Who’s in Charge of Your Social Media Keys?

I was akeys-iconmazed by a couple of recent incidents that illustrate how some companies still have some serious issues when it comes to Social Media and their brand. A few years ago I wrote about the importance of including social media into crisis communications. And most companies have done a great job at it. But in the event of a crisis it seems some companies still do not have a protocol in place to ensure the right people are responding over social media in a productive way during a crisis.

The first example is HMV, the British Entertainment company. The company was in the middle of a round of layoffs when the woman who owned their Twitter feed began live Tweeting about her co-workers being let go or, as she declared it on Twitter, “Mass execution, of loyal employees who love the brand.”

The situation went on for about 20 minutes before she handed over control of Twitter. The tweets actually included her quoting the Marketing director asking how to shut down Twitter.

Once she turned over the Twitter channel she noted she still had administration rights and had to inform her former employer via Twitter that they needed to revoke her account status.

And if that isn’t scary enough, you should know she was also responsible for HMV’s Facebook page. Lucky for them she only focused on Twitter that day.

Applebee’s wasn’t so lucky when it came to Facebook and crisis management. The story of how a receipt from the chain containing a customer note denying her waitress her tip went viral. The customer demanded the waitress be fired for posting the note. As a result Applebee’s found itself in the middle of a PR crisis that began spiraling even further out of control in a series of late night posts on their Facebook page.

Journalist R.L. Stollar compiled the evidence of what has been called a “social media suicide” by a few sources. As customers flocked to the site to express their concerns some 17,000 comments were posted most of which were very negative. The team in charge of the Facebook page began, according to Stollar, deleting negative comments and blocking commenters.

An “official” explanation for what happened then appeared at 2AM as a status update. Do you think that was part of an established crisis communications plan? I doubt it. Worse, once the status was posted the Applebee’s team began deleting comments on the update.

That began another cycle of negative comments. The update post commenting on the incident now has more than 25,000 comments and that doesn’t include the original comments that were deleted. And most of them are very negative.

These incidents raise some important questions for companies. If a crisis happened right now, do you know who has control of your Twitter and Facebook feeds? If that person walked out tomorrow (or if you had to walk them out) would you know how to turn off their access? Do you have a protocol for who does what on Facebook, Twitter or any other Social Media channel when a PR crisis hits? Do you know who needs to approve what gets posted? The passwords and administration rights to your social media tools are the keys to your social brand. Guard them carefully.

Social Media is a key tool to growing a brand. But fumbles such as these can tarnish a brand and cause real damage. These incidents should prompt companies to ask themselves, “Who has the keys to my social media program?”

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Tumblr takes a PR Tumble

Over the last few days the popular micro-blogging site Tumblr had a massive outage leaving its 6,000,000 users scrambling to find alternative ways to communicate with their followers and readers. For those of you not familiar with Tumblr, it is a social blogging platform that lets users “reblog” and share content. It is quick and easy to use. The New Yorker, Newsweek and other old guard media have Tumblrs but there are a wide variety of Tumblrs that focus on everything from haircuts to fashion. Over 1.5B Tumblr pages are viewed in a month.

I’m reminded of another huge outage that took place on a December day when AOL was first starting to own the emerging Internet space. On a stormy snowy day in the Northeast, many workers decided to telecommute via AOL. They soon discovered that AOL’s modems were not up to the task. AOL continued to face moments like that but they one thing I remember was their proactive communication. They were able to overcome the moment and continue their ascent into Web leadership (but not without a few more outage events). Examining the way Tumblr handled this crisis is a reality check for those who continue to view crisis communications as a “nice to have.”

How did Tumblr handle the outage? Did they communicate proactively with media? Did they provide regular updates by Twitter? Did they create an information central blog on another platform and redirect customers to that? No. No. No.

Tumblr may have learned some important things about how to avoid another server meltdown. More importantly it needs to learn from how it screwed up its communications. Instead of owning the message and using the moment to build their brand as a customer centric company, they let their users define their brand via thousands of messages many of which included “Tumblr Fails”, “Tumblr Sucks” and even worse.

How did Tumblr use Twitter? They issued exactly 4 Tweets to its 56,000+ users during the two days of the outage. That’s right, 4. What a missed opportunity. How did Tumblr use the media? They didn’t. They media used them. TechCruch ran multiple stories without Tumblr commentary. Stories mocking Tumblr, its outage and its users appeared throughout the news cycle unchallenged. Again, a missed opportunity.

In fact their messaging consisted of increasingly embarrassing messages that users saw when trying to login to their blogs saying “Well be back shortly” while the outage stretched to more than 24 hours. Instead of using that screen shot for valuable customer communication, it became yet another thing to anger Tumblr’s users.


I’ve written about the need for crisis communications plans for companies in the past. I’ve written these plans and many times requests come in after the crisis. But in today’s age of 24/7 uptime, not having one is risky for any busiess. But it is absolutely shocking that Tumblr’s investors and management, given the popularity of the service, clearly did not have one. Or if they did, it wasn’t a one that even approached the minimum any company should have.

The service will continue to have growing pains. They will only be able to go to the well some many times. The next time they experience an outage, they need to be better prepared. Update: Tumblr continued to have sporadic outages for the next day. The Journal’s “All Things Digital” has good post on Tumblr’s outage today.







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Does it matter if Twitter isn’t mainsteam?

Last week I attended a great event MITX (Massachusetts Information and Technology Exchange) and Microsoft held for women in business. The event, “The Successful You: 2010 Women’s Leadership Forum” attracted smart, successful woman in business and technology. Speakers such as Gloria Larson, president of Bentley College, Judy Giordan of Venture Well and Laura Fitton, of Oneforty.com, Maria Cirino of 406 Ventures and others spoke about what it takes to be successful in business. It was a great event. I met some terrific women and heard some inspiring thoughts.

I’ll admit that I don’t always Tweet from every event I attend, but if there is a hashtag, I will monitor the flow. For this event I did a little of both. One of the things that surprised me was the small amount of Tweeting from the event given the number of professional women many of whom from technology. That’s not to say some of the attendees didn’t tweet, but given the traffic I’ve seen from other events, if was definitely less.

The reason I bring this up is because I just saw this poll posted by Henry Blodget on the Business Insider. The results to date show that 46% of the respondents don’t use Twitter on a regular basis.

Now Blodget has a horse in this race, as he posted earlier this year that Twitter had a problem about not being mainstream. Of course there are others, such as Forrester who believe otherwise. But leaving that alone, my experience at the event last week gave credence to his findings. Several follow-up conversations with attendees also provided support for Tweeting not being mainstream.

But does it really matter? For the past few years I’ve told my clients the same thing — Twitter is an excellent B2B communications tool, but like all tools it needs to be used wisely. Using Twitter because it makes you seem social is a waste of time. Using Twitter to build visibility or engagement among a desired audience is not. When clients ask me to help them build a Twitter channel the first question I always ask is “why?”. Are your customers there? Are there key influencers that actively engage in Twitter that you want to build relationships with? What are your goals? And what impact do you want it to have on your communications and business? If the answers are “no” to some of these questions, then Twitter may not be a good choice or a good investment of your resources.

Building up a valuable Twitter presence is not an overnight task. And the results, depending on the goal, may not be immediate. But that’s not to say there isn’t value in Twitter because, when used for the right reasons, there is. I won’t rehash the examples showing this. Instead here’s a recent personal experience. To build my visibility as provider of communications services, I have all my posts from this blog go out over Twitter. I usually have an average of 300 people read each post. My last post was retweeted by someone who has a large number PR professionals as followers . The number of hits on my blog went to 1200 after he tweeted it and extended the reach of post by 5000%. Due to the wider reach, more people saw it including at least two people who reached out to me about PR services.

Evidence points to Twitter not being as mainstream as Facebook. And it may never be. But it is still an incredibly useful and powerful tool.


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Can Reporter Objectivity Survive in a Twitter and Facebook world?

Journalists Rick Sanchez of CNN and Juan Williams of NPR have learned the hard way what can be the end result of expressing their opinions. Sanchez’s comments about people like Jon Stewart (i.e. Jewish) running CNN and Williams’ thoughts about Muslims on airplanes both got them fired.

But these comments were not made as part of their on-air jobs. They were both made during interviews. At one time these gotcha moments were rare. But today with the use of Facebook and Twitter, reporters don’t have wait to be interviewed to broadcast their opinions. They can do it as many times as they want, 140 characters at a time.

An editor from the Washington Post just learned his lesson although his punishment wasn’t as severe. It did, however, impact the entire publication. As a result of editor Raju Narisetti’s comments on his Twitter feed the Post issued strict guidelines for reporters and social media:

“What you do on social networks should be presumed to be publicly available to anyone, even if you have created a private account. It is possible to use privacy controls online to limit access to sensitive information. But such controls are only a deterrent, not an absolute insulator. Reality is simple: If you don’t want something to be found online, don’t put it there.”

It continues: “Post journalists must refrain from writing, tweeting or posting anything – including photographs or video – that could be perceived as reflecting political racial, sexist, religious or other bias or favoritism that could be used to tarnish our journalistic credibility.”

When I first read about this story it seemed that the Post was creating guidelines around reporters interacting with readers as part of their job. Matthew Ingram of GigaOm took the Post to task for ignoring the value Twitter brings through “reader engagement.”

But the guidelines as above are very broad. Reporter biases have always existed in one form or another. But today social media makes those biases available with a quick Google search. Will a Washington Post reporter be able to “like” anything on Facebook without it getting scrutinized? Will the places they check into using Foursquare be looked at as a preference? Will who they follow on Twitter be analyzed for preferences or favoritism? The way this is written reporters may have to refrain from any social media activity. Is that reasonable? Is it possible? Certainly reporters have always had the mandate to stay objective. But in a world where social engagement is becoming the norm that objectivity could become impossible.

Can traditional journalistic reporting include reporters participating in social media? Did the Post go too far with its guidelines? Should non-work related social media activities have an impact on journalists? Do you research a reporter’s social media presence when working with them? What are your thoughts?


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What the press really think about PR

I spent last Wednesday night at a panel discussion put on by the New England Venture Network on PR and social media for startups. The panel, moderated by Norm Birnbach, featured the thoughts of several local media experts: Greg Huang of Xconomy, Galen Moore of Mass High Tech, Dan Primack, who recently left Reuters and is now with Fortune.com, and Paul Gillin, a long time journalist and consultant on social media. Moderated by Norm Birnbach, the panel was lively and offered up some good thoughts on some current hot PR topics. Here’s a look at a few.

Is the press release dead?
If you follow PR you know that several practitioners have said either the traditional release is dead or that releases themselves are dead. Overall the panel agreed the press release is not dead, but there were some interesting opinions on what purpose it serves. Gillin felt releases were key for SEO. Primack said he doesn’t read past the first paragraph. Moore felt mailing the release to the editor was more effective than using Business Wire because he uses a RSS reader and “by 9am my reader is full of press releases I’m not going to read”. Huang thought releases were useful and for an organization like Xconomy good for writing briefs.

My take: Releases are not dead but they need to be viewed in a different way both in how they are written and how they are distributed. Releases must be written to serve the needs of the media but also to support the company’s SEO. It’s a delicate balance. Distribution must be evaluated in terms of the goal of the release. If a release is designed to tell customers about an upgrade that requires a different release and distribution strategy than a financing release. One thing that the panel brought up which I hope more companies listen too was about posting PDF’s of releases vs. full versions on a web site. PDFs do not provide SEO and visitors, including media and analysts, are less likely to read them.

Are Embargos dead?
Tech Crunch started the movement to kill the embargo. This panel was split down the middle about embargoes. Moore said MHT will not take embargos. Huang said they would. Gillin feels embargos are terrible and cautioned companies not to them. Primack said he’d take them. There was also disagreement on exclusives. Gillin cautioned the attendees to avoid them at all costs, feeling you will anger other outlets. Primack took the other side and said that if a startup has a chance to get an exclusive in TechCrunch why wouldn’t they?

My take: Embargoes can get you more coverage because it gives the reporter a chance to write the story ahead of the release and put up a story concurrently to the news. There are a number of outlets who will still take them and honor them. But you have to have a relationship with the writer and make it clear what the embargo is. If you don’t know for sure that the writer won’t break embargo, don’t give them the release. A good PR person will be able to help you with this.

As far as exclusives go, I am a huge proponent of them for startups when used carefully. I’ve packaged exclusives for media for over 20 years and only once have I had a competitive reporter be truly upset. And in that case we took care of them the next time around. And when I’ve given an exclusive to a major outlet like the Journal or the Times, I’ve been able to give the same story to other outlets by using a different angle.

Will media still take informational and background meetings?
I asked this question. Given the reduced staffs and need to file several stories a day, I wanted to hear if they thought background meetings were still something they thought were valuable. For the most part, they are still interested but they have to see the value in the meeting. For example, will they get insight into a market or a tidbit about another company. Is there news down the pike? Some of the panel, Moore particularly, wants to hear directly from the company executive about a meeting.

My take: Getting background meetings is tougher than it once was, but not impossible. The panel was right. You have to know how to position the value of the meeting for the reporter, blogger or analyst. What are their hot points? What are they working on? Is there another news story brewing that you client can provide insight on?

I’ll post some more of their insights this week.


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Up in smoke, when agency/client relationships go “mad”

I’m still reeling from the past two week’s Mad Men episodes. I’ve been through enough client terminations in my 20 years of marketing communications to not have had a visceral reaction to Lee Garner, Jr. giving Roger Sterling the bad news that he was terminating the relationship. And the meeting where Don and Bert told the agency the news? I’ve been there as well. I think the show captured all the fear and gritty determination to move forward that I’ve experienced in those circumstances.

I’ve spent over 15 years in client service and spent the previous 10 on the client side. And during that time I’ve had many conversations about what causes a relationship to end.

Agency/client relationships end for many reasons that are out of the control of the agency. A new VP or CEO may bring in his or her own agency. The client may get bought by another company who has their own corporate agency. Or, as in the case of Mad Men‘s American Tobacco, there is a directive to consolidate marketing under one agency. These are the frustrating ones. You really can’t do too much about them. Occasionally you can out run the directive but more often than not it’s a “bye bye” business.

But other times the relationship ends because the agency was no longer a satisfactory partner. And many times these signs are there well before the final parting of the ways. Here are a few questions to ask yourself about whether your relationship is in better shape than that of Sterling, Cooper, Draper, Pryce and Lucky Strike.

If you are an agency:

  • Does the client give you access to top executives? Do those executives know the work you’ve done for them?
  • Do you regularly package up results without asking? Do you actively promote your value?
  • When was the last time you proactively set up a meeting with the CEO or CMO to give them some insight about their communications program? Perhaps the results of a mini-perception analysis? Or a report on their social media using a tool like Radian6 or maybe just some feedback that the team has given you based on their work?
  • When other pieces of the client’s business are put up for review, are you asked to pitch them? Or asked what agencies you would like to work with?
  • When was the last time the client told you that they were really happy with the relationship?

And clients here are some questions to ask about your agency and whether your business may potentially be better off somewhere else:

  • Do you have a team comparable to the superstar team that was pitched? Or has your team slowly been replaced by second stringers that don’t quite have the same spark as the superstars you once had.
  • Is the agency pushing you or are you pushing them? When was the last time the agency put a new idea in front of you rather than waiting for a meeting to be called?
  • If you picked up the phone tomorrow and called the VP in charge of your business would they be able to answer key questions about your account? Or would they have to be briefed on what was going on?
  • When you see your competitor’s communication’s programs are you filled with envy or more proud of yours?

Terminations are hard on both the agency and client side. The worst scenario is when the relationship could have been saved. Perhaps Roger Sterling should have asked himself some of the questions above.

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The top 5 smart communications practices companies need to implement now

This post was prompted by the series Todd Defren, Paul Roberts, Lou Hoffman and Steve Farnsworth are doing about communications issues. On Wednesday each has been posting the answer to a critical question relevant to the communications industry. Today, the last day, the question is, “What are the Top 5 Smart Communications Practices Companies Need to Implement Now?”


Just 5, huh? These may change over time but here are the ones I recommend.

  1. Try to ask “why” as many times as you can. Often communications programs are driven by someone saying, “we have to” or “we really need to” or “we really should”. Many times I’ll hear people agree for no other reason than agreeing. With so many roads for a communications program to take and, increasingly, few resources, the asking of “why” is imperative. If you can’t give an answer that ties to the organization’s goals, you should focus instead on initiatives that will.
  2. Value the ability to communicate not just the ability to use the communication tools. I’ve seen many companies put an emphasis on people’s ability to use social media tools over the ability to be able develop compelling messages. The medium is not the message. The message is the message. The medium delivers it. You need to have the right message for the right medium, of course, but figuring out that has always been part of the communication professional’s job.
  3. Don’t approach social media as something you have to do. Blogging, Tweeting and Facebooking just to have a presence isn’t a strategy. Spend the time to figure out the things you should be doing and do them right.

  4. Don’t stay static. Relationships are created in a Tweet. Search is now instant. The days of developing a communications strategy for 6 months are over. Know where you are going but communication programs need to adapt and change at 21st century speeds.

  5. No matter how busy things get devote some time to slow down every once in a while and ask “What if?” Some of the most succesful communications programs have come from meetings where everyone had to throw out a crazy “what if” idea. Devoting time to encouraging creativity and out-of-the-box thinking isn’t done in companies as much as it should be. I used to have meetings where everyone had to be barefoot. Try it. It brings people out of their comfort zone. Comfort zones are nice places to visit, but they can’t, in today’s world of communication, be where you live.



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