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Defining Journalism

Some bloggers are journalists.

And some paid reporters aren't.

The power to mold the future fo the Republic will be in the hands of the journalists of future generations.The "Who is a Journalist?" debate came back at the end of 2011 when Montana blogger Crystal Cox lost a Federal Case focusing on an Oregon law that protects journalists from having to reveal sources. Cox had been sued for defamation by attorney Kevin Padrick in regards to stories she wrote about the bankruptcy of Obsidian Finance Group LLC. She relied on anonymous sources.

A federal judge ruled that under Oregon law, she did not qualify as a journalist. This of course, sent the journalistic and blogging communities into a tizzy about definitions (until they figured out that Cox was a bit on the edge and, frankly, not much of a journalist at all). This isn't a new debate, it's been around since bloggers started writing online.

That's the wrong debate. Journalism is a profession, it's a way of thinking. It's never been clearly defined, but you know it when you see it. Kind of like the classic definition of pornography. Can a blogger be a journalist? Sure, if they are doggedly pursuing truth, working sources, checking facts and, as Pulitzer would say, "shining a light into the darkest corners."

By the same token, many paid reporters are no more journalists than typists.

Former Ambassador Joe Wilson is on a speaking tour with his wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, talking about what the two of them went through during the debate about going to war in Iraq. I'm not going to rehash the whole story here, but in his talk Wilson made a simple point: journalists didn't do their jobs.

He points out how journalists wrote a narrative about he and his wife that was fed to them by people in power, while ignoring a much more important story about whey the US was entering a war and why the President put words into the State of the Union address that, on the surface, were simply untrue. The question is why? Why did reporters chase the Wilsons while not doing the harder and more "journalistic" work?

Dan Gillmor makes a similar argument in his wonderful book Mediactive, in which he calls the Washington press corps little more than "stenographers" in their coverage leading up to the invasion of Iraq.

I head a wonderful debate on the subject at Social Media Weekend during a discussion about Occupy Wall Street and Press Credentials. The issue here became pretty simple to understand, but complicated to solve. The NYPD issues press credentials so they can provide the right access to the right people. But not every person working full-time for a journalistic organization has them. Also, they take a while to get (one reporter applied for credentials in October and still hasn't been "screened." So when police started to arrest protesters, "journalists" were caught in the roundup. Still, were they journalists or were they participants?

Andrea Courtois over at WBZ TV (@AndreaWBZ on Twitter) told me that she stopped following quite a number of reporters because, she felt, they became too involved in the movement, killing their objectivity.

Then there is Josh Stearns, who tracked journalist arrests during the Occupy movements. Part of his issue was simply defining which of those arrested were, in fact, journalists. Even on the panel itself some people who worked for journalistic organizations like MSNBC or the Daily News went to the site to check things out during off-hours. In other words, they weren't acting on behalf of their organizations when they started acting like journalists. So, in that moment, what were they?

What does it all mean?

In my opinion the main issue comes  down to the inherent tension between journalism's "purpose" and its reward structure. Press freedoms are, in many ways, a necessary offshoot of democracy. The populous can't make intelligent voting decisions unless it has information by which to make those decisions. However, publishing is a business, one that sells advertising and subscriptions. Information has value if people WANT to consume it. Citizen journalists fill some of this gap, but where will we the people get our information on a regular basis? How will we vet what comes in? What information can we trust?

We, as media consumers, prove again and again that we are far more interested in being entertained than informed. We do it every day by clicking on TMZ rather than Global Post. We follow entertainers in striking numbers on Twitter, but leave intelligent, thoughtful people alone.

The fault, dear brutus, is not in the stars, but in ourselves.

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Just a Number: Measuring Influence is Personal

Mention "Klout" in a social media conversation and you'll hear groans, frustrations and grumbling.

But all those folks know their Klout score.

I don't need to rehash how Klout recently changed its algorithm and sent Twitter ablaze with vitriol. You can read a great piece on the impact and find the alternatives here. But what has always been frustrating about Klout is how it tries to apply a number to something rather arbitrary. We've trod this ground before, but it came up again today during an online event called "Relevant Influence - Discovering and Engaging with Influencers for Effective Social Marketing" moderated by Chris Selland of Terametric. Mike Maney, who is an incredibly intelligent marketer, pointed out how he does most of his work by hand. He becomes an influencer, he learns the influencers he needs to know and just talks to them. Sure, there are tools out there to help him do that, but sometimes it comes down to something simple.

Like collecting the top influencers on a given topic at a Mexican restaurant at SXSW, pouring Margaritas and having a conversation.

But if you're looking at a number like a Klout score you need to ask yourself "what are you truly measuring?" Even accepted measurements have flaws. For evidence of that look no further than a great Freakonomics video on Football stats. They point out how seemingly simple metrics like a QB's passing yards never tell the whole story. The video points out that last season, quarterbacks who threw for 300 or more yards a game went 47-49. When you look at those QBs with 400+ passing games, that record drops to 3-11. (I'd like to note here that Joe Namath was the MVP of Superbowl III without throwing a single touchdown pass. He didn't throw any passes in the 4th quarter. Yet the Jets still won.)

I like what Klout is attempting to do: trying to provide everyone with a simple way to measure influence. The problem is, it means different things to different people and has a dozen different contexts.

In other words, "influence" isn't so simple to measure.

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Social Business: Finally Here?

I very much enjoyed today's "Awareness Exploring Social Media Business Summit," but not for the reasons I thought I would.

The event was an excellent overview of how far we've come. According to Jeremiah Owyang, the opening speaker, 71% of businesses have had some form of social media program in place for more than a year (his slide deck from the program is below).

The event was also an excellent illustration of how far we have yet to go. When I saw the phrase "Social Media Business" I thought there would be more exploration of how social is moving beyond the marketing department. The Altimeter Group itself shared some interesting survey results on social's expansion into other departments back in June (see below), but the focus of today's program stayed very much in the marketing department.

Departments where Formalized Customer Facing Efforts Occur

That's definitely not a bad thing -- there is plenty of work left to do when it comes to realizing the full potential of social media marketing. And as a PR guy, I should be happy about where we are. But so much of my success as a PR pro is dependent on the quality and reputation of the company or product I'm promoting -- and that can only be helped by involving more than just the marketing department.

Those of you interested in continuing the conversation outside the marketing department should tune in to Tuesday's Social Product Innovation Summit and SPIKE Awards event, being sponsored by the Social Media Club and Fresh Ground client Kalypso, among others. The free virtual program starts at 11am and runs through 3pm -- sign up at http://www.spikesummit.com/, even if you can only make part of the program!

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Five Years of Social

What did we do before Facebook? Before Twitter? Before most of what we think of as social media and smart phones and all of today's connected technologies existed?

Five years ago, much of what we think of today as social media was either in its early days or still stuck on a whiteboard somewhere.

Five years ago, we felt the same pain that we do today. We felt overwhelmed by new media (there were millions of blogs in 2006). Our filters sucked only slightly more than they do today.

Five years ago, I had the honor of being there, at least in a virtual sense, for the first meeting of the Social Media Club, or at least the meeting that started it all. Chris Heuer and Kristie Wells sat down with Todd Defren, Brian Solis, Sally Falkow, Tom Abate, Seth Mazow, Tom Foremski, Mark Nowlan, Jen McClure, Pat Meier-Johnson, Russell JohnsonShannon Clark, Lisa Chung, myself and (also virtually) Jason Baptiste to talk about the changes that social media was bringing.

In November of that same year, a group of about 100 of us teamed up with the Society for New Communications Research and hosted our first Boston meeting of the club. Jen was there, as well as Chris Heuer, and we were joined by a great group of Boston folks, including the following folks who really helped get the word out and share their thoughts: Adam Weiss, Adam Zand, Alison Raymond, Amanda Watlington, Barbara Rudolph, Brian Cavoli, Bryan Person, Chuck Hester, David Meerman Scott, Doug Haslam, Geoff Livingston, Mike Spataro, Paula Slotkin, Scott Monty, Susan Koutalakis, Tom Francoeur, Tony Sapienza and many others who you'll recognize in the photos below.

In the five years that have transpired since then, so much has happened. There's a great blog post on some of the milestones, and this great infographic from JESS3:

Social Media Club, The First Five Years

Here are some thoughts from Social Media Club Founder Chris Heuer on our 5th anniversary:

I'll share my own thoughts on our 5th anniversary at our November 8th "Evolution of Social Business" event at IBM. I hope you'll join me for that!

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Why I'm Negative on Google Plus

I hate to be the one who brings a skunk to Google's party, but I'm not as bullish on Google Plus as the rest of the world. Yes, it's interesting and, in some cases, shows a remarkable touch for creating a wonderful user interface. Like others, I'm impressed with how you can put people in (asynchronous) circles. But people are finding even those to be a bit of a chore.

Facebook's biggest advantage right now is its utility. By utility I don't mean how I interact with software, but that it allows me to see information about people and companies I care about without much effort. When Amy Winehouse died this past weekend my Facebook feed lit up. Over on Google+ I saw a smattering of reaction, but really people were still talking about Google+.

In Ken Auletta's New Yorker piece about Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg, he notes that Sandberg "would tell people that Facebook was a company driven by instinct and human relationships. The point, implicitly, was that Google was not."

Related back to Google+, it's beautiful and it has the social media elite excited by what it offers in terms of both control and design, but the big question is whether it gains the true utility.

Sure, it boasts plenty of users, but the big measure of any social network isn't the number of people who signed up, it's the number of times a day people share something. How many "shares" per person does it have? What types of information are likely to be shared? Apparently I'm not the only one noticing this. Apparently visitors are down over on Google+ as is the time on the site. Granted, this is still early and not indicative of much long-term. But it's still an interesting development for the site.

I sent a few friends invites thinking that with more people close to me I'd see more sharing. One put up one picture and commented how much easier it was than on Facebook. But then when she took a few days off her updates only showed up on Facebook. So for me to find out about her life, that's where I have to be. So long as that remains true, then my time on Google Plus remains limited as well.

My wife had the best comment of all. After looking at it for a few minutes she said "What do I do with it?" Frankly, after using Facebook and Twitter the answer should have been obvious. It wasn't. Keep in mind that what attracted her to Facebook was her friends, not just that they were using it, but that they were sharing information she wanted to know. Conversations around her would include "Oh, I saw on Facebook...."

Can this change? Certainly. But it's not going to be overnight, it will take years. Facebook is in place, unseating it isn't going to be easy.

Right now my social media diet includes a constantly running Twitter feed and regular checkins on Facebook (for an intermingling of personal information and news). If Google Plus doesn't build true utility, we'll end up waving goodbye.

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Hyper-Everything Video

Last Wednesday, the Social Media Club Boston met out in Framingham for the latest in a series of programs we've run touching on the intersection of journalism and social media. My business partner Chuck Tanowitz has been very passionate about the subject, so it was only natural to invite him to moderate the program. Here is the video of the program:

Social Media Club Boston June 2011 Journalism Panel: "Hyper Everything"

From the front line to the local coffee shop to the courthouse, journalism faces pressure not only to remain profitable, but to remain relevant. This panel of journalists gives an in-depth discussion of the pressures and possibilities facing the journalism profession today.

Our panelists included:

* Ed Medina (@surfermedina), Director of Multimedia Development, Boston Globe and Boston.com
* Kristin Burnham (@kmburnham), Staff Writer, CIO.com
* Tom Langford (@tom_langford), Reporter, NECN
* Adam Kaufman (@AdamMKaufman), New Media Contributor, NESN.com

The event was sponsored by IDG and Business Wire. Thank you to both for their continued support of the Social Media Club Boston!

What did you think?

ADDED JUNE 27:
After the event, IDG's Colin Browning interviewed Chuck to dive a little deeper in a few areas. Here is a recording of that interview:

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Never Cry News

Let's be honest, at one time or another, we've all probably solicited to our social network. Whether it was for our company, a client or a cause, we've tried to market a product, service or company for free. We've tried to use the system -- the social network platform of our choice -- in a way that, while hopefully wasn't a violation of the TOS, was definitely not the way the network would prefer us to do. The network would prefer that we market by buying ads! But instead, we've gone the unpaid route.

One manifestation of this is the practice of soliciting retweets -- a topic that Geoff Livingston wrote about last week, and one that really sparked this train of thought. Geoff raised concerns around both the efficacy and the ethics of this common practice. Essentially, he asked:

Does the practice of asking for retweets on Twitter hurt the efficacy of retweets, does it ultimately damage your reputation, and is it in the end unethical, or at the very least against the law of transparency?

I would argue that retweets are becoming less effective, not necessarily (or primarily, at any rate) because of some kind of "never cry news" phenomenon, but because at the same time that social networks are tightening controls, the signal to noise ratio has dropped and our use of filters has increased.

Tightening the Belt
Twitter has begun to enforce its TOS around batch following. Facebook won't share its contact information with other platforms. Myspace is laying off half its staff. All around us, belts are tightening as the social networking giants get ready for a drive to revenue and profitability. And in the process, they're going to find new ways to monetize, close loopholes (like those that TweepML enabled) and generally make it harder to market for free.

Sending a Signal
Meanwhile, there's more and more content being pushed out there (though you'd never know it by looking at our poor blog). More twitterers, more facebookers, more bloggers (despite what some people claim to be the "death of blogging"), more video, more podcasts. It's harder and harder to get your message through. The social networks know this, and it's why they're making it easier to leverage your "social graph," because you're more likely to read content from, and share ideas with, people you know well.

What'd You Say?
On top of the degrading signal to noise ratio, or indeed because of it, our use of filters has increased. I've limited my blog reading to a very small circle of blogs. Even my podcast listening, which I used to do religiously, has been dialed back. And social networks are allowing increasingly better fine tuning over what and how you get your content.

Where Does This Leave Us?
Let's face it: the days of free marketing will soon be over. Welcome to the world of "pay to play." Sure, you can still try to "socially engineer" a "viral campaign," but you're going to need a very large seeding to get anywhere (and you may need to start offline). While you still might be able to cash in some favors to have an impact, you're going to have to have a pretty big favor bank to make any kind of impact.

If that means you think twice before calling something "news," all the better.

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Death of the Twitter Celebrity

**Editor's Note - Fresh Ground is pleased to welcome Kristin Grages to our team.  In addition to doing great work for our clients, she'll poke her head in here from time to time to talk about influencer relations, among other things.**

Much has been made of the Twitter following some celebrities have. Millions of people follow Kim Kardashian and Ryan Seacrest, reading daily about their lives and latest projects.  Sometimes interesting, sometimes not, their voices are heard by millions.

That voice can be useful.  Celebrity (and twitter) can be put to good, productive use; raising money  by pumping up (and pimping out) particular causes.  Pleas go out daily from celebrities for their latest pet charity, often to the betterment of those organizations.

For the latest celebri-twitter campaign, a number of high profile celebrities (with sky high twitter followings) came up with a new strategy.  They'd "kill" themselves on twitter and await resurrection by donation.  "X celebrity sacrificed her digital life to help save millions of real lives affected by HIV/AIDS."  The goal was to raise $1 million.  They hoped to do it in a day.  Now, three days later, they haven't even broken $200,000.

So what went wrong? With more than 26 million twitter follwers among then, this should have been easy.  That's 26 million impressions of... what exactly?  Silence? The problem is, silence isn't a twitter strategy.  It's not any kind of public relations strategy.  The absence of a conversation does not persuade.  So instead of imploring their followers with daily, even hourly reminders to consider a donation, they are silent.  And not actually dead, they're continuing  lives far more fabulous than the donors they seek could possibly imagine.

The flaw in the strategy is within the medium.  Twitter is busy, loud and quick.  With your feed continually refreshing, pumping out updates by the second, who notices when you don't hear from someone for a few hours or even days?  These celebrities overestimated the value of a day's worth of twitter.  But more than that, they overestimated the impact their absence would have on their audience, which seems to be rather small.  The conversation moves on, whether you're in it or not.  It's up to you to keep up.

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Facebook Places: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Unless you live under a rock (or are part of the ever decreasing part of the American population not on Facebook) you have probably heard the news about Facebook Places. On the surface, Facebook places is the social-behemoth's attempt to take over the growing market being pioneered by companies like Gowalla, Foursquare and SCVNGR*. The success of Facebook Places is yet to be seen, we've all seen other companies stumble when trying to move into other markets (see: Google Wave) and Facebook hasn't yet made a dent in Craiglist with its Facebook Markets.

It's certainly not a foolish move. The fact is, many large companies are trying to get their hands around location-based services. Even Major League Baseball. I noticed that my MLB iPhone app has a feature buried deep in its functions that lets you check in at ballparks. I'm not sure what they're planning to do with this functionality, but now that Facebook has moved into the market they can probably sync up with the big boy.

But let's take a look at what's good and bad about the way that Facebook currently has this configured.

The Good

Places opens up the idea of location-based services to a much larger audience than Foursquare could reach. At its heart, Facebook is about connecting with friends and finding out what they are doing with their lives. Why wouldn't location play a role here? Don't we all love the surprise meetup? Case in point: one night my wife and I were out to dinner in Brookline. While walking by a Thai restaurant we heard banging on the window, and there were friends we hadn't seen in a while. We talked and ended up getting dessert together. It changed an evening that probably would have ended early to a fun evening with friends.

Now imagine we checked in at our restaurant earlier and were informed that friends were nearby. Now it's not so spontaneous, but we can actually seek them out, or avoid them. Either way. But in this case Facebook is about connecting friends, not just online, but face-to-face.

The Bad

I can't imagine what my newsfeed will look like once people start checking in. If the Facebook newsfeed becomes a noisy mess, the utility it brings me drops and my use of it will as well. So this is something Facebook will need to manage.

Also, I'm wondering about the impetus for people to check in. I believe that the market of people who want to earn badges is relatively small, certainly not the mass audience that Facebook reaches. So it will be interesting to see what drives the checkins and whether Facebook can utilize relationships with advertsers or local merchants without alienating its users.

Finally, I'm not thrilled with how Facebook continues to apply its features as opt-in rather than creating an automated "asking" process on a login. Lifehacker has a great article outlining how to adjust your privacy settings. Facebook should take note that when Lifehacker puts out an article specifically telling people how to TURN OFF a feature, it may not be something people want.

The Ugly

The idea that someone else can check me into a venue is a horrifyingly bad idea. In a wonderful perfect world where everyone is actually friends and no one plays practical jokes, this would work. And if you live in a place like that please let me know.

But I'm not interested in letting people decide to tell the world where I am. That's a decision that is mine and mine alone. Facebook should disable this feature immediately, and in lieu of that, I suggests that everyone disable it in their privacy settings.

* It's worth noting that SCVNGR has funding from Google Ventures.

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Updating Mad Men: The Focus Group

This week Mad Men featured a staple of the media world: the focus group. Whether it's a telephone survey, like the call I received from Nielsen this weekend, or grabbing a group of people off the street, the focus group is a key part of any media outreach campaign. Before understanding the messaging and positioning that world work for the whole, you must first undersand what will work for a small, carefully selected group.

The women of the Mad Men focus group

But today the focus group is open to everyone with a search window. You can open up Twitter and be greeted by a flood of information or check out the LinkedIn groups to find out what business folks are truly feeling. You can even enter traditional forums and hear the complaints and concerns of thousands of people. However, like the PhD who is running the Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce focus groups, people need a guide to understand what they're reading. It's very easy to get lost in the "Rats Nest" of social media.

In fact, sometimes you need to entirely dismiss what you're reading or, in other cases, provide additional emphasis. I was quoted in Mashable saying that the social media realm offers imperfect data. The point is, just a few numbers will never tell you enough of a story, you need to understand the context of the person conveying the information, online and off.

Coming back to focus groups for a moment, how they are compiled affects the information you glean from them. In Mad Men the group was made up of young, unmarried women. In fact, just before grabbing the last unmarried secretary an older secretary commented that she wasn't wanted in the room because she was, in fact, older and married.

The results of the session were that women want to be beautiful to attract a man, according to the doctor who ran it, but it could have turned out differently with the older women in the mix. Of course, this is where Pond's finds itself today, with an older, more mature demographic. The eventual conclusion that women are simply looking to be married and that's why they use beauty products was rejected by top Mad Man Don Draper, who noted that putting out a year's worth of messaging would change the conversation.

In the social media world, people put out information for a reason. When looking at social media for market intelligence you must ask yourself "why did this person say what they're saying." Otherwise you're only getting half a story. Social search tools can help you find information and many social CRM tools exist to help you get graphs, charts and numbers to show certain trends, but there is so much more available within the social stream.

Over here at Fresh Ground we have started working with customers on a social intelligence service. That is, we look at interesting pieces of information, put them in context and then distribute that information to the appropriate internal audiences. This is how we help our clients dig up everything from sales leads to competitive intelligence.

So what would Pond's do differently today? Well, first they'd have a lot more information about their target demographic. Then they would use that information to understand the individuals who visit their site. If they wanted to try out new messages they'd probably do a bit of A/B testing on their site to see what works. They may also test certain messages in certain demographic areas, either through online advertising, carefully located display ads or buying air time in specific programs. They'd also dig into the social media intelligence to find out what people in their targeted demographics are discussing, then find ways into those conversations.

And hopefully, when they're done, no one ends up crying or throwing heavy objects at Don Draper.

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