Monday, October 12, 2009

Taking The Hill - LGBT Activism For A New Generation

by guest blogger, Rachel Pepper

A new generation of LGBT activists recently inspired us with their vision to energize our movement on Sunday October 11 at the National Equality March for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender on Washington. Under sunny skies, with banners waving and spirits held high, participants promoted the timely message of “Equality Across America.”

[photo credit: Leyla Farah]

Many celebrities were also in the mix, including openly gay Sex in the City star Cynthia Nixon, singer Lady Gaga, and NAACP Chairman Julian Bond, all of whom spoke at the event. Celebrities have always been a part of the past Marches on Washington, which occurred in 1979, 1987, 1993, and 2000. Yet, a certain level of societal homophobia has guaranteed that many big names-- especially in the world of professional sports—would never previously have come forward in support of LGBT rights.

However, even as society continues to change, and more people understand that gay rights are human rights, not “special rights,” so too are attitudes in sports changing. Well-known athletes and coaches are finding that their racist, sexist, and homophobic attitudes and comments will not go unchallenged, or increase their popularity with fans. In fact, being able to express support for LGBT rights—and therefore also express support and acceptance for their LGBT family members, friends, neighbors, and fans may be a sign of how much progress sports figures, and also our movement, have made.

In fact, even in the NFL, the last cultural bastion of machismo and acceptable homophobia, players are coming out in favor of our rights. Scott Fujita, a star linebacker for the unbeaten New Orleans Saints, recently lent his name to the National Equality March for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights.

[photo credit: M Styborski]

In a recent interview with online Edge of Sports columnist Dave Zirin, Scott Fujita said that he supported the March because it was a cause he personally believed in. “By in large in this country the issue of gay rights and equality should be past the point of debate,” Fujita said. “For me, in my small platform as a professional football player, I understand that my time in the spotlight is probably limited. The more times you have to lend your name to a cause you believe in, you should do that.”

Fujita said that he was partly motivated to speak up for gay rights given his experience of being adopted as a child. Realizing that in some states, gay people are legally prohibited from adopting, adopt, he felt compelled to take a stand. “It just boggles my mind,” Fujita said, “because good, loving homes for any child are the most important thing.” Fujita also said that he didn’t think it was that courageous to speak out about gay rights, and wasn’t worried that people would assume he was gay if he did.

As society and its attitudes continue to change around us, tolerance and acceptance will gradually overcome bias, prejudice, and homophobia. Every time someone takes a stand for the equality of all people, minds and hearts will open. Visibility matters, whether this is through the visibility of our friends speaking up on our behalf, or our own visibility out in the world.

If heterosexual NFL players feel comfortable enough to take a stand for LGBT rights, we know that our movement is on the right track. Yes, visibility does indeed matter. This is why we tell our stories. This is why we do what we do. And slowly, but surely, it is making a difference.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The real difference between Twitter, Facebook and MySpace

For the last several months, every new client that's come to Cause+Effect has wanted to know the same thing - how are they supposed to decide which of today's most popular social networking sites - Twitter, Facebook and MySpace - they're supposed to use? What's the difference between them. And why are they suddenly being expected to manage so many different things all at once?

It's a good question. Six months ago most people in this country hadn't heard of Twitter, and thought only their kids used Facebook and MySpace (my mother conveniently calls the entire concept of social networking "My FaceSpace" - which I find adorable). Today, Oprah has introduced the concept of Twitter to the masses, Facebook drives more traffic on the web than Google, and MySpace is considered the future of the music industry.

[photo credit: psd]

Here's the thing. It's still just a giant conversation. As new as all of this seems - the truth is that human beings have conversations all the time. All different kinds of conversations. In all different kinds of places.

For a long time, the web was simply about listening. We read articles, we played games, we looked for portals that helped organize information. The introduction of social networking sites has allowed us to return to our conversational roots. It allows us to talk to each other. Because of that, it feels oddly familiar, but because it's online it often feels odd.

The trick is to relate these new online conversations back to our more familiar offline ones. Once we do that with our clients, their eyes light up and suddenly the whole idea doesn't seem nearly as daunting.

Here's our approach to social networking strategy at Cause+Effect:

Facebook conversations = Dinner conversations

This is a simple, and effective explanation of Facebook. We started using it several months ago, and it does the trick every time. Simply put, because the idea behind Facebook is to connect people that *already* know one another, conversations on Facebook follow similar rules as do those amongst friends and acquaintances around a dinner table.

The rules are:
- Be polite (Keep shop-talk and self-promotion to a reasonable minimum)

- Be interesting (Share items that others might find interesting to keep the conversation going. Personal tidbits, interesting current events, and quirky stories are all acceptable.)

- Be upbeat (Although it's likely that everyone at the table generally shares similar backgrounds and values, keep controversy to a minimum to help keep the conversation pleasant and light.

Twitter conversations = Cocktail party conversations

Because the idea behind Twitter is to allow you to connect people that you find interesting, but don't necessarily know, conversations on Twitter follow similar rules as do those amongst relative strangers at a professional or social mixer or cocktail party who have all been drawn to the event because of a shared interest or expertise.

The rules are:
- Stay on topic (On Twitter people are following their interests, rather than existing relationships. For that reason, people who demonstrate that they are the best sources of fresh, interesting information on a particular topic quickly develop the largest followings. Self-promotion, to the extent that it's useful and relevant to the conversation, is ok. Pure self-promotion, however, will get you ignored entirely.)

- Mingle (Conversations evolve organically on twitter, just like they do at a cocktail party. To be a part of the best conversations, you have to be sure you're moving around the room and keeping your ears open. Twitter has developed ways to track conversations using hashtags, retweets, and other loosely defined conventions to help users follow topics that matter to them.)

- Take turns (Good cocktail party conversations aren't dominated by one voice, be sure to find and follow others that are tweeting on topics that interest you and then dive in when you have something useful to say.)

MySpace conversations = High school cafeteria conversations

Because MySpace is all about self-expression, conversations on MySpace follow similar rules as do those amongst teenagers in a high school cafeteria. Conversations revolve around sharing personality driven topics - like music, art and fashion - rather than more content heavy topics like news and politics. People with similar tastes, who may or may not have a real-world relationship, are drawn to one another based on their aesthetic similarities.

The rules are:
- Express yourself (Invest time and energy in presenting a virtual persona that visually and functionally represents your best self. Keep it fresh and current on a regular schedule. It's your primary source of credibility.)

- Find your tribe (Find others who share your interests, reach out and make connections.)

- Interact (Not only do you have to keep your own persona fresh and relevant, you have to show the other members of your tribe that you are an active member of the group that contributes to the group's cohesion and overall cool-factor.)

The rules are familiar because at their core, they haven't changed at all. And the truth is, they apply whether the conversation happens in the real world or the virtual one.

They key - as always - is to know what kind of conversation you're having before you open your mouth.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Learning From the CDC's Response to the Swine Flu Epidemic

Yesterday's Advertising Age analyzes the CDC's response to this very scary Swine Flu - or H1N1 virus - epidemic from the point of view of PR and marketing.

[image source: The Huffington Post]

The key takeaway from the article, is that in a time of crisis, the best communication is "neither sexy nor flashy, but [is] highly effective -- and critically timely." When people are scared and confused, it takes clear, consistent and credible messaging to prevent widespread panic.

Of course the goal of any communications effort should be to deliver clear, consistent and credible messaging. For those of us who are professional communicators, acheiving those goals during a time of crisis is critically important.

During this Swine Flu crisis, the communications team at the U.S. government's Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (the CDC) has turned to Twitter (with nearly 40,000 followers), a web-based "scorecard" on its front page, embedded mobile content, RSS feeds, and a prominent feedback form to help keep accurate information flowing out to the public.

The AdAge article is worth a read in its entirety - but its key points (with my summaries in parentheses) are:

Empower Those Who Want to Help Others: (Providing a central location for accurate and timely information is key)

Make Search Really, Really Simple and Accessible: (Duh)

Syndicate the Message: (Make your content easy to share with widgets, Twitter links, RSS feeds or embeddable mobile apps. Over-produced, flash-heavy sites with un-sharable video, is useless - both in times of crisis and under normal circumstances)

Communicate in Multiple Languages: (Even US based entities have non-English speaking customers - don't discount them).

Push Mobile as a Service Extension, and Don't Make it Complicated: (Services that feed mobile devices - twitter, RSS, facebook, etc - free your message from the desktop)

Be Simple and Selective on Twitter, Don't Over Complicate: (In a time of crisis, make sure everything you share is important, timely and actionable. When it arrives, your audience will know it's important)

Prime the Messaging: (The bulk of your messaging shouldn't change in a time of crisis. Have standard messaging ready to go, then add additional detail as needed)

Update the Scorecard 24/7: (the CDC has done a really good job refreshing and updating the swine flu "scorecard" on the front page. This builds confidence and authority. It keeps people coming back. It doesn't need to be sexy or flashy; it just needs to be reliable and consistent. Timeliness boosts relevance and credibility)

Exploit Sight, Sound and Motion: (Provide site visitors with multiple ways and formats to consume this serious content, from video explanations to podcasts featuring experts)

Proactively Ask for Feedback: (A prominent "Tell us what you think" option on the home page will ensure that in times of crisis, you have the best possible information at all times)

Even without a crisis at hand, these lessons are valuable. If you have information to deliver - whether for your brand, your product or your self, make sure you do so in a way that allows anyone interested in what you have to say to play an active role in absorbing and sharing that information. Make sure they can easily find and follow accurate, updated information and share it with others. Make sure you give them a way to send in feedback. Make sure you deliver the information in a language they understand, and in a medium that conveys both content and emotion.

These are classic tenets of communication, but sometimes it takes a crisis to remind us that they ring true each and every time.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Saving newspapers by turning them in to non-profits?

On Tuesday, Reuters reported that there is a new U.S. bill seeking to rescue faltering newspapers by giving them the option to reclassify themselves as non-profit entities, rather than for-profit businesses.

[image source:]

There's no question that traditional print media, especially print dailies, are teetering on the edge of extinction (I maintain a regular RIP Traditional Media watch as part of my Twitter feed) - but this particular remedy raises a disturbing question.

If the bill were to pass (and it's important to note that the bill doesn't currently have any sponsors beyond its author Senator Benjamin Cardin (D) MD), any paper that opted in to non-profit stats would still be free to report on political campaigns, but they would be prohibited from making political endorsements.

Papers that cover politics provide both in-depth reporting, as well as a summary of that reporting in the form of endorsements. In my experience, voters often rely on both to help them research the often complicated, confusing, and voluminous detail underlying the choices before them.

Endorsements have become as much a part of the political process as any other media tool. Without them, we risk devaluing political journalism in a fundamental sense.

Even if we save the newspapers, we may be slowly destroying the news.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

PR lessons from the Civil Rights movement

Given that it's Black History Month, it seems fitting to take a moment to take a moment to examine the Civil Rights movement through a PR lens.

[image: Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C., Leaders marching from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial, August 28, 1963.
source: National Archives]

From a PR perspective, the Civil Rights movement made its mark with powerful images.

Images of young people in suits and dresses denied service at lunch counters, old ladies with handbags and hats denied the right to vote, children surrounded by soldiers as they walked to school, fire hoses and dogs turned on civilians as they marched peacefully, and many many more. These images combined to create a clear case for why change was needed, and why those who stood in its way were on the wrong side of morality.

Those images were, in many cases, orchestrated by the leadership of the day, and they served their purpose well. (Rosa Parks was, for instance, specially trained as an activist and was the secretary of the Montgomery chapter of the NAACP).

Iconic, compelling images can do more to shift culture than legal or legislative changes. When those images do not occur organically, they can be created, captured, and widely circulated.

This is, of course, classic PR. And it is the one lesson of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960's that has yet to be fully internalized by the movements that have followed it - including today's most energized civil rights movement - the post-Proposition 8 incarnation of the Gay Rights movement.

Had this more modern movement taken a lesson from the tightly-scripted visual storytelling campaign at the core of the Civil Rights movement, it's possible that particular battle would have gone quite differently.

It's all speculation, of course, but the point is that PR matters. As much today as it did then.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Who's Online? Everyone.

The Pew Internet & American Life Project just published their Generations Online report for 2009 and it's worth a read (hat tip to Shabbir Safdar @ Virilion Inc. for publishing a link to the report in his latest newsletter)

The report challenges the idea that young people represent the bulk of users online. According to their research, each generation is as active online as any other - they're just using the internet for different things. Teens and Generation Y find entertainment and social networks online. Older generations use the internet as a tool for research, shopping and banking. Both the younger and older generations go online to do research.

Many of my clients are hesitant to expand their online outreach strategy much beyond a basic website and a monthly email newsletter (indeed, sometimes it's a challenge just to execute those two effectively). In today's internet, however, these two are clearly not enough. SEO, social media, interactive tools, and online word of mouth, are need to be critical components of any online strategy.

This research reinforces that no matter who your current audience is, and no matter which new audiences you are trying to reach, your more likely to find them online than anywhere else.

Which begs the question, what are you doing - right now - to create and execute a comprehensive online presence for your organization?

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Credit where credit is due

The funny thing about using social media for PR, is that we sometimes end up caught between two opposing paradigms.

Generally speaking, writers/reporters/editors would prefer if PR were an invisible part of the process. At the end of the day, we're all working to ensure that the final written product appears to be the journalist's, rather than the publicist's, creation.

Social media, on the other hand, works in the opposite way. The network itself finds a way to encourage views of content it deems to be useful, relevant or interesting - for whatever reason. Information - oftentimes supplied by a publicist - gets retweeted, dugg, shared on facebook and myspace, and otherwise moved up the chain of online relevance. The content of the article is what matters - not necessarily the source.

Which is exactly why using social media for PR purposes is so refreshing. Anyone - a non-profit organization, a consumer products company, or a publicity firm - can circulate information online. The only requirements are that:
  1. The content matters to your audience
  2. The content is complete, relevant and timely
  3. The content is easy to navigate and share
Take advantage of the wide-open social media paradigm. Unlike the traditional PR/press paradigm, there's literally nothing standing in your way.