Archive for the ‘advocacy’ Category

Friday Digital Miscellany: Crisis, activism & a behind-the-scenes look at what IT is really up to?

posted by Brendan Hodgson

Summer in London may not be springtime in Paris, but at least it didn’t rain last week for an internal digital and crisis conference I attended with fellow H&K crisis practitioners from across Europe, North America and Asia.

The key learning of the two-day event – other than to not let Cy Twombly’s art truly aggravate you: digital can no longer be considered an afterthought when preparing for, or executing during a crisis. It must be burned into the system from the outset - the technology, the people and the processes. It must become an integral part of the training regimen, be designed to support various crisis thresholds and provide sufficient flexibility to evolve as the crisis evolves. And not only is it simply about launching a “dark site” or adding a line item to a manual. It is also about guiding employee behaviours online, assessing how and when to respond (and not respond) to misinformation and speculation that may be bubbling throughout the social web, considering new ways and formats to deliver content and messaging, and working with other functional areas (per my last post) to ensure the ‘machine’ operates seamlessly.

Developments on the activism and social media front and the impact of the citizen journalist on the newsmaking process also caught my eye this week. In Canada, much like what happened recently in the U.S. over downed cattle resulting in one of the largest beef recalls in history, activists using a hidden camera were able to reveal what many consider to be questionable practices related to the slaughter of horses. And while the footage generated considerable media coverage, it also raised a number of questions related to how the industry is regulated. Not only is this further demonstration of the increasing levels of transparency now being imposed upon organizations through the use of technology and the rising importance of video and images to communicate in a way that text never could, it also demonstrates how easily such footage can be taken out of context, according to one industry expert: 

“…Shanyn Silinski, executive director of the Farm Animal Council in Manitoba, an animal welfare group, noted regulations govern the slaughter industry… Silinski cautioned against drawing conclusions about a particular facility based on clips of camera footage.” 

Finally, and on a more humorous side, props to Churbuck for Thewebsiteisdown.com, one sick video that, in the words of Homer Simpson, is funny cuz it’s true.

Employees, Social media and Reputation… A Month of Discussions

posted by Brendan Hodgson

June was never going to be an easy month, yet we’re nearly half-way through and I’m starting to breathe a little easier. Two conference presentations down, and two more to go – although the latter two will be more internally and client-focused which tends to make life a bit easier (he says, knocking wood).

Over this past week, Amanda Brewer, H&K Canada’s director of internal and change communications, and I have spoken at two events: the first being the 2008 CPRS National Conference in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and the second being to the Council of Human Resource Executives in beautiful Quebec City (currently celebrating its 400th anniversary – I suggest you go. I hadn’t been to QC in years, and it’s as stunning as ever).

Although slightly different in their focus, the general theme of the presentations were the same: that social media and Web 2.0 is transforming the role of the employee as “brand guardian”. And while this transformation is creating opportunities to drive greater transparency and bring employees closer to those upon whom the company relies – customers, communities, partners, potential employees etc., it is also highlighting a number of potential risks and challenges with respect to employee behaviour online and the consequences that could follow, intentional or no. In the presentations we highlighted examples of companies who have done it right, and we explored examples of what happens when employees take it upon themselves to communicate on behalf of the organization through social media, to both positive and negative effect.

At CPRS, we dived deeper into how organized labour has adopted social media in their efforts to communicate their stories and messages beyond traditional media filters and mobilize their membership and supporters, and considered how corporations are (or should be) responding. In Quebec City, we explored how organizations could (and should) help to guide employees in their use of social media – realizing that the workforce of tomorrow will have grown-up using these tools as part of their daily lives. Both are areas of increasing innovation in public and private sector workspaces, and judging by the level of discussion that ensued, it’s an area of increasing concern to those who practice in these areas.

Interestingly, I also see these discussions as an opportunity for organizations to further bridge the silos separating HR and internal and external communications departments given the increasing visibility of employees as brand advocates. And, as always, when we talk about “tomorrow’s employees”, I started off by showing this video – in my view, a creative and powerful perspective of the changes taking place in our society and mindset. (kudos to Dr. Michael Wesch at Kansas State University)

Next week, I will be in the U.K participating in an internal conference on crisis and digital, and working with our network of senior crisis practitioners to ensure our counsel and strategies reflect the digital dynamic and the potential for digital tools to support organizational communications when the stakes are highest – much as we’ve seen during the California Wildfires, and recent campus shooting. Interestingly, the area of crisis is another where the potential for employees to both support or, unfortunately, harm an organization’s communications efforts is becoming increasingly important.

The week following, my colleague Boyd Neil and I will be in Vancouver (I get to spend a whole 16 hours in Ottawa in between, yay!!) where I hope we’ll be able to take some of the learnings from the UK and apply them to a joint presentation to a global corporation (and client) on reputation, issues management and the impact of digital and social media.

Then Canada Day… and then a long rest.

If you’re in London and are able to get together on the night of the 20th or 21st, do get in touch.

Random notes on online reputation management in 2008

posted by Brendan Hodgson

Everyday, innovative campaigns and tactics emerge from all sides of virtually every issue. At the same time, it’s encouraging to see corporations increasing their level of experimentation in the digital space around the areas of reputation management.

Here’s just a few recent examples of highly visible campaigns designed to both challenge and reinforce the reputations of leading corporations:

  • Few organizations understand how to trigger a response better than PETA… and their latest MTV-style video campaign is no exception. The campaign – including the site itself - is reminiscent of the recent spate of cinematic gorefests - think the Hostel or Saw series – and, as such, primed for the youth segment that it’s attempting to reach. It reinforces the importance of the “extraordinary” idea (and the power of video) to be heard above the ”noise”, while also effectively demonstrating – as any activist campaign should – how to bridge seamlessly between entertainment, education, and engagement.
  • On the other side, Southwest Airlines has recently taken their already impressive ”Nuts About Southwest” social media campaign up a notch and added a slew of new features – including a Flickr group, video blog, and links to their Twitter feed and Facebook group – to further connect with their massive community of fans and advocates (and to directly address emerging issues as they’ve done with their blog in recent months). 
  • Lastly, in the footsteps of Ideastorm and MyStarbucksidea, American Express has launched Cardmembers Voice as a way to solicit ideas on how to improve their products and services, and to strengthen their engagement with cardholders. [update: Amex is an H&K Canada client]

More to follow in the weeks ahead.

Transparency and the Media – a behind-the-scenes glimpse into why a story changes

posted by Brendan Hodgson

Transparency is a term oft-used in the web 2.0 context. Typically, however, it applies to the application of social media by consumers/citizens to impose a previously-unattainable level of transparency on corporate behaviour. Examples are legion – Sleeping Comcast Technicians, battlin’ AOL client service reps, breakable bike locks, leaking toilets on aircraft, astro-turfing – and many more (just check out the Consumerist for the latest juice).

But from the perspective of crisis and issues management, mainstream media are also facing increasing scrutiny (as they should) from the ranks of citizen journalists. Ever since the Dan Rather hullabaloo over reporting of George W. Bush’s war record, otherwise known as Memogate or Rathergate, the impact of bloggers as media watchdogs has only intensified. 

The implications are significant and should continue to be discussed. A recent email exchange purported to be between an activist and a BBC reporter over perceived ”inaccuracies” in a story on climate change offers a fascinating insight into today’s news environment, and raises some interesting questions:

Regardless if the changes made the story more accurate or, in the words of one blogger, ”(morphed) the article’s tenor from dialogue to lecture with a minimum of extorted word processing” (and that’s not the point of this post), should the reporter – for the sake of transparency - have made the changes as a discrete ”update” to the original with an adjusted timestamp, or was he within his rights to make the changes into the existing story without reflecting the fact that the original story had in fact been altered?

Secondly, does this not speak to the importance of including a comments section (as many media outlets now do) on all stories or features in order to allow interested parties to address perceived inaccuracies without injecting their potential bias into the actual story. A less optimal solution, perhaps, but could the journalist not simply have continued the story based on the email exchange that ensued?

In a crisis environment, where media are already under incredible pressure and where the need to be first often overrides the need to be accurate, incidents such as this (assuming that this is an accurate reflection of a real exchange – and I tend to believe it is) are worth considering. From this writer’s perspective, it compromises the trust that many place in the mainstream media to be as accurate and unbiased as possible, potentially leading those audiences to seek information elsewhere. At the same time, it acknowledges the need to work closely with media to ensure that what you provide in times of crisis go beyond soundbites and are substantiated by credible information and defensible proof points (since, clearly there will be pressure on the journalist from all fronts to “get it right”). And it further reinforces the importance of relying on your own channels to communicate versus relying solely on a “filtered” media. 

Alberta election campaign heats up online… but is it all for naught?

posted by Brendan Hodgson

According to political scientist David Taras, quoted in a recent Canadian Press story, apparently so: “The basic rule so far is that things that go on in cyberspace don’t have an impact unless they’re picked up and legitimized by the mainstream media.”

And while I make no claim of academic rigour in my argument against Mr. Taras’ assertion, I tend to disagree.

Amid all the hype around the 2.0-ification of politics, and in particular the impressive application of these tools south of the border, I would suggest the web is still having an increasingly powerful impact on how politics is conducted and in the way voters inform their decisions – particularly those still sitting on the fence.

Without question, the mainstream media is still a highly relevant channel by which to engage voters of all stripes on the issues (as well as the non-issues). And it’s certainly easy to be dissuaded by the various attempts of various political parties and activists to exploit social media – we’ve all seen the “blogs” that offer no RSS nor any ability to engage with the authors. We’ve seen the Youtube channels that are simply a re-hash of TV ads with view numbers that only reinforce the perception of irrelevance. And we’re seeing the myriad yet seemingly necessary Facebook groups – be they official party pages, activists both “officialandun-official“ - emerging with little by which to measure their effectiveness or visibility within the broader campaign universe.

Likewise, the considerable noise among political bloggers of all stripes might speak more to the echochamber effect than real debate or dialog on the issues.

But, to me, that misses the point. First, a considerable part of any campaign is to mobilize existing supporters and provide them with the tools to support their activism on your behalf. Set aside the need to convert fence-sitters (which is still important), the real goal of a campaign is for my party to bring out more supporters than yours. And if I have the tools at my disposal to actively engage supporters, mobilize them, arm them with content to convert the fence-sitters on the party’s behalf, and make them feel like they’re part of a team – then I’m a long way toward achieving my goal (and doing so in a way that is extremely cost-effective, time efficient and visible to all supporters – and non-supporters – alike).

Sure, the social media stuff is sexy as hell… but from this observer’s perspective, only if it’s used well to mobilize supporters – getting them out to events, driving them to the polls, donating and putting forth arguments on your behalf in whatever forum is required – traditional media or otherwise. I would suggest, however, that we might see more of sites like this and this, examples of how political parties and candidates might use a blog to quickly and visibly counter misinformation, rumour, inaccuracies and other points of contention.

With respect to fence-sitters – and I’ve tended to be a fence-sitter for many different elections – my guess is that it would take a lot more than a Facebook group or a video to sway me. That said, and if used appropriately (and perhaps Dalton McGuinty nearly did it best in the last provincial election in Ontario), I would agree with Laura Shutiak, an Alberta Liberal candidate, who said in the CP article: “I think it gives people a sense of who I am. If it translates into a vote, great,” she said. “There are so many undecided voters right now that they’re looking for a sense of who a person is, and they’re looking to go a step further to find out more.”

As a means to create a more human connection between a candidate and a potential voter, the potential certainly exists, and I’m surprised it’s not more fully exploited across all forms of media.

Is it a first point of information as blogger Dave Cournoyer points out in the article? “The Internet is playing more of a central role in these campaigns because it’s where a lot more Albertans are looking for a first source of information,” said Cournoyer, who will also make his TV debut this campaign as a political analyst. “I don’t think it’s a distrust of the mainstream media. People are just accessing information in different ways.”

I would agree wholeheartedly, given the number of campaign guides and tools (including our very own Alberta 2008 election predictor) that exist to help point voters to informed education and debate. As the Internet expands what’s available to us – and as we seek out those who share similar ideas and viewpoints – it will certainly reinforce our existing political affiliations. But will it change them? I’m not so sure. And as Dave notes, we still for the most part put a degree of trust in the mainstream media to provide accurate, if not unbiased, analysis of the platforms and issues.

So what’s my point in all this?… like everything about social media, I think we need to ensure that we don’t get caught on the dark side of the hype, and understand the “real” value of what the web offers. And I think that’s something we’re still all looking for.

When employees take it upon themselves to "communicate"… right way or wrong way?

posted by Brendan Hodgson

Is Facebook ever dull? Not so long as issues such as this rise from the echo-chamber. Today, the National Post printed a small piece on a Facebook Group (3500+ members strong) created on behalf of Tim Hortons’ employees (although whether the creator is an employee is yet to be determined) to “educate” consumers on how to order.

Case in point: 

  • Stop telling us to “stir it well” there is no button on the cash register for that.
  • when you drive up to the speaker box have your order ready, we don’t carry “Give me a seconds” or “Hold ons”
  • Don’t ask “What kind of donuts do you have?” come in and look for yourself…

Albeit direct and to-the-point (bordering on… nay, definitely snarky) in terms of its “do’s and don’ts”, it highlights the growing issue of employees becoming unintended guardians of the brand (assuming that the creator is an employee given her intimate knowledge of all things behind the counter) – in this case from a potentially damaging standpoint. Or is it?

Well-intended it may be – though born out of frustration, no question. It certainly does not reflect the tone that the corporation would want to see communicated to customers. However, in this age of transparency and authenticity, I can’t help but wonder if customers wouldn’t appreciate such information – packaged perhaps a bit differently. I for one, still can’t order anything other than a “regular” coffee, and refuse to say any equivalent of large, one cream, one sugar. And while I support the notion that the customer is king (or queen), I also feel that my time is precious, so any information to move the line forward is appreciated.

Ultimately, I wonder if this form of communication highlights not only the issues and complaints of customers (which typically has been the focus of social media) but also those of employees – who are (in a roundabout way) communicating to their employers that a different form of customer communication could create a better experience all-round.

Camp Okutta… or is it?

posted by Brendan Hodgson

I am constantly blown away (no pun intended, and you’ll see why) by the online creativity of non-profits who, for the most part, cannot afford the large-scale ad spends of their corporate counterparts.

This is perhaps one of the better examples of an emerging viral campaign I have seen in a long while: one that combines a highly compelling website built around a fictitous summer camp and outrageous (and not in the funny sense) viral video that puts AK-47’s in the hands of children. The organization behind it: War Child Canada. The campaign: the use/abuse of children as combat soldiers in conflicts around the world.

The humour of the video is grotesquely powerful (particularly being a father of young kids myself). and the site tells a real story that leads directly to the call to action. Kudos to the team behind it.

Update: well, it seems the site has also angered many in the Toronto area where posters also accompanied the campaign (clearly this is bigger than even I anticipated).