Speaking at the University of Birmingham, U.K.

I had the great pleasure of speaking to a combined audience of marketers and technology professionals at the University of Birmingham in the U.K. on December 8th.

Many thanks to Sam Smith, Head of Online Corporate Content at the university, for making all the arrangements, and to Liz Murphy, Director of Student Recruitment, and Ian Upton, for asking me to present the two sessions, one on blogs and social media, and the other on Second Life (which was held in the magnificent HP Visual and Spatial Technology Centre, making the SL demo even more life-like).

At the end of the day, Sam gave me a brief tour of the beautiful campus. Here are two pictures.

University of Birmingham (2)  University of Birmingham (5)

 

 

 

 

 


The Ethics of Reposting Photo of Alleged Attacker

In Is this Blog Justice?, Philip Young questions whether the reposting of a photograph of Jackie Danicki’s alleged attacker on the London Underground by others is ethical:

“If someone we know were to be attacked we’d all want to do what we could to help. We might think that a reasonably well read weblog offered a useful platform for doing so. But would it be ethical?….

… as the CIPR [see the Chartered Institute of Public Relation’s Social Media Guidelines — Consultation here] thinks about a social media code of conduct which includes issues of competence, I wonder if this incident highlights an important distinction between citizen journalism and its more established equivalent?”

(A quick point: Please read Jackie’s disturbing story, as well as the additional information she leaves in the comments on her post. Also note that I’m using the word “alleged” here not to question Jackie veracity, but as a legal term reflecting the status of her claim.)

Perhaps I’m mincing words, but I’m not sure the question is one of ethics as much as asking whether the republishing of the photograph of the individual in question is the right thing to do vs. whether it is legally sound to do.

If this man is the person who actually committed the assault (which is the issue here), then one could argue that finding him and bringing him to justice is a social responsibility, part of which is asking the public to help identify him. One could further argue that republishing his photograph on a private blog is not that different from publishing it through an official law enforcement site, at least conceptually, assuming the original source of the information is reliable. Furthermore, since the attack occurred in a public setting, an argument of invasion of privacy by the assailant could not be as easily made.

However, whether this is a legally sound action is another matter. Should any initially unknown facts or issues arise, anyone who has republished the photograph puts themselves at greater risk than simply having linked to the original post or Jacki’s Flickr picture (which, by the way, as of right now has been viewed 2,604 times). And should the assailant make any counterclaims of harm caused him by the publishing or republishing of the photograph (stranger things have happened), then anyone who has participated in this may be on the line as well.

For what it’s worth, I commend Jackie for having handled the attack as she did — by filing an official report, by publicly sharing her story, and by having the wherewithal to take a photograph of the alleged assailant and posting it on her blog. Hopefully the perpetrator will be caught soon.

 


How Much Personal Information Should Be Shared Online?

When a blog is used for professional marketing and networking, one of the big questions is always how much of the blogger’s personal views to include and how much of his or her personal life to reference.

Great question, and there’s no consensus. For example, some of my online PR and social media colleagues openly weave personal events from their lives into their blog posts, frequently to illustrate some point, but sometimes just to share with readers and others in the profession. But another colleague has a policy not to mention anything personal, whether in online or offline conversations, unless it’s on a superficial and inconsequential “small talk” level. These are, of course, vastly different approaches.

I’ve often wondered what the right balance is, given that blogging and other social media, is, well, social in nature. When readers who are perhaps not very familiar with the culture of social media, as well as readers from traditional corporate environments (where the belief in message control still exists and is desperately hung on to), come across a post that’s more personal in nature, how will they respond? Will they assume the blogger is not “being professional” in that instance?

I’ve been thinking about this more in the past few days after the conversations I had with several of the session leaders and attendees at BlogOrlando. Those immersed in blogging and social media were more comfortable with the inevitable intertwining of the “purely” professional (although I’d argue that there is no such thing) with the personal, while those individuals who came from more traditional and corporate environments were still wary about it all.

The fact is, however, that even the most closely guarded people leave impressions behind, if not in their actual blog posts, then in such public venues as the comments on other blogs, in podcasts, on MySpace and other similar sites, in Flickr pictures (those they upload, those they appear in and the manner in which they appear, and those they choose as favorites), on message boards or business review sites.

Since individuals inevitably reveal more about ourselves than they usually realize, perhaps the answer is in being authentic (yeah, “authenticity” is one of those words that’s been horribly overused lately) instead of posed, plastic or uni-dimensional. This does not mean letting it all hang out. But it does mean not trying to uphold some artificial appearance.

Perhaps it also means being less judgmental about certain things (see Scott Baradell’s post about the attacks on public figures who show human fallibility); recognizing the richness, as Lee Hopkins described, that online communications, despite their limitations and risks, provide us — and our responsibility in this process; and the need to try to make amends when we’ve made mistakes or wronged someone (see Gary Goldhammer’s humorously-written, but with a serious message, Yom Kippur: A Post of AtonementL’shanah Tova, Gary).

 


Interview with Caroline Beaumont, Transaid’s Head of Marketing, about the "Transaid Challenge" Computer Game

Transaid is an international development agency that focuses on improving the availability and affordability of transport in the developing world, primarily in sub-Saharan Africa. Founded by Save The Children and the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (UK), Transaid assists local partners in obtaining better access to such things as healthcare and education, and in improving the ability of individuals to pursue their livelihood.

What does this mean in practical terms? Through an improved transportation management system, health services workers in Ghana alone, for example, can cover 70% more kilometres at less cost and give approximately 90,000 extra children a year vaccinations. It also means that basic goods will become more affordable for the local population and that markets will open up for local producers (here’s a sobering fact: up to 40% of her turnover and up to 8 hours a day are spent by a female market trader in Ghana in getting her goods to market).

As part of its awareness-raising efforts, Transaid earlier this month launched the Transaid Challenge, an online game intended to showcase — in a fun and interactive way — the transportation challenges faced by health workers. Created by fishinabottle and sponsored by Barclays Transport and Logistics division, players take on the role of  “an African health services worker, delivering services and supplies from health centres to villages that need them.” The game ends when, apparently as in real life, the vehicle’s gas runs out or it is damaged and breaks down.

I’ve played the game three times now and it’s fun. But fortunately people in need aren’t relying on my ability to get supplies or services to them… each time I managed to drive my vehicle into a boulder and several bushes, slam into a hut or two, and then run out of gas.

Interested in the thoughts behind the Transaid Challenge and how it fit it into Transaid’s overall public relations and marketing stretegy, I contacted Caroline Beaumont, Transaid’s Head of Marketing, who graciously agreed to an e-mail interview:

Andrea Weckerle: How did you initially come up with the idea for the computer game?

Caroline Beaumont: Last year, with 2 days notice, we found out that we had a stand at Live8. We wanted to do something more than a few leaflets on a stand so set Mario, our intern, to work with some toilet rolls, paint and toy farmyard animals and trucks to create a track for a remote controlled driving game that demonstrated some of the difficulties of driving in Africa. Although it was pretty rudimentary it really helped us to explain our work to a completely cold audience and we got thinking about translating it to a computer game.

None of us are big games players, so we enlisted the help of a volunteer who is also a keen gamer, and he helped us to put together the brief and source our design agency, fishinabottle.  We are a really small charity with a correspondingly small budget so then we had to find a sponsor to make it happen.  Barclays Bank have a Transport & Logistics division and wanted to do something unusual with us, that also targeted their audience, so they came on board.

Andrea Weckerle: What has the feedback to the game been to date?

Caroline Beaumont: Since launch, on July 12th, it has been picked up all over the world. Feedback has generally being really good and it is appearing on lots of blogs and discussion boards. It is extremely popular in Slovakia, for some reason! Take up of the messages is harder to evaluate, but we will try and do some evaluation of this towards the end of the 2 month campaign period.

Andrea Weckerle: How many times has the game been played in total? And by how many individual players?

Caroline Beaumont: In the first week of launch the game, which is hosted on our site, was played 22,500 times. 2,691 click throughs had been made from the Challenge to the homepage.  Before the Challenge launched our web traffic over the same period our entire number of visits would have been about 350.  We have a small email list of warm supporters of about 350, and circulated the Challenge to them at launch. Approx 4,500 click throughs from email links have been achieved, indicating that the viral effect has been strong.

Andrea Weckerle: How does this game tie into Transaid’s overall PR and marketing efforts?

Caroline Beaumont: Transaid works to build transport management skills in Africa, predominantly among health service workers.  A lot of healthcare in Africa is delivered by outreach, because of the huge distances between communities and health facilities, and our basic premise is that it’s not always a lack of vehicles that prevents health workers from delivering services to people in remote areas, it’s how they are driven and maintained and how their routes are planned. It’s common sense stuff, but it is hard to communicate in an interesting and engaging way as it’s something quite intangible – you can’t see skills building in the same way you can see a vehicle!  We wanted people to understand that it’s not the 4×4, it’s what you do with it that counts.

We have a very strong core supporter base made up of companies from the UK transport & logistics industry but we wanted to challenge the perception, both internally and externally, that you need to work in the industry to understand the value of what we do, by demonstrating the issues in an interactive way.

We have a really good profile among our supporters at senior management level but we were not reaching operational staff, or a younger audience – a valuable constituency who can fundraise and advocate on our behalf. The launch of the Challenge coincided with our new website, and we we used it to add value to the site, drive people to the homepage and collect e-newsletter opt-ins.

Andrea Weckerle: Is there anything else about the campaign or Transaid that you’d like to share?

Caroline Beaumont: We had to think very carefully about how what the gameplay said about our work and fishinabottle, our agency, really tuned into what we were trying to demonstrate. They kept us involved at every stage of development and, as they do a lot of charity and public information work they were brilliant at interpreting our brief into something playable, but on-message.  For example, we wanted the game to have a time element, but an over-emphasis on speed would have completely gone against a safe driving message, so the time is actually represented by a fuel guage that runs down – when you’re out of fuel, the game’s over.  It’s also much harder to avoid the obstacles if you drive carelessly so you are more likely to end the game by irreperably damaging your vehicle.  The route planning aspect is represented by the dilemma of whether to take the faster but more indirect, tarmac road or the more direct but much slower off-road route.

We had to strike a balance between the game being fun to play and the serious message that we wanted to convey and we’ve ended up with something that is quite simplistic, but is a good entry point for those that are new to use to find out more about us.

The expectation was for our core audience, the transport industry, to remain the primary audience but actually it has had far greater appeal and attracted players from all over the world. It is the first serious piece of e-marketing that we’ve done and it has really brought home to me that, once something takes off on the web, you have to think completely internationally about your communications. For example, the e-newsletter that we drafted to send to our sign-ups had a lot of content about UK fundraising, but about 75% signed up so far are from outside the UK, so we are changing the content and emphasis to suit.

To monitor the Challenge’s growing web presence we’ve been using Google Alerts and also technorati.com to find out who is blogging about it, and posting responses if relevant.


Technology Helps Manage Logistics & Maintain Parent-Child Bonds Despite Divorce

Divorce is always a sad thing, but especially when dependent children are involved. However, regardless of any past animosity between former spouses, communicating effectively with each other on a regular and ongoing basis — and approaching the raising of kids as a team effort — is usually beneficial to everyone in the long run.

Fortunately, there are tools available to help adults manage the logistics of two or more households and schedules.

The KidsNCommon site (fee-based, free for 30 days), for example, helps parents establish a “community” within which an invited person — the other parent, a relative, a friend, or even the child — gets access to customized information. This information can include the Parenting Plan (a good resource on parenting plans is ParentingPlan.net), the Documents page, the Bills page (with tabs for Shared Expenses, Child Support, Spousal Support, Bank Accounts and Service Vendors), and the all-important Calendar page. The Calendar allows invited community members to see upcoming events organized according to categories such as Payment Reminder, Work, School Event, Extra Curricular, Recreation, Travel, Vacation, Holiday, Co-Parenting Meeting and Legal — with optional email reminders sent out as well.

KidsNCommon offers other services and benefits as well. For example, community members get their own email address, such as suzysmith@kidsncommon.com, that helps everyone stay in touch and receive schedule reminders. The site also offers information on topics such as child health, dealing with the psychology of divorce, and balancing families, careers and other relationships.

ShareKids.com (fee-based) is another site that offers an easy online location to share information and manage schedules, keep track of shared expenses, create photo galleries, and even create private chat rooms.

Sharekid.com also links to other valuable resources such as the Family Mediation Inc.’s downloadable (and, at under $20, affordable) Child Custody Parenting Plans book with forms, and the international non-profit Bonus Families that coined the beautiful term “bonus” to describe “a stepfamily or a single parent living with their children and another adult partner” (I highly recommend this site).

In addition to the importance of streamlining communication and schedules for the sake of the children, maintaining and fostering strong parent-child bonds is crucial to helping kids adjust to their new family status, particularly in cases where physical or legal custody is awarded to only one parent.

Virtual visitation can be an important part of helping the non-custodial parent maintain close ties with his or her children, whether the parent lives nearby and can’t see the child every day, or lives further away, precluding frequent in-person time together.

InternetVisitation.org describes virtual visitation as “using tools such as personal video conferencing, a webcam, email, instant messaging (IM) and other wired or wireless technologies over the Internet or other communication media to supplement in-person visits and telephone contacts between two people.”

The site offers practical how-to information on what’s needed to set up a call and a related forum discussing such things as VoIP, Skype, Vonage, video calls and video call accessories. Internet Visitation also lists the latest legislative developments; to date Utah, Wisconsin and Missouri have passed virtual visitation laws, with fifteen other states showing activity.

Finally, there’s also a must-read blog, Virtual Families and Friends.com, written by “virtual dad” Jim Buie and co-authored by his son, Matthew Buie-Nervik. An absolute gold mine of information.

 


How To Be A Worldly American

In his post on How To Be A Less Ugly American, Paul Holmes refers to Business for Diplomatic Action, Inc.’s guidelines for Americans outside the United States.

In the abridged version of its World Citizens Guide, BDA offers these suggestions (see the PDF for elaborations on the suggestions) for making a favorable impression when traveling abroad:

  1. Look. Listen. Learn.
  2. Smile. Genuinely.
  3. Think big. Act Small. be Humble.
  4. Live, eat and play local.
  5. Be patient.
  6. Celebrate our diversity.
  7. Become a student again.
  8. Try the language.
  9. Refrain from lecturing.
  10. Dialog instead of monologue.
  11. Use your hands. Watch your feet.
  12. Leave the cliches at home.
  13. Be proud, not arrogant.
  14. Keep religion private.
  15. Be quiet.
  16. Check the atlas.
  17. Agree to disagree respectfully.
  18. Talk about something besides politics.
  19. Be safety conscious, not fearful.
  20. Dress for respect.
  21. Know some global sports trivia.
  22. Keep your word.
  23. Show your best side.
  24. Be a traveler, not a tourist.

Paul offers his own suggestion as well:

“Personally, though, the best way to connect with overseas audiences is to explain that you didn’t vote for the current U.S. administration and that you agree that it current policies are, to be as diplomatic as possible about it, misguided.”

Meanwhile, Sebastian Junger, author of The Perfect Storm and the new A Death in Belmont, gives these impressions in the article Welcome Stranger in this month’s National Geographic Adventure (print edition):

“An old friend of mine once observed that the arrival of a stranger in a rough town often presents locals with two options: Feed him or kill him. He was referring to some ancient time when the dilemma was literally that stark, but his larger point was that all societies must choose whom they let in and whom they keep out, and letting someone in entails more than just opening the city gates. Once you do that you become to some degree responsible for the stranger’s welfare. Travel, then, at its crudest, is the art of convincing people to take care of you rather than spurn you — or worse. It’s a knife-edge that makes a life spent at home feel not fully lived….

You had to be wary when you traveled, I realized, but you also had to be open. You had to protect yourself, but you couldn’t be so suspicious that you’d lie to avoid giving food to a stranger. These were lessons from the harsher parts of the world, but I started to think that maybe they were applicable anywhere. The starting point was respect; if you didn’t lead with that, even with street-corner thugs, nothing was going to turn out well. So you start with respect and see where that goes; if it doesn’t work, you switch to something else…. things pretty much come down to how you treat one another. There’s a certain liberty in that; there’s a certain justice.”


Animal Legal Defense Fund Releases Ranking of State Animal Protection Laws

Earlier this year the Animal Legal Defense Fund released a 3-page report ranking all fifty U.S. states and the District of Columbia based on the strength and comprehensiveness of their state anti-cruelty laws.

Although ALDF makes it clear that all the states’ laws need to be strengthened, the states that ranked best were California, Illinois, Maine, Michigan and Oregon, while those that ranked worst were Hawaii, Idaho, Kentucky, North Dakota and Utah.

The latter five states fell into the worst category because, among other things, they either did not have any felony anti-cruelty provisions or because, in the case of Kentucky, felony provisions applied only to select situations.

ALDF also provides a list of Jurisdictions with Felony Animal Abuse Provisions and the year of enactment.

By way of quick definition, a felony is “a crime sufficiently serious to be punishable by death or a term in state or federal prison… [or] a crime carrying a minimum term of one year or more in state prison,” [note: given the legal status of animals, whether wild or designated as “property,” the death penalty has never been, not is unlikely ever to be, imposed in any animal cruelty case], while a  misdemeanor is “a lesser crime punishable by a fine and/or county jail time for up to one year… [and]are tried in the lowest local court such as municipal, police or justice courts.”


Gary Goldhammer Comments On The Zacarias Moussaoui Verdict

Gary Goldhammer wrote a thought-provoking post about the Zacarias Moussaoui verdict. Gary isn’t just your ordinary blogger writing about what is undoubtedly one of the most high-profile death penalty trials in United States history. He’s also the author of Dead End, a 1994 book that examines the financial and human costs of the death penalty.

For anyone who wants to learn more about the death penalty and how it is administered in the U.S., go to Pro-death penalty.com and the Death Penalty Information Center.

Here are some quick links of interest:

And to test your knowledge about the death penalty, follow this link to DPIC’s 10-question Death Penalty Quiz.


Police Departments Pull Out All Stops To Recruit Officers

Years ago I took part in a simulated hostage crisis exercise conducted by the Alexandria, Virginia Police Department. The exercise was created to help officers test their negotiation and their rescue skills and, as such, I and my fellow hostages were asked to play our roles as realistically as possible upon finding our bus taken over by a crazed gunman.

Keeping in mind that this was pre 9/11 and citizens still believed that their compliance might result in a safe release, we tried not to antagonize the gunman. We hoped for the best as he negotiated with the police and just prayed that he wouldn’t loose his cool — no one wants to be shot or killed, even in a simulation. When the officers finally stormed the bus and handcuffed us before dragging us outside onto the pavement, it felt all too real. (Quick note: the officers, not certain who among us was the gunman and who might have developed some loyalty to him, took the precautionary step of handcuffing us all.)

This little exercise reinforced my belief that law enforcement work isn’t easy. Between risking lives for modest pay to dealing with a distrust of police officers among certain segments of the population due to an abuse of the uniform by some, law enforcement work is frequently under-appreciated or even unappreciated.

Now the Washington Post reports that “more than 80 percent of the nation’s 17,000 law enforcement agencies, big and small, have vacancies that many can’t fill, police officials estimate.” With reasons ranging from service-minded people choosing to join the military, to an increase in baby-boomer retirement and a more educated population pursuing other career paths, the police shortage is being felt across the country.

According to the Washington Post, some counties, in an effort to attract viable candidates, are offering a variety of incentives such as signing bonuses (Prince William County, Virginia, for example, offers a $3,000 signing bonus), bounties for referrals and pay increases. Prince George’s County, Maryland even began a $1 million dollar advertising campaign last summer.

Police departments have taken other steps as well:

“Departments have dropped their zero-tolerance policy on drug use and past gang association, eased restrictions on applicants with bad credit ratings, and tweaked physical requirements to make room for more female candidates or smaller male candidates, police officials said. Departments also offer crash courses in reading and remedial English for the written parts of the entrance exam, and provide strength and agility coaches for the physical part — all of which have raised concerns about how qualified some of the new personnel will be.”

Unfortunately such actions aren’t without risk:

” ‘That [hiring less-qualified people] is clearly a concern, and police chiefs are very uneasy about that possibility,’ said Hubert Williams, president of the Police Foundation, a law enforcement advocacy group. ‘The question is, do we keep our radio cars empty or hire people who a few years ago we wouldn’t have hired? It is very problematic.’ “

This sentiment is echoed by others:

“There are concerns, said Elaine Deck, a researcher at the International Association of Chiefs of Police, that staffing changes and shortages could affect public safety and the well-being of law enforcement officers. The LAPD, for example, is too short-staffed to investigate complaints against its officers, so that many complaints from 2005 may not result in punishment until this year.”

 


Colmen McCarthy’s Peace Studies Class Comes Under Scrutiny

Last month, two 17 year-old students at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School in Maryland called for a ban of the Peace Studies course that has been offered as an elective to Seniors at the school since 1988 and is taught by Colman McCarthy, a former Washington Post reporter and founder of the Center for Teaching Peace. According to the Washington Post:

“[The students] acknowledge that with the exception of one lecture they sat in on this month, most of what they know about the course has come from friends and acquaintances who have taken the class. But, they said, those discussions, coupled with research they have done on [Coleman] McCarthy’s background, have convinced them that their school should not continue to offer Peace Studies unless significant changes are made. This is not an ideological debate, they said. Rather, what bothers them the most is that McCarthy offers students only one perspective.”

Despite the furor, the school’s administration intends to keep teaching the course. As Principal Sean Bulson stated:

“Peace Studies is one of the things that makes B-CC unique…It’s been an institution here, and kids from all across the spectrum have taken it. It’s not about indoctrination. It’s about debate and dialogue.”

McCarthy doesn’t hide the fact that he is a strong opponent of violence of any kind. However, he was puzzled by the students’ opposition:

“He said that although the two sat in on a recent class, they have not talked to him in depth about their concerns.

‘I’ve never said my views are right and theirs are wrong,’ he said about the students who take his course. ‘In fact, I cherish conservative dissenters. I wish we could get more of them in.’

But McCarthy’s unwavering belief in the importance of his work is summed up by his statement that “unless we teach them peace, someone else will teach them violence.”

The Peace Studies course is currently taught at seven other Montgomery County, Maryland high schools. Back in the 1990s, when I had the pleasure of teaching this semester-long course at Wilson High School in Washington DC as part of my graduate school training, it was called “Alternatives to Violence.”

While teaching this popular elective emphasizing nonviolent conflict resolution in interpersonal, community, national and international situations, my goal was to expose the students to ideas and topics they had never been confronted with before. And just as the Washington Post article stated, I remember many lively debates between myself and the students and amongst the students themselves.

We talked about such subjects as the civil rights movement, the death penalty, environmental activism, and political peace movements, among other things. Never was there any attempt to sugar-coat the facts. In talking about the death penalty, for example, of which about half of the students were in favor of and half opposed, we discussed the number of people who were executed and later found innocent of the particular crime for which they were imprisoned.

Rarely did any of the students not have a strong opinion one way or another. They were open-minded but not easily swayed if their own personal experiences didn’t comport with something in the curriculum. I remember one boy who was frustrated by my obviously idealistic insistence that talking through a problem was a way to resolve most disagreements.

He looked at me and said something along the lines of “Ms. Weckerle, you’ve obviously never been to my neighborhood. There we hit first and talk later.”

I learned a lot from those kids.