Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Bullying and Cyberbullying

Bullying is a serious issue. It makes people feel bad, makes them do things that they might not necesarily want to do, and forces people's hands. Cyberbullying is worse - it takes all those things, puts them online in blogs or journals or social networks, and ramps it up a level via emails, Twitters and text messaging, and instant messages.

This past Monday, we saw one example of cyberbullying in the case of Kathy Sierra - a good synopsis came from Lisa Stone of BlogHer, an organization that has been (possibly / probably unfairly) dragged into the controversy.

Let's take a step back and get to the basics: this should not have happened. Yes, the blogosphere gives us a sense of anonymity - us in PR have been attacked by an anonymous blog, but none of us have been physically threatened with death (as far as I know), but have had to deal with venomous emails and threats of livelihoods - but it is a false sense, and should not be abused. The truth always comes out, in the end.

And, we have seen the blogosphere get up in arms over gender equality, which has cyberbullied conferences to include women in panels. There is an odd bit of irony there.

We are mostly adults in the blogosphere. Well, "adults" behind a computer giving some people a bigger sense of worth (most likely self-inflated worth, as seems to be the norm in blogs), and there is a lot of testosterone in the blogosphere that comes out in immature ways against women that should not be tolerated.

But, like I noted, we are supposedly adults that should act as adults. In this instance, the adults have lost to the immature and anonymous.

At CommunityNext, I was speaking to three women about bullying and cyberbullying. One of the women is writing her graduate thesis on bullying - both offline and online - and has been spending time in a classroom to research. The other two women work at a childrens' social network, and we were joking about the bullying of our childhood. My point was that in our school yard days - the more carefree 70's - that bullying was not necessarily a bad thing, as it hardened us and prepared us for the real world. It was not totally malicious, and while some kids cried, the next day brought the next adventure, and we were all friends. And, well, bullying was always harshest amongst the girls - man, they could get catty. One of the women talked about her experience as a camp counselor, and teasing the children, who valued and sought the interaction from an adult.

But, there is the difference - that was about children. And, children are not equiped to deal with such bullying, and are now being pushed beyond the norm by being cyberbullied on MySpace comments, IM, and text messaged threats. There is no escaping Cyberbullying, as it follows you from device to device - it is the true idea of presence, taken to a horrific level with horrific results. Cyberbullying takes what we did as children, and ramps it up to a whole new level. That "take their cookies" mentality - one that I still subscribe to - is different, as it is not about being tough, but about pushing the other child down in the dirt as much as possible and pushing them over the brink.

What happened is a travesty and embarasing as a male and a long-time blogger. It was an adult-on-adult bullying, but that is the point: we are adults, and should recognize that too big a part of blogging is sandlot bravado. As a PR person, that is part of my counsel to clients: be prepared to defend your line in the sand, and sometimes you need to be prepared to be attacked and defend.

This crossed the line, but are we going to see a backlash where the sentiment is going to be "get a thicker skin"? While that is not the right answer, the blogosphere is fluid, and unfortunately, at times it can be cruel. But, at least we have the hardened years of adulthood, and can sigh a breath of relief that we are not growing up in a world where cyberbullying is the norm.

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Friday, March 09, 2007

The Future is Video ... Now

We are in PR. We know the medium is the message, and people love videos. PR has used video news releases and satellite media tours to great results - I always had great returns on SMTs, and think that they were great hits for the clients. But, we ran into some problems there, didn't we.

Now it's about online video. We have seen the growth of online videos with iTunes and iPods - who has not yet bought a few TV shows for the iPod (or I am just a special geek)?

We all spend time online watching videos on YouTube, or our favorite shows with ZeFrank or 1938 Media (come on, who doesn't love Yue and that other person).

And, it's hit Wall Street with Wallstrip, which has a viral video on the daily hot stocks.

Podtech has taken this to a whole new level with ScobleShow, LunchMeet (yay Irina and Eddie) and all its shows, some of which are like SMTs or VNRs. And they have run into the same issues that PR has dealt with in the past.

One of the grand-daddies of the VNR and SMT world, Doug Simon, has started his own vlog. Via email, we did talk about how the future of the VNR is moving online, with companies doing videos in a smart way. With his background, Doug is well positioned to be a thought-leader on how PR and video are going all social media.

But, that's the thing. Corporations are embracing social media - in particular video, as it is something they can grok - and some are doing it in a smart and clever way. Some of the companies are not doing it in a smart way - I think that's when advertising messaging gets too involved - but others are.

Look at GM's I Got Shotgun (a client). Yes, I'm a little biased, but I think it's great. And, well, when I have a friend that IMs me that he loves the site, that it's been a black hole of time at work (meaning he's been watching all the videos), I know it's hit a sweet spot. It's the combination of bringing in people to be hosts, the videos that they upload to apply to ride shotgun (car allusion, get it?), and then watching them be fun and goofy at different events.

It's that desire that we all have to become stars that makes something like I Got Shotgun work - here's a chance to interview stars at different events, go to those events and get the back-stage pass that you usually would not get.

Or, look at Here's To Beer. I got a chance to talk to Tom Shipley, senior director of global industry development for Anheuser-Busch, about what they are doing - and it's pretty cool.

The site was first launched in February 2006 as a category / industry campaign to choose beer more often, over other alcoholic beverages. While it is an Anheuser-Busch campaign, it is not branded for them, but is more a straight forward delivery of all things beer: how it's brewed, different types of beers, how it pairs with food. While the site had good traffic, it was not repeat traffic, so the new site is more entertainment focused with updated content, and education, such as Beer Connoisseur with the Beer School (interactive videos and classes) that's a really deep dive into the world of beer.

Part of that has been video-heavy content, profiling up and coming artists and different content - but in a way to think about beer more often. The whole message that's integrated into the site is that it's like a monthly 'zine, with fresh new content on a monthly basis, so people can come back and just go to whatever is their favorite part (new talent, beer school, etc.)

The site has also wrangled in Dave Lieberman to become a beer connoisseur. Lieberman - from the Food Network - has a video blog to showcase what he is thinking about beer. It's his personality, and has a ton of leeway to do what he wants to do and what is on his mind - also on a bi-weekly to monthly basis. Lieberman is also the voice and talent behind the Beer School section on pairing beer with food.

Plus, they are taking the social mobile route by working with MingleNow on Clink - so you can socially drink, because drinking alone is just sad. Although, tagging a photo of drinking alone would be funny.



Or, well, look at Stefanie Perez. She's the embed video, and I know her from my blog (yes, people randomly IM me because of my blog). Stefanie lives in LA, she's a 23 year old Latina from Chicago who was in the military but moved there to become a star. She's working it, though, by putting together her own videos and posting them on her MySpace page and getting the word out. Oh, and if any agents are watching, Stefanie's a double threat - English and Spanish.

And, well, that's part of the greatness of online video. Anyone can become a star, like Brookers or Amanda Congdon - some with talent, some without - but you get a shot at getting out to a whole new audience that might never have found you before. Or, go over and apply to win Network2's $25,000 contest on how to watch Internet TV. :)

So my point? Well, that video is part of the mix now in PR. Moreso than before, and probably moreso than ever before. But, just like anything else in social media, it needs to be done well. Yes, video needs to be an integral part of communications - but have it a smart message, not manipulation or astroturf.

How should video be used? First, most importantly, it should be used when appropriate. In this social media rush, firms and corporations rush out to put everything together in one campaign. It does not make sense, though. Video is a great way to get your message across, but companies need to remember to have an honest voice, not messaging. It's one of my lines about social media - hand it over to PR rather than advertising, because PR is used to talking TO people, not like advertising that just talks AT people.

But, only use video if it makes sense. New demo to showcase? Video it and post it in the newsroom and on YouTube. Just don't try too hard, and it should be fine. Oh, and check out SplashCast - great service to create video channels.

Quick update / correction: Here's to Beer is not an A-B activity, but an industry initiative to elevate beer's image overall. It's not promoting one brand over another - if you watch the first Lieberman video, you'll notice all beer is smudged out - but to promote beer and breweries overall, like any other umbrella group. Thanks!

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