How much do you listen to your constituents via social channels? Be honest.
A recently released Pew report should worry communicators who are tasked with cultivating a dialogue with, customers, prospects and other stakeholders, particularly via social channels.
Pegged to Edward Snowden’s 2013 revelations of widespread government surveillance of Americans’ phone and email records, the survey asked 1,801 adults about their willingness to talk about the revelations in various in-person and online settings.
According to the study, 86 percent of Americans were willing to have an in-person conversation about the surveillance program, but just 42 percent of Facebook and Twitter users were willing to post about it on those platforms. Of the 14% of Americans unwilling to discuss the Snowden-NSA story in person with others, only 0.3% were willing to post about it on social media.
Is social media having a chilling effect on conversation that in any way deviates from the mundane and the celebratory?
If you think back about some of the positive moves you have made in your life, some of them were probably sparked by comments by your friends, family, spouses, that you initially deemed negative.
Indeed, the Pew study raises larger questions for PR pros about consumers’ readiness (or lack thereof) to discuss sensitive issues on social channels.
Of course, when social channels started to flourish they were supposed to herald an era of open communication, where consumers need not feel cowed by expressing unpopular (yet valid) opinions.
However, follow this trend uncovered by Pew to a logical conclusion and it won’t be just matters of national security that people aren’t willing to discuss on social channels, but any issue deemed sensitive or, worse, benign.
A globalized (and shrinking) economy demands that PR managers engage in conversations about their products and services that are going to point out their flaws and provide recommendations on how to build a better mousetrap.
If all the comments on your social channels speak to how wonderful your brand is then something is probably not right. And that’s a recipe for resting on your laurels, which is no recipe at all.
With that in mind, here are three ways to encourage warts-and-all conversation on your social platforms—and generate the kind of market intelligence that’s going to build your brand and find new audiences, rather than play it safe.
> Insert some language on your social accounts that will assuage people who may think that their comments about a particular subject may be off base. You want to maintain respect for the process and not let things get too personal, but not at the expense of stifling opinion.
> Try and start off a conversation on social platforms by taking a skeptical yet inquisitive approach about some challenges your company or agency may be experiencing. This gets so-called influencers to take your brand communications more seriously and demonstrates that your company won’t shrink from criticism.
> If you do get comments via social channels that, at first blush, seem to besmirch your brand, don’t be so quick to nuke them. Sure, the comment may be vituperative in nature, but it may also include insights about your company that you hadn’t considered and, with a closer look, helps to solve a problem.
What would you add to the list?
Follow Matthew Schwartz on Twitter: @mpsjourno1
I was moderating a PR News session in Boston on communicating with journalists, and I thought it was going rather well. We had two veteran PR pros and two veteran journalists (one a broadcast journalist, the other a newspaper reporter), and we had some disagreement. The PR pros talked about the value of building relationships with journalists, and the journalists said, essentially, that they don’t have enough time for relationships with their family members and old friends, let alone relationships of any kind with PR practitioners.
“Just send us something we can actually use,” was their message.
Afterward, a few of the attendees were disturbed that the four speakers weren’t in perfect alignment, which I found surprising. Edifying, but friendly, conflict was what I was after. That’s how you get to the truth of things.
“Shouldn’t they have been in sync before the session?” an attendee asked me. What I didn’t tell this person was that the two journalists had in fact had the opportunity to see the PR pros’ presentations ahead of time and had been asked to offer their unvarnished opinions on the PR pros’ viewpoints.
The opposing messages on the podium made clear—to me, at least—that there are conflicting yet equally valuable truths about media relations. Journalists bristle at the feel-good PR lingo about “trust-based relationships” and just want to see pitches and news that’s valid and useful to them. Yet, at the same time, the journalists are blind to some of the valuable relationship building at work.
In fact, the journalist who was most skeptical of relationship building was there solely because of the networking skills of one of the PR pros on the panel. She follows her own advice and belongs to every journalists’ association in the region. She puts herself out there physically and, yes, builds relationships. It was through this network of relationships that she made contact with this journalist and invited him to the session in Boston. His mere presence was proof that building relationships works.
Two conflicting truths do not cancel each other out. They coexist uncomfortably side by side, making life more interesting.
Measurement is one of those irrefutable initiatives in the PR and marketing world. You cannot argue with the idea that what can’t be measured can’t be managed. Nor can you dispute the reality that many practitioners do not take measurement seriously.
Is PR Measurement like hand washing at the restroom? Let’s face it: there are those who always wash their hands, those who sometimes do, and others who pretend they do. Unlike washing your hands in the bathroom, measurement is not mindless, and it can’t be done in a minute. Some would even say it’s a bit messy. Communicators still do not have a standard by which to measure communications practices, though it is finally agreeing that ad value equivalencies are ineffective in moving the needle.
This week marks the first annual AMEC Measurement Week, a global “event” sponsored by the International Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communication. PR firms and communicators at organizations worldwide are hosting meetings, events and social media discussions to tout the benefits of both measurement and evaluation. Check out PR News’s web site, newsletter and social media (#prmeasure) for interviews with measurement leaders and practical ideas on measurement. This week shines a spotlight on an area of our practice that is less shiny and new. Now is a perfect time to reflect on your personal philosophy about measurement and your commitment to the daily practice of measurement.
In countless conversations with communicators, and on the stage at PR News’s Measurement Conferences in DC (and coming on Nov. 20 in Chicago), experts on the topic are heated and singularly passionate about measurement. Attendees take copious notes and nod in agreement. These are clearly the people who care about measurement and carry the torch.
It is beholden on every communicator to understand The Barcelona Principles (66% of communicators in a recent PR News survey said they never heard of the Principles), to set measurable goals and to be willing to acknowledge when a campaign or idea didn’t hit the mark. The latter takes time, courage and teamwork.
Please share your measurement thoughts with us at PR News, and contribute to this important conversation.
– Diane Schwartz
On Twitter; @dianeschwartz
Today, the Baltimore Ravens cut Ray Rice, the running back who was involved in an ugly altercation in February with his then fiancé, and now wife, Janay Palmer.
The NFL followed the Ravens’ action by suspending Rice indefinitely.
What a difference a video makes. The contract cancellation and the suspension come just a month and a half after NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell imposed a two-game suspension on Rice to start the season—a move that was widely criticized as a meaningless slap on the wrist.
Just over a week ago, Goodell got a do-over, and announced a much tougher domestic abuse policy for the league.
And that August 28 policy came down just three days before the San Francisco 49ers defensive end Ray McDonald was arrested on felony charges in connection with a domestic violence incident involving him and his fiancée.
But all this was before the video came out on TMZ.com showing Rice in an Atlantic City elevator knocking out his fiancé with a withering punch to the face.
Have you ever looked at Rice’s arms? It had to have been a horribly powerful punch.
With the NFL, it’s only a matter of time before the next act of criminal behavior. But the league is hyper-popular, and fans just want to see great athletes play—they care less, seemingly, about what kind of people those players are.
This creates a major communications dilemma for the league. With so many players in so much trouble, what’s the league to do? And many of these players are not just not nice guys, but some are really bad. Two words: Aaron Hernandez.
So far, the NFL’s handling of its terrible publicity has been terribly poor.
Consider what Christine Brennan said today in USA Today:
“Ray Rice is gone from the Baltimore Ravens and suspended indefinitely by the NFL. That’s a very good ending to an absolutely horrible situation.”
(One thing sort of bothers me reading Brennan’s item and others today: The media tends to pile on: Rice was considered a decent guy for a long time. He was personable, accessible, a humble guy from New Rochelle feted on the local sports radio station, WFAN. Now he’s a monster.)
Anyway, Brennan’s point is that now that Ray Rice is gone, what about Ray McDonald? Or Greg Hardy of the Carolina Panthers, who was found guilty of assaulting his former girlfriend and is still playing? Or Ravens teammate Terrell Suggs, whose longtime girlfriend described repeated assaults on her by Suggs.
Why are these people and others still playing? Does it really all come down to a video? Why has the Ravens management—until today—been absolutely supportive of Rice? Well, we all know the answer—yes, it all really does come down to shocking video evidence. But that doesn’t mean it’s a good communications strategy, or the right thing.
Take a look at your “Meet the Team” and “About Us” pages on your web site. Do these pages reflect a multifaceted workforce? Do the photos of your team and their bios underscore an understanding of your many stakeholders? In other words, can visitors relate to you? You might not think these questions are worth asking until a reporter clicks on Meet the Team and asks just that.
That’s what happened late last month when Common Ground Public Relations was hired by the City of Ferguson, MO, to handle calls from the media following the fatal shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown by a police officer in the St Louis suburb. As if the media didn’t have enough angles with which to cover the Ferguson story, it was handed one on a white porcelain platter. The PR firm that was hired to take all media calls following the crisis, as Talking Points Media noted, “appears to be staffed entirely by white people.” Noted Daily Kos in its headline about the firm’s hiring: “City of Ferguson PR Firm Has Something In Common with Its Police Force.”
The PR industry has been slowly working on its diversity problem, recognizing that less than 15% of PR professionals in the US are of African-American, Asian or Hispanic/Latino descent (per the Bureau of Labor Statistics). It is a real problem that needs a more aggressive push by our industry associations, PR leaders and hiring managers in communications departments and at PR firms. PRSA’s Diversity Tool Kit is a nice-to-have resource, along with its Diversity Committee, but is it enough? Ironically, the press hasn’t mentioned that Common Ground’s team supposedly includes just one male among the seven pictured. Diversity comes in all colors, races and genders.
I agree with Denise Bentele, president and CEO of Common Ground Public Relations, when she told Odwyer’s that “the color of our skin reflected nothing of our concern to help our broader community respond to the watchful world.” It appears the firm is doing a decent job helping the City of Ferguson communicate not only to its residents but to a world that’s watching the investigation and public unrest.
There was nothing Common Ground could have done in the time that it was solicited by the City of Ferguson and the hours that it took for the media to click on Meet the Team and see a sea of white faces. To have quickly added some diversity to that page would surely have been snuffed out and would have positioned the firm as disingenuous. (That doesn’t stop Common Ground, however, from exploring diversity in its hiring practices.)
The knock on the City of Ferguson for hiring an “all white” firm amid a race-infused crisis is fair, and such obvious bait for reporters that it’s already a non-story. For the PR industry, the bigger problem is why more people with diverse backgrounds do not want to make PR their career. Here’s to a future where Meet the Team is not met with scrutiny.
- Diane Schwartz
Let’s connect on Twitter: @dianeschwartz
Nearly four weeks into the phenomenon, the Ice Bucket Challenge shows no signs of letting up.
The idea of dumping cold water on one’s head to raise money for charity may be a watershed for both brands and nonprofits alike when it comes to how to raise money for charitable causes and get the word out.
The major beneficiary of the challenge has been the ALS Association. (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord.)
Participants are expected to donate $10 if they have poured the water over their head and donate $100 if they have not.
People who take the challenge then challenge others to hop on board.
A veritable who’s who from the worlds of business, celebrity, and sports have joined the fray, including Jeff Bezos, Kobe Bryant, Bill Gates, LeBron James and Martha Stewart, as well as John and Jane Q. Public and kids galore.
From late July through August, the association has seen donation soar to $31.5 million, from $1.9 million during the same period last year, according to the ALS Association.
The genesis of the phenomenon is unclear, with attribution to multiple sources.
But there’s little debate that Massachusetts resident and former Boston College baseball player Pete Frates, who suffers from ALS, put the challenge on the U.S. map.
Frates, who for years has advocated on behalf of ALS, started posting about the challenge on Twitter a few weeks ago. Now it seems as if every other Facebook page on the planet features video of a person dumping cold water on his head.
A phenomenon like the Ice Bucket Challenge doesn’t come along very often. For PR managers who are closely following the campaign, it’s hard to catch lightning a bottle.
Perhaps the most salient lesson is that you can’t hatch a viral campaign in a boardroom or a series of marketing meetings in which executives are implored to think differently. Any content that takes off like wildfire is likely to be organic in nature.
Still, there are a few takeaways for communicators, with a hat tip to Michelle Mulkey, partner and corporate social responsibility practice chair at FleishmanHillard.
> When people are raising awareness and/or funding on your organization’s behalf en masse, try and harness the interest by engaging participants at the local level. Return myriad favors by increasing engagement with community members. Throw a house party (or two) for people who have been major players in the campaign. Use those gatherings as an opportunity to spread the message and better educate the public about your mission.
> Leverage the campaign to shift people’s attention to the ongoing needs of the organization or charitable cause, whether that’s lobbying at the governmental level or communicating what else people can do to assist in the effort (beyond funding), which plays into the third tip.
> Serve as a conduit to people who want to help the cause at a granular level. Regarding the Ice Bucket Challenge, there are most likely people who met the challenge and now want to further help people and families grappling with ALS. Use all communications channels to coordinate such efforts.
What else would you add to the list?
Follow Matthew Schwartz on Twitter: @mpsjourno1
I’ve been riveted by the fast-moving situation in Ferguson, Missouri. It seems like an event from the sixties, a dark reflection of an ugly period long past, when cities burned and communities writhed in confrontations with law enforcement. I paid oblique attention for the first few days, but was shocked this morning (Thursday, August 14) to see that the situation hadn’t merely continued, but escalated dramatically. The footage was staggering—police firing tear gas, accosting journalists, knocking down TV cameras, advancing with military equipment on peaceful protestors.
What struck me today was that in five days now, it seems like hardly anyone is moving to regain control of the situation, or the narrative.
The Ferguson police chief gave a press conference yesterday, which was something, but I had to ask: Does Ferguson even have a mayor? Does the Missouri governor care as one of his towns is in anarchy and a militarized police force is exacerbating the situation, not calming it down?
Well. There is a mayor. His name is James Knowles. I looked it up on Google. He was even on MSNBC this morning to defend the police.
But other than essentially defending the near complete absence of information, Knowles didn’t say very much. He might have answered any of these questions with some precision and with actual facts, but he didn’t.
• Who’s in charge of the police in this ongoing crisis?
• Why is basic information about the incident that precipitated this confrontation (the shooting by a police officer of an unarmed 18-year-old) being withheld?
• Is it legal to withhold the name of the police officer who did the shooting?
• Which of the several law enforcement agencies on the scene is in charge?
• Who’s the media point person?
• On whose authority are law-enforcement officers pointing machine guns at unarmed citizens?
• Does the militarized police reaction really reflect whatever threat exists?
The governor, Jay Nixon, was scheduled to make a statement later today. Which is good, I guess, but about five days late. In the meantime, Anonymous, the online hacking collective, claimed to have penetrated the Ferguson municipal computer system and gotten the name of the officer, as well as other information.
In the meantime, in the midst of the worst crisis imaginable for a small municipality (and a significant one for the state of Missouri) it’s clear there is no effective crisis management plan, and certainly no crisis communications plan, and social media is lighting up with negative reaction.
I have a stack of business books that I’ve either started reading or plan to start reading soon. I’m looking forward to getting into them, and I took three of them with me for a vacation last week on the beach in North Carolina.
As it turns out, I didn’t read any of my business books. Instead, I read Stephen Ambrose’s 1992 book, “Band of Brothers.” The book, for those of you who don’t know, follows the World War II journey of Easy Company, a unit of the 101st Airborne Division, which parachuted into France on D-Day. The elite unit then fought its way out of Normandy, went to Holland for the disastrous Operation Market Garden, fought at Bastogne in the Battle of the Bulge, and finally was the first unit to get to Hitler’s mountain lair at the end of the war.
I felt a little guilty at first for not having gotten through my business books, but the story of these World War II soldiers was very compelling. The book refers in a few places to the “heroes” of that war and that unit, but it doesn’t sugarcoat the brutality or glorify the mass killing of other human beings.
Someone I once knew referred to business as “war without death.” He was completely serious. So with that as the connecting thread between “Band of Brothers” and PR and business, I did gain some great insights and takeaways from the book. Here are a few.
• Endurance. When you think you just can’t take it (whatever “it” is) anymore, you realize you can. When Easy Company was at Bastogne, under constant barrage from German artillery, in foxholes dug into deep snow with inadequate clothing and no heat or fire to fend off the single-digit temperatures, one man related how he had an important revelation that helped him carry on, even with trench foot and nonstop shivering. He thought his body could not take anymore, but then days (and weeks) later, he was still there, still alive, and he had learned something important about himself.
• Take good from the bad. Sometimes, the bad boss whom you (legitimately) dislike can have a very positive long-term impact. Easy Company started training in Georgia under Captain Herbert Sobel, who was universally disliked because of his pettiness and mean-spirited ways. But most of the men who survived the war would say, decades later, that Sobel’s hard-driving, relentless focus on training and fitness forged a true team of capable professionals.
• Leadership. Several times the company’s leader, Richard Winters, saved the platoon—and changed the course of a given battle—because of his counter-intuitive boldness. At Normandy, he led 15 men in an attack on a reinforced German artillery position that was blocking a causeway. He succeeded. During Operation Market Garden, he and 30 men were trapped out on a patrol after they ran into a much larger German force. Winters evaluated the situation. He concluded he could not pull back and could not stay where he was. He attacked the surprised Germans, and routed them, just when they were threatening the larger operation.
• Don’t take the easy way out. There’s a story of a patrol at Bastogne that was intended to scout German positions when it suddenly came under artillery fire, causing the men to scatter. One soldier ran past a foxhole where his comrades encouraged him to dive in. Seeing it was full, he kept going and somehow made it to his own. Later he went back to the first full foxhole and found it had taken a direct hit, leaving no survivors.
• Leaders fail often, so be prepared to take initiative. Woven through the book are accounts of junior officers and non-commissioned officers who were not suited for their roles, leading them to make terrible decisions in combat. Luckily, the defining characteristic of U.S. soldiers in that war, Stephen Ambrose wrote, was that they had the confidence and the sense of initiative to make independent decisions and avert disaster.
Resting and recharging are a good thing. Sure, I read a non-business book on my vacation, but I came back to work focused and relaxed. So enjoy your time off, and don’t do work out of a sense of obligation. You’ll be better off for it.
It’s taken absolutely no time for the phrase “disrupt your brand before it gets disrupted” to turn into one of the biggest clichés in PR and marketing circles.
But it’s a cliché because it’s true.
PR pros now face a marketing world fraught with change, and if anybody tells you they know how to keep up, take it with a grain of salt.
The evidence is overwhelming. In just a few short years social media has upended decades of established PR and marketing practices and started to move to the core of business communications.
The tremendous rise of social media also has wrought tremendous change in media distribution, media consumption and, perhaps most important to PR managers, consumer behavior.
And the scary part is that it’s still early days for social media. Just wait till companies figure out how to make social media programs flow right to the bottom line.
But, when it comes to disruption, technological change is only part of the story.
Major brands and organizations are also making structural and cultural changes in their operations, which, like social channels, are likely to have a major impact on how the company communicates with customers, prospects, the media and other stakeholders.
Indeed, macro trends in the workplace demand that senior PR professionals start to think about how they can influence marked change in the business, rather than just executing new media strategies.
On Tuesday, for example, the San Antonio Spurs hired six-time WNBA all-star Becky Hammon as the NBA’s first female, regular season, full-time assistant coach. Follow this move to a logical conclusion and how long before we have the first female head coach in the NBA?
Then there’s the recent cover story in Bloomberg BusinessWeek titled, “Burger King is Run by Children.” It talks about the challenges faced by CEO Daniel Schwartz, 33, and CFO Joshua Kobza, 28, in reinventing the fast-food chain. In some enterprise companies, Schwartz and Kobza might still be working at the entry level. But at Burger King, which dates back to 1954, they’re running the joint.
Along with embracing failure as a way to fuel success, some brands and organizations are also making changes that may seem radical, but, when you peel the layers, actually reveal sound thinking about future trends in the workplace, not to mention a healthy aversion to conventional thinking.
PR pros have traditionally been the voice of the reason, telling senior executives who are not used to being second-guessed that they may not have the best idea and that the “visionary” plan that’s being bandied about may be counterproductive to the overall goals of the company.
In light of the accelerated pace of both cultural and economic changes, communicators must take their counsel to a new level.
They’ve nicely bolted on the strategic to the tactical. Now they need to incorporate the foundational, showing managers at the tippy top how secular changes in culture, business and demographics could have a profound effect on the company, its products and/or services, even thought it may not seem that way.
If you need any more evidence why companies need to rattle the cage and toss out the new-old playbook, just check out the Fortune 500 list from 1980. Plenty of those companies are gone. Just think of what the next 34 years holds in store. PR pros need to buckle up and drive change, no matter how radical it may seem on paper.
Follow Matthew Schwartz on Twitter: @mpsjourno1
Back in my reporting days, I spent a good amount of time doing something that might strike many as nostalgic: interviewing sources and talking to PR people on the phone. If only today’s reporters had time for telephonic activities. Surprise: they do! And they will take your call if you lay the groundwork first. They won’t take your call if you have nothing new or interesting to tell them. Now, this is assuming you want to talk to a reporter on the phone, as opposed to just emailing them, liking their Facebook Post, or tweeting them from afar. Let’s assume that a journalist-PR relationship is strengthened by some human interaction.
The concept is simple yet may feel out of reach in today’s always-on media environment: reporters will pay attention to you if you pay attention to them. Here are four ways to get a reporter’s attention:
- Give them the story by which to tell their story: as a consumer of news and information yourself, you are attracted to the stories about people, about a certain person, or family or community. You want to read about or hear an interesting narrative that is personal, not general. Do not send them a press release and then leave them a message in the dead of night asking if they got your press release. There’s nothing wrong with sending them a press release, but don’t mistake that (and the robocall) for “the story.”
- Serve up the visuals. Whether it’s a few charts and graphics, an infographic or eye-catching photographs, visuals are gold for reporters who are now (somewhat reluctantly) multimedia journalists. Make her job easier by handing over the visuals.
- Know (and understand) what they report on: I used to cringe at the advice at industry conferences that implored practitioners to “do your homework” — it was so basic, so obvious. And yet. Make sure you read up on what the reporter has covered in the past year, take notice of his writing style and technique, and be ready to accept that maybe this particular reporter does not cover your industry. Also be in tune to what their competitors are covering – reporters are a competitive breed and will appreciate your keeping them up to date on competitive coverage they might have missed.
- Share information with no strings attached. Info is currency: give it to the reporter without expecting an instant payback. This is a difficult task to master! Share industry news that’s not widely reported yet, tell the reporter what you heard or saw at an important industry conference (which of course, you attended), and don’t ask for anything in return. Reporters will think the world of you.
With tight deadlines, smaller newsrooms, a more educated readership and an unrelenting news cycle, journalists need trusted, go-to sources and great PR partners who understand them.
– Diane Schwartz
Visit me on Twitter: @dianeschwartz