Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Thank You Paull Young!!! And G'day, Mate!

We were fortunate indeed to have Paull Young, Senior Account Executive for Converseon, Inc., a social networking consulting firm, come up to Fordham and give a talk to our class about professional opportunities associated with social networking. He was a dynamic and engaging speaker, especially for an Aussie (just kidding there), highly knowledgeable, and I know everyone learned a great deal from him.

If you click on the link, you'll find that Converseon lists among their services conversation mining (monitoring online conversation about a product or brand), affiliate and search marketing (including search engine optimization), brand reputation management (public relations extended to the online environment), and blogs and social media.

Paull has been blogging for many years now, and his own blog focuses on public relations, and appropriately enough bears the name, Young PR.

An interesting concept that he introduced was astroturfing, which is the counterpart, in a sense of a grass roots campaign. With astroturfing, what appears to be a grass roots initiative, or messages produced by private individuals, is secretly the product of organized effort, work done for hire, on behalf of a political group or corporation. Paull provided us with an example that is both hilarious, reminiscent of Terry Gilliam's animation for Monty Python's Flying Circus, and at the same time highly sinister because it masquerades as something done by some guy in his basement who just doesn't like Al Gore, but was actually produced and paid for by commercial interests. Here's the video:

Well, the good news is that Paull and some of his colleagues got together to set up an Anti-Astroturfing site and campaign. And just to be clear, he's a list of definitions from their site:


From Wikipedia: In American politics and advertising, the term astroturfing describes formal public relations projects which deliberately seek to engineer the impression of spontaneous, grassroots behavior. The goal is the appearance of independent public reaction to a politician, political group, product, service, event, or similar entities by centrally orchestrating the behavior of many diverse and geographically distributed individuals.

From Astroturfing describes the posting of supposedly independent messages on Internet boards by interested companies and individuals In American politics, the term is used to describe formal public relations projects which deliberately give the impression that they are spontaneous and populist reactions. The term comes from AstroTurf -- the fake grass used in many indoor American football stadiums. The contrast between truly spontaneous or "grassroots" efforts and an orchestrated public relations campaign, is much like the distinction between real grass and AstroTurf.

From the Jargon File: (The Jargon File is a compendium of hacker slang)
astroturfing: n.
  1. The use of paid shills to create the impression of a popular movement, through means like letters to newspapers from soi-disant 'concerned citizens', paid opinion pieces, and the formation of grass-roots lobbying groups that are actually funded by a PR group (AstroTurf? is fake grass; hence the term). See also sock puppet, tentacle.
  2. What an individual posting to a public forum under an assumed name is said to be doing.
Oh, and here's their logo:

It is certainly a pleasure, and very much in keeping with our outlook here at Fordham University, to be dealing with professionals who have a firm commitment to ethical practices and a reflective approach to their business.

Anyway, just as another example of the new and powerful phenomenon of social networking, Paull gave us the example of one of the most popular recent videos on YouTube, "Star Wars according to a 3 year old," which at the time of this writing, is up to 2,892,082 views!!!! It is an altogether charming little home movie, I must say:

Paull also showed us the highly successful YouTube campaign "Will It Blend?" which promotes BlendTec Total Blenders with the kind of stupid human tricks that David Letterman is known for. Here's the example he showed us, featuring Chuck Norris:

And Paull showed us one of Converseon's projects, Second Chance Trees for American Express, which was set up on the Second Life, the 3-dimensional virtual reality social network, where they created a place on Second Life for people to enjoy, and gave people an opportunity to buy trees that would be planted both in the virtual world where they can see them, and in the real world where they otherwise would not be able to see the results of their donation. Anyway, here's the YouTube video on the project, which interestingly includes "machinima" among its tags:

And guess what? There's another YouTube video featuring a presentation by Paull Young on this project, so let's take a look at our friend here:

Not surprisingly, Converseon also has its own blog. And Paull also mentioned another website/blog worthy of our attention, FORWARD.

Interestingly, the fact that Paull spells his name with a double "l" came up, along with the point that it turned out to be fortuitous because otherwise he would not be easy to pick out from all the other Paul Youngs when his name is googled. And that gave me the idea that in the future parents will want to give their kids unique names, in order to optimize their kids for search engines--in this way, technology may alter the time honored traditions by which we name our children. And you can probably say goodby to John Smith!

In sum, Paull gave us lots to think about, and lots to explore. So please join me in saying, G'day Mate!!

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