Archives for category: Social Media

Recently, I’ve discovered that several people were following me (@nlinton) on Twitter. Of course, I clicked on their profiles to find out more about them to possibly follow them and I found out that they protected their Tweets. This has happened three times in the last week.

I can understand why. Kind of.

There are a lot of spammers, scammers, porn bots, crazies and people looking for casual, anonymous and STD-laden Internet sex-hook-ups on Twitter. I have been Tweeting for a year and I’ve come across all of these issues. But I can’t say that it has happened enough to compel me to protect my Tweets. Minors probably need to. I would not want my kids being contacted by just anyone online through Twitter.

I am much more selective on Facebook and LinkedIn, where I only accept requests from people I know or have met personally. For instance the other day I received a LinkedIn request from a woman who worked at a company in Marietta that I wasn’t familiar with and isn’t in my industry. I racked my brain for more than an hour trying to figure out if I met her somewhere or knew her from a past position. I logged into LinkedIn to look at her profile. No picture. One job listed and it was only a company and title, no specifics. No past positions. No schools. No shared connections. No information about her whatsoever.

I didn’t feel one bit guilty about declining the connection. LinkedIn is a work in progress, and I am always tinkering with my profile, but it is foolish to run around sending invitations to people and you haven’t put in the basics on your profile.

I also don’t feel bad about blocking my Tweets from people who follow me, but protect their Tweets. So, I’m telling you upfront that if you choose to follow me and I go to follow you and find out you protect your Tweets, you won’t be hearing from me anymore.

It just seems strange to me to use Twitter to follow people Tweeting conversationally, reading the links they share, yet not wanting to fully engage yourself. If you want a more selective social media experience there are forums to do this. I don’t think this is what Twitter was designed to do. And it makes me think that maybe YOU are the spammer or a bot or crazy, and have nefarious reasons for hiding your Tweets – like you don’t want to make too many people mad doing what you are doing, report you to Twitter and risk getting your account suspended!

If it is a personal safety or privacy violation issue, I think Twitter is far safer in this respect – without having to protect one’s Tweets – than say LinkedIn, Facebook or MySpace.  Tweeting conversationally and sharing links won’t open you up to serious issues.

As far as the spammers, bots and other crazies are concerned, regular pruning of the people following you can prevent a lot of issues. I do it at least once a month. Of course, people who come out of the gate being obnoxious (follow me!, retweeting the same crap over and over, obvious spam and other foolishness) get the boot immediately.

I’m still learning about this Twitter thing. If someone can provide me with a good reason for hiding Tweets, let me know, I am open to other’s opinions, etc. I just don’t see the point.

By the way, follow me on Twitter @nlinton. LOL! And have a happy and safe Thanksgiving holiday.

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In the U.S., we are still exploring the possibilities of Twitter, Facebook and Foursquare, but in Asia and South America, everyone is Bubbly.

Bubbly is a five-year-old mobile and social app developed by firm Bubble Motion, which is based in Silicon Valley and Singapore. Simply put, Bubbly is a voice-based Twitter. Its tagline is, “It’s like Twitter with a Voice.”

According to Bubble Motion’s CEO Tom Clayton, Bubble Motion explored a variety of mobile voice-messaging services when social media networks such as MySpace and Facebook launched. This led to the media of audio messages targeting a much larger audience of followers.

Launched in February 2010, with no marketing dollars used to push the service and early adoption by Bollywood stars to promote their careers and new projects, Bubbly currently has a total of two million users, 1.2 million of which are paid subscribers.

Anyone can sign up for Bubbly to follow a friend, family member or favorite celebrity or brand. Posting messages and following is free, and once a new message has been recorded and sent out, users get an alert. If they choose to listen, they pay for the airtime.

Most messages are less than 30 seconds long, and there is currently a cap of one minute.

To post on Bubbly, a user dials a short code, like *7, records a message and hangs up. To listen, tap in another code, like *2. It works on any handheld device, and messages can be posted to Bubbly while still withholding phone numbers for privacy.

Bubble Motion skipped launching Bubbly in North America and Europe to focus its efforts in Asia and South America, particularly India, Japan, the Philippines, Indonesia and Brazil. People in these countries typically have access to cell phones, but far fewer have access to the web, which makes this type of mobile blogging service an easy sell. India has the fastest-growing population of mobile phone users in the world, as cell phone operators add millions of new customers each month. By 2012, it’s estimated that India alone will have 650 million cell phone users.

No, it’s not coming here anytime soon, but I think it is important for communicators to keep up on what is going on in the industry no matter where in the world it is happening. These new innovative services and applications not only tell us where we are currently with social media and how we use it, but where we are going.

For more information on Bubbly, visit http://www.bubblemotion.com.

Everyone makes it sound so simple. “Draft your content and put it on Wikipedia.” “Everyone who is anyone has a presence on Facebook.” And I guess it is simple…if you don’t care what the end result looks like. But to use either tool – or any social media tool to build your web presence – the right way takes planning, time, an infinite amount of patience, and a little HTML knowledge (or some good sites to go to for help), as well as a bit of willingness to give up some flexibility in how you are presented online and how you can use these tools.

I just finished both, a little roughed up by the processes, but I will be okay after a weekend of relaxing, not looking at either site, not even to look up new information on Tudor history or chatting with my favorite friends, and a couple of glasses of wine.  This piece discusses some issues I came across working on both, and hopefully it will provide you with pointers and information to make the process a bit easier for you as you embark on these tasks.

Facebook

You know that Facebook was not built for business use, right? Right. It was built for people to connect on a personal level and communicate with each other. But companies and organizations all over the world are using Facebook for this exact purpose. Facebook’s 500 million users seem not to mind; Facebook has even created “Business Pages” for companies to use. “Business Pages” allow you to set up a local business page, a page for a brand, product or organization, as well as an artist, band or public figure page. You also have the option of setting up a “Community Page” or a “Facebook Group Page.”

Again, it seems easy enough. But you need to keep a couple of things in mind:

  • If you don’t want your “Business Page” to be connected to your personal Facebook account, you will need to set up a dummy account. Facebook doesn’t really like people doing this. Facebook also doesn’t want you to set up multiple “Business Pages” under various accounts, or having a number of accounts connected to one e-mail. But it really doesn’t give you much of a choice. Dummy accounts may create confusion among people who try to look you up to send you a friend request.
  • You have some tough choices to make in choosing which type of page you want to create and with each choice you are giving up something in terms of the kind of information you want to convey. Each page is set up differently and has different functionality. For example, the “Facebook Group Page” allows you to communicate directly to your “fans,” but the others don’t. However, the “Facebook Group Page” probably isn’t the best choice for more traditional companies. They will want to post business hours, website links, press releases, etc., and you can do that with the Facebook Group Page, but you may need to build some FBML pages and kind of Jerry-rig it to make it work for you. I don’t think it gives you the clean professional, corporate feel you may need. If that is not your organization’s goal, that’s fine, but if it isn’t, you may have to give up communicating with fans beyond the wall postings.
  • Once you choose the kind of page you want and set it up, it gives you set tabs to use for inputting information, but you also have the option of creating custom FBML pages. I found these immensely helpful, but it did take some playing around with them to get it to work for me. You will also need some understanding – or have someone around who has some understanding – of HTML. Facebook Markup Language (FBML) enables you to build full Facebook Platform applications. You can make changes to the profile, profile actions, Facebook canvas, News Feed and Mini-Feed options. FBML is an evolved subset of HTML with some elements removed, and others that are specific to Facebook. I found that using straight HTML worked for me. But I understand it and how it works, and I sleep with a web developer, so I had free help to do the things I couldn’t do on my own.
  • You can delete Tabs on Facebook, according to what you will need and use on a regular basis.
  • You can create protection settings to prevent people from posting links, pictures, etc., which is good. They can still comment but they can’t post jokes or something to the page and you don’t get their updates.
  • Oh, and if your company changes their name – and this does happen – you will have to delete the old page and create a new one. Facebook doesn’t allow major edits to business pages. Crazy, isn’t it? Oh, and they don’t have tool to help you migrate fans either. You will just have to keep posting and reminding people on the old page to go and become a fan of the new one.
  • Here are some sites I used to pull a “Business Page” together:

Facebook needs to do better. It seems pretty shady to me to rake in ka-zillions of dollars from companies using the tool, but not allowing them the flexibility to do what they need to do. I am not advocating allowing companies to spam people. I also know I should have limited expectations from something I am using for free. But why not have a tool to migrate fans seamlessly? Why not allow edits to pages without creating a new one?

Wikipedia

The online encyclopedia. Again, it seems like the perfect place to increase your online presence and simple enough – type up some marketing and communications-division-speak, allow your c-level employees to add their spin, give it a good scrubbing by your legal department and post it to the site, right?

And you later discover that the article was deleted.

Or you write an article and post it, only to have some anonymous person post information – along with a news article, a PDF with legal documents connected with the situation, and photos – of a PR nightmare the company endured five years ago that you thought the world have forgotten about. You try to delete it, and you are contacted by the Wikipedia folks because deleting that information is a big no-no, since there are solid sources on the topic and not a total lie. In fact, it is completely true.

Wikipedia is for posting bare-bones information and facts, with plenty of sources such as news articles, web links and links to other Wikipedia articles. It is not a forum for marketing-speak, and it is not a free advertising or public relations tool.

There is plenty of information on how to write a good Wikipedia article and avoid trouble. Before writing anything, or even presenting the idea to a client or manager, I would thoroughly do my research and present them with the facts on Wikipedia. Yes, this includes admitting the negative aspects of being on the site, as well as the positive. It is also a good idea to have a plan in place for how to handle negative information posted to the article, and edits made by some well-meaning person with nothing to do. You can go in and make changes to obvious grammar and spelling errors or things that are flat out lies. Vandalism is usually caught quickly and taken care of by the fine folks at Wikipedia. But anything else may land you in hot water. You can post information to counter or refute negative items written into the article, but here you tread a fine line as well.

I have more of an understanding and appreciate for the strict rules Wikipedia has in place, than the ridiculous hoops you have to jump through to get a Facebook page to work for your company. I love Wikipedia and I can spend hours reading articles on the site. I go there for information, with a healthy dose of skepticism because I know anyone can go in and make an edit, but if I wanted spin, I would go to an organization’s website or news outlets that favor them. I don’t expect to drink corporate kool-aid on Wikipedia.

Some helpful tips for posting an article to Wikipedia:

  • Have some understanding, or someone close by with some understanding or thorough knowledge, of HTML. Wikipedia uses its own version of HTML, but it works the same way.
  • Search for organizations like yours, sort through the good and the bad articles, and if you see something you like, click on the edit box to grab code to use for your own article.
  • The code you grab from another page may not be completely flexible for your needs. Again, it helps to have someone close by who knows HTML, or to have some understanding of it yourself.
  • Copy and paste isn’t always your friend. It can be your absolute worst enemy.
  • If you have quite a bit of information to post, and lots of links, have them on hand in a Notepad page. DON’T USE WORD. This helps a BIT with the cut and paste issue. But be careful.
  • Take your time. Don’t rush this. It is not as quick and easy as you think.

I’m glad I did both. I learned a lot and I am proud of the results. But it wasn’t easy. Luckily, both sites provide a lot of information on how to set up these pages and Wikipedia’s information is far superior to Facebook. T here is also a wealth of information online.

Good luck!

A personal situation I encountered a few weeks ago prompted me to write this piece on ethics. A person I thought I knew very well and trusted turned out to be not-so trustworthy. To make matters worse, she thought that the personal relationship between me and the others she wasn’t being entirely honest with would negate the unethical and duplicitous things she was pulling in trying to secure new business. She was wrong.

As public relations professionals, we are faced with ethical situations all the time. The very often sensitive nature of the information we are privy to and the challenges we encounter in our organizations and agencies force us to make tough decisions. We often have to give the media and other target audiences information that will make them disappointed, angry or both, or give honest answers to tough questions that put our clients and/or organizations in a negative light. We often do this under duress, in the midst of a crisis and on the turn of a dime. We have little time to think and prepare our answers and the information we need to provide.  It is even harder when the emergency situation impacts people’s health and lives. “No comment” is never a good option and even less so when it involves highly sensitive and emotional situations.

New forms of media also put us in difficult situations. Blogs, message boards, Facebook, My Space, Twitter, give us immediate and powerful ways to communicate with our audiences – but it also allows us to use those tools to influence the perception of brands, companies, clients and organizations in misleading ways. Recently a large public relations firm was exposed for using interns to post positive reviews on its client’s apps on the Apple store.  Now, PRSA and IABC have explicit guidelines for ethics in our profession. And gaming an app rating system isn’t explicitly listed as a no-no within the ethics guidelines provided by these organizations, but…

The management that developed the client plans executing this “tactic” knew it wasn’t right. They knew it was dishonestly influencing people’s decisions to use or pay for and use an application and the “strategy” was flawed. They ignored their gut and pulled this stunt anyway, getting quick results for their clients and eventually being exposed, along with the clients, for being dishonest.

Step outside the pressure of getting a client, getting results, getting the media off your back, and think beyond the ethics guidelines of a PRSA or IABC (although they are a great start!): Does what I am about to do pass the gut test? Do I feel good about this? If what I am about to do was written out fully and posted in the company lunch room, on the organization’s website, my church bulletin or my child’s school newsletter, would I feel embarrassment?

We operate personally and professionally in a social and natural environment. We also expect people to be straight with us. We have to be in return. We are bound by duty as a result of this to be accountable to the environment we live and work in. Everything you do should pass the gut test.

And if that isn’t enough to convince you, read this!

In reading articles and blogs in the last few months, I’ve noticed a disturbing trend. Increasingly, I see people differentiating “social media” press releases and “traditional” press releases. Traditional press releases are releases as they have always been written – inverted pyramid, catchy title, AP Style, etc. Social media press releases are those that are search-engine friendly, with the same characteristics as a traditional release, only with keyword-rich content.

Egads! Why, in 2010, should there be two different types of releases written? Why aren’t they one in the same???

Public relations professionals should ditch this way of thinking completely and relearn how to write press releases. All press releases should have keyword-rich content and be optimized for search engines to pick them up quickly. SEO-friendly press releases are more likely to be found by those seeking information on a client/company/product or service, improves rankings online and in News search engines, drives traffic and increases link backs to a Web site, and will result in increased media opportunities. It gives a news release an edge over just sending it out on a newswire and/or shooting it to a dubious Cision-produced media list with a zillion contacts.

If you aren’t writing a press release using these steps, you need to hit “delete” and start over:

  • Research keywords for your target audience: the subject, product, industry and/or service.
  • Make sure these keywords are written into the first 250 words of your press release.
  • Ensure a keyword or two is included in the title.
  • Write keywords into the news release copy.
  • Include keywords in links back to your site

Optimized press releases are ranked by search engines such as Google and Yahoo! These sites are updated regularly with new content less than 30 days old, ensuring that people will come across the news release.

Take an additional step beyond sending the release out on a news wire and to a media list by submitting the release to an online press release service. Pandia.com provides a list here.

And lastly, as an industry, let’s stop comparing how things were done before the Web became such an integral way we live, work and play, and simply adopt methods that work with it and make it work for us. PR professionals need to act in the present and look proactively to the future to best serve our companies and clients.

In the ten years I’ve worked in public relations, I’ve EXECUTED only one crisis communications plan. I’ve written plenty, but I only had to actually work on one crisis, and for that, I am profoundly grateful. It was pretty bad too. A client’s facility caught fire and there were injuries, from what I remember.

Unless you work on a team at an agency that specializes in this type of work, you aren’t likely to see many of these in your career. But they happen. We see it on the news all the time, from Toyota and its accelerator problems, to last year’s crisis involving a plant owned by Peanut Corp. of America, which produced salmonella-tainted peanut butter that sickened 700 people and killed nine. It happens all the time. Yet time and time again, we see companies making the same frustrating mistakes over and over – refusing to talk to the media, providing spotty information, if any is provided at all, executing and bungling sketchy cover-ups.  And finally when they do talk to the media, it comes out all wrong – usually at the height of the problem.

What good has ever come of not coming clean and giving people the facts? When has it ever helped a crisis to cover up the fact that one is taking place? Has the media ever stopped hounding executives when they refuse to speak to them?

Here are some best practices for developing a crisis communications plan. Having a plan in place before something bad happens and being knowledgeable and prepared is key to staying ahead of problems, keeping shareholders and customers happy and not allowing the media to tell your story, or worse yet, some anonymous hack online. In essence, when things are out of control, you are in the driver’s seat and remain there.

  1. Respond promptly: Once alerted to a problem, take control of it by letting your audiences know there is a problem and that you are working on a solution. Don’t allow someone to come to you with the problem, such as a Wall Street Journal editor calling you about it as you are walking in the door one morning. If they are asking questions you don’t know the answers to, it is okay to tell them what you do know and that you are gathering information and will provide it to your audiences as soon as possible. But once you know, call them back!
  2. Establish your “go-to” emergency team: This starts within the company or organization. This includes alerting the powers-that-be of any situation that may arise, and alerting other stakeholders such as employees and vendors. This should be done quickly and efficiently. A single point person should also be established to convey this information. It may or may not be the same person who communicates to external audiences, such as the media.
  3. Ensure a written plan is in place and that everyone is aware of it and the protocol established. Make sure it has complete buy-in from executive management and the legal department. If there are issues that frequently arise in your particular industry, it is very helpful to have established, standard messaging points on file to edit as necessary and that the spokesperson and others who may be called by the media or other external audiences know what they are.
  4. Work with, not against the public. If there is a situation that is potentially harmful and life-threatening, tell the public as soon as possible. If it is a situation is low-risk, but you know people are going to be angry, you will need to establish talking points and convey information that acknowledges that.
  5. Be open and honest.
  6. Talk to the media. Don’t dodge their calls. Don’t hide in your office if they are outside the building. It’s best to communicate with editors and news outlets that you are comfortable with proactively before the less friendly outlets reach you.
  7. Social media can be your best ally or your worst foe. Just like some uninformed “expert” can tweet information that can damage your reputation and stock price in an instant, in that same instant you can tweet factual information to your constituents that keeps you in control. Embrace social media. If you haven’t “gotten on board” yet, think of the implications of what anonymous message board posts and less than factual bloggers and tweeters can have on your company in the case of an emergency.
  8. Continue to keep the lines of communication open. Alert the public immediately to all changes in the situation, good and bad. Once it’s under control, there may be some who will question how you handled the situation. Concede mistakes, apologize, but highlight successes too, as well as plans in place to prevent future situations. And once completed, announce those too.
  9. Always re-evaluate crisis communication plans. As your business changes, as your constituents change and evolve, as new forms of media crop up (social media!), always have a plan for addressing all of them in the case of an emergency.
  10. Ensure your plan addresses cultural differences and language barriers. Establish and maintain relationships with media outlets, community leaders and other thought-leaders and experts on how to reach audiences that may not use mainstream media outlets, have Internet access, etc.

It’s simple enough, and works effectively for situations that are less serious and those that are life-threatening. For more information and examples, see case studies on how to do it right (Tylenol) and how to completely screw it up (Peanut Corp. of America).

Lately, I’ve been obsessed with learning more about Yammer. Yammer is an intra-company/enterprise version of Twitter, designed with the goal of helping companies and organizations evolve into more productive and integrated organizations.

Launched at TechCrunch50 in 2008 (also known as TC50), a conference and tradeshow that showcases the best Web 2.0 start-ups, Yammer won the grand prize, and now claims to have more than 50,000 companies around the globe using the tool. Yammer won’t drop names, but they state that Fortune 500 companies, Hollywood studios and many small to mid-sized companies now Yammer, and the Web site lists Fox, Adobe and Hill and Knowlton as users.

Yammer is the result of founder and CEO David Sacks and engineers at the other company he founded, Geni, wanting an internal communication tool to connect with employees throughout the organization.

How does it work? It all starts with one simple question: “What are you working on?” Co-workers post and share update on their projects. Company news can be sent instantly. People in an organization can send links, ask questions and get help from anyone in the company. Everyone on the network can see who is following who, who is the most followed, and ultimately, who are the movers and shakers in the company.

Yammer also serves as a company directory in which every employee has a profile, and as a knowledge base where past conversations can be easily accessed and referenced.

Basic Yammer service is free, and companies can pay to claim and administer their networks. All communication within the company is completely private and secure – not even Yammer employees can see what is going on within individual organizations. The privacy of each network is ensured by limiting access to those with a valid company email address and information isn’t shared with third parties.

Yammer now has the ability to create groups within a company in order to communicate with different teams inside an organization without broadcasting what is said publicly. Companies can also host Yammer inside their corporate firewall. It is available on iPhone, Windows Mobile, Blackberry and Android.

I think this is cool and this says a lot. I have worked at companies where they utilized internal instant messenger tools and I thought it was the biggest pain in the behind. The main reason was that I didn’t feel it used the way it was supposed to be used. What was supposed to be another tool in your arsenal to be more productive and help others mainly became a method of someone keeping track of when you turned your computer on and off, or firing off twenty-million questions a day when they could just pick up the phone and come over to discuss a project.

Not exactly best practices for workplace productivity.

With the appropriate buy-in from The-Powers-That-Be (Yammer can be started by any employee, but I wouldn’t recommend that unless that employee is THE decision maker and can do what they want), Yammer can help end the dreaded silos that occur in many companies, facilitate efficiency in working across various groups in an organization, and fairly and equally promote exemplary work among employees. Yammer could also serve as a blueprint for new employees entering an organization on how it operates, its culture and how to succeed.

An additional use, particularly for public relations departments in organizations that are reluctant to use social media to communicate to external audiences, is to introduce a tool used internally to showcase how, say, Twitter works, and what is can do. Baby steps are necessary for many in upper-management, and this could be a start to embracing social media.