The Costa Call

Robert_Costa_by_Gage_Skidmore

Robert Costa
Source: Wikipedia
Credit: Gage Skidmore

Some things in life you can’t escape.  Last night, I celebrated another March birthday with a friend, whose birthday is a week later, at Le Diplomate restaurant on 14th Street in Washington. Both communication specialists, my friend and I talked about everything but politics, for awhile. When the subject came up, we both sort of shook our heads. My friend remarked that it was hard to believe some of the developments happening in politics and the media. If anyone had told us years ago the things happening now in the political landscape, we wouldn’t believe it. We both admitted to working consciously to resist the urge to keep up with the rapid-fire political news pushed to us via our cell phones. We knew such restraint was necessary to manage our own daily lives.

But the next day,  I succumbed to the pull of the cell phone’s news flash once again. I couldn’t help it. The Washington Post had released its journalist Robert Costa’s account of a cell phone call from our 45th President about his party’s replacement bill for the Affordable Care Act of 2010.

I have a number of opinions about that call, but I will keep the personal and political ones to myself. To stay true to the purpose of this blog, however, I feel compelled to focus on how the call speaks to the consequences of digital media in our modern political era.

Transparency: What is most revealing about the call from the 45th President of the United States to Acosta is that it gave the appearance of flouting established communications protocols for persons who hold the high office. The call also went to a journalist at a publication that has been vilified by the current Administration (and its supporters) as a bastion of the “elite liberal media.” The consequence is that it will undoubtedly spark an open discussion about whether the call was part of a planned communications strategy or an executive whim that diminished and devalued established executive branch communications protocols.

Truth: Never before have individuals been so challenged to sift for the truth, based on the myriad news sources that interweave news and opinion. A conscientious effort to decipher truth from fiction, “spin” and accusation presented by digital news media will require diligent objective reasoning abilities that diverse demographic and political groups may be increasingly challenged to adopt. This could have grave consequences for our democracy and others. On the flip side, the immediacy of journalism in the digital age gives rise to the facade of unfiltered reporting and the impression of veracity. Taking the Acosta call as a case in point, we tend to believe that the 45th President repeated three times that House Majority Leader Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) was not to “blame” for the replacement bill’s demise. We believe it, not just because a reporter said it, but we also believe it because it’s fresh off the phone call, with little filtering, we suppose. We also believe the Acosta account because his Wikipedia bio suggests that Acosta is least likely to put a liberal slant on his account of the phone conversation because he used to work for a conservative publication, The National Review. Never before has the phrase, “consider the source,” carried so much complexity in the business of information curation and dissemination.

Compromise: One and not done. On the surface, the 45th President’s call appears to be a simple admission that just one of his proposed campaign initiatives will not be achieved in the short term. That new opportunities for “wins” will abound in the months and weeks ahead. But a deeper analysis suggests that high-level communication via digital and social media has become the norm and carries a double-edged sword that may increasingly contribute to the calcification of political gridlock and the erosion of party allegiances. It seems that our digital media universe is not conducive to finding middle ground or fostering political discourse that might produce compromise leading to common-sense public policy.

I have been a purveyor of digital media technology for many years. I marvel at the positive changes it has brought humanity. But I am not alone in the belief that we must harness and guide it for political good. The Acosta call from “45” may be a blip on the digital political news radar, but if we fail to heed its warnings, we could be in a heck of a mess no matter who holds the reins of power. Like birthdays, we can’t escape technological advances, but we can determine how we manage them.

Advertisements
President Obama with Teacher of the Year

Teacher of the Year, 2014

Today’s blog was supposed to be about my favorite teacher. But I quickly recognized I had more than one. Then I read about the attrition rate of U.S. businesses, thanks to Christopher Ingraham’s Washington Post blog yesterday. So I decided to provide some unsolicited advice to new and current teachers, based upon the Brookings Institution’s latest report.  The report shows that new businesses are failing faster than they are starting. While the BI’s researchers are working on the reasons for this trend, teachers may benefit from pondering the report’s consequences for their current and future students. Here are several possible repercussions of the study’s findings that teachers might help students better prepare for:

1.  Racial and geographic economies will proliferate.   Future workers will find they will be relegated to either industries or services in which their racial and geographic peers predominate. That simply means that the flat-lining of jobs growth will result in fewer opportunities for minorities to break out of traditional employment patterns. Affirmative action aside, it is human nature to hire and promote more of those who look like the boss.  Minorities who dominate particular industries will continue to do so, unless so-called disruptive economics introduces more diversity. Teachers should continue to teach students to be tolerant of differences so they have a better chance to benefit from the global economy.

2.  Technological advances will shrink employment opportunities. Competition for fewer jobs will also mean that students who develop both social, math, and technological skills will fare better in the future. The debate about teaching to standardized tests and teaching students to think critically should be a moot point, based upon the study.  Both are needed. Clearly, future workers must learn early how to practice creative economics, using problem-solving and basic accounting.

3.  Research skills will become as important as social skills.   Google’s search engine makes some of us think research is like slicing a piece of cake. But with an ever-shrinking jobs pool, students who can navigate the Internet to accomplish a strategic goal will be the better survivors. Teachers who understand that will help students immeasurably.  Their students will recognize the power of technology when used as a bridge to communities of people they know how to relate to–no matter their race or locale.  Have them think about ride-sharing apps like Uber and Lyft as cases in point.

While I have never been a classroom teacher for more than a few months, I know and respect the power of teaching and of being a lifetime learner.  I am grateful to a long list of teachers in and out of the classroom for helping me navigate in our New and Shared Economy.

Jobs Report: Is Tech Part of Our Recovery?

Chart of Jobs Growth in US, 2008-2011
Job growth since 2008 Infographic: Visual.ly
Chart of Jobs Growth in US, 2008-2011

Job growth since 2008
Infographic: Visual.ly

This morning, my WTOP.com SMS alert told me what I used to report every month on the radio: last month’s jobless rate. It’s good news by most standards. Six percent (6.3 to be exact) of people actively seeking work is the lowest rate in 5 1/2 years. Nearly 290,000 new jobs added. All good indicators our economy is bouncing back.

But are Baby Boomers bouncing back, and if so, how? The Urban Institute’s report on joblessness among the 50+ crowd, coupled with a GAO analysis, during The Great Recession painted a pretty dismal portrait of the financial well-being of this pre- and currently retired demographic in the US.

Being a techy Boomer, myself, I am curious about how the tech sector is playing a role in helping my folks out of the most recent jobs rut.  So, this May, I am putting that question out to my network…on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, LinkedIN and traveling around the country to investigate it.

As part of my personal research, I’d like to find success stories of Boomers using technology to bounce back from a tough financial spot. If you can help with this research, send or Tweet me a link or a personal contact that I can interview anywhere in the country.

And if you’re a Boomer who wants to jump into the tech economy (check out Xconomy.com) to improve your financial position, here are five revenue-creation companies you may want to explore:

 

1. E-Bay

2. Flex Jobs

3. Postmates

4. Thrillist

5. Lyft

Subscribe to this blog, and I’ll help keep you posted on this and other digital cues in the rapidly changing world we share.

Social Media Niche Management

Niche Knowledge

Fall 2010 may go down in digital media history as a major turning point in the mass media landscape. Searching online and separately noting today’s Washington Women in PR’s luncheon speaker insights about the use of social media as integral to marketing strategy brought back memories of the “dialectic” theory of historical events. The theory requires that major historical trends interact with “visionaries” or “individual actors” who understand and capitalize upon these trends to transform society, conventional thinking or business practices.

Dialectic theory seemed to emerge this week with the occurrence of two events–a presentation and a conference. Ironically, the sources of our knowledge are so technology-centered and diverse that many of us flock to “live” presentations to help us digest and sort out our Information Age overload. That’s exactly what was so powerful about Webb Media Group’s tech talk for Washington Women in PR over lunch today. In about an hour, WG’s Principal Amy Webb creatively outlined how marketing/PR executives could better sort out how to use social media applications for audience engagement, brand awareness and customer conversion.

Three focal points helped simplify Webb’s message for both novice and experienced social media marketers. The first was function, that is, what “utility” does a social media application perform? Webb identified seven social media platform trends that provide utilitarian niches for marketers to customize for specific campaign or communications analysis needs.

Her other focal points were strategic in nature: Are communicators engaging target audiences by using social media in ways that are habit-forming/effective and comprehensive?

As Amy posed those questions in Washington, digital media marketing executives in Boston presented case studies about products and causes that answered the questions raised in Washington. But they also posed new ones, about social media marketing and metrics, the next generation of digital marketers and more.

The two meetings clearly show that the so-called “changing media landscape” has reached the tipping point. The Brave New World of Digital Communications is our reality. Clearly, it’s a world in which–through social media–the individual can wield as much power (and sometimes more) as the amorphous brand. As communicators in uncharted territory, our best bet is making sure we understand social media and how to deploy it for our clients’ best advantage.

QR-code: Just because it’s cool?

QR codes, or Quick Response codes, admittedly were hardly on my radar six months ago. But it only took seeing one of the pixelized codes on the back of a Google sales executive’s business card during a recent convention to make me re-visit it as a marketing tool. Communications World published an article about the increasing popularity and uses of the codes in March. But I had not seen them in use first-hand until the small business convention and the direct mail insert I received from a local printing company. That was enough to send me searching for more information about the QR codes and how they can be used in a marketing campaign.

The first reason I consider using new technology is simply because I believe in innovation. New translates to being forward-thinking and creative. Trends, however, come and go. It is important for marketing communication strategists to analyze how we use new technology before we put it in our marketing mix for a client or cause.

Part of the analysis process for integrating new technology puts audience needs at center stage. With QR codes, your audience must have a cell phone with a camera to translate the embedded link or message to the phone. Most people have cameras in their phones, but not everyone. The World Edition of some Blackberrys have no cameras. Of those who have camera phones, how many of them have data packages to access the Internet or check their SMS messages? In considering whether to use Quick Response Codes in a marketing campaign, here are three audience filters I would use before putting them into play.

Is the audience high-technology savvy? If the answer is yes, the audience might be good candidates for offering QR codes as an information dissemination tool.

Are the end users in need of updated or rapidly changing information from a sole source with unique information for their needs? Two scenarios come to mind. In the first, the audience is comprised of air travelers who have boarding passes for a flight. They can capture the QR before leaving for the airport to find out if a flight is cancelled or on time. In the other case, a coupon update for a fast food chain might be worth checking to see if the latest is available for download. In this case, the customer may have an outdated coupon for one offering, but the coupon has a QR that when captured, provides the current coupon of the week or period.

The last filter is audience interaction. Is the audience confined to a small area or group gathering, such as a convention or spread out in rural homes? While QR codes have been used in both instances of audience interaction, their use must be tailored for the group dynamics of the intended audience. At a convention, the sharing of contact information through use of QR codes is fueled by the conversation among a tight-knit group. In a rural area, instructions may have to be spelled out about how to use the QR codes and why.

Based upon my own filter analysis, I believe the Webcomic community that I am helping a client reach might be perfect for QR codes. Comics fans pass at least two of the three filters because they tend to be tech-savvy, and they gather in book stores tailored for comics (or go to comics conventions). Posters and post cards promoting the Webcomic could use QR-codes to drive users to the client’s Web site instantly with the click of a camera. Will they deliver? Stay tuned.

A quick study on QR-codes can be found at http://www.scanlife.com/us/faq-landing.html.