Showing posts with label Jeremiah Owyang. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Jeremiah Owyang. Show all posts

Wednesday, March 18

Ruffling Feathers: Jeremiah Owyang

Jeremiah Owyang, analyst for Forrester Research, left dozens of people scratching their heads in his coverage of what seems to be a crisis looming in the background at Mzinga. Mzinga, if you don't know, manages more than 14,000 online communities for companies such as Virgin Media, GMAC Mortgage, and John Deere.

According to Owyang, he has been been hearing from multiple sources that Mzinga is undergoing some changes, which includes the voluntary leave of the CMO. Under normal circumstances, this is common fare for company coverage. However, these circumstances aren't common as Owyang took his coverage a step further.

"It’s my obligation to have my clients (sic) best interest in mind, and this is the fastest way for me to reach them, by using the tools where we’re already connected," wrote Owyang. "I strongly recommend that any Mzinga clients or prospects stall any additional movement till they brief me next Monday."

In the very next line, he promises to be fair and balanced. And, more perplexing to some, he teased the post on Twitter by more or less stating that people should not perpetrate rumors. Owyang has since apologized for his post.

So what went wrong for Owyang and what can be learned?

One reason reporters tend to become cynical is that they often learn insider information that they cannot confirm. So, unless reporters can substantiate any speculation with fact, they might leave an issue on the back burner until something finally surfaces (if it ever does). Or, they might share what their insider information is, but stop short of calling the game.

What seems to be is that Owyang, who says he had the best intentions, attempted to play the middle. He decided against sharing the insider information but wanted to protect his clients (and companies beyond his clients) based on the information he had obtained. It might seem like a good idea, but it's an extremely dangerous position because it fails on both fronts.

I might point out that this says nothing about Owyang as a person. There are plenty of people who will defend him as one of the most respected names in the social media industry. However, just because people are ethical and have good judgement doesn't exempt them from mistakes. And this was a mistake.

While having a conversation about this subject with Christina Kerley (who brought this story to my attention) on Twitter, I pointed to Article 8 of the International Association of Business Communicators Code of Ethics, which suggests "Professional communicators protect confidential information and, at the same time, comply with all legal requirements for the disclosure of information affecting the welfare of others."

I didn't elaborate then, but I will now. Either Owyang had compelling information that affected the welfare of others, which would require it be shared. Or he did not, which would have precluded him from making such a heavy handed recommendation.

So to answer Jon Burg's question — should a blogger share an important or compelling rumor? — it depends. Personally, I try (with admittedly some slippage now and again) to never use the word "should," but if a blogger (or anyone) has compelling evidence, especially if affects the welfare of others, then they are better off sharing it, with qualification, to justify any recommendation on their part.

In other words, if "that" then "this" is fair. But Owyang only alluded to having "that," which means his "this" overreached, making it look like a power play from an industry analyst apparently unable to get the answers he wanted, using mostly Twitter to do so.

As for what could have happened, it seems to me that notifying clients would have best been left to private communication. Any public comment might have recognized that if you are in for a pinch, you are in for a pound. And, on something this sensitive, unless you cover public communication like I do, social media isn't the best fact-gathering mechanism. Sometimes you have to pick up the phone a few times.

So what went wrong for Mzinga and what can be learned?

While Mzinga probably didn't deserve the recommendation that could have caused a much larger crisis than whatever crisis it may be facing, the company hasn't performed much better in managing its communication. There is obviously some sort of crisis (one they intended to answer on Monday) and an unwillingness to address the situation sooner is paramount to confirming it.

Mzinga employee Dave Wilkins' comment on Burg's blog presents one revelation ... "… I'm not really in the right position to respond officially anyway. I do want to clarify a couple of things however."

What's the revelation? In the interim between Mzinga not addressing rumors and promising to address the rumors, the company's employees are left with the daunting task of addressing issues that they are not in the right position to address, which just adds more fuel to the fire.

Some, it seems, have taken to leaving nasty anonymous comments on Owyang's blog. Others demanded apologies while poking back at Owyang. And even more, vendors included no less, chimed in too. Heck, even "former" CMO Patrick Moran is speaking on behalf of a company that has left its communication to reckless abandon.

How reckless? Someone asked me "What leads you to believe that this is a 'crisis'? Is it because the rumor mill says that it is? While the company may be going through some changes, I have seen nothing other than the rumors here and on JKO's blog that indicate there is a 'crisis'."

Give me a break. When rumors of a dramatic and possibly negative change become the only message, overshadowing everything else that the company does or says, it is a crisis. Denial doesn't make it not a crisis; it only makes it louder.

If you don't manage the message, the message will manage you. And from the looks of it, Mzinga isn't managing this one. If it had, there would be no Owyang post to be ruffled about.

If you're still confused, here's the oversimplified version.

1. Mzinga has some sort of a change ahead (small, big, whatever) and did not properly address it, which led to increased negative speculation and rumors. The fact that they promised to address it (Monday) suggests something is going on.

2. Owyang had some information, and then attempted to balance "not wanting to share it without verification" and "wanting to share it because it could impact his clients, colleagues, etc." In attempting to do right by everyone, he did right by no one. He also apologized; lesson learned.

3. Mzinga is now making a tremendous mistake by offering no easily identifiable response, leaving employees and vendors to deliver what can only be called runaway crisis communication, which promises to end badly for them. The last published press announcement was on Feb. 26.

In sum, for as much as Owyang admittedly did the wrong thing, Mzinga's crisis communication management is as much of a train wreck as the Jobster crisis communication management three years ago. The whole situation reads like amateur hour, which makes it all the more worthwhile to cover as a case study. What's the takeaway today? If you don't know what you're doing, hire someone who does.

Monday, December 15

Being Human: Chris Brogan

If there are lessons to be learned from the veracity of a conversation that occurred this weekend around Chris Brogan, president of New Marketing Labs, it might not be what most people think. What began as a question of ethics quickly descended into something else: a not-so-subtle reminder that for all those social media participants who mistrust companies, the people who make up these companies might have cause to not trust social media participants.

And why should they? It's all too easy to deduce that social media participants eat their own.

What began as a relatively harmless sponsored puff piece by Brogan, describing a K-Mart shopping spree like a kid in a candy store, ended in charges that Brogan might never be trusted again.

Initially, it seemed like an excellent ethics discussion, but then it morphed into what some people might describe as a French mob. Then it morphed into a civil war (given that people seemed evenly split). And then again, it morphed into a 'reverse' French mob against Damien Basile (among others), a senior associate editor for, because he was as outspoken as Brogan was sometimes defensive. If you get the sense it was a mess, you might be right.

The initial conversation seemed promising enough.

On the forefront of the conversation, it was just a review by Forrester's Jeremiah Owyang: "Transparent, Yes. Authentic? Debatable. Sustainable? No." (Hat tip: Arron Brazell). And then it was easy to see that there were ethical questions being raised (never mind it was less clear which ethical questions were being raised).

For some, it was whether or not sponsored posts are ethical. For others, it was whether Brogan appropriately disclosed his relationship with Izea, given he also serves on an advisory board. And for others still, it was whether personal relationships and reputation are exempt from ethical review.

The general topic reveals paying for posts is split, but shifting in favor of.

The question of blogger compensation has been around a long time. Last March, there was a survey that touched on the practice, but it was written wrong. However, if you spend enough time speaking with various people, you'll find they are generally split on sponsored posts, with most who find them acceptable adding a condition of disclosure.

Of course, even with disclosure, there are always going to be challenges with sponsored posts. One blogger might accept payments and only write positive posts regardless of how they feel, while another might accept payment and remain perfectly objective. Thus, credibility belongs to the individual and not the practice (usually, hat tip: Owyang).

The conversation might have been better served without being personal.

Brogan's K-Mart post fell in a decidedly gray area. The primary complaint seems to be that Brogan wears many hats. He is generally regarded as a leader in shaping social media, sits on a board of advisors for Izea, and accepted payment from K-Mart through Izea. In addition, Izea wants to run a campaign for K-Mart, using a sponsored post program.

While there were plenty of voices, Basile was one of the more articulate (though sometimes overly passionate and sometimes personal about his principles). Looking back over Basile's comments, it seems to me he was trying to convey that Brogan might not have been a suitable choice for Izea because it is in Brogan's best interest to ensure Izea delivered everything K-Mart hoped it could. In other words, it wasn't the K-Mart post as much as it was his demonstration of Izea delivering puff pieces.

I tend to view ethical questions with IABC's Code of Ethics for Professional Communicators as a guide. Not everyone does, and there are plenty of others to follow. Of the twelve articles that make up IABC's Code of Ethics for Professional Communicators, only one seemed to stand out.

Article 9. Professional communicators do not use confidential information gained as a result of professional activities for personal benefit and do not represent conflicting or competing interests without written consent of those involved.

I asked Brogan if he was paid by K-Mart or Izea. Although he was clear about it in his post, he was a good sport and answered direct. He was paid by Izea. This clarified it for me. Brogan was representing Izea, paid by Izea, and disclosed that arrangement. If you want a contrast, consider Julie Roehm, who accepted gifts from agencies seeking the coveted Wal-Mart account.

Given he wasn't double-dipping, it seems to be less a question of impropriety and more a question about the perception of impropriety. And if we get into the habit of questioning the perception of other people's ethics, we're only disclosing our own lapses of ethical judgment, as Valeria Maltoni so aptly alluded to today.

"Personal experiences have become the new barometer for extrapolating trends. We stopped outsourcing trust to institutions but instead of holding ourselves accountable for our own ethics and behavior, we have shifted that responsibility onto others. Then we cast stones at people we hold up as influentials when we were the ones putting them on the pedestal in the first place."

You cannot be disillusioned by people, unless you're illusioned by them.

Which brings up that other point. While so many people vouched for Brogan's integrity, some of it was done at the expense of others like Basile, who raised valid points. So it's always better to attack issues and not people, knowing someone doesn't preclude them from ethical misconduct. Believing otherwise makes the issue about you and not the subject, invites diatribe that makes discussion look like a popularity contest, and distracts from the most important lessons of all.

"It is error alone which needs the support of government. Truth can stand by itself." — Thomas Jefferson

Sure, Brogan's post changed the perception that some people had of him based on the opening of Julien Smith and his own Trust Economies with a descriptor that reads "We are suspicious of marketing. We don't trust strangers as willingly. Buzz is suspect. It can be bought. Instead, consumers and business people alike are looking towards trust." But did he do something unethical? Not that I can see.

But perhaps more importantly, did the resulting conversations demonstrate a sensitivity to cultural values and beliefs, engaging in fair and balanced communication activities that foster and encourage mutual understanding as IABC advises and many social media participants suggest? Not even close. Trust is fragile, indeed.

Tuesday, November 13

Deepening Conversations: New Media

Social media sometimes appears to be an inch deep and a mile wide. At least that is the way it looks to some because social media, or new media, is still in its infancy. As a result, it’s often easier to build an extension to the wafer thin model than dig deeper, proving or disproving what is being considered today.

Regardless of the sessions attended or exhibitors met at BlogWorld & New Media Expo, this point became especially apparent when Chris Brogan and Jeremiah Owyang asked their session participants if they felt they could have been a speaker — the vast majority of attendees, predominately bloggers, raised their hands without hesitation.

This isn’t a reflection on BlogWorld as much as it is an observation that many new media speakers need to deepen their topics. It’s part of the art of listening before engaging in conversation. With that in mind, I’ll highlight three sessions and save exhibitors for a deeper review another time.

Participatory Journalism

Paul Gillin, author of The New Influencers, invested ample time speaking about social media influencers (and the influencers of the influencers) and participatory journalism — which he considers the future of journalism — everyday people contributing their unique and sometimes conflicting perspectives on any given event. This media model is not all that dissimilar to the example he provided about Northwest Voice or perhaps indicative of two videos recently highlighted by Amitai Givertz, Prometeus – The Media Revolution and Epic 2015.

While Gillin is right in that traditional media is struggling to stay relevant (and funded), someone might ask if this is what we really want — a world dominated by collective opinions that make up our self-selected existence, with no one, and I mean no one, working to find the truth beyond their own biased sense of reality. It seems to me this story was already written by a gentleman named Yevgeny Zamyatin. His book, which influenced both a Brave New World and 1984, presents a dystopian society where numbers, not unlike Web addresses, replace names. The concept of transparency takes on physical form in an urban nation constructed almost entirely of glass.

Peeping Cults

And what of that world? It’s not so impossible, given the same conversation thread slipped into a Leo Laporte-led discussion on “the cult of blogging,” which featured hasty guest replacement Justine Ezarik. (Scheduled speakers were not there. Om Malik hurt his back and Mike Arrington “forgot he was speaking.”)

This is not a criticism about Ezarik. She is one of many bloggers turning to multimedia to expand their presence in a new media world. Originally a photo blogger, Ezarik presents her life as an open book and has captured an audience as a result. She’s not alone. Plenty of people are willing to live in glass houses. If that isn’t enough, check out Mogulus, which is currently in beta.

Still, most of the discussion during that session descended into developing fan bases by adding multimedia to blogs. It also touched on privacy issues, detractors, and Laporte’s justifications for not allowing comments on Twitter while not recommended other people follow suit. Interesting, but not too deep given that most of the audience was beyond focusing on passion. Not deep, because at one point, Laporte was surprised he still had a half hour to fill.

Touching Ground

That said, if there was one session that deserves props (noting that I did not attend several sessions presented by many people I read online), then it was Chris Brogan and Jeremiah Owyang who did not disappoint.

I won’t recap the presentation; Jason Falls, who I was privileged to meet and sat next to, did a fine job (skip that goofy measurement stuff though) as did Lisa Barone at Bruce Clay, Inc.. So instead, I’ll expand with a few thoughts:

1. In the rush to tell businesses that they might listen to and engage their customers, social media experts sometimes forget to listen to and engage their customers, which are those businesses.

2. Measurement begins before any social media effort is launched as that is the best place to begin benchmarking. Measurements are not necessarily tied to Alexa traffic, Technorati authority, Google page rank, etc.

3. Entering social media is more likely to succeed for businesses that employ it as an extension of their business strategy much like Owyang did for Hitachi.

4. Using a marketing megaphone makes about as much sense as standing on a street corner and waving your arms. Try adding value to the customer’s conversation.

5. Successful social media remains grounded in strategic communication. The language may have changed, but the concepts and theories are largely the same.

6. Social media tools and technologies will continue to change for a very, very long time. And that means the best reason to employ technologies like Linkedin or Facebook or mySpace is because specific customers, your customers, are there.

7. As always, it is always better to find the right people than worry about finding lots of people. This concept is already being infused into traditional marketing. Ratings and circulation are becoming less important than engaged consumers.

All in all, Brogan and Owyang succeeded in bringing the value that I was hoping to find at BlogWorld. Instead of the selling the idealistic notions about social media that will one day lead to the One State collective, they remain grounded on what needs to be done more often — offering a depth of conversation — well beyond those tempting snacks.

Social media is not always about what can be done. Sometimes it’s about why something needs to be done for each specific company. Few things just happen by following a formula. Great works need a plan.


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