Digital domination – don’t leave it to the powers that be

77 twitterA couple of years ago I came across a very scarey phrase in a United Nation’s document about digital governance. It spoke about ‘controlling the internet’.

Now, on one level, the powers that be are only interested in controlling something if it is powerful, so hat’s off to the internet and in particular, the self-publishing and social communicating it has enabled. But ‘boo’ to any big cheese or brass hat that wants to control it.

Where the internet gets its power

The internet is as powerful as it is because of the egalitarian nature of its access. Countries who attempt to restrict access to the internet are inevitably repressive regimes. Okay, so some of us (individuals and organisations) are still learning how to conduct ourselves in this massively liberating space, but I’m sure it was the same for cavemen when they first saw flames lick around dry tinder. Something that game changing; well, you’re bound to get burned in the early days.

Which is why I currently have misgivings about the army’s revelation that it’s setting up a special unit skilled in non-lethal warfare and where recruits will need to be adept with social media and its use. On the face of its, no bad thing. It’s obvious that if you’re going to win hearts and minds and keep boots off the ground, the major battle grounds will be virtual and psychological.

“shaping behaviour through the use of dynamic narratives”.

But what disturbed me was tucked away in the announcement. It’s the bit where Chief of the Army, General Sir Nick Carter speaks about “shaping behaviour through the use of dynamic narratives”. Now, don’t get me wrong. On one level all of us involved in content strategy have such an ambition. Create the right story. Engage the right audience. Shape a space that delivers the desired action.

You win customers – not wars – in 140 characters

But when the Chief of the Army says it I get a little spooked. The reality is that commercial organisations have spent decades, possible centuries, learning the marketing and communications skills that allow them to engages audiences and working within evolving guidelines and regulatory bodies, in terms of what they can and cannot say.

I’m not sure that the army, no matter how carefully it recruits to the new 77th Bridgade, has those skills. General Carter has an impressive military career. Appointed to post towards the end of last year he is keen to persuade civilians and politicians that the army has a place and deserves a secure budget line.

But miliary experience of content strategy is grounded in war time experience and the Cholmondley Warner school of public service announcements. The only area where it has progressed, in my opinion, is in recruitment, where its use of commercial agencies and the more clear cut customer conversion dynamic have created creditable, well executed marteting messages.

Boots on, on in, the internet?

My worry is that the boots on the internet will still be controlled by a generation of senior military personnel who are not socially mediate and view the interweb as something of a threat; roamed be terrorists, anarchists and young people. Watch their space.

So… what are we waiting for?

I’ve just had breakfast with a very interesting businessman. Great proposition, which he’s refined over the last couple of years and which offers material business help specifically to third sector, charities and educational organisations. Help that can be felt in the bottom line. What’s not to like?

He freely admits his brochure is a couple of year’s behind the intellectual curve of his thinking and that his website has not progressed beyond a holding page.

I took him to task – obviously.

But on the way back to  my office I started to think… what gives me the right?

Yes, I’m a wash with experience about how to use digital to change your business but my blog is looking distinctly out of date. I’ve been so busy, you see and my thinking has been evolving at a rate of knots as I work with different clients in different ways.

So… what am I waiting for?

My website is not only my business card and a source of reassurance for those people who have already come across me but it’s also my playground. My blog, in particular, should be where I think out loud.

I recently heard Nancy Kline speak at a conference about thinking for ourselves and resolved to reflect more on how I think and how the way I articulate those thoughts is so often framed by external influences and codes. (Influences and codes which also inhibit organisational thinking.) While ‘speaking my mind’ might be tricky sometimes, ‘thinking my mind’ should be something I allow myself to do more often.

So sorry G, I had no right to take you to task when I should be using iterative, adaptable, powerful and accessible digital media more often. What are any of us waiting for?


Take that back!

All organisations – not just publishers – have to actively manage their content throughout its lifecycle.

But what are the implications, in this digital age, if you need to update, amend or even withdraw something that has been published but then repurposed and reused in a myriad different ways by a whole host of third parties?

Imagine it’s Friday morning and the head office of Wonderful Widgets Ltd is abuzz with the news that their new social media marketing campaign has been taken to task by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA)…

Their claim to be the ‘Best Widget For Bringing About World Peace’ was disputed by a retired Colonel in Chichester and the complaint has been upheld by an ASA Adjudication.

Clumps of hair are being torn out by various members of the marketing team and at their social media agency, Wondiferous, as the claim is embedded in a rather smart video ad directed by someone who once shared a cab with Steven Spielberg, as well as featuring in an app that is proving a rather popular download.

There’s no choice by to take down the video and withdraw the app while changes are made. Somebody also remembers to take down the press release about the campaign.

(Nobody has remembered that a picture from the campaign and some accompanying text – including the offending statement – had been sent off to the team who were preparing the company’s annual report, which will go off to the printers in 40 minutes time.)

The claim has also been used in various articles and sound bits over the last few weeks but nobody is entirely sure where or who to contact next.

How do you take stuff back?

In today’s digital age trying to recant content is a bit like smashing a cafeteire full of coffee and trying to get all the spashes back in the jug.

What steps should an organisation take to recall content that has been appropriated, misappropriated, atomised, reused, abused, reedited, retweeted, shared, pinged and generally tossed upon the winds of social media and other forms of digital transmission or syndication and now resides in multiple locations around the virtual globe?

Chances are that, in the case above, reasonable effort will be enough. But what if the offending material is now deemed defamatory and the subject of litigation, or has been found to contain an inaccuracy that could be physically harmful – a decimal point missing on a data safety sheet, or in the appropriate dosage for a new drug? What efforts must you go to to get take that back?

The fact is we’re all publishers now. And as such corporate vulnerabilities are no different from those in magazine and newspaper organisations. As some of you know, I regard the successful Lord McAlpine pursuit of libel damages from high profile tweeters towards the end of last year as evidence of this paradigm shift.

Smart traditional publishers are reviewing their Ts & cs to put the emphasis on syndication partners being responsible for policing the content they purchase and reuse. Smart corporates may want to look at their own Ts & Cs in this light.

Google cached files

There is also the whole issue around Google cached files, that can linger long after the baseline content has been removed or updated. You can ask Google to remove pages from its cache. I certainly think being able to evidence that you have done this in a very timely fashion is good practice.

Best efforts

Organisations also need to demonstrate that the have made every effort to expunge or recall something. In my book the first way you evidence this is that you know where content has gone in the first place, or at least its departing point. So, for example, the press office in the scenario above really should have a shared written knowledge of the annual report usage. Relying on memory is not good governance.

And that, my friends is the tip of a pretty impressive iceberg.

Content Agility 2013 June 26-27, UK

I’ll be building on this blog post in my presentation at Congility this year, under the title: We’re all publishers now!
Find out more about Congility 2013

We need our own Doomsday Clock

The Doomsday Clock is maintained by scientists as a visual representation of how close we’re come to nuclear Armageddon. It currently stands at five minutes to midnight and it swings a minute or two in either direction depending on what’s happening in the world.

Scientists pushed it one minute closer to midnight on January 10, 2012, reflecting their decreasing confidence in global leaders to get on with each other. It was last pushed away from midnight back in 2007. It’s worth reviewing the clock timeline where you have a few minutes. The impact is… sobering. Doomsday Clock Timeline

I’ve come to the conclusion that those involved in content and its delivery need their own Doomsday Clock.

It needs to be broader than just a Digital Doomsday timepiece and if I call it the Information Doomsday Clock, people will just tell me to take more water with it.

Maybe I should start by describing what my Doomsday vision (nightmare) looks like. See if it’s sobering enough for you…

It’s a few years in the future

Digital content has been locked down due to the impact of increasingly onerous legislation that runs to hundreds of pages and has titles such as the Universal Information Storage & Transmission Protection & Security Act.

The prices of newspapers, magazines, books, pay per view (including on demand television), online news and resources have increased substantially.

This is because prices contain a corporate and public libel defamation insurance premium component designed to cover both the publisher and the consumer. (But as this has never been tested in the courts nobody’s sure if it will work or not.) This premium is referred to in the popular media as ‘the McAlpine tax’. Free to view and free to publish are almost unheard of for this reason. 70% of bloggers have ceased to blog.

As part of any job application process you have to list any online media you subscribe to including personal Twitter and Facebook feeds.

You have to sign a liability clause in your contract of employment indemnifying your employer against claims made against you as ‘publisher in person’ the new technical definition of anybody who uses media of any form to disseminate information of any type to known or unknown audiences, either directly or indirectly, personally or professionally, through intent or omission, with or without malice... The actual clause is much, much longer, obviously.

Accessing social media at work, or referring to employers or colleagues in posts, results in verbal and then written warnings being issued and can quickly lead to dismissal.

Most companies have ceased to use social media in a business context. Instead, nearly all marketing is handled via formal announcements published on LinkedIn Lite.

The storage capacity of computers and other hand-held devices is also limited by law and they have to be licensed.

When children are born they’re given a pre-set terabytage of cloud storage and a unique identification number which they keep all their lives.

The security encryption on cloud storage is significant but designated government authorities have the right to go in and review what you hold under the Virtual Criminal Activity & Anti Social Intent Pre-Offence Initiative Regulations.

I could go on but I’m feeling depressed now.

This is a joke, right?

The definition of a joke is something said or done to evoke laughter or amusement. Me? I’m just adjusting the hands on my new clock. It’s currently set at 3 minutes to midnight.

When scientists move the hands on the Doomsday Clock they’re hoping to scare the powers that be into getting to grips with the state of the world and make some changes. If the world explodes it won’t actually be because of a nuclear bomb but because President this and Prime Minister that failed to get round a table and sign up to some workable solutions.

I feel the same way about content (words, images, audio, print…). Forces are marshalling and what we don’t control, risk rate and mitigate these forces will prohibit or bind tightly in red tape.

What’s getting to me currently is that we’re addressing things in silos. Online over there. Offline over here. Governance in this jar. Content creation in that one. Financial compliance governed by this logic. Content compliance by that. In the meantime someone in IT is turning off your firewall so they can work on problems from their home computer (this one actually happened).

It’s not all bad. Yesterday I had a chance to peek inside one major news organisation and was blown away (possibly a bad choice of words, but you know what I mean), by how cutting edge their content governance is.

So here’s the thing. Let’s all start working on organisationally cohesive strategies that take in everything, including the user as publisher. For that I’ll take a good 10 minutes of the clock.