What would Jane do?

IMG_2962Last week, I had the opportunity to keynote the Intelligent Content Conference (ICC – follow #intelcontent for great conference take-aways) and deliver an expanded presentation about how I have used urban planning principles to reignite my social media/community inspiration and reimagine the digital ecosystem.

Following me from computer to computer, I have a crumpled Post-it note and in Sharpie, it reads: What would Jane do? Jane, as in, Jane Jacobs – activist and God Mother of urban planning revitalization. Her book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities first published in 1961, rocked my world. Jane took on the status quo to combat the breakdown of the physical community as an outcome of expansive highways cutting through and eradicating culture to further urban sprawl. The problems Jane discusses in the book and her subsequent works (Vital Little Plans is a collection of her shorter works and my favorite publication, if not the easier to read/digest) may be over 40 years old, yet reflect classic change management problems and community behavior regardless of physical or digital space.

The following quotes are Jane’s words.

“Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.”

Before people can participate in any form of social media or community activity there needs to be an understanding of the social contracts and constructs in place. With the ICC audience, I shared the organizing principles I have created in previous roles and honed over time and now the basis of any digital transformation effort. These principles encompass the reimagined digital ecosystem and are meant to be daily reminders and guardrails to compliment any use case and project timeline. There is no end… These principles cover establishing truths, fostering an information ecology, consistent (and understood) and transparent measurement, platform and system integration, business accountability, and establishing a historical account of policy, process, and technology decisions.

“Cities are not just great lumps of chaos. They are a form of intricate, wonderful order, and they seem like chaos mainly because we do not understand this order not the processes by which it works.”

I have said it before – governance is the most unsexy part of any digital transformation effort, but the most powerful. You pay now, or you pay later. The choice is yours. Governance is not a one-and-done activity, but ongoing and must include different voices and perspectives from all business areas and at all levels, to really gain traction. What appears as chaotic, does have a sense of order if you tune into the mindset to observe and analyze for patterns.

“The ballet of the good city sidewalk never repeats itself from place to place, and in any one place is always replete with new improvisations.”

There are a number of actors with responsibilities on and off the stage and no performance is ever the same. Establishing governance is not a concerted activity to make every building structured with the same gray, faceless façade or (even worse), the same brick and colored awnings for each and every business. The utilities and construction of the scaffolding of social media and community activities require same or similar elements, but how the community manifests itself in design and tone, varies.

I used to negatively react to being pigeon-holed as the ‘governance’ person, but as I have become more seasoned, I am not running away from this classification. When you have barriers, there is focus and a challenge to be creative within parameters and an obligation to push those boundaries. I look at my Post-it, re-read Jane’s words and pretend she and I were chatting about the challenge over tea. What would Jane say to me? What would Jane do?   

Understanding the digital ecosystem

Last week, I introduced you to a five-step process I am practicing to apply urban planning to online community building and management. It is time to explore the first step and build our foundation and understanding of our digital ecosystem. How many are familiar with the Garter Digital Marketing Transit Map? Cool concept and visual, but the structure is repeating the same structures and silos we have been “talking” about breaking down. Take a close look at this image. Yes, all areas are connected, but none are integrated. Before we can discuss integration, we need to know all of our customer/member touch points (how and where they interact with the company on and offline) and all of the organization’s internal and external support systems and technology. For some, this exercise will be brief. For others, this will be a painful scavenger hunt. As you go through this identification process, I highly recommend you keep track of the business and department owner(s) of each item. This additional information will assist governance outreach.


According to Gartner, the map “shows the relationships among business functions, application services and solution providers.” There are multiple hooks, people, and departments involved in every touch point and technology. It is difficult to display such relationships in parallel transit lines with overlapping stations. Gartner is trying hard to apply urban planning and design with this map design and the reference to neighborhoods on this image, yet neighborhoods that are vibrant are also diversified and dense. This map design looks like it is the product of an organization and not for the use and navigation by humans.

We’re building destination cities. We need human, living cities.” – Cameron Sinclair, founder and executive director of the non-profit, Architecture for Humanity

Just like cities on a map, we are building destinations online. We are building and designing these online structures for organizations, not humans. This transit map from Gartner is a good start to apply urban planning methodology to digital ecosystem strategy to better understand gaps, opportunities, responsibilities, and the integrated role of social media. Take some time to sit down with your team and organization departments and figure out what you have, why you have it, and establish business owners. A simple spreadsheet will work. Create a simple tab for each transit line on the map. For every station, determine if you have this existing in your company, why/why not, and identify business owner(s). Don’t get bogged down into figuring out where these items belong within your digital ecosystem. We will discuss how to craft the ideal online neighborhood and digital ecosystem next.

Building SMART Online Communities

Community management posts have become a bit stale. There are a lot of people saying the same thing. Not that any of this content is not worthy (although some of it is questionable depending on source and experience), but it is a lot of the same direction regurgitated or repackaged in a BuzzFeed approach. Over the past two years, I have thinned out the community management and digital voices I was listening to and started to look outside our industry for inspiration. A year ago, The Community Roundtable (one of the few resources I kept on my radar because of quality of content and internal discussions) invited Thomas Vander Wal to present about the links between community management and urban planning. Instantly intrigued, I took copious notes and read the recommended book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs. The original copyright of  this book is 1961, yet many of the messages in the book are timeless. I read the 50th anniversary edition and covered the book in highlighter and Post-It notes.

“Under the seeming disorder of the old city, wherever the old city is working successfully, is a marvelous order for maintaining the safety of the streets and the freedom of the city. It is a complex order. Its essence is intricacy of sidewalk use, bringing with it a constant succession of eyes. This order is all composed of movement and change, and although it is life, not art, we may fancifully call it the art form of the city and liken it to the dance — not to a simple-minded precision dance with everyone kicking up at the same time, twirling in unison and bowing off en masse, but to an intricate ballet in which the individual dancers and ensembles all have distinctive parts which miraculously reinforce each other and compose an orderly whole. The ballet of the good city sidewalk never repeats itself from place to place, and in any once place is always replete with new improvisations.” 
― Jane JacobsThe Death and Life of Great American Cities

The way Jacobs explained the design and user experience of a city dweller, I understood the connection Vander Wal presented, so I began to seek out current urban planning thinking and discussions and stumbled across the smart and sustainable city discussions. If you follow me on Twitter, you have witnessed my obsession with this content. The community management discussion and linkage extends beyond social media community and into the broader digital ecosystem development. Social media networks are merely the green spaces or collective areas within the online city. More on that later…

The blog discussions led to the reading of The Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time by Jeff Speck (check out the TED video), The Happy City by Charles Montgomery, and Smart Cities: Big Data, Civic Hackers, and the Quest for a New Utopia by Anthony M. Townsend. All three authors reference Jacobs and build on her original ideas to propose a user-centric environment. Many of the same urban planning principles and phrases used in the books I also found referenced in online development resources. Websites, social media networks, mobile solutions, and other digital assets are being created by organizations to serve one or several communities.

We are building online cities.

(And some organizations are creating viable pathways between nodes or neighborhoods, while other companies are facing urban sprawl challenges as they create unrelated mobile apps and microsites.)

The spark was lit. For the first time, in quite a long time, I was inspired to once again discuss community management, and present best practices with fresh perspective. Earlier this year, at SoloPr Summit, I mustered my courage to present on this topic and was encouraged by the positive reaction to the connections I was proposing. Over the next several months on this blog, I will outline the links between community management and urban planning and the five-step process I have already started to put into practice.

  1. Understanding the digital ecosystem
  2. Establishing zones
  3. Building crosswalks
  4. Developing green spaces
  5. Packaging experiences

It is time to go beyond theory, stop talking strategy, and forge a pathway that can only be discovered through action.

Listening Rediscovered

Are you a person who has World Cup fever or are you the person completely turned off by the mentions of three games a day, the drama of a loss or win, and block all mentions of World Cup in your social networks? If you are in the latter category, I apologize. This post is not meant to latch onto real time events, but to convey a true observation.

Last week, I was commuting from my company headquarters in Hartford, Conneticut to my home in Boston. The timing of the drive could not have been worse. I was stuck in traffic during the opening match of the World Cup. Surely I would be able to find a radio station live broadcasting the match? No such luck. I scanned the stations for ten minutes before I was so scattered and frustrated by the jumping channels that I gave up the search. I knew there were several Internet streaming options, but I was driving in an area with little to no signal.

One last attempt to find a radio station broadcasting the live match was a success. This channel was not an English speaking channel, but a Spanish speaking broadcast. I recognized the rapid play-by-play tone of voice. Despite the language barrier, I strived to tune in and recognize player names and determine context of conversation based on the cadence of the broadcaster's voice.


I understood.

Now keep in mind, I am trying to be extremely attentive while listening to the broadcast….and driving. I survived. As did others on the road, but I do not recommend this listening refresh exercise if you are driving.

Listening to the World Cup broadcast in a different language forced me to listen for keywords, phrases, and meaning hidden in layers of cadence. This was the best match I have listened to because I was completely turned in. Funny enough, I recreated the experience by watching live World Cup broadcasts in German because I was on holiday in Germany for the first several days of this event. Language is not a barrier, but a gateway to understanding all of the elements of voice and how we can become better passive listeners. Ultimately, by strengthening passive listening skills, we will become more comfortable expanding our role in active listening.


(My first post using Blogsy. Forgive the simple style of post. I am learning the app interface!)

Being a Good Cyber Citizen

Last week, I had the privilege of speaking to a class of sophomores about the meaning and importance of being a good cyber citizen. I sat on a panel with four other adults and two student representatives. Each panelist was asked to come prepared to address the following questions:

1. In terms of your own experience, what do you think it means to be a good cyber citizen?  Describe behaviors that you think are important to being a good cyber citizen?

2. How do you think students’ virtual lives can impact their “real lives”?

Being a good citizen on or offline is not the result of a one-time action. It is crucial to demonstrate accountability, responsibility and compassion each day. Am I perfect? No, not even close. Do I handle each situation with grace and maturity? There are too many people who could answer to the contrary if I pretended I was holier than thou. Being a good citizen takes practice. You must have patience with others and yourself. Here are the tidbits I shared with the young adults to the first question:

  1. Online persona is only one facet of a person’s character. You may have heard of the saying, “don’t judge a book by its cover” (though the phrase seems a bit archaic in the age of ebooks), the same is true of not judging people solely on their online profiles, comments or shares. While this content may prove insightful, it is not indicative of the person as a whole. You know the person as they choose to show themselves.
  2. There is a continuous blur between your professional and personal profiles. No matter how hard you try to keep the two separate, there will be someone, somewhere who will be able to follow the online breadcrumb trail and connect your profiles or attempts at anonymity. What you do and say anywhere is a reflection upon you and your networks – past, present and future.
  3. Nothing is private; Your online conversations are your unique digital tattoo. What you write and say online is captured forever. Anyone can take a screenshot of your actions and share, despite your privacy settings. Deleting your social profiles does not stop people from talking about you. Stop trying to take control of how others perceive you and take command of your actions. Be aware of what you post. Think about the consequences. And when you slip up, because you will…take responsibility and be accountable. These are the actions that define maturity, not age.

We are the voice and controllers of history. Us. Everything we write and say is being tagged, classified and judged by humans and robots. I can’t look into a crystal ball and personalize my response to the second answer. Some people have to learn the hard way. I know, in some respects, that has been me. Even if I had the opportunity to redo some of the messier parts of my life or questionable decisions, I would have probably taken the same path because that is what needed to happen for me to learn and be accountable in the future.

What you do now, impacts you now and in the future. Even before the digital era this life lesson was true. Today, what you say or do will be seen forever. When you are 50 and you see the thoughts and ideas publicized from when you were 15, you may cringe, but will you be ashamed? Will you know that that very public and visible tattoo influenced every other decision you or any other person or organization made? Life is not so black and white, but it should give you pause to reflect how those shades of gray will be reflected.

One Ring to Rule Them All

Do a quick search for social media policies and guidelines.

Go ahead. I’ll wait.

Quickly, open and view five of those documents. Quite similar to each other, right? Copy and paste. Copy and paste. For all the talk about crafting a social media policy or set of guidelines. many of these documents were created based on the publicly available documents of other companies, rather than the needs and culture of their own organization.

You don’t need to search very far for inspiration and guidance for your own policy or guidelines. All you need to do is locate your organization’s Code of Conduct. What is the tone of voice? What mission and values are integrated in the document? Use the Code of Conduct as your guide to determine if a social media policy (or guidelines) is needed or warranted.


Many ethics codes include aspirational and rules / principles section. Why was the Code of Conduct created? To inspire? Regulate behavior? Both? Do a bit of homework and determine how the code was devised and the individuals or working group responsible for the creation. Read between the lines and search for clues to the order of information and principles presented. How often is the code reviewed and updated? Once a year is once too late and leads to check-the-box thinking.


How is the code socialized within (and, perhaps, external) the organization? How was the code implemented? Is it integrated into organizational policies and practices? Simply creating a code or additional social media policy does not mean people will automatically adhere to those principles. Give them a reason. How is the code currently enforced? Is it enforced through encouraging behavior and demonstration by example? Just stating that one must act “professional” does not demonstrate the action. My version of professional may be different than yours. There may not be a need for a social media policy, but a set of guidelines modeling the expected behavior and reinforcing behavior continuously through continuous learning.

But we must remember that good laws, if they are not obeyed, do not constitute good government. Hence there are two parts of good government; one is the actual obedience of citizens to the laws, the other part is the goodness of the laws which they obey…” (Aristotle, Politics) 


Who is affected by the code and what is the best way to share information with them? Sometimes organizations get so lost in the shiny new tools or design, they disregard the lowest common denominator solution. Determine the format based on the applicability and access to all levels of the organization.

I am asking you to ask a lot of questions. That is because there is no cookie cutter approach to policy. Your Code of Ethics and additional policy and guidelines are specific to the needs, challenges, desires and values of your organization. Often, an understood and updated Code of Conduct supplemented with social media / community guidelines are what is needed and not necessarily the creation of a policy. Only your organization can make that determination by acting the part of the detective and seeking the precious truth and reasoning. Why reinvent the wheel?