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Given the significance of this evening’s news about the Osama Bin Laden death, I’m doing this real-time post as the story has been unfolding. I don’t do a lot of news-related posts here, but the late developing nature of the Bin Laden announcement seems to justify a change in strategy. A few thoughts on the Osama Bin Laden news along with the social media and strategic implications of tonight:

Twitter broke the actual news – at least for me and a lot of people.

The first tweet that got me digging about Osama Bin Laden is over to the right. Twitter has become the 1-800-WHO-DEAD that Kansas City radio host Mike Murphy longed for years ago. Crowdsourcing works for breaking news - that’s been proven. A tweeter in Abbottabad, Pakistan even unwittingly live tweeted the US attack, which occurred at 1 a.m. local time. In terms of analysis, well, the pros still have an advantage there (although the level of repetition that takes place to kill time on TV is fairly comparable to the endless RTs on Twitter). Not surprisingly, there’s already a @GhostOsama Twitter account which is definitely worth checking out. At 11:30 pm CDT (May 1, 2011) it already had 5,000 more followers than @Brainzooming!

Do things in the right order – even if it screws up the timeline.

One of my strategic mentors would kick timeline and deadline expectations to the curb to ensure we stepped through things in the right order. The right order always included making sure the proper people knew things ahead of time and were prepared to respond to big news. It drove people (both his peers and his staff) crazy, but his “no surprises” policy always struck me as tremendously sound.  Based on the delays in making the official announcement, I’m glad to see the Obama administration follows the same sound messaging strategy.

News isn’t all about news. News is also about context.

There wasn’t a tremendous amount of news in President Obama’s speech - maybe 10% of the time was news about Osama Bin Laden’s death (and much of it old news thanks to Twitter). But the role of a leader isn’t simply news; it’s placing news in context. Notice that President Obama led with context, finished with context, and wove context throughout his relatively brief statement. The news (and what details will be ultimately be shared) will come out in due time from the proper functionaries. Only the leader can set the right tone. There are loads of lessons in how this was handled from a messaging standpoint.

This isn’t over.

There was a tremendously insightful article in The Atlantic in 1990 about how much we’d miss the Cold War (pdf link). The reason? Instead of a stand-off between two major powers, the article predicted we’d be fighting skirmishes around the world to keep the peace. Sound like what our situation has been like for years? While we’ve portrayed Osama Bin Laden as THE enemy of the United States, he doesn’t have the significance the Soviet Union did. We may have killed the “leader,” but terrorism doesn’t work because of hierarchy.

Temper the celebrations.

Osama Bin Laden represented a force for evil in the world. We hated him because of his role in killing US citizens and wreaking worldwide havoc. But the jubilation we saw at the end of World War II represented, among other things, a sense of relief that people thought a new world situation and a significant change in the world’s safety and horizons would take place. That just doesn’t seem to be the case here; it’s hard to pinpoint what of major significance will change based on Bin Laden’s death. This seems a lot more like John Dillinger than Adolf Hitler. Express your patriotism, stay vigilant, and remain (or get) prayerful – we’ve got a bumpy road ahead of us. Mike Brown

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Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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14 Responses to “Osama Bin Laden Death: Initial Social Media & Strategic Insights”

  1. aliciaparr says:

    Do I have permission to print out this blog post to discuss with my Mass Media & Culture class?

    • Mike Brown says:

      I sent you a separate email – it’s fine for you to use this post in your class! I’m honored!

    • Anonymous says:

      Alicia – Sent a separate email. You definitely have permission. Honored that you’d want to share it!

      Mike

      • Alicia Parr says:

        Thanks, Mike.

        The students enjoyed having current event topics to tie to the lessons of the course, and, of course, the Osama Bin Laden topic was familiar to all and very timely. It was a bit late into the evening class by the time we got to the topic, so I don’t know that I got any amazing insights, but here’s a short summary of what we talked about:

        1. We compared throughout the class how people found out about the news. As it turns out, no one in the class found out via Twitter. About half or a little more found out via the TV announcement (including myself). The rest found out either through the next morning’s newspaper, from co-workers the next day, or the radio. In fact, one person noted hearing it on the radio shortly before it was announced on TV.

        2. We discussed the importance of doing things in the right order and providing context for news. Those that heard the news on the TV felt that the additional information that Obama supplied in his announcement helped with the understanding.

        3. Also, they felt that the timing of the news was well considered, in that by the time it was communicated, the facts were validated and there was no room for question or second-guessing. One thing this course has given them, I think, is a greater appreciation for news that is validated and confirmed before delivery. They are more inclined to turn a critical eye to scooping and early news reports that sacrifice accuracy for speed.

        4. Overall, even though one of the core learning objectives of the course I’m teaching is to encourage and enhance individuals’ critical thinking and mindfulness when they interact with mass media, I didn’t get the impression that they applied too much critical thinking about the delivery of this particular message. The real benefit of sharing this
        blog post with them is as a role model of what this kind of analysis can look like. I know real learning sometimes is not evident until later, when someone has another opportunity to apply it. It is my hope that this will be the case here.

        In hindsight, I would have liked to better explore the relevance of message tone. For example, did they feel that the news is cause for jubilation, stoic analysis, relief, or some other combination of feeling and was the message delivered in a way that facilitated this outcome? From a personal impressions standpoint, the immediate celebratory response I saw on Facebook when the news broke was interesting for me to watch and gave me a little pause. I was left wondering how many people overestimate the importance of taking out the leader of an established organization and underestimate the importance of non-religious influences in strengthening the movement. The news does mesh well with our archetypical narrative about hero conquering the villain. Or, who knows, maybe I’m wrong and it really is that simple (but I doubt it).

        Thanks again for your permission.

        Best,

        Alicia Parr
        HR Consulting

  2. Jim Joseph says:

    News isn’t about news, it’s about context. Leaders provide context — brilliant, Mike!

    • Anonymous says:

      Thanks so much Jim! So many people want to do “news,” when they wind up selling their leadership position short by doing that. It seems important to be “in the know.” What’s really important is being able to know what it all means.

  3. Antievil says:

    Osama represents a force of evil just as USA represents a force of evil in the world as the world is not american, white and hanging out in the mall. You hated him because he was responsible for around 4000 US citizens life and he hated USA for its the murders, explotations, imperialism in the Middle east and support for Israel.

    In the quest for the blood of Osama Usa has not only invaded two countries and brought war to its citizens but also DEATH. How many lifes hasn´t been lost in Iraq since the american lies brought the invasion to place? And let´s not go into the cost but that will only affect you internally and externally we all are now looking more and more to the east away for a havocing USA.

    Get a perspective bigger than your hamburger and keep it fresh!

  4. Antievil says:

    Osama represents a force of evil just as USA represents a force of evil in the world as the world is not american, white and hanging out in the mall. You hated him because he was responsible for around 4000 US citizens life and he hated USA for its the murders, explotations, imperialism in the Middle east and support for Israel.

    In the quest for the blood of Osama Usa has not only invaded two countries and brought war to its citizens but also DEATH. How many lifes hasn´t been lost in Iraq since the american lies brought the invasion to place? And let´s not go into the cost but that will only affect you internally and externally we all are now looking more and more to the east away for a havocing USA.

    Get a perspective bigger than your hamburger and keep it fresh!

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