Monday, January 31, 2011

The Pope, Social Media + Communications in the Digital Age

When I saw recently in Boing Boing that Pope Benedict XVI had given his blessing to social networking, I have to admit, I was surprised. Then, when I took a look at the full text of the 83-year-old pontiff’s statement—“Truth, Proclamation and Authenticity of Life in the Digital Age”—I was impressed.

Here are some excerpts:

• “The new technologies are not only changing the way we communicate, but communication itself, so much so that it could be said that we are living through a period of vast cultural transformation. This means of spreading information and knowledge is giving birth to a new way of learning and thinking, with unprecedented opportunities for establishing relationships and building fellowship. “

• “As with every other fruit of human ingenuity, the new communications technologies must be placed at the service of the integral good of the individual and of the whole of humanity. If used wisely, they can contribute to the satisfaction of the desire for meaning, truth and unity which remain the most profound aspirations of each human being.”

• “Entering cyberspace can be a sign of an authentic search for personal encounters with others, provided that attention is paid to avoiding dangers such as enclosing oneself in a sort of parallel existence, or excessive exposure to the virtual world.”

The biggest takeaway: social media outlets like Facebook offer tremendous opportunities for people to communicate and connect, but it’s important not to let “virtual contact…take the place of direct human contact.”

While the Pope does not yet have his own Facebook page, the Vatican does have a utility on its website, Pope2You, that allows subscribers to receive papal messages on the social network.

Technorati Tags: Pope Benedict XVI,Facebook, social media, The Internet,communications, public relations, Makovsky

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Essence of Business

Every now and then, situations arise among people in business that make me feel they’ve forgotten what they’re there for:

• John is promoted over Jane and an ego battle begins.
• Eric is territorial and never shares critical information with others, as he should.
• Rebecca comes in extremely late every day despite many warnings and the prospect of possible termination for chronic tardiness.

And the list goes on and on.

Business is all about getting the job done for your customer or client and being compensated for it. All the processes and efficiencies that can be mustered to make things run smoothly and reach the endgame should be the number one priority. And the best people — and only the best people — should be “on the bus.” Of course, that’s always easier said than done. People can deflect and also be deflected. Managers have to swing into action.

I recently came across a great quote that says it all. It’s something to remember when we get bogged down, thinking about all the things that can prevent us from achieving the desired result. Here it is:

“Keep in mind that, in the work setting, the purpose of the interaction is to accomplish a certain task, and not to teach a lesson, win a contest, prove something, or demonstrate who is right and who is wrong.”
Professor Renato Tagiuri
Harvard Business School


Technorati Tags: Professor Renato Tagiuri, Harvard Business School, reputation, communications, public relations, business, Makovsky

Monday, January 24, 2011

Are You Sure You Want to Reply?

Here’s a suggestion for Research In Motion (RIM), the folks who make Blackberry phones. When a user is about to reply to a message he or she has just read, wouldn’t be terrific if a little box popped up on the screen that said: “Are you sure you want to reply?” in the same way that it now asks you to confirm that you actually want to delete a message before you’re allowed to delete it.

Why would this be an effective addition? Well, listen to this story. An employee in our office copied me on an email sent to a client regarding work we were doing for that client. I prepared an email in response that offered some advice — for his eyes only — regarding what he had told the client. I thought I had sent it back to him, using the reply button. Shortly thereafter there was an email from the client that said: “I think you meant this email for John [the employee].” Oops! Did I screw up or what?

I thought hard about the next step, as I would rather the client had not seen my comments to the employee. I sent the client an email and called her. She was very understanding and agreed with my advice to the employee. Nevertheless, it was an embarrassing moment.

Had a “reply confirmation” box popped up, it would have forced me to be more scrutinizing — and focus on the “from” section of the email and who I now wanted it to go to. Mistakes like this can be costly. I know that apps like ReplyGuard are available for download for a modest fee, but I am urging RIM’s management to make reply confirmation standard equipment on all future Blackberry products.

Technorati Tags: Research In Motion, Blackberry, ReplyGuard, phone, embarrassing

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Internet: A Spark for Democracy?

As the Internet has revolutionized communications in business and so many other facets of life, it is also becoming one of the greatest democratizing forces of all time.

The 2004 Orange Revolution in Ukraine and protests in South Korea, Moldova and Iran in 2009 were able to spread further and faster by social media. And, according to The New York Times, the protests which ultimately unhinged the Tunisian dictatorship were aided by a Facebook page called “Tunisians,” which hailed as a hero Mohamed Bouazizi, a 26-year old university graduate who could only find work as a fruit and vegetable vendor and set himself on fire in a city square when the police seized his cart and mistreated him. Quotes also appeared on Twitter.

The “spectacle of crowds surging in the streets” was unique in Arab cultures, and smaller protests have already taken place in other Arab countries. The Times also cited the tweet of a blogger in Bahrain: “It actually happened in my lifetime! An Arab nation woke up and said enough.”

While these developments undoubtedly will serve as a lesson to other dictators, and may encourage them to “shut off” the internet, it is unlikely that the world force of this viral communications channel can be tamed for long.

Of course, we cannot forget that there is a flip side to the internet: it provides the same access to terrorists and those who seek evil, whether leaders or those among the general public. Assuming that the force for good is greater than the force for evil, the world has an opportunity for true democracy to triumph more broadly than ever before.

Technorati Tags: The New York Times, social media, The Internet,communications, public relations, Makovsky

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Information Overload and the Power of the Human Brain

There was a story last November in The New York Times that said that the lure of devices like cell phones, PDAs and computers — and the tidal wave of information they deliver — may be creating “a generation of kids … whose brains are going to be wired differently.”

I think it’s happening already … to all of us. Even the grown-ups! The ability to multitask and assimilate new information on the fly has always been a characteristic of the best PR practitioners. The digital revolution has just sped up the process. But we can handle it. After all, a single human brain has more switches than all of the computers and routers and internet connections on our planet.

Some experts estimate that there are four billion devices connected to the internet but, according to researchers at the Stanford School of Medicine, a typical healthy human brain contains about 200 billion nerve cells, or neurons, linked to one another via hundreds of trillions of tiny contacts called synapses, that function like microprocessors. In the cerebral cortex alone, there are roughly 125 trillion synapses … which is about equal to the number of stars that would fill 1,500 Milky Way galaxies.

Using a new imaging model, which they call array tomography, in conjunction with leading-edge computational software, the team of scientists, led by Dr. Steven Smith, a professor of molecular and cellular physiology, found that the brain's complexity is beyond anything they'd imagined, “almost to the point of being beyond belief.”

The digital revolution or your brain. Who wins? My money’s on your brain!

Technorati Tags: The New York Times, Stanford School of Medicine, Dr. Steven Smith, communications, public relations, Makovsky

Monday, January 10, 2011

Cathay Pacific: A Communications Report Card

Note: My assessments in this blog are based on facts reported to me by a Makovsky employee who took flight # 888 from Vancouver to New York City on the day after Christmas and was trapped on the JFK tarmac for 11 hours, from 2:30 AM to 1:30 PM due to the blizzard of 2010. The frustrating delay was also documented by CNN.

Before Take-Off: Boarding at 1 AM after a scheduled 10 PM take-off. “We were immediately told there would be another delay as soon as we were seated, but we sat on the plane until 4 AM—3 hours--- without any further communications. Then at 4 AM we were told that JFK was closed due to weather conditions, and we were taken off the plane.” GRADE: D-/ Comment: The pilot might have provided weather updates every half hour to prepare the passengers for the gravity of the situation in New York.

Take-Off: “At 4 PM on 12/27 we re-boarded the plane and took off for NYC. The pilot informed us that the blizzard was over, visibility was good, but that the conditions on the roads and runways in New York were a challenge.” GRADE: C-/ Comment: The pilot might have added: “Therefore, we could be sitting on the tarmac for quite a while once we arrive in NYC.” Further, why was the plane cleared for take-off when the post- landing outlook was so questionable? Of course, that decision might have been made by the control tower.

Landing: Arrival at 2:30 AM. “We were informed that many planes were ahead of us to de-board or land and one already had been waiting for 7 hours to de-board. The pilot apologized for the delay and said it was beyond the airline’s control. At 4 AM the news came that ‘we do not know when we will be able to de-board.’” GRADE: B-/ Comment: Perhaps the pilot might have provided a bit more info on why things were out of control, so passengers could have better understood the predicament.

Sitting on the Tarmac: “After many hours on the tarmac, the pilot finally announced that there were only 4 terminals open, and due to the snow, there was minimal staff both at the airport and in immigration. They also ran out of food, but there was never any official announcement about it. Passengers were told individually, as they made requests. “From what I recall, during the entire 11 hour ordeal, there might have been 3 or 4 pilot updates, with the pilot saying, each time, that he had no idea how much longer it would be, as the delay was out of his control.” GRADE: D-/Comment: After the Jet Blue ordeal of a couple years ago, you’d think airlines would carry sufficient food to take care of such unexpected situations, and in this case, the airline knew the potential situation in advance. Warm status reports hourly providing more technical information and one of the pilots walking the aisles talking with the passengers might have boosted passenger morale.

De-Boarding: “The pilot announced that we could de-board but that bags would not be unloaded right away, and there was no indication when that would happen. A flight attendant offered a phone number and website, should passengers want to complain about the flight. GRADE: F / Comment: A flight rep should have been at the exit individually apologizing to each passenger. A process should have been announced for baggage retrieval.

The Aftermath: “I got my luggage 6 days after the flight landed, after calling 5 different people to have someone hand deliver my bags. Cathay Pacific made no effort to communicate with us in terms of when we’d receive our luggage. Although I hear they are working out some sort of compensation package, I have heard nothing from them directly.” GRADE: F/Comment: Why couldn’t emails or text messages have been sent to update passengers on the status of their luggage?

OVERALL GRADE: D- / Comment: In the airline business, a crisis communications/business plan is as fundamental as customer service. Cathay Pacific, an award-winning airline, obviously did not have one. How does that sit with your desire to fly with this airline?

Technorati Tags: Cathay Pacific, JFK, crisis, communications, public relations, Makovsky

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Strange Work Habits

Where can I improve? That is always a question at the start of a year. So today I’ll focus on work habits.

First I’ll share my own ‘idiosyncracy’. I like to get up early in the AM and work in bed for a couple of hours before I get into the office. It is my most concentrated time of the day. This is the time when some of my most creative thinking is done. As a writer, I decided to look into work habits of authors to see if I could pick up any novel ideas for myself. Here are a few:

John Cheever. American writer John Cheever wore his only suit of clothing each morning as he rode the elevator down to a basement room where he worked. Upon arriving there, he would undress to his underwear, hang up his suit, and get to work. He would dress to go back upstairs for lunch and again at the end of his day when he would ride the elevator back home.

Stephen King. This famed writer keeps to a strict routine each day, starting the morning with a cup of tea or water and his vitamin. King sits down to work between 8:00 and 8:30 in the same seat with his papers arranged on his desk in the same way. He claims that starting off with such consistency provides a signal to his mind in preparation for his work.

John Grisham. When Grisham first began writing, he still had his day job as a lawyer. In order to do both, he stuck to a ritual of waking at 5:00 and shower, then head off to his office, just five minutes from home. He had to be sitting at his desk with a cup of coffee and a yellow legal pad by 5:30. He gave himself a goal of writing one page per day. Sometimes this page went as quickly as ten minutes while other days required one or two hours. After finishing his daily page of writing, Grisham would then turn his attention to his day job.

Gertrude Stein. This famous writer discovered inspiration in her car. Apparently she would sit in her parked car and write poetry on scraps of paper.

Conclusion? Each to his own!

Technorati Tags: John Cheever, John Grisham,Gertrude Stein, Charles Darwin, Ernest Hemingway, Stephen King, communications, public relations, Makovsky

Monday, January 03, 2011

The “Coolest Of The Cool” New Words Of The Year!

According to Merriam-Webster, publishers of the famous dictionary, the “Word of the Year” was “austerity.” With the turbulent world economy, this is not surprising. It drew 250,000 searches, the methodology M-W uses to make the determination. Some of the runners-up, which also are logical in view of world economics and politics, include: “pragmatic,” “moratorium,” “bigot,” and “shellacking.”

That said, what are the “Ken Makovsky ‘Coolest of the Cool’ Words of the Year”? Well, I regretfully admit that only one of these words is a KM-original. All the rest have been invented by others, and selected as favorites by still others. I reviewed lots of them…and here are my choices (not in order of preference):

l. Apocalypse Fatigue – a loss of interest in environmental news on the part of those who are overwhelmed by all the doom and gloom messages about climate change.
2. Thumbo – as a typo is to print, a thumbo is to texting.
3. Data Exhaust – the digital trail you leave as you click your way through the internet that enables advertisers to develop ads that fit your behavioral profile.
4. To Trend – a verb meaning to generate a burst of online buzz (e.g., lots of chatter about the Gulf Oil Spill).
5. Belieber – fans of Justin Bieber, the Canadian pop singer.
6. I-dosing – a kind of “digital drug”; using an MP3 file to generate sounds that allegedly give listeners a high.
7. Coffice – a coffee shop habitually used as an office by customers accessing its space, electricity, wi-fi, etc. (What a great name for a KM habit!)
8. Slow Media – print media, as opposed to online media.
9. Sofalize –people who prefer to stay home and communicate with others electronically.
10. Robo-signing – the automatic generation of a document, particularly a mortgage arrears or foreclosure notice, without verifying the accuracy of its contents.
11. Flash Crash – the May 6th market drop of almost 1000 points.
12. A-FT – as in apolitical, this is “afollowthrough” – someone who does not follow through (a KM original, and pet peeve).

Technorati Tags: Merriam-Webster, communications, public relations, Makovsky