Category: Social Media

Phil Robertson, Justine Sacco and Steve Martin Walk Into a Bar…

In the last few weeks we have seen three public examples of “open mouth, insert foot” that have provided different levels of shame, misguidedness and opportunities to right real and perceived wrongs.

The first example, and most widely seen and reported was perpetrated by Duck Dynasty patriarch, Phil Robertson. In an interview with GQ Magazine (anyone else see some strains of irony here), Robertson got himself in some hot water. According to Fox News – “Robertson was suspended indefinitely by A&E after saying that ‘everything is blurred on what’s right and what’s wrong… Sin becomes fine … Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men.’

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“In response to A&E’s sanction, the Robertsons have reportedly considered pulling the plug on the popular program. Politicians, including Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal have leapt to the family’s defense, decrying what they see as an attack on free speech and Christian values.”

Cracker Barrel initially took a stance by pulling Duck Dynasty merchandise of off the shelves, only to place the merchandise back on the shelves when perceived public perception (read dollar signs) seemed to fall on the side of the Duck Dynasty clan.

For his part, Robertson stands by his comments which he says are taken from scripture and individuals and companies like Sarah Palin, FOX News and others back him, citing free speech.

Every day is something new. Reports are saying he’s back on the show and according to the Chicago Tribune, in a recent announcement, Jesse Jackson Sr. compared Robertson’s recent comments about African-Americans, gay people and women to comments made by the driver of Rosa Parks’ bus.

Our second recent gaffe occurred when, according to CNN, Justine Sacco, a former PR executive sparked a firestorm of controversy on Twitter for the following tweet:

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Sacco’s employer – media company IAC – fired Sacco after her tweet went viral. IAC issued the following statement: “The offensive comment does not reflect the views and values of IAC. We take this issue very seriously, and we have parted ways with the employee in question.”

In a written statement. Sacco apologized “for being insensitive to this crisis — which does not discriminate by race, gender or sexual orientation, but which terrifies us all uniformly — and to the millions of people living with the virus, I am ashamed.”

She added that she is a native of South Africa and was upset that she had hurt so many people there.

The last recent example, also occurred on Twitter, this time with comedic legend, Steve Martin. Per ABC News, the actor asked his Twitter followers to “submit your grammar here,” and when one user asked, “Is this how you spell lasonia?” Martin responded, “It depends. Are you in an African-American neighborhood or at an Italian restaurant?”

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After receiving some negative feedback, Martin took responsibility, apologized on Twitter for the “offensive thing I’ve done” and posted on his website “I am very upset that a tweet I sent out last week has been interpreted by some to be insulting to African Americans … To those who were offended, again, I offer a deep, sincere, and humble apology without reservation.”

But Martin further explained that his “grammar” session with fans is something he’s done on other occasions, like “For example, a person might write ‘What’s the difference between ‘then’ and ‘than?’ I would say, ‘then’ is a conjunctive preposition, and ‘than’ is a misspelling of ‘thank.’”

Martin continued, “I was going along fine when someone wrote, “How do you spell ‘lasonia?’ I wrote: ‘It depends if you are in an African American neighborhood or an Italian restaurant.’ I knew of the name Lasonia. I did not make it up, nor do I find it funny. So to me the answer was either Lasonia (with a capital), or Lasagna, depending on what you meant.”

“That they sounded alike in this rare and particular context struck me as funny. That was the joke. When the tweet went out, I saw some negative comments and immediately deleted the tweet and apologized. I gathered the perception was that I was making fun of African American names. Later, thinking it over, I realized the tweet was irresponsible, and made a fuller apology on Twitter,” he added.

Martin added that he was cited incorrectly by some media outlets, who have yet to correct their misquoting of his tweet. But in the end, he again took responsibility for the blunder.

Phil Robertson, Justine Sacco and Steve Martin. Three widely different public figures who faced fast public scrutiny and outcry for things they said/did. My thoughts:

  •  Phil Robertson does have the “right” to believe what he believes. We all do. What is unfortunate is we are at a point where thoughts – right or wrong; left or right – are amplified and exasperated. Individuals and groups seem more concerned with furthering agendas instead of getting to the heart of the matter.
  • Should we be taking everything written in scripture verbatim?  Would it be helpful/healing to open real conversations where we can better understand why…who…when?
  • Like it or not, we are all public figures. As a PR-person, Justine Sacco has to know better. Heck, she is a native of South Africa. Twelve words that will change her life. What she said was stupid, wrong, hurtful, naïve, etc. That said, I haven’t seen or heard the outcries of “free speech” that I’ve seen from Sarah Palin and others. Maybe, Sacco isn’t public enough…
  • From a PR and social perspective, Steve Martin handled things great. He apologized. Took all the blame and explained the “backstory” of what he did. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, “news outlets” distorted his tweet to make a better (and less accurate) story.

Bottom line, this isn’t the last we will see of situations like these. As long as we continue to care about “public figures” and the definition of “public figure” continues to expand; and as long as groups and individuals wanting to push forward agendas and personas are opportunistic; and as long as businesses have a stake in things; and as long as we all like being social and consider it social to hit someone when they are down; well, you get the idea.

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The Good, the Bad and the Shades of Grey in Popular ‘PR, Then and Now’ Infographic

Last week I started blogging about elements of an infographic created by InkHouse Media + Marketing, examining the ever-evolving role of public relations. While much of the “that was then is now” approach is spot-on – – especially the last part – – it is important to note that we don’t live in a world of black and white. There are few absolutes, but many shades of grey.

Media Tour and Phone

At first blush this may seem like a no-brainer (some would a strength of mine). Not the case. For some reason, the analogy of a hand-written thank you note comes to mind. The note will most likely have more of an impact on the recipient. It is more thoughtful.

There are absolutely times when an in-person media tour is appropriate and necessary. When determining this, think about:

  • Who is the spokesperson? Is it a CEO who is charismatic who rarely has face-time with reporters?
  • What is the topic? Is the topic sensitive in nature that a face-to-face is appropriate? Are you introducing something – a product, solution, idea – that warrants more of a hands-on approach?
  • Can you piggy-back the media tour off of an existing trip? If you do, make sure your spokesperson makes the time specifically for media interviews.

The phone call has its place. When you are responding to something or are a part of a larger story. However, you must remember:

  • Call – whenever possible – from a landline. Marginal cell phone service is an unnecessary distraction. If you are using a cell phone, be in an area with good reception.
  • No speaker phone. The reporter should think you are 100 percent engaged in the interview.
  • Quiet area. Again, distractions are bad. Don’t do an interview while driving. Not smart or safe.
  • Have your notes/key messages in front of you. See driving bullet.

2nd Day 2nd Hour

Now more than ever, PR professionals need to be buttoned-up. Deadlines are real-time and “citizen reporters” are just 140 characters away. Crisis communication plans need to be fluid and reputation management 24 hours a day.

From a proactive media relations standpoint it remains the same as it always has – – what outlet is most appropriate/relevant for the compelling message or story. The outlet of choice may change but the idea of making sure you are getting the right message to the right outlet remains intact.

Impressions and Influence

In many ways, social media is the vehicle. The content used in social media will be the driver of influence and that content is going to consist of owned and earned media.

Owned media is the content you develop and post on your blogs, Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, etc. You are in total control of your messages and the messages should be more about your real audience seeing you as a trusted source of a particular field/industry, and less about hitting your real audience over the head with your latest product or solution.

Earned media is the use of the “fourth estate” – – news outlets that cover/mention you in an article or segment. Positive coverage carries the benefit of third-party credibility. “It isn’t me saying this is great, it is your trusted news source.” Whenever possible/appropriate, earned media can and should be used on your blogs, Facebook pages, etc.

Always

The infographic goes into other comparisons but the most important part about the evolution of PR is in the last part of the infographic. No matter how we – as PR professionals – get there, these elements (listed above) will ALWAYS be the most critical. We are the voice of reason, the conscience and the face of our clients. We are gatekeepers and problem-solvers. Time and technology aren’t going to change that.

‘PR, Then and Now’ Analysis: Reporter Begot Blogger, Press Conference vs. Twitter, Media Kit or Content

Earlier this year an infographic created by InkHouse Media + Marketing examined the ever-evolving role of public relations. With your permission, I’d like to take the next few blogs to review some of the elements of the infographic.

Reporter Blogger

The media landscape has absolutely changed, as has how we get out our compelling messages to the appropriate audience. Frankly, it is overwhelming. The number of blogs is staggering, providing many opportunities and challenges.

My thoughts:

  • All bloggers are not created equally. Some will follow the “reporter’s handbook” while others…not so much.
  • In many ways, bloggers are much like newspaper columnists. His/her take on things. More opinions.
  • Whether pitching or responding, consider the reach and influence of the blogger. Frankly, very similar approach to a traditional reporter.

Press Twitter

Well, I’ve never been a fan of the staged press conference. That said, there are still instances where they makes sense. Reactionary, crisis situations where you want/need to answer a variety of questions. I believe what is trying to be illustrated here is, the days of a company having to “call a press conference” to get the message out are over. Today, companies should be interacting with their real audience regularly and, according to this, more and more are doing so.

Critical with these interactions is to not be over-the-top promoting your company. Similar to pitching a news story, most times we are part of the story – – not the entire story. In any social interaction, your real audience is fully-aware of who you are and don’t need/want the hard sale. The idea should be to position your company as an expert, someone your real audience likes and respects.

Kit Content

Along the same lines, this graphic illustrates the migration from press kits to the content I referenced above which, in addition to content on Twitter feeds, includes content on company blogs, Facebook pages, Pinterest pages, etc. All of which, again, are less promotional and more about how the company fits into their real audience’s “puzzle of life.”

We shouldn’t forgo the press kit. Thinking that media are going to go through a company’s content to find a story is a mistake. Part of our job is to act as a gatekeeper and content-editor of sorts and provide the media (here it comes) with the most compelling aspects that make a great story.

As PR professionals, we are now responsible (or should be) for both earned (traditional) and owned (social) media – – making sure those compelling messages are being delivered to the appropriate audience. And we use traditional and social media to do so.

Next week, more insights and perspectives off of the infographic.

Top Five Blogs You Missed Out On Because I Didn’t Include ‘Top, Most or Least’ in the Headline

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I’ve been doing the blog thing for several months now and I’m very happy with how it has been going. Cathartic. Good networking. Nice back and forth.

One of the aspects I’ve enjoyed, is diving down deep into the analysts behind the posts – – best days to post; relevant topics; countries viewing.

The highest viewed posts all had one thing in common:

Don’t think it is a love for the number five. Seems to be an affinity for lists. People love list. Letterman’s Top 10 List. Healthiest Cities. Best Movies. You get the idea.

As I reviewed other blogs appearing on LinkedIn, I saw many list-centric headlines receiving more comments and feedback than those blogs without.

But what about those blogs that did not use those aforementioned list-centric headlines? Where’s the love?

Okay without further ado, here is my list of Top Five (maybe there is something to the number five) Blogs That Didn’t Get the Attention They Should Have Received:

#5 – Controlling the Controllables (or the Time I was Confused for Olympic Gold Medalist, Michael Johnson….No, Really) – In a profession where we rely on third-parties to tell our messages, how can we best control those things that are within our grasp.

#4 – When it Comes to Covering the News, Who is the Boss? – Are the news outlets covering social media or is social media reporting on what is news.

#3 – The Evolution of the Placement: Taking “Crawl, Walk, Run” Up a Few Notches – Today, the savvy public relations professional doesn’t and shouldn’t solely rely on the media to reach his/her audience. Blogging, creating relevant videos, posting appropriate content socially, helps create a direct line to the people you want to reach.

#2 – When a Great Placement Isn’t: How and Why To Manage Expectations – When it comes to managing expectations, it comes down to two things: Understanding the media and understanding your client (and your client can be your boss/CEO if you are on the corporate side of things or, if you are on the agency side your client can be…your client).

#1 – The New Company Spokespeople are on Social Media Sites and Instant Chats; Should Execs Be Afraid? – Are the people who are talking to reporters and producers, responding to social media inquiries?  Should they?

Not So Social: When the Customer is Wrong

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Funny thing about social media. Everyone has a voice. Can be a right voice. A left voice. A loud voice. A quiet voice. Can be part of the vocal minority or part of the crowd.

No matter your views, social media provides you and me with an open invitation to say what we feel, sometimes void of little things like facts, perspective or sound thinking.

Heck, companies not only have a presence socially, many openly ask for customers, clients, vendors, partners, etc., to “tell it like it is” – – well, at least tell it like they think it is.

And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that as long as we all understand the rules of engagement.

Four or five years ago, I started my current company’s Facebook and Twitter pages. Out of necessity, really. I had begun responding to inaccurate posts and blogs about my company and/or industry and used Twitter to search for those blogs in question (the thinking was, bloggers would use Twitter as a way to distribute their blogs). During this process, I came to the “brilliant” realization (I really do need to invent the sarcasm button on the keypad) that my company should be proactively getting our messages out to our real audience. Hence, our social pages were born.

Along with the proactive posts, came responding to client concerns. A beautiful thing that can prove beneficial to both the company and the client or customer.

You see, one of two things should happen. Either it is determined that the company did something wrong and it becomes a chance to make it right for the client/customer and a learning/teaching opportunity for the company. Or, you learn that the client/customer is not being 100 percent accurate/honest/fair with the claim and it really isn’t your fault.

No matter the instance, typical operating procedure has become to quickly acknowledge the customer/client complaint and to – just as quickly – take the conversation off of the social page and onto the corporate email, phone call, etc. That is, until a positive resolution is met and either the company or customer goes back online with the happy ending.

Unfortunately, this isn’t always happening. More and more I am seeing companies that are short on follow through and customers and clients who are long on reasonable. There are plenty examples of companies overpromising and under delivering to their customers and examples of “rogue” customers posting unfounded claims, making different social sites their playground for getting back at a company they believe wronged them.

So, what is a PR person to do? Here are a couple of thoughts:

Get the buy-in of the C-Suite by showing the power of social media. Capture all of the comments real-time and graph the trends. Are their certain areas that are consistently questioned? Are comments tied to a specific promotion? A specific department? Are you seeing similar complaints from other touchpoints?

Work with the right departments within the organization to get resolution. Social media cannot be a catalog of complaints where we just say, “sorry, we’ll try better.” We must be able to have a team in place that will be able to get answers. Why’d this happen? What are we going to do to make it better? What are we going to do to assure it doesn’t happen again?

Act as an advocate for the consumer but have your company’s back. Do what you can for the consumer, but make sure he/she is acting professionally and or civilized. Profanity, lewd behavior is unacceptable and should not be tolerated. Have that as part of your company description on your home page.

I’m not someone who believes that every social interaction should be kept for prosperity. If/when someone is anti-social, protect your brand and don’t give them a platform.  Being the loudest doesn’t make you right, and if someone becomes that out of control, cut bait.

The Golden Rule truly applies here. If your company has done something wrong, fess up to it, learn from it and move on. If a customer/client is being rude, profane and unreasonable, put a stop to it. It is more than okay to block them from your page if they are so over the top.

What examples do you have of a company doing right socially? Have you seen a customer go awry? Would you block someone? Let me know, please.

The New Company Spokespeople are on Social Media Sites and Instant Chats; Should Execs Be Afraid?

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When I was in college, I remember taking a Public Relations Case Studies Class. In it, we talked about the different crises of the day. “What would you do about the Tylenol tampering?” My response was usually, “I wouldn’t ask a kid right out of college.” Not the most profound of answers, I know, but the truth.

Fast-forward a few years and I’m working at a boutique agency, defending myself to my seasoned boss for not getting two placements a day (quick math, 10 a week). Not ”interests” or “sounds promising” – – actual “that will be running on Tuesday” placements. My response – to myself, my boss scared the heck out of me – was usually, “excuse me unreasonable person, you need a much more experienced person to consistently get 10 placements a week.” And for the record, I was not lacking confidence at all, 10 placements for what I was pitching wasn’t reasonable.

Compelling message, meet appropriate audience. Looking back, whether dealing with a crisis or a proactive pitch, you need to have the experience and training to be adept in creating/developing/sculpting that compelling message for that appropriate audience. I think we can all agree that makes sense. Yes?

So, why is it we are seeing more and more unskilled/untrained individuals manning (or womaning) company social media sites, Instant Chats, etc.?

This past week we saw McDonald’s get some flak for tweeting about the happenings in Cleveland. Closer to my home, my wife was trying to buy a present online with a major retailer only to learn that a receipt with the prices would be included with the gift. My wife Instant Chatted with the retailer, and received a response from the retailer tad amount to, “dude, that sucks for you.”

Understanding economics may prohibit having seasoned PR people available 24-7 to either act as a company spokesperson or respond to a “crisis” situation, it is critical to embrace the reality that those individuals who are on the Instant Chat, Twitter, Facebook, etc., are representing your company. Would you let an untrained person talk to a reporter at The Wall Street Journal? In many ways, today’s consumers are all reporters.

Make no mistake, this is by no means an indictment on the twenty-somethinger. Not at all. All I’m saying is, whoever is going to be working the new technology should understand that they are representing the company, and in doing so should consider the following:

  • Know your brand – You are not responding, your company is – – doesn’t matter if you are having a bad day, want to say something that is clever, or think the person you are talking to is unreasonable. I wrestled in high school and when we won the state cup and were presented      with jackets, I remember my coach telling us, “When you wear the jacket, you are representing Baldwin wrestling. Act accordingly.”
  • Empathize with your real audience – Why are they reaching out to you? Odds are, not to just say, hi. There probably is an issue and it was important enough for them to reach out.
  • Make sure you know what you can promise and deliver on it – You may start off as the consumer’s advocate, working with other departments within the company. Keep in touch with your customer (yes, now they are your customer) and, if possible, take the conversation off the public page until the resolution. Your customer may not agree with the outcome, but the hope is he/she (and everyone else reading the string) will understand.

A couple of years ago, I developed my current company’s Facebook and Twitter pages and responded to more than my fair share of inquiries.  Now, I have a very skilled (and I believe twenty-somethinger) monitoring and responding. She keeps me in the loop with her interactions and will ask for counsel when needed – – funny thing is, after all these years, I still think back at what my high school wrestling coach said. Still applies today.