Are we living among Bots?

It sounds like great opening paragraph for a sci-fi novel – a rhetorical question inserted into the throughts of someone fighting off some bad karma.

Are bots occupying spaces in our lives where we least expect? Our news feeds, our social media likes, even the ‘information’ we use to make decisions on investing, purchasing, and what to read etc. A recent article in Fortune states that malicious bots account for nearly 20% of all Internet traffic. Their list of insidious bots include those scripts steal content from commercial websites, influence ad metrics and ticket prices, and infiltrate forums. The main report from Digital Trends (they put the number at nearly 30 percent) notes that  48.2 percent of all traffic was sent by humans that year. The other 51.8 percent were bots. 23 percent were form good bots.

We now hear of ‘bot farms’ that trade in followers – one can supposedly buy thousands of Instagram followers for a few thousand bucks. Oh, my! No wonder some websites’ authentication makes you click on “I am not a bot”!

To think the premise for my 2013 book was about ‘being human 1.0 in a web 2.0 world.’ 

On a related note, IABC –the International Association of Business Communicators – has a forum discussion on Trust in wake of the 2018 Trust Barometer report. The bot discussion surfaced here too. Which shows that not ject tech folk worry about and plan ho to counter such an Internet cancer. Comms folk involved the reputations of companies and the information they share have to be cognizant of living among bots. Yes there are ‘good bots’ and bad ones, and there could be a battle royale being waged on the networks we use, hidden in plain sight.

More material for that sci-fi novel, huh?

The ‘Transmedia’ appproach to finding your voice

Digital storytelling is an area I have been fascinated by, especially since I started writing about the death of attention (and the rise of chatter).

Transmedia has been advocated by some as one solution to the attention-deficit problem that communicators and brand managers face. I’ve interviewed a few people on some ‘secrets’ of digital storytelling in my book, Chat Republic, but this explanation in a just-published article in Communication World magazine clarifies it even further.

Transmedia storytelling, says Alison Norrington, fragments a narrative, defines hotspots within the story(world) and thereby engages different demographics.The fragmented narrative engages the ‘pull’ method to draw people’s voices around a theme or story –as opposed to the old ‘push’ method that didn’t leave space for the audience to talk back.

Want to read the whole article? Its available free here on the spanking new IABC Digital site for CW.

‘TMI’ may stand for Too Many Infographics

For a recent article in  CW magazine I interviewed Alberto Cairo of who teaches at the University of Miami, FL.

One of the questions I asked him was if infographics was being over-used today.  His answer was an unconditional yes! Tons of substandard projects, in fact.

There are “dozens of dubious graphics and “infoposters” that were not designed as tools to aid cognition and understanding,” he said. The problem? People think that by just compressing numbers side by side with ‘cute illustrations’ they could come up with an infographic.

If you like to read more about from Cairo, who’s the director for infographics and multimedia, here’s a link to my article. He’s also got a great blog, a companion to his upcoming book, Functional Art.

He refers to my interview with him in a post, A conversation on marketing, PR and infographics. He makes a great point there. That all this massaging of information is not bringing out the clarity we need. Especially when infographics are being “designed to attract eyeballs with bells-and-whistles.” In my interview he put it another way. “Infographics’ first goal is not to be cool, but to be understandable, readable, useful, and deep.”

I just came across one of these bells-and-whistles infographics. It is on the Kony 2012. I’m not sure what the purpose is and how it really helps us to know how the Kony interest stacks up with other, trivial YouTube videos. Here’s the link to that.

Compare that to this, below, posted by Cairo. It’s a work in progress, by students at a workshop. But you get the drift.

Wikipedia’s ‘truth’ formula needs tweaking. But by whom?

There’s has been a great discussion going on about what it takes for someone to edit an article on Wikipedia. I recently received an invitation to a survey of communicators on my experiences with editing wiki entries. Apparently this is connected to a point raised by Phil Gomes of Edelman Digital, who brought this up, creating a Facebook group to think it through. The group is called CREWE —which stands for Corporate Representatives for Ethical Wikipedia Engagement.

The story of who could edit Wikipedia goes back some two years, when Timothy Messer-Kruse tried to edit an article, and was rebuffed –scolded, really — by Wikipedia’s editors.  Read his article here. Messer-Kruse is an author of several books, including one on race relations. In other words, he’s not someone who just popped by Wikipedia and had an ax to grind.

Prior to that, there were more egregious cases where vandals, and  ‘trolls’ changed biographies of people or created conflict within the editors.

Fast forward to what CREWE is proposing. There’s a task force of communicators from IABC and PRSA looking into Wikipedia’s policies. I was asked to join, and gladly agreed.

If you are interested in following this development, join the Facebook group. I also came across this page  that summarizes what Wikipedia expects of editors.

  • Subjects require significant coverage in independent reliable sources.
  • Your role is to inform and reference, not promote or sell.
  • Write without bias, as if you don’t work for the company or personally know the subject.
  • State facts and statistics, don’t be vague or general.
  • Take time to get sources and policy right and your content will last.
  • Be transparent about your conflict of interest
  • Get neutral, uninvolved editors to review your content
  • Work with the community and we’ll work with you.
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate.

It’s more complicated than this, trust me, but it’s a start. There’s a line on this page that states “Be patient and open to cooperation: no one here is out to get you.” But hearing about some folk’s experiences, it sure feels like a tough space to operate in.

There’s also a page on Wikipedia that states Wikipedia is about verifiability, not truth. But there are other nuances, such as NOR – No Original Research– and Be Bold to master if you want to craft Wikipedia article that adheres to its formula for wiki truth. Worth reading, if your organization expects you to monitor and create content.

Human Microphones thwart heavy-handed bans

I’ve always been tempted to play with IABC‘s tagline, “Be Heard.” Do we business communicators really want to be the noise makers and talking heads? Or do we rather want to be the ‘inside voice’ of business strategy?

That’s why when I first began paying attention to the ‘Occupy” movement (OWS and its franchises  Occupy Oakland, Occupy Denver, Occupy Phoenix etc) I argued that we shouldn’t be too hasty to think of them as a fringe movement craving  just to be heard. Hard to pigeon hole, it was too easy to dismiss them because they didn’t fit the model of activist movements. I was reminded of  something innovators have reminded us from time to time. Disruptive ideas do not stem from existing templates. Marshall McLuhan put it well when he observed “I don’t know who discovered water, but it wasn’t a fish.”

Watching OWS evolve, it is interesting to see how they are inventing a  new template for being heard. Make that being taken seriously. They may be leaderless, but have found ways to have their own media team, financial system, and trademark bids. And I don’t mean media in the way we tend to think of it -the kind that come with a lens, a ‘like’ button, or segmented followers.

Much of the media we see being used in these movements are crude hand written signs.

When OWS group figured out that since electronic speakers and microphones are banned in public places (or require special permits) they created what’s known as the ‘Human Microphone’ –basically humans, en mass, repeating something a speaker says so that the sentences get carried across vast spaces of crowds. It sounds like a messy echo, but it is richer than the echo-chamber.

They have also begun another remarkable project in amplification: they are printing their own newspaper. Ok, that’s not new media. But it’s old media in a brand new way. (The fact that it is called, provocatively, the ‘Occupy Wall Street Journal’ may be a brilliant stroke of creativity.) But what really interests me is how they could do it with no real editorial hub, no newsroom, heck, no editor! (CORRECTION: See comment from Jen Sacks, below.)

There’s a livestream, of course, and someone who amounts to a news anchor.

How will this change media? Even if you’re not directly working in the media how this movement works with the groundswell will become one of the most lasting tutorials for anyone wanting to be heard.

Should BP spin its wheels on its pesky little PR problem?

I bet this will be question that many presenters on crisis communications and PR turn to –at the IABC World Conference in Toronto this week, and many other events.

Variations of this question could come range from “can social media rescue a company’s reputation,” to “Is this a warning shot for corporations dabbling in social media?”

You could say BP which has the  nation’s largest environmental crisis on its hands should ignore the PR disaster they have inherited (as Len Gutman at ValleyPRBlog noted, “There are some things PR can’t fix”) and stick to fixing what it has wrought. It’s near impossible for them to address the ‘wisdom’ of the passionate crowd leveraging new media.

Take these responses to the oil spill:

BP Logo

  • The BP Logo Redesign Contest. I’ll don’t need to tell you what this means in a Web 2.0 world where images are shared, commented on and archived forever.
  • Wikipedia edits. Lots of activity on the discussion pages of BP’s Wikipedia page, where editors this week seem to be dredging up –still unpublished– unsavory details of cancer etc.

In the face of all this, what in the name of crisis communications is the value of the full page ad in the New York Times, and some of those TV spots? Is there any value in using old media Tylenol-type tactics to fix the situation BP is in? I recall BP used to run a great series of ads, when it was re-branding, that said things like “It’s time to go on a low carbon diet.”

I think its time for BP to go on a low PR diet!

Still thumbing your nose at Wikipedia?

Cross posting this from the IABC Blog.

I’m not sure what you think of Wikipedia, but there are many people -communicators and business people – who are still deeply suspicious of it, even though they continue to dip in and out of it to ‘check on something.’Students use it but sparingly, it seems. Most people I asked said they use it a lot. I was curious about this ambivalence, and wanted to find out how distrust can work alongside usefulness. But the more I looked, the more I became convinced that it’s time for serious communicators to put those early notions aside and take a second look at something that has changed knowledge sharing in a remarkable way. This is the topic of my article in the upcoming July-August CW magazine, but before it hits your mailbox, here’s something that might whet your appetite.

  • Did you know that over 50 percent of edits are made by less than one percent of Wikipedia users?
  • Did you know that there are hundreds of articles waiting in a queue to be edited, completed, fact-checked, etc.?

If you’ve been one of those people who have complained loudly that some of the articles are patently written by some 14-year old, then here’s your chance to do something about it. If you’re one of those folks who proudly inserts the term ‘crowd-sourcing’ into a PowerPoint presentation or discussion on social media, then here’s a great opportunity to get some dirt under your fingernails and see how it really happens.

I love the idea of crowd-sourcing myself, and quite frankly, I had stayed off the Wikipedia edit pages for awhile -after some very simple edits many years ago. The coding (wiki syntax) is not easy to remember unless you dabble in some HTML. But you don’t need to know a lot to start. When I got back to it, what I found was fascinating. Even outside the realm of serious ‘collective intelligence,’ one of the great side effects of Wikipedia is that it has turned into a site to go to for event coverage. Like a global team of citizen journalists, passionate editors quickly add detail to a breaking story like some back-room iReporters. Their bylines are cryptic usernames, and they don’t seek recognition. Some news tidbits don’t always show up in the main article –until the edit wars and discussions are settled– but they are a rich source of information. Maybe you could be one of those contributors as well!

But as I explain in the article, there is a lot of serious content you may be able to contribute to. Wikipedia needs more editors, writers, and good content specialists. Even persnickety fact-checkers, punctuation freaks and content curators. In other words, people like you who yearn to inform and are natural collaborators.

If you like to get an idea of where you could start, Wikipedia has some areas for you waiting to be worked on. Check these out:

Requested Articles: these are internal links (known as, and seen as, ‘red links’) that go nowhere, so basically they are articles waiting to be created.  Type WP:RA into the search box to find them. Plenty of topics to choose from.

Articles for Creation: Type in WP:AFC to get started on an article. It takes you thgrough the basic steps and policies, and points to an article wizard.

There’s work to be done in updating small things, if not writing full-blown articles. Consider your local IABC chapter perspective. Of the 100 or so IABC chapters, only 13 have been listed here, with external links, that is. This is up from 10 chapters when my article went to print.

Go for it!

Community as fire pit?

So what’s your definition of a community?

Members of your Facebok fan page? Those hundred-something peeps who follow you on Twitter? How about the ex colleagues of a former workplace in a large, unwieldly Google Group?  You probably have a stake in all or most of these right?

Building a community is one part of the equation. Nurturing one –being the ‘community organizer’ — is something else.  My latest column in CW, the magazine of IABC talks of some easy ways to build an online community.

I think we often get distracted by the word media, and pay lip service to the word social. My definition of a community is a fire pit. It can be small, it is noisy, always generates some sparks, but it draws people together.


Opt-in meets experience using QR Codes

Anyone dabbling in communication tends to stoop at the altar of speed and instant gratification. They seem similar, but they are not. Speed of response or implementation is a critical component for some organizations, some industries.

Speed, in today’s world, is a given. If you’re in customer service and you don’t respond fast to an inquiry, you lose a lead. If you don’t respond to a complaint, you risk turning a small hiccup into a major snafu.

Instant gratification is a different animal. We gloss over what it really involves by regarding it with such clicles about ‘delighting the customer’ etc.

But what I am interested in is a hybrid of speed and instant grat. Especially the ability to deliver targeted information to mobile devices, since we are beginning to use our phones not just as lap-top replacements, but as a means to interact with content related to our professional and personal lives.

Custom QR code I created for Public Radius

That’s why I like the idea of Quick Response Codes – QR Codes. I covered it in a recent column for a magazine (IABC’s Communication World).

If it sounds too geeky, it’s not. Actually it’s more user-friendly than a typical bar code. Unlike a bar code you embed it with information that is linked to content you point it to somewhere on a server or blog. That content could be any digital file, such as a PDF, podcast, video or photo album.

If you like to read the article, here’s a link to a PDF

Updated: The QR code on the left is something I created for my company, Public Radius. Many of these codes can be photographed by a cell phone that seamlessly connects the device to content.  Some of  them require an initial download of an app. Some work without it –like a short code.

Two ways to think of print

I’m never in agreement with those who write the obit for print.

But this week I received two magazines that give us reason to pause, and assess where we are headed.


The first is an ad, obviously. It appeared in Process magazine. The other is IABC‘s CW Magazine.

Full disclosure. I write a column for CW. In this issue I happen to talk about using quick response codes as a means of extending the conversation…beyond print.

I tend to agree with statements like this: “Actually print is where words go to live” – John Griffin, President of National Geographic‘s magazine group.

Print lives in zones we never imagined. Two examples again:

  • Take Scribd. Publishers such as New York Times and Simon & Schuster are part of this.
  • Then take a look at Living Stories, a Google Labs project involving the New York Times and Washington Post.

Interesting isn’t it?