How many people use the web from home?

I always find it interesting to see statistics on web use. Here’s the latest Nielsen Ratings on web use at home country by country. For those who don’t want to see the link:

– homes using the web–ab out 320 million

– growth in one month–a little under one million

– where growth is occurring–up in Japan, UK and very modestly in US, down in Italy and Spain

FBI and SAIC–reputations at stake over software

For several months now major news stories have been circulating about the FBI’s $170 million software fiasco. It hasn’t hit the national press too much and seems more focused on the Beltway, but the $580 million plus FBI plan to seriously upgrade their technology seems to have hit a major snag. The blogosphere (including me, I suppose) may extend and magnify the story thereby contributing to a greater reputation risk than appears would exist with the mainstream media alone.

I noticed the story on a blog site–and find there are several commenting on this problem. Then found the story broke in June via the Washington Post. And now is picked up again by the Post in an interesting blame game story.

The reputations of both the FBI and SAIC are strong and will likely not be harmed by this. But can also be seen as a dangerous issue, lurking just beneath the surface and ready to crop up at any moment. The most likely moment for both organizations is when they are under stress from a completely unrelated source. Something else happens that threatens their credibility. Then the accuser or the media (who can be both in one) will do their internet research and come up with this story. A basis will be made for linking the two–however flimsy, and trust will be further eroded.

Even though a $170 million software development project is not going to top of the list of To Dos for the FBI director, look what he had to say about it:

“Mueller’s inability to successfully implement VCF marks one of the low points of his nearly five-year tenure as FBI director, and he has accepted some of the blame. “I did not do the things I should have done to make sure that was a success,” he told reporters last month.

What to do:

– coordinate–this affects both and they had better find ways to stop or discourage the media from playing this kind of blame game. FBI faults the contractor–the contractor concerned about their reputation says their only real fault was continuing to accept payments while knowing that their client was completely screwing up the project.

– get real. The story doesn’t seem credible right now. What’s the deal with the 730,000 lines of code. Are they saying that’s good or bad? Are they really scrapping the whole thing just because there were too many problem reports. After spending this kind of money on custom development, are they really going to off the shelf software? Tell the truth, the Washington Post is doing very schlocky reporting here because what they are saying just doesn’t make sense. It almost feels like the organizations are throwing a few mea culpas and that is OK with the reporter. Unfortunately, the reporting and the weak explanations only make me want to find out more and good communication satisfies the need to know rather than stimulating it. Good communication should be more dessert than appetizer.

Apple and iPod labor complaint

Here’s a text book case in crisis management. The fact that it is not much of a reputation crisis is in my opinion is due to the rapid and effective management of the issue by Apple.

A few weeks ago a sensationalist UK Newspaper, The Mail, reported on harsh living and working conditions at a plant in China where Apple makes iPods. Apple responded by launching an audit of the factory to see if it met Apple’s standards for labor as published in its Supplier Code of Conduct. Apple then published the findings including a detailed record of what it found, including violations of the code related to how long some employees were working. It then aggressively distributed the findings via the mainstream media, and posted the findings prominently on its website under Hot News. I found the story via Newsvine, a news aggregator.

What did Apple do right?

– It moved fast

– It acted–initiating an audit

– It admitted problems even while discounting the exaggerations of the press report

– It identified how it is going to fix the problems

– It acted to use a respected third party (Veritas) to continue to audit and assure performance to standards

– It had a set of standards previously established and referenced those as the guide to evaluating performance

– It posted the results, even those admitting problems, very publicly and prominently on its website

– It distributed its findings via the MSM, discounting the worry that by doing so they may increase the visibility of the story

– Without stating directly in any way, they encouraged objective observers to make a judgment as to who was more credible: Apple or The Mail

For those seeking to learn how to deal with a potentially devastating but still smoldering reputation crisis, this example is hard to beat.

Bitter bloggers and more backlash

What comes up must come down–and that’s true most of all about things that are hyper-hyped. it also seems that the time between hype and anti-hype keeps shortening–part of the instant news world I guess. Or the influence of blogs. Here are a couple of rants about the over-hyped nature of the blogosphere.

First, from Nicholas Carr who in a rather erudite fashion calls blogging and its presumption of power vs. mainstream media an “innocent fraud.” You judge for yourself.

The other is a more bitter complaint from a blogger who apparently has discovered that for the most part when he blogs nobody pays much attention. Apparently he thought that his words would be the equivalent of a better mousetrap and the world would beat a path to his door. (I’ve thought about that better mousetrap theory a lot as I put one of those old fashioned kind with the spring on it in my little barn–apparently no one has a better mousetrap or else we can’t find that elusive door.)

Here’s what commentator Seth Finkelstein had to say–note the cruelty of blog evangelists

To be more personal here, I wrote because:

1) I was suckered into the idea that blogs were a way to “route around” media power, and to be HEARD.

2) I had delusions of influence.

3) The random-payoff of attention makes it seem far more effective than it actually is.

4) It’s painful to admit that you’ve wasted so much time and effort and pretty much nobody is listening.

Blog evangelism is very cruel, as it preys on people’s frustrated hopes and dreams.

My blog is read by a few dozen fans, and, inversely, some “opposition researchers”. I’ve come close to shutting it down at times, and will finally reach the breaking-point eventually.

PR community starting to take notice of blogs

There are increasing signs that the PR community is sitting up and taking notice of the blog world. This is article from PR Tactics and Strategies online is a pretty good summary.

I share the concern of Scoble and Israel, however, in Naked Conversations. That PR world which centers around a complex process of approval and review with multiple levels of executive oversight and attorney vetting will struggle with the “right now” and “say what you mean” demands of the global online watercooler.

They will adjust, and some will do better than others no doubt. But for many it will not come easy and will seem completely counter intuitive to everything they know about how to do PR.

A blog to feed on

Just want to draw my readers’ attention to a new crisis management blog: crisismanager.wordpress.com. If you are one of thousands already subscribing to Jonathan Bernstein’s long running email newsletter “Crisis Manager” you will know that Jonathan is one of the most recognized names in the crisis management business. And he dispenses crisis management wisdom like few others in this game. OK, I’ll admit, I’m a big admirer of Jonathan and very pleased to be able to work with him on a number of assignments. Please check out his blog and subscribe.

(Of course I’m a little jealous he has 9 comments already on his first posting!)

Iran's President is Blogging

First, here’s the story via Al Jazeera.net. This is amazing–and yet it is not. In my soon to be released book “Now Is Too Late2” the last chapter is titled “The Ultimate Communicator.” It talks about the trend toward the emphasis being placed on the heads of organizations to speak directly to their stakeholders. It is iranic (I mean ironic) that Iran would show more understanding of how important that this in today’s instant news/direct communication world than our leaders. Where is the blog from Michael Chertoff dealing with the latest terrorist threats? Where is the blog from Lord Browne of BP dealing with the pipeline problems in Alaska? And yes, where is our president?

No time for it? How silly is that, when there is plenty of time to prepare for all kinds of press conferences and the like. Why tell your story exclusively through the MSM, mainstream media, when more and more the audiences want and demand that you talk to them direct through the internet. They will catch up, no doubt. But in the meantime, Pres Ahmadinejad (we might learn to spell his name this way) is having his way convincing the blogosphere of the evil intentions of the US administration to him.

More about President Ahmandinejad’s blog once I’ve had a chance to review its 2000 words (yes, he said the next posts would be shorter).

Geriatric1927–the latest hit on YouTube

A 79 year old man from England sits down at this computer and records a video about the new phenomenon of young people sitting down at their computers and recording videos of themselves talking about their world. What happens? A half million people watch it. Then dozens, if not more, send their own video message to the sweet old man who promises to “bitch and grumble” about life in his video postings. He posts more and tens of thousands watch his every video. 6500 subscribing to his feed so they won’t miss a word the old codger has to say.

The story hits the MSM (mainstream media). Suddenly thousands of others become aware of a lonely old man in England who just seems to want to talk to the world and learn about the new ways of communicating.

If you are in communications, you are probably sitting up and taking notice. If you aren’t sitting up and taking notice, let me suggest a few implications of this:

– there’s a nice old man in England who needs some PR help. It appears he is so inundated with emails that he wasn’t able to return an email from Reuters. When you get to him, tell him that next time he needs to be better prepared to deal with a media and stakeholder onslaught if he suddenly finds himself the subject of internet and MSM attention.

YouTube is a phenomenon because it has established a strong position as the central place for just about anyone to post and view videos.

– If you are in communications and particularly crisis communications–you better get prepared to deal with video as a PRIMARY means of communication. Pictures tell the story and particularly in a global information environment where the messages can be conveyed universally. Take a clue from the Coast Guard who not only knows how and why to use video, have put in place the technology that makes it possible and easy for their communicators to do it quickly. Nearly everyday the TV news carries video provided by the Coast Guard doing their job such as in the Cougar Ace rescue.

–  Geriatric1927 (the screen name of our old video star) demonstrates a number of the key points of the book “the Long Tail” By Chris Anderson. He is pretty far up the tail, definitely into the “micro-hit” category. An example of an amateur (to the extreme) make a few videos that have far more views than about 99.8% of the 13,000 films made each year and shown at festivals. This would be a great case study in the Long Tail phenomenon. Can one manufacture such interest? Is this just the “fifteen minutes of fame” that we all can expect to get?

– The enthusiasm of many of those responding to their new friend in England is interesting in itself. Young people are welcoming him into their world. “You rock, dude!” is the message. Please make more videos. They are intrigued that someone clearly from another world (almost from another planet it may seem) has entered their world and attempted to communicate if not in their language then at least in their media. The response is overwhelmingly positive. The crankiness and nastiness that seems to permeate this world is not tolerated as those few who attempted to mock the gent were soundly booed by the others. There’s a message here from the predominantly young crowd on YouTube and other places like MySpace” “Come on it, the water’s fine.”

I've Got a Long Tail

Chris Anderson’s book “The Long Tail” is on my highly recommended list. I finished most of it in the far back seat of a Beech Baron flying between Bellingham and Los Angeles. With a cruising speed of 170 knots, that’s a fair amount of reading time.

The Long Tail refers to the very significant change going on in our economy and particularly our culture in which the mega hits of movies, books, music and products are replaced with a great many more “micro hits” or even nano hits. That’s a simplistic explanation. Of more interest to crisis communications folks is the trend he demonstrates of the Pro-Am. Many more content providers are not professionals in the sense of major Hollywood producers or music producers. But there are millions of very talented amateurs. That is happening in journalism as well, a trend that has already been well identified and is often referred to as “citizen journalism.” When is a blogger a journalist? When he or she reaches the circulation of a small daily? Or is it just when he or she decides to get in the game and report the news or comment on it. Either way, we now have millions of journalists. Not all of our equal impact–but that has always been true of reporters and publications.

Anderson does a good job of detailing out a very important phenomenon and exploring what it means for our culture, economy and lives. But it is not as new as he believes. When I was teaching communications at a small college in the mid-70s we talked a lot about media fragmentation. Looking at national network radio, television and national magazines, even at that early stage it was clear that there was a strong trend toward fragmentation. Where once there were a few, there now are many. What the Long Tail does is takes the old concept of media fragmentation into the post-media world of not just fragmentation but complete shattering. The Long Tail consists of hundreds of thousands or even millions of songs and musicians and authors and film producers and on and on.

The public relations world and crisis management world needs to sit up and take notice. The power is no longer just with the Wall Street Journal and New York Times. If you do not have the bandwidth to deal with a hundred or a thousand journalists eager for your story or your side of a controversy, you are living in the world of “hits” and you will be passed by in this new world of The Long Tail.

Terrorist plots and the overarching crisis

Since this blog is about crises, I can’t pretend to ignore the crisis that grips all of us in the wake of the arrest of the terrorist plot out of the UK. I just got off the plane from LA–fortunately for me a private plane in a long flight from LA to north of Seattle. My wife just got off a commercial flight so, and most of my family was flying this weekend on commercial flights. So we know the impact on air travel of this latest round of fright. I have no intention to get involved in the emotion-laden politics of the war on terror. Rather I want to make the point about crisis communication. In a crisis when we feel frightened and uncertain, information is our desperate need. It becomes our comfort and consolation. We recognize that more information may make us more frightened but still we have as desperate need of it as a man in the desert with water running low. We cannot live without it.

The MSM (mainstream media) labor 24/7 to give that to us. The government agencies most involved, FBI and DHS work to give us calm reassurances, even while we are told that our toothpaste is now considered a potential lethal weapon and must be confiscated. We want to know who is behind it, what kind of people these are. We want to know how the plot was discovered. We want to know if everyone involved has been caught. We want to know if Bin Laden and crew are behind this and how can they hold the world in their grip from isolated caves in Pakistan. We want to know with all the smart weapons and intelligence technologies we have, why can’t we stop these madmen and end this nightmare. We want to know, know, know, know. In knowing there is some measure of comfort.

The truth is that in this information age and era of instant news, the most important answers still elude us. And that frustrates us and can even make us angry. Why do we know so little even after glueing ourselves to our TV screens or browsers.

If I had the opportunity to speak to those who may have the tidbits of knowledge that we so desperately seek I would say, please give it to us. Give us a constant and continual stream. Give it to us direct. Don’t think that the MSM are the only vehicle to inform us. Attorney General Gonzalez is right to ask for patience as we seek information and to remind us of the limits of providing information that may negatively impact the investigation going on in the UK and around the world. But please, Secretary Chertoff, Director Mueller, Mr. Gonzalez and President Bush, understand that we solid, real, continual and direct information is the best and surest way of calming our fears and easing our uncertainties. Take a clue from the blog world–talk open, talk often and keep talking.

But the real point here is for crisis communicators. Please remember what it feels like right now to be a stakeholder. For you certainly are a stakeholder in this crisis. You have a deep and personal interest in the events going on and therefore you deeply believe you have a right to know. And that means you believe those who control the situation have an obligation to communicate. Not just simple press statements. Not just mediated messages. Not just calming assurances. But real stuff related to the real questions that you have. Remember when you are in the opposite chair–when you sit on the controls of a communication center. Remember what it feels like to be a stakeholder, and do your absolutely damnedest to get your superiors to understand that they too have a moral obligation to calm the fears and address the information thirst of the people whose lives they are impacting. For crisis communicators, that is the real learning from this event.

Plus, buy toothpaste stock. There are going to ge a lot of travelers who have to resupply once they get through the five hour security line and to their destinations.