Archive for the ‘Social Media’ Category

Social Media or just “Media”?

posted by Brendan Hodgson

It caught the attention of many folks around the web. Mine as well. And from a PR agency perspective – let alone a corporate perspective – it is more critical than most of us likely imagine.

For the past three months, I’ve been consumed by my new role – that being to help guide H&K’s digital corporate and public affairs offering across both the US and Canada - commuting 3 days a week to Washington, DC – and learning a lot through exposure to new colleagues and new clients. At the same time, I’ve noticed that some of the same challenges exist that I faced in my Canadian-only role, challenges encapsulated by Adam Tinworth of One Man and His Blog in his October 7 post: “On the web, social media is just media“. In it, he expounds on a recent Tweet where he stated:

Officially bored of the phrase “social media” now. I’m just going to call it “media” and everything else can be “anti-social media”.

An off-the-cuff comment in under 140 characters perhaps. But when viewed through the lens of our industry, the importance of it cannot be understated. The past few years have been tumultuous as consultants and corporations, governments and media attempted to navigate this minefield of new behaviours, expectations and technologies. “Hype” and the myriad missteps along the way could – for the most part – be forgiven.

However, if communications agencies are to survive and thrive in the years ahead, the thinking that social media is something different from what we have traditionally done must be leeched – from corner offices to cubes. We must start thinking of it in the context of “media”… mainstream, social or otherwise. It must be holistic, it must be integrated, and it must be informed. If we don’t, it will remain sidelined, a novelty, the last slide within a deck, the last page within a proposal or RFP, bereft of substance, misinformed by hype, and the realm of junior consultants. As a consequence, our own relevance will likely, and all too soon, be seen as equally “optional” and throw-away.

The “hype” and novelty is over. It is a call-to-action that must now be heeded.

Are we facing a new type of ‘crisis’?

posted by Brendan Hodgson

Has it already been a month since my last post?

Granted, the last few weeks have been a pretty heady mix of client education, new business development, conference speaking opps and strategy development. At the same time, the month of April was interesting for a variety of additional reasons, not least the events which transpired (Dominos, Amazon) that showcased - in my view – a transformation taking place in two areas:

  1. the changing nature and scope of certain types of crises (generated and propagated largely through social media) that organizations will increasingly face in the future, and
  2. how these new types of crises are changing the way organizations communicate – and are prepared to communicate – as a result.

So what are the common elements defining these types of crises? These aren’t the ’big’ events such as Swine Flu/H1N1, wildfires, major transportation disasters (USAirways) or instances of large-scale corporate malfeasance. They rarely involve death or injury, damage to property or large-scale economic or financial loss. Rather, these are the events taking place with increasing frequency, that start small (you remember Motrin, or any other number of questionable acts captured on video - willingly or not?), create a burst of noise (typically indignation and outrage), proliferate very quickly (largely through a defined pattern of social and traditional media amplification) but which, if managed correctly, often result in only short-term reputation damage.

Why? For two reasons:

  1. While the event itself captures the imagination of specific segments of the public – that public’s reaction is very often like witnessing the end-result of an accident on a highway: we watch in fascination as we roll past and we might talk about it immediately following, but unless certain elements of the event give it additional legs and exposure, we simply get on with our day. Likewise, and so long as we know that action is being taken (meaning the police and ambulances are either on-site or on their way), we feel comfortable that the right steps are being taken – which speaks to the second reason.
  2. Quite simply, ‘bad things do happen to good companies’ and so long as an organization acknowledges the event or incident, demonstrates empathy with those affected by it, communicates the actions being taken to mitigate it, does not try to bury it, and positions it within the appropriate context (which rarely exists online), the potential for lasting reputation damage can be mitigated. At the same time, organizations must be more prepared than ever to identify potential issues, and move quickly and visibly to respond to such crises.

Is this any different than what we counsel clients in any type of crisis? Not really. What has changed, however, is the importance of vigilance – across all media – and ensuring that you respond with sufficient confidence and speed – with the right messages, via the right channels, to the right stakeholders and influencers.

Undoubtedly, these types of crises will occur with increasing frequency – be it the result of questionable behaviour caught on camera, business decisions that outrage certain constituencies (Twitter?), or poor judgement of employees.

It’s when an organization gets its response wrong, when it sits on an issue thereby creating the perception that it either does not take the issue seriously or feels that it can brush the issue under the table, that the potential for longer term damage arises.

Digital Miscellany: Media vs Government / Speed vs Accuracy

posted by Brendan Hodgson

Following a week-long (yet far too short) respite in Baskerville country, and endless hours playing catch-up on email and my various feeds, several items caught my eye that further reinforced the good, bad and ugly of this wild west world of social media.

It would seem that not without a few scratches, scrapes and bruises are those who seek to both ignore and embrace the changing communications and media landscape emerging from the social media scullery. 

Case in point #1:

(h/t to the crisisblogger) So it’s not enough that we exist in a culture of misinformation defined by media democratization and fragmentation, immediate electronic delivery and increasing “sensationalism”, but now it appears the Wall Street Journal has decided to throw caution and, quite possibly, common sense to the wind:

According to the story, WSJ managing editor Robert Thomson recently outlined in a memo to staff his new vision around breaking news: “A breaking corporate, economic or political news story is of crucial value to our Newswires subscribers, who are being relentlessly wooed by less worthy competitors. Even a headstart of a few seconds is priceless for a commodities trader or a bond dealer – that same story can be repurposed for a range of different audiences, but its value diminishes with the passing of time. 

“Given that revenue reality, henceforth all Journal reporters will be judged, in significant part, by whether they break news for the Newswires.”

 Without question, traditional journalism is in the fight of its life. And for most traditional media outlets any hope of emerging unscathed (or, in some extreme cases, even staying afloat) as the digital tsunami rolls ashore is clearly folly. Brutally translated, however, what this edict says to me (despite assurances that might be made to the contrary) is simply this: the need to be first will henceforth trump the need for accuracy and context.

Case in point #2

As with the good writers at the Torch (who also offered up some useful tips for engaging with bloggers), I too applaud Conservative MP and parliamentary defence secretary Laurie Hawn’s foray into social media engagement, specifically his recent response to a posting by Ottawa Citizen Journalist and Defencewatch blogger David Pugliese (You can read Pugliese’s take on it here, and Hawn’s comments here - and below).

Just noticed this silly piece and, although I know I shouldn’t do this, I can’t help it this once.  Like a lot of jouranlists, Mr. Pugliese is not averse to being selective with facts and context, so let me add what he forgot to tell you.  My question to VAdm McFadden was in response to an earlier question from one of the opposition members who implied that the CF was ill-prepared to react effectively to an airspace incursion at the Olympics, similar to what we had seen in the North.  VAdm McFadden knew exactly why I was asking the question and it was intended to show the ridiculous nature of the opposition member’s suggestion.  Since Mr. Pugliese is selective with his facts, one should be equally selective in using him as a source of truth and accuracy in journalism.  As for the other inaccuracies in some of the contributions, I’ll let you labour on in self-delusion.  Rage on, my friends.”

It’s juicy stuff, and perhaps – per the comments via the Torch writers – a tad heated. That said, I’m all for journalists and bloggers being held to account for what they write. Moreover, to see our elected officials engaging in the conversation is something I’d like to see more of. My hope is that the outcome of this doesn’t scare such folk away.

The critical learnings: 1) If you’re going to play in the sandbox, get your facts right and be prepared to back them up. As a trained journalist, Pugliese appears to have done his homework. And I trust that he has (although I’ve not read the transcript in question). Can the same be said for Hawn?  2) When you jump in, be prepared to swim. Should Hawn feel obliged to answer every question thrown back at him by Hawn. I’m not so sure, for a variety of reasons. However, some form of response, if even to acknowledge the questions and to point him to the right folk (although it seems that David’s appreciation for DND’s public affairs team isn’t overly high) would be appropriate.

Who cares about the future of media? We should

posted by Brendan Hodgson

There is a real and serious debate taking place among media-types about the future of “professional” journalism in this 2.0 world. Declining readerships, the 24-second (vs 24-hour) news cycle, the rise of Twitter are – among others - challenging media to re-define their role in an increasingly inter-networked world. And this is only being further exacerbated by the current economic brouhaha. The debate is often visceral and it is not all about trying to save what once was. As Mathew argues in his recent (and certainly daring) post for the Nieman Journalism Lab, the bloodletting overwhelming many in the mainstream media may even, in fact, be a good thing.

As a PR practitioner, it’s an issue that we need to pay very close attention to, and yet I fear we’re not (too often our strategies remain fixated on traditional media at the expense of all else). From a brutally simplistic standpoint, and if the current maelstrom continues, it will certainly diminish the impact of our “media relations” efforts. Fewer publications or news broadcasts. Fewer journalists. Fewer stories. Lower quality stories. Fewer eyeballs. Minimal impact on public perception or behaviour. Simple. Or is it?

At the same time, and in addition to considering how a calorie-reduced mainstream media will impact what we do from a pure “media relations” perspective, it forces us to pay attention to what will emerge in place of these media, regardless of whether we define it as ‘mainstream journalism’, ‘citizen journalism’ or ‘personal media’.

It begs some interesting questions: Once released, where will these journalists end up, and in what capacity? Will they join the ranks of the millions of ‘amateur’ bloggers and simply blend into the noise?  Will there be concerted efforts to create a totally different model of reporting?  Or will this re-structuring simply result in an engorged army of ‘professional’ freelancers feeding into massively scaled-down versions of what were once mighty media behemoths? Will the concept of a hyper-local media finally get off the ground in a meaningful capacity?

The answers matter. Because they could easily change (as social media already has in many respects) how we shape our strategies for reaching and influencing the people our clients care about. How does a business, government department, or not-for-profit communicate its message in a world where all media is becoming inherently personal, and where traditional filters are virtually nonexistant?

Terry Heaton speaks of the ‘personal media revolution’ in his recent post on Malia Obama filming the inauguration, and how our individual perspectives of the world are being re-shaped by the collision of personal and traditional media content.

“…it’s important to acknowledge that our view of such things is shaped by what we’re saying to each other in addition to what the people on TV are saying. This is the leading edge of the personal media revolution, and we’re increasingly seeing the mainstream press working with the people formerly known as the audience to help form the “official” record of the day. This is a good thing, and I think everybody agrees.”

It is a good thing. Now what the public relations industry needs to do is figure out what it means. Our business depends on it.

New H&K survey highlights growing impact of digital on purchasing decisions

posted by Brendan Hodgson

A short while ago my tech practice compatriots – in Canada and globally – released the results of a survey on the information sources technology decision makers (TDMs) relied upon most to drive their purchasing decisions. The results are compelling, and certainly speak to the growing influence of social media on business outcomes.

In an interview with Robert Scoble that took place earlier this month, my colleague and H&K’s global technology practice leader, Josh Reynolds, offered some insightful context around the numbers: that TDM’s continue to place strong emphasis on the credibility and reputation of vendors; that consumer-generated media is becoming as influential as traditional media in shaping reputation; and that purchasing decisions are increasingly being driven by a mix of traditional and non-traditional sources – media, analysts, and (today) bloggers.

You can review a summary of the findings here. I’ve also included my thoughts on what these findings represent:

  1. As Josh explains so eloquently, the evolving communications climate is pushing companies to “shut up and listen”. Without question, listening is vital. But at some point, the decision to jump in and participate has to take place - and yet be done in a way that (as the survey shows) is credible, transparent, and adds value to the debate, discussion, etc.
  2. It’s also interesting to note that while the influence of third-parties (traditional and non-traditional) is growing, a sphere of influencer that might need to be more closely analyzed are those who represent the technology vendors themselves – the subject matter experts such as the engineers, developers etc. who are able to take the conversation beyond “spin” and sound bites. 
  3. This is important, more so given that as many as a quarter of survey respondents indicated that they would not verify facts with a vendor if they read unfavourable information on a blog or elsewhere about that vendor and its products or services (see slide 8-9). Companies must be proactive in addressing misinformation – intentional or not – or else risk decision makers looking elsewhere if negative assertions are left unchallenged / unanswered.
  4. And while it is certainly encouraging to see that a number of Canadian tech blogs are identified as trusted sources for Canadian TDMs, the fact that a sizeable number of these influential blogs are also situated in the US and UK (the usual suspects: TechCrunch, Gizmodo, Slashdot, the Register etc.) raises some interesting issues – particularly for organizations that are headquartered in the US or elsewhere, but have branch offices spread across the world, each with their own marketing mandates. Communications and marketing teams at both the global and local levels will need to be much more closely aligned in light of this increasingly ‘borderless’ information landscape where influence is not bound by geography.

Seattle Post-Intelligencer – A case study in ‘radical transparency’

posted by Brendan Hodgson

Yeah, I know, it’s a blatant rip-off of my esteemed colleague’s blog title. But it pretty much says it all.

(source image from SeattleP-I / Hat tip to Lost Remote)

When the SeattleP-I announced earlier this month that it was going to shut its presses if it couldn’t find a buyer within 60 days – and potentially move to an all-online P-I, it did as it should and made it a breaking news story (you can see staff here writing the story even as the news is being broken). Moreover, they posted a video of the announcement by Hearst’s Steven Swartz to the newsroom staff (where the reaction of managing editor David McCumber pretty much said it all) and published the letter to employees. 

And they’ve done more: McCumber started a blog called Sixty Days to chronicle this critical moment in the life of the publication, while staff and others created a blog and a wiki to discuss the future of news reporting in the Seattle region and to seek out options to ensure its survival. If nothing else, it is a classic example of the degree to which social media has become permanently entwined into our landscape whether breaking news, commenting on it, or being a participant in it.

I am intrigued by this event for many other reasons, not only those outlined by Swartz as he clearly struggles to deliver his message (Note – it is a must listen re. the reasons behind the downfall). I am intrigued also by how this was communicated to staff and to the public at large. Granted, as a news organization, the SeattleP-I reporters clearly had a responsibility to report this news – and to do so to the best of their ability re. clarity, depth, lack of bias, accuracy etc. I am also intrigued by the words and actions of employees as they respond to this news via Twitter and other online channels – much as many other employees of other organizations have done and are doing during these difficult times.

However, it also raises questions: Is the level of transparency shown by the SeattleP-I staff (both management – willingly or no – and editorial) a model that could/should be emulated more aggressively by other non-media organizations as they handle difficult news that could impact staff as well as other external audiences? Is there value in not only communicating difficult decisions and actions in such a visible format, but also providing staff with the resources and tools to discuss such actions and add their voice to the discussion that would take place regardless if it was in-house or elsewhere on the web? Do the benefits outweigh the risks – real or perceived?

Should HR and internal communicators be looking at this and questioning traditional approaches to downsizing, re-structuring or the complete shuttering of businesses - approaches that often lean toward denial and obfuscation until the last minute, emails and letters bereft of emotion, and external strategies that often pit management against staff in increasingly visible he said – she said’s. In a world where such displays of disappointment and outrage - online and off – are increasing, being seen to acknowledge it, to encourage dialog around it, and to build from it are likely better for any organization’s reputation in the long run than trying to pretend that the world is anything but sunshine and milkshakes.  

As an aside – a sidebar in one of McCumber’s posts caught my eye:

– Just a few minutes ago, this email appeared in my inbox:

Dear Media Industry Professional,
I am writing to ask for your help with the second annual PRWeek/ PR Newswire Media Survey. This survey asks journalists and bloggers about the changing media environment and how it is impacting their specific outlets, job duties, interaction with PR professionals, and more. The survey results will be published in an article in the April 6 issue of PRWeek.

You know, I think I’m going to pass on that one.

I don’t blame him one bit.

"A case of one-dimensional data being represented by two-dimensional objects"

posted by Brendan Hodgson

As one who is fascinated by the collision of mainstream and social media, imagery and interpretation, transparency and ‘truth’, there’s so much here in this tidbit of a blog post to enjoy and dissect, where even to start?

  1. It (once again) highlights the power of the visual image over the written and spoken word to communicate a message or point of view (no matter how skewed, while further acknowledging that, for the digital native, the web is all about graphics before text).
  2. It nicely encapsulates today’s journalist / blogger / reader relationship (or what today’s relationship should be, meaning mutually respectful)
  3. It reinforces the entertainment value of ’smart’ dialog (and not simply that of the journalist)
  4. It is politely scolding to them’s that tried to ’spin’ it (vs degenerating into the usual orgy of condemnation and holier-than-thou-ishness)
  5. It shows that by admitting your mistake, you will be forgiven (or, at best, ignored)
  6. And nothing here seems to take itself too seriously

It’s like a breath of fresh air… that is, if the bigger issue being represented in the visual wasn’t so depressing.

Hat tip to Inner Diablog

Dialing the noise up to Eleven… US Airways Flight 1549 and citizen media

posted by Brendan Hodgson

Yesterday, my colleague David Jones pointed to an animation created by Niall Cook, H&Ker and fellow blogger, showing the rapid transformation of Wikipedia’s entry on the crash of US Airways Flight 1549 on Jan 15. By itself, it highlighted the extraordinary speed by which citizens are increasingly able to match and, very often, surpass the speed of media in accessing and distributing new information around the incident.

As a companion to that animation, H&K Canada’s digital team also captured (as the event unfolded) screen caps of key sites – search engines, blogs, social networks, corporate sites, aggregators etc. – that I believe further demonstrates and reinforces the sheer dynamism of the communications environment in which we now exist; as it relates to the speed by which information on an incident is communicated and shared (e.g. via Twitter), the competitiveness as well as the synergy shaping the relationship between traditional and citizen media, and the actions taken by corporations to respond within this new environment.

Not all the timestamps on this slide deck are accurate or absolute, although they are certainly captured within minutes (if not seconds) of the event occuring – particularly during the first hours. Nor is the deck intended to be an exhaustive summary of all activity simply those that we felt captured this landscape, and these new issues, most effectively. Most importantly, these slides are not intended to comment either positively or negatively on the actions of authors, witnesses, posters or organizations involved.

Are "Tweets" News? In times of crisis, the debate is meaningless

posted by Brendan Hodgson

Much is being written about Twitter’s coming of age, particularly as it relates to information sharing during times of crisis; the horrific terrorist attacks in Mumbai being the most recent example (see trend chart here). It is, without question, a powerful and highly immediate vehicle for broadcasting and sharing news as it breaks. Although, as CNN so succinctly states: “as is the case with such widespread dissemination of information, a vast number of the posts on Twitter amounted to unsubstantiated rumors and wild inaccuracies.”

From my perspective, and as one who works closely with clients in adapting their crisis plans to this new world order of twitter, blogs and citizen journalism, the ensuing argument around what is ’news’ or not, is moot. It is simply the new reality in which organizations must be prepared to communicate.

It is indeed fascinating to watch as these thousands of new voices sweep across the media landscape, amplifying, contradicting, and enhancing traditional media reports with their own eyewitness accounts and points of view. At the same time, it is also frustrating to witness the ease by which rumours and speculation spread during the acute stage of any emergency or crisis.

It has simply made our job, and that of any communicator in a time of crisis, that much harder. It means we must start now to adapt our processes to reflect this new reality, and focus even more aggressively on the principles that guide effective crisis and emergency communications. Quite simply, it speaks to what I and others in the crisis space are already espousing:

  • the need to accelerate the processes by which an organization creates, approves and distributes content, yet avoiding adding to the speculation and rumour-mongering, to ensure that it remains a credible source of information
  • the importance of an organization’s own web property to communicate information and messages beyond traditional (1.0) mechanisms – but to consider integrating their own Twitter feeds, RSS, video and audio, real-time information updates, and efficient cross-platform sharing of content.
  • the importance of direct stakeholder communication (via all channels – not just web) to ensure your message is received and understood, not simply delivered.
  • the importance of robust internal communications supported by meaningful guidelines around what employees can or should communicate via their own networks – digital or otherwise.
  • the importance of clear rules of engagement when it comes to engaging with external voices and influencers – understanding when it is right and appropriate, and under what circumstances, and when it may result in only further damaging an organization’s reputation and ability to communicate through an emergency.

More so now than ever, no organization can attempt to “control’ the information environment around any significant crisis. They can and must, however, ensure that their communication acknowledges this new environment, without compromising privacy, confidentiality, ethical principles or simply attempting to fill an information void with soundbites and messages that lack substance, credibility, context and concern for those affected.

Are “tweets” news? Who cares? It’s a meaningless debate. What it means and what impact it may have(if any) are the questions we should all be asking as we watch it, and all forms of social media, transform crisis communications forever.

Where Canadians turn to for information in an emergency… Web moves ahead of Newspapers, still behind TV and radio

posted by Brendan Hodgson

I speak often to companies about the role of digital technology and social media on contemporary crisis communications. It is a fascinating topic — not only for the issues that it introduces, but also because it requires the integration of a number of operational functions within organizations themselves, not simply communications.

That said, one of the key challenges in convincing companies to re-think their crisis response programs to reflect this new digital dynamic, is providing solid evidence that the web has become an increasingly vital conduit to communicating directly with stakeholders in times of crisis. In my view, the usual national penetration numbers don’t cut it.

So I was glad to find out that the Canadian Centre for Emergency Preparedness (CCEP) has just released the first in a series of annual national survey-based studies, entitled: Preparing for Crises: Findings and Implications from the National Survey on Emergency Preparedness in Canada.

Of the issues explored in the survey, the most interesting, in my mind,related to the information sources that respondents said they would turn to during an emergency. As Randy Hull, Emergency Preparedness Coordinator for the City of Winnipeg, notes in his foreward:

With regards to where public seek their information, I am reassured by the survey findings that TV, radio and Internet, are the most effective channels for reaching the public.The interesting number is that of Internet use, as it continues to increase. It will be of interest to see if this number surpasses the conventional media of radio and TV. Here in Winnipeg we created an extensive web site called EmergWeb, to assist people in their information search. This direction was taken based on 1997 flood data showing that 45% of people called, while the other 55% visited Winnipeg’s web page

Among its recommendations, the study authors noted specifically the following:

CCEP and governments might wish to focus more attention on the Internet, which displaced newspapers as the third most important source of emergency information. The emergence of the Internet calls for careful attention to public awareness of sites and public search practices. Data reported in table 6.2.1 in the Annex reveal that search engines and news sites are the main Internet avenues. The federal website, getprepared.ca, would receive essentially no direct traffic. From these findings, it follows that a priority should be for the federal government to ensure that search engines direct traffic to its site and that communications and advertising alert the public to the site’s presence

You can access the study here.