“Shoppers want to belong”

Robert Michael Murray

What’s Robert Michael Murray, our Society’s VP for Social Media, up to these days? What’s he planning? What’s the future of our National Geographic “community”? We’ve tried to arrange an interview to ask him, but without any success.

As a result, we rely mostly on Robert’s Twitter feed, since that appears to be his only public channel. (Sadly, Robert stopped blogging soon after he became social media VP. Which, we guess, is a message all its own.)

One of Robert’s most recent tweets caught our eye because it gives us some idea of what’s on his radar:

And what exactly is this “rise of social commerce”? And what does it say about the future of “social” @ NGS?

Shoppers want to belong.” We shudder when we read that. Not because there’s anything wrong with shopping per se. We shudder because it suggests that our Society’s social media strategy — best we can suss it out — is ultimately about buying stuff. Retail verticals. Advertising “partnerships.” Shopping.

Is this a good idea? A sustainable business model? We seriously doubt it, although we’re willing to be convinced otherwise.

So please keep us posted, Robert. Via Twitter. On a blog. With a video. At a community meeting (like those PubCamps that NPR hosts). Something, anything that might give us NGS members out here some hint of what you’re doing to help make our Society more of a community.

P.S. We’d still love to sit down with you for an interview. If you’re willing, please let us know in the comments, below.


UPDATE, 22 September 2010

We give Robert major credit for stepping up to the mic on Twitter last night. We only wish he’d answer our questions.

  1. Alan Mairson
    AlanMairson “Shoppers want to belong” … OR: The Not-So-Slow Erosion of a Great American Magazine Brand: http://ow.ly/2HQD8
  2. RobertMichaelMurray
    rmmdc @AlanMairson glad to see that you’re still making things up, wouldn’t want to let facts get in your way. #FactcheckingWouldKillHisשטיק
  3. Alan Mairson
    AlanMairson Please, @rmmdc, fact check away! Jump on the post & tell me where I got it wrong. Cuz fact checking is tough when you refuse to talk.
  4. Alan Mairson
    AlanMairson @rmmdc And there’s an easy way to kill what you call my שטיק : Give us some clue, any clue what the social media plan is for Nat Geo.
  5. RobertMichaelMurray
    rmmdc @AlanMairson it’s sad that I can’t share a friend’s event with others without you trying to make a name for yourself.
  6. Alan Mairson
    AlanMairson Please don’t be sad, @rmmdc. Instead, tell us if “social commerce” is part of NG’s social strategy. Do “shoppers want to belong”?
  7. RobertMichaelMurray
    rmmdc @AlanMairson pretty sure there are still spaces, feel free to register. I know Charlene and Jeremiah have put together a great program.
  8. Alan Mairson
    AlanMairson I just read the tea leaves… & your tweets, @rmmdc. Why don’t you ask Betty Hudson if you & I can sit down for video Q&A?
  9. Alan Mairson
    AlanMairson Thanks for the suggestion, @rmmdc. But I don’t want to hear about “social shopping” from Charlene & Jeremiah. But I’d love to hear from you.
  10. RobertMichaelMurray
    rmmdc @AlanMairson guess you missed my tweets about the Jay-Z and Eminem concert at Yankee Stadium. Too bad, it was a great concert.
  11. RobertMichaelMurray
    rmmdc @AlanMairson don’t dismiss the suggestion too fast, you might learn something about social. Btw, do 2 accounts make it twice as important?
  12. Alan Mairson
    AlanMairson I did see those tweets, @rmmdc. & almost scooped up your xtra tix! 🙂 But you’re making my point for me: You say virtually zero about NGS.
  13. Alan Mairson
    AlanMairson Love learning about social, @rmmdc. Just wish *you* would teach us — with more focus on NGS, and less about Jay-Z & geeks on a plane.
  14. Alan Mairson
    AlanMairson @rmmdc FYI: Two accounts make it twice as important; four accounts make it 16 times as important. 🙂
  15. RobertMichaelMurray
    rmmdc @AlanMairson okay gotta run, but be careful next time you’re making things up … don’t want you to get hurt jumping to conclusions.

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  • seriously

    Alan Mairson, are you a complete idiot?

    • Do you mean in general? Or re: this specific post? All details welcome. 🙂

      • seriously

        That was an immature, silly way to voice my confusion. Apologies.

        Murray’s a social media person. He plugged a social media event. This does not mean the focus of said event and Nat Geo’s new social media focus are one and the same. Unless you weren’t serious? Am I missing something? Are you just trying to belabor the point that he won’t meet with you? (Does he have to?) You’re bitter that he won’t grant you an interview? Posts like this aren’t a fantastically mature way to handle it. Unless I’m missing something. Which is always very possible. Am I?

        • Thanks for your comment, and no apologies necessary.

          You’re right that Robert was simply promoting an event, which doesn’t necessarily mean that National Geographic has decided to embrace social commerce as a Society-wide initiative. And while I’m not “bitter” that Robert won’t sit for an interview, I am disappointed — not so much with Robert as with the Society’s utter lack of transparency. It’s a huge non-profit, tax-emempt organization – and yet the executive team is virtually invisible to the general public. John Fahey, Tim Kelly, Terry Adamson all keep a very low profile, and rarely make any public statements about what the Society is doing or is planning. Robert naturally follows their lead. Do they owe me an interview? No. But it sure would be nice if they sat down and talked to someone.

          BTW: When Robert took the job at NGS in the summer of 2009, I told him: You’ll have a very hard time truly creating a social web or any real member community at NGS because the senior managers don’t really want one. That’s not bitter or cynical; it’s based on conversations I had with senior executives when I was still on staff.

          Here’s a question for you, “Seriously”: Don’t you think it odd that the Society’s VP for Social Media says virtually nothing — on Twitter or his (mothballed) blog — about social media at National Geographic? Don’t you think it odd that the President of the Society almost never appears in the media? (He recently appeared on a panel in DC, but you had to buy a $30 ticket to hear what he had to say [which wasn’t much].) Don’t you think it strange that an organization of this size, with this influence, flies so far below the radar when it comes to their business decisions?

          In the end, you’re probably right: This post was not the most mature thing I’ve served up on this site. (It’s a work in progress. 🙂 ) And if I had my druthers, I’d ask Robert some questions about our Society’s social media plans, and he’d answer them. But as you can see from the Twitter exchange I posted (above), he doesn’t answer, or won’t answer. Or can’t.

          Seems to me we can all do better than this.

          Thanks again for stopping by…

  • Do you mean in general? Or re: this specific post? All details welcome. 🙂

  • seriously

    I do see your point. Thank you for the explanation.

  • Anonymous

    Honestly, I don’t see your point.

    What I see is someone who is struggling with a loss of identity and the only way he knows how to process it, is to act out against everyone associated with National Geographic. I don’t know you, nor do I know Mr. Murray, however, I must say that you come across unstable (though I follow him on Twitter).

    The best part of you doing your impersonation of the crazy guy that stands across the street from the Vice President’s residence–nobody pays attention to him either–is you actually believe you are speaking for others and that you know more than everyone else.

    You consistently use “we” as though you’re speaking for more “members” than just yourself, yet only a handful of people even comment on your blog (I think I’ve made it a total of eleven).

    You demand that National Geographic give voice to “us members”, yet there are no other voices that contribute to your blog (outside of an occasional comment or two).

    You list “advisers” on the side of your blog, yet they are nowhere to be found (if they were sharing similar thoughts on their blogs I would imagine you would repost them here, alas no links).

    You act as though you understand “our Society”, yet you worked for the magazine and it is clear you don’t understand either the larger business nor nonprofit efforts.

    You cite experts and other organizations as examples to follow, yet in many cases you’re stretching their meanings or comparing apples to oranges (besides using the term “member” do you really think NPR and National Geographic are the same?).

    You say the Society matters, yet all you do is hurl negatives toward it (your post about The First Grader is the closest you’ve come to giving any due to the organization).

    What is clear and present, is your bitterness. It colors your view to the point everything you do is an attack on National Geographic, it’s leaders and staff. To which you then opine “woe as me, they won’t talk to me.”

    And why should they?

    You don’t appear to be rational (and I’m not the first person to tell you this on this blog).

    However, I bet you are. Reading your posts there are some really good points, but they then get wrapped into your craziness.

    I hope you don’t take this the wrong way. It’s just I think you’re so consumed you really don’t see how you come across. Which is a shame, because I suspect you are good guy and are trying to be well meaning. It just gets lost in the attacks.

    You might want to take a step back for a minute, and you might see that your current approach isn’t as well-natured as you think it is.

    • Thanks very much for writing, Jessie. And for your candor. You make some great points, which I’ll try to address….First of all, I love your comparison to the guy outside the VP’s residence. Why? Because for years he looked like a total loon… until all the pedophile scandals broke in the church. If after that news broke, you didn’t then drive by and think “Hey, maybe the guy has a point,” then you’re not being entirely fair. That said, he *does* spend a lot of time out there. Too much, in my book. Whereas I spend very little time on this blog. (Not to say I don’t have my obsessive side…)Second, this site is primarily (though not exclusively) targeted to a rather small group of people — namely, the folks who manage NGS and the people who work there. Since I launched this site, I’ve had thousands of visitors who I never would have met otherwise, and the “loyalty” stats (per Google Analytics) are pretty good. I also get a fair amount of email. But why the lack of comments? I think it’s partly because I don’t do a very good job of soliciting them. And partly because even when I worked at NGS, people were generally hesitant to comment about anything, especially under their own name. (I notice you, too, prefer anonymity.) The NGS corporate culture doesn’t encourage criticsm, constructive or otherwise. That said, the number of comments on Chris Johns’ blog (his online Editor’s Note) is pretty low too — and he has a built in audience of more than 4 million people. So I’m not sure comments are the best metric of whether the site is working or not.Third, you say I don’t understand “the larger business or nonprofit efforts.” Please enlighten me. As I’ve pointed out, I think John Fahey’s overall strategy has been a huge mistake — the bifurcation of the Society… selling off the TV brand to Fox… the merchandising… the corporate “partnerships.” It looks good in the short term, but someone else will have to clean up the mess in 10 years. … To be fair, much of what John began building in the late 1990s probably seemed like a good idea at the time. Now, the business model seems very broken.For some backup on this, take a peek at this very short (45 second) video — Craig Newmark of Craigslist commenting this week that NPR has the business model of the future. http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2010/09/craig-newmark-npr-will-be-the-dominant-news-force-by-2020/63864/As I’ve said here repeatedly, NGS could have been NPR (and attracted philanthropists like Joan Kroc) — but we went another way. If you can explain the current business model & rationale, I’d be happy to give room here — a post of your very own! — to spell it out. You sound like a sensible person, so the stage (such as it is) is all yours, if you want it. (I’d prefer you didn’t call me “unstable,” but I might even be okay with that. 🙂 )Fourth, you say I compare apples to oranges. How? Where? And no, I don’t think NPR and NGS are the same. That’s my point. Fifth, your point about my relentless critique is spot on. But think about this as an ongoing op-ed that’s making an argument: NGS is going in the wrong direction. Here’s the problem. And here are other organizations (esp NPR) which are doing it right. … My goal from the beginning was to take the entire “future of journalism” debate, and focus it on NGS. Case in point: My ongoing series called “Objective Nonsense.” Something fundamental has changed in media (see: David Weinberger’s “transparency is the new objectivity”), yet Chris Johns & Co cling to the whole “lack of bias” riff. Isn’t that a fair criticism to make?Sixth (and I’ve said this elsewhere), I’m not bitter. I was saying most of these things for years while I was still on staff. Few people were much interested in hearing it back then, nor are they now. They don’t have to listen, but it might be nice if they talked about what they’re doing out loud, in public. But they don’t. … Please know that I keep at this not out of bitterness, but because I’m intrigued by the dynamics of it all. NGS is almost the perfect story (for me) because it combines current issues in media, business, globalization, multiculturalism, environmentalism, and community. It’s an eye-popping mix. And endlessly fascinating. You might be interested to know that when I launched this site last year, I sent an email to John Fahey to give him a heads-up. He immediately wrote back: “This site looks beautiful — and interesting…. Stop by when you’re in again — but please, don’t make a special trip!” (I laughed about the “special trip” part, but I appreciated his invitation.) … A few weeks ago, I finally emailed him and asked to finally stop by for that visit. His response: “I don’t think it makes sense for us to get together.  I had been following your site with great anticipation but it seems to have become a rather one-sided indictment of the fine work of our editor and others at the Geographic.  I’m not certain your perspective is ever likely to change….”Again, it was nice that he wrote — but odd that a change in my perspective was necessarily the goal of our get-together. And yes, of course this site is one-sided: I’m writing it. I have a point of view. I’m making my case. What I’m eager to hear is *his* case — his rationale and explanation for what he’s doing, and why he’s doing it. I’m looking for him to explain the big picture at NGS, and why he thinks the current approach is sustainable. But he has no interest in sharing that with me — or with anyone else, at least in public. Ah well. I’m sorry some of this comes off as craziness to you. And don’t worry — I don’t take your comments “the wrong way.” I’ll think about what you’ve said — that my “good points” get lost in the overall presentation. And I’ll try to figure out a better way….All that said, I have a question for you: Where and when does the conversation about the future of NGS open up? Why do a small handful of people get to unilaterally decide the future of a beloved organization and brand they had virtually no hand in building? Most important: Why isn’t it okay to take issue with (what I consider) an editorial message that I think is dead wrong? Mike Fay’s Gabon initiative is, if you look closely, an embarrassment. The Censorship in China story (which I drone on about endlessly) is borderline tragic. Chris Johns’ mantra about lack of bias and “objectivity” is silly — and yet he says it, repeatedly, and no one calls him on it. As for the new Arabic edition? It’ll be a story all its own. Anyway, thanks again for writing, Jessie. And if you can find an NGS executive (or Trustee) who will sit down in front of a video camera with someone who might ask some decent questions (and it doesn’t have to be me), please let me know. Because the fact is, National Geographic continues to fly well below everyone’s radar — something I imagine that John Fahey & his team must love. all the best,Alan

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