links for 2010-02-24

  • Kevin: Ken Doctor writes about the expected cuts of about 300 jobs at ABCNews in the US. (Out of a current headcount of 1400.) "I’ve placed ABC among the Digital Dozen companies, those with more than 500 news staffers, those with the potential of creating bigger digital businesses given their global distribution power — if they can restructure their costs in line with still-meager, but growing, digital revenues."
  • Kevin: A list of games 'with real world impact'.
  • Kevin: "At first glance, a start-up social media company with a focus on bar reviews and meeting up with friends might seem like an unlikely partner for newspapers as established as The New York Times, or as widely distributed as the freesheet Metro. But at this stage, the deal seems to be less about news and more about the restaurant reviews so key to Foursquare's appeal. "
  • Kevin: The New York Times has collected all of their interactive graphics for the 2010 Winter Olympics on one page. It's a great collection showing off some excellent techniques in visual story-telling.
  • Kevin: Brilliant visual of 'blogosphere'. (I hate the term. It's not a monolith.) It's a very useful bookmark for relevant statistics about blogs. The one stat that surprises me is that the US represents 48% of the global blogging population. That really surprises me. I'd like to see the underlying data. That aside, still very useful.
  • Kevin: In the satirical column Grey Cardigan about newspapers in the UK: “The daft thing is, we all knew that it was going to end. We knew that the internet would eventually take away our ad revenue; that classified would go first, followed by property and sits vac. And yet we did nothing about it. We didn’t plan for the future or invest in innovative content and means of delivery. We just carried on snuffling up the profits like pigs around a trough.” How close to reality is this? (Answer: Probably damn close.)
  • Kevin: This reminds me of the US Air Force social media strategy. It's important to be able to determine what kind of feedback you're getting. "The number one rule when responding to all criticism, even the negative type, is to stay positive. Adding more negativity to the conversation by letting yourself be drawn into a fight with a customer or user will only reflect poorly on your business."
  • Kevin: Chris Brogan makes a really important distinction in this post, which he expands on in the comments. "First, let’s be clear: the pursuits of journalism and the pursuits of publishing aren’t the same.

    Journalists seek to create compelling information that is helpful and news-worthy.

    Publishing seeks to push more product, deliver higher circulation value, and create more value for sponsors/advertisers/money-holders."

  • Kevin: Frédéric Filloux of the Monday Note looks at the issues surrounding the iPad for publishers. Publishers agree that Apple is difficult to work with, which Frédéric says Apple needs to reconsider. "nlike the iPhone, the iPad will leave or die by the content it will deliver." It needs to treat publishers better. Lots of good questions here. Will content providers subsidise the iPad as mobile phone operators subsidise the iPhone? What kind of market data will publishers be able to capture from the iPad?
  • Kevin: Charlie Beckett, the director of the journalism and politics think tank Polis at the London School of Economics, writes about th difficulty that serious journalists will have in covering allegations that Gordon Brown has 'bullied' his staff and has a volcanic temper. The journalists reporting the story have not been able to get their sources to go on the record. Charlies says: "If they don’t report these things then they stand accused of keeping secrets in the cozy club of the lobby. If they use journalistic conventions then they face the bluster of people like Prescott. You decide."
  • Kevin: Mark Jones of Reuters writes about the very interesting campaigns online in the UK that parody the political posters of the parties. He says: "t’s early days in the run-up to the general election and no-one is expecting this bout of social media satire to entirely kill off the art of political billboard posters. But something has changed and campaign managers have one more thing to think about — the scope for online corruption of their messaging. And might it at least add some fun to the campaign?"

The cost of inauthentic communities

Roger Martin has an excellent post on Harvard Business Review that looks back at how business executives used to be embedded in the community they served but are now disconnected from it, as are the businesses they work for. It is a must read.

In the 60s, business were smaller, executives knew their customers and their staff. Shareholders were in it for the long run so tolerated long-term planning. Companies had more loyalty to their home city, so “doing things to benefit the city made sense both corporately and personally.”

While not perfect, this structure enabled the executive to live a reasonably authentic life; the way he wanted to live personally was largely aligned with her corporate responsibilities. He wanted to make the customers — whom he was likely to know personally — happy. He wanted to support his employees’ well-being — employees who he and his family probably knew. He wanted to be a respected figure in the city, a city that was important to his company and his family. And he wanted to make his shareholders happy because he knew that they had placed a long-term bet behind his company. If he worked on all those aspects of his community, he could be successful and happy. And by serving customers and employees well, the corporation was likely to keep on prospering.

But now companies and the executives that work for them have become dissociated from their environs, their staff, their customers and, crucially, from long-term thinking. Martin says:

[T]he idea that shareholder value was a corporation’s principal objective function took hold, largely, I think, through the agency of business schools, whose dramatic rise coincided with the decline of the traditional business community.

This disintegration of community is not a good thing for the exec, his business, the community or frankly, anyone else. It leads to the sort of short-termist thinking that led to the Crash.

Martin paints a fairly bleak picture, but I think there is a cause for hope: Social media. Blogs, Twitter, LinkedIn and a host of other tools provide a way for the people in business, whether executive or not, to get back in touch with their wider community. It also allows customers to collaborate and to become a countervailing force to shareholders, Wall Street and analysts who encourage companies to make bad decisions.

The new community that businesses find themselves in isn’t a geographically constrained community, but a community of interest, or rather, a community of people who have an interest, whether they are customers, staff or curious onlookers.

And there’s nowhere to hide, either. The sunshine of the public’s attention can illuminate any previously hidden nook or cranny, and behaviour that businesses once got away with can now be exposed and challenged. The broader reach of businesses also frequently allows customers to swap away from the worst offenders, using their dollar or pound to vote against a company’s policy or behaviour.

I think we have a long way to go before we make real progress, and the largest of companies frequently have the longest journey, but I think the tide is finally on the turn.