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Communication Activities To Support A New Function - Dannielle Blumenthal Feb. 2015

A view of the range of communication activities I engage in as part of my current role as Associate Director, Advanced Manufacturing National Program Office (Communications), NIST. 

This is version 1 of the model; future versions will be grouped by category, prioritized, and have resources and timelines associated with the activities.


All opinions my own.

Seeking Some Critical Thinking About ISIS

I've just read "10 Signs That ISIS Is A Scripted Psyop" and have to say, I too have been wondering in the back of my mind about this "ISIS" group.

Like, something about it just does not seem real. It doesn't seem organic. It seems just a little too "perfect," too powerful, too quick and I don't believe that the combined powers of the world's military and intelligence agencies are as powerless as they seem.

I am a very strong believe that we must follow the truth wherever it leads us, even if that place is inconvenient. I would like to see more critical thinking about ISIS.

All opinions my own.

Beyond Vanilla In Government Communication: Is It Desirable? Is It Possible?

This week I had the good fortune to attend an event on social media strategy in the federal government. Even the most cursory review of the agenda made it clear: this form of communication has officially “arrived.” The event was:
  • Sponsored by the well-respected Federal Communicators Network, which was established 19 years ago by the Clinton Administration and which I have been involved in, including as Chair, for more than a decade.
  • Hosted by the Partnership for Public Service, an organization known and respected for being an objective purveyor of government best practice.
  • Moderated by Justin Herman of the GSA, who serves as the official social media lead for the federal government.
  • Populated by a panel of social media specialists from the CIA, VA, ICE and USGS – a range of missions, some more controversial than others.
  • Attended by communicators from across the federal government, including the FBI, the DOD, the EPA, the Coast Guard, and more. From the looks of it, about 80-100 people attended.
  • Live-streamed by a dedicated videographer using an expensive-looking video camera, for the benefit of those who could not attend.
Clearly we had come a long way from the days of:
  • Improvised social media accounts approved in hallway conversations with the boss
  • Fact sheets, binders, and dissertation-style white papers that clarified, justified, and reinforced the need for social media
  • Running to Starbucks to test out social media capabilities
  • Hiring experts to come in and give 2-hour seminars “proving” to executives that social media was a legitimate activity
  • Begging our bosses to blog, at the very least, to blog – doing “something” to show that they were part of the “interactive” web-space
But something still wasn’t quite right.

The conversation was “high-level” enough, at least on the surface.
  • There we were, talking about “conversion” and “splintering” and “mobile” and “scalability” (were we? I think so).
  • We talked about whether we wanted to “drive people to the website” or “keep them from having to go to the website in the first place.”
  • The guests noted correctly that “engagement” and “conversation” are key.
  • They even agreed that sometimes the agency has to apologize on social media, and talked about how they do that.
  • Surprisingly they even admitted to making mistakes.
And yet…and yet. Something still didn’t sit quite right with me.

Somebody said it outright, and I nearly gasped: “There are a lot of conspiracy theorists out there. And we don’t engage with our agency’s critics.”

Believe me when I tell you that I understand the tightrope that federal government communicators walk.

I have been there when executives said the stupidest things, and we had to nod our heads in seeming agreement. Feeling utterly frustrated that we could not do what we knew in our hearts to be the right thing.

I know, too, that for government to be doing any social media at all is major, major progress.

It is clear that the need for customer service from government is huge. So the recognition of its importance is equally to be lauded.

But in a day and age when people seriously don’t trust the government…when that trust has reached an all-time low…when people all over the country are expressing outrage, fury, confusion and even disgust at the activities that are conducted on their dime and in their name…can we really afford to do such vanilla social media anymore?

Think about the typical government agency. Now think about its army of communicators, and of that army the sub-army known as the social media team.

How many millions of dollars are we paying them? Could it possibly be billions?

Do we really want to squander the taxpayer’s investment in their activities on outreach that is primarily aimed at “humanizing our employees and explaining our mission?”

As a person who pays taxes myself, I don’t want that.
  • I want to know how the government is spending my money.
  • I want to know that its officials are being watched, and are accountable.
  • I want to know how allegations, accusations, misbehavior and misdeeds are being rectified.
  • I want to know that the government is doing everything it can to save my hard-earned money, so that I don’t have to pay more taxes next year.
Finally, and overall:
  • I want to know that the people, institutions, initiatives and technologies that would most benefit from taxpayer revenue are actually getting it.
Here is what I don’t want: I don’t want to spend my money on fluff.

This isn’t a slam against today’s panelists, although I can understand how they might read this and think so.

Rather, it is a plea to their bosses, the ones who put them on the payroll, the ones who write their position descriptions, the ones who evaluate their performance and the ones who have to make the case “upstairs.”

Government social media should never be mistaken for propaganda. No – it should be just the opposite!

It should never be about “pushing” a message or “driving” people where they “ought” to go.

Rather, it should be about making very clear what it is that we’re doing in the name of Jane and Joe Citizen. And responding to the concerns that they express, civilly and uncivilly, every single day – whether verbally, or in a letter or an email, or in a website comment or by social media!

And if you tell me that this kind of effort would take “too much time,” to you I say “that’s bullshit!”

The public is paying us, not the other way around.

We owe it to them to be straightforward, plain-spoken, transparent and truly – truly, not just in words and glossy brochures - accountable.

All opinions my own. Photo by Mike Mozart via Flickr.

Toward a definition of brand we all can live with.

Someone asked me today, "Isn't a brand a mark of quality?" 

Hearing that, I realized (once again) the importance of defining our terminology - preferably before we start talking to one another.

So here is a suggested common definition of brand. With the idea that newer thinking builds upon the old.

"A brand is a co-created reality that is constantly being negotiated in the collective consciousness."

What this means is that the brand is offered up by its creator and responded to in the civic commons - the social space, online and off.

All of these definitions or signifiers are aspects of brand - they comprise a portion of its reality:

1. Quality mark 
2. Authenticity mark
3. Visual mark
4. Reputation mark
5. Symbolic mark
6. Religious mark
7. Social responsibility mark
8. Professional mark
9. Collaboration mark
10. Vision mark

What you as the brand builder want to do is create the conversation (start the fire), establish the collaboration, then step back, participate and hopefully influence.

An ant colony is a good way of thinking of it. Collective intelligence, super-organized, each participating, each motivated to achieve the common goal of  self-sustenance.


The 'strategy' behind my new Twitter handle

It's sort of funny that authenticity would be a strategy for social media, since authenticity is supposed to be the reason social media exists and the purpose of doing it.
Just goes to show how the values of a culture interrupt genuine expression and contort them toward whatever the dominant value system is.
In America, we're very much about money and so the capitalist ethic began to interfere with social media just about as soon as it got popular.
Our natural greed easily blinds us to the necessity of respecting the various communities and territories of social media (much like one would respect Nature) and so it's easy to do a kind of "channel agnostic" approach. We have one thing to say and we say it everywhere.
However as a phenomenally talented group of employees at the National Archives' Office of Innovation taught me, each community is really its own ecosystem and ought to be respected for what it is.
So I was using the Twitter handle @thinkbrandfirst for a really long time, in an attempt to promote my identity as a brand specialist.
You can definitely do "focus" on Twitter - that's not the issue. In fact you should be focused. That way your audience can decide whether you're the type of person they want to follow.
But after awhile it wasn't right for me. I realized that my personal brand, more and more, is about exploring my own evolving thoughts and feelings about not just branding but life itself.
And so I went back to my own name, my personal name, my nickname, "Dossy," which is short for Hadassah, my Hebrew name ("@dossyb"). Because Judaism in particular has become very important to me recently.
Also from a religious perspective, for me, the handle "@thinkbrandfirst" was bothering me. It's offensive, in a way, for someone who claims to have faith.
The first thing I think about, when I wake up in the morning or anytime, ought to be G-d.
All opinions my own. Photo credit: Jonathan Leung / Flickr

Career Advice for a PR Grad

General advice:

  1. Internships matter more than school
  2. Networking - meet and connect with as many people as you can, personally and professionally. Also mentors - reach out and ask! Be specific about what you want.
  3. Help other people - professors, students, maybe a local organization that needs support
  4. Reference letters - collect them from everyone you can.
  5. LinkedIn - build up your profile.
  6. Look for "clients" to test your skills on.
  7. Look for companies where the boss or an associate will let you shadow them for a day. Interview them.
  8. Start a blog or Tumblr with your ideas. It will give you practice to act "as if" you are an expert.


Why do you think the public relations field is a fit for you?
  • I am a born promoter.
  • I like helping worthy people and causes to have an influence in society.
  • I like exploring new tools and technologies to get the word out.
  • I like to integrate PR with related disciplines to support a brand.
  • I like finding ways to engage people while also promoting transparency and open data (accountability).
What is the hardest part of your job?
  • Prioritizing in a rapidly changing environment.
  • Knowing all the relevant variables, when you know that you can't know.
  • Managing team dynamics.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
  • Creating, then organizing a productive kind of chaos.
  • Recruiting people for developmental details, internships, etc. Mentoring.
What's a common mistake that graduates making when applying for jobs?
  • Focusing on duties that sound right and ignoring the most important factor - finding a good boss who will support & develop you.
All opinions my own. Photo by Ron Aldaman via Flickr.

Why The Shidduch Crisis? A Rant.

People want to know why it's hard for kids to connect nowadays, enough to get married. Here is my two cents.

First let's establish that it sucks to be alone. It does. True it also sucks to be with the wrong person. And true we all benefit from time to find ourselves. From **not** rushing to marry the wrong one. 

So people, when alone, are lonely and they seek companionship.

However when they have all kinds of substitute satisfaction available they are less likely to want marriage, particularly at a young age.

That is a bad thing, because people are ready for sexual relationships when they hit adulthood. And naturally, loneliness can push them into a lifestyle that is not spiritual. 

Nobody talks about this. 

A significant reason why boys don't want to commit? Aside from the emotional trauma of divorce, it's porn. Which provides instant gratification, substitute satisfaction. 

As does the availability of girls who don't require any commitment.

Porn has a broader effect in our culture. It leads to unrealistic expectations. Girls are starving themselves to look sexy before they even hit puberty. And then to actually have sex by the time they're teenagers. 

This is totally sick. But it's considered "normal." 

Meanwhile, girls are studying their asses off to make grades and grad school and great careers. Yes they want to learn. But also, they can't count on a boy. Even if they get married, they can't. 

The pressure is ridiculous. It's crazy-making.

Why is marriage optional for boys? 

Because the girls they see all the time are beautiful, eternally young and maintenance-free.

Whereas real girls are a pain in the ass. They are demanding. They get PMS. They get fat. They make them come home on time. They want babies. Etc. 

Nowadays, boys can have a long term girlfriend and "see how it goes" and no financial commitments. 

Girls naturally (yes, naturally) want a family and babies and a man to be there always. 

For men it is not the same. Some feel it but many don't - especially if they can get sex and companionship with lower risk. 

Our contemporary culture endorses that attitude!

Sure, theoretically girls equally as boys can "hook up" and walk away. But when a boy does it, he is applauded. When a girl does it, not only is she socially shamed (yes, still) but she is also abandoned because a little piece of her falls in love. 

I don't care what they show on TV, boys are much more into temporary relationships than girls.

That is why the Torah says a man - a man not a woman - must leave his father and mother, marry and have kids. Not a woman! 

The nature of a woman is to have a lot of female friends and still want a partner committed to her and her alone. But the nature of a man is to want to be free - with a girl here, and here, and there, and elsewhere. 

Of course you can say these are simplistic generalizations - I can live with being simple. 

I do believe in what Freud said - to love and to work - everyone is entitled to love and marry. And we should accept all expressions of sex, gender, transgender as natural.

Here is what feminists don't want to talk about because marriage is supposedly "oppressive" by nature and especially if you're young.

We have a generation of wonderful but confused and aimless kids because we are afraid to give them the direction that yes, marriage is better and it's not the same thing you see on TV.  Real people get sick, they get ugly, they are smelly, and they take work!

The work is worth it, even if it's hard.

The lack of focus on equipping young people to marry - socially, emotionally and financially - is a social crisis. Not just for Jews but for everyone.

It is really a bad situation for boys and girls alike.

All opinions my own.

An Understanding of All Things Brand. The 10K Foot View

You have to understand that a brand is way beyond a logo now. You do understand that, because the Mad Men paradigm where we cook up Frankenstein in the lab and serve it up to you has been destroyed.
In its place is an open kitchen where you can see me cooking, and if I put sulfuric acid in the chocolate pudding you'll know right away, you'll Tweet it and Instagram it and my restaurant will close before the first menu ever gets printed.
If we begin with this "first principle" or common assumption then the rest of the major questions about branding, the tired debates we've been engaging in for more than a decade now, have been resolved.
And while scientific studies about which tactical approach are useful for marketing journals, it is the unresolved theoretical issues that have screwed the profession up badly. To the point where the word "branding" in some circles has become a kind of poison, a valid and critical discipline that cannot be uttered in name lest everybody in the room get kind of nauseous and walk out of the conference room, agreeing to disagree.
We can finally agree to agree (get ready for some upper-case shouting) that:
It is a product of the COLLECTIVE CONSCIOUSNESS that only has meaning insofar as we all agree to agree on what it means.
If you don't know what I'm talking about, then think about your top five Hollywood portrayals of romance. They aren't X-rated, nor NC-17, nor R. Frequently there is no sex in them! Maybe we see a passionate kiss. Do you want to know why? Because passion is created IN THE MIND. A moviemaker that has to resort to porn is like a host that serves you Twinkies for dinner and thinks your sugar high is an appreciation for the quality of the cuisine.
Brands are in the mind. So for the logo to work (it's not "logo or operations," it's both), the logo has to evoke something. When I see the American flag I feel all sorts of emotions welling up in me. Pride. Gratitude. Anger at the sins committed in the name of patriotism. Oneness with other Americans. Freedom. Love.
The American flag is a great brand, but it's not a great brand because someone had a good idea to put red, white and blue together with stars and stripes. It's a great brand because of action on the ground, the discussion of that action and the ensuing collective belief that what we have is something worth fighting for.
I don't advocate for using other words to replace the correct one. Your brand is your brand. It is a verb (the act of branding) and a noun (your ensuing image in the collective consciousness). Your brand is associated with your reputation, but your reputation does not encompass all of the factors that go into the brand.
You can't reduce your brand to a set of activities nor do the collection of activities you do create the brand in and of themselves. Your brand is intentionally built by advertising, marketing, communications, PR, social media, sales, customer service, knowledge management, collaboration tools, internal communications, HR, training, organizational development, IT, and even facilities. Every person associated with your company, and every structure and process you've set up to represent you, represents your brand.
You can't control the brand. You can partially engineer it. The way you do that is by having a sense of the process by which brands are built. Roughly, loosely, based on the lived experience I've had in my professional life, these are the stages. The sequence of events may differ or overlap.
  1. Recognition - the brand becomes "a problem" or "an issue" or "something we need to deal with."
  2. Research - formal or informal, paid or unpaid, short-term or long-term, qualitative or quantitative, based on experience and "gut feel," conversations and anecdotal feedback over time. Some form of data collection. 
  3. Discussion - there is a conversation or a series of conversations about what to do about "the problem."
  4. Decision - someone takes action, either formally and with the blessing of others involved or informally and working around them. They move to implementation and the implementation affects other decisions, conversations, research and perhaps generates additional recognition that "something needs to be done."
  5. Implementation - this is the normal range of brand implementation activities, the ones you think of when you think of classic Madison Avenue branding.
  6. Revision - these are the things you do when your brand begins to be the subject of the news media, social media, stakeholder discussion, etc. Or when others start to copy it.
  7. Co-creation - these are the range of activities associated with enabling your stakeholders/audience to involve themselves in the evolution of your brand.
This model is about to be upended.
Why? You only have a very short period of time within which you "control" your branding efforts.
It is as if your brand is a child. In the olden days of branding you could hold the child within your grasp practically forever, and only "unleash," release or leak the parts you wanted to, to gain the equity you needed while also revitalizing and rebranding so that you could outrun the competition.
Like Madonna. She is the quintessential model of "old branding," and to an extent that model remains. It is impossible for anyone to copy her, because she's...Madonna. 
In the new days of branding, you basically have six weeks of maternity leave to give the infant some basic milk and cuddling. After that, if it has any value, the world descends on it and everybody wants a piece.
Bill Cosby's brand was once like Madonna's and it is now destroyed, because we know why. It's not about a trial in a court of law, it is about the impact of social media and the news media and the women who have come forward to say that he is not what he presented himself to be.
As the technical subject matter expert on branding what you want to do is be in front of the up-ended model we now face. You want to establish that you are in fact, so to speak, pregnant with a very valuable baby and you want to sell that kid very well before it ever sees daylight. Celebrities know this well and that's why they market the hell out of their kids while they are still, literally, infants.
Then you shorten the cycle time on 1-6, because you have to go out with something and iterate.
You involve the public in #7, co-creating, much earlier rather than later - you don't wait until you've marketed something for them to react and "help." 
If Starbucks were to use co-creation I can assure you they would stop showing a display of dead pastries basically ASAP, as it really ruins the quality image of the rest of the organization.
Waze, the travel app is the epitome of the co-created brand. I love this little app and if I had money to invest, I would invest the kitchen sink in this thing. Useful, social, nobody is falsely engineering it, and it actually helps people. It has an identity over and above that, but the identity is very close to a meaning we all, literally, create. 
I am a "Wazer" now.
Think about your role as a formal or informal communicator. What brand are you building? How are you involving other people? How are you taking in feedback? How are you turning that feedback into activity that changes the way the brand displays itself? Is there a core set of values, beliefs, mission requirements that cannot change regardless of the feedback you get?
These are the things you need to be thinking about. And because brand-building is resource-intensive, it's critical to leverage all available resources who can help. You don't have to be a technical expert, but you do have to understand what you're doing, and be able to explain it to others.
All opinions my own. Photo by Evan Leeson via Flickr.