Hellooooooo…..is there anybody out there?

23 02 2013

A few years ago I lectured in public relations / communications. I was seeking some guest speakers from communications in various industries and decided, as an exercise, to make contact wit them via their websites.

Each of the organisations I made contact with was a fairly well known one in the local market, and included not-for-profits, educational, scientific and government organisations, each of whom had a specific communications section and a need to promote themselves.

Their websites we pretty good. They outlined who they were, their mission, what they did, and provided a range of resources and information that was well targeted to their stakeholders and audiences.

I emailed them using their general contact information on the website. And the response rate was around 10%.

So to recap – they were legitimate organisations, they had a need to communicate, they had communication staff and I was offering them an opportunity to come and speak to a group of students who might be potential users / customers / donors or volunteers.

Sometimes communications is about the basics. There is no point in a fancy campaign, social media, mega-dollars for a clever campaign if you don’t ANSWER YOUR EMAILS!





Thinking yourself into a corner

9 09 2012

Yesterday, the Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard’s father died. Although he had battled ill health, it was an unexpected death. The majority of her political opponents, the media, and social media pundits offered her their condolences, and newspaper articles eulogised on his role in bringing up and educating Australia’s first female Prime Minister. Whether you agree with his daughter’s politics or not, he did a good job bringing up his daughter to contribute to public life and achieve on her own terms.

But some social media pundits couldn’t help themselves. They made snarky comments about her, her father and various other personal issues. Speculation ranged from how he felt about her politics to whether the tax payer would pay for his funeral. It was almost like they thought she had arranged this personal tragedy for her own political gain.

Now I can’t help wondering – are these people like this in real life? Or, in real life, are they normal compassionate people who, despite differences of opinion, recognise that a personal tragedy is common to us all, a precondition of being human. People you and I would be happy to know.

There has been a lot of conversation in Australian media and social media about trolls – people who (usually anonymously) frequent social media sites for the purpose of vicious personal attacks. An anti-bullying ambassador, Charlotte Dawson, was hospitalised after vicious attacks on twitter (#diecharlotte) became too much for her.

Who are these people? Why do think they have a right to attack others?

At the same time, US news reported on a 16 year old who called for the assassination of her president, Barack Obama, via twitter. Where does this hatred come from? Why do people think this semi-anonymous (although in the case of the above 16 year old, her twitter handle was in her own name) forum is OK for vitriolic hatred, calls for violence and personal attacks, the sort of behaviour that most of us would not engage in, in real life?

There is a psychological concept called cognitive dissonance. Most of us like not to feel hypocritical. We like to feel we are logical, our thoughts, taken individually or en masse, make sense. We don’t want to seem to contradict ourselves.

So maybe these people have thought themselves into a corner, whereby their unrelenting hatred and attacks in a political context cannot be stopped, even for personal tragedy or common decency. They have objectified the focus of their obsession and no longer see them as sharing the common human experience that unites us. They cannot back down or rethink their position, no matter what.

This is not logic. This is irrational. This is hatred.

There is a level of intellectual sophistication involved in being able to deal with, to hold, two cognitively dissonant thoughts at the same time. Say, hatred for someone’s politics and compassion for them as a person not feeling compatible in one psyche. This sort of sophistication and maturity might not be expected from a 16year old (although her parents should cut off her social media accounts until she understands the concepts of treason and inciting violence as criminal offences) but it would seem the majority of trolls are not under-age.

But just like the metaphorical “paint yourself into a corner”, some people think themselves into small confined positions, from whence they are unable to be flexible and respond to changing conditions. But wouldn’t you rather react and change according to changing conditions (evolution having shown us the options are adaptor die) than make ourself into a public fool and be publicly castigated for your rigidly inflexible position? Let alone possibly do actual harm to another, as occurred with Charlotte Dawson.





A year in blog-land

7 07 2012

I started blogging approximately a year ago.

I had been intending to blog for some time, and had even started a couple of times on various topics, then abandoned them when I decided that the topics were too self-indulgent and really of no value or interest to anyone other than myself. And even my interest was fleeting.

The decision about topics was problematic for me – I wasn’t intending for it to be a work related blog, it wasn’t to establish my credibility or expertise in a field. But the types of things I was interested in were many and varied and really didn’t hang together very well, except in that they interested me.

Analysis Paralysis.

The answer was: write about what interests you. Once I decided I had permission for this to be about interesting things rather than being constrained by a specific topic, I was off and running – or writing. In the end it doesn’t seem to have mattered that I have several different topics going. Some weeks I blog every day and sometimes have several new posts in a day. Other weeks I can barely get one post up. And occasionally one topic – for instance the leap second – inspires three posts. (Did you sleep well? , Nostradamus and Y2K and Why the moon rules your life)

As well as what I have posted (this is my 301st post), I have about 70 drafts sitting behind the scenes. Some are posts that I started and haven’t finished because the story petered out. Others are where I just made a quick note about a topic for those days we the topics seem hard to come by.

I am loving the stats page, and particularly the maps. I initially thought I was probably writing for my friends (and thank you for visiting, liking and commenting!) But it turns out that people visit from all over the world, even some small islands I didn’t know were separate countries. It’s really quite interesting to ponder what might interest someone in Belize, Venezuela, Jordan, Iceland, or the Russian Republic, and how someone from Trinidad and Tobago, Malta, Qatar, and El Salvador might have ended up reading an Australian blog. Truly international, and always fascinating to see who has been here.

The topics vary quite widely, but I don’t seem to be able to predict what will attract a broad readership. I loved being able to go through my holiday photos and record and relive some of the places we went and the things we saw. I also love pondering news events and recent studies that I have come across, and the occasional joke or cartoon. Social media, psychology, science (particularly weird science or pseudo-science) usually capture my attention and interest long enough for a post to evolve.

Sharing on StumbleUpon has been a surprising and unpredictable event. A posting on Steve Jobs garnered 9,822 viewings, thanks in large part to StumbleUpon. The general page comes second with 7,958, followed distantly by How to Open a Padlocked Suitcase: A lesson in travel safety for us all with 804, and Imagine what you could do if you thought you couldn’t fail at 597 (this posting was on Moira Kelly, the woman who sponsored Krishna and Trishna, conjoined twins from Bangladesh).

I also post links on Facebook (mudmap) and Twitter (mudmapped) and occasionally on Pinterest, although I have not had much success there. But StumbleUpon has driven the occasional peaks in my stats – a top score of 4,837 views on one day that seems almost impossible to beat and quite bizarre to contemplate. I don’t know how it happened and I can’t replicate it, but it is amusing and rewarding to think that something I wrote “touched a chord” and nearly went viral! (This was some considerable time after the death of Steve Jobs so I didn’t really expect a massive reaction.)

In one year Mudmap has had just under 28,500 viewings (and increasing as we speak). This is a lot more than I probably could have expected if I had written a book – unless I wrote the Da Vinci Code or Fifty Shades of Grey. I know that some of you are repeat readers. Some of you are my friends, family and acquaintances, others are people I will never meet. Some are fellow-bloggers who stop by and encourage, chat and exchange ideas. Thanks you, everyone!

As a frustrated writer, it is gratifying to be able to write something that someone else will read. And on a good day, you might click “like”. And sometimes you might comment. I appreciate each and every one of these.

Here’s to the next year! (Please drop me a line….)





Flashback: Nostradamus and Y2K

1 07 2012

I admit this has little to do with the topic at hand but is such a cool photo I thought I’d put it up anyway! Think of it as a photo of planes NOT dropping out of the sky. Read on for more…
photo credit: licensed under Creative Commons from Beverly & Pack

Growing up in the latter part of the twentieth century, the year 2000 loomed large. It didn’t help that famed soothsayer and bane of the Spanish Inquisition, Nostradamus had predicted the end of the world in the year 2000.

Yes, way before the Mayan calendar, Harold Campling and unnumbered apocalyptic suicide cults, we worried that a middle-ages apothecary and reputed seer had predicted our demise in his obscure and vague quatrains. After all, the year 2000 was a nice round number, some Christian sects felt that God had given us two millennia to get our act together and was probably losing patience with our lack of progress. And if you looked hard enough, with enough confirmation bias, signs of impending cosmic doom could be spotted (fall of the Berlin wall in 1990 symbolised the coming-together of Europe etc).

Spoiler Alert! Earth survived.

However, even for those not prone to flights of fantasy, there was another impending doom associated with this date: the Y2K bug.

This was going to end our (increasingly computer-dependent) lives as we knew them. So the story was this. Apparently computer programmers in the late 1980s and 1990s didn’t realise that the year 2000 was coming. Seriously. It snuck up when no one was looking and all the computers that had a date in their programming were going to stop working. At least that was their story.

Planes were going to drop out of the sky. Water filtration and pumping was going to fail leaving cities to die. Banking systems would crash. Medical life-support machines would expire. And worst of all, having recently come out of the cold war, missile “defence” systems would malfunction and cause world war three, the nuclear version. Truly apocalyptic.

We responded in the normal rational way we humans always react. People stockpiled water, canned goods and medicines. Some built underground bunkers. Some left the cities or holidayed in the country at the fateful time. Staff were trained, emergency plans were formulated and put in place, back-up communication systems were tested, generators were on stand-by. People stayed at work overnight “just in case”. Computer programmers no doubt found themselves in great demand – job creation, perhaps?

Midnight New Year’s Eve came and went with the usual fireworks and sense of disappointment.

Nothing. No-thing. Not-a-thing. Nothing happened.

We all went back to our lives with a sense of mild embarrassment alleviated only by our commonality with others. If they didn’t mention it, we wouldn’t either. What to do with casks of water? Gradually the canned supplies dwindled away and we moved on with our lives. The only issue that remained was whether the new millennia started in 2000 or 2001. And really, who cared?

All in all, the 30 June 2012 leap second caused more drama, bringing down the airline booking system in Australia, Reddit, Linked In, Gawker, Foursquare and Yelp. Again one assumes the computer programmers didn’t know about leap seconds. There have only been 25 since 1972.

So when the Mayans (or latter-day crackpots) predict the end of the world – well, some of us have seen it all before.





Did you sleep well?

1 07 2012

Did you wake this morning feeling especially rested? Or did you toss and turn all night wondering why the night was taking so long?

Either way, you were right. Last night we had an extra-long night (30 June 2012), thanks to a leap second.

Yes, our official time (courtesy of the atomic clock which measures time via atomic vibrations) gets slightly out of synch with “real” (solar) time, by which I mean the natural time set by the rotation of the earth around the sun. Again, the moon is at fault; the tidal surges, waxes and wanes are causing a slight slowing and wobbling of the earth’s rotation. Hadn’t you noticed the wobbles?

We could adjust the length of the unit we call a second to account for this, a minuscule lengthening. But then counting “one-hippopotamus, two-hippopotamus” etc might not work so well. And it’s not even regular about how often the atomic clock needs adjusting. It has been adjusted 25 times since such accurate time measurement began in 1972. The first year saw two leap seconds (June 30 and December 30), followed by seven years of one second per year. The last three adjustments were 1998, 2005 and 2008.

So instead we wait until a whole second has accumulated and add a leap second, just as we add a leap year, thereby adjusting our inflexible human system of measuring time to the mutable system that exists in nature.

And so we got an extra second last night, to sleep, toss and turn, or party, whatever you happened to be doing at 11:59:60 last night, which fell between 11:59:59 and 12:00:00 (midnight at the International Dateline).

Hope you enjoyed it! And if you wasted it, don’t worry another one is sure to come along sooner or later!

UPDATE: Latebreaking news! While the Y2K bug turned out to be a fizzer, the leap-second has actually had consequences! For those who are too young to remember the Y2K bug, this was the predicted beginning of the apocalypse caused because computer programmes in the 1980s and 1990s apparently didn’t have the forethought to realise that eventually in the not too distant future, computers with a clock in their functioning would need to click over from 19XX to 20XX. People (who would now be called preppers) stocked up on water supplies and canned goods and built underground bunkers. Planes were going to drop out of the sky. Nothing happened. Complete fizzer.

The leap second on the other hand has managed to bring down the airport check-in system at Australian airports, resulting in airline staff having to check in passengers and luggage by hand, delayed flights and lots of irritable grumpy passengers. Also reportedly brought down, Reddit, Gawker, LinkedIn, Yelp and Foursquare. And according to news reports, this is because the computer couldn’t cope with the leap second (which was 9:59:60 in Australia EST).

Have you heard of any other effects?

Want more? Try…
Why the moon rules your life and..
Lunar-tics





Career-limiting moves in social media

3 06 2012

We all know (or hopefully we know by now) about the dangers of posting inappropriate material on social media. Drunken pictures of yourself partying when you are off work sick. Abusive rants about coworkers, clients and bosses. Confidential work information. Plans to apply for other jobs or debriefs on interviews attended. Not good career moves.

Some high achievers take it to the next level however. Herewith, a celebration of the high points of career-limiting moves in social media.

Former American Airlines Employee Gailen David posted a series of videos on his blog mocking his (at the time, current) employer and in particular executives. After a disciplinary process, American Airlines terminated his employment. His blog seems to indicate that he saw himself in some sort of whistle-blowing role, saving the airline from its executives. Unsurprisingly, they saw it differently and commenced court proceedings against him for a number of issues including breach of their trademark. The latest can be found at his blog The Sky Steward. One wonders if, had he done it anonymously and without naming specific airlines, he could have been an internet comedic sensation and indeed found a new career for himself.

Rhode Island Prison Guard Matthew Lacroix created a Facebook page in his boss’ name. And you know that can’t be a good thing. As anyone who has watched CSI or any other crime show can predict, the IP address used to create the profile was quickly tracked back and once the nice people whose internet had been used to create the profile mentioned that coincidentally there was in fact a prison guard living next door….well it didn’t take long for the dots to be connected. Can’t imagine relations between Lacroix and his boss were any improved by the incident, and in fact, he was arrested. (No news on his fate as yet)

Earlier this year, a political staffer in Alberta Canada resigned after a tweeting a personal comment about an electoral opponent of her employer. The tweet in question read:

“If @ElectDanielle likes young and growing families so much, why doesn’t she have children of her own? #wrp family pack = insincere”

Now you probably know where this is going. “ElectDanielle” is in fact Danielle Smith, leader of the Alberta Wildrose party, and she revealed that she and her husband had struggled with infertility and had accepted that they were not going to be able to have children. The political staffer had gone too far and brought personal information into the public and political domain. And from a political standpoint, may have attracted a sympathy vote for her opponent. The staffer’s employer rapidly released a statement apologising and announcing that the staffer in question had resigned and was sorry for her actions. Which her tweet followers could tell from the follow-up tweet:

“Fine. I apologize”

And this one is quite stunning. A first year graduate is suing his former employer “big-law” firm Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman – for $77m dollars severance claiming he was fired because he exhibited intelligence and creativity. Now, I don’t know the merit of the case – but he must be very hopeful of the large settlement because now that there is so much all over the internet about him, he may find it difficult to get another job in the industry.

And finally – show and tell time! Even quitting via social media can be a career-limiting move. I think of this one as Jenny vs Spencer: no-one wins.


Want more? Have a look at page 2.1.7 onwards in this document, Death by Facebook, for some more salient lessons on how to avoid career-limiting social media moves, or What’s your Social Media Policy? for more ideas on what to avoid.





Social media: Just add water….. Instant expert

3 06 2012

In an exercise in sheer bluff and hypocrisy, I am now going to expand my hypothesis (aka brief thought and opinion) on social media encourages us to turn a fleeting thought into an opinion, and an opinion into instant expertise.

Somewhere in medical school, they teach doctors how to sound like they know what they are talking about. Not lie, not guess, but somehow, to convey an air of authority and confidence so that patients feel comfortable undertaking treatments. When you go and see a doctor, you want him or her to tell you the truth, but you also want them to tell you what they think is wrong with you and confidently lay out a treatment plan. You don’t want them umming and aahing about possible diagnoses and treatments and unable to make a decision. You want assurance that they know what they are doing.

Of course there is a down-side to this. When they really don’t know what they are talking about, they still manage to convey an air of authority, as anyone related or in business with a doctor may tell you.

Well, social media has the same effect. Social media wants you to say something. SOMETHING. Anything really, given some of the things we have all seen floating around the internet. But it wants you to have an opinion, pick a side, take a stand. Then we can all agree with you (*like*) or disagree with you (sometimes erupting into flaming). Social media does not want you to be reasonable and rational and tentative. Social media treats such rationality with the withering scorn it deserves. Social media IGNORES such approaches.

So being the attention-seekers that we are (not you and me – other people online) we turn into mini-shock-jocks. We start spouting opinions and, with the nice but false anonymity that sitting behind a screen seems to give us, we become mini-experts on a given subject. And then another, and then another.

And once you have put your opinion out there, you need to defend it.

While in real life we might be reasonable and rational, venturing opinions, gaining feedback and using it to modify our opinions, online we are experts. We have staked out our opinion in black and white and it cannot ever be retracted. Therefore no matter what evidence is presented to us, we must resort to the lowest of low tactics to defend our spot. Attack the messenger. We must dominate.

Present company excepted of course. You and I would never do that. But does it sound like what you have seen online?