Who’s Talking About You??

Aggregator Social Media IconsMany of the websites that you view, chock full of content, are really just aggregators, or collectors, of information from elsewhere on the web. Popular aggregator sites include mashable.com for all things cool and trendy, stumbleupon.com for curated articles about your specified interests, and digg.com for a wide range of news and information. But did you know that your business is probably included in numerous aggregator web sites? And that they don’t check with you or need your permission; they just pull information off the web? Yelp is a great example. If you have a brick and mortar business, chances are you are on Yelp, where clients can praise you or pan you depending on their experience (and perhaps mood). Manta.com, and YellowPages.com offer comprehensive regional business directories all created from other sources. Sure, YellowPages also has paid advertisers, who get premium placement and get to control their content, but they also cull information from the web to beef up their offerings and increase the utility of their site, making it more attractive to advertisers and shoppers. And Mapquest.com curates “nearby businesses” from Yelp! Even Angie’s List may have a listing for your company or service that you don’t even know about. And Google, of course, is the world’s greatest aggregator of information. Search for your business on Google and with any luck a box will pop up on the right side of the results page. And with not luck but careful management of your online presence, the information will even be correct! For all of these reasons, it is important that businesses have a current and accurate online presence, and that they go out and claim and correct all of these unofficial but highly visible listings. If you need help with that, drop me an email. I can help you get your online presence under control!

Posted in aggregate, aggregator, Business Communication, Communication, content marketing, digital persona, marketing, online listings, Social Media | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

And We Thought Email Posed a Privacy Threat

We worry these days about compromises to our privacy thanks to the internet, social media, digital cookies and search engines that track and record our activity. Is your email secure? Will someone you know read it? Will someone you don’t know hack it? Will some super-user at your email host be snooping? Is the NSA scanning and storing it? All of these reasons to be concerned…

Letters

These are NOT Jacqueline Kennedy’s letters; they are just an illustration.

Ah, the good old days of paper and pen, letters tied up with a ribbon in a shoebox in the bottom of a closet.

But wait! What if someone finds those paper letters after you die, and decides that they are sensational enough, or even dubs them a “treasure trove of information,” and sells them, perhaps to someone who will publish them for all the world to read?

Jaqueline Kennedy thought she was writing confidential letters to her pastor and dear friend and confidante when she penned 33 deeply personal letters to Father Joseph Leonard, a Vincentian priest, between 1950 and 1964. Writing about her insecurities, her marriage, her despair after her husband’s assassination, her faith and sometimes her crises of faith, and more.

The letters are in the possession of All Hallows College in Dublin, Ireland, where Father Leonard lived while corresponding with Kennedy. The letters will be sold at auction on June 10.

Mrs. Kennedy was a deeply private person. In her obituary on May 20, 1994, the New York Times noted this about her, saying, “She almost never granted interviews on her past – the last was nearly 30 years ago – and for decades she had not spoken publicly about Mr. Kennedy, his Presidency or their marriage.” In a subsequent article following her funeral, New York Times writer R.W. Apple, Jr. wrote, “In keeping with Mrs. Onassis’s passion for privacy, it was a modest, 11-minute ceremony, with fewer than 100 people standing near the grave in the midday sun.”  He prophetically said, in 1994, “In a vulgar era when celebrity is something to be cashed in on, she seemed to many to symbolize a more refined and more ordered way of life.”

Yet All Hallows College sees fit to sell her most intimate correspondence to the highest bidder without regard for how the letters will be treated. In a Daily News article, the school defends this gross violation of the deceased woman’s privacy, saying it does not have the resources to appropriately preserve the letters. Hmmm. Does this mean that they are justified in selling them to highest bidder, literally? Or would it be more moral, more respectful, to return the letters to her estate or donate them to the Kennedy Library.

Alas, All Hallows College seems to have lost sight of the very premise upon which its name is based, i.e., “Hallowed: holy, blessed, sacred, revered, highly respected” – which is what personal correspondence between a person and their minister should be.

The school argues that the contents of the letters are not protected by priest-penitent privilege because Father Leonard wasn’t acting in the capacity of Kennedy’s priest during these correspondences, and that her feelings and reflections were not expressed in the forum of confession. Alas, it’s the old argument of legal versus moral. Just because there is no rule against it, does that make it right? What happened to judgment, sensitivity, and discretion? This from an institution of faith.

I was encouraged yesterday when I read the headline, Court Issues Injunction Over Jackie Kennedy Letters.

But no, the court will not block the sale of the letters. Rather the restraining orders were issued against Eoin (Owen) Felix O’Neill, a rare books expert who was at the college at the time the letters were discovered, and who has since reportedly falsely represented himself as the owner of the letters.  The court orders were sought by Sheppard’s Irish Auction House, which has been commissioned to sell the letters for the college at auction. The plan was for the college’s identity as owner and seller to be kept confidential. Oh, well. So much for confidentiality.

Sheppards Auction House acted against Mr. O’Neill on the basis of concerns that he may have photographed some of the letters and may have been behind the publication of some of the letters by the Boston Globe last week. O’Neill reportedly is due a commission on the selling price of the letters, but apparently he is now unhappy with the commission agreement, and has decided to go rogue in publicizing them.

The auction house was already leaking excerpts of the letters to the Irish Times with the hopes of building up excitement (attention from high bidders) in advance of the sale. Auction house spokesperson Philip Sheppard called the letters “the dream find of a lifetime for an auctioneer,” and in fact it was he that dubbed the letters “simply astounding fresh insights that transform our understanding of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy.” He said: “They are, in effect, her autobiography for the years 1950-1964.” But if Kennedy had wanted to publish an autobiography or cooperate with an authorized biography she would have done so. She steered clear of that and maintained a great level of privacy for someone of such fame.

Last week, writing about the letters with many direct quotes, the Boston Globe ironically and misleadingly says, “Kennedy, who was elegantly mysterious for so long, divulges in great detail some of her most intimate feelings.” As if she suddenly, now, 20 years after her death, she decided to speak out.

We communicate very little on paper today; correspondence with friends and family and business associates is largely digital via email and social media. Thoughtful people realize the ease with which their information can be shared, and yet many still do put highly sensitive thoughts, feelings and even images into these correspondences. What is happening to Jacqueline Kennedy now should be a wake-up call to all people: never assume your correspondences are “private” or “confidential.” If you put it in writing, it is possible that all the world may be able to read it someday.

Since All Hallows College seems determined to exploit Mrs. Kennedy’s letter for its own financial gain, I can only hope that a multimillionaire with a passion for privacy buys Mrs. Kennedy’s letters and treats them with the sensitivity and dignity they deserve.

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Religious Freedom or Anti-Gay Segregation?

Image

Image courtesy of the Deep South Progressive

The use of language intrigues me.

There is an article on Slate.com titled “Mississippi’s Anti-Gay Segregation Bill Got Unanimous Bipartisan Support.”

It refers to Mississippi’s Senate Bill 2681. This bill is officially known as the “Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act.”

The author of the Slate article gave the bill the “Anti-Gay Segregation” title.  Elsewhere  it is called the “Right to Discriminate” bill.

The language in question is that:

“ ‘Exercise of religion’ includes, but is not limited to, the ability to act or the refusal to act in a manner that is substantially motivated by one’s sincerely held religious belief.”

(Click here to see the full language)

This is important because it conceivably allows business owners to discriminate against people based on sexual orientation or anything else that offends their religious beliefs, much like the bill that was recently struck down in Arizona, (Senate Bill 1062).

It’s actually a short bill, with no reference to homosexuality, LGBT or discrimination. So the potential harm is inferred. But then again, nationally, the First Amendment to the Constitution protects the free exercise of religion, freedom of speech and freedom of the press, which has always allowed people to say hateful things about other people and groups… it doesn’t make it right, but certain things that would be objectionable to “a reasonable person” are in fact protected by law already.

A wise friend of mine pointed out that Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 — the federal law which prohibits discrimination by private businesses which are places of public accommodation — only prevents businesses from refusing service based on race, color, religion, or national origin. Federal law does not prevent businesses from refusing service to customers based on sexual orientation.

In a highly charged Facebook discussion of this matter, I recently said that it’s the simplicity of the language in Mississippi SB 2681 and the various way people are rephrasing its meaning that I find interesting. “Does it allow for potential discrimination, yes. Is it a Segregation Bill? hardly….” I said. “So interesting, the various perceptions of the very same language.”

A friend of a friend replied, “I’m surprised you can so blithely dismiss the ‘potential discrimination.’ ”

To that I replied that it’s not that I’m dismissing it but rather I’m pointing at how one side can call it “Religious Freedom” when in fact background research indicates that the bill is likely a thinly veiled attempt to justify discrimination, and the other extreme can call it “Segregation,” which it certainly is not. So in my opinion, both versions are misrepresentations.

That’s the power of words…. They can be made to say anything, even if they don’t actually say it, and meaning of the words can be implied… or inferred… or assumed – correctly or erroneously.

But while the public can debate the meaning of any given legislation, the legislators who vote on such matters have a responsibility to fully comprehend not just the words in the passage, but the implications of the legislation for the society they are entrusted to govern.

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Worry Much?

I texted a friend who is having major life problems.

“How r u?” I asked

“I’m in a mtg w the guy downstairs,” he replied.

oh my God, he feels like he is in hell, I worried.

And then I realized he meant a man who we both do business with.

Whew.

“Cool,” I said, faking that I was. “let me know how it goes.”

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Do Clowns Communicate Evil?

Northampton Clown

Northampton’s Anonymous Clown. Photo credit: Joe, http://jogocreative.co.uk

A story has been circulating on social media, “Evil Clown Stalks Northampton, England.”

The story begins, “The sinister clown that has been appearing on Northampton’s streets made another visitation last night. He was pictured in his trademark white make-up and red wig on St Michael’s Road waving forlornly with a clown teddy hanging from his other hand.

USA Today reports similarly, reporting on the clown’s “sinister, silent appearances in various locations.”

But the funny thing is, the clown does not menace people, does not exhibit threatening behavior, and in fact, does not DO anything evil or sinister. He is simply a clown in an unexpected place, who is NOT doing the silly, animated things that clowns often do. Yet he is also NOT doing the dastardly things depicted in Stephen King’s “It” (novel 1986, movie 1990), which features a murderous clown named Pennywise.

But apparently, through his make-up and costume, his “forlorn” demeanor, and his appearance in unexpected places, he is communicating something “evil” and “sinister.”

Fear of clowns is not uncommon. In fact, a word has been coined to label the condition: Coulrophobia. In April 2012, NBC News did a story on it – saying “Symptoms of coulrophobia, the fear of clowns, can include sweating, nausea, feelings of dread, fast heartbeat, crying or screaming, and anger at being placed in a situation where a clown is present.”

People are not afraid of clowns because of Stephen King’s novel, rather the novel was successful in part because of many people’s innate distrust of someone disguised as a clown. Funny that even with huge smiles painted on their faces, many people find clowns scary. Often the smile is thought to be masking something darker, some predatory deceit and malicious intention.

In fact, researchers at the University of Sheffield conducted a study of more than 250 youngsters, ages four to 16, which found that images of clowns were widely disliked by the children. Even some of the oldest children found the images scary. And those clowns were smiling! The purpose of the research study was to learn how best to decorate hospital wings for pediatric patients. Unexpectedly, the children’s reactions to clowns were largely in line with what many adults feel: that clowns – even smiling clowns – are scary. The researchers reported that the children find clowns to be “quite frightening and unknowable.”

Interesting what can be communicated without words or even actions. And how a big grinning smile can be construed as creepy.

Incidentally, the Northampton Chronicle ran an interview with the Clown (who has his own Facebook page), and titled it “World Exclusive: Northampton Clown talks to the Chron about his appearances.” The only insight the brief article offered, however, was to say, “The clown, who wants to keep his real identity anonymous, said: ‘I just wanted to amuse people. Most people enjoy being a bit freaked out and then they can laugh about it afterwards. It’s like watching a horror movie, when people get scared they usually start laughing. Naturally, some people would have been extremely frightened by what they saw, but I hope many are starting to see it as a bit of harmless fun’.”

Judging by the online coverage of the clown and his recent appearances, however, the neighborhood doesn’t seem to see the “harmless fun” in it.

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Content Marketing and the Future of the Internet

Growth of the Internet

The Growth of the Internet: courtesy of the Transmoder Project

Every minute, 600 new websites are generated; 48 hours of video are uploaded onto YouTube; and 600,000 pieces of content are shared on Facebook. And that does not even begin to scratch the surface of online data generation (wired.com).

“Content marketing” has become a mainstay of marketing efforts large and small, with companies and organizations seeking to provide useful and interesting online content to attract and engage potential customers and build brand loyalty.

According to an article on PBS.org, a recent survey showed that 92 percent of business-to-business (B2B) companies and 86 percent of business-to-consumer (B2C) companies now use content marketing, including blogs, case studies, research reports, webinars, infographics, podcasts and e-newsletters. But with so many companies (and countless individuals) posting “information” online, you can see where there would be a tremendous amount of redundancy.

Kraft Foods was a pioneer in content marketing, with one of the earliest information-rich website filled with recipes, kitchen tips and more. Even now, upon landing on the Kraft Foods corporate home page, , the viewer is met with an immediate and simple choice:  Corporate Information or Recipes and Product Information.

The recipe reservoir is a cornerstone of Kraft’s online presence, but a search for the word “recipes” on Google and yields about 271 million listings. Let’s refine it: Chicken Recipes — 116 Million. “Chicken Soup” Recipes: 8.2 million results.

There are Recipes.com, food.com, allrecipes.com, www.epicurious.com and countless spinoffs of traditional companies – The Food Network, Cooking Light magazine , McCormicks spices… all have recipe sites.

But this is just one example. We could say the same for pet care or parenting, motorcycle maintenance or gardening; candle making, the history of rock and roll, or the philosophical implications of the doctrine of karma. The point is, there is becoming an over abundance of informational sites.

Some of these are created because people and organizations want to ‘talk’ about what they know, but many are created to help sell products, attract attention or generate back-links to sites for purposes of Search Engine Optimization (SEO).  (Uh-oh, I just linked to Wikipedia. My friends, family and students will have a field day with this, given my adamant position that “Wikipedia cannot be cited as an authoritative source!”)

It is impossible to measure how much data is actually available via the Internet because websites and other data sources are stored on servers all around the world; there is no central repository or clearing house. What we do know is that we have gone from measuring data as bits and bytes to kilobytes, megabytes and gigabytes to today’s zettabytes (1000 to the 7th power) and yottabytes (1000 to the 8th power, or a 1 followed by 24 zeros)… and that there are 8.2 million sites that reference recipes for chicken soup.

How long can this infinite generation of “information” continue, and at what cost? Does having this many articles on the same or similar topics dilute the power of the Internet or enrich it?

What do you think?

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The Afterlife: Courtesy of Facebook

Last year, a friend of mine went through one of those phases in life when there is a class reunion and a bunch of people from a bunch of years ago reconnect. The Facebook “Friend Requests” were flying afterward and he reconnected with dozens and dozens of old friends.

He saw a post recently from an ex-girlfriend from high school. Reminded of her, he sent her a message that only a former flame might send to a Facebook friend, but she didn’t reply.

Days later, he saw some of their mutual hometown friends and mentioned to them, “hey, I messaged Maria on Facebook, but she didn’t reply. Do you think she’s mad at me?”

And they said, “Dude, she dead. She died in January.”

“What the hell…?” he asked, horrified. “Then why does she have an active Facebook wall??”

“Well that’s her old account,” someone said, “but her daughter keeps it going in her memory.”

My friend was mortified. Not only did he send a message to a deceased ex-girlfriend only to learn of her death afterward, but her daughter was the one to receive the message!

Yea, this could have been handled better.

Facebook has a mechanism for Memorializing walls of people after they pass.

After formal notification by a family member or friend, Facebook will take the person’s wall down or “Memorialize” it by taking it out of the public search results, seal it from any future log-in attempts, but leave the wall open for family and friends “to pay their respects.”

It’s not a new feature – TIME magazine wrote about it in 2009, citing a statement by  Facebook indicating that it has had this policy in place since its inception.

And according to the Washington Post, there are an estimated 30 million Facebook accounts belonging to dead people and the nonpartisan Uniform Law Commission is drafting model legislation to deal with fiduciary access to digital assets following a death. The push for this legislation came about after the suicide of Virginia teen Eric Rash in January 2011, which caused his parents to seek access to his online accounts.

“Any parent in this situation would want to find answers,” said Del. David L. Bulova (D-Fairfax), a co-sponsor of the draft federal legislation. “This is the 2013 equivalent of what you would store under your bed. Today, we store it on a server.” (Washington Post)

But until such legislation is passed, do most people know how to deal with the Facebook pages of a lost loved one? Or where to find the information about it? Maybe not.

If you’re interested in this feature of Facebook, you can find it through Facebook’s “Help” section or through Facebook’s “About” page under “Privacy,” “Other.”

You may not have had the misfortune of sending a message to a deceased ex, but many people have received a Birthday Reminder or Friend Suggestion from Facebook about someone who they know has died. It’s part of the digital landscape now – dealing with death in the online world.

Consider letting your family know how you’d like your online accounts handled when you pass. It’s a digital-age-complication in estate planning… what is to become of your online persona after you die?

Posted in Communication, Death, digital persona, Facebook, final wishes, Social Media | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Paper or Digital for College Students? The Answer May Surprise You

ClassroomIn the first class of the semester last week, the time came to review the syllabus. We were in a computer lab because it’s a writing class and the students write and edit materials in real-time as if they were at work in an actual public relations office. And like most colleges, we use an online learning system, so the students, each at their own computer, could have accessed the syllabus online – but I brought printed copies anyway.

“Let me ask you a question,” I said. “I can hand out paper copies of the syllabus, or we can just open it on the computers to review it. What’s your preference?”

“Paper.”  “Paper.”  “Printed.”  “Paper.”  “Printout.”  “Paper….”  It was unanimous. And I was shocked.

The class consists of 14 undergraduate Public Relations majors; young adults studying communication arts in our highly digital world.

If I had bet on the outcome of that quick survey, I surely would’ve lost the bet.

“Hmm, okay, will do,” I said. “I have printed copies for you.”

Intrigued, though, I had to follow up with another question.

“So let me ask you, when you are editing or proofreading a paper before you turn it in, do you read it on the computer screen or do you print it out and go over it?”

“Print it out,” “yea, print it,” “definitely print it.” Wow. Unanimous again.

I’d go so far as to call this a Myth Buster. The students agreed with something that most of my writer friends and colleagues and I have discussed – and agreed upon – before. When examining the printed copy of a document, the eyes, or mind, pick up details that we didn’t see on the computer screen – even after a focused on-screen read-through.

And it’s not just those of us who “grew up with paper,” so to speak. It’s this tech savvy, online, texting generation as well, at least among the serious writers among them. (This is an Advanced Public Relations Writing class.)

I was pleased. I was going to suggest to them that they print out their drafts before they do their final editing and proofing and expected to meet with some resistance.  But they already prefer paper. Who knew?

Do you have a preference for reviewing documents? On paper vs. on-screen? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Posted in Business Communication, Communication, editing, education, paper vs digital, proofreading, writing | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Is There a Place for Social Media in Public Health?

When I was doing my Master of Public Administration (MPA) degree in Non-Profit Management at the C.W. Post Campus of Long Island University (now LIU-Post), I did a Master’s Thesis project titled Use of Social Media in Healthcare Administration. It was a long and fascinating research project, and when I proposed it (back in 2009), many professionals and academics still questioned the value of social media as a business tool, let alone a tool to improve public health and access to health information. The MPA Thesis Committee at Post had the vision to allow me to make this my research topic – and I am eternally grateful to them for doing so.

I had a wonderful Thesis Mentor, Linda Wenze, MA, MBA, PhD, a true research expert with a generous and soulful approach to teaching.

I had the full support of my employer at the time, Winthrop-University Hospital in Mineola, NY. Senior administration allowed me to devote a good deal of time to my pursuit of knowledge of social media, and ultimately I presented proposals to Administration, then the Board of Directors, and ultimately across the hospital, on the utility of effective use of social media. Together with an amazing Public Affairs staff, we executed the hospital’s first social media campaign, beginning with the very successful inaugural video, Faces of Winthrop.

The Winthrop social media campaign won a FOLIO Award from the Fair Media Council in 2011 for Best Use of Social Media by a Hospital.

Kudos to Karen Senecal, MBA, on her skillful execution of this campaign, many other terrific ideas – and the creativity and drive to keep coming up with new social media projects.

To others who are exploring use of social media in healthcare or other non-profit fields, I am happy to share the insights and information I gathered with you.

Keep it real, keep it fresh, and keep it friendly!

Social Media Thesis

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Emotion and Emoticons

Lance Armstrong, Oprah Winfrey. Photo courtesy of Reuters

Lance Armstrong, Oprah Winfrey. Photo courtesy of Reuters

Renowned cyclist Lance Armstrong recently faced harsh criticism not just over his illicit drug use, lying and bullying, but over his very matter-of-fact approach to his first interview with Oprah Winfrey in which he admitted to using performance enhancing drugs.  New York Times writer Alessandra Stanley observed, “Armstrong appeared as reasoned and dispassionate telling the truth as he did all those years that he so fluently and convincingly spun a lie.” She said he spoke “earnestly but not emotionally” and noted that “the interview was strangely low on energy and emotion.” While the two-part interview may not have restored his credibility and certainly could not have instantly repaired his reputation, he at least got higher marks for his humanity in the second interview, by showing some emotion when he choked up talking about the impact of his behavior on his mother and his children.

Video is great for capturing emotion, but in today’s world so much communication takes place in short bursts of typed characters. But a lot of miscommunication occurs via text and tweet. In those space-constrained mediums – even in full-length emails – the reader can’t see a tear in the writer’s eye, the smile on his lips, or hear the sarcasm in his voice or see the twinkle in her eye.

Good, skilled writers can make you envision a sneaky little smile, a smug smirk, or flirtatious eye contact. They can have you laughing out loud or crying with empathy. But in messages that are restricted to 140 characters or less, this is very hard to do! (LOL is good shorthand for Laughing Out Loud, even if it is overused, but I prefer ROTFL – Rolling on the Floor Laughing – when something is really funny. )

Enter the emoticon!

While smiley faces and winks may appear to be overused sometimes, they do have their place in our texting world, adding that tiny hint at facial expression that can signal Emoticon - Cryingsarcasm or a joke or even love, taking the message one step beyond ‘text.’

MSN.com has the most vast assortment of emoticons I’ve ever seen– even an animated emoticon that cries – complete with tears! Check them out here!

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