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Social Media, Thin Skins and Minions

mstory123 | July 22, 2011 in Intersection of online and offline,Online public relations,social media | Comments (17)

Try saying the title of the post three times fast and you’ll see just part of the problem.

Social media used to be about the word “social,” as in interactions between human beings that, for the most part are civil – and made us all better for having been a part of them.  At some point, I think this has changed in many ways.  With the relative anonymity of email, a blog post, Twitter or Facebook, it’s now a whole lot easier to criticize someone.  I often wonder if my own idea of the offline equivalent of social media, a circle of people at a party, would dissolve into name calling over a topic or a person who is not present.  I doubt it because the face-to-face component of “social” means that a certain level of decorum is established and maintained.  But what is increasingly being blurred is genuine criticism based upon solid opinions and some pretty thin skin that misinterprets it as an attack.  And the odd involvement of third parties.

For some reason, perhaps due to the relative anonymity of the interwebs, people have begun not only to take personally what they perceive to be comments about themselves too seriously, but more bizarre, implied or overt criticism of other people. This is where it gets a little weird.

This week, there was a very public disagreement between Gini Dietrich of SpinSucks (among many other pursuits) and Rick Calvert of BlogWorld.  The dispute did not even involve each other, but Chris Brogan of social media fame.  If you are in social media, you know who Chris Brogan is.  ‘Nuff said.

The past week, Chris Brogan was selling a Webinar for $47 about the inner workings of Google+.   We still have some vestiges of capitalism in this country and Chris has every right to make an offering and see if people bite and fork over $47.  But  Gini offered a point of view that Google+ is in its infancy, still not even released to the public yet, so no one could possibly claim to be an expert, including Chris Brogan.  She wrote in her post, Beware the Google Experts:

…But there are still people out there claiming to have all the secrets because they claim to have introduced Twitter to the business world so surely they understand how Google+ is going to affect your daily life. Add to that, they’ve spent 250 hours inside the tool, learning and using.

If that’s the case, I want their jobs because that means they’ve spent 11 hours, every day, for the past three weeks using Google+.

Sure, it’s my job to stay ahead of the trends and to understand them so that you can short cut your education. But it’s been 24 days.

Not everyone agreed.  In fact, Rick Calvert of BlogWorld (respectfully) disagreed with Gini’s point and asked her to publicly apologize to Chris.  Gini refused to and a debate ensued. His comments in the BlogWorld post (ironically, written by a third party) included the following:

Trust me Chris knows more about Google + and how it works today than just about anyone in the world. And yes I would bet other than taking care of his family it is all he has been doing since the day he got in beta.

“What she should not have done was use a good mans [sic] name to drive traffic to her post and associate his name with said snake oil salesmen. I’m sorry Delores but I don’t see how impugning Chris’ integrity is defensible…Gini consistently has, intentionally or not, besmirched Chris’ reputation and ethics. I still fail to see how that is defensible.

“I don’t see anyone who agrees with your opinion saying you did otherwise. You should apologize publicly. That’s my opinion.

So Gini said (and I am paraphrasing) that it was way too early to declare one’s self as a Google+ expert, and to do so was questionable.  Rick countered with the fact that he thought that Gini was singling out Chris as a charlatan or snake oil salesman – and had in the past as well.

The BWE post does not number comments, but there are lot and you should read them.  I did, and I even commented, to which Rick replied.

My point about all of this is that the “kerfuffle” (borrowing a word from Shel Holtz and Neville Hobson) a debate over a third person. So we are criticizing the criticizers and then an “amen chorus” follows in a stream comments?  It’s like a wave of third party regurgitation washing up on the shores of social media island.

Bob LeDrew also weighed in in his own blog post this week:

What concerns me is that there seems to be a feeling that there are people whose actions are beyond criticism in the social media sphere. Criticism not as in someone is gauche, has bad breath, or is stupid. Criticism as in “this is an inappropriate venture”; “you’re wrong”; “The facts don’t bear out your argument”; or “you’re contradicting what you said last week. Which is it?”

I agree with Bob.  There is snarkiness hidden behind a blog post and there is legitimate questioning – and then there is “slander” – a word that Rick used.  They are all different. It’s a fine line that is increasingly being interpreted as open warfare I think that Gini made some legitimate points and that Rick is friends with Chris and felt the need to defend him.  Again, the discourse was, for the most part, civil but I can’t help but wonder what started such a debate about a third party.  I mean, Chris is a big boy and take quite ably take care of himself.

I have felt the wrath of others myself. Oh, boy, have I:

Yeah, I got snarky in March 2009 (post is entitled “Shut Up, Mr. Scoble” when the Scobelizer made comments about the public relations industry – that in which I have worked for more than 15 years, that include the following:

  • “PR is dead.  The way that PR is practiced is just..lame.”
  • “Most of PR has ’sucked.’  If you think it’s not, just be a blogger for a little while. And watched the thousands of stupid-ass pitches flow through your screen.”
  • “Anybody who pitches you on email is stupid.  The chance that I am going to listen to anyone who pitches me email on frikkin’ email is one percent.”
  • [Someone] showed me a block of wood…that was better than the stupid-ass pitches I get in email.”
  • People who stand up for the PR industry, they just don’t get it.”

I took offense to this – big time – and my major point was the following:

If you become an A-Lister and make a good living (while many of very good public relations people in this country are being laid off, by the way) it is beyond self-absorption to complain about “stupid-ass pitches” that you receive because of the very notoriety that you sought, built and benefit from.  You even mentioned that you get pitches from people who are panicked that their companies are going to go out of business – and call them “lame.”

I’m not enough of a A-Lister (hell, I am probably not a C-Lister) so Mr. Scoble never responded.  But again, like the situation that I described above, a third person took up the cause for Scoble, John Aravosis in his own post, “Robert Scoble is Right“.  Without naming me – I am the “one public relations ‘expert’” (but linking to my blog post – thanks for all of the click-throughs, John):

It was suggested by one public relations ‘”expert,” the one who posted the shirtless picture of Scoble, that Scoble deserved the spam he got because he’s a successful blogger [editors note: I was not the one who took off my shirt and had pictures taken.  He did].

Regardless of whether Scoble, I, or anyone else wanted “the notoriety,” I’m not sure how that excuses a PR expert, who is presumably paid a good deal of money to promote their boss or client, from sending a bad pitch to the wrong guy.

PR Expert: I emailed Scoble and Aravosis the latest pitch about the new floor wax our client is selling.

Client: You asked a tech blogger and a political blogger to write about our floor wax? How does it help us get the message out there about our new product by sending it to people who we know, in advance, don’t even write about products like ours?

PR Expert: They’re A-listers and they wanted the notoriety – they deserve whatever they get!

That’ll be $50,000 up front, and $20,000 a month in retainer.

I am not going to revisit Aravosis’ comments – that I still disagree with – but again, this debate took place over a third person. Has social media devolved into a spitball match with a degree of anonymity in which we are not allowed to lodge what we believe to be honest and insightful criticisms of others without third parties taking us to task, defending their buddies?

I sure hope not, because then through legitimate discourse and criticism, the criticism becomes slander, the defensible becomes the indefensible and the “social” goes out of “social media.”

I sure as hell hope not.

Mark


Online Reputation: Why Jane Corwin’s Social Media Person Should be Waterboarded

mstory123 | May 11, 2011 in crisis communications,In the news,Online public relations,online reputation management | Comments (4)

Politics is a mean, nasty, filthy business.  Trust me, I know – I have been around it most of my working life.  Much of the process of getting elected is pushing your candidate’s positives while attempting to raise the negatives of your opponent.  But a Cardinal rule is don’t help the person opposing you by doing something stupid (read: don’t be Michael Dukakis riding in a tank).

As I have stated again and again in this space, the first rule of crisis communications is to avoid the crisis to begin with. Anticipate contingencies.  Plan for FUBARs.  Don’t step in it.

And above all, don’t leave yourself open to attack – and don’t shoot yourself in the foot.  And all of this is why Congressional candidate Jane Corwin’s social media person should be waterboarded.

Jane is running for Congress in New York’s 26th district special election.  Good for her.  She has a pretty nice looking Web site that, when you get past the usual campaign-speak is attractive and fairly informative.

Done, right?

Nope.

One of Jane opponents must have did a little background research of his own and discovered that the campaign’s social media person neglected to register all of the possible domains, leaving them exposed to a parody site.  And that’s exactly what happened.  The campaign staffer registered .com, not .org.

Hence, meet the parody site, www.janecorwin.org.  Consider that this URL is just a hair from being the URL of the campaign site – AND – many campaign sites have .org domains because they are not considered companies.

Both sites have a virtually identical look and feel and navigation, so if one is not paying attention, until you carefully read the copy, it’s hard to tell them apart.  Here are some comparisons:

On the campaign site:

  • “Challenging the status quo and protecting your tax dollars.”

Parody site:

  • “Protecting the status quo and taking your tax dollars.”

And it goes on and on.  You can read all about the real campaign site here, but the embarrassing and (to be honest) gut-bustingly funny items on the parody site include:

  • The welcome pop-up screen:  “Together, we can make delicious soup from the bones of the poor. Sign up now to be served by Jane Corwin.”
  • The lead campaign news item on the home page: “In response to her heroic support for Paul Ryan’s budget plan, which would end Medicare in favor of an innovative program called ‘widespread human suffering,’ Jane Corwin has been given an award by Pat Boone, spokesman for the 60-Plus association. Boone was a famous singer in the days before it was learned that music could convey human emotions.”
  • Instead of “volunteer,” “donate now” and “contact” on the campaign site, the parody site lists “surrender,” “give us your money,” or “get brain implant.”

Finally, the real campaign site does, in fact, integrate Facebook.   As I write this, 809 “like” Jane.  On the parody site, instead of the “like” button, it is replaced by “coronate,” and those who like Jane include Kim Jong Il, Donald Trump and Muamar Gadaffi.

Yes, this is funnier than hell, but it’s serious too.  When someone sent me this article, I got curious to see how much coverage this has gotten beyond Jane’s district.  Jane:  ouch.

No less than the online version of Time magazine wrote about the parody site on May 6, calling it “ruthless,” but nonetheless, quoting some of the funnier lines.    The Atlantic wrote about it, calling it “…in fact, a parody site that rips the state assemblywoman as a corporate shill and hilariously mocks the stock photography and conventional political imagery on her campaign’s actual website, JaneCorwin.com.”

Double ouch.  And the irony is no lost on me that this special election is taking place to replace Rep. Chris Lee (R), who resigned from Congress in February after half-naked photos of him surfaced on Craigslist.

Going back to my original point, the best way to carry out crisis communciations is to avoid the crisis to begin with.  I mean, it’s what, like $39 bucks a year to register a domain?  When I was in the agency world, we once spent about $2,000 registering all possible domains (and I mean ALL) for the company, it’s senior executives, and even those that could represent acronyms.  Any time that a client balked, I would ask if they have business insurance.  The answer was inevitably “yes,” and I would tell them that while they cannot stop web sites that attack them, they can make it harder for people to quickly and easily find the negative information.  That’s your online reputation management insurance.

So dear social media person at Jane Corwin’s campaign:  your mistake to spend maybe an extra $150 bucks got your candidate lampooned online and created an echo chamber in Time magazine, the Atlantic, as well as others.

As for punishment, here’s my idea: there have to be some out-of-work waterboarders just hanging around the faucets at Guantanamo – and – information to whack Osama may have come from one of the enhanced interrogation techniques, so why not waterboard the idiot whose neglect caused this flap?  Negative aqua-reinforcement.  Or have “.com, .org, .net., .info. and .tv” tatooed on his/her forehead.

Just think: we could video it and make it into a parody site.

Mark


Mark Story: The ‘Geek 2 Chic’ Interview

mstory123 | October 12, 2010 in In the news | Comments (1)

This is a repost of an article in Mark Drapeau’ “Sector Public blog.

Post by: Mark Drapeau (Washington, DC).

This is the fourth in a series of interviews for a series we’re calling Geek 2 Chic, which is a personal style, a social movement, and a new event series all in one.  The first Geek 2 Chic fashion show is powered by Microsoft and will take place at Bloomingdales in Chevy Chase, MD on October 13th. We’ll be raising money for the Heart of America Foundation, which makes libraries the heart of communities around the country and promotes literacy.

Today, our Geek 2 Chic interview is with Mark Story, the Director of New Media for the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, or SEC. He’s a credit to a new breed of “experimental” public servants, not afraid to venture into some ambigious areas of technology like social media.

My note:  The views expressed in this interview are mine and mine alone and do not necessarily reflect those of the Securities and Exchange Commission, its Chairman and Commissioners, nor my colleagues.  So there.

What is your current position, and what work do you do as part of that?

I am the Director of New Media at the Securities and Exchange Commission, based at their headquarters in Washington, DC. I develop strategies and tactics for the use of social media to help the Commission protect investors and maintain fair and orderly markets. I’ve launched three Twitter accounts, a YouTube channel, a mobile site, an email response program and a micro site, Investor.gov.

What kinds of limits do you have on your work / communications as a government employee that people int he private sector don’t? What might a corporate communications person learn from your experience?

Since the SEC mandates what public companies can say, what they can say and when they can say it, we are extremely cautious about the information we put out. As such, we have an internal approval process which ensures that we say the right things while protecting citizen privacy.

How did you first become interested in technology? When and how did you become interested in Web 2.0 technologies?

My interest in technology goes back to the early 90s when I was Marketing Director for a tech firm. I saw the amazing things that technology could do (which now seems primitive). Remember, AOL was all the rage back then.

I got interested in Web 2.0 when it became more about conversation with people rather than a top-down, one to many approach. It was fascinating to think about communication evolving to conversations among people. And letting go.

What has most transformed your thinking about technology in the last couple of years?

I think that the most interesting component has been the fact that, as communicators, we no longer control how people feel about our organizations and our issues. We may be able to slightly direct some people’s opinions and be part of the debate, but the conversations that really matter are peer-to-peer in trust networks.

What does the next year or two look like for how technology and innovation will affect how government communicates with citizens, and vice versa?

The government needs to decentralize information and truly embrace Gov 2.0. We have tremendous amounts of information that is useful to citizens and we need to find ways to enable people to (a) have unfettered access to this information and (b) make it easy for people to share the content among themselves and comment in ways that helps improve government. This is commonly called “Government 2.0” these days.

What do you like to do when you’re not working?

I love being a dad. I do a lot with my children like sports, dance and other things. Even helping with homework is fun because it is time with my amazing children. And when I am not being a dad, I am living and dying with the Boston Red Sox. (Mostly dying.)

What were you doing five years ago?

I was a senior vice president with Fleishman-Hillard, running their social media project management practice group.

What career and life advice would you give someone with similar interests to yours who’s 25 years old?

The best advice I could give is to thine own self be true. If you want to live in another city or country, do it. Choose a career path that you truly love and the money will follow. And when you are 50, you will have a lifetime of wonderful memories already.

What do you (1) read, (2) watch, (3) dream?

I read mystery novels. They are a great way to disconnect. I don’t watch a ton of TV, but my favorite shows are Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations and The Office.

Finally, how would you describe your personal style?

I am intense. I like to work hard, play hard and hopefully love intensely. I don’t really have an “off” button.

Thanks Mark!

Mark Story will be modeling at the first Geek 2 Chic fashion show to benefit the Heart of America Foundation at Bloomingdales in Chevy Chase, MD on Oct. 13th. Get your tickets here!


Ground Zero Mosque, Nestle and Ford

mstory123 | August 20, 2010 in Online public relations | Comments (3)

Somewhat lost in the endless debates about the planned $100 million community center/mosque/lightning rod is the efficacy of using social media tools to influence the debate. As I have been following the – very passionate – debate, my mind has turned to thinking about other ways that both sides have used “new media” (or not-so-new-media) to project their points of view.

The Twitter account “Park51,” that which represents the group who wants to build the community center/mosque/lightning rod near Ground Zero in Manhattan has drawn some unwelcome controversy. Earlier this week, whomever was maintaining the account got snarky with some people who were posting @ messages to Park51.

According to the New York Post, the exchanges went pretty far south, quickly:

“If Haaretz likes publishing fables, perhaps they could go back to the Yiddish ones with parable,” they tweeted on Monday. In response to a critic who had “Amish” in his handle, Park51 tweeted, “Shouldn’t you be making butter?”

The next day, Park51 took down the post and apologized. It then posted an announcement that it was “introducing a new team” to take over the account.  “We are in the process of introducing a new team and are issuing apologies for any prior tweets that may have caused offense,” the mosque organizers wrote.

I am not — repeat NOT – going to debate the merits of building the community center/mosque/lightning rod near Ground Zero. So save your flames for another day. What the Twitter posts underscore is the need, especially in a controversial environment, to have AN ADULT IN CHARGE OF SOCIAL MEDIA, especially if you are at Ground Zero of a heated controversy.

I checked the Twitter account of Park51, and as I write this, they have a paltry 2,800 followers. North Korea has more than that, for Christ’s sake.  How many people do you think heard about or read online and offline articles about the Twitter snarking? Millions? It’s one big echo chamber, guys.

In a recent Media Bullseye Radio Roundtable, Jen Zingsheim and Doug Haslam discussed a call for Scott Monty of Ford – someone who really gets social media – to use interns to staff their Twitter accounts. Mr. Monty said “no, thanks.” And rightfully so. He knows that giving someone the keys to your social media accounts is giving them the Global Ford Bullhorn and allowing them to broadcast messages on your behalf.

It’s almost natural, however, for some organizations to put younger people in charge of social media. “Oh, he is all over Facebook/Twitter.” Let him do it.” While GenY may, in fact, participating in social networking sites (at a 96% clip), this does not make them expert at crisis communications. When you are firmly in the public eye and all communications are being watched closely, why snark at detractors – who will then howl and spread your information far and wide? One can take a few lessons from this:

  1. If you don’t get social media, stay the hell out. Having a Facebook page or Twitter account means that you can reach people quickly and one the cheap. But understanding how you do these things is critically important. If you don’t get it, stay out.
  2. Don’t ever snark. I wrote about this over the winter, but Nestle learned a hard lesson when Greenpeace hijacked their page. The Internet is forever, so if you snark, people will use this as a sharp instrument to bash your skull in in the court of public opinion.
  3. HAVE AN ADULT IN CHARGE. Is it fair that people get to take swipes at you and you can’t swipe back? Nope. Can you snark at them if you get mad? Nope. Gotta grin and bear it if you are at the heart of a controversy, especially when there are opponents looking to trash you.

All of this is probably Social Media 101, but it is stunning that a) someone would suggest that a global brand like Ford turn over the social media to an intern, b) that Nestle was not prepared for the Facebook page corporate campaign, and c) the Park51 folks, who are getting hammered in the press, would be anything less than hyper-vigilant about ALL of their communications.

C’mon, guys. Get with the (social media) program.

Mark

Image credit: Tricycle Editor’s Blog.

Image credit: Association of Downloadable Media


Crisis Communications and Associations

mstory123 | July 19, 2010 in crisis communications,In the news,Offline public relations | Comments (2)

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Last week, I did a Q&A with Smart Blog insights about crisis communications in general and associations in particular.  I want to expand on that this morning a bit.

I used to teach crisis communications at the University of Maryland and have done a frequent bit in the private sector (let’s not even get into government – ugh).  It never ceases to amaze me how many organizations just plain mess up crisis work.

I have listed five tips below, but want to put this is perspective for associations.  What I think is unique to associations is that they are caught in a vise.  They are expected to be the leading voice for many controversial companies and industries (read: they take the hit), but need consensus in an organization made up of members who compete with each other on a regular basis.  Bad, bad recipe for success.

And tomorrow, I’ll talk about this on a panel at Buzz 2010 in Washington, DC.

A few of the crisis communications basics I mentioned in the Smart Blog Insights  piece (and a few more) include:

  • Rule #1:  Avoid the crisis to begin with. Many companies (see Nestle), without even realizing it, take a communications mole hill and make it a crisis mountain.  Some crises cannot be avoided, but this is the step that most people just plain forget.  You need to help define an issue with your stakeholder groups or you risk having others define it for you.
  • Rule #2.  HAVE a crisis communications plan. This is the “duh” rule.  Think about this.  If you are in the midst of a crisis, responding to media, operating under enormous pressure, are you going to be able to craft and deliver compelling messages?  Create stuff that will convince people not to blame you (best), or at least to accept an apology (second best).  This is why having a plan (updated at least quarterly) is critical.
  • Rule #3:  Make the crisis plan easy to access.  When I did crisis work, I consistently advocated for putting a crisis communications plan online. Again, like the Nestle example, opponent driven crises are often propagated during weekends or other times that companies are not in the office.  You get attacked when nobody is manning a desk. And if your CEO or VP of Communications is at the beach, it makes things a whole lot easier when the plan is not a huge, written document sitting on your shelf at work, but is online and you can access it 24/7. And  you can better coordinate with others as well.
  • Rule #4.  Tell the truth.  Period.  Full stop.  If you lie, people will find out, bust you and you will lose all credibility.  And it’s ok to tell people that you don’t know the answer – just tell them when you will tell them.
  • Rule #5.  Segment your audiences. A lot of crisis plans are based upon talking to the media – and this is important.  But also think about employees, stockholders, retirees, elected officials, federal officials and even law enforcement people.  Bottom line is you need to have custom-tailored messages for ALL of your stakeholder groups that matter.

Again, for associations, this means something even tougher. You have to develop all of the above in conjunction with the member companies – the ones who pay your salary.  And deal with lawyers. And gain consensus under stress.

Oy, vey.

Mark