Archive for the ‘Online reputation management’ Category

People in glass houses

This may come as some surprise to people who know me but for once I have been loath to enter a debate and share my opinion, but this afternoon my will broke and I could no longer hold back. Yes I am going to share my view on the issue of Blackberry and their ongoing outage.

Firstly I have to declare an interest; I am a Blackberry user and have been for over nine years and despite it taking over life, I am a fan, they do what they say and despite the hard life I give them they don’t tend to let me down. Equally I am not an Apple or Android knocker – to be honest I have more important things to argue about.

What I am passionate about though, is how issues are managed and the study of how people react to them. With Blackberry you have a perfect storm, a technology company that has courted some negative publicity recently is constantly doing battle with another fruit based technology company and prides itself on its security systems.

The last couple of days have seen a clamor for Blackberry to talk more, respond more, be more open etc.  – but who is asking? The cry would seem to lead by social media and technology commentators. Why is this? Well I believe it is down to certain groups believing they have an inalienable right to know everything, not for any reason other than they just deserve to know. The reality is RIM suffered a switch failure which resulted in a backlog of emails clogging up their system. To be honest it’s not very exciting, a bit techy and sounds like a reasonable explanation, which the majority of fair minded people will understand.

Building on this we are seeing ongoing comparisons with Apple in terms of how open they are and how they would have managed things better. Now I don’t have the best of memories at times, but I seem to remember it took an awful lot of persuasion to get Apple to admit there may be a problem with the reception on the iPhone 4. I don’t think anyone would agree that that was handled in a very efficient way.

Finally I think it is fair to say that whatever RIM said over the last couple of days would have been criticised and picked apart by the same aforementioned people  - what would that have achieved?

I say the following as someone who uses their Blackberry a lot and does rely it on for my job, in reality my Blackberry hasn’t worked reliably since Monday lunchtime. But all that has meant is that when I went to get my sandwich at lunchtime I couldn’t check my emails and likewise when I get home tonight that little red light won’t be flashing at me all evening. Do you know what? My world has kept turning; after all I can still make calls and text which are pretty useful ways of communicating, especially the first one.

Oh, one last thing… What this has proved categorically is that technology people should not make jokes, they really should leave that to the experts.

The importance of assessing corporate risks before the crisis

posted by Peter Roberts

Home economics has undoubtedly taken on a new meaning in recent years with the launch of a legion of online ventures that are making money from what I’ll grandly label people’s ‘residential asset base’ – basically, rooms, driveways, garages, gardens – you name it.

Airbnb is such a site – it’s a private room rental service, which has, over the past week, generated a fair amount of coverage for the wrong reason. Last month, a blogger detailed the damage to her home, including holes through walls and burnt possessions, after she rented out her property via Airbnb. You can read more here. The site has since announced a $50,000 guarantee to its hosts for theft and vandalism.

What I find of interest from a crisis management perspective is the CEO’s admission that they got it so wrong. “We felt paralysed, and over the last four weeks, we have really screwed things up” said Brian Chesky. The corporate candour is laudable, but effective preparedness plans would have prevented  the reputational fallout.  “We weren’t prepared for the crisis and we dropped the ball. Now we’re dealing with the consequences” added Chesky.

Discerning businesses will regularly gauge the risks they face from both an internal and external perspective and draw up appropriate contingency plans. Airbnb has, rightly, now introduced a more robust customer relations service, including a dedicated hotline. Airbnb’s creditable admission should, I hope, serve as a wakeup call to those other organisations who have yet to grasp the significance of a full and frequent assessment of their  business.

He who lives by Twitter, dies by Twitter

If a week is a long time in politics, the past seven days must be a record for the media.  With the dust barely settling on the Royal Wedding and the killing of Osama Bin Laden, the media got its teeth into what it really cares about, freedom and privacy.

The creation of the Twitter account, on Sunday afternoon, allegedly listing at least six of the people who have taken out Super Injunctions, was quickly followed with ironic timing by the defeat of Max Mosley’s case calling for the media to notify people before they are due to appear. These two events re-opened the whole debate of who is entitled to privacy and to what level.

Then, just as all of us in media land where mustering all the energy we could to struggle through the first five day week in what seems like months (well some of us, my colleagues today are all out working with Age UK for our company wide charity day) the God of news dropped the Facebook/Google/Burson-Marsteller story nicely in our laps.

Now I am not naive enough to comment directly on the tribulations of a fellow PR agency (especially as we share the same owner) but having looked back over these seven days there is one common theme that links of all this: our growing demands for transparency. In all of these cases, it wasn’t really the actions (footballer slept with a Big Brother star, someone has an affair, really? How dull? A middle-aged man getting spanked by some prostitutes) that mattered. Frank Bough has been there and got the paddle marks 19 years ago and as for B&M, I think the issue here is execution not motive.

What is clear is that for everyone, from humble celebrity to global tech giant, the media now provides us with a level of access and insight never dreamed possible 15 years ago. This week has demonstrated that this new found power needs to be handled with a great deal of care because decisions and action on how we respect and protect privacy, while still providing freedom, access and transparency could now have some far reaching ramifications that we could all be paying the price for in the future.

Brand guardian or brand detractor: It’s a game of two halves

Thank the Lord for football, not only does it entertain, anger and frustrate in equal measures it regularly provides a perfect case study that neatly encapsulates a wider issue. Today’s lesson is brought to you by the creative musings of Ryan Babel, who currently dwells in Liverpool. Here we have the perfect example of an aggrieved employee deciding to vent his anger and personal views via his favourite social network, in this case Twitter.

The issue here is how much control can and will his club exert over him? He is facing an FA charge of improper conduct, at a time when the Club has more than enough problems of its own. Now there must be something about the internet up there on the Anfield side of the City, because the end of last year saw a player’s mum very clearly and succinctly express her views on her son’s new home.

As an employer, how do you handle this? How can you ensure your staff utilise their potentially large social network to support your brand? Now in Ryan’s case I am sure he is expressing a widely held view that was doing the rounds of the dressing room at the final whistle, but would the Club wanted those views shared with the world? Probably not. In the case of the ranting mum I can pretty much guarantee that those rants went down as well as Gary Neville popping into the Kop for a meat pie and a shandy at half time.

Away from the highly charged cauldron of football, these two extreme examples highlight the issue of an employee’s brand. How can organisations at best utilise this asset and turn them into a brand guardian and supporter, before they become at the very least another issue to deal with or at worst a vocal brand detractor?

Searching for customer satisfaction

For many businesses the mantra that the customer is king can be found at the heart of their business. Such companies like John Lewis and Emirates (to name just two) believe that customer satisfaction leads to business success. We all have personal experience of those brands that don’t seem to value our experience as highly and as a result we are left feeling slightly unloved.

When we experience bad customer service we tend to act in a number of ways, but these ultimately boil down to suffering in silence, ranting to those people who unfortunately are nearest to us at the time, or venting our anger online. The latter reaction is where it gets interesting; Google have announced that they are going to penalise those brands with poor online customer relations. Up until now it had, believe it or not, been known for some brands to deliberately abuse their customers, prompting those customers to post (poor) reviews, resulting in a higher placing on the Google search engine!

With these changes, suddenly those unfavourable online reviews are going to carry a lot more weight. For brands spending a fortune on SEO, all that investment could be directly undone by poor customer service. In addition if Google starts displaying customer reviews and ratings next to search results, imagine the impact on customer decision making.

For those responsible for managing brand reputation, being part of the customer service process has just become even more important. After all, Google does rule the world, or to look at it another way, potentially just one bad customer comment or review could drop you from the first page of the search results to the Siberian wastes of the second page.

An online shaggy dog story

 John Lewis that doyen of the middle classes that has been a rock on the high street has managed to get itself caught in a whirlwind of public hatred and is a victim of an onslaught of online vitriol. What could it have possibly done? Scantily clad women, broken a religious taboo, questioned the validity of X-Factor? No, it is running a new Christmas advert.

It seems its new Christmas advert with the dulcet tones of Ellie Goulding and heart warming images of people buying presents for each other, had the audacity to show, for at least eight seconds, a dog living in its kennel in some snow.

This seemingly innocuous display of heart warming Christmas spirit (a little boy brings his pet dog a present) has generated over a 1,000 posts on their Facebook page and our understanding is they are under pressure to change the advert.

Is this the way the new world is going? Dogs live in kennels, always have done and always will. My chickens live outside, should I feel guilty? Should I bring them in? By posting this will I be targeted for not caring enough for my chickens and not bringing them in when it gets cold?

Social media is a great force for good and everyone should have a voice, but scenarios like this beg the question – at what point do you listen and at what point do you stand your ground?  

I for one think it is cute that the boy loves his dog enough to buy, wrap and deliver a present to a pet he obviously loves. He just doesn’t happen to want a great big shaggy dog wandering round his house.

When monitoring social media, context is everything and organisations need to have that in the forefront of their mind before they make any decisions. In this case, I think the course of action and response is clear. Brands need to know when to stand their ground and stay true to their original principles. Even if it means that some people will put them in the dog house (sorry couldn’t resist it.)

Is a Twitter parody account the new face of crisis management?

The rise in popularity of parody Twitter accounts is forcing many companies to take a walk down the hall of mirrors and have a good, hard look at themselves.

 

Oh I do hope so.

You see, for several years (and numerous blog posts) I’ve been banging on about how reputation management for companies largely depends on their ability to not p*** people off.

That’s not so much a function of your Communication or Marketing department as it is a commitment by management and their staff to behave in a way that consumers (and by extension, society in general) find acceptable.

In many instances, things that are popularly called “crises” are cases where a brand’s behaviour violates the promise the company made to its market.

In other words, if you represent yourself as a big corporate evil, and behave as such, then people will generally accept you for who you are. You may not be popular, but at least you’re honest.

Similarly, if you represent yourself as a benevolence personified, so long as you behave accordingly, you’re going to be fine.

It’s when you tell people one thing, and then behave in a contrary way, that companies run into trouble.

And so to Twitter, and while there’s an element of truth to the fact a blog post about Twitter and crisis management is purely link bait to the Twitterati marketing community, this post is hopefully something pragmatic for readers to work with.

Courtesy of Tim Whitlock, a technical consultant to the communications industry in London, I’ve come across Twitter’s point of view with respect to parody accounts.

You know the ones, the kind with handles like @BPGlobalPR, or @GapLogo, or formerly @sean376 (yes, we miss you). The ones whose follower counts eclipse those of the brands they seek to mock, usually many times over.

Here’s the important bit: “Twitter provides a platform for its users to share and receive a wide range of ideas and content, and we greatly value and respect our users’ expression. Because of these principles, we do not actively monitor users’ content and will not edit or remove user content, except in cases of violations of our Terms of Service.”

Ah. That’s a problem. The fastest-growing publishing platform in the world is actively encouraging amateur humourists to take the proverbial, right under the noses of the world’s biggest brands.

And here’s the thing. While journalism has a professional code of ethics, and Jo Q Public citizen journalist does have to operate within some (albeit largely misunderstood) defamation and libel laws…parody is arguably an artform, and in many places occupies a more privileged space.

The problem for brands that find themselves the subject of one of these accounts is, therefore, exacerbated beyond the now infamous Streisand Effect. Not only is taking action going to draw attention to something you want hidden, it’s going to show you up as being a bad sport. After all, we all remember the primary-school mantra taught by our parents: sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.

Oh, but they will. How then, does a multinational corporation, responsible for the salaries of a hundred thousand employees and the wellbeing of their families, guard against such public humiliation and reputational damage? Sure, you could try “engaging in the dialogue” or “joining the conversation”. Right. And heckling Billy Connolly’s also a good idea.

The answer is disappointingly simple, and despairingly unattainable. You have to take the oxygen away from the fire. Without fuel, fire doth not burn.

The only way to avoid criticism is…not to upset people. Bugger, that’s going to be tough. Just ask the folk over at Gap Towers. Heeding the boundaries of the consumer comfort zone pretty much kills all chance of innovation, development, edgy marketing campaigns, or even fun. I probably wouldn’t be allowed to write this drivel for starters.

So here’s a compromise. Live your brand. Articulate the values you stand for. Proclaim them from every wall of your HQ, post them on every tea-room notice board, bulk out your email signature with the ten things your brand lives by. And then go out and live it. People may not like it. But if you do what you say, they’ll accept, and usually, respect you for it.

But understand this: Living your brand is not your best defence. It’s your only defence.

Nestle, Greenpeace, social media, crisis management, facebook, YouTube, Twitter. PR measurement. Interested?

Prediction: we should see signs of Nestlé’s share price recovering from its latest issue within about 15 days.

Prediction 2: at some point this year, 2010 will be named the Year of the Social Media Crisis. So I’m doing it now just to be the first. (If I’m not the first then please let me know so I can link to that person’s blog and boost my traffic But it didn’t come up on Google today).

Last week Greenpeace kicked off the latest element of its ongoing campaign against the use of non-sustainable palm oil, lining up the cross hairs on Nestlé, and in particular the iconic Kit Kat.

What started out as a fairly run-of-the-mill campaign (Greenpeace has run similar palm oil campaigns in the past), took a bit of a turn when social media gurus jumped on Nestlé’s response to criticisms on the company’s facebook fan page. This was the point at which I started to pay a bit more attention as it was no longer just the Greenpeace campaign that was fuelling the issue (and thanks to fellow H&K blogger Matt Muir for flagging it to me on a Friday afternoon!). Interestingly, the official video in question still only has around 80,000 views on YouTube (sorry folks, one of those is mine).

The problem the company now faces is that the story of its engagement with stakeholders via social media has, as was probably expected by anyone with a facebook account, overtaken the original issue of its sourcing practices, as highlighted by this PR Week story.

Since there are 90,000-odd people out there all with an opinion on that, I’m going to leave that particular debate alone. I’m more interested in what’s happening with the company’s share price, which, as you’d probably expect, has taken a bit of a dip. (Hopefully on Monday our IT wizards – or Matt – can explain to me how I insert that as an actual image – to be updated…).Now updated with actual artwork.

While that’s not wonderful for the company’s shareholders, it’s useful as an in situ case study. As mentioned previously on this blog, good crisis management can have a remarkably positive impact on shareholder value.

The Knight & Pretty study on which that assertion is based shows that companies that recover well from a catastrophe tend to show the start of an upward trend returning to their share price around 10-15 trading days post-disaster (recoverers are the top line):

Figure 4 from Knight & Pretty's "The Impact of Catastrophes on Shareholder Value"

This recovery is largely attributed to the performance of company management in the early stages of the recovery. I think Nestle is the kind of company that will be able to manage its way out of this fairly promptly. However, there are some additional challenges the company will face in getting there (I think):

  1. Getting the facebook thing right will probably involve a bit of sword-falling. But that’s no good unless you mean it (which means there has to be some kind of behaviour change first, before the public perception piece will work).
  2. The marketing sub-set of social media guru-dom will continue to feast on its young, until more tech-savvy marketers take the point of view expressed by @mediaczar (thanks @Matt_Muir yet again). Great example of Twitter as a debate platform. In the meantime, watch the carnage continue.
  3. Institutional investors will remain all over the shop courtesy of having to work out how the economy works again after a global financial crisis. The upturn in value I think will be affected by just how much brokers and analysts value the impact of social media vs. the old fashioned kind.
  4. They’re still going to have to do something about the palm oil. Incidentally, so are thousands of other companies because it’s remarkably pervasive stuff – you wouldn’t believe how much of it’s out there, and ever since we all got scared of trans fats in our diet, palm oil’s been making a comeback in ingredient lists.
  5. Supply-chain scrutiny is going to return to the fore. We’ve not long ago finished Fairtrade Fortnight, when Kit Kats across the world were celebrated for the appearance of the new logo. The ease with which this issue has captured public opinion will, I think, galvanise a lot of other interest groups who have previously struggled with highlighting labour/sourcing/deforestation practices in the past, having another crack.

Time will tell if I manage to fluke at least one of these (or my two predictions). I have a feeling there’ll be a hat eaten at some point this year…

As an adjunct to all of the above, I think communicators/marketers/crisis managers and PR students should spend some time with a PR text book and the Greenpeace website.

Professionally I have a lot of time for the sophistication Greenpeace brings to its campaign activities, because they show all the hallmarks of strategic, issues-led communication campaigning. PR measurement isn’t rocket science (well, only rocket science is really)…point being, if you set your PR or communication objectives properly, measurement becomes a binary thing. Either you achieve your objective, or you don’t. Pretty simple stuff, and yet remarkably difficult to do well – usually because we get side-tracked by things like events, press clippings and “we want to do a viral video”.

What I should have said about crisis management at our change communication event (Part 3)

After last week’s change and communication event at Hill & Knowlton I’ve been following up an answer I gave to the question: ”What do you tell internal audiences about a change program, compared to what you tell external audiences?”

My answer at the time was: tell them both the same thing. So far we’ve looked at the consistency of message argument for this, and the information security one. Today I’m going to throw the social media hat into the ring.

There’s an inevitability about change that some people won’t like it. There’s an inevitability about things we don’t like…we complain about them. Years ago we’d get our mates together down the pub, or around for scone, or any of a million ways of having a conversation, and we’d all hang around and gripe about stuff until we felt better.

Now with the internet, we can get millions of people together for a gripe and we don’t have to buy any of them a beer. Brilliant!

The problem facing change managers then is this: if any of your audiences don’t like what you have to say (and if you make any staff redundant then you’ve already got on board this particular train), then that audience has everything it needs to wage war on your organisation. And rest assured, it’s in the best interest of certain stakeholders to take advantage of that change in mood.

Here are three ways that this has already happened (probably happening right now if you really want to go looking for it – the point is it’s not like I’m giving people new ideas for how to cause you trouble):

  • Facebook groups/fan pages to save something or boycott something. Local sporting facilities are a classic example. Easily set up by an anonymous administrator, easily shared because if you’re reading this then you’re probably sitting within two metres of someone who’s on facebook already. Unlike most blogs a facebook page doesn’t need a moderator, so even if something does get pulled down by an administrator it will have already been seen.
  • Please re-tweet [insert tweet here]. Doesn’t need to be anonymous to kick it off because if support swells then the last thing you have time to do is search for that first random tweet (note this is different to issues such as that experienced by Vodafone because the tweet in that instance came from its account). If you really want to put a rocket up this kind of action, you use the please re-tweet approach to gather fans for your facebook page.
  • Form letters. Boring I know – there’s no video, there’s no social networking, and you can’t check in from your iPhone. In fact, not really “social media” on their own, but definitely a bit of retro Web 2.0. Annoyingly though, the online form letter is brilliant for capturing the “oh, it’ll only take a second” protest because it’s made as easy as humanly possible for people to participate (just click here!). Rest assured, the online form letter is designed to position your detractor’s argument in the best possible light, positioning you with only one “appropriate” course of action – usually the opposite to what you’re going to do. We’ve had clients receive thousands of these for various reasons, and unfortunately the biggest problem we usually encounter is the complete absence of any opportunity to reply. If you were writing a letter yourself, you’d usually include a return address…not usually the case for online form letters.

Regardless of the form the protest takes, the consistent problem they all raise is that of consistency, i.e. the availability of the same information to stakeholders in different audiences. Which is the point we started at.

By ensuring that common information is made available to whomever wants it, you won’t necessarily avoid criticism entirely, but you’ll be able to address it. And usually correct misinformation.

In some instances, smart use of social media will actually enhance the objectives of the change program, but you have to get it right because the footprint you make will be there for ever. Rest assured, your detractors will get it right. The only defence you have is openness, transparency, and information.

Twitter terror: why business managers should be afraid of social media

In the past I’ve been rightly accused of getting a bit wordy on here with some of our more analytical posts, so today we’re going to try something a bit different.

Here’s a proposition I want to test before I do something as stupid as say it in public, and we’d welcome your feedback.

There are two reasons why business managers should be afraid of social media. Only two. Here they are:

  1. You are doing something you shouldn’t be, and people will find out.
  2. You are not doing something you should be, and people will find out.

The only caveat I’m going to put on the above is that what you “should be” or “shouldn’t be” doing is of course open to interpretation. But then, that’s why you have a PR department…

Thoughts, criticisms and opinions all welcome, but please try to stay on topic.