Category Archive: Online Reputation Management

Photo credit: KROMKRATHOG. Freedigitalphotos.net

Prepare for the worst. #SocialCrisis 3

Photo credit: KROMKRATHOG. Freedigitalphotos.net

Photo credit: KROMKRATHOG. Freedigitalphotos.net

One of the main things I have observed from being involved in numerous crisis is that in the heat of a crisis the quality of thinking is generally reduced, the ability to make decisions becomes paralysed and common sense gets replaced by fear.

Social media crisis happen at lightening speed and any delays generally add to the woes that companies face.  Once a crisis hits it gets increasingly hard to get answers and even the clearest thinkers become hindered by the emotional turmoil that a crisis brings and the over analysis of pro and cons of certain approaches.

The time for thinking is before any crisis hits when the time consuming plotting of what could go wrong and how you could/can/should respond.  This is the time to debate the pros and cons of your potential responses so you are able to ‘manage, do and tweak’ when things get really busy.

Here are some of the things to consider:

Planning phases for social media crisis.

Planning phases for social media crisis.

1. What is a social media crisis?  Not every situation is a crisis and its important to separate an awkward situation from a crisis that has real impact on the organization.  Different type companies and corporate cultures also have varying level of sensitivity to online criticism while those in regulated environments have a clearer dictate of what is crisis.  Jay Baer in this crisis post talks about the three true characteristics of a crisis which can help identify a crisis including:

A social media crisis has information asymmetry.

A social media crisis is a decisive change from the norm.

A social media crisis has a potentially material impact on the company overall.

2. Recording Data. It is a really good idea to have a system for recording what happened/interventions etc before a crisis even happens.  This includes listening posts which I will cover later and includes areas.  For larger companies this could be their CRM system and for smaller organizations could be a spreadsheet recording dates, intervention, links, steps taken etc.  This information can get lost very fast in email and having a central repository can save a lot of time and ensure everyone is on the same page especially as the team expand.

3. Integrate your communications.  A social media team that is ‘siloed’ in structure is destined to fail and it is even more crucial in a crisis where the impact of a crisis expands greatly beyond social media.  The social media team, structure and reporting should all be aligned and integrated with the other teams in company.  This means ensuring a flat team structure with PR/Marketing departments, senior management and external agencies.  A lot of time, wasted effort and miscommunication can happen where there is no predefined structure – this structure ranges from sophisticated online collaboration software to simply ensuring that teams details are shared out.  Most companies have matured and fully formed crisis plans already in existence – social media crisis documentation should be included in these.  Once teams are integrated all communications should be synchronized and orchestrated from email, pr, internal communications to postings on social media assets.

4. Scenario Development.  It really helps to bring a social crisis document alive by mapping out the things that could possibly go wrong, what the public/customer reaction would be and how it could spread in social media.  Although not every situation can be imagined, a greater understanding of what could be posted, shared, complained about can really help.  A lot of social media crisis revolve around poor human behaviour or interactions.  Start with a catalytic event (or something that could go wrong with your company) and then map out what the next steps would be – what platforms, type media, who would most likely talk about it, what would they say, how vocal would they be etc.  Most organisations falter at this point because they believe the variety of possibilities is too great.  While this may be true to some extent, commonalities rapidly appear.

 5. Escalation procedures. What happens once something is spotted online (either through social listening services or unusual activity).  At what point is it shared with senior management, who is authorized to respond and to what type subject matter.  How does this communication happen at what speed, is there a code used in the subject line of emails to highlight crisis.  Email is a superb tool but can be overwhelming.  Overuse can lead to important emails being ignored as can not flagging them in advance.

6. Establish protocols, response charts.  Investigating and establishing the protocols of how you respond to an incident can save an enormous amount of time.  This should be as prescriptive as possible and force the organization to take a deep and committed view to what action it would take.  This could take the form of a flow chat detailing yes/no responses to a series of linked statements.

7. Roles, responsibilities and actions.  Predicting what could happen is essential, as is role playing and establishing protocols but these could become academic if considerable thought is not given to deciding who does what, what exactly they are responsible for and what actions they are expected to take.  This also includes who sits on this team – is there a need to establish a team that physically meets and who is on the wider team e.g. agencies.  How this team communicates with each other is also important – what online platforms could be used and test them out in advance to ensure they work.

8. Resources.  Outside of the human capital resource requirements there may be other budgetary requirements to managing a crisis.  Many organizations have elongated budget approval mechanisms and supplier accreditation and the middle of a crisis is not the time to find out that you don’t have free hand to buy Adwords, commission listening tools or hire outside help.  The are a number of resource areas that need to be considered from listening software, building of dark sites, content creation, online collaboration tools to name a few.  A crisis can soak up a huge amount of senior management time so its also important to be able to delegate work to other teams to ensure the business continues to function.

9. Legal Team.  Involving the legal team is probably not necessary for all occasions but it is important to know when they need to be consulted and at what level.  Many companies don’t factor in the time element involved in getting a legal opinion on a topic, in addition to the related debate should you decide to proceed along certain path at variance to the pure legal perspective.  In certain regulated industries companies can be restricted by legal constraints but most find themselves in the trickier position of using judgment – normally based on a combination of gut feel and experience.  Many pronouncements can be made in haste to dampen down a crisis that the company may find it difficult  or are unable to live with – post crisis.

10. Make sure senior management is engaged.  Nothing creates a keener interest by senior management in a company’s social profile than a crisis.  This can result in unproductive side conversation in a crisis if management is not aligned or informed about social media and the company’s strategy.  Senior management should be aware of (and ideally have bought into it through being engagement in its creation) the company’s social media policy and also the wider developments in the industry.

Some nice common sence pointers in this video post by Zoodikers Consulting

In the next post I will cover some of the other considerations for an organization before they encounter a crisis.

 

 

 

 

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Social Media Crisis come in all shapes and sizes. #SocialCrisis 2

Social media crisis come in all shapes and forms.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

As social media crisis are still pretty new they come in all shapes and forms and many companies are only discovering them the hard way as the stumble through them.  Instances that would previously led to a few telephone complaints can now spiral out of control as trending topics on social media and end up in traditional media.

In this post I will look at the some of the higher profile Irish and International social media crisis and the catalysts that have dropped companies into hot water.  Most were avoidable and as expected human intervention has a heavy hand to play.

  1.  Scheduled Tweets.  Tesco made matters worse for themselves in the middle of the horse contamination issue with a tweet that was scheduled to automatically appear.  Forgetting about these automated tweets can easily happen as when a crisis breaks it soaks up all focus.
  2. Angry tweets are a bad idea.  The escalation of a war of tweets and the impact of losing ones temper was clearly visible in the Cinnamon restaurant or TwitterGate debacle.  A sorry would have defused the situation at the beginning and calling your customers names is rarely going to work out well.  Tempers can get raised very fast on twitter and companies should be braced for very public niggling.
  3.  Be real sensitive to cultural differences.  The posting of a ‘proud to be British’ tweet on the Irish Starbucks twitter account once again showed how easy it is to post the wrong content when managing multiple accounts and how quickly the mistake can be spread and reworked.  It also demonstrates that content on official social media accounts can be regarded as an official voice/perspective even if clearly a mistake.
  4.  Hashtag Hijacking is a Bad Idea.  The ongoing experiences of clothing companies consistently using hashtags linked to natural disasters or major political events to generate traffic or sales is clearly bad short term thinking.   The resultant backlash points to bad judgement by some companies.   Just because you can do it and it will probably generate more traffic does not means you should do it.  Gap has reported said that the Foursquare promotion where they used #sandy cost them over $1,000,000 in direct and clothing donations.  There are very few companies who can ride the controversy of trying to make a quick buck off others misfortune.
  5.  Expect some Bashtagging.  Buying promoted tweets and owning a hastag to promote a marketing initiative can be a good idea but it is also an opportunity for those who have a gripe against the company to leverage it against you.  Although McDonald stopped its #mcdstories  campaign after a couple of hours it was enough time for a slew of sarcastic posts by consumers using the hastag and predictably enough the hijacking of it by activists groups to promote their anti McDonalds cause.  McDonalds has continued to use promoted tweets and hashtags since this so it will be interesting to see if the level of activism subsides.  What you pick to promote is key and your interests are not always the same as consumer interest.  Irish politicians are famous for  their Phoenix Magazine test where they try vet something for possible future embarrassment.  When judging whether to do a photocall or not, they first picture how Phoenix Magazine might reuse it on their front cover and then decide to do it or not.  This slightly paranoid thinking might help companies be more careful in what to promote via hashtags.
  6.  Don’t give the kids the keys.  Many companies have gotten into trouble by simply divesting control of their social media outreach.  This can take the form of giving control to junior staff who might not have the necessary experience and judgment skills or simply forgetting who manages the account.  HMV Ireland experienced this when they closed their stores resulting in the inevitable layoffs including the person who managed their social media accounts from the beginning.  They just forgot that part of their communications.  Some others have been caught off guard by centralizing access to one person, so when that person goes on holiday and a crisis erupts no one can access the accounts.  All of these just make a company look unnecessarily sloppy.  One thing is certain – nothing brings social media more to the attention of senior management than a social media crisis.
  7.  Misdirection is getting more sophisticated.  Someone nabbing your twitter handle used to be as bad as it got for some companies.  We have all seen the odd and funny tweets coming from an account that bears the name of a company but are obviously not its official account.  The #shellfail campaign showed a level of sophistication that was not only technically competent but more interestingly in the reverse engineering of how large corporate entity might respond to negative tweets and mimicking them.  It also showed how hard it is to roll back negative coverage even if false especially when it moves all the way down the line into trusted traditional media.
  8.  David and Goliath.  Social media gives equal power to individual expression that previously would not have had an outlet.  The Graham Bolger Facebook post when he was not granted access to the Madison Nightclub in Dublin shows how simple actions can unleash a very strong knee jerk reaction online.  Interesting in this example the comments in the TheJournal coverage of the same event showed how the tide can change on opinion and that the answer is not always to fire the person involved.
  9.  Trust is sacred.  While in the middle of a crisis it does not pay to try to be smarter than others and take short cuts.  The distribution of photoshopped images by BP in the Deepwater Horizon crisis demonstrated that you need to be very careful when under the microscope and that there are millions of forensic experts out there.  Trust is a fragile thing and own goals can jeopardise all communication.
  10.  Competitions can break your heart.  Competitions that utilise the Facebook ‘Like’ mechanic or are popularity type contests are great for spreading a competition wide and far and in Facebooks case – generating likes.  However obeying Facebooks rules for competitions is not enough and you need to really carefully think through all the elements that could go wrong.  The real issue with popularity contest is that as the stakes get raised people commit more and more of their emotional capital to them, so the level of disappointment if they don’t win is much greater than a casual entry.  This disappointment normally leads to a scrutinizing of the winner as happened in the 7Up Minister for Crack Facebook and the Skillens Jewellers competition.

Some small instances can have a disproportionate impact when amplified on social media.  Crisis can originate here or social media can be the explosive channel that ignites its amplification.

Preparation is key to managing a social crisis and thinking through all the possible things that could go wrong is a time consuming but extremely worthwhile exercise.

In the next post I will look at some of the preparatory things that should happen in all organisations before any crisis hits.

 

 

 

Social Media Crisis Characteristics

Social Crisis Attributes. SocialCrisis #1

Social Media Crisis CharacteristicsSocial media crisis are all the rage.  Nothing drives sharing faster through the social-verse than a company or individual falling flat on their face.

The shock for most companies is the speed that it unfolds, the paralytic effect it has on their ability to respond and their ill ease with the different platforms.

There is no magic bullet for sorting out a social media crisis but a mixture of common sense, advance planning, keeping emotions in check and understanding the arena can help a lot.

In the next few posts I will look at the different facets of a social media crisis from its attributes through to what you can do while in the middle of a crisis.

First up lets have a look at its characteristics.

Attributes of a Social Media Crisis.

A social media crisis is different to a traditional crisis and its worth considering some of the different attributes to get a better understanding. The Ogilvy 360°Digital Influence gives a nice analysis of these including:

 

  1. Things happen at lightening speed.
  2. Hyper transparency and scrutiny is expected.
  3. Engagement is good and bad but inevitable.
  4. Search still crucial especially post crisis.
  5. Others have better tools than you.
  6. Traditional media is still powerful.
  7. Civility is on the wane.
  8. Sharing is not always caring.

 

1.     Speed: Things happen extraordinarily fast in the social universe.  What previously might have taken days or weeks to build up, now happens in hours with the crowd moving on promptly to the next big thing, leaving behind the hard earned reputation of a company in tatters. The mauling can also be very intense and the digital foot print is resilient.

2.     Transparency: Don Tapscott in his book Grown Up Digital outlines how the digital native generation intensely scrutinizes things that a company says and does.  He points out that integrity of a company is key and that they are likely to dig deeper that any generation before.  Now instead of merely dealing in a war of words you have an entire army of online forensic experts testing and watching your actions.  If something is being covered up they will probably find and share it.

3.     Engagement: Social media has always thrived on dialogue and companies responding directly to users.  This is a curse and blessing in a social crisis.  Companies not geared up to respond will suffer as not only is there an expectation of more detailed responses and unending answering of questions but the timeline is severely shortened.  This poses lots of challenges from basic resources to legal restrictions to revealing of information.

4.     Search: Think about how the story unfolds and how people find the content.  From the originators who first publish it, it moves to sharing of the story through social media, then on to the online news sites and ends up in editorial sections within 24 hours.  Most of these stories will be on authorative sites like news websites and feature very high in search.  For most people search is still key, especially if they are trying to verify the legitimacy of a story.  Its also resides here for long periods after the event, even if an attempt has been made to remove the original content.

5.     Tools: Many companies run into trouble by not understanding the nature of the platforms where a crisis might originate or is spreading. This ranges from basic understanding of the site anatomy to sensitivity to underlying values and norms.  In the traditional world of crisis management and particularly in dealing with the traditional media, most companies had the upper hand in that they understood how news happens, had unparalleled access to journalists and knew what was likely to happen.  In the world of social media you are most likely at a disadvantage in that the community understands these tools, the catalysts, have the contacts and are able to produce content in a variety of mediums in rapid speed.

6.     Media: It would be a mistake to undervalue the impact that traditional media has on social media crisis.  As social media is still relatively new even relatively mundane online spats can become main stream news if they gather enough momentum online.   The first wave of this is through the online news sites which are regarded as authorative by search engines.  As this initial flurry of activity dies down the commentary and analysis sections in the traditional channels can reignite the fire and bring an entirely new audience into the loop.  Even the amplification through a media outlets’ Twitter profile or Facebook page can have a big impact as these profiles (both individual and central accounts) have a higher than normal influencer ranking.

7.     Civility:  There is much debate about whether civility is on the wane with the growth social media.  Regardless, the reality is that the perceived anonymity of the internet can result in knee jerk commentary and pronouncements that previously would have been restricted to water cooler/pub conversations.  Now as they appear online can provoke a pack like savaging or trolling behaviour.  Although they are treated the same, online comments can be very removed from a persons real opinions or beliefs.

8. Sharing.  The ease of sharing and spreading a story or link has dropped to the level that people don’t even realise they are amplifying a story.  A single click can often be enough to share a story from anywhere online to a social media network and vague interest can now appear like determined stance.

Social media crisis can be the sole stage for a crisis or act as another channel for a crisis that originated elsewhere.  Understanding the characteristics can help reconfigure how a company can start to plan and build response mechanism.

Social crisis can take many shapes and forms.  In the next post I will look at some of the different type Irish and international crisis and what sparked them off.

 

 

Know what liking a page means.

I gave you a nod – I did not invite you into my home.

Know what liking a page means.

Know what liking a page means.

I always think that a Facebook like is similar to a nod – a casual nod at that.  However likes are a serious business with Pennys topping the chart in Ireland at almost 376,000 likes quickly followed by Lidl with almost 300,000 likes.  Although the value of a like  and ways of calculating it are very varied, at an acquisition rate of €1 it can mount up pretty fast.  And this is just for a simple like and not engagement.

For most people when they like a brand they are indicating a slight affinity with the brand and vaguely allowing it to communicate with them by getting updates in their timelines.

However the permission that people give a brand when they like it, translated into the real world is pretty wide.  In the real world equivalent you are allowing a brand or company representative to enter your home and personal world, to sit down and see your public thoughts and moments you are sharing, to browse through your intimate photo albums, to have a look around at your interest areas and to see who your friends are.  Pretty much letting them gate crash your personal world.  You are also allowing introducing them to your friends, their photos and their friends.

 

Who liked your page.

Who liked your page.

As a brand/company page administrator in the online world you can see the list of people who have liked your page with a single click.  Once you click on the person you can browse their updates, photos and their list of friends – from where you can browse their updates, photos and preferences (depending on their privacy settings).

Facebook Page LikesMost people are comfortable with the concept of Facebook collating data and selling it, once its done on a macro level and their individual information is not sold.  After all you are the product not the customer.  This is how Facebook Advertising works in the most general sense.  With the increased push to increase revenue and the rapid expansion of advertising options brand owners are likely to be liked by a much wider and possibly less relevant audience.  On the liker side this amounts to casually liking something and then forgetting about it.

Of course you can unlike a page and its worth seeing looking at the pages feed on the left hand side of your home page to see what you have liked.  People only really take this action if something has annoyed them or if the brand is posting too often – some event needs to trigger this action for most people.  It is also a good idea to review your privacy settings regularly.

This places great responsibility on the brands to be respectful with this unprecedented level of direct information and insight into peoples lives.

Why Should You Care?

To date most of the debate on liking scams has focused on dubious pages and causes that use it as a opportunity to post messages on an individual timelines or to sell pages with large communities.

Many people do not mind commercial companies having in-depth knowledge of them but its good to be aware of what the platform allows.  For example if you were applying for a job and liked the company – but would prefer to keep your personal life separate or worse still had posted something that could hurt your chances of getting the job.  Or maybe for research purposes you liked a competing brand and accidentally exposed some information on your profile.

Facebook discloses what it means to like a page  but its tricky to really find out the level of access you are granting and I have based this upon my own experience but I would love to hear about other experiences that people have had.

Are comments the cheap semantic analysis?

Public relations or media campaigns have always been difficult to measure and the subject of much debate on what should be measured and how.

Most of the time the processes used have tended to be very crude.  Some organisations just measure the size of the clipping and multiply by factors of 3 or 5, some try to adjust for the prominence of the company/organization and some tried to create a measure of desired message contained in a clipping.

Organisations such as Kantar and O’Leary Analytics also do a good job of using technology and manual intervention to give measures of the success of a campaign.

In general though many companies tended to reply on any publicity is good publicity approach and were only really concerned about how much it would have cost to buy the space if it were advertising and not the impact.  The job was to influence the journalist and hopefully this would influence the public.  Sometimes these audiences agree but not always and with pure reporting there tends to be little outside of the presentation of the facts, so how people interpret it varies wildly.

PR budgets are normally a pretty small spend in over all marketing costs so companies tended not to invest in market research to measure the impact of campaigns.  Hence much was left to conjecture.

Now that media is well down the path of embracing aspects of web 2.0 and social media they have also accidentally generated some really nice feedback tools to get a nice snap shot of public mood.

Take the announcement today about the halving of sick pay for the public sector.

Previously radio show call-in’s would have been the most accessibly accurate measures of the mood of the land but looking at the comments and social media shares from the new and traditional media gives a real insight into how people feel about the announcement.

The Journal are really the masters here.  This story got 3,415 views and 58 facebook shares but it’s the 51 comments where you really see how divided people are on the issue and the genuine anger on both sides.

The Irish Independent had less at 16 shares and the 7 comments were more pithy.

The Irish Times predictably got one long and well considered comment, 3 Facebook recommends, 8 tweets, 10 shares.

Interesting Newstalk has no comments and around 7 Facebook shares while RTE does not allow comments and only had 1 Facebook and 3 Tweets.

Newswhip tracking the speed of article take up

Newswhip also give a nice metric on the articles speed as it gets taken up by social platforms.

The debate also raged on Boards.ie where some of the media articles were posted and discussed or added to previous discussion on the same topic.

Along side this there is also the chatter and liking on Facebook profiles or replies or retweets through Twitter, some of which can be easily tracked.

Trending topics and the ever growing freely available social search tools also add to the arsenal.

In an era where semantic analysis is still in its early days these give PR practitioners and policy makers a quick and easy to digest snap shot of the impact of a piece of communications.

Getting the slickest procedure, working out how to interpret and reporting all this in a meaningful way is going to be difficult but in the day of instant reaction there must be great value in being able to react before the printed addition arrives and the phone call start coming in.

Those who get slick with these tools stand the best chance of becoming the crystal ball gazers.

(Addition)

The day after I wrote this I again checked the comments.  Some big jumps as people signed in at home and added to the debate.

 

Biggest jump in the Journal comments.

 

Comments on the Sick Pay Article on the Irish Indpendent website- jumped from 9 to 89 overnight.

 

IrishTimes.com comments on Public Sector Sick Pay Decrease.

What happens when social media really takes off.

I am surprised that the launch of Microsofts Kinect, the long expected arrival of internet TVs by year end and the never ending expansion of cloud based services has not generated more debate about the potential impact on PR and social media.

In the not too distant future instead of the collection of different remote controls, DVD/VHS players, games consoles and related bits you will eventually have a very large screen with a built in sensor that can pick up and interpret your movements.  This will all be connect to a ultra fast broadband connection which pulls down the different services you are looking for from entertainment channels, social media platforms, your photos, home videos and music collection.  The lines we draw between different media, storage and internet access will become completely blurred.  Instead  of thinking PC for internet access, TV for news and programmes, stereo and radio for music we will consume it all through one screen.  For alot of people this is already a reality as they access TV via RTE’s iPlayer on their PCs or laptop.  We will probably spend more money on sound systems and bigger screens as ultra fast broadband via fibre becomes more of a commodity.

All of this sounds wonderful and not too futuristic but it has seriouly implications for the PR industry.

Picture this.  You will be sitting on your sofa, to change a channel, increase the volume you merely waving your hands.   You are watching the 9 O’Clock news or PrimeTime and see something about company.  You wave your hand another direction and your collection of social media appears along with a virtual key board.  As the piece is still running on split screens you visit the company website for more information.  You also decide to check out their facebook page and decide that what was reported is worthy of posting a comment or you just check what others are saying.  You go to the personal sites of the spokesperson via LinkedIn or another to see how credible they are.  You tweet your comments on what is being covered with your own personal networks and make judgement calls on it.  If it particularly irked you, you DM friends and organise for a coordinated response to the company.  DMs will naturally switch to video chatter where you see the people in your network and the debate leaves a less trackable footprint.  Parodies of the crisis/spokespeople performance will appear instantly as people create their own mocking content.  The phone number pops up in the company search and you call the organisation to register your view point – all from your couch.  Finally you organise a flash mob to appear at the company or outlet to register a protest, video record it and upload to keep the debate going.

A lot of this all happens at the moment.  Anyone checking out twitter at the weekend will see lots of comments by people about whats on TV and radio.  This ranges from mere obervational to wide ranging debates.  At the moment this is a trickle as you need to have a reasonable smart phone, be working on your PC or feel motivated enough to go online.  Once people have access to all of these on one ease to navigate screen its set to explode.

Most companies have a reasonable feel for the increased importance of social media and have started down the line of building a social media strategy.  This will move it from a nice to do to a must have.  Here are some of the changes I can see.

  • Social media monitoring and responding becomes a 24 hour job.
  • Debate will be swift and much more far reaching.
  • After hours online chatter will have matured by the time most people get to the desk the following morning.
  • Social media tombstones which have not been updated will be highly visible and reflect poorly.
  • The expectation that there will be a company representative at all times will grow (via social media or phone lines).
  • Big launches and crisis may need to have experienced teams working on them on a 24/7 basis.
  • The weight attached to traditional media will continue to be extremely important but debate will take place else where.
  • Local issues will get even more global exposure and debate.
  • Messaging will morph and adapt as the temperature of debate rages.
  • Expectation of an active presence on a broader range of channels.
  • Ability to rapidly create content to match particular platforms will increase from Video – YouTube, Photography, Pix.ie, Facebook etc
  • Traditional PR outreach will need to be integrated into social media outreach.
  • Communications, marketing and online teams will need to be synched.
  • Close community debate will be harder to track especially if video or DM orientated.
  • Coordinated action will spill over into real life organised action.
  • Nature and tone of online debate and chatter will change as it moves from early innovators to mass audience.

None of this is massively different from what PR companies are faced with every day but the scale, speed and timing are very different.  9-5 just wont work and ill thought comments will spread much faster and to wider communities.  At the moment this is contained due to technological barriers, once these disappear a regular tidal waves will appear.  Consider the difference between 20-30 tweets from a few influentials which can network out to a few thousand via retweets versus the 600,000 people who view PrimeTime.  How well resourced would an Irish or international company be to that larger figure but also a much broader profile.  Some Irish companies I have spoken to can be dismissive of what they view as a small Irish Twitter community while they are consignant of the impact of high profile programmes.  Merge the two with sufficent numbers and you enter a whole new arena.

Of course its not all bad and with all this come huge opportunities but the the reality is its not that far away.

PS: Since writing this I stumbled across this interesting report by emarketer on social TV trends amongst different demographics.

How much klout do you have on twitter?

Stumbled upon a nice Twitter influence/comparision tool called Klout.com

Klout -Twitter Influence Tool

Klout -Twitter Influence Tool

How you compare with others on twitter has normally been a manual task of looking at their followers, following, number of tweets, number of @ and general level of engagement.  I did an analysis of some public sector organisations for a presentation to some press offices organised by Public Affairs Ireland and trying to decipher who was more influential was pretty time consuming and manual.  This tool really helps giving a helpful snap shot.  Unfortunately it does not find all twitter users but assume this will improve over time.  When you search under your twitter user name it positions you on an x/y axis looking at influence and audience with the four quadrants covering Casual, Connector, Climber and Personal.  The personal quatrant containing the most active twitter users.

Klout Quadrants

Klout Quadrants

Interestingly I was in the bottom corner and much as I would like to protest its probably a fair reflection on my personal twitter usage and out reach.  I don’t follow everyone who follows me and I do engage with a relatively small pool of people on a regular occasion and I have a moderate rate of tweets.

It also give a text interpretation of the graph.  Mine is below and although I dont agree with it all – ahem! – its indicative.  Interesting to see youself reflected lower than you would expect as in theory everyone would like to be the utimate category but why and how people use twitter is a personal choice on time availability, how much engagement you want and can handle and how wide you wish to be spread among others. 

“You don’t take this Twitter stuff too seriously. People towards the lower left corner are probably very new to social media. Most people in this quadrant tend to engage with a small group of friends that they know in real life. If you’re in the upper right corner, you have succeeded in building a strong audience, but need to engage and be more active to jump to the next level.”

I would like to see all the variables they use but its a useful snap shot when you are looking at improving your twitter profile or trying to get a handle on someone elses influence.

What is your online reputation number?

How influential someone is in PR has alway been a bit foggy to say the least.  It is easy to claim you are influential but proof has normally been in the form of being able to open doors or hidden in the infamous black book of contacts.

In theory online makes it easier to check how influential someone is.  Things have moved on in terms of people merely using the web to increase their digital footprint.  To date there has been a bit of land grab in terms of occuping certain spaces and putting up profiles and leaving them to gather dust.  This was useful at the beginning where you could find someone’s LinkedIn profile when you searched for their name but its hardly an indication of their influence – its merely that they exist.  Now as people gather and participate in communities around them it is easier to get a better sence of their consistent presence on the web but also their level of contribution.

Piaras Kelly posted about what your Facebook connections could indicate about you sometime ago and Tom Murphy has posted more recently about an Andrew Smith comment on how the media are using LinkedIn profiles to vet the credibility about a potential spokesperson.

There is no doubt that this will continue to evolve further but it is not an easy task to acertain someone influence as Micah Baldwin comments in Mashable.com.   As a starting point he points to

Incoming Traffic – Pageviews, Incoming traffic from search engines, rss subscribers

Incoming Links – Primarily manual links such as blogrolls, in-post deep links

Reader Engagement – Internal searches, time on site

Recommendations – Retweets, share stats

Connections – Number of mutual connections, number of mutual connections on multiple sites

Track Record – Age of domain, number of blog posts, length of engagement

 Engagement – How often and long a person has engaged with a service online   

It is possible to get a manual snapshot of someone by using some of the tools that are available.  By inputting someones blog url in Technorati you can get a numercial indication of their authority and ranking.  By looking at their Twitter profile you can see how many people are following them and how many updates they have made.  LinkedIn will show their connections, groups, length of time on the community and you can check how active they are in that forum.  Similarly with Facebook and other social media.

None of these are perfect measures and having lots of stuff online does not equate to being influential but its a better start than taking someones word for it.

Surely there is good scope for someone to develop a FREE application that is comprehensive enough to take account of the different platforms (ie number of retweets on Twitter, pics through Twitpic etc to the strength of connections in Facebook rather than numbers) so that it goes beyond a popularity contest and give a genuinely useful figure.  Following 500 people is very different to being followed by 500 people.  It would encourage people to move from ‘I am online’ to ‘I participate and contribute online’.  If there was an acceptance of the importance of a ORN (online reputation number) number and people could increase that number by engaging more surely this would lead to an uplife in genuine online activity.

I imagine such applications would be greately aided by people inputting their handles, user names for the different platforms with boxes to fill for a wide range of social media.  This is probably especially true as people use different usernames and handles.  There may be some issues with walled communities but technology normally finds a way around these.

I am sure that there are a few out there that come close to this but I have not found any to date.  Let me know if I am missing the obvious.  A simple tool could always progress into a more complex one.

Social Media Emphasis on ORM at Search Marketing World 2009

Social Media engagement seemed to be the big winner at Search Marketing World this year.  The beauty and horror of these events is that you get to pick and choose the sections you can attend but invariably the ones you want to see clash.  The three that I was particularly struck with were the Brand and Reputation Management, Social Media -Redefining the customer and The Ad Industry and Online Marketing.  Too many learnings for this post so here I will deal with the Online Reputation Management one only.

Web Brand & Reputation Management

Brian Marin from Marin Software (not related believe it or not) began this session with an overview of the drop in levels of public trust from the Edelman Trust Barometer, where 83% of Irish people reported that they trusted brands less, before giving some examples of companies who have experienced bad karma online.  The are some really strong examples of where the negative online activity can really impact on brands.  Some of the ones he touched are worth reading and included:

TicketMaster is Evil and Must Die

Walmart Watch, which is a nationwide campaign to reval harmeful impact of Walmart

United Airline and customer compliants

Concast Sucks

Ryanair Sucks

Moben Kitchens – Destroys Your Health

Boycott De Beers

Alitalia Sucks

Countrywide Home Loans Sucks

Kentucky Fried Cruelty

I Hate Starbucks

Some of these are fully set up sites dedicated sites that have a damaging effect on the search engine traffic but the examples shown went beyond this to include facebook profiles that also mirrored above including

Acer Sucks

Comcast Sucks

Starbucks Sucks (interestingly there are a number in this category)

The main point coming from this was that a lot of negative commentary is taking place and that most companies are blissfully unaware of it.  Stage one being the obvious to establish resonable methodologies and automate the process of monitoring.  Some good aids here are Brandwatch, BrandsEye and Yasni (for people searching).  These can tell you a lot about trends but as Brian Marin pointed out you also need to watch downstream traffic using tools such as hitwise.  He pointed to an example where HSBC were seeing lots of traffic to their site from Facebook (positive you would think)  but when they tracked it back, it led to complaints by students about the bank.

All of this caught everyone interest but the pencils really started to scribble down notes when he covered actions you could take – some very ill advised –  some reasonable.  Most of the other sessions contained some element about the perils of trying to be more clever than the search engines so best to stick within the rules.

So what can you do if you are the recipient of negative online coverage especially when this pops up in search engine rankings before or after you company listing.

  • Google Tattling.  Basically looking for link buying by the site and telling Google in the hope they will take action against the site.
  • Google Bowling.  Not recommended but spamming the site with lots of links in the hope Google will act against them.
  • Denial of Service.  Again not recomended but overunning the site with so many requests that it become unaccessable.
  • Creating land pages or microsites.  Good in principle but the time and effort it takes to drive these up the search engine rankings (and out rank the negative commentary) makes it questionable about how useful they are.
  • Insulation.  Get some credited third party endorsement or positive coverage of your company or the story.   Basically floating the good stories to the top.

All of these are fairly dramatic efforts but the real ways to protect your brand comes back to a lot of the basics in PR including:

  • Participate in the discussion.
  • Communicate positively – early ideally and point to actions taken to address the problem.
  • Engage with the community.  You will get a fairer hearing if you are part of the community.
  • Treat the cause.  Get to the fundamental root of the problem.  Sounds obvious but many people still prefer to try cover up.
  • Build trust and attract advocates.  Nothing more powerful that other people coming to your rescue or balancing a debate rather than you defending the brand along.  General Motors got a reasonable amount of flack in social media (as you would expect with some many cars and owners) but decided to let the debate continue.  They were pleasantly suprised to see that members of the community came to their rescue with postive experiences.

These strategies are very positive news for the PR industry as the core skill set of communication is engrained in everything we do.  Again the Edelman Barometer but a 91% figure was reported in response to being asked how important “communicates frequently and honestly on the state of its business” was to the overall reputation of a company.

Brians summary was also useful but in brief:

  • Insulate search results
  • Monitor your brand online
  • Act fast and dont hide
  • Communicate frequently and honestly
  • Build trust and adovates
  • And finally dont over do it.  Make sure its natural.

Rob Shine from Cybercom had some additional gems to share.

The advent of Universal Search where other third party content is pulled high in search engine rankings, such as YouTube videos, is something people have seen but have not really thought about the implications.  The Taco Bell video of rats running through the restaurant at night was followed by a huge online and traditional media coverage including footage of the reaturant opening up the next day.   The Ryanair snoozing air hostess BBC coverage on YouTube also ranked high in Google.  Interestingly enough the anti blogger stance by Ryanair, which for most would have been a near disaster, actually resulted in higher bookings to the site (higher visits to the site was expected).  This sparked a debate about no PR being bad PR.

On the defenive tactic side Pay per Click advertising supported by good content can help to push down negative mentions or at least point to your side of the debate.  One of the earlier presentations by Anthony Quigley pointed out that although many people ignore the ads on the side the paid for sponsored ads at the top of organic searches are frequently percieved as organic listings.  This involves buying the negative keywords that people are using to find the story and then using google adwords to link to some positive aspect such as a balancing statement on the story.

Influecing the blogging community was another tactic mentioned but can take a long time and is uncontrollable.

Two other tactics were also covered including

1. Push down the critical site by having more positive pages rank above it.  This covers optimised YouTube videos, optimised press releases, blog posts, social profiles etc and is well within the remit of PR companies.

2. De-legitimise the link in the eyes of the search engine.

You can always complain to Google through the editors of its Open Directory DMOZ.  To be effective the critical site needs to be out of compliance with the DMOZ rules and can theorically decrease the importance of the site.  However any action, if any, can be many months in actually taking place.

Rob finished up by highlighting the importance of establishing positive online PR as part of the marketing mix rather than waiting for negative commentary.  He pointed to their work with blogger Guy Kawasaki who they brought over to the store house to show him how to pour the perfect pint.  His subsequent blog posts on it resulted in 100,000 additional readers and an approximate 5% lift in visitors to the Guinness Store House site.  He also spoke about an joint initiative with Irish photo sharing site Pix.ie.  They realised the potential of tapping into the power of the thousands of amateur photos that are taken at the store everyday by creating a photo gallery on the site.  In promoting this they did some blogger outreach where they targeted a group of influential photo bloggers and after a tour of the facility got 70 blog posts that helped generate an additional 400,000 extra readers of the site.  Some of the photos that he showed were of an extremely high calibre and would have been difficult to achieve with a professionally contracted photo session.

Some of his summary tips were useful including:

  • Importance of establishling a framework to identify issues and influencers
  • Establishing proactive and reactive social media engagement teams
  • Monitoring and moderation of key review and comparison sites over a period of time is critical to getting an initial feel of how the brand is percieved over time – rather than one post or thread.

The final speaker was Krishna De.

She open up with some more online reputation horror stories such as Motrin negative experience with a minor revolt in the blogosphere and social media sites over an ad they ran.  Some users found the language and tone offensive (that interestingly was launched over a weekend) and resulted in a back peddling by the company.

She also pointed to an issue that blogger Emily Tully had with a mobile provider where the debate raged on IGO People.  Interestingly the competing providers had a presence on the site and gained judos by interacting on the issue.  It also made its way into main stream papers.

Krishna heavily endorsed using communications specialist to help decide the tone and nature of engagement when dealing with online reputation issues.  One of the really obviously things that is overlooked by companies mentioned was the - Online Reputation Management Plan.  We prepare these plans for clients for events in the real world but they are still very new for dealing with crisis and reputation issues in the online world especially with social media.

Krishna also pointed out the obvious step of making sure you own the url for high profile CEOs or management.   She pointed to an example with Fast Company whose the CEO Shel Israel was parodied on a website in his own name following a volley of criticism over a inteview he did.  This tactic also covers buying the domainname’sucks’.com address as this is a popular one for people who have an axe to grind with a company.

Another good practical measure, especially as brands are on the fence in relation to engaging with social media, was to at least claim ownership of the name.  While not exactly cybersquatting there are many examples of multiple unofficial versions of sites/profile/brands on Facebook and Twitter.  Apparently an Exxon Mobil Twitter account that was being lauded for being proactive was not officially part of the company.

In terms of engagement she also recommended getting in early rather than late and not necessarily staying until the bitter end.

Once again listening to the online conversation, understanding the medium and building relationship are key and should be done before a disaster strikes.

Overall some great learning and some new tricks.  If PR people ever needed a reason to get to grips with adwords then this is a really strong one.