Avoid Social Media Disasters

As PR and social media professionals who often share content on behalf of brands and company executives, we literally have their reputations in our hands…and on our dashboards.

That’s why every PR pro must guard against the unscrupulous. Recent Twitter hacks of major brands like Burger King, Jeep and Chrysler show that no one is immune.

With hackers growing more sophisticated by the day, no one can guarantee a 100% bulletproof social account. But we can avoid the kind of sloppiness that invites trouble. Hacks are not only embarrassing in professional circles,  but they can have reputation repercussions for companies and their brands.

Here are some tips for dealing with, and preventing social media mishaps.

Follow good password protocol. Passwords such as “hello123” and “love” are a temptation to mischief-makers. By regularly changing passwords, limiting the number of approved users, and safeguarding your personal email and social accounts, you can eliminate easy security loopholes. Also, never save passwords to your browser; it’s an invitation to hackers.

Be prepared. Have a written and approved set of steps for a social media hack or mistake so you can “nip an issue in the bud” and minimize any damage as quickly as possible. Build in redundancy. For example, make sure that automated tweets can be suspended quickly and easily in the event of a disaster or other breaking news.

Think before you delete. If a questionable update is posted, think before you rush to delete. Sometimes, a deleted tweet just calls greater attention to the situation. A simple correction could be all you need to fix the error; or, if you have caused offense, apologize promptly and sincerely.

Separate your personal and client streams and dashboards. It’s easy to make mistakes (e.g. auto-log in), which is all the more reason to separate your business and personal streams. This helps safeguard your Twitter worlds with an extra layer of security if one of your accounts be compromised, and it reduces the chances you’ll tweet about your wicked hangover on a client’s account.

Double-check vendors. If you use a subcontracter, make sure they’re buttoned up. Every entity contracted to deal with your brand needs written security and content guidelines.

Year-End PR Winners And Losers

Year-end wouldn’t be year-end without the inevitable lists! In PR it’s instructive (and full of just a little schadenfrude) to reflect on those who burnished their PR image and those who bruised and battered it. Here’s our best shot at PR Winners and Losers. See what you think.

PR Winners

Chris Christie
Jersey’s often-mocked Republican governor scored major points at home after Hurricane Sandy. Gov. Christie threw himself into the relief efforts as soon as the storm hit the Garden State. His ability to blur party lines and work with President Obama days before the Presidential election helped him maintain the image of a focused leader during the disaster, which led to a huge spike in his most recent approval rating.

Lydia Callis, Bloomberg’s Sign Language Interpreter
How often does the “hearing” public pay attention to sign language interpreters? The answer was ‘not often’ until Lydia Callis signed for Mayor Bloomberg during his post-Sandy addresses. Her enthusiasm and clear sympathy made her stand out, earning her an inspired skit on SNL and rocketing her to internet stardom. She also put sign language interpreting into the zeitgeist.

Hillary Clinton
Who knew that a photo of Hillary Clinton checking her phone would redefine the Secretary of State? The ‘Texts from Hillary’ Tumblr began as a fun way to portray the former presidential candidate, as ‘Hillary’ and ‘Humor’ aren’t often synonymous. The site launched popular memes, which Clinton chose to embrace, and her farewell video and latest “selfie” taken with Meryl Streep just confirmed her appeal with multiple audiences. Welcome to the world of memes, Hillary! We hope you’re here to stay!

PR Losers

McDonald’s
When McDonald’s turned to social media to hear their patrons’ #McDStories, they could have never anticipated the can of worms they were opening. McDonald’s diners used the hashtag to air their grievances about the chain, instead of share their success stories. The twitter campaign promptly ended once it was deemed a #McFail.

Penn State
It’s sad to see an institution like Penn State fall from its pedestal, but that’s what happened when the school was caught in a child molestation scandal. Although assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky was found guilty of the awful crimes, the school was burned when the Freeh report revealed that the late head coach Joe Paterno and the administration covered up the situation. As a result, the school took a major hit to its reputation and football program.

Donald Trump
Of course, no PR list would be complete without “The Donald.” Trump claimed he had a “game-changer” in the Presidential election by challenging Obama to release his private records in exchange for a $5 million charitable donation. Celebrities took to the twittersphere mocking the mogul’s cry for attention and Trump’s offer became a joke. But, we were still talking about Trump, so maybe he belongs on both lists!

Can you think of other great PR moments? Any that should be left in the dust? Feel free to leave them in the comments!

Social Media Must-Haves (for first-time PR clients)

Behind every great company is a great social media plan. I’m being slightly facetious, but there’s no denying the importance of a strong digital, as well as traditional, PR strategy. The two are complementary, and for first-time PR clients, there are definitely some must-have elements we recommend when implementing a new social media plan.

Twitter- There was a time when Twitter was a social media “consideration.” No more! Brands are reckoning with its power every day, as are political candidates: How else would #horsesandbayonets be the top trending topic? Twitter allows companies to share news at a viral rate, as well as communicate with followers in real time. The creation and maintenance of a twitter presence is one of the simplest ways to set a new client up in the digital space. Additionally, the limited-character format forces clients to be creative and selective in what they share, providing them an opportunity to think differently.

Facebook- Easily the most widely used social media platform in the world, Facebook is another integral part of a new client’s social media strategy; “friending” is not just a social pastime! The same sharing of information we enjoy on a personal level carries into Facebook on a professional level, and since pretty much everyone is on Facebook; it’s one of the easiest ways to connect with potential customers. Additionally, apps and advertising have made it easier than ever to position new clients in the most successful way.

Blogging- Although blogging is arguably one of the more time-consuming elements of a social media strategy, it’s also a powerful way to showcase your client’s expertise in their industry. By creating highly credible content that’s interactive and shareable, your client is not only using a new platform to reach interested audiences, but extending into new audiences thanks to sharing, endorsements and guest blogs.

LinkedIn- LinkedIn is essential for any professional; so it makes sense for a company to have a LinkedIn presence as well! LinkedIn helps people understand what your company is about, and can even provide insight into your company culture. Viewers can see past and present employees, as well as job openings, recommendations and more. LinkedIn is a great way to present your client to the business community and will also help them internally as a recruitment tool.

These are just a few elements, but there are a variety of other networks that can be included in your new client’s social media strategy; just make sure the medium matches your client’s specialty. What other elements do you consider to be “must-haves”? Leave it in our comments!

The Scariest PR Mistakes of 2012

Most PR pros have had nightmares about a serious public mistake. Or, we’ve felt that shiver of schadenfreude when someone else’s blunder goes viral. Some of us have even experienced them. So, in honor of Halloween, here’s my list of some of the scariest PR moves and mistakes to date.

The rogue tweet. In my book, the Kitchen-Aid tweet mentioning Obama’s grandmother takes the prize here. “Obamas gma even knew it was going 2 b bad! ‘She died 3 days b4 he became president,” was tweeted from @KitchenAidUSA to its 25,000 followers during the first presidential debate October 3. The tweet was obviously an accident and Kitchen-Aid was quick to delete it and issue a well-articulated apology. But the social media slicing-and-dicing it endured is yet another lesson for those who manage multiple social media accounts simultaneously.

The cover-up. The New York Times headline last April said it all. ” Vast Mexico Bribery Case Hushed Up By Walmart After A Top-Level Struggle,” detailed how, when confronted with evidence of a strategy of brazen bribery to build its business in Mexico, top Walmart officials shut down an internal investigation and focused instead on covering up the malfeasance. Because Walmart was aware of the allegations, there’s an argument to be made that it should have gotten ahead of the story. Its response seemed to try to dismiss the scandal as an isolated occurrence, but the depth of detail that emerged make that pretty hard to swallow. A much more proactive communications strategy was required.

The amateur spy. The repercussions here were nothing like Mexico. But as a lapse in both judgment and ethics, it deserves a place on the “scary” list. In July, a young PR agency executive representing Walmart tried to infiltrate a meeting run by a labor group by passing herself off as a student reporter. The agency employee was characterized as a rogue and promptly cast out into the cold, but it’s hard to believe she acted independently. Frighteningly stupid.

The controversial stand. Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy may have bitten off more than he could chew after his pro-traditional-marriage comments sparked a social firestorm. Marriage equality advocates squared off against traditionalists, with well-known mayors getting into the act. Ultimately, Chick-fil-A wasn’t badly burned by the meltdown, and it buried the hatchet with antagonists. But it was a step onto a third-rail issue with high damage potential, and one that probably won’t be repeated. The company pledged to reevaluate its funding of anti-gay groups, and its spokesperson announced its intention to “leave the policy debate over same-sex marriage to the government and political arena.”

The polarizing move. The same can’t be said for the self-inflicted damage to Susan G. Komen for the Cure earlier this year. When Komen attempted to drop Planned Parenthood from its grants program, Planned Parenthood fired back with a very public, and highly successful, move to mobilize support among women. Komen then reversed course, angering conservatives, along with just about everyone else. More importantly, founder Nancy Brinker didn’t own up to its position, and the controversy triggered closer scrutiny of many of its marketing and fundraising practices. Komen is still struggling to recover.

The social media “surprise.” Of all brands, McDonald’s takes top prize here. Despite its PR sophistication, McD’s seemed unprepared for the Twitter backlash served up in response to its promoted tweets campaign. Meant to highlight its organic potato farmer suppliers, the promotion used the hashtag #meetthefarmers. But when it invited consumers to share their own stories under a second hashtag #McDStories, it triggered a feeding frenzy of nasty comments. The campaign was pulled and branded a #McFail. The lesson here is that when you invite a response, you should be ready for anything.

The power play. Twitter itself stepped over the line when it suspended journalist Guy Adams’s account after he tweeted harsh criticisms of NBC programming during the Olympic Games. NBC was a major Twitter sponsor, and it turned out to be Twitter itself who notified NBC of the tweets (although officially Adams’s account was shut down for including the email of an NBC executive.) But it was a rich irony and important learning for Twitter. For a top social media community that advocates for open and free speech to clamp down so clumsily was a scary – albeit temporary – mistake.

The tasteless tweet. Little-known online store CelebBoutique outraged many when it hijacked the hashtag #Aurora after the tragic Colorado shooting to promote a fashion item. This wasn’t a rogue tweet. It was either a shameless attempt to exploit a tragedy, or thoughtless and sloppy social media practice. Either way, a repugnant move.

Olympics 2012: A Golden Moment for Twitter

Top prize for social sharing during Olympics 2012? Unquestionably, the gold should go to Twitter.
It gave us a fresh crop of must-follow athletes, broke news about shattered records, and fostered social sharing over everything from Ryan Lochte’s hotness to Gabby Douglas’ hair. And there were lots of milestones.

There was the unprecedented partnership between Twitter and NBC Universal. It helped harness the following power of more than 1000 athlete profiles, including social media rockstars like LeBron James (16 million Twitter followers) and Roger Federer (11 million), and anointed Twitter as a social curator of the Games. Though the partnership was called “non-financial,” Twitter gained major advertisers like P&G and General Electric in the deal.

But NBC – and Twitter itself – also felt the brunt of its power as a megaphone for criticism. It warmed up with athletes’ grumbles about transportation glitches before the games, gained traction during the quirky opening ceremonies and probably peaked when Twitter suspended Guy Adams’ account after he criticized NBC. As The New York Times‘ Richard Sandomir put it, it served as a “fiery digital soapbox” against the network, focusing criticism over tape delays and live stream glitches on the hashtag #nbcfail.

The Adams suspension was reversed, but it raised questions about the coexistence of a democratized social platform like Twitter and a corporation like NBCUniversal. Technically, Adams’ account was suspended because he posted the email of an NBC executive, a violation of Twitter’s guidelines. Yet, the fact that the email address was publicly available, and that the tweet was reported to NBC by Twitter itself, “begs a question about what could happen next time and how far a social media platform may go to appease its business partners, even if it means muting the voices of its users.”

Yet, Twitter quickly remembered what social media is all about. Adams’ account was restored after pressure from users, and Twitter issued a detailed apology in which it pledged not to be in the business of “monitoring and flagging content, no matter who the user is — whether a business partner, celebrity or friend.”

Finally, Twitter’s a winner because, for socially minded Games fans, it was close to indispensable. And with NBC reporting huge ratings and healthy ad revenue from the Games, the marriage of old and new media proved they can not only coexist, but push one another to new heights.

What’s The PR Potential For Pinterest?

After reaching 10 million monthly unique visitors more quickly than Facebook or Twitter, Pinterest is one of the most visited social networks today—that makes it important, period, and brands know this.
So, how can PR pros use it most effectively?

Here are 3 tips on how you can make your client’s Pinterest page a must-see.

Tips, Please

Everyone wants advice from an expert. If your client is considered an expert on a particular topic, use Pinterest to extend that perception by making their page a one-stop source for tips on that topic. This makes a page popular, providing value to your client’s customers.

Kate Spade NY, for instance, offers tips on dressing colorfully. HGTV? Tips on design.
Pinterest is where people go for easy-to-digest recommendations. Thus, pins should be functional. They should be tips for consumers to enhance their lifestyle. That’s what those who successfully use Pinterest for their clients understand.

(Consumer) Content is Key

While your clients are ultimately the experts, it’s great to let customers have a voice on their Pinterest page by re-pinning relevant content from them. In PR, we’re often too focused on one-way communication. However, social media has made everything two-way. Demonstrating thoughtful engagement by your client is as important (if not more) as seeing engagement from their customers.

What better way to do this then by repinning? Through this simple action, PR professionals can easily make client brands interactive while keeping their key audiences coming back for more.

Pinning is Learning

Repins have tangible value to both you and your client. When the content from a client’s page is repinned hundreds of times, internalize that and learn from it. If you pin something that sees little traction, whether through comments, repins or likes, maybe it’s time to rethink future similar pins.

Successful PR campaigns have learned to move on when things don’t work. Pinterest is a platform for your client’s customers to help you figure out what doesn’t work the brand you represent. Chances are, if it’s not loved on Pinterest, it may be off the mark.

Bottom line—when things don’t work on Pinterest, learn from it and move on. These are just 3 tips on how PR pros can use Pinterest effectively—what other strategies have you tried?

Fake Twitter Accounts: The Ultimate Status Symbol?

Wendi, we hardly knew ye.

The all-too-brief period in which Mrs. Rupert Murdoch took to Twitter was thrilling for Murdoch-watchers, social media pros, and PR  types. It seemed another example of the faux-democratizing power of the social Web. It also showed the cleverness of Ms. Deng, and her uncanny ability to humanize her much-reviled husband. (Who can forget the video of her bitch-slapping his pie assailant?)

Of course, @Wendi_Deng appeared rather quietly on Twitter after the much bigger news that her husband had embraced social media with a Twitter account of his own. Yet, unlike Sir Rupert’s terse and fairly mundane observations, @Wendi_Deng’s tweets were fun. They weren’t nakedly personal, but they revealed tantalizing tidbits about the Murdochian relationship, through kittenish exchanges that took us back to the (now sad) innocent days of @aplusk and @mrskutcher. Ah, billionaire love. Even the rich and famous flirt, bicker, and make up, but now they do it in front of thousands of followers. Fake Wendi actually scolded her husband for one of his cranky tweets, and he promptly deleted the post. Kind of cute.

But the delicious @Wendi_Deng was an imposter, of course. The fact that Twitter gave the account the familiar blue checkmark has undermined its supposedly bulletproof verification process for boldfaced names. Fake Wendi was also an embarrassment for News Corp., which seemed uncertain when asked about the account by the press. But the reddest faces may be at media outlets like the Associated Press and the British Guardian and Telegraph, which breathlessly reported the Deng account as real. And then there’s Sir Rupert himself, whose account is legit; did he even know that @Wendi_Deng was fake, or does he just like a bit of Twitter domination?

My brief fascination with fake Wendi got me thinking about how and why the real celebrities often pale in comparison to faux blogs or social media accounts that usurp their famous names. Writers, for instance, aren’t always interesting on Twitter; maybe the medium is just too constraining.

But stars like entertainers can also be dull. Many seem uncomfortable with the medium; they name-drop (or so it seems to us regular folks); they use Twitter as a broadcast medium chiefly to promote projects; or they’re just plain boring. Airplane rage notwithstanding, @alecbaldwin was an exception, with his witty, lightning-fast, and unapologetically cocky updates. Baldwin is sorely missed on my boldfaced list since shutting his account after the Words with Friends intervention late last year.

But, embarrassments aside, fake social media personas aren’t all bad PR; in fact, if you’re a celebrity or a mogul, they let you have it both ways! Those faux tweets and the fresh relevance they bring can breathe new life into a celeb’s image, who then bears no responsibility for the posts. They can simply retreat into full, Garboesque social media silence, whetting our appetite all the more by withdrawing. It’s a classic strategy.

It’s enough to make you wonder if a personality might quietly hire a ghost to impersonate them,  gain attention, play coy for a bit, then issue a furious denial and sit back to watch the ripple effect. A Twitter impersonator in the social media age might just be a signal that you’ve arrived. If so, Mrs. Murdoch has one-upped her mogul husband – and probably not for the first time.

If Santa Were More Social

Nowadays everyone is using social and digital media. And with so much to do before Christmas, I’m thinking that Santa could ease some stress and reinforce his personal brand by embracing digital technology. Here are a few ways for him to start:

Live Tweeting. Wouldn’t it be great to follow Santa’s every move on Twitter? Actually, there is a @santaclaus account, courtesy of NORAD. It has only about 5700 followers, so maybe Santa should start using the “list” feature a bit more shrewdly….naughty, nice, not sure, etc.

Foursquare Check-ins. Santa can create a virtual North Pole or Holiday Spirit check-in for the rest of us to log good deeds.  Or, S.C. might launch a holiday decorations photo contest among followers, seeing as he’s holding a pretty impressive prize package.

Facebook Polls. A quick Facebook survey can help pinpoint top gifts among the deserving, the better to guide his production plans.

GPS. Naturally, satellite technology has a role here. Avoiding storms can probably slice the Big Guy’s travel time in half.

Live blogging. Of course a platform like Tumblr would enable Santa to integrate the visual aspects of his big trip and share them in real time. I’m sure he could put his hands on the right smartphone for the job.

Email still works. We could use more regular holiday updates on the year’s news, or maybe a sneak peek on how Santa will spend a post-Christmas vacation. And there are so many story ideas that can be pitched via email, like, like a New Year’s resolution to slim down, or becoming more eco-friendly with a solar-powered sleigh.

Online Shopping. Can’t leave this one out. A cross-promotion with Amazon can save the elves a lot of work!

Happy Holidays!

The Governor, The Teenager And Twitter: A PR Lesson

The awesome power of social media may be matched only by the withering force of teenage scorn.

I was startled by the social blowback resulting from Kansas Governor Sam Brownback’s public feud with a local high school student. It started last week when Emma Sullivan and her class attended a youth event in Topeka where Brownback was a speaker. Sullivan, a self-professed liberal and arts lover, tweeted her distaste for the arts-defunding governor to her 65 followers, capped by a hashtag created for the occasion – #heblowsalot.

Juvenile, right? Rude, or silly, depending on your point of view, yet harmless. But Brownback’s staff, who obviously track hashtags like #heblowsalot, spotted the surly tweet and contacted Sullivan’s high school principal, who demanded an apology from her. She ultimately refused. The 18-year-old’s stance, and her story, has spread faster than a prairie brushfire. She’s added 14,000 Twitter followers and has been interviewed by dozens of media outlets.  (My mother would have washed my iPhone out with soap, but never mind.) A Rosa Parks for subversive tweeting has been born.

The governor’s Facebook page (which to his staff’s credit, has apparently not been filtered) is overrun with comments, mostly negative. And yesterday the inciting tweet came home to roost when Brownback, clearly on the defensive, was the one apologizing. He posted an official statement claiming an overreaction by his staff and issuing a mea culpa of sorts to the 18-year-old.

There are many lessons here. The PR learning may lie in the Brownback team’s hamhanded reaction. Rather than ignoring the rogue tweet, laughing it off, or trying to reach out to a disaffected constituent, they attempted to extract an apology by pressuring the school, which some say is an attempt to stifle Sullivan’s right to free speech. Others, like The Washington Post’s Alexandra Petri, think the whole twitstorm came down to Sullivan’s bad ‘tude and simple discourtesy.

Still, it doesn’t go over well when an authority figure overreacts to the harmless actions of a younger person. It can make you look like a bully. And reason, or – better yet –  humor, is far more disarming than punitive measures. It was just a hashtag. (Sullivan’s claim that she insulted the Governor to his face wasn’t even true.)

It’s also interesting that so many commenters were offended that taxpayer dollars were spent on social media monitoring by the Governor’s staff. Now, as any communicator will tell you, it’s smart to track constituent messages in real time, but it just points out the damned-if-you-do/damned-if-you-don’t dilemma facing so many elected officials. I fault the Brownback response, not the monitoring. The team overplayed its hand, and the public apology was the right move. For the record, however, he shouldn’t have blamed the twittereaction on his staff.

But, it seems obvious that the Brownback backpedaling says more about public cynicism and fed-up-ness than it does about freedom of tweets, teenagers, or even a slow news week. With Congressional approval at 8%, and most elected officials gearing up for a nasty battle in 2012, it’s hard out there for a pol. A little social media savvy – and PR sense – can go a long way.

When It Comes To Social Media, Faking It Isn't Making It

The recent rash of bogus Twitter follower scandals, like Newt Gingrich‘s 1.3 million supposed fans, and the oil industry’s apparent astroturfing efforts, are entertaining blog fodder. But they’re also important as a reminder of what’s erroneous about linking social media status to a friends and follower count.

(It’s actually unclear what percentage of Gingrich’s followers are faux, but his number is particularly impressive when compared to GOP front-runner Mitt Romney 68,000 number. Yep, mine’s bigger than yours. You know how boys are.)

It bothers me that these mini-scandals undermine good ole Twitter as a platform and a business tool. Just as you’re judged by the company you keep in the real world, Twitter has always risked getting a bad reputation. It’s seen by some as a perfect hangout for the egotists, hucksters, and fakes. That’s not the Twitter that I know and love.

And it would seem to make no sense to the account holders. Why would anyone actually pay a third-party for access to bogus accounts when social media is about connecting and engaging others? Why, like Anthony Weiner, would you risk having the wrong kind of fans – e.g. porn actresses and spambots? The obvious answer, of course, is pure ego. They’re willing to look foolish by inflating their following in order to impress the few engaged fans that they actually have.

Are you listening, Klout?  The obsession with numbers as metrics is the real culprit here. Judging someone’s social influence by follower count just isn’t viable. I know sophisticated services like Klout claim to go beyond the raw fan numbers, but they are still too Twitter-centric and too focused on the numbers. These recent Fangate incidents are another reminder.

True influence is evidenced by quality and frequency of content, sharing, and action. Most of all, it’s about who’s really listening. And when it comes to the shiny new tool or the point of view that misses this simple fact, well, I just don’t follow.