner. And it was able to do so in a matter of minutes with absolutely no news at all.

Secondly, this is a needed service. This wasn’t just a publicity stunt, and the RWW article did admit that:

Almost to a man, journalists wrapped themselves tightly in Twitter’s “how-to” as though it were a lifeline in a rough sea. And perhaps it is.

Twitter for Newsrooms IS a lifeline, and not just for all those old journalists trying to make sense of how to do their job faster and using the social media. Everyone is still trying to figure out exactly what Twitter is capable of and me among many others think one of the ways Twitter will become something like a utility is through its use as a way to spread and report on the news.

Twitter s going corporate, folks. It’s got a nice suit on and a smart-looking folder to put its resume and portfolio in. The cute little bluebird is still there of course, but he’s been a part of big things – tragic, joyous, momentous – all around the world and he’s here to stay.

Politics and Social Media: the Weiner Story

I’m so sick of talking and hearing about former Congressman Anthony Weiner that I put off writing this post for a while, but the lessons from his story are important from a social media standpoint. And, since I’m a political news junkie, I was really just putting off the inevitable.

Lesson number 1: ANYONE can see what you put online and the things you put online STAY THERE. This is the message we’re trying to drill into high schoolers heads through those PSAs. The fact is, it’s not just teenagers who need to know this, just like its not just, or even mostly, teenagers who are putting us all in dangers by texting while they drive. For everyone dabbling with social media: jsut because you’re typing from your phone, doesn’t mean your sending a private message to another individual phone. There is one PSA I couldn’t find that stuck with me for years: a girl posts a racy photo on a bulletin board at school to show a friend, but everyone in the hallway can see it starts laughing. She tries to take the racy photo down to hide it, but another magically appears in its place, and reappears everytime she tears it off the wall. This is the internet, folks, its a big deal – the whole world is online.

Lesson number 2: don’t lie. Another oldie but a goodie. I firmly believe that if Weiner had just owned up from the start, he’d still be a Congreeman today and maybe even get a boost from the experience instead of sacrificing his career. Krystal Ball, who ran for a Virginian Congressional seat last year, wrote as much in The Atlantic, citing her own experience running for office with racy photos from her past available online.

Maybe Weiner could have said “I’m terribly sorry for my oversight – what I thought would stay a private message between close acquaintances turned out to be a very public embarrassment for me and my family. I made a mistake underestimating the internet that I won’t make again.” Or something like that; I whipped that up off the top of my head and I’m not a political strategist, but something like that would have cut this story short by about 6 days and we call could have gone on with our lives apprecaiting that Weiner is human, makes mistakes, but at least owns up to them and therefore is worthy of our trust. Now, we know he’s as lazy and cowardly as a child, who’s first instinct is to lie, and blame someone else, to protect himself. It’s very easy to say what someone should have done, of course, when, if I were in that position, maybe I’d have done the same thing.

But I doubt it.

Lesson number 3: Twitter is a very powerful tool. For anyone who doubted it before, doubt no longer. Twitter has shown time and again how it’s changing the game, slowly but surely. And it’s changing things in more ways than anyone can predict, or even keep track of as more people adopt it. Consider this post about Twitter journalism from one of my favorite blogs, The Next Great Generation, or this point of view from PRWatch, which says the only winner in this story was Twitter. I agree.

Twitter is going to be a significant factor of how people consume and share news for a long time. We all need to pay attention to how we use it to avoid mistakes like Weiners (albeit not as public mistakes for most of us) and businesses need to pay attention to how they are using Twitter to communicate to customers and manage their brand. It’s not a fad and its not trivial.

You Will Compute on a Tablet

My husband doesn’t understand tablets. “They’re inbetween a phone and a computer. I have both of those things. Why do I need something in the middle?”

To be honest, I’ve largely agreed wtih him. Until this week, when I found myself wishing I can a tablet to read articles on while curled up in bed or on the couch. A laptop was too bulky and my Blackberry was too small; the browser’s zoom feature too cumbersome. And I really wish I had a tablet to use in the kitchen instead of cookbooks and running between my computer in the dining room and the stove when trying a new recipe. Sometimes modern life is such a bizarre blend of cutting-edge and ass-backwards.

I haven’t told him that, since there are a lot of other things we need to spend $500 on before a tablet. But I’m confident that, eventually, everyone will have a tablet in their house. It will replace most of their paper books (I’m especially excited about them replacing cookbooks! think of the beautiful images!). It will replace all their paper magazine subscriptions. It will probably replace their remote for the TV and become a remote for their living room music player.

Eventually, you’re all going to own a table and you’re going to enjoy it and find it useful. And the web will ad just accordingly. What works today will be tweaked (or scrapped) for what works on a tablet. The Gawker family of sites made the switch a few months ago. Many lamented the new design. I happened to like it, and think that is more like what websites will become.

Here’s my reasoning: Playboy did it. And as goes the porn industry, so goes the rest of the economy. Playboy’s adaptation brilliantly gets around Apple’s ban on pornographic apps, for which I applaud them. I don’t like corporations passing judgement on the content that I can and cannot view. This article emphasizes Playboy’s new site has more to do with overcoming the “inherent challenge of publishing adult content” than it does challenging the existing model of app store gatekeepers. But I posit that no, this goes a long way toward challenging that model. If all the web sites and services you want access to have exceptionally mobile friendly websites, why do they need to develop native apps for specific devices? And why should you bother browsing an app store when a quick Google search gets you what you’re looking for?

Andres Barreto, the president and cofounder of OnSwipe, a purveyor of white label solutions for iPad publishers, disagrees. “The leading sources for content discovery are search and social, and they often fall in the ranges of 60%-80% of all traffic for most publishers. You loose that in a native app,” he explains.

You are going to check Facebook and Twitter and the next brilliant social media service and click links your friends post and go to websites on your tablet computer. You won’t click those links and be directed to the app store offered by your tablet’s provider.

Web Surfers Without Borders

Remember when we “surfed” the world wide web?

This popped up on TNW this morning: China argues that the 8 New Yorkers suing it for censorship have no right, since web regulations are a sovereign issue. (Of course it was a bunch of New Yorkers.) The fact is that web regulations ARE going to become an huge international issue. They were an issue in 2001. And web regulations continue to plague companies like Amazon even between states in the US. That’s what the Internet does – challenge conventional ways of everything, including doing business, and require creative compromises.

Every business that operates online and is or plans to operate internationally needs to pay attention to this stuff in the news. This is why: an article from HBR about how Apple or Amazon could cause a war with China. China and the rest of the BRIC countries, not the mention Africa, with its rising middle class and avid mobile internet users, have costs associated with opportunities for growth and those costs are unstable governments with unpredictable attitudes toward web regulations. I don’t personally think war is looming, but international relations will certainly only be increasingly strained as countries navigate the murky waters of a global internet. They say the “wild west” phase of the web is coming to an end, but there is so much chaos yet to be unleashed.

Social Searching

People, your customers, already go to Google first to learn more about you. Part of learning more about you will be learning what other people have to say about you, especially what people they know personally where that’s applicable. Google is helping them do that. Social media was already helping them do that, but Google is gathering all that information and displaying it on one page instantly, so people, your customers, are going to form a 5-second impression of you, and decide if they want to do business with you, based on what people are saying about you.

Scary? For some. But not for business that people are saying good things about. So how do you get to be one of those businesses?

You need to be using an effective, dynamic web marketing strategy. That means you’re giving them a forum to talk about your company and your products. You’re answering questions, addressing their complaints, thanking them for their business. But as you’re doing all of those wonderful things, you still can’t control the conversation anymore. People will say bad things about your company or your products if they want to. Sometimes they won’t have any good reason for it. Customers can have bad days and be upset about things that are outside your control.

But more often they have a good reason to complain. That’s why marketing is so hard. Marketers can push out any message you want, but if it’s not true, the Internet will find out. So while you’re creating a web marketing strategy, you need to be looking within. Are the things you’re doing – selling, servicing customers, producing products – making your customers happy every day?