The Kennedys Take on Twitter

Ted Kennedy’s August 25 passing marked the end to his year-long battle with brain cancer, and preparations for his funeral and Arlington Cemetery burial immediately began in earnest. Given the Kennedy family’s historical prominence and long-standing notoriety, it was no surprise that traditional and social media platforms began buzzing with coverage and conversations.

What was a surprise (to me, at least) was the August 26 launch of @KennedyNews, the official Twitter account of the Kennedy family and staff. The family is steeped in tradition, which made me see the announcement as a departure from their stately mystique and, in turn, an entrée into direct communication with various publics.

Upon further consideration, though, the family’s creation of a Twitter account (which, they say, will be used to keep the public informed about funeral activities, not to discuss politics) makes a lot of sense. For starters, the Kennedys are a brand unto themselves. But, when taken in the context of many corporate brand owners’ resistance to adopting social media because of the perceived loss of control, the Kennedy family’s decision to join the conversation contradicts this widely held fear; after all, one could argue that their motivation was none other than the desire to control access to family-related information.

Indeed, that is exactly what a Twitter account will do. By no means will it reduce the conversations related to Ted’s funeral—or to the family in general—but it will act as the “official” Kennedy voice and, in turn, manage the maelstrom of incoming media inquiries, etc. It just goes to show you that the “loss of control” argument continues to be one worth examining closely before using it as a reason to abstain from social media. As for the use of the @KennedyNews account after Ted’s burial, it will be interesting to see if the family makes their social media presence a permanent one.

By Courtney Barnes

Lions, Tigers & Empowered Employees

We are constantly being interrupted – whether it’s by email messages, text messages, people needing something from you while you’re in the middle of something else. We have come to accept these interruptions, perhaps embrace them and not even recognize when we are being rude. I am going to share a story with you that has nothing to do with social media, which I’d argue is the number one interruptive medium.  My story has to do with an empowered employee who recognized a minor mistake resulting in a customer interruption and without having to call her boss, made a positive change. It happened recently at the Bronx Zoo, when I was paying for admission tickets. The employee in the 2×4 booth started her string of questions to me and then another employee barged into the ticket booth needing something and demanding this employee’s attention stat. The interruption lasted less than a minute. People interrupt conversations all the time, and this was the zoo, after all. So I didn’t think anything of it.  The employee turned back around and when I gave her my credit card to pay for the tickets, she gave me a heartfelt apology for the interruption and making me wait. And in a NY minute told me there’d be no charge. A free day at the zoo for a family of four. My family and I reacted like we won the lottery (we never win anything!). We weren’t even angry about the interruption, and here we were about $70 richer and heading for the lion cage. This Bronx Zoo employee made the call to handle a potential upset customer by going above and beyond, without having to get approval from her boss. That’s empowerment. That’s good customer relations. Think about the little unexpected actions that your employees can take to surprise your customers and keep them coming back for more.

- Diane Schwartz

Say What? Marines Ban Social Media for One Year

It wouldn’t come as a shock that the military might be skittish about social media, but some branches are surprisingly forward-thinking—namely, the Air Force, whose “Web Posting Response Assessment” is often used as a best-in-class example of how to manage negative conversations in the blogosphere.

Not so much with the Marines, though. Cyberspace was all a-Twitter with comments surrounding the Corps’ recent decision to ban social media sites like Twitter, Facebook and MySpace from its networks for one year.

“These internet sites in general are a proven haven for malicious actors and content and are particularly high risk due to information exposure, user generated content and targeting by adversaries,” reads a Marine Corps order, issued Monday, August 3, 2009. “The very nature of SNS [social network sites] creates a larger attack and exploitation window, exposes unnecessary information to adversaries and provides an easy conduit for information leakage that puts OPSEC [operational security], COMSEC [communications security], [and] personnel… at an elevated risk of compromise.”

This is all true, with one very significant exception: A social media ban in no way correlates to reduced risk—if anything, it will make these “malicious actors” more inclined to try their hand at infiltrating virtual protective walls.

Instead of digging a cyber spider hole in which to hide, I would argue that the Marines would have been profoundly better off had they chosen to develop and implement a very careful social media policy. After all, this is the very safeguard put in place by dozens of the most risk-averse companies in the business world—that is, once they realized that avoidance would hurt, not help, their cause.

Or, am I being unreasonable to judge the Marines’ decision? My grandfather was a Marine Corps Capitan in the Korean War but, aside from war stories told by surviving relatives, that is my one and only window into the military. I’d like to pose the question to readers: The Marine Corps is justified in banning social media use for the stated reasons—yay or nay?

By Courtney Barnes

PS–Check out the August 10, 2009, issue of PR News, in which a new feature called “PR Advisers” debuts. In the first installation, four communications experts weigh in on social media policy must-haves. Definitely check it out, and email me at if you’d like to submit a question for consideration.

Birthdays & Goodwill Hunting

Yesterday was President Obama’s 48th birthday and it got me thinking about office etiquette: to gift your boss or not? To give your client a birthday gift or not? To give your favorite blogger a birthday gift or not? I’m losing money as I write this, just thinking about all the gifts I need to buy. What you choose to give your boss on his or her birthday says a lot about your relationship with your manager or how you perceive that relationship.  You can find a lot of tips online about gift giving, but few advice columns point to the fact that how a gift is emotionally received is based a great deal on the current relationship you have with that person.  If you’re a communicator it should sound familiar, as you know that the relationships you have with your stakeholders — from the media to employees to investors — is based on ongoing, open and honest communication. That goodwill is built over time, so it doesn’t matter if you give your boss a $4 birthday card or a $400 briefcase. If your relationship is sour, the gift might as well be a lead balloon.  Most likely, today is NOT your boss’s birthday or the birthday of that blogger you’re trying to influence. So start building that goodwill now and your $25 gift will feel like a million dollars.

How do you handle gifts for bosses, clients, employees, etc?

– Diane Schwartz

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