Translating Hashtag Activism into Sustainable Communities

Last week, New York Times columnist David Carr wrote about the possibilities and limits of hashtag activism. On one hand, the ability to like and tweet about important civic issues allows people to be “engaged” at a very superficial level; but on the other hand, after recent successes in drawing attention to issues such as Susan G. Komen’s policy change regarding Planned Parenthood, Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army, and the death of Trayvon Martin, there’s no denying the power of this new form of activism. Planners, local governments, and civic organizations are taking notice. New online and social media tools are emerging that allow citizens to learn about and get involved in what’s happening in their communities. This trend holds huge potential for the efforts of local planning and development organizations, which have caused serious social and economic damage in the past due to a failure to truly engage citizens. The use of online and social media tools allows for easier, more creative, and broader engagement. Of course, they are not a silver bullet – it’s still up to planners and public officials to use the feedback they gather through those tools. Continue reading “Translating Hashtag Activism into Sustainable Communities”

Social Media Blackout is a Failure of Power


As of this exact moment, I’d like to welcome back the students of Harrisburg University, who are now allowed to read blog and social media posts, such as this one.


Last week, Harrisburg University flipped the switch and turned the lights out on their students…at least when it comes to social media. The University turned off all access to social media sites to encourage a “healthy balance of social media” use. The University first conducted this experiment last year, where they determined that five percent of their student body spends between 15-20 hours on social media sites in the course of a week.

Such a stunt is off the mark.

While I can understand and appreciate the value of such awareness campaigns, and I am sure, naturally, people classified their time “offline” as productive, I tend to believe that actions like these send the wrong message to students. By treating social media as an evil, which takes grasp of our time and our lives, the University is spinning social media in a bad light. It’s the job of the University to prepare students for the outside world. I, as a member of this outside world, can ensure the University, that there’s social media out here…and it’s a lot more than chatting with friends, planning keggers and helping raise barns on Farmville.

Social media is a valuable and proven learning tool. Online communication and collaboration is growing. Think I’m wrong? Look at what Indonesia universities are doing to support digital media. Did you notice the part that said “everything in Indonesia is on a rise, especially the number of start-ups within the country”… attributed to social media. Seems like the creativity and collaboration that social media offers is being rewarded.

And this blackout goes for the campus faculty and admiration as well. The official University Twitter account has been inactive for a week, as well. That can’t be good for recruitment.

Eric Darr, the University’s provost, suggested that his hope for the blackout is that students will experience life. And today, after a week, they finally will. There’s a lot going on here in the outside world…sorry you’ve missed it this past week, Harrisburg University.



Do We Need the FTC for Social Media Transparency?

The following is a post from our team’s former blog: Economic Architecture, active from October 2009 – September 2010. While we have elected to re-share this information, some details and links may be a bit outdated. While it’s still a good read, you’ve been warned.  🙂

An article released yesterday by the Pittsburgh Business Times disclosed a number of local businesses who are adopting corporate policies relative to social media efforts and online activities. With the FTC including “new media” as part of their application of the FTCA as of December 1 in an ongoing effort to push corporate transparency coupled with Bayer Corporation‘s Twitter news feed and social media policy launching shortly after the birth of 2010, the relevancy of this topic is, again, forced to the headlines.

In the article, Bryan Iams, head of strategic and external communications for Bayer, keeps their social media policy very simple, stating:

“It’s not as if there are brand new guides or instructions to employees, but this is another vehicle that, if they are representing the company, they need to be mindful of what proper behavior is.”

Simple enough. I wonder if this is corporate shtick or if the employees feel the same way. Without actually reading the 13 pages of guidelines, it’s hard to understand the severity of these new policies. But, with this quote, it appears that Bayer has established guidelines for social media and online use when representing the Bayer corporate entity. Seems fair. Kudos to any company or organization using social media and understanding enough about it to further monitor their online reputation and enforce policy to keep their name clean. Less headaches that way (pun intended).

In the same article, Richard Cleland, assistant director of the Federal Trade Commission’s division of advertising, states that the FTC’s new media guides for companies are simply restating old advertising policies and applying them to social media:

“What we are doing is applying the same rules that apply to advertising and media to advertising in the word-of-mouth and social media area. Those rules relate to truth in advertising and transparency, and that simply because this is a novel format, that doesn’t mean different rules apply.”

Again, this seems reasonable. Disclosing endorsements, corporate connections and the like are a reasonable way to keep things, dare I say, transparent. You can see evidence of this transparency all over social media. In fact, it’s what keeps it alive.

Developing your online marketing strategy requires a presence of community. Without community, the social network would fail. The community relies on a foundation of trust. Without trust, the community would fail and the network would fail. If your online presence exists merely to hock your wares…people are going to see through your scheming and your community will be a community of one.

However, if you are a trusted and contributing member of a community, people will find value in what you say, what you do and what you share. From this aspect, the FTC guidelines are really only a safety net. Chances are that most companies and individuals who do not disclose their endorsements, connections and partners will be discovered quickly and called out by those valued members contributing to online communities.

FTC…I don’t think we need it for this. Do you?