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Posts Tagged ‘conversations’

Two Wednesdays ago, I headed over to Ogilvy PR Worldwide in DC to hear Jared Cohen, a member of the State Department’s Policy and Planning Staff, discuss social media and 21st century Statecraft. You can hear the speech/read the transcript for yourself here. Or, you can check-out my takeaways below.

Like many people, I use Facebook and Twitter as fun tools to keep in touch with my best friends and share articles of interest. But the impact of these tools can be much stronger in other contexts. Digital connections empower groups of people, both good and evil. For example, Afghanistan prisoners have used cell phones to coordinate an uprising from inside their jail cells. On the other hand, digital technology has given voices to those silenced by political oppression or chaos in the wake of a natural disaster.

Don’t believe me? Just take a look at social media’s recent role in helping out Haiti or think back to the June 2009 election protests in Iran. Cohen recognized that Twitter was acting as an important medium through which Iranians could voice discontent and organize protests. Thus, he contacted Twitter to ask them to delay scheduled maintenance of its global network during the protests. Check out this video to remember how social media connected the world to this event in a way never seen before.

The world’s governments also recognize the power that comes from being connected. Corrupt governments fear the empowerment of their citizens, so they rely on censorship to maintain control. But people will always find a way to communicate, even if it’s by good-old-fashioned word-of-mouth. Since communication is inevitable in today’s world, Cohen takes a “technopragmatist” approach to the internet and its related technologies:

The reality is whether we like it or not from a policy standpoint…all these tools are being put out on the public domain. From a government standpoint, we have two options: We can fear we can’t control it and not try to influence it. And by the way, if we don’t try to influence it, all that does is give greater space to hostile actors who seek to use technology for nefarious purposes. Or we ca recognize that the 21st century is a terrible time to be a control freak, recognize we can’t control it, but we can influence it and there is no better time to influence it when access is where it is today.

Cohen plans to influence the use of technology by reaching out to the experts of innovations and local contexts, private sector companies and civil society organizations, respectively. By melding their knowledge together, he thinks they can unlock the power of digital communications and social media in a positive way.

Next week, I’ll be attending a conversation with Knight Fellows at the International Center for Journalists.  The International Center for Journalists, a non-profit, professional organization, promotes quality journalism worldwide in the belief that independent, vigorous media are crucial in improving the human condition.  The Knight Fellows are working on new mobile and online technologies in an attempt to deliver the work of professional and citizen journalists to the remote and underserved communities of the world. By getting these remote communities connected, they will give them the power to participate in the world’s conversations.

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I had never read a military blog (milblog) before today. I have a hard enough time trying to keep up to date on the happenings of the war (and make sense of them.) When I started poking around the milblogosphere this afternoon, I had no idea that I would become engrossed in this activity for a solid four hours. Only class could pull me away from my computer, and even then I was late!

After my investigation, my perception of the war is already less abstract. While I still haven’t formulated my opinion, I can already tell that spending more time in this blogosphere would help me shape justified attitudes towards the war. Perhaps even more importantly, it would expose me to differing viewpoints and allow me to better understand those perspectives.

To develop and understand war policy, all sides of the story certainly need to be heard. I suggest starting with a daily snapshot of the top milblogs at milblogging.com. Check out milblogging.com’s blog’s profiles to see which ones might interest you from the get-go.  From there, it’s almost impossible not to get lost stumbling from page to page. It seems like everyone (including parents, wives, and children of the enlisted) involved in the war has an interesting story to tell. While many did stop posting to their blogs after the U.S. Army ordered soldiers to follow new rules in April 2007, this blogosphere is still incredibly active. Milblog’s have a wide variety of followers. Hollywood Refugee, for example, was angered when Kaboom was shut down for failure to properly vet a post in accordance with the new rules. There is some evidence that the U.S. military is trying to re-engage soldiers in the blogosphere. Check out the highlights from 5th Annual Milblog Conference in Arlington, VA two weekends ago (I wish I had known about this earlier!) Below is a video of General David Patreous’ opening remarks.

I read Baghdad Burning’s last post about self-identification as a refugee, and it made me want to read the book. Army of Dude’s The Real Deal post was also eye-opening, and I liked the author’s use of pictures to bring his point home. From there, I decided to search for more photo essays and was introduced to the world of Michael Yon. I also liked Wings over Iraq, Afghanistan without a Clue, Stormbringer, and The Sandbox. Does anyone have any other suggestions for me?

Finally, the milblogosphere was abuzz about the leaked video (Collateral Murder) of a 2007 U.S. helicopter attack in Baghdad that claimed the lives of two Reuters employees. Be sure to watch the entire video. Do you think it’s too biased? Milbloggers certainly had a lot to say about government transparency, war tactics and the risk of on-assignment journalism. The NY Time’s At War blog also did a fantastic job of rounding up different milbloggers’ reactions to the video’s release. This situation reminds me of the conflict over Kevin Site’s video of a soldier shooting an unarmed wounded Iraqi.  It’s strange how history repeats itself.

After my explorations into the milblogosphere this afternoon, I can already say that I’m a big fan of its transparency. I’ll definitely continue to follow this online community beyond Social Media class.

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While there is no technical definition of a blog, three characteristics should be present in this type of new media. Blogs must be written in reverse-chronological order, take a semi-personal tone, and include ways to continue or extend the conversation. In his blogging history Say Everything, Scott Rosenberg asserts that “blogging was not invented; it evolved” (p.81). Similarly, bloggers’ purposes for communicating have also evolved from a compulsion to talk to an aspiration to truly converse.

By 1998, bloggers had been writing in reverse-chronological order, using a more casual, unedited human voice, and sharing links for several years, but their focus was always “inward on personal experience” (Rosenberg, p.87), and their communications were one-way. For example, Justin Hall wrote his blog as a personal diary. Dave Winer used his blog to spread the truth as he saw it, even though he didn’t expect any audience to actually listen to him. Jorn Barger, filterer of the Web, was more interested in “collecting his own treasures and laying them out for you to admire” (Rosenberg, p.82) than he was in narrowing his link topics to reach out to a more targeted audience and initiating the conversation.  Jesse James Garrett became the first true blogger by understanding that blogging should be a “dynamic medium” (Rosenberg, p.88) in which one starts a two-way conversation between himself/herself and the world.

Today’s blogging experts admit that the success of a blog often depends on its audience size. And as we know from The Cluetrain Manifesto, to attract and maintain and audience, you must have a conversation with them, not talk to them.  Along these lines, Garrett recognized that blogging is not about “pushing an object into the world, it’s about opening a channel between yourself and the world (Rosenberg, p.88). While the first “bloggers” were only comfortable using their unedited voices to write about themselves and their interests, Garrett tried to spark interest among readers and increase their conversations’ relevance by focusing them “outward toward information on the wider Web” (p.87). Markets are conversations, and Garrett’s mentality towards blogging set the stage for markets rallying around this new conversational medium.

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Back in 1999, Rick Levine, Christopher Locke, Doc Searls, and David Weinberger crafted The Cluetrain Manifesto to draw attention to the newly-connected markets made possible by the Internet. As a reference to Martin Luther’s historic manifesto, they began this work with 95 theses examining the Internet’s impact on the relationships between markets, businesses, and stakeholders. However, the authors certainly didn’t need all 95 theses to get their points across. The meat of their manifesto can be boiled down into the 32 theses that follow. The first assertion that “markets are conversations” sets the stage for a story about the notions of humanity and the Internet, the intrinsic value of real conversations, and the reshaping of the power dynamic between businesses and marketplaces. Do you think their decade-old predictions ring true today?

  1. Markets are conversations.
  2. Markets consist of human beings, not demographic sectors.
  3. Conversations between human beings sound human. They are conducted in a human voice.
  4. Whether delivering information, opinions, perspectives, arguments or humorous asides, the human voice is typically open, natural, uncontrived.
  5. People recognize each other as such from the sound of this voice.
  6. The Internet is enabling conversations among human beings that were simply not possible in the era of mass media.
  7. In both internetworked markets and among intranetworked employees, people are speaking to each other in a powerful new way.
  8. These networked conversations are enabling powerful new forms of social organization and knowledge exchange to emerge.
  9. As a result, markets are getting smarter, more informed, more organized. Participation in a networked market changes people fundamentally.
  10. People in networked markets have figured out that they get far better information and support from one another than from vendors.
  11. There are no secrets. The networked market knows more than companies do about their own products. And whether the news is good or bad, they tell everyone.
  12. What’s happening to markets is also happening among employees. A metaphysical construct called “The Company” is the only thing standing between the two.
  13. Corporations do not speak in the same voice as these new networked conversations. To their intended online audiences, companies sound hollow, flat, literally inhuman.
  14. Companies that don’t realize their markets are now networked person-to-person, getting smarter as a result and deeply joined in conversation are missing their best opportunity.
  15. Companies can now communicate with their markets directly. If they blow it, it could be their last chance.
  16. Smart markets will find suppliers who speak their language.
  17. To speak with a human voice, companies must share the concerns of their communities.
  18. But first, they must belong to a community.
  19. Human communities are based on discourse- on human speech about human concerns.
  20. Companies that do not belong to a community of discourse will die.
  21. As with networked markets, people are also talking to each other directly inside the company- and not just about rules and regulations, boardroom directives, bottom lines.
  22. When corporate intranets are not constrained by fear and logistical rules, the type of conversation they encourage sounds remarkably like the conversation of the networked marketplace.
  23. Command-and-control management styles both derive from and reinforce bureaucracy, power tripping, and an overall culture of paranoia.
  24. There are two conversations going on. One inside the company. One with the market.
  25. In most cases, neither conversation is going very well. Almost invariably, the cause of failure can be traced to obsolete notions of command and control.
  26. These two conversations want to talk to each other. They are speaking the same language. They recognize each other’s voices.
  27. Smart companies will get out of the way and help the inevitable to happen sooner.
  28. As markets, as workers, we wonder why you’re not listening. You seem to be speaking a different language.
  29. We have better things to do than worry about whether you’ll change in time to get our business. Business is only a part of our lives. It seems to be all of yours. Think about it: who needs whom?
  30. We’re both inside companies and outside them. The boundaries that separate our conversations look like the Berlin Wall today, but they’re really just an annoyance. We know they’re coming down. We’re going to work from both sides to take them down.
  31. To traditional corporations, networked conversations may appear confused, may sound confusing. But we’re organizing faster than they are. We have better tools, more ideas, no rules to slow us down.
  32. We are waking up and linking to each other. We are watching. But we are not waiting.

From these 32 theses, you should have learned three main points. First, the human voice has a distinct “sound”, and humans have an instinctive ability to recognize each other through this voice. Humans want to talk with other humans, and right now, businesses don’t talk like humans. To engage consumers in conversation, businesses must change the way they talk. And since markets are conversations, this change is necessary.

Second, the Internet enables humans to talk directly with one another. Businesses can no longer make excuses for failing to foster these “human” conversations within the company and with outside stakeholders. And outside stakeholders have wised up. They don’t care only about their conversations with each other; now, they also want to know about these “within the company” conversations. In fact, outside stakeholders can now choose to trust only those companies who share this “within the company” human conversation with them.

Finally, information gleaned from these human conversations with companies give stakeholders power. Because businesses depend on trust from their employees, investors, and consumers, they must change the ways they talk, and they must allow ALL stakeholders to converse together. And time is of the essence. Now that humans have the Internet, they won’t wait for businesses to catch up.

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