There’s Something About Osama

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So here we are a full two days after the historic destruction of Osama Bin Laden, and (predictably) the story has moved on from the details of the raid to the political fallout and the Monday-morning quarterbacking analysis of the decision to take out the most evil man in the world. Seems everyone from Pakistan’s President to Nancy Pelosi are getting in on the act.

This morning, there are two major threads in the news: whether to release the photos of Bin Laden’s corpse to satisfy the doubters; and President George W. Bush’s pass on joining President Obama at the World Trade Center in New York on Thursday.

Let’s look at both items from a purely PR angle:

As of this writing, President Obama is being counseled to not release the Osama photo, for fear that it would provoke a backlash from extremists, who some fear may launch a retaliatory attack in retribution for an insulting act. To me, that’s a little like worrying about the backlash from drug kingpins after the takedown of a top lieutenant. Drug kingpins do what they want regardless of your actions.

From a PR perspective, there is no widespread outcry from a credible organization for evidence of Bin Laden’s death at the hands of Navy Seals (props to you guys, BTW). The few people who are doubting Bin Laden was killed are the same people who think 9/11 was faked. I say let them keep surfing the web for conspiracy theories.

(Editor’s Note: I am waiting for the outrage from the 9/11 conspiracy theorists. Logically, if 9/11 was a true US government conspiracy, then Osama Bin Laden was an innocent man unjustly executed by a foreign government. But you’re not going to hear that from those idiots. Bank it.)

So in the end, the US would gain nothing, and would even lose some dignity, in releasing a photo that is bound to be difficult to look at. I say take the classy high ground and keep it locked away. You know you got him. And everyone’s opinion you care about knows you got him. That’s enough.

On the Bush invite, I know partisans will likely try to exploit George Bush’s choice to stay away from New York as either a slap at Obama (liberals) or a courageous choice to not join a “do-nothing president” (conservatives). Both opinions are silly.

I too would have told Bush to pass, and for one reason: this is Obama’s victory lap, let him take it. “W” already had his moment at Ground Zero; this is another president’s turn and message to send. Not joining Obama should be positioned as a magnanimous gesture to allow another president to enjoy the fruits of his very difficult decision and leadership, not as petty or partisan.

Let’s see how this plays out.

Don’t Underestimate the Power of the Tweet

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The news of Osama Bin Laden’s death was the most tweeted event in history.

More than just a set of information sharing platforms, the impact social media had on the events of Sunday night and Monday made the news intensely palpable and personal. Social media – even more than traditional news outlets – fundamentally changed how the news broke and spread and even what was said and felt.

It goes without saying that word travels fast over twitter and facebook. We’re plenty familiar with the power of these still new platforms and their ability to help share information at the tap of a button.

But for the first time in a uniquely American scenario, people had the ability (perceived or real) to participate in this breaking news event and to secure a sense of their personal place in a global community witnessing something monumental, impactful and intensely important.

With details emerging at a jackrabbit’s pace starting even before the President’s speech Sunday night, social media inserted a new dynamic into the way we heard and reacted to the news and what we ultimately thought of it.

Social media also compressed the news cycle to the point where, as I write this on Tuesday morning, less than 36 hours after the news was officially announced, we’re even starting to turn our attention to other issues, including the 2012 Presidential race and the floods in the midwest. This never would have happened just 10 years ago, before facebook and twitter. There would still be new content emerging for days and making it into the American consciousness through traditional, filtered media channels.

Social media allows us to access and process all this information faster. It’s like drinking water from a firehose.

Social media’s presence in the information spectrum had direct impacts on the platforms themselves:

– Did twitter expect to beat out the cable news networks – combined – to be the number one way people learned the news that Bin Laden was dead? They were.

– Did facebook expect to be the organizing outlet around which breaking news and in-depth coverage was shared? It was.

– Did foursquare ever think they’d need to shutdown “Osama is Dead” parties? They did.

– Did a quiet recluse who unknowlingly moved into the town where Osama Bin Laden was hiding out ever think he’d live tweet the military op of the century? He did.

And there were those who took to social media to rhetorically ask that – even though the most evil man on the planet was no more – whether our reaction should be one of celebration, as though we had just won some big game?

(Editor’s note: I’m glad Bin Laden is dead. He was a mass murderer who isn’t worth the spit on his watery grave. But don’t think for a second we can rest on the achievement. There are thousands more terrorists bent on the destruction of worldwide modern civilization that need to be dealt with. People saying the troops can now come home are fooling themselves.)

For all the good, there were remarkable instances of failure too: media organizations moved fast to keep up their web and social media content, even as the story evolved in real time. Some moved too fast and made horrific mistakes, in one case killing the President himself (for only a split second before correcting the error).

So what’s the takeaway?

This event is confirmation – even for the naysayers – that social media is the most powerful information-sharing platform on the planet, and has impact beyond just what is being said to how it is being recieved. And when used correctly and then unleashed to work its magic can be a powerful tool to spread your messages and organize action. It changes the game at the ground level and allows those who might have once been shut out of the conversation to have a voice and connect with others and drive a conversation.

So… when are you creating that new profile?