Friday, July 29, 2011

Social Media: Friend or Foe?

Hardly a day goes by that I don’t get one to 20 blast e-mails telling me how my business could really take off if only I hired someone to show me how to use Facebook and/or Twitter to grow my client base.

On the other hand, there’s hardly a week goes by that we don’t hear about a Tweet or Facebook incident that blows up in some organization’s face.

Symantec Corp. recently completed its 2011 Social Media Protection Flash Poll, and among the results they found many organizations had suffered through as many as nine “social media incidents,” in the preceding year.  “Incidents” included such things as employees posting confidential company information on publicly accessible social media sites, such as Facebook and Twitter.

The report estimated 94 percent of those with “incidents” suffered negative results, such as damage to their reputation, data and revenue losses and loss of customer trust.

I am not a big fan of Facebook or Twitter because, no matter how effective they may be for your organization, there is an equal chance that critics or activists will over-run your Facebook site and turn it into a club to attack you or beat you to a figurative bloody pulp.

Last year Nestle had the distinction of being one of the first companies to have their Facebook site turned into a weapon, first by Greenpeace UK and then by other critics who took the Nestle logo and used it to poke fun and criticism at the company.

Apparently a Nestle lawyer took issue with that, and someone from Nestle posted a warning reminding Facebook visitors to be careful, because the Nestle logo — which many of them were defacing in their Facebook attacks — was a trademark.

CNet’s Caroline McCarthy called it “the first time that we've seen such a massive blow-up in the comments of a Facebook fan page.” And PRWeek observed the incident was “quickly becoming a social media crisis” for Nestle.

Now, if that is not enough to make you leery of using a Facebook site for your business or organization, there’s another reason.

Symantec is reminding us that if you get sued or otherwise involved in some kind of legal action connected to your Facebook page or Twitter account, you must have a system in place to be able to retrieve and store all that stuff, like you do e-mail and other digital data, and just like you should have been doing already with all your hard-copy letters, documents and records.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

About Those Corporate Apologies

Microsoft UK has used another of those semi-non-apology, apologies in England, after being called out for taking advantage of singer Amy Winehouse’s unexpected death.

Microsoft’s British PR department drew the ire of Winehouse fans with a tweet suggesting they remember her by buying her latest recording “Back to Black.”  The on-line universe erupted with Twitter replies accusing Microsoft of being “crass” and “vile” in an effort to make more money off her death.

Someone at Microsoft United Kingdom responded at tweetbox360, “Apologies to everyone IF  (my emphasis) our earlier Amy Winehouse tweet SEEMED purely commercially motivated.” The tweet added, “Far from the case, we assure you.”

How many times, in recent months, have we seen an executive or spokesperson for an organization issue an apology “if we offended . . .”?  If an apology is appropriate, just apologize and get it over.  Don’t put a qualifier on an apology. And, if you don’t mean it, don’t say it!

 It was a couple of days later before Microsoft UK finally tweeted what should have been part of their initial public statement, "With Amy W's passing the world has lost a huge talent. Our thoughts are with Amy's family and friends at this very sad time."

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

What Next for News Corp?

The question of the day is:  Will the readers and viewers of Rupert Murdoch’s tabloid newspapers, television news networks and the Wall Street Journal continue to turn to those media outlets, or go elsewhere?

While the world has been watching the “voice-mail hacking, London police pay-offs, and British politicians courting News Corp executives” drama, many of us have been waiting for the other shoe to drop in the U.S.  Ten people have been arrested and two key executives have resigned, including the Publisher of the Wall Street Journal.
Until Sunday that was the closest the drama had come to Murdock’s adopted homeland.

News America Marketing is a relatively small subsidiary of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, and Sunday a New York Times investigative story reported that division, alone, has paid out at least $655 million to make embarrassing cases of corporate espionage and anti-competitive behavior disappear.
The voice-mail hacking story was broken by British competitor The Guardian in 2009 and according to the New York Times, News Corp spent $1.6-million trying to put a lid on that issue.

But here in the States, the tab for settlements and lawsuits began to mount. Minnesota state government accused News America of unfair trade practices and the company ended up paying “costs” and promising to stop falsely bad-mouthing competitors.
Next, in 2009, Floorgraphics took News America to court, accusing them of “hacking” into their computers and stealing proprietary information.  The trial began, but it didn’t take News America long to see where the case was going and settled for $29.5-million and a few days later purchased the whole company.

The next year Valassis Communications filed suit and settled for $500-million.
That’s just the settlements we know about.

If General Motors or Bank of America paid a half-billion dollar settlement in a lawsuit, don’t you think the U.S. media would have reported that?  Did you ever read or hear about the News America payout to Valassis?
Now, to the question that began this post:

Unless there are worse revelations yet to come, I suspect News Corp will continue to do business as usual and the people who currently buy their newspapers and swear by the political point of view of Fox News will continue to do so.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Rupert Murdoch: "We Are Sorry"

Just a few days ago, the head of News Corp., Fox News, the Wall Street Journal and News of the World in London, Rupert Murdoch, said his company had made  only "minor mistakes."

That didn't help.  Two of his top executives resigned, including the Publisher of the Wall Street Journal.  That didn't appease his critics.  He gave up his effort to acquire full ownership of British Sky  Broadcasting. That did not quiet his critics.

Finally, Mr. Murdoch took out full page advertisements in several British newspapers with a heading, "We are sorry."

In that ad, bearing his signature, it declared, "We are sorry for the serious wrongdoing that occurred. We are deeply sorry for the hurt suffered by the individuals affected."

It appears Murdoch tried the BP approach to crisis management.  He began by claiming it wasn't all that bad. Then he offered an apology to anyone that might have been offended, and finally, he came right out and said he was sorry. 

British parliamentarian John Prescott said Murdoch's apology isn't enough. "This is a man desperately trying to save his company and ditching everybody else in the process." 

Friday, July 15, 2011

"We Report, You Decide"

Can you believe and trust the people who bring you the news of the day?

It's getting harder and the free world doesn't need that.

I spent 35 years of my working life as a reporter, editor, anchor and radio and television news director. It was never a "job." Rather, it was a calling. I took the responsibility seriously and there are still days when I wish I was covering the "big story." But those days are fewer and farther apart.

The company that operates newspapers and a radio and television network that repeats the phrase over and over -- "Fair and balanced" -- appears to be neither fair nor honest.

We're in the second week of almost daily revelations of unethical and possibly illegal behavior at one or more of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp newspapers. A former British executive of News Corp has been arrested, and a trusted Editor in London has resigned.

And, News Corp. has hired a New York public relations agency.

Almost every day this past week I've been asked to rate how Murdoch and company are doing as crisis managers. I'm always reluctant to judge a company in crisis.

However, we teach PR folks to never stand in front of a burning building and ask a reporter,"What fire?"

Allegations that Murdoch's News of the World Sunday tabloid paid for information from London police officers and hacked the private cell phone of a murdered 13-year-old girl and possiby many other persons, brought this response from the head of the company, "...recent allegations of phone hacking and making payments to police. . .are deplorable and unacceptable."

At first I thought he was doing the right thing and expressing his regret for the behavior of his employees. But, then I read the statement again. It wasn't the action of his newspaper he found deplorable, it was the allegations he found unacceptable.

Frequently, here in the US, corporate executives apologize in the wake of some kind of scandal or wrong-doing and say they are "sorry if they offended someone." They're not sorry for what they did or said, they're only sorry if it offended someone. There's a big difference.

A lot of Americans still don't realize that Rupert Murdoch now owns the venerable American business news publication, The Wall Street Journal.

The scandal that is still rocking London raises a terrible question, "Has the Wall Street Journal been spying on Americans and paying bribes to news sources in this country?"

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Digital Crisis Communication Planning

A new study of corporate perceptions of crisis communications in the U.S., Europe, Asia Pacific and Latin America concluded that 79 % of business leaders surveyed believe their organizations are less than a year away from a likely significant crisis.

Executives from almost every industry, small or large, say a digital crisis is looming just around the corner.

Despite that confession, the majority are nowhere close to being prepared to prevent or manage a crisis that starts in the blogosphere or elsewhere in the social media. Almost half do not have even a basic social network monitoring system.

International public relations company, Burson-Marsteller, released the study at the beginning of July 2011, and it should get the attention of corporate leaders.

But, I fear, the old attitude, “nothing bad will happen on my watch” will prevail. Even with the admission that digital crises are looming over businesses of all kinds and sizes, less than one-quarter of companies surveyed, have any type of crisis communication plan for digital crises.

Advocacy Groups Are Gearing Up

Another recent survey sounds a clear warning – 74% of global advocacy organizations use Facebook, YouTube and Twitter to attack those corporations and recruit volunteers, activists and donors.

Since March of this year, at least a dozen major organizations have come under attack, and most were slow getting out of the gate to respond.

Among the “victims” – Sony Playstation Network, RSA Secure ID, Fox TV Network, Citigroup, Inc., Lockheed Martin, PBS, Google, Sonybmg, Nintendo, Turkish Government websites, Spanish National Police, International Monetary Fund, U.S. Senate, and the CIA.

There is no excuse, except denial, for any organization to fail to monitor the social media and watch for crisis warnings. There are more than 20 free or inexpensive monitoring tools available as well as thorough and effective mid-priced and high-price social media monitoring services..

The digital attack is no different than any other type of public opposition, except, it hits faster and spreads quicker. Any delay in heading it off, puts you deeper in the hole, before you begin to climb out.