Are you a leader or a poser?  There’s a big difference.

Free Press is a leader in the interactive universe.  They cultivate and organically grow their communities.  By utilizing digital tools early and often, the Free Press team has built a machine that can deliver results.  Last year, they took on Comcast, leading an effort to urge the FCC to rebuke Comcast for its network management practices.  They won.

Early this year, Free Press began beating the drum for the FCC to stay the course and open a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on open internet regulations in the wireline and wireless spaces.  This effort mobilized thousands of letters, blogs and tweets on the topic.  Once again, they won.

Free Press has become a juggernaut in the District of Communications.  Although, I don’t always agree with all of their public policy positions – I love the strategies they use to raise public awareness and influence policymaking.

Sprint and Verizon are also leaders.  By actively engaging consumers online, Sprint’s John Taylor gains valuable feedback on everything from policy to gadgets to network launches while consistently promoting the Sprint brand.  He also does a masterful job of interacting with reporters and directing traffic to links and articles he wants the media to see.

Verizon does a great job on the communications front.  The company has developed a “sixth sense” for public opinion and carefully crafts their positions to balance both consumer and corporate interests (think LNP, opposing a wireless directory, or supporting the open conditions on the 700 MHz C block auction).  On the digital side, Verizon’s John “CZ” Czwartacki is omni-present.  He covers a lot of the same ground that John Taylor covers, however, he really takes it to Verizon’s competitors – especially AT&T.  It is no secret that Verizon has a great network and he lets it be known.

In any case, both of these guys have been engaging for years.  They didn’t just start blasting their press releases, creating Facebook Fan Pages, or tweeting links to content that supports their points of view.  On the contrary, they’ve mixed outreach tools and, ultimately, are their for consumers.

The posers online are as obvious as the leaders.  They beg for followers on Twitter.  Their blogs are essentially press releases or just dead.  They rarely offer fresh content or engage their Facebook Fan Pages.  They are always asking instead of listening.  And their companies continue to spend gobs of money doing the same thing over and over again (lobbying) in Washington and getting the same results.  Eventually, they’ll learn the hard way that public perception and consumers are their best advocates.

Dish Disclosure – I spoke at the National Conference for Media Reform, which was sponsored by Free Press, in 2008.