Of Mice and media
Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose
I was recently cleaning out some files and came across the copy for a speech I gave in the fall of 2004 to the Public Relations Association of Puerto Rico, in San Juan. (Tough gig, I know.)
The presentation was titled “Managing in a Hostile Environment,” and focused on how organizations needed to adapt during the emergence of “citizen media.”
This speech was given the year Facebook was founded (but had yet to escape far from the Harvard dorms) and Twitter and YouTube had not yet been created. But “Web logs” — Blogs — were becoming a more powerful thing, as were cellphones with cameras. These tech tools presaged the role and ubiquity of “social media” (before that term was common in the lexicon.) In the 2004 presidential election, these emerging forums had a major impact on that election cycle.
In 2004, the implications for organizations on managing their reputations in the midst of emerging technologies and an empowered, connected citizenry were just becoming visible, and certainly not yet understood. But those days led us to where we are today. I spoke about the challenges ahead in managing in this new world (original copy slightly edited for clarity):
The mainstream media will continue to be important, but they are losing the control over the public agenda that they have had for more than 100 years -- citizen journalists have begun to infiltrate the agenda-setting role of the mass media by using the internet and their own home-grown standards of what to publish and when.
Blogs can spread information or launch an unsupported critique of a product, company, or candidate much more effectively than any forum of the past…(they) have no rules or restrictions, and usually have no paying customers to please. And, of critical importance to [organizations] bloggers can completely circumvent the communications processes and approaches that put [information] into context, and presented in a way designed to be delivered through mass media.
When dozens or hundreds of blogs link together, as we saw during the [Dan Rather/CBS scandal], millions of people can quickly get a point of view on an issue or find out about new product features in a day or in an hour. And it’s not just blogs. Online sources delivered free through Yahoo and Google, among others, allow millions of readers to see and compare versions of the news that only a very few professional journalists had access to.
In some cases savvy eye-witnesses may push the traditional media aside. Using cellphones, people can call or text message each other wherever they are. They can communicate immediately to ask friends to join or avoid an event, to organize themselves to take action on an issue, or to share news—all without being near a newspaper, television, or computer. If journalism is the rough draft of history, then these new information streams may be the unedited raw feed of history…
This is unlikely to be a temporary trend, since changes facilitated by technology seldom go backward. In addition, structural changes in the flow of information have created a vacuum in the marketplace…
It was, indeed, not “a temporary trend,” and the vacuum in the market was rapidly filled by technologies and organizations that offered new ways to connect us, for better and worse. We are still wrestling with how to absorb the deluge presented by our our now hyper-connected world.
For organizations and public-facing individuals, the ability to manage perception in the face of the 24/7 information ubiquity, and the rise of a “post-factual,” and adversarial “information” is still a challenge that few foresaw and even fewer are adept at navigating.
And the hits keep on coming. Next week, a look at what works, what doesn’t and how smaller organizations can level the playing field.
“Character is not made in a crisis, it is only exhibited.” - Robert Freeman