Archive for November 2009
Employers are of two minds when it comes to Facebook at work. One view is that it is a great time-waster and should be removed to an employee’s personal time. That view has much traditional merit because workers are paid for productivity. Productivity is part of the social compact we agree to when stepping across that corporate threshold.
Another view is to encourage employees to use their relationship-building tools to advance the cause of the corporation—much like United Health Group invited their employees to lobby congress (mind you, on a “completely voluntary” basis) against reform which could hurt the company’s bottom line. Of course, spouting company talking points in a Facebook news feed sounds even more plastic and lifeless than it usually does in a news article.
Is there a third-way, an alternative that lies somewhere between an outright ban and a manipulative directive? I put this question to a class of college juniors and seniors studying writing in organizations—people who swim in social media all day every day. One woman suggested the typical 5-10 minute coffee break as an opportunity for social networking. In fact, that has always been the traditional purpose of that break: connecting with people over a cup of joe. Generally those breaks have not been work related. Facebook and Twitter and the like mean that now those breaks are taken with friends scattered across the planet rather than colleagues in the next cube.
Of course employees access Facebook and Twitter all day without approval from their employers. But this third way suggests these conversations and relationship-building activities can be good for the company. Not only does limited corporate approval give a nod to employees as whole people who bring their whole selves to the workplace, it also recognizes that connections and communication are life-giving interactions that help a person deal with difficulty—wherever that difficulty happens to come from.
Granted, not every job can allow this. I’d rather my air traffic controller not check Facebook while we’re flying through a crowded airspace. But a lot of jobs have room for connections and communication. Let’s publicly recognize that connections and communication are a good thing.
Gatekeepers have always been part of life. To get to the spine surgeon, get cozy with the receptionist. To get to the editor, make nice with the intern who rejects 95 percent of the manuscripts on the slush pile. To talk with the famous professor, approach through the administrative assistant, or see if you can locate which of the three official offices the professor may be in when you go to chat. But for the sales rep, the writer or prospective student—and everyone else—that world is quickly changing.
Distances compact as people play with new technologies. Surprising conversations now beckon with folks we would have never dreamed of contacting last year. Suddenly access is open to people previously hidden behind protective ranks of gatekeepers. They blog their thoughts about the news. They comment on other people’s posts. They tweet about last night’s dinner. They are approachable—possibly more approachable then they realize.
There’s a new democratization at work here. Technology plays a part in making this possible, but there’s a new attitude afoot. People are making pieces of themselves searchable to the public: their twittery/bloggy/commenty voices can be located and absorbed. And not just our heroes, because we are all developing voices and we want to use those voices. And we’re developing an appetite to hear those voices. And we are also hearing new voices and developing new heroes.
So let me be cautious in my contact.
Without the gatekeeper to set up my query, I must quickly frame up the context of my communication so I can approach that surgeon/editor/professor with a brief, tactful query. I don’t want to be like the star-struck Twilight fan who forgets to talk—or breath—and so lose an excellent opportunity.
The impetus is on me (on us) to grow in this framing, this contextualizing skill. Otherwise we run the risk of being just another screaming fan. And that’s just not conducive to conversation.
As I write another check for the rapidly-shrinking StarTribune, I’m reminded how our lives will be diminished by the absence of the printed daily news. I see this day coming. I look at news aggregators all day on my computer and I am thankful for the information. But there’s something about settling into a chair at the end of the day with the funnies—a computer screen just doesn’t duplicate the experience. A Pocket PC screen certainly doesn’t come close. Makes me sad.
I was showing the gorgeous San Francisco Panorama to a journalism professor recently. It is a kind of newspaper on steroids. Fabulous writers. Intriguing topics. Big old art and photos. It will be big (broadsheet: 15 by 22 inches), full (380+ pages) and pricey (I thought I read it was $35, but now I can’t find the reference).
In short: a luxury. Kind of like The New Yorker (which I ordered recently only because I had a gift card), only more so and originating from a different coast.
Was print always a luxury? Maybe. But the daily paper never really felt that way. It was always the way we saw what was going on in the world, even if we understood it was as subjective as anything touched by humans. That’s all changing. I suppose there will come a point where the newsprint dropped on our porch at 5:30am every day will just not be worth it. I’m hanging on, but it’s feeling like a luxury, which binds it to the question: “Do we need this?”
So far the answer is still “Yes.”
The lock in the corner of your browser indicates the website is legit. Go ahead and transact business with your credit card number and personal information—your information is secure. All is well. That is, until it isn’t. If it hasn’t happened already, that little lock can be duplicated and put to nefarious uses.
Same thing with an FDA seal of approval logo to place on your blog or website. Pharmaceutical companies are suggesting such a graphic as a way to set their audiences (and their corporate lawyers and the teams of regulators, their board members and shareholders) at ease. Seeing a logo would be an admission that the contents included are all good to go.
That’ll never happen.
That‘s because while the FDA may approve a device or drug for market, they work hard at not becoming responsible for the results the product. And for a set of folks who want to read every word in a document before it hits the street—people who care about the font size of your disclaimers (5 pt? Too small! 6 pt? OK.)—granting a seal of approval to the wild west of social media would be like arming the inmates and locking the prison doors behind them as you shoo them out (may I mix metaphors?). Aside from the fact that even a word-guy can duplicate a logo and affix it to anything, there is simply no way the FDA will be responsible for watching all the dialogue that must—and will—take place. Hiring staff for such Big Brother activity would break the bank (wait—banks are already broken).
Somewhere in the future, the dusty notion of “trust” may well rise up again. I know it seems quaint, like a whiff from centuries past, but it simply is not possible to regulate every part of dialogue. Just ask East Germany. Or watch “The Lives of Others.”
Dialogue is not about guarantees. It is about exploring. Perhaps the best we can do is to voluntarily adhere to a growing body of disclosure best practices.
You are running a clinical trial and you need to build up the base of patients participating in the trial. Let’s say the trial is for an innovative incontinence product.
Along with the traditional tools and methods for recruiting patients, you set up a social media strategy that includes an editorial calendar for a set of blog posts—an awareness campaign. Your want the blog to become a destination or an RSS feed. Part of your strategy is to regularly discuss findings from current research into incontinence, methods for treating the condition and general information (minus claims and promises) about the research you are actually recruiting for. Naturally you include the requisite regulatory, legal and privacy caveats, along with the full disclosure information that helps build authenticity. This is how the conversation starts.
Start a Twitter account so that as new blog posts come on line, people are led to them. But the Twitter account also opens a way for passing along other information that is relevant to the audience. Because it isn’t just information you are passing. You are passing on humanity. One of your primary tasks is to present a human voice. A human voice is authentic, knowing and wins reader’s loyalty. You also have a Facebook account—you want to be easy to find.
Pretty standard stuff. Key to the endeavor is creating and managing content with an eye on making it searchable and accessible for the right patients. Also key is providing a service to those patients in need by passing on useful information.
What other elements would you include?
The marvel of the Mark Tungate’s history is in how interconnected are so many of the storied agencies. The formula gets repeated again and again: agency hires young creative talent who eventually finds the place too stuffy and goes to start his or her own firm. I like hearing the backgrounds of many of who are now household names: Ogilvy, Burnett, Chiat, Hegarty.
Every local advertising scene has its own particular nuanced and storied development. Certainly this is true of Minneapolis (of which there is no chapter in Adland). While there are certainly national and internationally known agencies in the area, the surprise to me is how little of a creative dent local agencies have made with one of the main exports: medical devices. Certainly budgets have been smaller and consumer advertising for these firms has been nearly non-existent. But it is also true that larger medical device firms are wooed into the unexceptional pockets of agencies on either coast.
I expect a particular creative knowledge to rise from the creative milieu that is the Twin Cities—in much the same way that older established medical companies spawn one company after another. Perhaps creative applications of social media may help establish the Twin Cities communication agencies with the knowing and much-needed human voice in the dialogue between medical device firms, clinicians and consumers.