Why it’s important to be critical of media

Facts, Fakes and The Internet

The discussion at this week’s class reminded me why we all need to be more thoughtful about what we read, see and consume from the media.

Digital media convergence made information so wonderfully accessible. Our mobile devices have become constant and trusted companions as we have grown reliant on them to be our window to the world. But, in the transition from a world where there are savvy gatekeepers who control and monitor published information, to a world where even individuals can create and publish media we may have also lowered our guards. 

So how to know what is real, which news to trust? 

Climate change has been in the news recently. Greta Thunberg spoke at the UN Climate Change summit, NYC students marched in protest of government inaction. And online there are numerous outlets that declare that climate change is “fake news.”

Is climate change really happening or is it one big hoax? What can you believe? Fake news can sometimes take on the appearance of serious scientific publications. Those who do not wish to face climate change can tune in to the stories that they want to hear. It is easy to be surrounded in a comforting bubble of similar-minded opinions.

The conclusion is that we should be more critical of stories. The responsibility of every person is to analyze and assess what we read and what we accept as truth. This is not always easy, especially since we are not all experts on all topics. Nevertheless, either on social media, or on news outlets, make sure you are critical of who publishes it, and even more critically who might benefit from this story being accepted as truth or fact. 

#DigCommSU

My Favorite Blogs

Why do people follow blogs? By now this is a phenomenon that inspired academic research, tapping into readers motivations and analyzing their takeaways from it. According to an article by Barbara Kaye, published in the Atlantic Journal of Communications, there are at least nine different reasons that people read blogs.

I do follow some blogs regularly. There are very few of those, and those are ones where I find information, inspiration and connection. These include Guy Kawasaki, Seth Godin and Fred Wilson.

All three resonate with me because they are in the same area that intersects with my own interests: technology, life, marketing and investing. That is the reason I ran into these people and their musings in the first place!

My favorite, by far, is Fred Wilson’s blog (https://avc.com/). He writes every day, and his writing is short and succinct. The content varies, but always reflects a current topic that somehow touches Fred’s focus as a VC but also life in general.

I rarely visit the blog itself, since I usually read the email version. It is part of my morning routine as I go over emails and news, checking in with the world. Occasionally, I do go back to the blog itself if I have a followup thought that came up or if there is something that I want to share with someone. Since there are no comments on the blogs itself, the conversations that it inspires are relegated to Twitter.

This blog’s design is low key and truly functional. When relevant, there are simple diagrams or charts. The result is a blog that feels genuinely like a person’s private journal, even though it is on a public platform. It makes the ideas and musings feel more personal and allow me to connect with them.

Sources and pointers:

Barbara K. Kaye (2005) It’s a Blog, Blog, Blog World: Users and Uses of Weblogs, Atlantic Journal of Communication, 13:2, 73-95, DOI: 10.1207/s15456889ajc1302_2

Looking Back, and Looking Ahead

As we’re wrapping up the semester, we are all reflecting on this course. What comes next in this reflection may come across as a cliché. Nevertheless, the truth is, that I found myself looking forward to every single live session. 

This was the first class for all of us as part of this degree program, and so there were a lot of “firsts.” First time using the asynchronous remote learning platform; first time having to record video responses to discussion questions; first time in a really long while (for me) of having to keep up with weekly academic assignments, including papers, tweets, and blog posts. 

My overall sense if this class was great. The group interacted well. We had a diverse set of individuals bringing in different backgrounds, points of view and personalities. We had an easygoing professor who made everyone get involved and contribute to the conversation. 

The course material set a baseline for a deeper and contextual understanding of the evolution of digital media technologies, the way they shaped society and culture and assessing them vis-a-vis technology, legal and regulatory considerations. In some ways every one of the topics we covered brought up ideas and reflections on different experiences. 

A big part of this course was about immersing each student in a digital media conversation. The weekly blog post reflection, the video responses, and tweets about current affairs. All of these different mediums mesh well together for digital storytellers. For some of us, (ahm digital natives,) this was easier, but, here we are, with much of this effort flowing more easily.

I was already seeing how some takeaways that resonated with me helped me this past week when I was looking at some new venture ideas. My view of some companies has changed.  

I want to end this post on a happy note. I know that by participating in this class I gained knowledge, depth, and insight, and hopefully made some new friends. With that, I hope everyone had a good end of the semester, and that you have a wonderful new year. I hope to see and interact with everyone more next year and throughout our journey.

PR is changing. Again… and again.

PR today is vastly different from when I got my start at software marketing in the ’90s. Media relations at the time seem so much simpler in comparison to the whole spectrum of communications activities that exist today.  

What has not changed? 

Good PR starts with a story. Telling a story in a way that it is factual, interesting, and compelling. In my experience, good PR starts with a lot of prep work, positioning sessions, strategizing about ideas and often building a clearer and better understanding of the product offering even within the organization. It should provide competitive context and requires the ability to see other viewpoints so that messages and stories can be credible and authoritative. This role of PR hasn’t changed. 

What has changed? Quite a lot. 

Much of the change is in the mechanics of how we broadcast our stories and reach audiences. Media now encompasses a whole universe of social media platforms. There are the influencers. There are opinionated users who react to their experiences with the product. We are seeing fake news (and in the future even deepfakes…) Audiences have seemingly shorter attention spans and need to be continually engaged and entertained. And so the role of PR is now to put together a cohesive plan to spread the word across all of these platforms, but also to be able to monitor and track qualitative and quantitative reach.

One on one media interviews with journalists and analysts have now been augmented with an active conversation, engaging with the audience on multiple fronts. This is an ongoing social conversation, and PR will need to have a credible voice to be a reliable participant in this social conversation. What will not change is that PR must combine art and science. Positioning and storytelling is the art, but it must integrate with science – have strong command of data analytics, to make sense of user sentiments and weave any insights into the ongoing conversation. 

The most certain thing is that some aspects of PR will remain within our control while other parts will not. Having a good story to tell, making sure that facts are correct and make sense, and paying attention to audience reactions – those are the key things that will persist. 

Beyond that, modern technologies have democratized and enabled individuals to have a voice that can affect change. Communication strategies need to be ready for that and think ahead of how public opinion scenarios may require a swift reaction.

What might be out of our control are platforms and technologies – those will change in directions that we can only begin to predict. Future platforms may require us to interact and communicate using augmented reality presentations, virtual reality, prepare stories to be edited by AI. (And probably many other platforms that I cannot imagine right now.) As media technologies continue to change, PR will continue to evolve. The future is certainly going to be interesting. 

Reflecting about the future of journalism

The news industry has been disrupted by the Internet and the evolution of a new digital economy. The traditional business models seem to be in flux as ad revenues are down and readership is changing. Moreover, not recognizing major technology trends that changed the world almost overnight have brought on a sense of urgency. 

As a technology marketer, I was reminded of principles to read about in Geoffrey Moore’s “Crossing the Chasm” book, about marketing technology products. What if we were to consider journalism as a technology product, what would be some of the steps to build it up, given the current state of the industry and the available technology?

Going back to some marketing basics, publications should probably reevaluate their identities: who is their audience, what is the product that they deliver, and what makes it unique or different? 

  • Who is the audience for this product? Future readers to consider consist of a generation of digital natives who grew up in a world of convergence and social media. 
  • What is the product? This is where different publications should distinguish themselves. Is it breaking news, or popular news? Should it focus on data journalism and focus on the verification of facts and truth? 
  • How is this news product consumed? Should the interaction be ready for more voice recognition and audiovisual delivery? What could be next, even beyond mobile phones and tablets?
  • Which technology platforms can help most delivery on these? In a technology-driven world this might be a uniquely important question, especially as it relates to the powerful capabilities of AI. 

As they engage with this process, I would predict that publications will soon reemerge with innovative business models, and more. We are bound to see the following emerge as differentiators to attract readership:

  • Business model shifts, with methods that would allow these publications to operate without ad revenue.
  • Effective data journalism, with reliance on technology, publications could re-earn public trust by acting as gatekeepers to the “truth” and helping uncover misinformation. 
  • The right mix of technology: have AI capabilities to dissect, verify and unmask fake news.
  • Crowdsourcing: be able to have an interested and engaged global community involved in the news collection, but moderated and guided by trained journalists that can function as editors

Thin lines…

Free speech was a big topic in class this semester. It makes for an exciting discussion, one that makes me appreciate how lucky we are to be living in a free society.

This hallmark of an evolved society was challenged this week by the unexpected and deeply disturbing events at the campus. Even the most ferocious defenders of the 1st amendment may find themselves on the defensive side when considering speech that may edge closer to negating what an evolved and pluralistic society aims to achieve through free speech.

The emotional and immediate reaction to hate speech is to try and stop it. But the way to do it is not by making it illegal using censorship. Not only because shutting down someone else’s speech because we disagree with them doesn’t help change their minds. More than that: censorship can go more than one way, and be directed at other groups – every one of us could find themselves censored at that point. Is that the society we want to have? 

The rationale that guided the first amendment has laid an unprecedented foundation in human history, to a society that is open and defers to discourse and conversation in order to advance. If we begin shutting down free speech because the majority might find a certain opinion offensive and distasteful, we may cross a line that cannot be crossed back. 

In cases like these incidents, we may even be playing into a narrative promoted by those haters. 

These are challenging times, and there are no easy answers to these issues. Hopefully, there is a positive lesson and path to an open dialog between groups to cross the line of hatred, break barriers of hate and advance us as a whole. 

Net Neutrality – Can There be a Win-Win?

This week we talked about various legislation and regulation surrounding the Internet. The reading and discussion felt more like we were attending law school than Communications. The topics discussed were fascinating, covering privacy, copyright, freedom of speech, citing various cases. 

A key issue discussed was the repeal of Net Neutrality rules. Taking a look over the timeline of various regulation and legislation attempts, starting with the 1996 Telecommunications Act and ending with the repeal of Net Neutrality in 2018, the tug-of-war is ever-present as the government tries to balance the interests of the ISPs and consumers. (In “legalese”, the question is, whether access to the Internet is a utility (title I) or a service, (title II).) 

I would like to focus on the companies caught in between – the innovators and emerging platforms. 

Innovation itself is the pawn caught in the struggle between ISPs and consumers. ISPs fight to have more leverage and the ability to profit from their business. Consumers, on the other hand, require the right to unblocked, uninterrupted access to data and web sites, without any filtering or gatekeeping by the ISPs. And in the middle are the startups. 

My own experience entails years of working with entrepreneurs as an investor, advisor and co-founder of a mobile app startup myself. I have first-hand experience going through the challenges of trying to reinvent and disrupt a market with a new offering. But it does not take years in the industry to understand that when given the opportunity, ISPs will form business partnerships with leading providers of services for mutual profit. With these partnerships in place, the doors will be shut preventing new startups from being able to pay the fees needed to the ISPs to offer them to their customers. 

With that – and yes, this is a worst-case scenario — innovation will die. Entrepreneurs will not be able to raise capital to fund new businesses since VCs will be able to see several moves ahead how the new apps could so easily be blocked,) and as a result, all of us as consumers benefiting and enjoying the innovation and growth that the open, free Internet offers, will be affected. 

This is why we need to keep and preserve net neutrality. The Internet prospers under these free conditions to everyone’s benefit. We cannot look at the narrow interests of a few — albeit very large — ISPs and sacrifice our future with these ISPs as our gatekeepers.

#DigCommSU

Yes, we all use social media.

The question is how (which platforms,) how much,  and for which purpose? 

As a followup to the self-assessment vis-a-vis the Conversation Prism, our class discussed our individual findings. While in no way scientific, (we didn’t compare hours, minutes etc.) my impression was that our group was quite predictable in its digital/social use patterns. 

I made some anecdotal observations: 

  • Given some common work/business background, we all found it hard to separate our work life from our personal life, although we each expressed the blurring of those lines differently. 
  • Generally, the purpose of use was to stay in touch with family and friends or keep on top of current news and events. 
  • Younger members of the group do gravitate more toward Tweets, Instagram and Pinterest, and were probably more actively sharing their opinion than passively keeping up.
  • There were very few mentions of phone calls for conversation… I guess that “one to many” conversations is where the world is going. 
  • Shopping has changed… either using social shopping sites or relying on the curation done by preferred stylists or by a specific situation such as motherhood.

Lastly, even though we are all dealing with tech, the underlying sense was still that we are all after a meaningful social connection. 

#DigCommSU

Would You Be Surprised by Your Social Media Consumption?

I was recently introduced to a social media analysis tool called “The Conversation Prism” by Brian Solis. I am a big fan of all visual tools and was very excited about the perspective that this map offers on social media. In fact, looking at an industry as a prism, is potentially applicable to more than just social media conversations. For social media, the Conversation provides context and understanding based on channels. And, for trend analysis, looking at the Conversation Prism since its debut provides a perspective on how social media offerings have changed over time as they became entrenched in our culture, and as natural consolidation took place in some markets.

As an introspective exercise, I tracked my own use of digital media technologies over a period of 24 hours. The intent was to check myself: where do I spend most of my time? Would I be surprised by the results?

The results are that I spend my time mostly on messaging, social networking, business networking, and a balanced mix of numerous other platforms, including social bookmarking, events and music.

Was this surprising? Not so much. My life is aligned with a set of priorities and responsibilities that require me to juggle a lot. My social media consumption represents my multiple personas: a parent, a career technology professional, and then an ordinary person. With that in mind, my daily digital life incorporates technologies and methods to make each day efficient and “optimized.” I use technology as much as I can to simplify tasks (for example, I prefer to use voice interfaces and dictation whenever I can to interact with my devices, and have been using handwriting recognition since the short but glorious days of the Apple Newton Message Pad!)

Even though the best use I can see for The Conversation Prism is when planning out a professional social media strategy, I would recommend this exercise for individuals trying to assess and manage a healthier digital life. Try it out, and who knows, you may be surprised.

Lego: Staying in the game with social media

Who does not like Lego? I can still remember myself playing with Lego as a child, and my kids in turn playing with their own Lego sets and bricks. Especially in a world that is increasingly electronic and virtual, it is great to see kids being attracted to spending time with a hands-on, real and so tactile. 

Assessing how the Lego company (which has been around since the 1930s) has evolved, it’s especially interesting to look at how the company transformed its marketing, and specifically how it manages to keep an ongoing conversation with its constituents. 

When we look at the Conversation Prism, it makes us appreciate how an entire corporation should be engaged with its social media strategy to be successful. This should not be one out of many programs, but rather a way to continually converse and engage with customers for mutual benefit.   

For Lego, using social media allowed it to completely reposition itself and keep itself relevant and competitive. I could write a whole lot about this but I will focus on only a few elements that resonate so well with a well-done strategy. 

Lego seems to really understand the commitment needed to provide and gain value in its social media conversation. The following examples show a great understanding of how to engage:

  • YouTube videos. Lego’s videos are truly engaging and entertaining, but also geographically relevant to where they are released 
  • Competitions. Knowing that part of social media is allowing users to take pride in what they create, Lego offers competitions of users posting their pictures with their Lego creations
  • Direct input. Lego provides a direct channel for users to suggest their own Lego set ideas online — where other users can vote
  • Timely connections. Lego keeps current with posted videos of its own on anywhere from the recent female spacewalk to featuring Simone Biles or even releasing its own full feature films.

By allowing customers to show their loyalty and connect with the company across multiple channels, Lego is not only keeping itself current, but it is also building a meaningful connection with new generations of life-long Lego lovers. 

When writing this post I referred to The brilliant Conversation Prism, and read not only about Lego, (See their corporate Web site,) as well as various articles on Adweek and Fast Company.

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