• 29Jun

    I saw two blog posts this past week that reminded me that there are a lot of people out there who don’t “get” social media and its role in business.

    PBTwitterOne was a guest post on Lindsay Olson’s PR career blog about “Is Tweeting Hazardous to Your Job?” In this guest post, PR columnist Alison Kenney offered up some of the biggest social media faux pas that so-called PR professionals have been guilty of lately. Leaving the recent Facebook/Burson-Marsteller debacle aside, there are a number of other communications professionals who seem to have temporarily forgotten the rules of social media engagement. This from her blog post:

      • In March, Scott Bartosiewicz, an employee at New Media Strategies, the social media agency of record for Chrysler, tweeted a derogatory message about Detroit drivers from the official Chrysler Twitter account, costing his agency its relationship with Chrysler
      • This month, The Redner Group, a small PR firm led by Jim Redner, was fired by client 2K games after a frustrated Redner tweeted a threat to withhold review copies of the popular game Duke Nukem Forever if reviewers don’t offer more positive reviews.
      • Two years ago, while on his way to give a presentation about digital media to FedEx communications employees, Ketchum VP James Andrews tweeted a derogatory comment about travel to Memphis (where FedEx is headquartered). The tweet rankled FedEx employees who called Andrews out and extracted an apology from him. He kept his job.

    In all of these cases, employees are exhibiting poor judgment and making poor choices in expressing themselves. Social media is exposing their mistakes to the public and to their employer.

    What people tend to forget in the heat of the moment, or because the social media tools have become so familiar, is that Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and their like are, well, social! It’s not a private conversation with 500 of your closest friends. Rather, when you post, you are putting out commentary for all the world to read, and react to. Which means if you mix social media and work, you have to be extra careful.

    I recently read another blog post by Tom Biro, one of the executives at my former PR firm, Allison & Partners, offering advice about social media in the workplace.

    A lot of companies control or block social media access, and they are certainly monitoring what you do online. (I will occasionally work at a client site and the IT manager frequently sends me reports with a breakdown of my online activity complaining that I am consuming too much bandwidth, so I know he is watching.) I have a client that specializes in providing controls and monitoring for social media access. Like it or not, your social media activities are being watched. And even if they aren’t watching right now, you need to make sure you leave a clean online trail that isn’t going to create problems when a client or prospective employer stumbles on it later.

    While most of the insights Tom Biro offers seem to be common sense, they are worth repeating here as a reminder:

    • Even if you are blocking employees access to Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, you know they are using their smartphones to get around that. While productivity may not be an issues, data leakage and protecting your company’s brand are a concern. Watch what your staff are doing online.
    • Set a good example. Some of the examples cited above are errors made by senior staffers. They should know better, and they should prove that to their fellow professionals with every post.
    • Remember that social media is about dialogue, not monologue. Don’t rant, but comment. Add to the conversation rather than trying to command the floor.
    • You want to use social media to increase your brand awareness. Make sure you are being seen and commenting in the right places to advance your brand visibility.
    • Establish social media guidelines. This is your first line of defense as an employer, and your first reference for common sense as an employee. If you spell out what is and is not appropriate about your behavior online you won’t leave room for doubt.
    • Be transparent about your identity. Be sure you are clear about who you are and your stake in the conversation, i.e. whether you are speaking on behalf of a client.
    • Think before you post. Think about the impact of what you have to say, and how it could affect coworkers, clients, associates,and others.
    • Don’t assume you are anonymous. If you are using a corporate Wi-Fi connection of a company network, someone is watching the traffic so never assume you can’ t be seen. Big Brother is everywhere.

    Effective use of social media is about positive interaction and sharing stuff that is interesting and that contributes to the dialogue. If you use common sense and remember that social media is a very public forum, so don’t say or do anything you may regret later.

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  • 22Jun

    spin-cycleLast week, I spotted a blog by MG Siegler on TechCrunch that took Facebook’s PR machine to task for trying to cover up, or rather divert attention from a developer story they didn’t’ like. In his blog, “Facebook PR: Tonight We Dine in Hell!,” Siegler notes that the journalists are at war with the PR industry, and although there are many battles, the one he wants to tackle has to do with spin.

    I question the validity of his hyperbole, and his overdramatized position, starting with the controversial headline that sucked me in to read the blog in the first place, demonstrates that spin sells, at least to an extent. His presentation of the lengths that Facebook PR team goes to in order to discredit his story seems a little extreme, and whether he chooses to believe it or not, Siegler is spinning his tale to make his point. Maybe he should go into PR.

    In any case, he raises some valid concerns about the state of PR and some of the questionable practices of PR professionals. As he state it:

    The fact of the matter is that the entire PR industry is like a weed growing out of control. Current estimates have PR people now outnumbering journalists 3 to 1. Think about that for a second. And one of the industries in which this infectious growth is most apparent is the tech industry, where it’s boom time. My email inbox is a testament to this. As is my voicemail inbox. I’d bet that at least 75 percent of the messages I get in the day are from PR people. Their campaign strategy in this war is shock and awe.

    Now, I don’t mean to suggest that all PR people are evil or have the wrong intentions. Many are very nice people. And some are even very good at what they do. But increasingly what they do is nothing more than attempt to spin or grossly misrepresent what it is we do. For many of them, helping journalists/bloggers/writers get access to accurate information is secondary. It’s all about controlling a narrative — by any means necessary. And that has to stop.

    That last statement is one I agree with. Our job is not to control the narrative. Naturally, we present our clients and their wares in as positive a light as possible. We point out the benefits that are derived from the features. We make a case for competitive positioning, and that could be called “spin” if you wish. However, the facts will out, and like a rotten egg you can’t cover up the stench of a bad story.

    I make it my policy to work with analysts and editors in as frank and open a manner as I can, without compromising my client. As I have told clients in the past, my value to them hinges on my credibility with the press. If I can be helpful to a reporter or editor, they will remember that service. If I lie or mislead a reporter, they will never forget the disservice and I will have lost an editorial ally forever. I tell clients that the editors are as much my clients as the people who pay me, because I will have to call on that editor Lipstickonapigagain, long after the client has gone.

    So the Facebook PR disinformation campaign that Seigler describes in his blog post is bad PR practice, although I understand where it comes from. When bad news hits, the downhill slide starts and PR is at the bottom of the hill, trying to clean up the mess. Rather than trying to put the lipstick on the pig, it’s better to admit the error or embrace the bad story and neutralize it then and there. If you deny it, or try to adopt a non-denial denial, then the evasion becomes the story and compounds the embarrassment.

    Especially in PR, it’s time we left the spin cycle to the washing machine and adopted honesty as the best policy.

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  • 14Jun

    These days, social media has become a resource for sales and marketing; an essential tool in any marketing or media arsenal. Remember when, not so long ago, Facebook was banned from the workplace as a time waster? There are any number of companies that still block access to Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Twitter, and other social media destinations because they don’t see these outlets as essential to employees’ jobs. They want them to stay productive, not chatting with friends online.

    digital-distractionAnd despite the many benefits that have been demonstrated about social media, they have a point. Todays’ work environment is incredibly disruptive. I hate to say it, but I am old enough to remember working in an office free of email and where the only disruption was an occasional phone call. I also recall those days as being much more productive, where I could focus on writing an article or editing a column without interruption. The age of instant communications has created a disruptive, multi-tasking approach to work, which is not the most productive.

    Not long ago I spotted an article on Mashable, “The 3 Pressing Questions Facing Social Media,” that talked about the disruptive nature of social media, and the fact it will only get worse.

    The conversation about social media in our society is shifting significantly. We’re no longer asking questions like, “Will people use social media?” or “Are sites like Facebook and Twitter simply trends that will soon lose steam?” After billions of tweets and 600 million people on Facebook, it’s settled: People want to share online. And with Facebook moving toward a $100 billion valuation, there is money to be made.

    The emerging conversation is not if we will be connected but is instead, “How can we effectively and productively connect?” Now that we can get constant updates on just about every aspect of our friends’ lives, how do we receive that which is relevant?

    I think the three questions are worth considering closely as we continue to forge ahead into the disruptive world of social media.

    1. Are We Being Driven to Distraction? Remaining continually connected means being continually distracted. I am sure you have experienced it – email interruptus or the Facebook vortex. You are in the middle of trying to construct a thought for a report, or a calculation for a spreadsheet and you hear that little “ding” or see that popup that someone has posted to your wall. Being the tribal creatures that we are, we drop everything to see who is knocking at our virtual door.

    People have forgotten how to turn off the data stream, just as they have forgotten to turn off their cell phones or unplug from the larger world. Many give the excuse that their bosses or their clients expect them to be “on call,” but the truth of the matter is we are all insecure in this new world of social media, and we are worried about missing an important factoid or an important connection that could lead to cyber rejection.

    The price of distraction is a decline in productivity. According to a survey cited in the Mashable article, social media is costing companies an average of $10,375 per year because we can’t learn to disconnect fast enough.

    The drive to stay connected is tapering off. For the first time, Facebook has seen a drop in traffic in the U.S. and Canada as people are starting to realize that social media does not require real-time consumption. But we are still struggling to find the right balance to get us back to productivity.

    2.  How are We To Filter the Stream? What to follow has become an important question. You want to sample the social media stream in a way that suits our informational needs. I cited a recent presentation by MoveOn board president Eli Pariser on how our web experience is already being filtered. We need to be wary of imposing our own filters so we get what we need from social media channels.

    Of course, we need to understand how the data is being filtered, and given the option to impose our own controls, or open the tap to unfiltered content so we can determine what we want to sample. It’s all about promoting transparency; a principle that is at the root of the creation of the Internet.

    3. How Do We Manage the Social Media Flood? The sheer volume of social media content has become overwhelming. Can you effectively follow more than 500 people on Twitter or LinkedIn? How many Facebook friends can you have and still maintain any kind of meaningful connection? When do we start hitting diminishing returns from social media because the sheer volume has become too great to manage? Like dipping your toe in the data stream, where you choose to sample the stream is going to be self-selecting, but the stream is rapidly becoming a flood, which will make it harder to choose the right location.

    And it’s just going to get worse. More traffic for the Web is on the horizon, and with it more social media traffic. So users will have to become more discriminating in their use of social media:

    Providing people more ways to share online is no longer the challenge. That was the old paradigm. A new paradigm of relevancy is emerging, which goes beyond the question of whether “to follow or not follow” or “to friend or not friend.” Companies need to see that their job is not to provide us data, or even keep us updated — it is to serve our needs.

    Which offers some new opportunities for marketers. As we continue to feed our corners of the social media stream with content that is relevant for our microcosm of the social media macroverse, we will be able to start appealing to a niche following of more loyal and more relevant connections. It’s going to become more about quality rather than quantity, and the conversations will become more focused as we become more discriminating. As a result, social media will give us the capacity to connect more quickly and efficiently to people who matter to us, and the timewasting will become less of a factor in the social media equitation.

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  • 07Jun

    YouTube Preview ImageI have been tracking a discussion on one of my PR groups on LinkedIn about ageism and employment. The complaint, which is not new, is that those of us “of a certain age” are being bypassed for choice agency and marcomm jobs as the hiring demographic skews younger. As Randy Block, one of the career coaches who works with my client, NETSHARE, notes, no one wants to hire mom or dad. It’s no wonder that those of use who have the experience and years are being passed over. We are too expensive, and there is the misperception that we don’t “get it” when it comes to newer tactical programs like social media.

    So the grumbling oldsters like me are making noises about forming a new Graying Communications type agency to show we still got it, and we still get it. I continue to adopt a different strategy, consulting. One of the other things that Randy says is that while the younger generation of managers are interested in hiring mom or dad, they will pay them for their advice. One of the more interesting things to come to light from the discussion thread on ageism was an column by Karen E. Klein from Bloomberg/BusinessWeek on “Why Self-Employed Consultants Fail.” Having been a serial consultant for more than 20 years, I found the insights right-on and very useful, since I still violate a few of them now and again. Here are some insights from Karen’s column for those of you looking for an alternative to downsizing or early retirement.

    First, according to Alan Weiss, author of Million Dollar Consulting:

    There are about 400,000 people in the U.S. calling themselves consultants. My estimate is that only half of them are actually working as consultants. Most enter the profession as a second career or after they’re retired.

    What all these people have in common, and few realize, is that consulting is a marketing business, period. It doesn’t matter what your area of expertise is or if you are the best in your industry, unless you have the skills to sell your consulting services, you don’t have a consulting business.

    What are the most common mistakes that consultants make? Here’s a list that should look familiar to those who have been there/done that, especially if you have any PR agency experience:

    • You bill by the hour. The rule of thumb in the agency world is you bill your time. The problem, of course, is that time is finite; there are only so many hours in the day. And while billable time may work for an economic (read cheap)) client, it doesn’t help you build your consulting business. Better to bill on value. If you can offer a service that saves a company $1 million, then paying $100,000 for that service seems a small prices to pay, whether the task takes 1,000 hours or one hour.
    • Dealing with middlemen. I always try to deal with C-level executives. If you deal with the middlemen, they you are subject to their MBOs, and their political problems, and if a project goes awry as the consultant you will be the first one thrown under the bus. You also can’t show your value to those lower down. Better to approach the C-suite and show them what you offer before you start working with the less senior staff.
    • You don’t see yourself as peers with the clients. You are working for the client, but you are not an employee.You are providing a service that they value on your terms. That makes you buyer and seller on equal footing. Never forget that. The problem with most consultants is a lack of self-esteem and the confidence to stand behind the value of their service. It may be from working alone or constantly selling yourself and the fact there is no “boss” to front for you, but you can’t be a subordinate. You can’t show up with your hat in your hand; you have to sell your value.
    • You don’t offer lasting value. If you can create intellectual property, such as systems or intelligence you can package for reuse, then you become an expert and your value increases exponentially. Better to sell IP than expertise.

    Remember, if you can fix the client’s problem, you have value. The amount of pain the client is suffering because of that problem should dictate your fee. If you help them achieve their objectives and build their profits, they will be happy and the price tag doesn’t matter.

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  • 01Jun

    watching_twitterOnline privacy lost another battle this week in the California courts. If you were tracking the news on Sunday and Monday, you may have seen the story of the lawsuit launched by the South Tyneside Council in the United Kingdom to reveal the identity of Mr. Monkey, a notorious blogger who made a number of scurrilous and libelous statements about the Council. Hiding behind the anonymity of his Mr. Monkey Twitter handle, it seems the angry blogger may actually be one of the members of the Council, but the jury is still out, at least in the United Kingdom.

    Not so in California, however. In their quest to uncover the identity of Mr. Monkey, the Council went to the trouble and expense of taking their suit all the way to San Francisco, where Twitter has its offices. As reported by the New Statesman, Twitter’s terms of service specify that any legal claims need to be pursued in the local jurisdiction:

    All claims, legal proceedings or litigation arising in connection with the Services will be brought solely in San Francisco County, California, and you consent to the jurisdiction of and venue in such courts and waive any objection as to inconvenient forum.

    I guess Mr. Monkey didn’t expect the South Tyneside Council to spend the money on a plane ticket to San Francisco to make their case directly to the local court. Having made their case, Twitter complied with the court ruling and released the names, location, email addresses, and other data of the people accused in the affair. As noted by Gizmodo:

    Twitter has, up to now, been resistant to releasing the account details of its users, but has also stated that it would comply with legal requests. Twitter complied with their [South Tyneside Council’s] complaint and chose to release the names, location data, and and email addresses of the people accused. Their decision begs not a few questions, particularly: Can we expect that much more litigious lawsuits based on Twitter libel? and; How much should we be watching our tweets from now on?

    This sets a new precedent. This is the first time that a foreign plaintiff has come to the United States seeking evidence for local libel laws, and getting it. Privacy laws differ from country to country, and this case opens the door for anyone with the will and the readies to travel to the U.S. to get what most may think is private information for use in a lawsuit.

    And this also serves as a practical reminder that online privacy is an oxymoron. Remember that Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, and other social media destinations are not protected by freedom of speech, but companies looking to gain a profit. If they are faced with a legal action, they will do what’s best for the company and its investors, which may not be the best outcome for online privacy. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Since its inception, the Internet has been self-policing, and as the Web becomes more sophisticated, good online citizens should be allowed to express an honest opinion without repercussions, and mischief makers like Mr. Monkey need to be “outed” to make the web a safer place for the rest of us.

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