Global marketing opportunity for Canadian associations to take it digital

posted by Brendan Hodgson

Calling all Canadian associations with a need to communicate globally on behalf of their membership. The Canadian Government is offering up to $150,000 to help you make some noise and build relationships in the regions important to you. You need to move fast, however. The application deadline is Jan. 19, 2009.

The fine print: Global Opportunities for Associations (GOA), formerly the Program for Export Market Development – Associations (PEMD-A), provides contribution funding to support national associations undertaking new or expanded international business development activities, in strategic markets and sectors, for the benefit of an entire industry (member and non-member firms).

Annual non-repayable contributions range from a minimum of $20,000 to a maximum of $150,000 and agreements are made for a one-year period from April 1 to March 31. GOA provides matching funds of up to 50% of eligible expenses.

From an H&K digital perspective, this is a compelling proposition for national associations to exploit emerging high value / low cost opportunities in the area of online marketing – specifically, social media. In recent years, traditional websites have become increasingly ill-prepared to cope with the risks and opportunities that have emerged as a result of this transformation.

Today, however, new opportunities exist to reach beyond your existing online presence and amplify your messages directly to the growing ranks of influencers, advocates, legislators and partners that are now actively engaged in the online space. Equally important, the relevance of social media as a powerful AND cost-effective marketing platform will only increase as more influencers look to lever the web to cultivate relationships, debate issues, and engage advocates in two-way conversations. Listening and participating within these discussions will be vital, as will be the need for a clear strategy for knowing when and how to respond to supporters and detractors alike.

You can’t win if you don’t enter, so get your application in today (note that you’ll need to register for a Virtual Trade Commissioner account – if you don’t already have one). Not sure where to start? Just be sure that whomever you engage to help you formulate your strategy understands the business culture and sensibilities of the regions you’re reaching out to. As HSBC extols in its (always entertaining) advertising campaigns, “the more you look at the world, the more you recognize that people have different ideas about what’s important.”

And in this age of unprecedented transparency and connectivity, that’s more important than ever.

Canada’s first ‘embedded’ blogger?

posted by Brendan Hodgson

Update: Mr. Brooks is on the ground and (sort of) reporting.

Impressive, indeed… and a further sign that pockets within the Government of Canada really do get social media, and can see the PR value in making this sort of thing happen. Likewise, it acknowledges the increasingly important role of well-written, widely-read and respected blogs such as the Torch in guiding and influencing complex issues – military, political or otherwise.

Things that I’d be interested in learning more from the authors include specifics on the rules of engagement (if any), approval processes of posts (if any), and the Department’s own positioning of such an initiative, specifically, why now?

Most importantly of all, however, I wish the author a safe yet rewarding on-the-ground experience. I believe firmly that Canadians are not exposed to the full reality of the Afghan mission. I hope this helps shed a broader light on the good works our men and women in the forces are doing.

Social Media & Risk Management – Questions we should be asking

posted by Brendan Hodgson

Amid yesterday’s dumping of snow and threat of a transit union strike (now fully realized), I presented to a conference on government and social media. The topic of the conference was internal communications. The focus of my presentation was the changing role of employees as brand and reputation guardians.

Having done this presentation, or variations thereof, on several occasions, a few thoughts have begun to crystalize, including this one:

Too often at conferences where social media is discussed, the focus skews heavily towards the ‘opportunities’ – as rightly it should. They are signficant and, I believe, still underestimated. Where we let down our clients, however, is in helping them manage the risks – posed by getting it wrong (and the examples are legion, and growing every day), posed by lack of understanding of the dynamics of this emerging space, and the behaviors of those who should be, and generally are, an organization’s greatest asset.

Granted, many will say that by focusing on the risks, you’re viewing social media from a cup half-empty perspective. The real risk, you might say, is not participating at all, or ignoring social media in its entirety. And you’d be right, kind of.

But risk management is important. When you manage risk appropriately, you build confidence that when, or if, your reputation comes under scrutiny – for whatever reason – you can get through it and, more importantly, not walk away from it. And when you have the right processes in place that allow you to guide the behaviors of employees (without placing undue restriction), to listen and know when and how to react, and to understand the variables that drive an issue into the ground or into the stratosphere, you are better positioned to build a more realistic case for social media adoption versus simply focusing on the virtues of the space.

The first question that I typically hear from executives is ’so what?’. The second is ‘what happens if it goes wrong?’. Both questions are important. And both deserve equal levels of consideration. They should spur additional questions, many that I’ve shared previously:

  • Are you, in fact, listening to the conversations you didn’t start yourselves?
  • Do you have the right tools and processes in place to effectively analyze and appropriately respond?
  • Are your employees equipped with the appropriate knowledge to guide their social media behavior?
  • Are other functional areas – IT, HR, and legal – aligned with the new dynamics of social media?
  • Do executives and senior managers understand how this will change the way communicators respond when things go bad?

We do our clients a disservice by avoiding conversations around risk.  But in the same way we often ‘hype’ the opportunity, to focus on it too heavily could be equally damaging. A balance exists.

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.

Perception & reputation in a world without context

posted by Brendan Hodgson

It’s been a busy week in the reputation management space, what with Motrin Moms, the Big Three and their personal jets, and more recently, Sarah Palin down on the farm. The question that I, and others, have asked, however, is whether some or all of it has been much ado about nothing.

The Motrin debacle is a clear example of an organization knee-capped by an increasingly vocal and visible (and some might say, militant) constituency. No matter if you considered the ad offensive or not, it highlighted the challenges facing organizations in the era of social media, and the importance of both listening and having in place the mechanisms to support rapid response.

Given the current hubbub, one might imagine that Motrin’s reputation had been irreparably damaged. I would posit, however, that this is simply another example of the echo-chamber effect, and an issue blown out of reasonable proportion in a world increasingly bereft of context. Arguably, the ad was poorly-conceived and showed that the company had not fully considered its target audience. Did the company act responsibly by removing the ad and apologizing? Absolutely. It was the right thing to do. And yet, in reading a number of posts from various experts in the social media space, you would think the brand, despite all the steps taken to correct the issue, was now permanently tainted.

Add some perspective, however, and it would seem otherwise. Unlike the Kryptonite lock issue or “Dell Hell” or more recent product and food recalls, the product itself was not at issue (nor, as in the case of Dell, the ’services’ around it). Nor was the ad deceptive or unethical. People were not dying or falling ill because of it, or losing money or their jobs (other than perhaps at the ad firm), or being swindled or misled. It was an advertisement to which a group of individuals (albeit not everyone within that group, it should be added) took offense.

Which then begs the question: When perspective is added, what response is appropriate and reasonable? Does it make sense, as some have suggested, to try to respond to the hundreds, if not thousands of individuals, who blogged or tweeted their outrage?& On the other hand, by removing the ad, could it be said that the company perhaps over-reacted to what might be viewed as a vocal albeit highly inter-connected minority (personally, I don’t think so)? If not, what more might they reasonably do other than replace the ad with an apology and move on? Or did the act of removing the ad sufficiently demonstrate their acknowledgment of their mistake and their determination to correct it?

Could the same be said of the automakers and their corporate jets? With thousands of jobs at risk, the “ill-timed display of corporate excess” according to the Washington Post, could be viewed as a potentially greater threat to corporate reputation than that facing the makers of Motrin. Optically, the contradiction between right and wrong is that much more acute. It reinforced a growing media portrayal of an industry that only has itself to blame for its current woes. And, unlike Motrin, the consequences could be significant and long-lasting.

Ultimately, I don’t see the Motrin brand suffering permanent or long-term damage as a result of this brief firestorm. I do see the company realizing the importance of listening to the social media space and having mechanisms in place to respond in a timely manner. Most importantly, I hope that the company does not use this incident as an excuse to walk away from social media.

Monitoring, measurement and all manner of metric-y madness – Third Tuesday is back

posted by Brendan Hodgson

In the arena of social media, there are many who claim to do monitoring and measurement equally well. Much has been written, and various tools and methodologies have been flogged to the masses.  I would argue, however, that few have yet proven themselves to deliver the right blend of high-quality (read spam-free) data and relevant metrics that enable meaningful measurement based on a framework that is flexible to the needs of individual clients and their campaigns.

So let’s throw down the gauntlet, shall we? On November 26, two of Canada’s more high profile firms who specialize in social media monitoring (among other things) will be in Ottawa for the latest rev of Third Tuesday – all details to be found here.

Ripped directly from the Third Tuesday Meetup page: Chris Johnson, President of dna13, Craig Comeau from Radian6 and Parker Mason from CNW Group will lead a discussion on the convergence of new media with the old stuff, and the value of a proper measurement program in tough times. Using examples drawn from well known companies and organizations in multiple sectors, learn about the secret sauce when it comes to making the case for new social media and PR software tools so as to link your communications programs to the achievement of your organization’s objectives.

Sadly, I will be travelling back to Ottawa that evening. As such, I will be looking to my colleagues and others to provide a play-by-play of the night’s commentary. 

Predictors, Media Deceptions, and Facebook Firings… what a month!

posted by Brendan Hodgson

It’s a mad, mad world out there, what with the historic events that have recently transpired (U.S. elections) or continue to transpire even as I write (financial meltdowns). But a few things are deserving of mention, if only because they’ve raised my eyebrows, or because they’re something in which we’ve been involved, including:

  • No rest for the weary. Not even a month after one election is done, and the 2008 federal election predictor put to bed for another year at least, than we’re back with a fully-loaded, francophone-only version for the provincial election campaign now underway in Quebec. Packed with all the usual predictor-y goodness, you don’t need to speak french to give it a whirl – so have at, and congratulations to our HKDP brethren in Quebec for supporting the predictor for another round.
  • If the media can’t be trusted to root out the big deceptions, who can? Bloggers? But can you even trust them anymore? As Dan Mirvish, one of a pair of filmmakers behind an internet hoax that fooled even the most august media outlets, articulates so appropriately about the current state of the media during hot issues or crises: “With the 24-hour news cycle they rush into anything they can find.”

    The problem being that virtually anyone can set up a similar hoax during the heat of a crisis or campaign. Consider the ingredients, as set forth by the Times: “Martin Eisenstadt doesn’t exist. His blog does, but it’s a put-on. The think tank where he is a senior fellow — the Harding Institute for Freedom and Democracy — is just a Web site. The TV clips of him on YouTube are fakes.”

    Not only did the hoax fool the folks at MSNBC, who were quick to acknowledge their mistake, the hoax also took in The New Republic, Fox and The Los Angeles Times. Of course, bloggers, who are meant to be the new media watchdogs, also did not emerge unscathed: “…most of Eisenstadt’s victims have been bloggers, a reflection of the sloppy speed at which any tidbit, no matter how specious, can bounce around the Internet. And they fell for the fake material despite ample warnings online about Eisenstadt, including the work of one blogger who spent months chasing the illusion around cyberspace, trying to debunk it.”

  • In the words of Pete Seeger, when will they ever learn… when will they ever learn? Hard to say who’s to blame here or here… Is it the employees for not considering the implications of their actions, or the airlines for not educating their staff (many who are of the digitally native vintage) or providing appropriate guidelines for social media usage.

    Andy Lark, who notes that it was “Virgin that sponsored the Delta Airlines blogger that was fired for inappropriate behavior”, makes an interesting point over at his blog, suggesting that with the right coaching, the issues raised by employees could still be raised but under circumstances that would be more beneficial to all involved – passengers included. What that requires, however, is a much clearer understanding across a variety of fronts – HR, legal, communications, and executive management – of the risks and opportunities posed by social media both inside and outside the enterprise.

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.

Truth and Technology…

posted by Brendan Hodgson

I love it. And I’m going to steal it. 

Reading the Economist while sitting in a doctor’s office, I came across this quote which in my mind captures perfectly the impact of social media on traditional corporate (and government) bureaucracy — specifically their increasingly impotent and ineffective approaches to communications:

“Truth and technology will triumph over bullsh*t and bureaucracy.”

The quote is attributed to Rene Anselmo, founder of PanAmSat, an interesting individual in his own right. 

H&K Election Predictor 2008 Nails It! … (well, almost)

posted by Brendan Hodgson

Thirty-six days, 72,000 visits, nearly 700,000 page views, and 100+ mentions across various political and media blogs and discussion forums later, and the moment of judgement for the 2008 version of Hill & Knowlton Canada’s Federal Election Predictor is upon us…

As always, there is considerable trepidation when the final voting percentages are added into the system. And as always, it’s for naught. When broken down by party, our calculation (baked in proprietary mathematical goodness) was remarkably close to the end result… In fact, it was off by - wait for it - six seats (6).

Official Results:    CPC – 143 / LIB – 76 / NDP – 37 / BQ – 50 / GREEN – 0 / IND – 2

Predictor Results: CPC – 143 / LIB – 74 / NDP – 38 / BQ – 52 / GREEN – 0 / IND – 1 

Granted, a few discrepancies appear when the data is analyzed at the specific riding level (meaning that a few of the ridings we predicted didn’t match up with the official outcome). Overall, however, the digital team at H&K is pretty chuffed that we were able to play along with the big boys – pollsters, pundits and academics alike – in the seat projection game.

Of course, we’ll let others figure out what this all means, if anything, to the art and/or science of seat projection. From the standpoint of what it means for H&K, however, it’s clearly become a powerful franchise for ensuring the H&K brand remains top-of-mind with target audiences during an election campaign.

As an exercise in social media activation, our respective French and English Facebook pages generated a respectable 700 referrals collectively, while the site itself received positive saturation across the Canadian political blogosphere. Traditional media sites also played an important role with MacLean’s alone driving 1500+ visits (and further amplifying our footprint). And not surprisingly, Wikipedia was a key vehicle for awareness-raising, driving 3500+ visits to the site.

Ultimately, it was interesting to see such a high level of engagement on the site itself – with an average of 5 minutes spent per visit – as well as by bloggers and digital pundits via their own sites. Likewise, it was great to see (where the stats allowed) strong representation by those audiences who matter most to H&K’s public affairs teams – government bureaucrats at all levels, elected officials, academic institutions, competitors, and corporations both large and small.

Oh yeah, and the Conservatives secured another minority government.