9 Rules of Caution for Twitter Communications

My mother asked me the other day if I tweeped and I was actually proud of her that she was interested and even close to getting the word right. After all, she’s in her 70s and has never used a computer.  Assuming everyone who works knows what Twitter is and how to say it, I’ve put together some Twitter “don’ts” that might resonate with you or remind you. Please share your rules – I am sure I’m missing a few.

  1. Avoid “good morning” postings (do your followers really care, especially those in other time zones?)
  2. No need to say you’re signing off for the night – pre-Twitter, did you send emails saying “Goodnight” to everyone?
  3. Thanking your followers for the retweet comes across as braggadocio; send a DM if you feel the need
  4. Before re-tweeting a posting with a link – check the link to make sure it’s kosher
  5. Know the difference between Re and DM (note to Anthony Weiner)
  6. Avoid Twitterhea – diarrhea of postings just stinks. Space out your postings to avoid a lot of un-follows
  7. Avoid me-too coverage – differentiate your tweets, have a Twitter voice and don’t use it to scream and rant
  8. Use hash tags carefully – generally they’re appreciated when tracking conference coverage or big news events/developments
  9. Don’t plagiarize on Twitter – if you can’t post something in your own words, then retweet or take a break

- Diane Schwartz



Compromise: The Real Deal For You and Me (and for our Government?)

There’s been a lot of talk about raising the debt ceiling. At the time of this writing, the President and Republican-led House are at a stalemate on the U.S. debt ceiling, agreeing that the ceiling needs raising, but neither side agreeing to the Compromise. Doesn’t all this bickering make you feel better about your professional and personal relationships and your willingness to compromise? Every day we are compromising on things large and small. We settle our differences, show tolerance and sacrifice with our colleagues, our loved ones and even strangers. We make concessions for our bosses and peers who we don’t always see eye to eye with, and we give a little to get what we want. And as communicators, we’re really good at making sure the Compromise is recognized by our stakeholders.

We are The Best Compromisers in the World, right?  Wrong!!

There’s a dark side to compromise – on one hand, our parents taught us to play well in the sandbox, to lose some battles to win the big war, to not be so darn possessive and share our possessions. (Most parents taught this, at least). On the other hand, college professors and mentors, and profiles of leading businesspeople point to the weakness behind compromise. You compromise, you don’t reach your full potential in the situation and you’re committing to something you find objectionable.

Do we want our President to compromise what he thinks is right? And what of our elected state representatives? No wonder there’s a stalemate. Never mind the bright green tie that Boehner wore on TV Monday night or the tired look on Obama’s face. There’s something bigger at stake.

Even Mohandas Gandhi recognized the challenges behind Compromise:

“All compromise is based on give and take, but there can be no give and take on fundamentals. Any compromise on mere fundamentals is a surrender. For it is all give and no take.”

And Janis Joplin advised: “Don’t compromise yourself. You are all you’ve got.”

So we’ve got Joplin and Gandhi tilted toward sticking to your “guns” and we’ve got a culture where Compromise is often seen as a weakness. Really, though, it’s a strength.

The ability to reach a compromise on the things that really matter through collaboration and recalibration is the way forward for each of us, in our careers and personal lives. The debt ceiling Really Matters. Our marriage Really Matters.  Personal safety Really Matters. There are hundreds of instances in which you shouldn’t compromise. For the most part, though, we should be Daily Compromisers.

We’re all pretty sure there will be a Compromise on the Debt Ceiling. Unfortunately, one side will be deemed the winner and the other the loser despite the final and smart decision to Compromise.

— Diane Schwartz

On Twitter: @dianeschwartz

Choose to Lead in Social Media

Bonin Bough wants to scare you.

In a Q&A on PR News Online, the global head of digital for PepsiCo makes it clear the window of opportunity for PR pros to stake their claim as social media leaders is narrow, and closing fast.

“The core skills of communicators—storytelling, authentic communications and the art of persuasion—are critically important,” says Bough, who is keynoting PR News’ Aug. 9 Facebook Conference in San Francisco. “At the same time, I often feel communications agencies and teams confine themselves to a specific segment within social…PR agencies are not adapting quickly enough, they are not thinking broadly enough, they do not understand the stakes. If communicators don’t seize the moment, the fastest growing piece of communications’ budgets is going to slip out of reach.”

It’s up to PR pros to smash the notion of the “social media guru” and demystify the use of social networking for their organizations and clients. Trepidation about measuring ROI should be cast aside as they forcibly make the case that it’s about communications first, and the platform second.

So while PR pros should be spending time now learning about emerging platforms like Google+ so, for instance, they can take the lead when brands are able to launch fully on that network, they need to act as if it’s simply dangerous to let other internal corporate functions or digital agencies take over the task of engaging with stakeholders. In fact, for the sake of one’s career, it’s dangerous not to act that way.

—Steve Goldstein

Is PR Batting Clean-Up?

I know you’ve heard it all before: In order to get a C-suite seat, PR pros have to think more like, and speak the language of, the CEO. Communicators also have to somehow show the top brass that PR is moving the business needle—which is the topic of my lead story in the upcoming July 25 issue of PR News. In talking to the Metrics Man—Don Bartholomew of Fleishman-Hillard—for the story, I learned something that I think is rather ironic: crisis/reputation management is what’s really bringing PR and the C-suite together. Think about it: Right now News Corp., it’s own communications team and the four or five PR agencies it has hired are working closely to avoid being put out of business. They all feel as one. Since I’m forever the pessimist, how can this be a good thing? Is PR being pulled away from the things it does best like furthering the brand and creating awareness, and becoming more known for cleaning up messes? Let me know what you think.

–Scott Van Camp
































Google+, Investor Relations and Lawyers’ Panic Attacks

On July 14, as Google led listeners through its second-quarter 2011 financial results, CEO Larry Page took to multitasking.

As he spoke on the call, Page offered some of the same information to his Google+ followers.

And why not? He had a lot to crow about. Google’s reported revenues had increased 32% over Q2 2010. Aggregate paid clicks were up 18%, and average cost per click increased by 12%.

Just one thing though—what about Fair Disclosure? The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s Regulation FD prohibits selective disclosure of information by publicly traded companies. Google+, like any social network, is nothing but selective about the sharing of information among followers. Google+, with its Circles feature, which restricts the flow of information to handpicked followers, enables the user to be more exclusive with messages than Facebook and Twitter.

The SEC had offered guidance in 2008 about the use of Web sites in relation to Regulation FD, and mentioned some conditions that had to be met when releasing information for investors on Web sites; namely, that the information needs to be widely accessible and be available in a known channel besides the site.

This guidance predates the ubiquity of social networks. During its earnings call, Google was, consciously or not, potentially pushing the limits of Fair Disclosure.

The question for investor relations pros is, was it safe for Google to share information with investors in the closed community of Google+—or on any social network?

Jeff Morgan, CEO of the National Investor Relations Institute, says this is a case of a high tech company once again redefining boundaries and, more important, showing other companies how to take control of its messages.

“At this point high tech companies are sort of blazing the trail. What you’re seeing is a lot of companies—particularly in high tech space—showing how we can use social media channels,” says Morgan. “It is not an FD problem. You’re listening to an earnings call but also getting tweets about it, for instance. But I think what’s important is for companies to take advantage of using a bigger microphone. Send that info to all those channels. All of this is a positive way to multipurpose your message.”

Morgan points out that this change has been evolutionary, not revolutionary. It’s just the next platform in a line of investor communications tools that began with hand-delivered messages.

“Google+ is not a widely available, known channel,” Morgan says. “But as long as a company has met the FD requirements elsewhere, there’s no harm. It’s the same information.”

Dominic Jones, founder of IR Web Report, says that while posting an earnings script on Google+ is something new, Page’s move was within the bounds of FD. “Regulation FD doesn’t come into this because the live earnings call complied with FD, and [Page] posted the script after he had already distributed the information on the call,” Jones says.

Nevertheless, using push technology like Facebook and Google+ to share information with investors does carry with it some risk.

There are ways that companies and their executives could use Google+ and other social media and be in compliance with Reg FD,” Jones says. “However, they have to think it through beforehand. It’s not hard, but most lawyers will have a panic attack if you even mention [social media]. That’s because they don’t understand how the technology works. Tech people need to work with legal, IR and executives to find the right technical solutions. The legal framework has been outlined clearly by the SEC and it’s not a high hurdle, but lawyers don’t understand the tech and geeks don’t understand the law.”

Legal aspects aside, some shareholders might feel left out if a CEO is blasting away on Google+ during an earnings call and they’re not part of that particular Circle and can’t comment. This can create some sticky situations for investor relations professionals.

“Where all external audiences are supposed to be treated the same, how will IR departments create their Circles?” says Jones.

Start drafting those conciliatory e-mails now.

—Steve Goldstein




Netflix Price Changes Cause Facebook Fury

Since 23 million people are members of Netflix, the chances are pretty good that the company’s Tuesday announcement of new DVD/streaming plans is affecting you. For me, it’s a life changer. No way my spouse will accept DVD and streaming together for $15.98 per month instead of $9.99 like it is now. In fact, I’m hesitant to bring the subject up at home (but that’s for another type of blog).

This move by Netflix has ignited a firestorm on its Facebook page, which at present has nearly 39,000 comments on the announcement—many of them negative. The actual decision to raise prices not withstanding, is there anything Netflix could have done to avoid this little PR glitch? Mike McDougall, PR consultant and former VP of communications at Bausch + Lomb, says there were two problems: First, the news appeared to be launched on the Web before it was announced directly to customers. “Informing your current customers first should always be a priority, or at least done concurrently with news dissemination,” says McDougall. Second, there was little explanation, or rationale, for the changes. “If the rates are skyrocketing on a percentage basis, an explanation must carry water,” he says.

It will be interesting to see in the coming weeks how many Netflix members cancel because of this. In the meantime, is there anything Netflix can do to stem the negative tide?

–Scott Van Camp

5 Follow-Ups to 7-Eleven’s Slurpee Giveaway

It’s 7/11/11. Have you had your free Slurpee yet?

Like Louis Armstrong, convenience store chain 7-Eleven celebrates its birthday according to whim (Pops celebrated his birthday on July 4, even though he was born on Aug. 4). 7-Eleven has chosen July 11 to be its unofficial birthday, an occasion celebrated annually by offering visitors to its stores free 7.11-ounce Slurpees.

Nothing passes the WIIFM (“what’s in it for me?”) test in PR campaigns like free stuff. Especially free stuff that’s cold and goes down easy on a hot summer day—even if it is a little on the sweet side for us.

And when you combine free stuff with the reach of Twitter, you’ve got audience engagement you just can’t buy. OK, the sweetener and the ice and the cups must cost 7-Eleven something, but we’re not talking about free iPads here. “7Eleven” has been a top trend on Twitter today, as consumers have been sharing the news and racing to stores before the well runs dry.

Not all brands offer a product as ubiquitous—and as inexpensively made—as the Slurpee, but that doesn’t mean they can’t find ways to give away free stuff and create true goodwill. We offer here some suggestions that we’re sure would be tweet-worthy:

1. NYC Metropolitan Transit Authority’s 1/1 Ride for Free Day: Free public transportation to keep the revelers off the road—and alive.

2. Walgreens’ 6/21 Free Sunblock Day: In honor of the first day of summer, Walgreens offers with the purchase of its store brand sunblock a second tube for free.

3. Dunkin’ Donuts’ December Donut Day: To celebrate the first day of Hanukkah, Dunkin’ Donuts offers a free donut with the purchase of a cup of coffee (donuts—jelly, in particular–are a tradition on Hanukkah).

4. H&R Block’s 4/16 Free Tax Advice Day: Anyone visiting an H&R Block office the day after Tax Day gets a free 20-minute consultation. This is for those who really plan ahead.

5. BP’s 4/22 Free Energy Day: On Earth Day, customers at BP’s solar-powered service stations receive a free solar-powered charger for mobile devices.

Please add your own suggestions—it’s free.

—Steve Goldstein



Can Obama Win Re-Election? Here’s How

I’m working on a story for the 7/11/11 issue of PR News on President Obama’s negative public opinion numbers, and what communicators should do if faced with a similar, seemingly immovable object (like the economy). I spoke to three PR pros with considerable experience in the political arena: Richard Levick, president of Levick Communications; Kent Jarrell, EVP at APCO Worldwide; and Ned Barnett, head of Barnett Communications. I asked them what specifically Obama could do to lift his chances for re-election next year, and the answers were illuminating. Here are some excerpts:

Levick: The President received a well-deserved bump after Osama Bin Laden was killed; but popularity is a fickle mistress. The Tip O’Neill wisdom that “all politics is local” still applies —and right now, unemployment is front and center at kitchen tables across America. The President’s ratings are walking hand-in-hand in hand with the peoples’ pocketbooks. Once again, “it’s the economy stupid.”

While there isn’t much the President can do to spur economic growth that hasn’t already been done, he does have the advantage of another 16 months during which recovery can accelerate. Add the fact that those vying for the Republican nomination will spend much of that time cannibalizing each other, and I don’t see the President shifting gears too dramatically in the coming months. Waiting is the best option he has on the top issue draining his numbers. He doesn’t need to go on the attack; as his opponents will attack themselves.

Jarrell: The PR strategy should not unnecessarily accentuate the positive.  It has to accentuate reality. National security, terrorism and the two wars are pending issues, but  James Carville’s warning to fellow campaign workers during the 1992 election, “it’s the economy stupid,” is just as relevant today , if not more so.

As a candidate, Obama was known for his effective use of soaring oratory that focused voters on “hope.”  Now, his messages have to be more operational and grounded in leadership and tough decision making.  The President has to continually speak in a tone that is consistent with what many Americans are feeling as the country goes through an economic transformation.  There has to be plain talk about the realities of the future while not making the mistake Jimmy Carter made when he declared in a nationally televised speech that the American people were suffering from a “crisis of confidence.” I suspect that low economic poll numbers for the President are also driving down other numbers  and that higher economic poll numbers will be a “tide that lifts all boats” when it comes to approval ratings.

Barnett: Here’s what Obama WILL  do—His strategy will accentuate a positive that the facts may not bear out, and a positive that the voters (based on the polls) don’t see.  On key issues that worry the public, I have seen Obama make statements that seem divorced from reality.  He says the recession is over, but we have more people who’ve been unemployed for more than six months than at any time in our history (since we began keeping records).  Afghanistan is a politically-driven dog’s breakfast, with the President going counter to his generals’ recommendations (even as he has his people “leak” that this was the general’s strategy).

Here is what Obama SHOULD do:

If you were on Obama’s communications team, what would you suggest?

–Scott Van Camp

Zuckerberg Takes It to the Bridge

Facebook’s July 6 announcement and live demo of its new partnership with Skype was shadowed by the recent launch of Google’s social networking service, Google+.

At Facebook headquarters in Palo Alto, Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook, and Tony Bates, CEO of Skype, demonstrated for the press “video calling,” which integrates Skype video chats into Facebook’s platform. Initiating a video call will require just a couple of clicks; people on the call would remain on Facebook’s site.

One of the first questions during the Q&A came from Mashable’s Ben Parr, who said to Zuckerberg, “I’ve got to ask, what do you think of Google+’s Hangout?”

Zuckerberg pulled a reverse bridge move. Instead of saying blandly that “it’s an exciting time for innovation for all companies” and then moving back to his own talking points about video calling and the new group chat text feature, he began his response by saying the partnership with Skype was “super awesome—we’re really excited about this.”

Just when it appeared he wouldn’t deal with the question about Google+ and its video chat feature, Hangout, Zuckerberg placed the new service from Google in historical context, suggesting that it was inevitable. “As far as the Google stuff goes, in terms of the narrative of all of this, the last five years have been about connecting people, and the next five years are going to be about apps,” Zuckerberg said. “There are going to be lots of apps coming from companies that are going to build on existing platforms, or for their own platforms…I view a lot of this as a validation of how [we think] this is going to play out. Every app is going to be social.”

Zuckerberg didn’t run from the question. In fact, he rambled a bit. His answer, instead of pitting one company against another, was interesting in itself. This is not about Facebook vs. Google, he was essentially saying—it’s about where technology is going.

And the underlying, very confident message from Facebook: We are helping to build the future—we are not afraid of it.

—Steve Goldstein

Transocean’s Gulf Spill Response: It’s BP’s Fault

If you want to read about an effective crisis PR strategy (so far) that goes against today’s common wisdom, read the June 30 cover story in Bloomberg Businessweek. The story concerns oil drilling contractor Transocean, whose Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20, 2010, killing 11 of its workers and causing untold billions of dollars in environmental and economic damage to the Gulf region.

What’s interesting about Transocean is that the company isn’t all touchy-feely, transparent and contrite in its response to the crisis—which is really the recommended response to most PR crises today. Instead, they blame BP, plain and simple. Consider this: so far Transocean hasn’t contributed one penny to the $20 billion victims compensation fund started by BP; the company looked to cap its liability to less than $27 million for workers’ injuries and deaths by invoking a 169-year-old maritime law that was put in play by owners of the Titanic; shortly after than move, Transocean announced it would issue $1 billion in dividends to its shareholders; and declared that despite the accident in the Gulf, 2010 was the company’s best year for safety.

Yet there’s method to Transocean’s madness: the company could go under if it admits liability and has to fork over billions for the clean-up. Leading the PR charge in this effort is Wall Street crisis agency Financial Dynamics. Honestly, you have to give this agency and Transocean some props for so far deflecting blame to BP. However, there is still lots of litigation to come, and it will be very interesting to see how Transocean’s contrarian strategy plays out in the coming months.

–Scott Van Camp

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