Saturday, December 06, 2008

Barriers to New Media Success in Canadian Politics

Since the breathtaking success of President-elect Obama's campaign, new media is being touted as the future of political campaigns and citizens engagement. Interest in applying the new media lessons learned in that campaign to the (marketing) campaigns of the corporate world is exploding. My daughter and colleague Rahaf, who put her life on hold for 3 months and worked for the new media group at the Obama campaign headquarters in Chicago, can witness to that. A recent invitation to speak about her experience in an intimate setting at Toronto University's Rotman School of Business attracted 300 people and forced the relocation of the event to a larger auditorium.

In her presentation Rahaf listed six lessons learned from the Obama
new media campaign. She also pointed out to the vision driving the campaign as being a fundamental element of its success. Through further conversations with her I came to think that this may be indeed the most profound lesson learned. The recent political developments in Ottawa have raised public interest and brought increased engagement and activism in online venues like Twitter and Facebook. There are several calls for mobilizing online against the Harper government, so I am trying to apply Rahaf's six lessons plus my current understanding of new media success factors to the present Canadian context.

What amplified the success of Obama's new media campaign is a vision that was people not candidate centric; its core elements of hope, change, inclusiveness and mutual respect resonated with a broad spectrum of people. It was that vision that attracted like-minded top organizers and staffers, established a strategy of two-way communications with the people around a consistent message, engaged young and old people in a respectful way, and admitted the new media group as an equal at the planning and operational levels. It didn't hurt either that the candidate is charismatic and inspiring.

What Canadians politicians can learn

So how do we compare? Although many people converge towards core Canadian values of collaboration, tolerance, etc. no party has a well articulated vision that resonates with what people really want from their politicians:
  • Putting people's interests and the country first, ahead of narrow minded party tactics;
  • Engage in intelligent, civil, and constructive conversation in parliament across party lines;
  • Lead instead of being kicked in the but every step of the way;
  • Restore hope and pride in Canada's role as a global leader.
Instead, the various parties are aligned along the traditional combative lines of last century: "small government", "middle of the road for middle class" and "workers unite". Never mind the absence of a charismatic and inspiring leader!

Continuing along the traditional model, all significant discussions and decisions are made in backrooms by an exclusive club of elitists and their staffers, who excel at delivering quick short-term results through tricks and mean tactics, even at the cost of the country or at the detriment of their own party's members. Consequently, no party has a clear need or desire to engage the masses and really listen. As a result engagement is seen as a PR exercise and communications is a one-way delivery function receiving it's instructions from the closed club.

What can we do about it

So, here are my recommendations for any party wanting to use new media:
  1. Start by articulating a vision rooted in the people's needs and wants
  2. Commit publicly to the values of transparency, inclusiveness, and willingness to change in order to align with your constituents
  3. Recruit your inner circle from people who have demonstrated their commitment to these values
  4. Devise a comprehensive two-way communications strategy around a clear and consistent message
  5. Attract young engaged leaders to implement the new media component of your strategy and treat them with the respect they deserve

Without a vision around which people can rally, without a core that is committed to transparency, inclusiveness and change, and without truly listening to people and engaging in meaningful conversations, no media (never mind new media) can deliver the strategic advantage everyone is looking for.

Where do we start

How we can jump-start this process is a question that should be opened to the people to contribute their mass creativity to. Here is my personal contribution: How about if a group of politicians from one or more parties establishes a list of the core principles of such vision and a code of conduct (sort of a manifesto if you prefer big words) and starts practicing it openly?

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Monday, December 01, 2008

The Future of Twitter

I had lunch earlier today with my friends Dave Gray of Xplane and Bob Logan of sLAB (previously the Beal Institure for Strategic Creativity). The food at "Le Pain Quotidien" was great, the ambiance cozy and surroundings not too noisy. The conversation drifted to Twitter, its future and what its potential could be. Dave encouraged me to blog about this conversation (hopefully not out of concern that at my age I'd forget the content soon if I didn't! Lol). So here are some highlights of that conversation.

I am not sure why, but
we did not talk about the traditional advertisement business model. Perhaps it was our aversion to ads interrupting our experience, whether on TV (if you're still watching any!) or online, and we just couldn't imagine our current Twitter experience poisoned by pop-up adds driven by parsing the last tweet we received. Perhaps it's an obvious model that many are practicing and we felt we were in a more "innovative" conversation.

The most obvious value of Twitter to us is in the communities it helps creating and enabling. One of the hypothesis about the business models of the web 2.0 world is that accumulating substantial numbers of "customers" or users of your service even at a loss could have value for others by reducing their cost of access to such group. That was the favorite hypothesis when eBay acquired Skype for $2.6 billion in order to gain access to Skype's 54 million users.

With the gradual realization that modern brand management hinges on the involvement and active engagement of brand related communities, the business value of such communities as well as of its venues and communications platforms continues to increase beyond the traditional value of a company's customers database.

Another aspect is Twitter's value to individuals as a convenience tool. It can act as a filter between the ever noisier outside world and the individual's interests and preferences. Dave refers to Twitter as his personal "info shield". By developing more sophisticated and slick applications to manage your "shield" Twitter's tools would become more desirable by its users... and consumer desires can always be monetized!

I recently blogged about how micro-blogging, the type pioneered by Twitter, is supporting a new type of learning, which I called micro-learning. After some more thought I prefer to call it now agile learning, a way to learn in small incremental steps driven by your own needs and preferences instead of a rigid curriculum formulated for a broad population. My Twitter friends are really a growing network of scouts hunting for information and knowledge and tweeting about their findings, out of which I can then select the gems most interesting and useful to my learning. By the same token the drive (or at least the peer pressure) to have followers encourages me to be a good scout for my followers. This makes Twitter a prime platform for the new agile micro-learning that is emerging.

The ultimate value of Twitter, however, is in the data it collects and aggregates from all the tweets of its users and in its ability to mine such data for useful practical purposes. Technology, even the coolest one, is just a tool. The data is the ultimate treasure. Google, arguably one of the most innovative technology companies around, demonstrated in November 2008 what you can do with such data through their Flu Trends tool. Flu Trends was not only able to deliver estimates of flu levels in each state that were consistent with CDC's
results based on field data, it was also able to do so in near real time (i.e. faster than CDC!).

There are many visualization attempts and experiments of the Twitterverse. For example: 17 ways to visualize the Twitter Universe. Visualization is but one way to uncover inherent structures within the data that are otherwise not visible. The key for a successful business model, however, is to extract knowledge that is usable for a number of applications and industries. There are a number of companies starting to explore these avenues, but to my knowledge Twitter is not strategically pursuing any of them. One such company that
I personally find exciting is Canadian. Unfortunately I am bound by an NDA and must defer more details to a future blog once I get the approvals to share their information.

If you know of companies doing something in this direction please let me know.

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