German youth fear Facebook

September 10, 2010 at 1:18 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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So in July I went to Dresden to facilitate a ‘media team’ of young people participating in the youth pre-assembly of the Lutheran World Federation General Assembly, which happens every ten years or so.   We had about 11 members to our team ages 18-30, from Hungary, Kenya, Rwanda, Madagascar, Nigeria, India, Papua New Guinea, the US and one German.   They worked hard to produce content for lwfyouth.org and I loved them all.  To do a training like this is to see the hunger of young people across the world to create meaningful content and use technology no matter how much money or schooling they have had.

A few lessons I took away:

  • While blogging at a conference is fun, its good to produce a daily newsletter for the people who are not online.  Our main target audience was the conference participants, who had a full day of meetings and no time to get online.  So — the old fashioned paper hand out was still a good idea to create buzz, enhance reputation and drive traffic to the blog.
  • There was a huge interest in video, which is not my area, and it was very hard to manage as an amateur youth media team.  A professional is definitely needed to lead that and do only that if that is an important end goal.
  • Create ahead of time your strategy of how you will distribute the online media you are producing — e.g., write all your blogging friends and press offices and work out a home page highlight at least a week BEFORE the event starts.

Mid way through the conference when our blog traffic was not going up enough I changed tactic.  Instead of urging participants to go to lwfyouth.org, I told them to go to our Facebook page. They were already going to Facebook, so it was easy enough to get them to go to our lwfyouth page there… and then they would hopefully post an update, tag or comment and then jump over to the blog.  Asking them to visit the blog directly was too big a step of behaviour change in an environment where there was not a lot of time to go online.

So to do that I made a passionate plea to the plenary asking  people to tag themselves in the pictures we posted on FB (everyone loves pictures!).   This was a trick to drive traffic to FB and then the blog.  The photo tagging continues months later…   But the bigger result was getting the German youth attending the conference all riled up.  They came to me and said that they had discussed it as a group and asked that we moderate a forum on if Lutherans of the world should use FB at all?  At this point I was dead tired and generally not enthused about the German culture which seems to shun any form of PR.   I could not think of anything better to say than, Facebook is here, get over it, my job is marketing, I know what I am doing, we have quality control here. Luckily a friend of mine interpretting gave a standard more diplomatic speech in defense of Facebook.   I asked the girl who was giving me an earful if she had a Facebook account?  Yes she says, but she uses a fake name and only uses it to talk to her friends in Latin America.  Her main concern was that a future employer would see photos of her online.

But the incident still bothers me to this day, so I was interested to read German blogger Peter Bihr’s account of giving a workshop on social media to German youth, he writes:

On a side note, I have to say I really enjoyed particularly the discussions with these students. We talked a lot about privacy on social networks and the implications of using these online services. I was surprised on more than one occasion: Not a lot of the participants use smartphones, which may be a budget thing given they’re all still studying. The crowd was much more critical of online social networking than I expected. (There was a strong split in the group, with those seeing chances rather than risks on one side and those highly critical of social networks on the other.)

Two things became very clear, though: (1) Just like German society overall this group had a significant part of online critics (with varying degrees of informed argumentation). (2) All of them are acutely – almost painfully – aware of the role of privacy and how it’s being affected by voluntary participation in online sharing behavior (social networking, Twitter etc), involuntary sharing (government involvement) and commercialization (all major actors are international corporations).

While I wished the overall discourse (on a societal level) about the complex issues of privacy/ownership/control of data online was based on a more informed basis, it’s very clear that we’ll be having this discussion for awhile to come. And that’s good: Keep thinking, discussing, debating. Just please make sure to stay away from panic and fear driven rhetoric as well as hyperbole. And if you happen to encounter such arguments, feel free to drop in some facts and see the fear go away.

My pursuit to understand social media in Europe continues, but  you can see we have some work to do.

living in Europe: my social media withdrawal

September 10, 2010 at 11:03 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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When I first moved to Germany there was one thing that surprised me — posters. Tacked up on lamposts, pasted to buildings, these advertisements for tradefairs and concerts are on every main corner. Of course, staid Germany would never allow for rampant posters, but the point is that the communication was like being thrown back in time.

Since I got here I have been wondering, where are the websites? Where are the social media?  The websites I do find are built as photo images, or if they are halfway decent they are probably owned but the government, like Stadt Bonn. There is no where to interact, just a growing list of websites I should awkwardly check if I want to know if anything is going on. But complaining about social media in Germany is too easy — I should not let myself get caught up in sloppy thinking. There must be some good social media being used in Germany and Europe. Its time to be better informed.

First, what are Germans doing online?

View the full slide show here from Trend Stream.

According to this study, motivations in Germany to use social media are first, to research purchases, and second stay up to date on news and events. (Which is similar to the US- the same categories are important to Americans, but they do them at greater levels). But as a culture, Germans do not shop — you can’t use a credit card here if your life depended on it — and this must ultimately limit web purchasing.  And, traditional news via the printed newspaper, radio and TV had not seen many of the changes the have hit the American media. News comes on the hour on public-private stations in a even-keeled voice, and there are few pundits or opinions.

But maybe, living in Bonn, a small city, I am just in a social media withdrawal that would occur if I had moved to the middle of Indiana…. but I doubt it, because I would still watch TV that would drive me online (to share a pissed off opinion to Fox news… or look something up I saw on TV). It’s probably more like the same withdrawal I would get to moving to any small town in a country where I do not speak the language. I think it is more an urban-rural barrier. Apparently London is the social media capital of the world according to top number of users of Digg, Twitter and FB. And Russians are the giant social media users of all of Europe (see the Trendstream slide show.)

The differences in social media use in Europe and the US is a subject for a book — one that would immediately go out of date. But, my new plan is to SEEK out this information and make a more informed analysis, instead of just grumble about what I miss from NYC. First order of business, find some hot social media Euro bloggers to read regularly.

How do you increase public demand around climate change?

November 25, 2009 at 10:24 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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For me, the climate change debate is about communication. To increase supply of clean energy by changing policies, there must be more demand.  To increase the demand, people need to be given clear messages about what to ask for.

Living in Europe, it is interesting to see how the conversation here is different from from the US.  Climate change seems to be in the media regularly, and to limited controversy.   People are contentedly riding their bikes and taking their high-speed trains.  Shopping is not such a passionate recreation as it is in the US.  At the grocery stores, it seems half the products are ‘Bio’, and the prices are good.

I recently heard Dr. Ranier Wend, the director of public policy and responsibility at DHL speak about how the world’s largest shipping company is making changes to reduce their carbon footprint (30% by 2030) because of consumer demand.  But this demand came only from European customers.  He went on to say that “people’s identification with market structures is on the decline”—which I tried to imagine a corporate leader in the US saying, but couldn’t quite get there. In the US, this feeling is currently being called “rising populism” stemming from a fear of people’s own individual economic vulnerability.  I think the Euro-phrasing is more constructive.

Anyhow, it amazes me that despite the black-hole that the climate change debate has become, that so few messages breakthrough.  When you want to know how to change public opinion, there is only one place to turn: market research. Doesn’t matter where you are, Germany, Kenya, US.  Get out there and do your homework, then prepare your pitch.

So I was glad to see this report “Climate and Energy Truths” about US opinion written by Eco-America and funded by the NRDC and others.   Here are some of the findings – now I only hope they will build some messages around them.

  • People are more energized around energy issues than climate change, but they can become engaged if energy is linked to climate change, health or pollution.
  • Messaging around climate change is stronger when it is value-oriented rather than policy or scientifically based– and tapping into multiple values is better than one value.  Messaging on climate alone is weaker.
  • Leading with words like climate crisis, global warming or climate change can be problematic.  Deteriorating atmosphere was more effective.
  • Make messages win-win – economically and environmentally beneficial, not a trade-off.

The most revealing part of the report gets right down to it — confirming some suspicions I have had all along about the words that we use: Climate crisis seems too alarmist to people, and either makes them anxious, which makes them shut down, or makes them discount the source as histrionic. Climate change is too bland and has also become politicized and polarized.

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