It’s always fun to look toward a new year. One of my hobbies is painting so I think of the new year a bit like a blank canvas. It is ripe with possibilities, but there is a certain apprehension about whether things will emerge as you hope they will. And like painting, it usually takes more effort for the best to come out than you think it will. But as a canvas, the new year mostly paints itself. It’s like working on a canvas in which new colors, forms, shapes, objects are appearing even as you try to do your own thing. The year has a mind of its own, and the art comes in not trying to control what cannot be controlled but in turning what emerges–whatever it may be–into something beautiful, graceful and meaningful.
Looking back on the changes in crisis communication and the world of public opinion making, I see some fundamental shifts underway. Much of my work in the past six years or so has been aimed at helping clients and communicators understand the accelerating pace of public information. Most it seems to me, still do not understand, the depth and dimensions of the instant news world. So that word needs to continue to go out, but I think there is something even more significant emerging. And it comes as a direct result of the emergence of the blog culture as a powerful force in our society.
The blog world has a culture. No one has dictated it, and no one that I know of has really tried to define it. Yet, I think we all sense that it is there and we know somehow the boundaries of that culture. We have a sense for what the blog world considers right and wrong, just and unjust. One of the fundamental rules not just of the blog culture but the internet itself, is the strong desire to minimize the rules. So while there have been some rule making and enforcing mechanisms, mostly the internet world and blog culture in particular rely on social convention t0 enforce values. And those values I believe are spilling out beyond the blog culture into the broader world of main stream media, politics, business, advertising, and almost all aspects of culture making.
The blog culture values immediacy, that is certain, and that connects it to the instant news world. When bloggers see or hear something of interest, their first thought is to send it to the world. Mistakes can be made and often are made, and then the blogger is mightily flamed and says he or she is sorry. But it does not slow anyone down.
The blog culture values personality. Bloggers have little or no tolerance for the bland, impersonal language of much of the academic, professional and business world. If a CEO blogs, they want not just to see what he or she has to say about the company or its latest products, they want to have a clear picture of who that person is. They want to see warts and all. They want to see emotion.They want to see beyond the screen of packaging and vetting that normally accompanies corporate or professional communication.
The blog culture tends to be impatient and even angry. It doesn’t take much of an offense to set them off and get them to express raw language and raw emotion. There is variation here and you see a more mature and moderating influence coming in, but the rash, angry response still lives and to some extent dominates. Those who live in this sphere and who do not appreciate it learn to have a thicker skin.
The blog culture is highly political. While again it is shifting as more and more people enter this culture, it has been strongly dominated for some time by those whose primary motivation for blogging has been to participate in some way in the political dialog. It is definitely left-leaning, but again changing as more people become involved. But for a great many bloggers, the polarization of left and right and the desire to somehow influence political direction of the nation and the world is a primary part of their online persona and their reason for actively and aggressively participating.
The blog culture despises profit for profit’s sake. I am careful how I describe this because it is rich and complex. There is a strong anti-large, anti-powerful element in the blog world, and that applies not only to businesses but to any person, institution or organization which is large and has strong influence. Bloggers tend to be highly skeptical of any entity which impacts their lives and over which they have little or no control–so some of this extends to businesses. Their criticism of them tends to focus on the profits they generate, but I believe the underlying concern is not the profits themselves but the way in which power is exerted and the perceived failure of the organization to change based on the values and ethics of the critics.
The blog world has high ethical standards and little patience for those who violate them. The essential standard is openness and honesty. And if you are powerful, it includes humility and vulnerability. This is in effect the sum total of the items listed above. The blog world is about authenticity and its absolute disregard for anyone or anything that is less than authentic. People who buy things routinely over the internet do not want to be fooled by a scam artist. To do so is to undermine the whole potential for online economics. To engage in a lively debate or share interesting information with someone, only to find out they have a hidden agenda, a profit motive, or an economic stake in the outcome of that discussion cuts to the very bone of the reason why bloggers spend their time engaging in these conversations. It is vitally important to them, and therefore they will protect the authenticity of discussions with all the vehemence they can muster.
So when I suggest that 2007 may be the year of authenticity, it is not just in the blog world. A previous post pointed to another blog that reported that this year will be the first year when more people get their news online than from traditional news outlets. Last count I saw there were over 60 million active blogs tracked on technorati. But it is not just the blending of the sidestream and the mainstream that will result in a significant movement toward greater authenticity. It is how the values of the blog world are becoming some of the fundamental values of the rest of the world. We tend to see history as broad sweeps of changes that are not visible while you are in them. But historians find those individuals and specific actions or activities that are both representative of those broad sweeping changes and who help drive them. Who knows who history will credit with the lighting the spark that changed the world’s value system forever. My vote might be Robert Scoble and Shel Israel because of the impact their book Naked Conversations had on me and the understanding it helped me come to about the importance of the blog world in the greater world of opinion making. And from that standpoint, I guess all history is personal. May it be authentic.