Category: Society

Economics Musings from a Dummy

Ok – I am not a complete Economics dummy. I did take Macro and Micro Economics in college and did quite well in both classes. But I don’t think anyone will be calling me to do an interview about the Economy anytime soon. Well maybe Fox News, because they do not really care about qualifications, but I mean anyone reputable.

I have done absolutely zero research on the economic situation of today. I have read a lot of articles that come through my Facebook newsfeed, and I have looked and observed people around me, and I have observed my own finances, and from those observations, I have some ideas…or musings.

Here is what I have seen over the years.

1. Technology, in particular, is in desperate need of skilled and innovative employees. Our school system to date has not caught on to that idea. This is why so many jobs are outsourced to countries that teach real programming skills early in high school and why Americans with such skills are doing well.

2. Technology has replaced a lot of jobs. Meanwhile, it has also shifted the savings of the money that would have gone to employees up to founders, shareholders, and executives, making the people at the top much more wealthy than the average employee. This is the imbalance we are seeing. It is because more money is being generated with fewer employees and the people at the top feel it should go to them, because they are the ones who invested in, leveraged, and innovated with technology. For me, this is a pretty strong argument.

3. There is still a middle class – and it is much wealthier than the middle class of 40 or 50 years ago,  you may not recognize it. These are people in 4 and 5 bedroom houses that would have been considered a mini-mansion 50 years ago. Today it is a normal suburban house. Today they have 2 or 3 cars, whereas 50 years ago 1 car was enough. Today they have a TV in every room, where 50 years ago 1 TV put you in the middle class. Today they go on vacation, eat out, and have many, many technological devices. They send their kids to camps, after-school programs, and private schools. These are people in sales jobs, IT jobs, finance jobs…They are middle class – not even the upper middle class of doctors, lawyers, and executives.

4. We have a working class. They live in smaller, older houses (or rent – which some of the middle class chooses to rent too). They budget more carefully. They still send their kids to camps and after school programs but sometimes they get to qualify for discounted pricing. They eat out less, travel cheaper, but today’s working class looks more like the middle class of the 1960s.

5. We have poor people. We have always had poor people. They struggle to make rent and feed themselves even when they are working 2 or more jobs. They have little and what they do have is a hand me down, old, or bought on bad credit. These poor people look similar to the poor people of 50 years ago.

Here is what else we have.

We have more money in our economy. This means we could use that money to invest in helping people up – through an increase in minimum wage. Will that take money from the upper or middle class, the two classes that are wealthier than they have been in decades? Yes, it would. Is this a handout? Not really since minimum wage means you are working for your money. It also would allow the poor to become better contributors to our society, economically and socially.

We could take some of that extra money that is in the economy and invest in education. Maybe then we could get more people trained to take the jobs that have so many openings we have to search off shores to find the skill set.

We have more cheap technology. Maybe we can give the disadvantage more access to that technology in a way that they can self-educate and connect and lift themselves up.

But the big unfortunate thing we have is people with so much stuff that still want more and anything that might have a chance to “trickle down” is seen as an unwarranted hand out.

So in the end – only a few people who can be happy with what they have will be happy and the rest will either continue to struggle or continue to envy.

And so it goes…

Too Much Information or How the Truth Gets Lost

In 7 years of talking about social media, I have never thought that I would be the one to say, “There is too much information.”

In the early days of social media, there were huge debates about the value of user-generated content vs the media (old media vs new media). Although I rarely participated in these debates I usually found myself on the side of new media. Even some of my early presentations illustrated how new media was just as valuable and trustworthy as old media, and maybe even more so because of the power of the network to call out anything false and for ongoing dialog that will expose the truth.

This was before Marketing and PR hijacked social media.

In 2006 and 2007 I gave a lot of presentations to Marketing and PR professionals. The question that I was asked at every presentation was “how do we control the message?” My answer was that you can’t. I was wrong.

I have watched as lots of money has been poured into social media campaigns to get people excited or inspired to spread the message to their friends thus using the power of the network to imply that the message was true. We can see this in political smear campaigns and branded marketing campaigns, which is to be expected. But the recent Kony2012 campaign is what recently got my attention and has made me quite concerned.

My first exposure to the Kony2012 campaign was when I read a headline in my Google Alerts that basically said a new social media campaign was about to be launched and I should not believe it. I did not read any further. Then my friends on Facebook started posting the video and expressing their heartfelt support for the campaign. I even learned that one of my connections was actually from Uganda and had first-hand experiences with warlords. I thought back to the initial report that warned me to ignore this campaign and made a mental note to do more research. Then my teenage son came home and told me about the campaign. As we talked about it I mentioned the headline I read that said to ignore the campaign. He explained to me that everything, even a good campaign such as this, will have haters. Haters are gonna hate. The hater’s side of the story is there is nothing we can do, or it is not our problem and so forth. Typical apathy. I made another mental note to look into the campaign.

This morning my 11-year-old son was on my laptop. When I was finally able to win the custody battle for my Mac I noticed that my son had not logged off the chat he was having with another 5th grader about the Kony video. At this point, I knew I had to look into this.

But before I began my Kony research I decided to go through my Daily Google Alerts. My alerts were full of articles about the Kony2012 campaign. Mostly of how well the campaign has been executed. Social Media Today had a great post titled Ripoff or Revolution? which pointed out Grant Oyston’s Tumblr account which was asking good questions about the Kony2012 campaign.

Then I came across the post How Kony2012 gets it wrong. There are a lot of good questions being asked about motives, message, and facts.

When it comes to wanting to do something good for mankind or to stop horrific evil, we can do little things every day. Those little things add up. But when those little things are part of a misdirected larger effort, then ultimately more harm is done.

Perhaps I was right many years ago in believing that social media brings out the truth because of the ability for others to respond. But what I have learned is that there is so much noise on the web that many people miss the responses. It takes time to research the validity of a story, which is why so much misinformation gets passed around. And unless a response to such a story is positioned in a way that it makes a person look good or feel good to share the other side of the story, the response will never gain the power from a strong network.  How can one feel good about telling their friends that they have been duped, that their good deed for the day may have caused more harm than good? More importantly, how do we keep from getting cynical and apathetic?

More than ever, we all have a responsibility to do a little more than sign our name to a list or share a story with our friends. If we truly want to make a difference in our world, we need to get involved with the world even if it means taking a little time to learn more than one side of the story. There is a lot of information on the web that if we take the time to read more details and ask more questions, the truth should never get lost.

Related Posts:

KONY, Networked Nonprofits, and Transparency

I remember the unity – why are we now so divided.

10 years ago I had just returned back to work after an extended maternity leave. However, my younger son was sick on September 11 and I was home watching Good Morning America or the Today show…I saw the news break. I watched as the second plane hit the second tower. I was in another room when I heard about the crash in PA and DC.

I, like the rest of the world, was shocked and the only thing I knew was that I did not know what to expect next. I went to pick up my older son from school. I was one of many parents there picking up their kids.

I was an IT Recruiter and after September 11th, my career in that field ended. I decided to return to waiting on tables. This gave me the flexibility to be home with my son and attempt to start my own company.

Months later I was working at On The Border. I do not remember the date, but Bush had asked all Americans to light a candle to remember the victims at a specific time around sunset. It might have been the one-year anniversary – but I remember everyone was still so shocked and raw, it does not seem like a year had passed.

The restaurant was packed that night. Each table had a candle on it. At the specific time, every person left their table, walked out to the parking lot and lit their candle. Someone starting singing America the Beautiful. It was like a scene from a movie. Everyone joined in. We did not stand there as Democrats or Republicans, or Tea Partiers, or Libertarians. We did not stand there as Christian, or Jewish, or Muslim, or Hindu. We stood there as people united in grief and in love for our country.

I am sure we have not lost that unity. But we seem so determined to be divided. We want to label everyone and argue every little point. We are against ideas and plans more than we are for anything. Everyone is focused on what is being taken away from them instead of what they are willing to give for the greater good.

10 years later, I can still remember that unity and I wonder why today we are so divided.

Happy Indepence Day

originally posted on Concept Hub

Today American’s celebrate our Independence. On July 4th, 1776 the first signatures were placed on the document that declared America’s Independence from the British Empire. In all the years, decades, centuries following that fateful day, Americans have held on to the ideas of a self-determined life.

The new government that was envisioned by the men who were committing treason was a government that would be responsible to the will of the people.

In 1783, a mere 7 years later,  the Treaty of Paris was signed granting Americans their new land.

You may be thinking right about now “Hey Sherry, thanks for the history lesson, but isn’t this blog about social media?”

Yes, it is. And nothing captures the true spirit of social media like the spirit of Revolution. I am sure we could have long debates about whether or not a blog or a tweet should be compared to the American Revolution after all, social media is not bloody treason, but it was most definitely treason at one time.

Do you recall the first time you heard of a “blog.” I know many of the people who read this blog and for many of you, I saw your reactions.

“Blooog” you would say with distasteful humor, “what’s a blog?” At one sales presentation, I was asked: “why would I care what a blogger would write, aren’t they all whack jobs anyway?”

Yet in 2004 it was bloggers who challenged the accuracy of the Killian documents that were critical of George W. Bush. That challenge ultimately weakened the stronghold that mainstream media had on news stories.

Through the next couple of years, bloggers and other revolutionaries such as Craigslist began to hurt the mainstream media financially. If they were not directly taking advertising dollars, they were taking away readers.

These bloggers did not just collaborate through the various online communication channels either, they were meeting in smokey bar rooms, and pizza joints. They started having conferences or being a bit rebellious, what they termed as un-conferences.

If the bloggers could be a challenge to mainstream media, who could be next? Business? Politics? Entertainment? Would anyone be safe?

The number of bloggers was growing, but it was still a channel for the dedicated writer which kept the average person powerless to participate.

In 2007, Twitter was introduced to the participants of SXSW. I remember the first time I heard about Twitter. It was at my own revolutionary un-conference, SoCon07. Amber Rhea, a fellow revolutionary, was standing in the hall looking at her laptop saying what is Twitter. We all signed up for this new service within a few days. We did not know what it would do or what we would do with it, but it definitely seemed revolutionary.

If people thought bloggers were “whack jobs” they really did not have much respect from anyone on Twitter.

In May 2007, I recall reading a blog that considered Twitter a waste of time.  Many people commenting on the blog were once critical of blogging. I wonder how many of those same people are now on Twitter?

The revolution was turning into an evolution. Social Media was available to the masses. You can blog, you can tweet, you can post a video, photo or a podcast, you can connect with friends on Facebook.

More importantly, you have the freedom of choice. You can choose where to get your news and reviews, you can choose when and how to be entertained. You can choose to add your voice to a debate or simply make a statement by joining a group or sharing someone else’s thoughts.

Can social media change the world? Can it have as big of an impact as the American Revolution?

I sincerely believe so.

It is a revolution or an evolution that connects the world in such a way that we can learn about the real stories happening in faraway places like Iran. It has been credited with giving power to the people in such a way that America was able to elect our first black President. It has enabled collaboration that has sparked new revolutionary ideas, and it has continuously exposed corruption and bad practices forcing businesses and politicians to act better or get out of the game.

It’s your world. You have the freedom and ability to make a difference. You have a voice that can be heard around the world. What will you do with such power?

Our social interactions reveal that we trust strangers

Perhaps one of the biggest shifts that came from the social web is the shift in trust.

The shift was not just because we were all suddenly connected. The shift happened in large part because of the egos of large corporations. Corporations who lied to us cheated us and used and abused us.

Visions and Values statements, blah, blah, blah.

A 2002 New York Times Opinion article about Enron shows exactly how people felt about the talking points of a company’s values statement

At Enron.com, the company’s Web site, one learns that as a ”global corporate citizen” Enron intends to conduct itself in accord with four capital-V Values: Respect, Integrity, Communication and Excellence. This is fairly standard stuff, but a more detailed reading may provide some insight into Enron’s corporate psyche.

Take respect: ”We treat others as we would like to be treated ourselves.” Fair enough. But Enron elaborates: ”We do not tolerate abusive or disrespectful treatment. Ruthlessness, callousness and arrogance don’t belong here.” Oh my. Who brought up ruthlessness, callousness and arrogance? As a corporate communications editor, I’ve read hundreds of companies’ V&V statements, and nowhere have I seen a single reference to ruthlessness, callousness or arrogance — let alone all three.

Well, at least Enron’s leaders thought it important to produce a statement of values. Imagine what they might have done had they found themselves without this moral compass.

Enron was the start of several corporations that revealed their true colors during the recession of the early millennium. Millions of people lost their jobs, their investments and their trust in big business.

Interestingly, it was around this time that we started seeing the development and growth of peer to peer sharing, social software, and the total disregard for corporate profits.

Of course, corporations fought back, but who are they fighting?

There is a great book called Starfish and the Spider which talks about the challenges of fighting an organization that does not have an established “head”. See with a spider, if you cut off the head, the spider dies, but if you cut off an arm of a starfish it simply grows a new arm. These peer to peer sharing movements online are built as starfish organizations and the key to creating such a resilient movement is to have a process where we trust strangers.

Peer to peer sharing of music is a perfect example of what we continue to see happening online.

(We trust strangers)

It’s estimated that there were 8.63 million users of P2P services in the United States alone in April 2005. – page 12

recording industry has lost – 25 percent of its revenue since the onslaught of these services. – page 13

(Arrogance and Ego)

But as the labels were repeatedly winning lawsuits against P2P companies, the overall problem of music piracy was getting worse and worse. It wasn’t that the labels weren’t vigilant enough. It was actually the opposite – the labels were adding fuel to the fire with every new lawsuit. The harder they fought, the stronger the opposition grew. – page 15

(Defeating the Ego)

But Napster’s destruction didn’t quell people’s desire for free music. Imagine that you’re a kid who’s been drinking from the fountain of free downloaded music. All of a sudden, some guys in suits turn off the spigot and declare you a criminal. Sure, you can go back to the record store – a place you haven’t seen for months – and shell out three hours’ salary for a CD. A more attractive option, however, is to find a Napster equivalent. – page 22

(Trusting strangers)

Within twelve months, more than 250 million copies of Kazaa had been downloaded. The avalanche of music-swapping was massive. Kazaa gave power to the users without the need for a central server. – page 23

(Opportunity)

The record labels have been out there for about a hundred years. And for a hundred years they’ve been paying the artists cents on the dollar, if that. They are starting to try to recharacterize what they do for a living as marketing companies – page 26

This is a momentous shift with many pirates, many victims, but many more opportunities. As the old models break down, new more innovative models are being developed. Musicians have direct access to a large audience without the gatekeeper of the recording labels and entrepreneurs have new problems to solve which will require new ways of thinking about an entire industry.

Are We Moving Up Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs?

In my last post, I began exploring the concept of developing for the sake of developing. Whether it is art or technology…

If I were to ask the average person on the street if they have enough time in their life I am not sure that I could find a single person to admit that they do. However, over the past century, we have invented innumerable tools and technologies that save us time. Everything from the washing machine to e-Commerce.

So why do we feel like there still is not enough time in the day?

I suspect that it is because we are filling our days and nights moving up Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

2000px-Maslow's_Hierarchy_of_Needs.svg

I do not have exact numbers, though I know they are only a Google search away, it seems that the vast majority of people in developed countries no longer spend time fretting about having their physiological needs met. And even though we are just coming out of a global recession, in the bigger scheme of things, our recessions tend to be a blink of an eye. At our darkest economic hours, we still have safety nets in place, whether through government help or our various nonprofits. As a culture, we do think about the safety of our body and wealth but more and more we have the ability to either tie our wealth to our creativity or carve out time to explore our passions.

What I am suggesting is that our vast and immediate ways for communications have pushed us up Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. People spend hours on Facebook staying connected with family and friends. Strong intimate relationships are being formed through sites such as eHarmony.com, and people are collaborating to create without regard to “revenue models.”

My question is, as we move up Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, how do the powers that used to control our daily activities shift? For decades employees of corporations have fought for their rights and there is no longer any loyalty to a company like there was just a couple of generations ago. More and more people have the tools at hand to start their own company and support not only their financial needs but their creative needs. How does this change how corporations compete for the best talent and how that talent is treated?

How does leadership change? I have read that we are moving from a male-dominated command and control style of leadership to a feminine style of nurturing feelings and needs. I have also heard people revolt against such an idea claiming that they are at the job to get a job done, not for self-actualization. Is that true anymore or do we need to consider our employee’s self-actualization needs?

All of these questions, this huge power shift, simply because we are now connected.

Defeating the Ego

originally posted on Concept Hub

A few years ago I thought of the title of the book I would like to write about social media –  Defeating the Ego.

The premise of the book is that Social Media was the catalyst that helped to defeat the egos that were so prevalent in big business, big media, and big government.

Throughout the years, social media tools have enabled anyone with Internet access to express themselves, to find and connect with like-minds, to share ideas, collaborate and create alliances. These people have created products and services that have rivaled established brands. They have also created communities of trust at a time when trust was being depleted by the actions of big business, big media, and big government.  These communities of people have oftentimes been the very forces that have exposed the misdealings of the big business, big media and big government.

Three years ago, as I considered writing this book, I thought that the future looked bright for smaller players who were trying to make their mark in this world. From my perspective, I saw siloed walls being knocked down enabling more connections which would lead to more innovations. I saw trust coming from good business practices as opposed to good marketing and packaging. I saw a new world emerging.

Over the past year or so I have seen the very tools that were supposed to enable communities of collaboration, innovation, and overall good business being used by spammers and marketers who simply want to use the tools as a way to broadcast their messages through new channels. However it is not coming from big business, big media and big government, it is coming from the individuals who were supposed to be empowered by these tools – not abuse these tools.

However, recently I realized that Social Media is still the catalyst that will defeat the egos.

As I see people pushing themselves through the social media channels, pounding their chest and screaming “be my friend!, follow me! I am great!” – I think to myself “how’s that working for you?”

Social Media takes time and effort and it is a shame to invest so much into a medium that will capture an inappropriate image and behavior for many years to come.

For the past few years, I have worked with businesses and organizations who knew very well that their actions online needed to be thought through, to represent what they had to offer but to also add value to the communities of people they wanted to engage with.

At the same time, I have seen others jump into the world of social media with only the idea that these new tools were their personal megaphones. Stop it – Please!

Oftentimes I explain to people that what happens online is not much different to what happens offline. The way we interact with people in our real world leads to the kinds of business relationships we have as well as the reputation we have within our community. We typically run away from those who are constantly asking us for something or pushing a product, service or idea onto us.

Perhaps what social media will bring to us is a detailed view of when our tactics do not help us reach our goal as well as insight into what is working for others. Perhaps we will see that successful engagement is not about promoting or stroking our egos, but about serving others. Perhaps we will all begin to see that to be successful we need to focus on helping others succeed more than on promoting our own success.

Perhaps…

A Few Highlights from the Election

originally posted on Concept Hub

There are enough information and unique strategies from this past election to fill college books for multiple classes.

With so many bloggers, consultants, and journalists recapping the campaign this week, I thought I would throw in my top three favorite things.

1. A little more than a week prior to the election I noticed that one of my Facebook Friends, Leatrice Elzy, had “donated her status updates” to a cause to get the vote out. I immediately donated my status updates as well. What that meant is that I chose to allow a Facebook App to update my personal status every hour until election day to remind my network to get out the vote.  I saw a report last night that called that single Facebook App the largest single online rally in history.  1,745,745 people donated their status updates sending out 4,896, 031 messages.

The success of this application was that there was very little effort on the part of the end user, I just agreed to allow the app to take over my status updates. It was viral. Because of the Facebook Newsfeed my contacts saw my status updates every time they logged in and were able to easily click on a link in my status to join the cause. The cause was for everyone, Obama supporters, McCain supporters, or simply people who wanted to “get out the vote.” And the timing was perfect. It was right before the election, not too soon where people would get tired of the campaign, but not so late where it would not have made a difference.

2.Moveon.org produced a “news” video about the single non-voter.

Every time I was able to observe someone watching their customized video for the first time I witnessed shock when they saw their name, intrigue about how that was possible, and finally entertainment of the content of the video. Even McCain supporters were sending this video around and embedding the video in their blogs.

This video had all the ingredients needed to be a successful viral video. On October 28 I received an email from Moveon.org that reported ” this nonvoter video has now been sent to over 6.3 million friends. It’s going out to more
than 30 new people per second.”

3. Finally, the success of the Obama campaign came not from the technology deployed or messages broadcasted, but from the idea that people will care and will rally around you when you allow them to own a little piece of the effort. Throughout the campaign, Barack told his supporters “This isn’t about me, it’s about you.”

Barack became one with his supporters, not above his supporters. On election night before taking the stage an email message was broadcasted  “We just made history. And I don’t want you to forget how we did it.”

Every message was individually addressed and signed simply “Barack”.

The Obama campaign understood more than the technology that powers social media, they understood the shift in how people want to be treated, empowered, and appreciated.

Challenging Creatures of Habit

originally posted on Concept Hub

We are at an interesting point in history right now.

Throughout the ages, there have been many times where people had a right to say that it was the most interesting time to be alive. We can look at just the past 100 years and see how much has changed in our quality of lives, role expectations, and deeper understanding, awareness,  and acceptance of people that have different world views than ourselves.

Throughout the ages, what has always accelerated these evolutionary changes have been innovations that connect people from around the world. Changes that enable ongoing communication through various channels that are able to reach various people.

Each innovation has been more awe-inspiring and earth moving than the past. From the ability to travel across vast distances of land to the ability to cross the oceans, to the ability to communicate in real time around the world and the ability to broadcast to the world.

But, we are at an interesting point in history right now.

At no point in history have we been able to develop and distribute new technologies as fast and easy as we do today. At no point in history have we had so many different communication channels to choose from. At no point in history have we been so challenged by the ease to communicate and the dispersion of the relevant conversations.

A couple of weeks ago I sat in a room with a gentleman older than me and a woman younger than me. The gentleman held onto his blackberry constantly. He would be your typical audience for mobile communications. I still have a phone that looks like a child’s toy, I have not yet gone mobile. The woman younger than me was trying to grasp the ideas of social media. She wanted to be able to receive all updates in her email. With the exception of direct communication, all other emails I receive are often ignored. In this room with three people, there were three dominant modes of communication. I am best reached through social media channels such as articles posted by friends and links I find in Wikipedia or in Delicious and reviews I read. The older gentleman is best reached through mobile alerts he has subscribed to and the younger woman is still best reached through email and even print mail.

This is the new challenge we face as communicators. We can no longer look at demographics such as age, gender, race, or income to decide how to best structure our communication channels. We need to focus on communicating through the various communication channels to reach the most relevant audience based on behavior.

This past week I was in a room with a well-known radio personality. He was discussing the challenges faced by the media industry today and had some very valid points that the cause of the current problems were tied to the big corporations controlling all the stations. He pointed out that this massive control did not empower stations to be tailored to their community. At the same time, when asked about people turning toward more tailored content on the web through social media channels, he seemed to not feel that social media was a threat to radio.

A couple of days prior to that meeting I heard some advice from a very intelligent and successful man who suggested that to assume people are stupid just because they do not see things the way you see them is like putting a nail in your own coffin. I retorted that it is not about thinking they are stupid, it is about getting them out of their comfort zones. This gentleman’s comfort zone, in fact, his entire life, revolved around radio. His lack of experience with social media did not make him stupid, nor did it make him irrelevant, it just confined him to one communication channel that had a limited reach.

Currently, I am reading groundswell. It is a good book, one I would recommend. Howe, er there is one section that I am at variance with, which is their social technographics profile. In the past three years that I have been in business I have seen people go from asking what a blog is to being an expert in social media. I have recently connected with a 70 year old relative on Facebook. In a recent Market Intelligence Report I developed about the blogosphere in GA, I have noticed a tremendous shift in the quantity, quality, and topics of blogs being maintained.

We are at an interesting point in history right now.

People are no longer easily categorized by their age, gender, race, or income, but by their habits. We are all creatures of habits. Some people have habits of staying in their comfort zones, others have habits of embracing the latest trend and technology.

Every organization is trying to learn how to get a handle on the most effective communications for this new day and age.

In the past we turned to the experts on demographic statistics and trends. These statistics and trends were the basis of the road maps  that led us to reach our target audience. As creatures of habits, we expect these “demographic” roadmaps to lead us to our destination. But who uses road maps anymore? In fact road maps may lead you wrong in a world where the roads are always changing.

We are at an interesting point in history right now.

We can no longer use the same insights of demographics to create the right road maps. Today we have to have perspectives that are open enough to recognize the opportunities in a rapidly changing world and a strategy that is agile enough to respond to these ongoing changes.