Doing Democracy: Ten Thoughts about Using Social Media for Policy Change in Canada

So you have a social cause that you want to promote online. Some media attention would be nice, but even better would be if you had a Twitter hashtag trend across the world, or if you had your heartwarming promotional video trend on Upworthy. If only a large part of the voting population could hear what you have to say, the government would only have to listen, wouldn’t they?

There exists an unfortunate assumption among those who engage in online social activism that public attention is always a good thing and that nothing will ever change unless the whole world knows about it. The media in particular feeds this idea partly because it actually does benefit from attention (because advertising revenue) but that’s not entirely fair. Journalists are professionals after all, and there is a long standing value throughout history that the media is there to support the ‘little guy.’ And, even in the age where traditional media is in a period of slow decline, the media’s main tool is drawing attention to social problems.

But attention is a pretty blunt instrument. Once unleashed on the world, it is quite difficult to control. For example, there is a story I told a ways back in my TedX talk about Social networks and public policy. As part of a consultation for the new Halifax Central Library we got people together in the Foggy Goggle to knit a yarn bomb. A co-conspirator decided to place the invitations to the consultations by adding clothespins and string to the piece. What happened next was amazing – people added candy, lovenotes, stories, cartoons etc to those clothespins – it was beautiful.

We posted it on YouTube and amazingly it found itself on the YouTube front page. However, unlike the response from Haligonians, the response from YouTubers was mostly hate. We were criticized for the aesthetics of the piece, for being hippies, for not giving the yarn wrap as a blanket for homeless people and so on. This is an example of what Maarten Hajer calls “multiplicities” in his great book Authoritative Governance. A message that makes a ton of sense to one audience will totally bomb with another. This usually has to do with the base assumptions of different networks. In short, attention — even positive attention — is unlikely to move policy makers unless it is somehow connected to power. So, if you want to create policy change, you need to think about how your particular social movement will be connected to power. So, I came up with ten thoughts on how you might do this. This is not backed by research, it is only some conjecture based on my reading and observation.

  1. Anger is a resource, but not a solution: It is true that there are things in the world that make us angry, and it is excellent advice to say that if you are angry, then that is a time to think about doing something about it. Usually, this means express your anger to your social networks. Often, anger can be contagious, and start the conversation. But then what? Anger is kind of like sugar. Sugar is great, but almost no one wants to eat it on its own. You have to bake it into something inspiring. How about actually looking at the existing policy that is making you mad and re-writing it the way you think it should be?
  2. Coalitions, coalitions, coalitions: So it turns out that you are on the wrong side of the current pendulum swing. You can trend your topic all you want, the government is probably just going to ignore you. However, maybe you can connect with groups that have some similar beliefs. These groups can come from odd places. For instance, radical feminists and social conservatives, who are frequently on different sides on the abortion debate, tend to have common beliefs when it comes to such things as victim’s rights and access to pornography. Thinking broadly about where your allies might be (even temporarily) can help your ideas find their way into even an ideologically opposite government.
  3. Governments Don’t Always Respond to Problems: The truth is that there are no end to the number of problems that governments could respond to. Pointing out that a problem exists is not enough to make government move. One view of how this all works comes from John Kingdon and others. The idea is that problems, solutions and power all happen in different places — it’s not until these things connect that you begin to see change. Kingdon argues that these connections occur during “policy windows” (ie. attention-getting events). So, that’s what you ought to be trying to do during a protest, or tragic event – try to connect the problem with possible solutions and groups who may have the resources to encourage the public to change.
  4. If it Catches On, Someone is Going to Represent Your Cause: Despite all the rhetoric that online media “democratizes” information because it gives citizens their own platforms to publish, the reality is that a very small number of people, perhaps only one, is going to become the representative for your cause. This doesn’t necessarily happen because someone is a tyrant or power-hungry, but because we all only have so many people we can pay attention to in the long run. And when given a choice, why wouldn’t we just go with the most popular opinion. One example is the role Michael Geist plays in representing the more “open” side of Canadian copyright law. And why shouldn’t he be? He’s a very knowledgeable lawyer and professor. This natural thing to happen in social networks can be a problem however, because it makes your cause look like a one person bandwagon. It is a good thing to think about how you can get multiple people’s voices in your network.
  5. The ‘Boomerang Effect’ is a Thing:  From Keck and Sukkink’s Activists Without Borders, the boomerang effect refers to the way social movements can use international groups to enact social change. We see this somewhat with the Northern Gateway and Keystone Pipeline situations. The Athabaska peoples do not have a great amount of power to go up against the oil industry and a generally energy-positive government. However, using environmental networks in the US, they have managed to get considerable support for their cause with Canadian rock star Neil Young putting his celebrity behind it, and Leonardo DiCaprio using his ALS Ice Bucket Challenge moment to highlight the importance of treaty rights.
  6. Homophily is a Thing: Homophily is a persistent trait of social networks. It means the tendency for people of like ethnicity, gender, race, class etc. to tend to want to be together. It can also refer, but to a lesser extent, to policy beliefs. This means that just because your cause got a lot of pickup from social media does not mean it has saliency across the board. You should not let your collective excitement and “me too-isms” make you overconfident. There are others in other places thinking completely different things about the issue. You might want to try and connect to them and see if there is any common ground.
  7. Arguments are a Thing: I get how memes and slogans help to get a broad message across. The number of things I see followed by a comment like “this is just so true!” is just a little bit frustrating, because often, with even just a little bit of research, it is easy to find exceptions to the rule. As you will see in point #8, memes have their place – but be ready with a solid argument to defend your position. It is at the solid argument stage where you will start to see government agencies and departments responding to your ideas.
  8. Think both “weak” and “strong”: There are ways we connect with each other to build trust and there are ways we connect to make acquaintance and perhaps have a little fun. My recent research suggests that you should try to do both. Activities that build strong ties on social media include acknowledging volunteers and donors, posting accountability information, and taking pictures of activities that your group is involved in. These things help people become emotionally attached to your cause. Activities that build weak ties include sharing a meme, connecting to celebrities and marketing Twitter hashtags. These things connect you to people outside your local network and open up doors to other ideas and allies.
  9. Pass the Baton: Even though a small group of people are going to end up being the “heroes” of your cause (see #4), you can still build support by making sure that you have sub-causes that can let other voices come up to the top of the list. It is important to give as many different voices the highlight as you can. This may not happen with any single event, but over time you can show that you have solidarity by letting new faces come forward.
  10. Empathy is a Muscle: The world is full of misery and this requires us to look at our worlds constantly with an eye to how we can improve things. However, we are also human. The truth is, people get fatigued as they come to serve social causes. This fatigue eventually ends up with a surprising lack of empathy for causes that are not our own. Do not fall into this trap. The best way to avoid empathy fatigue is to be selfish once in a while. Take a break from the Internet and go find yourself on a camping trip, take a vacation or spend time with family. The problems will still be there when you get back. Take care of yourself.

These are just some jotted down thoughts I have based partly on some readings, and partly on some research. I’d really appreciate any other ideas you have on the matter. Also, as a favor, if you like this post, I’d really appreciate it if you could share links to my articles on the Keystone XL Pipeline & the Third Sector.

Six Ways to Do a Presentation

People get anxious about making presentations. There are ways to manage this anxiety, but part of the reason people have this anxiety is that they think there is a formula for a “good” presentation and that they have to somehow fit the mold of that formula. It’s kind of like trying to be a rock diva without the sequins or a tech guru without the black turtleneck and jeans.

Too bad for these people that they watch too much mainstream news.

The reality is that the “good” presentation format is only “good” because a whole bunch of people have packaged it into a brand of sorts. People who are not part of that club have to think of other ways to get their message across. If you are doing a presentation for the first time, chances are your audience is not everyone in the world. More likely, you have a smaller niche audience with more specific needs. That means you have to think about your presentations a little bit differently. While I can’t give you a strict idea about how to reach  your audience in the right way, I can offer ten ways you could do a presentation and see if this gives you an idea about how you might approach yours. Here they are:

Lecture with Script

When you have done a lot of research, it is easy to get nervous about the details. Do not try to explain a mathematical algorithm in the middle of a presentation. You will draw a blank. Instead look to a script. You do not need to follow it 100%, but scripting it can help you get through the details without making a mistake. Tanya Boza has some interesting things to say about being a good lecturer, but advises against using a script. Well, I say scripts have their place depending on the situation. Although Tanya is right – it is much better if you can use your script without looking as if that’s what you are doing.

ADVANTAGES: You can script the details. Will go off very well if you are a good writer. Tends to be formal, and usually rhetorical. Great if you are a politician or have to explain things in a very specific way so not to offend people.

DISADVANTAGES: Can be boring and/or un-engaging. You can lose personal contact with the audience if not rehearsed well. Can be over-prepared. Difficult to do ad hoc presenting within a script.

Lecture with Notes

If you are teaching a big picture concept without getting into the details, it may be better to go without a script. Instead, just quick notes will do you well. This is especially good if you have props to show, are teaching English, expect questions about the material. Johnathan Fields gives a great overview of how Martin Luther King used improvisation in his speech and changed the world.

ADVANTAGES: Great for an overview topic. People may feel more comfortable to ask questions. Good for abstract concepts that are hard to display visually. Excellent for people who like to perform and/or do improv. Can be especially good for a dramatic topic.

DISADVANTAGES: Tends to cover topics too generally. Information can be hard to retain if the lecture goes on too long. Can appear disorganized or unprepared, especially if people ask for details.

Power Point Presentation

Like it or not, the Power Point is a mainstay for presentations. I wish generally that we would not rely on it so much, but so be it. The key to remember is that power point should be a support and not a crutch. However, if you are so nervous about presenting that power point is your crutch, I have a few tips to offer you on the issue.

ADVANTAGES: Great for people with an eye for design. Visuals can really help support the topic if done properly. Easily shared on the Internet. Best option for sharing graphs and charts.

DISADVANTAGES: Waaaay over done. Gets tedious if the visuals are uninteresting; gets distracting if the visuals are overpowering. Appears “salesy” at times due to its prominence in the field of marketing. People ask you for your notes so they don’t have to watch the lecture.

Present Over Sound

It’s not often thought of, but it can be very effective to use sound to illustrate a point. This is the essence of podcasting, in fact, although sound does not have to be digital. If you have your own instrument, that can be even more fun. Take a look at Anna Russell explain Wagner’s Ring using music, for instance:

ADVANTAGES: It is not using powerpoint. Sound is a great way to describe emotions, tension etc. Obviously it is excellent for showing music. It’s an excellent way for musicians to show their talents while making an argument. Very effective with visuals, perhaps removing the need for a script or notes.

DISADVANTAGES: Requires a lot of preparation. Can be distracting to try and speak over a music set. Queues can be missed, causing awkward breaks in the performance.

Q&A

I once did a presentation by simply asking the same question in three different ways. This may seem lazy (and it is) but the reality is that the audience collectively often has much more information and knowledge than the person speaking.

ADVANTAGES: Almost no preparation required. You need an eye for facilitation to ensure as many voices as possible are heard. Crowd wisdom often brings amazing insights.

DISADVANTAGES: Need excellent questions. Always the threat of no one having any thoughts (although this is rare if you are patient). People looking for something unique will often be disappointed. Can come off as overly “new age” or maudlin. You need to be comfortable with a bit of awkward silence.

Structured Alternatives (AKA “Large Group Methods”)

There are a variety of presentation structures that can open the door to more audience participation. Fish Bowls, Talking Circles and World Cafe are some examples, although there can be many more.  These can range from very easy to facilitate (talking circle pretty much just needs a stick or other object to make happen) to very challenging (World Cafe is pretty complex to organize). Either way, they all represent different ways of providing something a little different from lecture-style.

ADVANTAGES: Can be very inspiring. Can open up some voices who otherwise would not want to speak out. Self-coordinating while happening.

DISADVANTAGES: The structures can be a little difficult to explain. Not everyone is free to be honest and open, so these styles can leave them vulnerable. There can be a “musical chairs” kind of effect, so you need to be comfortable with moments of chaos.

So here are six examples of alternative styles of presentations that you can offer your audience. Not everything has to be a power point! What kinds of presentations have you encountered that seemed just a little outside the box?

Part I: Is There a Such Thing as Real World Haskell?

Part II:   How not to Start Your Haskell Program >

Here’s a bit of sardonic code, that I’d like to propose to any Haskell advocate out there.

data Works = Works | Does_not
computerApp a ::  Maybe a -> Works
computerApp a
     | isJust a = Works
     | otherwise = Does_not

I have been playing around with functional programming in Haskell.    I have to say that it has more than certainly improved my ability to code in other languages, and probably has reduced the number of bugs I have to fix after the fact.    On the other hand, it has driven me absolutely batty.

To be fair, I need to say that I am not a computer engineer.    I have a BA in English.    My Masters are in Public Administration and Information Management.      I engaged in Haskell code simply as a curiosity and a challenge.    I love math, and became curious about Monads and Lambda calculus.    I am probably not smart enough to be a great Haskell programmer.   However, I do understand two things.    1)  Not-smart-enough people can and want to participate in application development   2)  Coders, while making apps that do what they expect them to do, do not always understand (or care) about the sustainability and/or scalability of their code.

Web Development is an important test case.      Just about anyone, with a reasonable amount of time and effort, can learn to develop a website in PHP, probably supported by some content management system as Drupal or ModX.    Somewhere, their development goes overboard, the system does an upgrade to support some security risk or vulnerability, and ‘pop’ –>  all that likely un-documented and messy code goes nowhere and wheels need to be reinvented.

That’s why learning Haskell is probably a good idea.    Without getting into the code itself, it insists that a function always causes the same result to happen with any given input(s).    Once developed, the documentation pretty much always exists in a minimal form (via Type declarations).    So many bad habits would disappear if only people were forced into developing this way.

The problem, unfortunately, is that Haskell coding is confusing.     There is no popular development framework to use it.     Once you try to apply the examples provided in text books to real world development, things go wonky.    I won’t go into the many reasons why, but I do have an observation based on what I’ve seen in responses from various gurus to newbies like me.

It’s this ->   Users think computers do things.    Computer engineers think computers solve problems.     In Haskell terms, any interaction between users and engineers results in a type error.    Somewhere along the line, an IO() monad needs to be created to turn what engineers like about Haskell into something that users will like about it.

I would like to propose a management framework, similar to extreme programming, to manage the development of functional code for regular people.   While Programming it in Haskell is not a bad start, it uses a problem solving model, rather than a ‘how do you make the software do x’ model.    It focuses on mathematical abstractions rather than simple actions.     For instance, I would like to see a book that uses the development of a rogue-like rpg game in Haskell as an example.    Instead of worrying about efficient computation, abstractions about ‘laziness’ and recursive factorial examples, the writer would have to focus on managing complex (a tuple of a lists of tuples) types, worrying about random numbers and IO issues that are inherent to Haskell.   In approaching such a game, should I worry about creating newtypes first, or work from what I want main to do and fill in the gaps?

But while I make this suggestion, I really have no idea of what kind of advice I can offer your typical new-to-haskell coder.     But I have some hypotheses:

  • work from the main :: IO() first and build a framework of functions to develop your outputs.
  • possibly create type variables for each of your functions, making it equal in Type to a typical output you would like to see.    Then work backwards from there to create a lazy output, then involve possible recursion and so on.
  • use generic types (eg. Int, String, Char etc.) with comments first, then develop types to make your code more clear.
  • unit tests should include the System.IO.Unsafe module (cheating should be allowed when you are testing your code – let the learning happen when you are developing real code)

I’ll add what I can as I continue to learn more about coding in Haskell.    The bottom line is that I think more people should be coding in a language like Haskell, but they are unlikely to work with it if they end up spending a bajillion hours just to get it to choose randomly from a list of monsters (for example).   Especially when they can learn how to do the same in three minutes using an imperative language like Python.

For the greater good and more sustainable code overall, what high-level tips or approaches can you offer any newbie coders of Haskell, so they can develop without becoming absolutely bogged down in failure with their Haskell programs?

UPDATE:   After writing this, I found a great powerpoint tutorial by Graham Hutton that uses Hangman as an example of interactive Haskell code development.

How to Talk to an “Aspi” – Asperger’s, Autism, Labels, Stereotypes and Strategies

Update: After writing this, I read this great article by someone name Astrid who has Aspergers and think it’s a great counterpoint to what I said here.   I now can’t imagine this post being ‘out there’ without a link to that post.   I have no real response to Astrid except to acknowledge the tension between the perception of Aspies as ‘elite’ (in a way) and the often unfair expectations that those perceptions have on people with Asperger’s.

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

My son is a genius in so many ways you cannot imagine.   He is now six years old.    He has been talking since he was barely 12 months old.    His vocabulary could make Rex Murphy feel like he needs to go back to grade school.

He can tell you the some interesting properties of many chemical elements you’ve never heard of.   He once wrote Martyn Poliakoff of the Periodic Table of Videos to ask him:

  • What do people use Beryllium for (just watch this video)?
  • What is the most dangerous element?  (there are various reasons for danger.   Plutonium is very toxic.   Fluorine and Cesium are the most reactive.)   What is the least dangerous element?  (probably Helium)
  • How do you suppose ununoctium is very small when it has the most protons?   (It’s not small, but only a very small amount has ever been made – and the experiment that claimed to have made ununoctium has its critics for sure).
  • If bananas contain potassium why do they not explode when you put them in water?   (it’s not elemental potassium that bananas contain, but potassium ions, which do not explode in water).

There’s more.   He’s gotten as far as level 8 in Globetrotter XL (a game where you are asked to pinpoint the geographic location of world cities).    He can probably describe most of the world flags and definitely all of the U.S. state flags.    He can name all the state capitals and nicknames.   (Also, he is Canadian, so he has no real education on this topic.)    When he was 3, I could rely on him to give me accurate instructions on how to drive to someone’s house after only a single visit.

When he got to school, however, we learned that he was having difficulty socially.    We are also realizing that there are some issues with some areas of his academic life too.   That’s when we discovered that he’s an ‘aspi’ – a child with Aspergers.    Whether that’s a diagnosis, a personality type or just a way for so-called ‘normal’ people to marginalize him, I’m not quite sure.   I do know that paying attention to the nuances of his learning style has been really helpful to let him deal with everyday life things.

So he must be socially awkward right?    Must be like Rainman, right?    Spock?    Temperance Brennan from Bones?    Keeps to himself, right?   He must shy away from social situations and show little emotion to others, right?    Total lack of empathy in favor of logic and detail.   It’s all obvious!

Well, no.   My child is  extremely engaging, interesting and (in a way) interested in people.    The differences are more subtle and hard to pin-point.   You’d know there’s a problem somewhere with the way he interacts with others, but you would find it hard to pinpoint what.    But, if you meet a kid that:

  • Is very welcoming and friendly.   Almost assuming right off that you are a friend.
  • Is very polite on the phone.
  • Assumes that you are interested in what he is talking about.
  • Assumes you want to participate in the things he wants to do, and maybe gets angry if you don’t.
  • Interrupts your conversations with others.
  • Gets upset over basic requests or instructions.
  • Asks surprising questions and offers amazing insight on a wide range of topics.
  • Will do a speech as if he were defending a thesis, but then fail at answering basic open-ended questions about the same topic.
  • Is surprisingly slow at getting ready for going outside etc.
  • Will repeat certain behaviors and actions over and over again.

That might be my kid.

If you happen upon a kid you might think is an aspi, here are some things you could consider:

No Surprises

Little surprises will make Mr. 6 anxious.    Simple requests like ‘go brush your teeth’ can turn into total battles if they appear (to him) to come from left field.    A better approach is to give him a list of the things that need to happen, preferably with time-limits to go with them.

Be Patient

Mr. 6 will ramble.    It’ll take him a few shots of ‘umm…  uh…  I have a question for you…’ etc. before he comes out with what he needs to say.

Turn Open-ended Questions into Multiple Choice

No matter how many times I ask Mr. 6 ‘what does he want for dinner’ he will always reply ‘i don’t know, what is there?’    And he’s a picky eater – he only has a few things that he enjoys eating!    On the other hand, if I hand Mr. 6 a menu, he will be able to give me ideas even if nothing on the menu is appealing to him.    So if you want to ask Mr. 6 why he is angry, you should say ‘I think you might be angry because:

a) you are disappointed about not getting candy

b) you are a mean grouch

c) someone called you a mean name

d) someone ate your lunch’

Even if all of these ideas are absolutely wrong, Mr. 6 will be able to take one of options and give you some insight into how he is feeling.

Act Like a Librarian

There may be no actual evidence to support this assertion, but sometimes it’s like Mr. 6 has a Library of Congress in his head with no retrieval system to find the right information at the right time.    If you are able to help him out with a little subject classification, he may be able to find the right book in his head and recite its contents in detail with amazing analytical capability.

Get Ready to Have your Mind Explode

When I explained my little ‘act like a librarian’ technique to a doctor, Mr. 6 corrected me and said ‘it’s like I have to build a tall building and I don’t know what materials to start with.’    That doctor is probably still cleaning up the grey matter from her office after that insight.

Model Behaviors

Mr. 6 will always be better at imitating the positive behaviors he sees in other than understanding how he is annoying you.    If he can come up with a rule about what to do at the right time, he will do it.    He understands that people get annoyed at him, but he doesn’t always understand why.   Show him an example of how he could behave when certain things happen and he’ll be happy to oblige.

Is Something Else Bothering Him?

Mr. 6 hates loud sounds.    It might not be you, but where you are standing that is bothering him.    If an environment is complicated or noisy, it might be causing problems for Mr. 6.

It’s About Learning Difficulty, Not Emotional Problems or Intelligence

If you are the sort of person who just likes to label and ignore people with learning trouble, just listen to Temple Grandin for a few minutes.    People on the Autism spectrum have the potential not only to be productive members of society, but to transform society for the better.   Like the way a wide range of overachievers just so happen to be dyslexic, there’s a comparable list for people with Aspergers (grain of salt needed for both lists, however).

So there’s my contribution on the challenges that go along with the gift of having an ‘Aspi’ in your life.     Mr. 6 makes me smarter.    He also breaks a wide range of assumptions I have about people learn, teach, ought to behave, and so on.

Podcamp Toronto 2010 – My Recap

Going to Podcamp Toronto has been one of the best things I’ve done in quite a few years.     Yes, better than Computers in Libraries.    Better than OLA Superconference or really any library conference I’ve gone to.   And yes, as Phil Swinney mentioned, it was better than Podcamp Halifax as well.

Podcamp Toronto is better than most library conferences because:

  • A lot of what podcasters and social media artists do relates very well to librarianship.
  • As a librarian, I felt I had a unique perspective to share in the discussions about social media marketing and podcasting.
  • Unlike librarians, social media marketers want to connect to as many people as they possibly can – not just their friends and colleagues.   The #PCTO2010 crowd was very friendly and supportive.   They wanted to help newbies learn and share tips with their colleagues.
  • Podcasters and Marketers are very curious about librarians.   They know we are very crappy marketers of extremely valuable and useful services.

Podcamp Toronto was better than Podcamp Halifax for a few common sense reasons:

  • They were much better at filming / streaming etc. of the presentations – (because they are bigger).
  • They were better at securing sponsorship (at the Saturday party, an elephant could have got very drunk without paying so much as a cent).
  • There were just that many more connections, more excellent presenters, more diverse questions etc.
  • No one had to justify their social media presence.   It was a given that social media is important and valuable and Podcampers were going to reap the benefits of their diving in to this space early.
  • There were more podcaster presentations.  The one I went to by John Meadows about editing interview content was fantastic.  (I’m not really a podcaster, but he made me want to become one).

Podcamp Halifax was Better at:

  • I like that we have a keynote – it goes a little against the ‘everyone’s a rockstar’ idea, but it does offer a little break between the sessions that everyone can comment on.
  • Many of the things the organizers were worried about (markers, water, printing capabilities, computers etc) were things I didn’t even bat an eyelash about because the library already had it all.
  • We were more newbie-friendly.
  • Our battledecks session rocked the socks off everyone.   (That said, the #PCTO2010 battledecks session, was great as an opportunity for a newbie presenter to develop their skills).

There were some similarities as well:

  • It is harder at a Podcamp to get a conversation going in sessions than it is at other unconferences I’ve experienced.   I think this partly has to do with the fact that the ‘marketplace’ is set before the event.   When you put more time into establishing the marketplace and explaining such things as the law of two feet, I think it opens the door more to true unconference ‘OMG-the-audience-just-overtook-my-presentation’ effects.
  • The average caliber of presentations was about the same.    Toronto had more outliers (both bad and good), but in general, there was at least one good presentation for everyone.
  • This was a great place to meet all those podcasters that you’ve never met and wish you had.

I also have some suggestions for both Podcamps:

  • Arrange rooms for circulation.    Make sure that people can get in and out of rooms reasonably easily without disturbing others.   (I got caught in a room that I wanted to leave really fast, but couldn’t because of the way the room was set up).
  • There’s got to be a way to enable impromptu sessions.  I haven’t figured it out myself, but it would be so helpful.
  • It’d be nice if there was a way for everyone to get beyond promoting their business/brand at Podcamp.   I realize that it’s all part of the game, but it can’t be just a dream.
  • I’d like to get more people ‘from away’ to Podcamp Halifax.   We had a good mix in the first one and that made for some really great learning for the more experienced podcampers.   This year seemed a little more like a ‘newbies learn from experienced folks’ camp.
  • Schedule by Plain Old Wiki would have worked better for me as a potential presenter.
  • After PCTO2010, I’m not convinced a two-day podcamp is better.   Many many fewer people there on Sunday than there were on Saturday.   A lot of great presentations were missed by the people who partied just a bit too hard the night before.

In general, I feel really refreshed.   I think I’ve learned a heck of alot about social media, podcasting and making Podcamp Halifax better.   I met a whole bunch of great people.   I have a nice stack of business cards so I can keep in touch and I paid alot less than if I went to a traditional conference.

Librarians, get thee to a podcamp!

A Kick in the H1N1 (hiney) – or How Social Media Can Help You When the Message Changes

The communications on the H1N1 (aka Hiney) vaccine in Canada has been a mess.    At first the message was ‘everyone should get the vaccine.’   Then it turned into ‘wait we don’t have enough vaccines for everyone, so it’s only young children and people with chronic illnesses.’   Doctors offices are getting calls all over the place.   H1N1 is over-publicized.   H1N1 is a real threat. And, there is actual evidence that Canada may be doing a better job than other countries at getting the vaccines out.

Some will argue that the problem is poor communication planning.   These problems  are no different from any communication problems.   Key messages change all the time.   Being prepared to change direction is all part of the PR game.   But I bet the people responsible here planned the heck out of this program.   I bet they had a communications plan that could make even the best firms blush at their prowess.   What they did not expect – and should have – is that the public expects faster, more personal and transparent responses to important public messages.   The public expects social media.

Here’s how an advanced social media plan would have benefitted the H1N1 campaign, even after all the messages changed.

Social Media is Fast

Twitter, Facebook, a blog, YouTube and other things like it bring out a message very quickly and easily.    That means the H1N1 message could have gotten out sooner, and offered an open and honest dialogue with the public about the risks, benefits and requirements for citizens to get the vaccine.   All of this could have happened *before* the big marketing push went out and got people all excited, and it could have switched gears as soon as people knew there were going to be problems with the supply.

Social Media Won’t Play “GOTCHA!”

People online like to bitch and complain.   They are skeptical and even jerky sometimes.   But one thing they tend not to do (because they will get their backsides whipped for it) is try and trap someone into a cheap gaffe just to sell newspapers.    If they do, political folks can call them on it easily and quickly.   In Canada, Health Care is political – there’s no end to how social media could have improved the message.

Social Media Builds Trust

The public will always be more receptive to changes in the message if they trust the source that’s saying it.    A clear, traceable road to the process of building, preparing, and distributing the vaccine would have been both inexpensive and indispensible to the messsage later on.

Let Networks Work For You

Having respected Health Professionals onside as the message was getting out would have been equally indispensable, and social media could have done a great deal to help establish those networks.   Networks can clear up questions before you have to, and maybe clarify things that you haven’t really been clear on (hey, nobody’s perfect) in a fair, constructive manner.

Social Media is Timely

Locally, both Capital Health and the IWK have made fair attempts at keeping their public informed about the wait times and availability of vaccines on Twitter.   It’s a modest effort, but an appreciated one, taking advantage of the timely nature of social media to keep the public informed.

Social Media Efforts Receive Feedback

If you are getting it wrong, your network will let you know.   Also, in the spirit of “there are no dumb questions – maybe someone else had that question but was afraid to ask,” the social media folks could have responded to some of those more nitpicky details without bulking up those press releases.

Social Media is Not the Same as Hype

Don’t believe what the media tells you.   Twitter did not ‘light up’ with all kinds of hype about H1N1.   The hype came from media outlets trying to sell news.   And when people told them that H1N1 was overhyped, they turned that into a news story too.   Social Media does not really get all excited about controversy.    People have opinions and sometimes it can be hard to filter through them all, but it doesn’t thrive on the kind of ‘fight or flight’ energy that traditional media does.

Social Media Thinks Long-Term

After flu-season is over, a good social media infrastructure could have been shifted into something more broad reaching.   For example, a communications effort to prevent all infectious disease.

Social Media Appreciates a Good Laugh

Social media give the messenger an opportunity to laugh at him or herself without losing credibility in ways that the traditional media does not.     People respond to joy.    They change their behaviors because of joy – even moreso than they do with fear.  Why not bring more joy into people’s lives?

In short, institutions with millions or billions of dollars in budgets cannot afford to let themselves down by ignoring social media in their communication plans.   At most, what I have proposed here would have cost $100,000 in staff time and expertise.   I am sure the H1N1 campaign had plenty more of that at their disposal and a big mess on their hands to show for it.

How You Look Is Part of the Story

Inspired by Joel Kelly’s first experiment with Videoblogging, I grabbed a flip and made my first attempt at video blogging.     In the aftermath, Joel noticed that people wanted to talk about his vacation beard more than what he was actually saying.

On the whole, the advantage to video is that you have appearance and sound to add to your blogging palette.   We shouldn’t be surprised that people comment on such things, even if it seems inane at times.