17 People

Posts Tagged ‘blog

Weekly #11: Tunisia and Citizen Media

leave a comment »

T is for Tunisia (oh, Sesame Street, you are handy). I first became interested in this country while studying elementary Modern Standard Arabic in college. On paper (or Wikipedia, as it were), it looks stellar at first glance. It is the northernmost country in Africa, surrounded by Algeria, Libya, and the Mediterranean, and its official state religion is Islam. Perhaps surprisingly, it is a constitutional republic with heavy influences from the French, with a great degree of religious freedom, and a close relationship with the European Union. Its government, led by President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, has also held a moderate stance on the Israel-Palestine conflict, making it a valuable voice in MENA in the eyes of Western powers. Sounds good, right?

Guess again. Ben Ali has been around since 1987, and if Blagojevich can go bad in six years in President Obama’s sandbox, it’s easy to imagine how corrupt this guy can get in 23. Ben Ali touts freedom and democracy, all the while Amnesty International calls his messaging “lip service” and cites various human rights abuses committed by his security forces. The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Index of Democracy (2008) classified Tunisia as an authoritarian regime, ranking 141 out of 167, only four spots above Iran. Although freedom of press is officially guaranteed, in reality it is the exact opposite. No public criticism of the government is tolerated, and journalists are blocked from reporting on controversial events. Finally, Tunisia is one of the strictest countries in the world when it comes to censorship of the internet. There is only one server for the entire country, and it is controlled by (you guessed it) the government. Just this past January, Secretary Hillary Clinton named Tunisia as one of two countries with the most internet censorship in the world (China was the other).

This is all my long way of saying that Tunisian bloggers have guts. Global Voices writer Lova refers to the bloggers as the “citizen media,” which rings true. They face extreme oppression for doing what U.S. bloggers do every day: give their opinion, spread information, and tell the truth as they see it. They speak out against the government and its restriction of both quantity and quality of information. For example, as reported via Global Voices, bloggers on Nawaat revealed that photos of Ben Ali’s son were doctored by the national press to his benefit, showing the government’s influence over national media.

These bloggers are evidence of Shirky’s claim that these days everyone is a media outlet. However, their significance for Tunisia goes much further than “mass amateurization” and its effects on journalism as a profession. They are saying what the professionals cannot and taking huge risks to practice free speech in a repressive state. In April and May 2010, the government blocked hundreds of blogs, and in response bloggers protested online with videos, comments, blog posts, and screens denouncing the actions. Since this crack down, a movement has started to revamp the blogosphere by encouraging Tunisians to start new blogs.

Tunisian bloggers are not Justin Hall and they are not Robert Scoble. They are the citizen media, acting under threats to freedom and life, all for the sake of providing access to accurate and uncensored information. Sure, they blog about their personal lives too, but the overwhelming narrative is what they are compelled to tell by virtue of being a blogger on the most censored internet server in the world: information is limited and falsified, and through my blog I can tell you what is really going on.

We come from a place where the work of Woodward and Bernstein is hailed as the “single greatest reporting effort of all time.” We are that lucky. I don’t mean to diminish their hard work, but Woodward and Bernstein were backed by a hundred-year-old institution and didn’t face the certainty of being tracked and high possibility of being arrested and detained without cause that these bloggers face daily. The bloggers of Tunisia, the citizen media, are a crucial media outlet for the country. They are key to tracking human rights violations, practicing freedom of speech, and keeping democracy alive in Tunisia.


Weekly #2: Bibbidi-BLOGGidi-Boo!

leave a comment »

For this week’s Social Media assignment, I drew inspiration from a CEO who became synonymous with his company – Walt Disney. Similar to Steve Jobs, Disney elicits a mix of feelings and descriptions, perhaps the most common being “visionary.” If this visionary had a blog, what would he say?

Of course, Disney did not have a blog, but what he did have was timeless advice. So, Mr. CEO, if you want to jump into the deep end of the blogosphere, take some hints from the man who became a mouse to become a legend:

When people laugh at Mickey Mouse, it’s because he’s so human; and that is the secret of his popularity.

People connect to people. It’s as simple as that. If you want to put yourself out there and talk about your company, you need to speak with a human voice on your blog (see Cluetrain Manifesto). Distinguish yourself from the marketing jargon. People are smarter than ever before and can dig up information on you and your company without your help. Why not speak for yourself? Come out from behind the fog of “The Company” and be honest and transparent. That is what your customers want, what your employees want – hell, what all of your stakeholders want. Your corporate reputation is built on honest practices and transparency, and your blog should be one channel that demonstrates your commitment to these values.

I love Mickey Mouse more than any woman I have ever known.

This famous Disney soundbite seems as if it came hot off of WordPress. It gets a laugh and shows the quirky side of Disney. Blogging offers the CEO an opportunity to show the humor and vulnerability – the human side – of a company. There is a caveat, however. Think about this quote for a bit longer. It is quite sad if taken at face value. It could be showing the cracks in the psyche of a man who, after all, built an empire around fantasy and escape. As noted in Say Everything, there’s a fine line between the “sincere” blogger and “authentic” blogger. Being honest and transparent doesn’t mean you have to reveal the inner demons within yourself and your company. Instead, be sincere, marrying your online persona as CEO with your offline one. You need to make sure that “life and blog are in harmony” (pg. 258).

Of all the things I’ve done, the most vital is coordinating those who work with me and aiming their efforts at a certain goal.

It is important to view your multiple stakeholders as equal parts of a whole culture, especially since that is how opinion leaders now view them (2010 Edelman Trust Barometer). Employees can be your company’s strongest advocates. They also happen to be who your other primary stakeholders – customers – want to hear from (Cluetrain). You can lead by example with your blog and encourage your internal stakeholders to join by writing their own blogs. The goal should be clear: this is one way to engage our stakeholders and build relationships through sincere dialogue. You can even improve your blog cred by linking to your employees’ blogs. Respond to employees’ concerns, answer their questions, comment on their links. They want to know you care about them, too. Plus, this shows proof of the genuine conversation going on both internally and externally that is now expected by your stakeholders (Edelman Trust Barometer).

We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.

Cluetrain taught us that your customers want to know what your strategies and plans are. They want to be part of the conversation surrounding your new ideas and innovations. Including them via your blog will help build trust and provide you with feedback and insight that you may not have otherwise had access to. Allowing comments to your posts is not a must, but they do provide for a more open and honest dialogue with your stakeholders. You also can build credibility by inviting experts to comment on your posts and by linking to their blogs. According to Edelman, your company’s story needs to be told through multiple channels and multiple people, especially experts, academics and industry analysts. Involving experts shows that you are knowledgeable about your field and open to idea generation from outside of the company.

You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you.

The answer to the question dancing in your head is “Yes.” Yes, blogging comes with risks and may even result in some backlash for you and your company. That is the nature of the beast. This nature is never more apparent than when the economy is bad and companies are easy to blame. Right now trust in companies is fragile and people are mad – Howard Beale mad. However, you can take preventative measures to decrease negative reactions. First, create a communication plan that has clear goals and objectives and consistency across platforms. Second, realize that blogging is just one platform for you to reach out to your stakeholders. Do not neglect other forms of communication that are needed to build trust and relationships. Third, think before you post. You can still be genuine and have your assistant proofread your post. If something appears that you as CEO in real-time would not say, take it out. Remember, sincerity means life and blog are in harmony. Editing in this way is not only okay, it is necessary. After all, writing about a portion of your life does not warrant complete self-exposure (Say Anything, pg. 265). Of course, you will inevitably get some backlash, especially if you allow for comments. When this happens, don’t run and hide. If you or your company messed up, own up to it and make good with the disgruntled party. If you are in the right, use your blog as a forum to explain why. In either case, it may be the best thing for your company. You can learn from negative feedback and change for the better. You then signal to your stakeholders that they matter and are valued.

Of all of our inventions for mass communication, pictures still speak the most universally understood language.

Images are shortcuts for the imagination, and people love shortcuts, so use them. More specifically, use ones that further your story. You know how you love watching behind-the-scenes clips from films? That’s because you get a glimpse of the real people and methods behind the creative process. You want the genuine story that made the film possible. The same holds true for your company. Your stakeholders want the insider’s view of your people, how they work and what they are working on. Pictures and short videos of your inner workings will enhance your blog. Once you are comfortable, invite your customers to contribute pictures and videos relating to the company. This is proof that they are internalizing your company’s story and making it their own.

I only hope that we don’t lose sight of one thing – that it was all started by a mouse.

It’s important to keep in mind your company’s history and how it influenced the culture today. No matter what technology or platform you use, remember that you are telling a story. Blogging is just one of the many ways to tell that story. But unlike your company website or marketing materials, you get to be the narrator. You get to invite others to participate and help modify and expand the story. You get to build relationships by using the human voice. It truly is an exciting gift.

The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.

Starting a blog isn’t as easy as bibbidi-bloggidi-boo. (Side note: It’s scary how similar-looking the Fairy Godmother is to the nun who taught me in fourth grade). It will take you a while to get used to the form, and it may feel like a chore at first. But you have to start somewhere. It may not be perfect, but like a fine wine, it will get better with time. Now that you armed with my sage advice, go forth and start blogging!

WEEKLY #1: And Then There Were Four

with one comment

Markets, markets, markets!

After careful analysis, I have concluded that the authors of The Cluetrain Manifesto actually present four theses. I’m all for making grand allusions, but their rallying cry was 91 theses too long.

Here’s what it all boils down to:

  1. Markets are multi-directional conversations. These conversations are among real humans, are in real time and are about real issues. They create positive relationships and powerful networks.
  2. These networked conversations enable new forms of social organization and knowledge exchange. Networked markets are smarter than ever before, relying on each other for information instead of companies. These markets have made the formal hierarchy irrelevant.
  3. Despite their best efforts, companies are no longer in control. Networked markets are immune to robotic sales-speak and can find better alternatives. Companies need to stop fearing these markets and start building relationships with them. If companies do not engage in authentic conversations, they will perish.
  4. Earth to companies: You can engage in authentic conversations by using your most valuable asset – employees! Intranetworked employees are powerful because they know you and, more importantly, because they are us. Employees want to talk to us in the human voice. We want to talk back. We are building a community inclusive of markets and employees, and “The Company” is the only thing standing between the two. Relationship is the new currency, and if you want to survive in this economy, you’ll let your starters off the bench.

These main points all speak of the unique “community of discourse” that was blossoming on the internet 11 years ago. Social media, specifically the blogosphere, allowed consumers to take the reins and force companies to open up like never before. Companies had to focus less on the bottom line and more on relationship and community.

Nowadays we take these multi-directional, anti-hierarchical conversations for granted. We the consumers expect companies to blog and tweet. We expect them to respond to our comments and complaints. We expect the power that was then unprecedented for newly networked markets.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that today companies are embracing authentic conversations. It turns out history isn’t made simply by showing up. Sure, they’re on Twitter and Facebook, but many companies still don’t view conversations as worthwhile for the sake of building community. Instead, conversations are just another path to increased profits. Money drives their conversations, and it shows.

Rosenberg’s Say Everything speaks to the effects of money on a medium that was meant to be social, conversational, human. Yes, blogging can earn you money. But what happens when you blog purely for the sake of money? What happens when conversation becomes a job? I think it stifles the human voice. It makes you think twice. Censorship is sensible when money is at stake, and openness takes a backseat to a full bank account.

Written by taryou

September 22, 2010 at 1:41 am