Friday, January 29, 2010

Brace Yourself for the Sonic Boom

Look for unrivaled prosperity, extraordinary innovation and extreme uncertainty in the years ahead as globalization continues at unimaginable speed, moving us toward not just the next boom but, rather, a sonic boom in economics and culture. So says author Gregg Easterbrook in his new book, Sonic Boom: Globalization at Mach Speed just out from Random House.

Oh, and don’t expect to enjoy the sonic boom. Chaos will rein supreme, he says, even as things get dramatically better.

As in previous books, Easterbrook loads his latest work with facts that knock down dozens of widely held myths and misperceptions, which he says are mostly fostered by the news media. And speaking of the media, he offers some choice observations on the Fourth Estate.

Unprecedented competition brought about by hundreds to broadcast and cable channels, the internet and social media is actually enabling the media to be “faster, more compelling and more accurate,” he says. But the news media’s business model, which focuses on making people uneasy and discontented, means even greater obsession with negative stories.

Sonic Boom is classic Easterbrook, the contrarian optimist. After all, he wrote most of the book’s predictions of economic growth and prosperity even as the nation’s financial system teetered on the brink of collapse.

Pick up a copy if you’re looking for something readable, provocative, amusing and alarming.

- Potomac Communications Group

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Jounalists Use Social Media - But Don't Trust It

Journalists are increasingly using blogs, social networking sites and even microblogging sites like Twitter for information gathering – but they have grave reservations about their trustworthiness.

These findings come from a new study by George Washington University (Don Bates) and Cision software company. It surveyed 371 journalists working for magazines, newspapers and Web sites and found that they have collectively hit a “tipping point” in their reliance on social media. Some key results:

Nearly 90% use blogs in their research, and 96% use corporate Web sites.
About two-thirds use social networking sites like LinkedIn and Facebook, especially those who write for the Web; for magazine writers, the number is 58%.
Nearly half the print reporters use microblogging sites, as do 69% of Website writers. Over 10% of the print reporters say they use sites like Twitter “all the time.”
The second most popular online research site is Wikipedia, cited by 61% (compared to 100% for Google).

Despite their use of social media, 84% believe it is less reliable than traditional media.

Over 85% say they use information from P.R. professionals as much as or more than they did five years ago, especially for access to sources and answers to questions.

- Potomac Communications Group

Monday, January 25, 2010

Books for a Special School in Washington

At our Holiday Open House every year, we collect children’s books and donate them to a clinic, shelter or school. This year our clients and friends who came to our party contributed more than 100 books, from Dr. Seuss to Harry Potter. Evette Martin and Ernest Butler of our staff presented the books to students at the William E. Doar, Jr., Public Charter School for the Performing Arts in Northeast Washington. Here are a half-dozen Doar students enjoying the gifts.

Our tradition was begun by our late founding partner, Ellen Lepper, and we honor her life, work and commitment to children by continuing it in her name.

- Potomac Communications Group

Friday, January 22, 2010

How Twitter Helped a Utility Manage a Crisis

At this week’s Utility Communicators International meeting in New Orleans, Glen Thomas, communications and public relations supervisor at Memphis Light, Gas and Water (MLGW), spoke about how his company experienced a more than 500 percent increase in Twitter traffic in less than three days.

Prior to June of 2009, MLGW had about 200 Twitter followers and the company used the channel to casually chat with customers about outages and safety information. This all changed on June 12, 2009, when a Tornado ripped Memphis knocking out power to 140,000 customers, 120 schools, 37 nursing homes and 90 industrial facilities.

After the storm hit, Thomas said the company began to Twitter updates about restoration. The difference this time – the masses were more engaged than ever before. Within three days, the MLGW Twitter feed went from 200 to 1,200 followers. The volume of Twitter traffic was so high that the company had to set up a primary Tweeter for the day and night shifts.

Thomas said the company also had to set Twitter update hours to avoid customer frustration. He noted that customers would direct message his Twitter pros well into the evening to find out recovery estimates for their homes.

Thomas’ Twitter lessons learned from the experience:
  • Can serve as another valuable customer service tool during a crisis
  • Great way to control rumors (At one point during the storm it was rumored that restoration was delayed while waiting for parts from China. MLGW’s Twitter feed corrected this rumor.)
  • You must set update hours in order to avoid customer frustration and communicate this clearly with your followers
  • Use Twitter tools to help the conversation: Tweetdeck, TwitterCounter
  • There is a daily tweet limit (MLGW was shut down one evening when it reached the daily limit)
  • Twitter is a great way to reach reporters (Journalists often retweeted MLGW posts)
  • Twittering during a crisis can eat up significant staff time, be prepared

The MLGW Twitter feed now has more than 2,000 followers and is a primary source for customers.

- Potomac Communications Group

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Media: Mainly 'Pro-Conflict'

For anyone who tries to work with influential journalists, Ken Auletta has written an insightful if depressing analysis of the new media landscape, at least as it plays out in Washington. His article, “Non-Stop News,” appears in the Jan. 25 issue of The New Yorker, but is summarized in this New Yorker blog item. It contains lessons for every corporation or association trying to interest the key media in stories it believes is important.

The problem, Auletta writes, is that “the news cycle keeps getting shorter – to the point that there is no pause, only the constancy of the Web and the endless argument of cable. This creates pressure to entertain or perish, which has fed the press’s dominant bias: not pro-liberal or pro-conservative, but pro-conflict.”

President Obama’s team is struggling with the new pressures on the media, but so are the journalists themselves. As a former White House communications director said, “When journalists call you to discuss a story, it’s not because they’re interested in having a discussion. They’re interested in a response. And the need to file five times a day encourages this.”

These time pressures, says Peter Baker of the New York Times, has left leading reporters feeling like “eight-year-olds chasing a soccer ball. Instead of finding ways of creating fresh, original, high-impact journalism, we’re way too eager to chase the same story everyone else is chasing.”

The result: a never-ending appetite for new information, and a quick discarding of the old. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs is quoted: “What used to drive one or two days of coverage and questions is now readily subsumed every few hours.”

- Potomac Communications Group

Friday, January 15, 2010

Is the Nuclear Blogosphere Changing Corporate Communication?

As a PR professional promoting nuclear energy, I work hard to keep up with the latest industry news. This includes a daily review of nuclear blogs that are increasingly shaping coverage of the industry.

In the nuclear energy sector, four bloggers have paved the way:

Dan Yurman, Idaho Samizdat
Rod Adams, Atomic Insights
John Wheeler, This Week in Nuclear
Kirk Sorensen, Energy from Thorium

In his post, “Taking the Myths Out of the Debate on Nuclear Energy,” Dan Yurman writes about the relationship between traditional mainstream media and social media: they take different paths toward the same destination. Yurman says that blogging provides the opportunity to inform, engage and guide the conversation about nuclear energy.

In addition to bloggers like Yurman, I find blog aggregation services, such as Nuclear Street and The Energy Collective, to be very helpful as well. For news and commentary on the commercial nuclear energy industry, I turn to NEI Nuclear Notes.

A quick look at nuclear energy company AREVA further highlights how social media is changing the corporate approach to nuclear communication. The company’s “AREVA Blog” has been supporting a sustainable nuclear future since last May. AREVA now offers a monthly conference call to share news and upcoming details with bloggers. For example, today’s AREVA Blog call featured a Q&A with Finis Southworth, Chief Technology Officer for AREVA NP Inc., to discuss the latest research and development efforts for AREVA’s next-generation reactors and related technologies.

Blogs are remodeling the flow of information by taking the form of a conversation. If you join in, the conversation is happening with you. If you don’t, the conversation is happening without you.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Tracking the Media Evolution

For everyone who works with journalists, here are some useful links that can help you keep up with the scary – especially to them – changes taking place in their world. I try to check them regularly.

The Newspaper Death Watch Blog is just what it says – a running scorecard of newspapers that have folded, those on the verge, those that have had to change their basic model (now mainly digital, no home delivery, etc.). It reminds us of the pressures that traditional journalists are facing, and of the traumatic changes taking place in most newspapers.

Poynter Online is a daily report on journalism and the media produced by Jim Romenesko at the Poynter Institute in Florida. It’s one of the most authoritative sources for information about business and journalistic developments taking place in the traditional media.

The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism tracks public attitudes toward traditional and digital media from a variety of angles – credibility, accuracy, partisanship, general usefulness. A recent survey found that 19% of Internet users now use Twitter or similar services – up from only 11% as recently as April. This chart shows an important insight from a recent Pew study. More people may be getting their information from new media, but at least for important local news, the information still originates from newspapers and the traditional media. Without them, who will dig up the original story?

And for a particularly amazing site, check this out: every morning the Newseum posts the front pages of 837 newspapers around the country and the world. We can compare the coverage of major issues by essentially every newspaper that exists, and we can monitor the changes taking place in their layouts and story emphasis over time. Maybe best of all, we can check out Page 1 of the New York Post every morning. (The Newseum has become one of Washington’s must-see attractions, in its new location near the Capitol Building – especially for anyone involved with journalists and the media.)

- Potomac Communications Group

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

We're Expanding Our Digital Communications Capabilities

We have a new team member at PCG, and we’re delighted to welcome her aboard. Kati Patrick is now Creative Director/Senior Graphic Designer, to help us as we continue expanding our on-line communications services. Kati is a graduate of the Art Institute of Washington, where she received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Web Design and Interactive Media. She most recently worked as an interactive designer at AOL. Welcome aboard!

- Potomac Communications Group