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Mozilla CEO Ouster: Good Brand Decision or Bad?

On Thursday, April 3, Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich stepped down from the company. There is a lot of controversy about the circumstances of that resignation. It was clearly not voluntary. Here are some thoughts from my own comment on LinkedIn, and elsewhere, that are relevant from a branding point of view.

Clearly the Board forced his hand. The issue is whether, from a branding perspective, they should have. I personally disagree. True, he displayed "intolerance" from a PC perspective. On the other "inclusivity" means including those we do not agree with. 

(Yet - where do we draw the line? A donation to a White Supremacist organization would be a clear cause for removal.) 

Brand strategy is so tricky because not only do you have the brand axis, you also have the mass media and pop culture axis, the war between PC and free speech, and the legal and popular definition of discrimination.

The news coverage of this story has been excellent. 

1) Why is this story important? Via Susan Adams at Forbes - highly recommend reading the entire article, including the interviews:

"Though CEOs have taken heat for their positions on controversial issues—Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein has said the investment bank lost at least one major client because he holds the opposite view from Eich, in favor of gay marriage—none have ever resigned their posts as a result of public protest over a private political stance."

2) Why does the CEO's personal views matter? The corporate brand - transparency. Via interview conducted by Elissa Hu at NPR:

"HU: Putting users first, openness and inclusiveness a core to Mozilla's beliefs and operations. Mozilla's technology is created in public. And as it became clear when Eich was named CEO, Mozilla's debates get quite public, too."

3) What makes the brand issue unusual? Two words: corporate culture. Via Quentin Hardy and Nick Bilton at the New York Times:

"Mozilla is not your typical Silicon Valley company. Monday morning “town halls” at Mozilla are open to the public and anyone can look at the code that powers Mozilla’s popular Firefox web browser. The company’s employees are encouraged to speak their minds and even criticize the boss on Twitter. Thousands of programmers help Mozilla improve its products — free — because the programmers think it is important."

The personal is professional is the brand. Times are changing.

* All opinions my own.

If You Think Facebook Is Irrelevant For Government, You Don't Understand Social Media Strategy

There is all this conversation going on now about the diminishing effectiveness of Facebook as an advertising/PR tool. But for government, the focus should be on responsible stewardship of taxpayer funds. Do we forget that in all the hype and fancy talk over this tool and that.

I disagree with the idea that FB is dying because it's a dwindling PR tool. From where I sit social media was never supposed to be about PR, and especially not for government agencies. Government agencies cannot do PR here in the States. Have we forgotten that? I like the communication that's happening around Connect citizens to services. Go where they go. Use multiple channels. Perfect.

In addition to the fact that we lack a strategic understanding of which social media tool is good for what, in government the bureaucracy holds us back from adapting as fast as the tools evolve. I like what the GSA has done to proliferate tools as well as guidance. That's the way to go., DigitalGov University, all excellent and pioneering stuff. If only we had that back in 2008 or 2009. And now the Federal Communicators Network is an official community of practice. This is all great.

I like the model that has been established at NARA to anticipate and grow with social media. It is housed in the Office of Innovation (where I work and I oversee the central administration of the function - note this blog is my personal one, and I am only describing the function not representing the agency here). Communications is a client. We keep the two separate for a reason. With the help of General Counsel and looking to the above for guidance and support, we stand up the tools and help others become responsible users of social media in their capacities as official representatives of the agency.

Based on everything I've seen and learned over the years, the most effective use of social media is to influence real users (not agency representatives) to spontaneously share information in their own ways. That may be as simple as a lunchtime conversation or as sophisticated as Snapchat or Spaceteam. I don't think we have to necessarily inhabit all the channels. I do think we have to communicate in ways that are simple and excellent and easily shareable. Give the public clear and understandable information and let them mix it, mash it, make apps out of it, and what have you. Just like the frontline employee knows best what the public wants, the agency outsider knows best how to reach other agency outsiders. This is also a better use of taxpayer funds than trying to "squat" over the entire Internet and social media space.

* All opinions my own

Spaceteam, Noah, The Walking Dead, & Why You Still Can't Cry At Work

Yesterday I was listening to The Kane show, Hot 99.5 here in DC, during my drive-time commute. It's a great radio program because they manage to cover the hippest and hottest news and also squeeze in a fair number of gotcha games and pranks. Not to mention gossip.

In any case they were talking about this new app called Spaceteam. It's essentially a game where you and up to 4 teammates have to build a spaceship, except your teammates have some of the tools you need, and you have their. You have to play it while you're physically together in a room. According to one caller at least, the app seriously damaged a close relationship as she and her boyfriend wound up shouting at each other to build the ship. (Of course the shouting is the point of the game, or why would you build an app that requires you to get stuff off of your friend's smartphone?)

It led me to think about how social media, digital media, and immersive game environments are morphing and also changing the way we relate to each other. First there was the isolated person-behind-a-computer model. Then there was the relate-to-each-other-but-not-in-person model. Then there was competitive or cooperative gaming, again not in person. Now we have games where the other person is in the actual room with you - which seems to really flip the idea of virtual worlds on their head.

It's almost like we're back in the arcade playing two-person shooter games, and this is an extension? But then again, the interaction is a must. You can't build the ship without it.

It's socially acceptable to shout. Not nice, but acceptable. People shout at work.

People don't cry at work. You're not supposed to do that. There is a book about this by Kelly Cutrone, the founder of People's Revolution (a PR Firm), called If You Have To Cry Go Outside (And Other Lessons Your Mother Never Told You). It's a great book.

Of course nobody will tell you that crying is shameful. And it should not be shameful at all. Somebody said to me the other day, "Crying is a sign that you've uncovered a great truth." I would think that truthfulness would be better than aggression, but it seems we are still sexist enough a society that crying looks like weakness while shouting appears to be strength.

This is the struggle in Noah, essentially a movie about defining what it means to be a man. Noah is stoic - he does not cry. He sees himself as a servant of G-d, and tells his children "we take only what we need" from the Earth. The bad guy, the other king who wants to "take the Ark" for himself, says that G-d has abandoned Man (Man, not Woman, whom Man is supposed to dominate, along with the animals and the land). The bad guy sharpens his sword in a red-hot fire and shouts - a lot.

And finally there is The Walking Dead, Season 4, Episode "A." In this episode the main character, Rick, who has steadfastly refused shouting and aggression in favor of reason and the law, transforms when his son is about to be raped by an evil band of thugs. He cannot stand back anymore. Like Carol, who burned the sick people without asking the Council first, Rick has to do what he has to do to protect his family, to survive, and more than that to avenge his son's honor.

When it's done, Rick does not yell. He sits there stunned, covered in blood. Noah gets drunk and slumps on the sand, spent, in a stupor. Which leads me to ask, after all the shouting and the silence, if there is not a better way. Which we see in Noah's wife (played by Jennifer Connelly), who of course has no name, because she is a Woman, and is only pertinent in this story as a supporting character.

But her crying is where the movie turns around. She challenges Noah, and asks how he can make a certain decision (I won't give it away) without considering all the ramifications.

Noah's wife cries when she challenges him, and it is the best scene in the movie. Her tears run down her face, the snot comes out of her nose, and she is not ashamed of it. She is righteous and strong and not weak in the least.

What if we could cry more at work, and discover great truths before we make mistakes? Before we cry about those mistakes afterward?

* All opinions my own. Positive reviews are not endorsements. No endorsement expressed or implied.

Internal & External Messaging At The Government Agency: Together or Separate?

Somebody asked me a question about this, and here is an edited version of my response:

It's hard to give advice, because there is no one right way - culture determines the answer to most of these questions. That said, I've worked in four government agencies and in each, internal communication was taken seriously and kept very separate from public affairs or external messaging.

This is because employees tend to be concerned about 1) leadership/management/how best to approach the mission 2) career advancement, pay, benefits 3) climate of fairness. They are also very wired-in and know a lot about what’s going on, so messages aimed at the public are likely too generic.

On the other hand, the public tends to care about 1) how well agency is managed, stewardship of taxpayer funds 2) accountability, transparency, efficiency 3) very specific hot button issues. They also may want datasets, which are not a focus for employees.

For reasons most of us can probably guess, I've rarely seen corporate or agency internal communication be truly engaging. If it is, it's spontaneous rather than planned. Real communication provokes emotion, and emotion can be dangerous.

This part I did not say:

As far as intranets go, I believe they are less and less meaningful and should ideally be consolidated with a social networking environment. The aspect of the information that is non-sensitive can go on the public website, while other information can be published in a social, collaborative space.

* All opinions my own.