Archive for the ‘Social Media’ Category

Evolution of Security an Evolution in Public Sector Reputation Management

posted by Brendan Hodgson

At its simplest, effective reputation management is the sum of performance + communication — in other words, doing the right thing and being seen by your most important audiences to be doing the right thing. But that begs a whole slew of questions: Do your audiences understand and agree with what the right thing to do is? Is your communication helping me to better understand what you are doing and why? Are there other things you could be doing and if so, why aren’t you doing them?  And so forth…

Which is why I applaud the efforts of the U.S. Transportation Security Administration to use their new blog to address the concerns of travellers with respect to the myriad security protocols and procedures they’re faced with everytime they want to board a plane. It is, in my view, a clear example of how public sector organizations can use social media to manage reputation through enhanced transparency and proactive communication.

While I would suggest that they might create less “scripted” videos and utilize the capacity of sites such as Youtube to amplify the footprint of their communication, their efforts to “humanize” their organization, to demonstrate sincere concern for the issues faced by the travelling public, and do so in a way that goes beyond simple text, is laudable and – I would suggest – a best practice (contingent, of course, upon how effectively they use the site to truly reflect passenger concerns and questions versus simply patting themselves on the back – which they appear to have avoided doing so far.) 

The tone of the site is extremely personable and, given the profiles of the authors and the experts used, credible. They appear highly responsive despite the deluge of comments and questions they’ve received since launching the blog in late January. Their use of blog to seek comments on inconsistencies, for example, has the potential to become a powerful catalyst for change and improvement across the organization – and is, essentially, free polling of a highly vocal community. Lastly, I see this vehicle as a potential rapid-response communication tool to be activated should an incident take place in the future.

Is this a model for all government departments and agencies to follow?  Perhaps not all, but certainly for those who deal with specific communities of interest and concern on a daily basis. Now we need to figure out who isn’t included in that response.

Update (Feb 8):  (Via Boing Boing) An example of how social media can act as an effective tool for timely crisis and issues response, the TSA today utilized its blog to clarify its search policies following questions raised in this Washington Post article.  

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.

Keep hitting the refresh button… over and over (and over) again

posted by Brendan Hodgson

Easing gently into 2008, I thought I’d start off with a more light-hearted and somewhat ironic ode to that great time-waster, Facebook.


Social Media and the City – Spending a day with City of Calgary Communicators

posted by Brendan Hodgson

A month or so ago, the good people at the City of Calgary invited me to participate in a day-long session on the impact of social media and local government.

Over the course of the event, which happened last week and was co-organized by the City’s Corprate Marketing and Communications (CMC) division and its Customer Service and Communications Communication Partners Services (CPS) Division, I presented twice: first, to a group of 70+ city managers on the implications of social media as it related to such areas as trust, transparency, and the role of emerging technologies in transforming the relationships between the City, its citizens, and its employees. In the afternoon, I presented a second time to a similarly-sized group of communicators and marketers on social media and reputation management… with a focus on crisis.

From the perspective of this participant, it was an impressive exercise in mass education and immersion into the new communications dynamic, and one that I have rarely seen undertaken within a public sector organization at any level previously (although that’s not to say these events are not happening elsewhere. I just haven’t heard about them).

And it makes sense, particularly as it relates to municipal government. In the same way we tend to ignore local politics despite the fact that it often impacts our daily lives more so than any other level of government, the current emphasis on social media and PR tends to skew toward the more sexy interactions between consumers and brands at the expense of government-citizen engagement, which is perhaps where the potential for social media is even greater. When you look at tragic events such as this (recognizing that this was captured within the confines of Vancouver Airport, although it involved federal law enforcement, but hopefully you get my point), or this, or this, the implications of citizen journalism and social media to impose transparency on the behaviours of government – at any level – are only further reinforced. 

The next day, I joined a smaller group of 20 or so communicators, web team members and others to brainstorm ideas on where the City might focus some of its efforts in the areas of social media – from both internal and external perspectives, including a discussion on the role of social media in times of crisis (which is a discussion that I seem to be having increasingly often). And while obstacles clearly existed, the will to find ways to overcome these obstacles – political or otherwise – was also evident, and refreshing to see.

I figure that my role in this exercise was perhaps the easiest – to put it bluntly, instill fear and motivate people to action. And I think that was accomplished. The hard part, in my view – and the role of City communicators – will be to drive this forward, and to help Managers better understand these tools, develop meaningful strategies that integrate old and new while remaining relevant to and focused on their respective business lines, and (most importantly, in my view) to manage expectations as it relates to how these tools will impact what the City does now. Likewise, they will also need to educate elected officials on the benefits of these tools and the need to embrace a more open and transparent approach to communications and engagement, and work with legal teams to determine how best to accelerate approvals and turnaround times and provide clear direction on what should and should not be done as it relates to social media, particularly in times of crisis.

No small undertaking. But based on the collective enthusiasm I witnessed last week, I wouldn’t bet against this team being able to pull it off.

When was the last time you did something truly different?

posted by Brendan Hodgson

When I look at the business of PR today, I often ask both myself and my colleagues, ”when was the last time you did something truly different?”

It’s an important question because clients are looking for increasing levels of creativity in the plans and strategies we’re asked to provide. Granted, they may not act on them. But they want to know that we can think out of the box, and do so in a fashion that makes sense to their business.

Moreover, it allows consultants (particularly those new to the profession) the ability to look beyond the basics and the more traditionally-focused tactics (read ‘media’) that they learned in PR school. And when they know that they are able to expand their horizons, and do so within the context of what we’re being asked to do (meaning, with senior strategic oversight), exciting opportunities can be created.

Obviously, the best-case scenario is when our clients act on those ideas. Case in point: we’ve been privileged in recent months to work with Intel Canada on their gaming business. At the core of the strategy is Gamefaces, and driving the campaign is a focus on creating original content that we hope will resonate with gamers. And that speaks to the question I asked at the beginning of this post.  We’ve been incredibly fortunate to work with a client that get’s it – that understands the importance of “content” as table stakes. It means we now have the ability to capture and share the stuff that traditional media might not touch, but which our audiences might find both entertaining and useful, and ultimately help to re-shape perceptions. It means being able to engage real gamers in ways that might previously have never been considered in a PR context – and using the social media tools available in order to reach gamers where they go to get information.

Equally interesting, this campaign is already moving beyond Canada’s borders and – with the current Extreme Gamefaces Zero G promotion – providing the foundation for reaching audiences across North America and, potentially, globally.  

So when was the last time you did something truly different? If you haven’t, start now. Clients are asking for it.

David Jones joins Hill & Knowlton Canada’s Digital Team

posted by Brendan Hodgson

Over the past few years, and through the efforts of lots of people, Hill & Knowlton Canada has been positioning itself to address the growing impact that digital media is having on the business of public relations and public affairs. It’s been an interesting ride, particularly coming out of the bubble. Clients have always shown interest – though fewer were prepared to jump in than we would have liked - but it’s paid off in some interesting work… work that’s prepared us for where we are today.   

However, with social media continuing to fundamentally re-define the changing communications dynamic within which we now work – as marketers, public affairs and crisis practitioners, and corporate communicators - this positioning has taken on an added urgency. As our global CEO reinforced only a few days ago at our global digital practice meeting in Phoenix, H&K’s future success will be based largely on the extent to which our company overall becomes more digitally engaged, and on the ability of our people to advise clients of the importance of new media as an increasingly vital and strategic part of their overall communications solution. 

Which makes a ton of sense if only for the fact that in Canada (as well as in many other parts of the network I’ve learned) our clients expect it, are asking for it, and are increasingly looking to their PR agencies to deliver a more robust and relevant offering that integrates it. 

But to do this effectively, much needs to happen – not least finding the right people to help drive this focus on digital engagement and integration, and who can speak knowingly to the opportunities and issues that sit at the intersection of digital and PR. That said, finding the “right people” who do more than simply produce digital outputs in the same way we do press releases is anything but easy. Fortunately, our Canadian leadership team, like the uber-boss himself, has refused to simply pay “lip service” to the importance of digital, realizing that we can no longer continue to rely on purely conventional theory to drive growth. Which means walking the talk and building a team that can serve as catalysts for change – strategically integrating digital in ways that deliver real value to our clients. 

Which is why H&K, and the Digital Communications Practice in particular, are particularly thrilled to welcome David Jones, one of Canada’s foremost social media and digital evangelists, to Hill & Knowlton as vice president, digital. In his multi-faceted role, David will be working with me, the digital team, and our digital champions across the network to further grow our integrated offering.

In addition to his extensive PR knowledge (and you can peruse the impressive particulars here), David, as many of you know, is an early-adopter in the use social media for PR purposes. He authors a popular Canadian PR blog ( and co-hosts the weekly Inside PR podcast ( and is a frequent speaker at communications conferences on how to use social media as an effective PR tool.

So what more is there to say about this blistering shift in the Canadian social media and PR landscape? Methinks nothing save perhaps a line from the King himself:  A little less conversation, a little more action please…

WestJet acknowledges changing face of crisis communications

posted by Brendan Hodgson

Today, H&K Canada announced that it had been retained by WestJet, Canada’s leading low-fare airline, to provide crisis communications preparedness services and media training. As my colleague and senior crisis counsellor, Boyd Neil, said in the release: “Our approach to crisis centres on helping clients focus on what’s important – engaging key stakeholders and establishing processes so clear-headed thinking is in command during a crisis situation. Today this means integrating digital and social media strategies into crisis communication planning and execution – a philosophy which WestJet shares.”

Working for any company that understands the changes unfolding in our business is always refreshing. And in an industry where body-blows to reputation can have potentially tragic and fatal results, the ability to communicate openly, transparently and as compassionate human beings is essential.

From one who participated in the actual pitch, I was both surprised and exhilirated by WestJet’s clear grasp of the importance of social media as an integrated component of their crisis preparedness plan, and their willingness to embrace it. And while they challenged our thinking, and continue to do so, they freely acknowledge that the communications dynamic in times of crisis – which now includes Blogs and Facebook, Youtube and Flickr, among others - has changed dramatically from what it was even 18 months ago, and continues to change… and that they need to be prepared for it.

Tomorrow, I’ll be presenting to another client on crisis and digital, and speaking to issues where lives may also be put at risk. I hope this audience is equally receptive.


Don’t know who you’re talking to? Game over

posted by Brendan Hodgson

Work took me to Toronto this past weekend for the World Series of Video Gaming. It was a wild event, and introduced me to a culture and community I had not been exposed to previously. The intensity and passion of gamers both amateur and professional was clearly evident. Of the event itself, there was nothing amateur about it. Professional gaming in Canada has certainly come of age – although nothing (yet) like their counterparts in South Korea or Japan.

Watching teams battling it out in the World of WarCraft 3v3 arena battle, or observing individual gamers going head-to-head (both virtually and literally) in the the Quake IV and Guitar Hero II competitions, was something else entirely. Teams strategized in the stands as they watched the competition in action. Boisterous audiences cheered on players known only by their handles. Competitions were broadcast on big screens throughout the venue. And, of course, no professional tournament (in any sport) would be complete without it’s share of controversy, be it around illegal game settings, or confusion around the rules in place to ensure a level playing field.

Ultimately, my fascination with the whole event was grounded by the re-affirmation of the importance of knowing your audience – intimately – and of filtering and channeling your messages (be they corporate, tech or otherwise) so that they speak the language your target audiences speak. It’s about understanding what motivates them and the touch points that connect them to your brand. And it’s this which reinforces the value of the web as a mechanism to build that bridge. Part of our campaign was to foster a more meaningful link (online) between our client and the gaming community, one that spoke their language, encouraged engagement on their terms, and provided valuable content. This event (we hope) was only the beginning of what will be a sustained campaign on the part of our client to interact with audiences in ways that naturally extend the traditional relationship between the two.

Issues management and the social Web – black and white, or shades of gray?

posted by Brendan Hodgson

I was quoted this morning in an article related to an issue pitting Dalhousie University against a Facebook group protesting the school’s use of animals for research. You can read the story here (and find additional context here). It’s an interesting piece, although I feel the need to clarify my rather “sensationalist” quote.

Without question, this imbroglio is a clear example of the changing face of crisis communications and issues management in today’s networked world. It speaks not only to the speed and efficiency by which an issue can erupt and spread – both in the media and the blogosphere – but also to the issue of what organizations can or should do to respond. My colleague, Boyd Neil, a senior crisis practitioner, has also posted his thoughts on this issue.

In a growing number of instances, issues move through the blogosphere and social networking sites so quickly that trying to respond on a one-to-one basis would be virtually impossible, and a massive drain on resources. It would be akin to playing “whack-a-mole” versus strategically targeting your communications to those audiences and influencers that really matter, be they employees, loyal customers, communities, regulators etc. Likewise, the speed by which communities spring up around such issues, as was the case with Facebook, only adds to the complexity of this new landscape that we, as communicators, face. And that was, to some degree, a key point of my quote.

Further to that point is the question of when to respond and, if a response is deemed necessary (depending on the impact of the action being taken), how. In times of crisis, timeliness is still an essential component to any communications. Increasingly, however, timeliness must also be matched by an even greater focus on credibility, transparency and authority. As the social web grows, so too will the level of misinformation and speculation, either intentional or inadvertent. And that has clear implications around how an organization should consider the response they take. 

Ultimately, an organization must first decide if the issue (if left unchecked) might ultimately impact their “business” – be it a negative impact on sales, a substantive hit to an organization’s reputation, or reduced enrollment (as in the case of Dal). Or might it, as Boyd suggest, fade into obscurity?

Secondly, it must consider the environment in which this issue is unfolding. Per my comment on Boyd’s blog earlier today, and as I noted to the reporter yesterday, the social web can often be, to a degree, self-policing. In reading the comments on the Facebook group, you see a lot of folks supporting Dal’s arguments and taking a highly critical stance against the creator of the group. Which begs the question, should the school itself should seek to participate on this forum or let the masses fight the battle for them?

Additionally, it could be argued that when the “author” or “instigator” of an issue hides behind anonymity (or a name only), or is in no real position to comment with authority (meaning, is either a spectator or does not have the appropriate perspective or knowledge to truly decipher what that person has either seen or heard), does responding lend credibility to the “instigator” where none previously existed?

Furthermore, an organization must also explore how it might, if necessary, use its own online footprint to correct misinformation, address inaccuracies, and provide clarity on the issue in question. This might include posting links to third-party accreditations of its practices, and other endorsements from credible parties. It might include photos or video tours of specific facilities accompanied by neutral observers. And, as Boyd mentioned, it might include offering doubters the opportunity to see for themselves. In doing so, you are also arming your supporters with information and content that they are then able to use in other forums.

For the most part, legal action should, as Boyd infers, be considered a last resort. At the same time, organizations need to better understand the implications of social media, particularly in times of crisis, so as not to over-react to every negative comment, but also to know when to respond to prevent an issue from having a lasting impact on their reputation or business.

Bad memory reaps rich reward in the shape of a case study in community building

posted by Brendan Hodgson

So last week I posted on the social media initiatives of some of Canada’s bigger/est banks… A day or so later, Michael Seaton, the catalyst behind Scotiabank’s own Web2.0 campaigns, reminded me – in an excellent contextual post - of Van City’s Change Everything initiative which I had somehow forgotten to include, particularly as it was one of the first foray’s into the social web by a sizable Canadian corporation.

And good thing he did. As that illicited a response from William Azaroff, Interactive Marketing & Channel Manager at Vancity, whose blog I then happened to visit.

And good thing I did. Because he has just recently concluded a three-part series (published on Netbanker) on his experience in launching, measuring and managing the Change Everything campaign. It’s a compelling case study, chock-a-block with useful insights.

I’m guessing I should be forgetful more often… I’m almost hoping I’ve missed something else?