Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Always Tweet others as you wish to be Tweeted!

The internet has been awash with stories of big corporations suffering at the hands of Twitter recently, from inept employees embarrassing their companies to the news that neither the BBC or the Tory party trust their spokespeople enough to let them Tweet unsupervised. Today’s story of the day involves the film director Kevin Smith, who directed and starred in the Jay and Silent Bob series of films.

At the weekend, Smith was asked to leave a Southwest Airlines flight as his size allegedly made him a “safety risk.” He then used his Twitter account to post a number of complaints about the airline, most of which I am too much of a lady to repeat!

It took six hours for Southwest to respond to him, but they did then apologise and let him know that their customer relations vice-president would be in touch. However it did little to console Smith, and from a PR point of view the damage had already been done when his 1.6m Twitter followers saw the original complaints.

However, at this point it sounds like Southwest had done whatever they could to salvage the situation, and they posted a blog to explain what happened that managed to paint everyone involved in a pretty good light. So far so good… but apparently that wasn’t the whole story. Clearly Kevin Smith wasn’t going to let that lie (something Southwest should surely have been aware of by this point!) and he retaliated with his own version of events.

At this juncture, it seems the whole thing has turned into a bit of a PR crisis. The story is all over the press, so far more than the original 1.6m people who saw it unfolding on Twitter are now aware of it. Southwest Airlines started the communication well, but it seems that they seriously underestimated Smith’s influence. Since both parties are providing very different versions of the story, it’s difficult to tell who’s in the right (if anyone) but it might have been a good idea for Southwest to just give Smith what he wanted (a full public explanation) to avoid the situation escalating further.

Let this be a lesson to you, PR people! Social media is immediate, unregulated and here to stay. You may not be able to prevent a negative story appearing, but it’s how you respond to it that matters. Anyone who doesn’t think social media is important to them is missing a trick, because if it’s important to your stakeholders, it will end up affecting you, for better or worse.

I’d love to hear your opinions on this – do you think Southwest Airlines handled the situation well, or could they have done more?

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Is Google Buzz Over-Hyped?

Following the Chrome browser, Nexus One mobile device, Wave and Chat, Google this week launched the latest in a line of new tools that are rapidly turning it from search engine specialist to all-encompassing communications behemoth. Google Buzz was launched amid much hype as a ‘Twitter Killer’ and a major competitor to Facebook. But is all the buzz justified?

Buzz combines a number of different social media tools into one platform. It has a friends function, commenting and media (photos, videos) like Facebook, it has simple, public status updates like Twitter, and it has geo-location based updates like FourSquare. And perhaps more importantly, it has a ready-made 175 million strong social network of people who have a Gmail account, which is the standard login process. Everyone one of these account holders is being given an invitation to sign up this week.

At first glance, Buzz would appear to be a social media dream. The equivalent of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Flickr all in one place and combined with your email account? Genius! Except that you have to have a Gmail account to use the service, and can you really see people porting all of their contacts into Buzz? This could be a threat as much as an opportunity for Google. Furthermore, there are some pretty big privacy concerns over Buzz, as voiced in this excellent blog post.

But what of Buzz from a marketing and PR perspective? As it’s hardly out of it’s packaging, it’s a little too soon to see quite will work out for marketers – it is, after all, designed very much as a personal tool rather than something companies can use. But it’s only a matter of time before it opens up – Google won’t miss a trick like that! There’s a ‘follower’ function like Twitter, so it may be that Buzz evolves into more of a business tool for companies. But what it does do that other services don’t is attempt to filter content from your contacts so that the cream rises to the top (in theory). That lends itself to being creative with updates, images and videos, and that’s where marketing may come in due to the holy grail viral affect

In short, watch this space…

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

The Need for a Holistic Approach to Social Media in PR

There’s one PR debate out there that refuses to go away – the role of social media in communications plans. This was highlighted by PR Week recently, when they wrote about recruitment consultants’ struggle to fill digital roles. According to the article, around a third of employers are looking for candidates with social media expertise – but only 6% of CVs submitted over the last two years referenced social media.

In my opinion, this is down to one of two equally worrying points; either PRs aren’t using social media, or they don’t think it’s important to their role. I’m inclined to believe that the real reason is a combination of the two. PR companies are beginning to wake up to the value of social media, but they are not implementing a holistic approach to it. Rather than encouraging all their staff to get involved, they are relying on a small team of experts to drive the programme, and the skills involved aren’t being passed around the agency.
The key to learning about social media is, as with everything, to get involved. At Cirkle, we’ve all been on training courses and we’re encouraging our clients to use digital media to drive their campaigns. For example, the Energizer team ran a very successful forum on Mumsnet just before Christmas, generating plenty of conversation around batteries and offering advice on how to get the most out of them over the key Christmas period. We’re all big Facebook users (who isn’t?!) and we’ve also embraced Twitter as a way to converse with other media professionals, and, increasingly, the press (you can follow me on Twitter: @RebeccaatCirkle).

There’s obviously a lot more out there and it’s a steep learning curve, but ignoring social media isn’t going to get PRs anywhere. Online communities are here to stay, and I think that PR is going to increasingly centre on them. We have a duty to our profession to get involved, or we’ll start losing out to specialist agencies very soon.

Do you think it’s important for PR professionals to have a good understanding of social media?