Posted by: blackvector | July 28, 2015

Don’t Think Outside the Box, Burn It


I once heard a speaker say that when someone tells you to “Think outside the box,” they are really saying, “Think outside your box, not mine.” When it comes to new ways of doing business, I often wonder how many communication professionals fall into this trap and dismiss new ideas and methods because they still are bound by the confines of someone’s box (usually a senior leader or communicator).

Too often the answer is rather simple for a communication plan or marketing event, yet it is unnecessarily complicated by meetings, working groups and people who say that won’t work. In the end, communication is simple: Sender, message, receiver. Yet, I notice some cling to the past, news releases, pitches, talking points, counting column inches of copy. Others, jump into the future, Facebook, Twitter, incredible flashy graphics and web pages. I see these as boxes — one box of old school methods (analog) and one of new methods (digital). In the end, however, both boxes try to deliver the same intent, communication to a stake holder group.

So why burn the box? Because in today’s environment, one can’t communicate in one box or the other. It takes a new way of thinking, using both traditional and new methods to reach diversified audiences. You have to think outside the box by burning it and removing the constraints that guide current thinking in corporate communication and PR offices. Stop having countless meetings and focus groups to communicate with stakeholders, remove the boxes and merge the two schools of thought (analog and digital) into what works for the group you are targeting.  It really is that simple.


Posted by: blackvector | July 15, 2015

Communication Vs. Engagement


The tracks you lay, will guide the train you ride.

As organizations strive to have their voices heard on the communication stage, I can’t help but wonder how much thought is given to engagement. There are a myriad of examples where organizations have their messages out in the information sphere. I see these messages daily on Twitter, newspapers, television, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. I understand why the mediums are used as they are to communicate organizational messaging. However, I see one thing seriously lacking – engagement.

There are those who engage and communicate well, but there are even more who do not engage their audiences or stakeholders; they simply communicate one way, like shouting out a message. As a result, I believe they are disengaging their audiences because one-way communications are simply not engaging to individuals.

Engagement takes time, resources and, frankly, an ability to connect to people. Often, it takes time to do this and may be why organizations fail at it. They lack the investment in time and effort. Yet, the way I see it, this investment will pay off more than any targeted campaign will. Why? Because you have an audience that knows you, cares about you, and sees value in their relationship with you.

So does your organization engage, have conversations with, and make your audience and stakeholders feel value in their relationship with the organization? Or, does your organization hold meetings, hire agencies, shotgun out messages on social media and hope for the best? If you are not engaging your audience and stake holders on a regular basis, then you are disengaging them from your organization, tune you out and find someone else to ‘talk’ to.

Engagement, it really is that simple.

Posted by: blackvector | June 15, 2009

Social Networks May Help Iranian Protesters

Well the elections in Tehran have once again highlighted the use of Social

Protester in Iran. Note the woman holding a cell phone in the foreground.

Protester in Iran. Note the woman holding a cell phone in the foreground.

Networking on the world stage. I can’t help but wonder how much of a non-story this would be if it was not for the fact there are people on social networks providing the world information in real time. In discussing Iranians taking their story online, CNN highlights what many news orgs are starting to write about: Social Networking is having an impact on the world by highlighting events in real time, without censors monitoring and blocking the information. The CNN article is here. A couple of months ago, I wrote about the uprising in Moldavia, which is disputed in terms of whether or not social networks played a role. I was not too concerned about that since it did generate a thought in my mind. As a military public affairs practitioner, it is becoming increasingly clear that we need to be engaged in social networks. The latest struggle in Iran highlights the need to integrate social networking into military plans, if we do not, we could conceivable be at a serious disadvantage in future operations.

Consider that right now on Twitter @mousavi1388is sending out information about where to meet and protest the election results in Tehran. Now, I have no way to verify if this is actually him or not, but the tweets seem to line up with when CNN reports protests in Tehran and the pictures he post of Flickr are definitely from Iran. Here are two sample tweets from his account:

“الله اکبر از بالای پشت بام ها . Tonight & every night 9-11pm, “Alaho Akbar” from rooftops. #IranElection”


Clearly someone is using Twitter to not only let the world audience know what is going on, but also to organize those within the country of what to do next. A Twitter-organized protest seems to have actually come out of this one. The use of Flickr to post imagery is also interesting; they are able to bypass official sensors on media outlets by going direct from a mobile device to the Flickr website. Guess the Iranian network watchers don’t know about Flickr. Unconfirmed reports from Iran claim that FaceBook as well as opposition web sites have been blocked in that country. Of course that does not apply if your service provider is not Iranian-based going through official state routers. Information always has a way to surface.

As said before in earlier posts, public affairs entities must plug into social networks and capitalize on the leverage they can provide. But it has to be a conversation. Not a one-way press release as often times it has become. The control of the information is no longer there for us and we can’t really target audiences with specifc information — PA must adapt to put out its message rather than have someone do it for us. We can be assured, if we’re not talking on social networks, someone will do it for us.

Smilar post from Gwynne on dot-gov is here.

State Dept Social Networking Delegation in Iraq.First off, do not get me wrong here, I applaud social networking and what it can deliver and fully support integration into existing processes for Public Affairs/Public Relations/Public Diplomacy and this group is a step in the right direction. However, one thing that has always bugged me is how we go into the overseas environment and attempt to take Western processes into other cultures. Having spent several consecutive years living in Europe and deploying all over, I could see firsthand  how we fail in getting the message out to a foreign audience. The state department has taken a delegation of “social networking” types into Iraq to “provide conceptual input as well as ideas on how new technologies can be used to build local capacity, foster greater transparency and accountability, build upon anti-corruption efforts, promote critical thinking in the classroom, scale-up civil society, and further empower local entities and individuals by providing the tools for network building.” All that is lofty press release jargon for something, but i’m not sure what. One of the executives is @jack, co-founder of the social networking site He has Tweeted his experiences, to include imagery from his trip, and shared it with his followers — pretty cool.

In a previous post I discussed how Social Media is a buzz word. It is not a panacea to fix everything. Bringing social networking to the Iraqis is not going to save them from anything. In fact, one has to wonder how they can access social networking or if the infrastructure was in place to do it yet (for example, no 100% reliable electrical grid yet). I am sure some are, but is it the academics, politicos and elites only? How does the everyday citizen get his information? Whatever the case may be, I do think there is a place for social networking in the new Iraq. The key is for the effort to be developed by the Iraqi culture for its use — not modeled after American communication trends and theories. During one of my graduate classes at the University of Oklahoma, Intercultural Communication, one of the points Dr. Clemencia Rodriguez kept discussing was how when we developed communication programs for foreign audiences we must do so within the context of the cultures, by using the culture’s idioms and customs of communicating, not ours. Dr. Rodriguez places a high importance on the need to understand Intercultural Communication and rightly so. Her thought is tied to the concept of the global village (which I believe social networking has a key stake in), she says;

“Never before did our world resemble so closely what Marshall McLuhan called ‘the global village.’ The economic functions around transnational corporations and international markets; peoples from different parts of the world migrate — for different reasons — to other parts of the world; the work-force has become diverse in many different ways: people of different ages, genders, ethnicity, race, religions, languages, have to live and work together. All this means that never before has good intercultural communication been so valuable.”

We absolutely must address how we communicate with our audiences (stakeholders) both in the home station and deployed environment. More often than not, Dr. Rodriguez’s point is spot on, the communities PA practitioners target are no longer of one nationality or another, they are a blend of nationalities — whether overseas or in the United States. Our communication practices, using traditional methods as well as social networking will still deliver no effect if the message and meaning are not framed within these cultural contexts. In other words, not thinking what would be good for us in terms of communicating an idea, but asking the people of that culture how they would do it and what is good for them. Would Iraqis even Twitter or FaceBook? Probably. Shortly after the fall of the Hussein government, the proliferation of satellite dishes took off, dubbed in some media circles the national flower of Iraq. People wanted access to information: information that was previously controlled. Social networking does offer Iraqis this access to unrestricted information.

Social networking does offer access, but it does not cure the delivery of a message no one wants to hear (by this I mean a poorly written message); or the delivery of a message in the wrong cultural context. As we move more into Phase 0 type of operations, Public Affairs must shift from reactive to a more proactive and culturally-centric form of outreach in the deployed environment. I happen to agree with Matt Armstrong, from, that PA officers and SNCOs should probably be trained more like Public Diplomacy officers rather than Journalists.

Along with the technology group that went to Baghdad there should have been experts in Iraqi interpersonal communication. Integrate the way Iraqis communicate with each other and the access social networking can provide, and I see a winning combination. Do only one or the other, or worse – design it from an American viewpoint – and you can only have a failure to communicate.

Posted by: blackvector | April 14, 2009

AF Social Media Handbook Online

AF BookThe Air Force has released its Social Media handbook and video on how the Air Force is encouraging its members to use Social Media. The handbook made its debut at the 2009 AF Public Affairs Leadership Development Seminar in Herndon, VA. It was quite the hit, and the handbook has started to make its way around other government agencies and large companies as they search for a way to jump start their SM ventures. Clearly the AF is ahead of most on the use of Social Media. Thanks largely in part to Maj Gen Darren McDew who had the vision to see the benefits Social Media brought to the Air Force. He embraced the changes Social Media could enable and encouraged the AF Public Affairs community to get online while he served as director of Air Force public affairs. Recent posts on Twitter highlight  just how far ahead the AF is on its Social Media front with many people giving @AFPAA kudos. However, there are still several obstacles to overcome in the Air Force’s quest for integrating Social Media tools into its communication arsenal. A recent blog post pointed out the irony:

“A round of applause for the U.S. Air Force, please. They have provided the most deliciously ironic story we’ve reported in a long time. In the very same week that sources reported that Air Force servers were blocking virtually all popular social media sites, including the military’s own YouTube alternative site, “TroopTube,” the Air Force also held an annual conference focusing on… you guessed it, “new media tactics.” From:

In fact, the Secretary of the Air Force believed in the power of having every Air Fore member communicate directly with the public — sending out a policy letter on the subject. The power of every Airman as a communicator can only be realized through the use of Social Networking sites, not by blocking access to them. There has to be a balance between security and access, with risk accepted to enable what is clearly becoming a powerful tool in citizen engagement and transparency in government: Social Media.

One thing is for sure, blocking access to social media sites only prevents the Air Force from having it’s voice in the digital world. It does not prevent its adversaries from sharing their point of view with the world. I have to agree with, the irony of the Air Force blocking its own social media efforts is quite the conundrum. However, it is a welcome sign in the way ahead. I firmly believe access will prevail, it has to. Not because I think it needs to, but because the American taxpayer demands transparency in government. The security risks will be mitigated and the risk will be accepted so that every Airman can in fact become a communicator. It is inevitable.

The Air Force has its Social Media handbook on line at the following link, feel free to download it: AF Social Media handbook. The accompanying video is on here on You Tube.

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