Marketing Technology » Reputation Combining marketing and technology to develop new markets and grow existing ones Tue, 11 Jan 2011 16:47:54 +0000 en hourly 1 FTC Guides on Endorsements and Testimonials: What it means in practice Tue, 13 Oct 2009 15:15:51 +0000 admin On 1 December 2009 new guidelines (Guides) from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) concerning the use of endorsements and testimonials in advertising come into force in the United States.

The most significant development in this revision is the inclusion of social or consumer-generated media as a form of endorsement. Whilst there is much in the full 81-page Guides (PDF link) that brand owners should review, the following actions are the most pressing when considering any campaign.

  • Review the full Guides available at
  • Review existing and planned endorsements in light of the Guides
  • Ensure that marketing staff and agencies are aware of the Guides and their implications
  • Monitor the activities of consumers who participate in social media marketing campaigns
  • Put in place specific social media guidelines for employees to advise them of their disclosure obligations when participating in online discussion (Hill & Knowlton’s are available here as a model).

Perhaps one of the most frequently missed points is that the FTC Guides are administrative interpretations of the law intended to help advertisers comply with the Federal Trade Commission Act. They are not themselves binding in law. Worth remembering.

A full briefing note on the topic is available on the Hill & Knowlton Scribd channel.

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Announcing Hill & Knowlton’s New Social Media Principles Wed, 23 Sep 2009 17:53:32 +0000 admin Almost a month ago, I asked for help to update Hill & Knowlton’s social media principles.

This afternoon, our CEO sent out the final version to all staff worldwide. We’ve already updated our public principles on our website, but I also wanted to share the full document here and explain a little about the process we’ve been through, what we’ve changed and why.


Our principles are split into three sections: personal use of social media; professional use of social media on behalf of our company and clients; and use of our official social media platforms. You might say this separation isn’t necessary, but we have found that not all of our staff operate in all these spaces so we want to make sure they can quickly identify the bits that are relevant to them.

You might also say that this makes them too long, and the only guideline should actually be “use your common sense”. That is undoubtedly a valid approach but if we are talking about being accountable to ourselves, our clients and the social media community, that simply doesn’t wash.

Our principles are centered around encouraging staff to participate appropriately not restricting their ability to do so. As communications professionals, it is essential that we are able to explore, understand and participate in social media in order to credibly advise our clients how to do the same.

A few other things worthy of note:

  • We have a 24/7 email hotline – as well as our extensive digital practice – where staff can ask questions about what is/isn’t appropriate. Again this is designed to help, not hinder.
  • We have defined a complaints procedure designed to be fair to everyone. Too often, we see knee-jerk reactions that don’t look at the issue objectively.
  • Unlike version one, this time we have asked all staff to click a link in order to confirm that they have read and understand the principles.

The Process

For those of you trying to conduct a similar exercise in your own organization (or with clients), you might be interested in how we did it. If not, skip to the next section. Bear in mind that this was an update to existing guidelines not creation from scratch.

  1. We put the existing guidelines on our internal wiki platform and invited everyone to edit or comment on the different sections.
  2. Someone took all the feedback and created an updated version of the guidelines
  3. This was circulated as a draft to that community, socialized with senior management for comment and shared externally on this blog
  4. Final feedback was incorporated (mainly clarifications) before being signed off by the CEO, COO, CMO and digital practice head.

The Principles

Links to the text of each section of the principles can be found below.

Please feel free to use, copy or adapt these principles as part of your own social media policies. It would be nice if you could let us know if they’ve been helpful too.

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Five steps to a successful corporate Twitter presence Mon, 08 Dec 2008 13:16:00 +0000 admin As Twitter gathers pace, we are seeing more use of the micro-blogging community by companies and brands. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, but like blogging that went before they will come unstuck if they don’t take the time to understand the platform before just wading in.

First let me state my opinion about companies and brands using Twitter – or any social media for that matter. The “screen name” you use says a lot. On Twitter I see an increasing number of accounts that are identifiable only as a company or brand name, rather than an individual. Personally, I’m not a fan of this. My logic goes something like this:

  • For me, social media is about human interaction.
  • People are human. Brands and companies are not.
  • The people who work for those brands and companies are.
  • I would prefer to interact with real people using their real names than anonymous company or brand names.
  • I would rather someone use their real name and include their brand/company in a profile than the other way round.

I accept that this is a personal point of view. Yours may differ. But companies need to tread carefully.

With this in mind, and appreciating that some companies will want to use brand, company and department names for their Twitter account – my definition of a corporate Twitter account, here is a suggested five steps etiquette guide for them:

  1. Listen. It’s easy to set up and subscribe to a search of your brand or company name.
  2. Add value. Provide useful content for those that choose to follow you.
  3. Only follow when followed or mentioned. Having an anonymous entity follow you is a bit like receiving spam – you don’t know who it is or why you’re getting it. If your following:followers ratio is more than 2:1 then you are probably being a bit desperate.
  4. Reply. Respond to every tweet directed at you.
  5. Use replies rather than direct messages. Be transparent about what you’re saying to others on Twitter.
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Cook’s Hierarchy of Social Media Backlash Motives Fri, 05 Dec 2008 15:19:00 +0000 admin I’ve
been thinking a lot about social media backlash lately – when companies
find themselves on the receiving end of a social media kicking. I
recently asked some colleagues for examples and got a handful of great
references, including Jeremiah Owyang’s excellent chronology of the most high profile hidings.

Jeremiah has attempted to categorize these based on their impact, as follows:

  • Category
    1: Consumer revolt and use social media tools to tell their story, the
    brand doesn’t flinch, and there is no mainstream media coverage.
  • Category
    2: The backlash extends beyond just social media tools, the brand makes
    changes based on consumer feedback, and coverage extends to mainstream
    media and press.
  • Category
    3: Consumers use social media tools to spread backlash and there is
    considerable mentions from mainstream press. the backlash is more
    severe resulting in significant changes from the brand (hiring, firing,
    processes, policies or new teams put in place). This becomes a case
    study for social media books and is often discussed in social media
  • Category
    4: Number three plus short term financial impacts to the brand
    resulting in reduction of sales, revenue, increased costs, or impact to
    stock price less than 30 days.
  • Category
    5: Number three plus brand backlash from social media tools resulting
    in long term financial impacts to the brand including reduction in
    sales, revenue, increased costs, and most importantly, stock price
    lasting over 30 days. In the most extreme cases, it causes closure of
    the business or bankruptcy.

I feel that there’s a missing factor here that needs to be considered, which is the motivation for the backlash. With that in mind, here is my suggested hierarchy of social media backlash motives and the things that companies ought to do to counter them:

is rarely intentional. The Internet makes it easy for people to
repurpose incorrect or out-of-date information that they believe to be
authoritative and accurate. The biggest culprit here is information
posted on Wikipedia.When you come across examples of misuse, you should
offer help by providing the right information or – if you cannot be
impartial – point people to an independent source.

that is left unchallenged often leads to misinformation as more and
more people repurpose the same opinion. Inaccuracy spreads online
faster than accuracy. It can be self-correcting, but that’s by no means
a given.In most cases* misinformation needs correcting, but companies
need to be very careful to use proportionate force.

* There
will be times when the motive behind misinformation is actually
malicious. In these cases, it will never get corrected and could even
fuel a bigger fire. Proceed with caution.

easy to mistake the motive behind mischief for malice, when all people
want to do is ruffle your feathers, teach you a lesson or vent their
frustration over something your company has – or hasn’t – done. In most
cases they want to know that someone from your company is listening and
might even apologize or even solve their problem. In my view this is
the most common motive behind social media backlash.Unless there is
clearly a malicious motive, there is no reason not to respond. Even if
you can’t fix the problem, at least show that you’re listening.*

Hint: in order to show that you’re listening, you have to actually
listen. You can search blogs, YouTube, Twitter, Flickr and many other
social media platforms for your company or brands and subscribe to the
results by email or RSS.

backlashes are intended from the outset to do damage. They are few and
far between, but general originate from people who have a real axe to
grind. They could be disgruntled employees or suppliers intent on
hitting you where it really hurts, denting your reputation and worse
still your revenues or profits.Where legal recourse is warranted,
you’ll have no option but to use it, but I suggest it should be the
last resort after all other avenues have been expended. Instead, try to
use the networks of supporters that you have built by participating in
social media (which you have done, right?) to fight your corner for you.

I’m sure there’ll
be disagreement about some – if not all – of this, but I’d love to hear
your thoughts. Does this work for all the examples you can think of,
and could it be used alongside Jeremiah’s impact categories to help
build a profile of the kinds of social media backlash that companies
are experiencing now and in the future?

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Corporate Twitter Accounts and Online Reputation Wed, 12 Nov 2008 08:25:45 +0000 admin As with blogs that went before, the question of whether companies should use “corporate” Twitter accounts still polarises opinion. There are those who believe that “social” media should be exactly that, and others who think it is fine for companies to use any channel as a marketing channel.

This polarisation generally results in criticism rather than praise, as the former is much easier to do. The only corporate uses of Twitter that have been widely praised so far are when consumer-facing companies use it for proactive customer service (i.e. monitoring for mention of product issues and making contact in order to help solve the problem), and even those have also been criticised.

Within this context, the concern of anyone charged with promoting and protecting a company’s online reputation globally should be to minimise any critcism which could damage the brand as a result of using social media in this way. The first question to ask therefore is not whether to do it, but how. If you’re considering creating a corporate Twitter account to promote your company, ask yourself these questions first:

  • Should there be a dedicated Twitterer, a group of people, a rota?
  • Who decides what is appropriate/relevant?
  • How can you ensure regional/functional parity, given that Twitter is global?
  • If you already have a cohort of active Twitterers, why not just aggregate their tweets?
  • Should the corporate account follow other Twitterers or not?
  • What happens when a corporate Twitterer leaves the company – how do you protect the account?
  • How do you respond to tweets that ask questions you don’t want to – or can’t – answer?
  • Are other social media more appropriate for what you want to do?
  • Can you make an anonymous corporate account authentic, personal, spontaneous and natural?
  • Will anyone want to follow your corporate Twitter profile (search for your company/brand name at to see the kinds of people who might want to tweet you)?

If you don’t have good answers to all these questions within 24 hours, I’d recommend you steer clear of using a corporate Twitter account for the time being.

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Is your company’s real home page? Tue, 15 Jul 2008 10:22:00 +0000 admin Forrester Research analyst Jeremiah Owyang thinks so.

I’m not convinced though – his hypothesis only holds water when people use Google to look for a company. So if 50-60% of the web traffic to your company’s site comes via Google (as ours does) then it’s a fair point – but only for that proportion. You can pretty much guarantee that the first page of search results for your brand name on Google will shape someone’s perception about your company – the job of your web site is then to either reinforce or attempt to change that perception.

I have been banging on for some time now about the need for companies to invest as much attention – and budget – on the 99.999999% of the Internet that they don’t control as the remaining 0.000001% that they do (i.e. their website).

The examples in Jeremiah’s post simply serve to reinforce that view.

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How your lawyers can damage your brand Wed, 16 Apr 2008 08:51:00 +0000 admin By sending cease and desist letters to companies who have an ex-litigation laywer as president:

Blue Jeans Cable Strikes Back

My favourite line:

It looks like when you sent this letter, you were operating on the premise that I am not smart enough to see through your deceptions or sophisticated enough to intelligently evaluate your claims; shame on you.  You are required, as a matter of legal ethics, to display good faith and professional candor in your dealings with adverse parties, and you have fallen miserably short of your ethical responsibilities.


(via Jeff Nolan)

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Restrictions on Commercial Communications Take Force in May Tue, 15 Apr 2008 16:01:00 +0000 admin ‘Seeders’ and buzz marketers beware. Next month sees the introduction of the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations Act in the UK.

Under the legislation, which comes into force on 26 May 2008, strict regulations will be placed on commercial communications. One particular clause will make the following a criminal offence:

Falsely claiming or creating the impression that the trader is not acting for the purposes relating to his trade, business, craft or profession, or falsely representing oneself as a consumer.

According to the IPA, this will catch marketing activities such as:

  • seeding positive messages about a brand in a blog without stating that the message has been created by or on behalf of the brand;
  • using buzz marketing specialists to communicate with consumers in social situations without disclosing they are acting for the brand;
  • seeding viral ads on the internet that implies you are a simple [sic] member of the public.

The social media naysayers are already out proclaiming this as the death of blogger relations, but they obviously haven’t read it properly. The Act is designed to protect consumers from those who do not disclose their true identity (such as hiding behind a pseudonym), not marketers who are transparent and honest about their motives behind building online relationships.

So most PR agencies will have nothing to worry about (I can’t speak for the advertising agencies) as long as they follow some of the de facto guidance abundant online.

I think it does illustrate the compromise that marketers have to make though. If – as a consumer – I genuinely recommend a product that happens to be my client, am I really not allowed to tell people? If not, isn’t that an infringement of my human rights?

My main criticism of this legislation is therefore that it will have no effect because it is going to be impossible to police (or prove guilt), which is a shame.

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April Fools Day: Marketing Opportunity or Not? Tue, 01 Apr 2008 10:01:45 +0000 admin We’re always asking brands to be more human, so what better way for them to do this than play an April Fool on us?

I saw a story this morning, which I assume originated from BMW, for a new model with technology that gave dogs who choose to relieve themselves up the owners prized possession an electric shock. By storing energy from braking and converting it to electricity, the peeing pooch gets a few volts up his own big end.

I personally found it mildly amusing, and I guess brands should be applauded for making us laugh. BMW could have made it even more interesting by integrating the piece with their website though.

But can every brand be as witty? Scanning the rapidly changing list of April Fool’s pranks on Wikipedia, most of them look pretty tame and make me wonder whether the companies involved should have even bothered.

What do you think? Is April Fool’s day a marketing opportunity or a reputation risk?

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You May Prefer to Give us a Call… Part 2 Fri, 28 Mar 2008 10:41:16 +0000 admin If you enjoyed my last post, you’ll love this one.

I’ve been trying to transfer my electricity supply to another supplier since I moved into my house last September. A catalogue of errors on the part of the incumbent supplier mean that it has only just happened – or so I thought (but that’s a different story involving an erroneous transfer – it is as painful as it sounds).

The situation is further complicated by the fact that I have two supplies at the same address – one for a self-contained annex next door. With the first transfer out of the way, I started the second. Online, of course, bound to be the quickest way right? Wrong!

Whilst trying to provide the supply number yesterday, I was informed by the new supplier (Scottish Power) that applications they receive online take around 7 days to enter their system. Yes, you heard right, 7 (seven) days. Apparently “they have to go through several departments”. And even then they are only flagged as “pending”.

However, if I call up and apply over the phone my account will be set up straight away!

So the moral of the story is that if you’re thinking of transferring your electricity supply to Scottish Power, you may prefer to give them a call. If, like me, you’ve already completed an online application within the last seven days, don’t worry. You can just apply over the phone instead and this will automatically cancel the “pending” online application when it eventually hits their systems!

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