Citizen Journalism in AT&T's Backflip Commercial

Emmy Award winning broadcaster, actor, and comic - Logan Crawford - portrays an omnipresent newsman "reporting the news that's important for you" in this series of TV commercials for AT&T's “Backflip”.

What a very funny commercial. I laugh every time I see one. This video exemplifies a lot of what I have been exploring this semester in my Social Media for PR class, as you can read in my previous posts. News and journalism is being transformed by the use of social media sites. Ordinary people are having much more of an influence on the delivery of our news. News sites can now receive photos, videos, and comments from people on the scene of breaking news, even before their crews are able to get to the site. Technology is becoming an increasingly important part of our lives. Just the other day when I was watching the health care debate on TV, I noticed some of the news anchors actually had their laptops in front of them, on screen, while they were conversing. I never thought I would see that. I wonder if it really is only a matter of time before broadcast news anchors are sitting in front of the camera reading the news from Twitter and Facebook?


For Public Relations Success, Try Consumer Participation

When you really like something, sometimes you just have to have it. We all know of people who have worked hard to obtain something they desire: children who saved pennies for that very special toy, friends who worked long hours to earn extra vacation days, or perhaps students who voiced themselves on campus to win a long-standing debate.

But, how many people do you know have worked extra hard to save a soda?

...me neither.

However, that is exactly what Eric Karkovack did when he launched SaveSurge.org, a website dedicated to getting the Coca-Cola company to re-launch their very green, very caffeinated soda product, Surge.

(On a side note, I did a science fair experiment with Surge when I was in 6th grade. I designed an experiment to test whether caffeine affects memory. The results of my test: after 3 students were given one cup of Surge each, no negative affect on memory. I know, not a very accurate study, but hey, I was in 6th grade!)

After hearing of Surge's production cessation and speaking with fellow "soda activists," Karkovack began a mission to unite Surge fans, locate the last of the Surge supply, and take action to convince the soda company that Surge was worth saving. The SaveSurge.org website was a hub of consumer interaction. Visitors could upload photos, participate in discussion forums, and even send pre-written letters to soda company officials. In fact, the website eventually became one of the top hits in the Google search results.

Although Surge has yet to make a comeback, this example of consumers taking action and voicing themselves to major companies and businesses exemplifies a point that I believe is (or will become) pivotal to the practice of public relations: consumer participation.

"...even if it is not as important as curing cancer or saving the environment. People want to feel a part of something," mentioned Karkovack.

I think most people like to feel that they have the ability to participate, to contribute something of their own, whether this is to a cause (saving Surge) or to any other product or company they have any type of relationship with. Karkovack mentions that one of the reasons his Surge website showed up in Google search results, above even Coca-Cola's main website, is because his website had more interactive components to offer.

My observation has been that companies with interactive websites or other interactive public relations efforts tend to be successful. Take for example, Starbucks – that’s a pretty successful company, right?

Starbucks not only engages with social networking sites like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, but also has its own sort of social network – My Starbucks Idea.

My Starbucks Idea allows customers to share their ideas on all and anything related to Starbucks. You can see what other users have suggested, vote on others ideas, and even watch as Starbucks tracks and implements many of the proposed ideas. This site actually allows customers a small part in the decision making process of Starbucks. I cannot think of a better way to get customers feeling involved – they are actually making a contribution.

When you allow a destination where consumers are free to be involved and make a contribution, I think they generally will. Of course, only companies who feel confident in their reputation will want to do this. With the recent example of Nestle in mind, you would not want to post an open site for customer feedback during a crisis event (read more about the Nestle crisis on the Social Media for PR Class blog). Consumer participation can potentially create a good vibe among consumers, but also provides beneficial feedback for the business. It creates a place where you can see what consumers like, what they respond well to, etc..

Public relations practitioners are going to have to start being even more creative. We all receive massive amounts of e-mails a day, no doubt visit many websites throughout the week, and are bombarded with messages everywhere we go, and let’s face it – the old fashion press release is nearing extinction. I think to be effective, there needs to be more incentive. What better way to draw people in than by making them feel involved and welcoming them to participate? What kinds of interactive PR strategies do you find effective? What companies are using creative ways to build and maintain business?


FTC Guidelines

I recently read over the new FTC guidelines. In this document,
The Federal Trade Commission (“FTC” or “Commission”) is adopting revised Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising (“the Guides”). The revised Guides include additional changes not incorporated in the proposed revisions published for public comment in November 2008.
Reading legal documents has never been a strength of mine, which made this blog - Understanding the New FTC Guidelines, very helpful to me.

I was very surprised to discover that some of the FTC guidelines had not been updated more recently. With the changing technology and use of social media, I imagined most FTC guidelines would at least need to be updated every 5 years or so, but that does not seem to be the case. In fact, it is my understanding that the FTC guidelines concerning the use of endorsements and advertising had not been updated since 1980!

The new guidelines do, however, take into consideration the new and diverse relationships forming between advertisers and bloggers (and other social commentators on the web).

Under the new guidelines, this relationship between companies or advertisers and online commentators needs to be honest and transparent. Companies that pay or give free products to online commentators in order to generate positive buzz or favorable for their products will now have to ensure that these relationships are clearly and conspicuously disclosed. Otherwise, they will face liability for deceptive advertising practices. The bloggers will also face similar liability for misleading statements and non-disclosure of material relationships.

These guidelines seem pretty fair in my opinion. If I was reading my favorite blogger’s review of the latest Blackberry phone, I would want to know if he or she had been paid by the company to write about it. There may be no way to know, but I would also be curious if the blogger had been paid to write a particular view point, or simply paid to write anything about the product.

Of course, there are no guidelines for people who want to just blog about their favorite products – those who have not been contacted by the company or their advertisers. But, how do we know who has and who has not been involved in a material relationship with the company or product they are discussing?

One aspect of these new guidelines which does not seem to be mentioned too often is responsibility. Who is responsible for monitoring the bloggers and other online commentators? Who is responsible for checking to see if a blogger has been paid? Who is responsible to make sure that the paid bloggers do in fact disclose this information? Many people suggest it is up to the bloggers to self-regulate. According to these people, bloggers who do not self-regulate and follow the guidelines will be called out by the community – and that will be punishment enough. Other people argue that marketers should be fully responsible for advising bloggers of their responsibilities. In my opinion, it is important to do both. Bloggers must self-regulate and be involved in the community enough to spot others who may not be abiding by the guidelines. I think it is also important for advertisers and marketers to fully inform bloggers and other online commentators of their responsibilities before they establish any type of relationship, monetary or otherwise.


PRSSA Podcast for St. Edward's University 125th Anniversary

Last week Sara, Courtney, and myself created a Podcast designed around the 125th anniversary campaign at St. Edward’s University. We had the opportunity to interview Director of Communication, Michelle Diaz and Public Relations Associate, Marcie Lasseigne of the St. Edward’s marketing department, who are both heavily involved in the campaign. As public relations students, we were very interested in the campaign logistics, and the strategies used to promote the anniversary.

We developed questions to help our audience understand the campaign and the various ways to become involved in the year long celebration. The questions varied from a focus on the campaign’s use of social media to the incorporation of the “real life” Topper mascot.

Marcie and Michelle thoroughly answered our questions and gave us much insight into the public relations aspects of the campaign.

As Marcie mentions in the episode, “people like to get their news in a variety of ways.” We learned that social media has been very useful in facilitating communication about the anniversary and related events, and we encourage our fellow students to check out the new microsite and get involved in activities on campus.

Join the effort – we can’t wait for the year to come!


00:06 - Introduction to Podcast show
00:19.3 - Description of episode
00:13.1 - Introduction of hosts and guests
00:48.5 - Overview of 125th campaign
01:16 - Sara asks about campaign, and why focus specifically on 125th year?
03:03 - Incorporation of social media sites in campaign
08:59 - Service challenge
11:14 - Ally asks about incorporation of “real-life Topper”
12:08 - Upcoming events on campus
13:19 - Conclusion of interview


YouTube Videos: Persistence is Not Key

Every time I play bingo, I think to myself  "I've played this game so many times, I'm bound to win tonight, especially since I've lost so many times before," as if the amount of times I've lost is in any way correlated to my winning.

No, I'm not a gambling addict, and I do realize that there is absolutely no strategy or logical way to play bingo. It's a game of pure luck. I know it is not true, but I just can't help thinking that the more I play (and pay), the more likely I am to win (I must add that almost every time I play, the player who wins the $500 game is sitting within feet of my seat, won't their luck will eventually rub off?)

Apparently I am not alone in my way of thinking, in that
"it is widely believed that persistence in most endeavors is key to their success...people are willing to endure failures before achieving a desired goal."
This comes from an interesting study, A Persistence Paradox, which tests the hypothesis that persistence equals success, by evaluating YouTube videos.

In this report, Fang Wu and Bernardo Huberman studied the production histories and success dynamics of 10 million videos uploaded to YouTube, and found that
"while the average quality of submissions does increases with the number of uploads, the more frequently an individual uploads content the less likely it is that it will reach a popularity threshold."
Unlike bingo, YouTube video success is not measured by monetary value. Instead, it is measured by the amount of attention received. With my previous posts in mind, "Citizen Marketers," and "Crisis Communication," I wonder if the same concepts apply to influencers in social media.

The past several weeks I've been learning about and exploring the major impact ordinary consumers can have on major businesses and brands (see previous posts on Kevin Smith for example). If it's true that
"producers on average receive higher ratings for their later videos, while getting decreasing hit ratios with increasing number of submissions,"
It may also be true that for those persistent folks who attack large companies and corporations using social media tools like YouTube videos perhaps, but also Twitter, or Facebook - that their initial attacks are more influential than their later complaints? In this case, while it is important for organizations to respond to citizen marketer's complaints through outlets like YouTube and Twitter, they need not worry as much about repeated complaints and may be able to focus more energy on the initial ones.

In the game of bingo, although I persist (I continue to play despite my losing record), I at least enjoy the game. I enjoy playing and being with friends. For those without initial success on YouTube, who persist in uploading videos even when they receive few or no hits, I wonder if they truly enjoy the process - or are just seeking their 15 minutes? I really do wonder, especially when
"the conditional hit probability for YouTube is worse than the lottery from the second video thereafter"
...guess I have better luck winning it big in bingo than producing a top hit YouTube video.


Crisis Communication: How to Handle a Crisis from a PR Perspective

Yesterday I had the amazing opportunity to attend the Texas Public Relations Association Leadership Day and Gala, thanks to receiving the Joe Riordan Scholarship for students.

The day consisted of many networking opportunities, keynote speakers, several breakout sessions, and an awards ceremony and gala.

One of the breakout sessions that interested me most was a "Crisis Communications Workshop for Students/Young Professionals," hosted by Jack Barnett, APR, Southern Union Company, and Keith R. Schmidt, APR, Newfield Exploration Company.

The session began with an exploration of what crisis communication entails and some practical advice for young professionals entering the public relations field. The session concluded with a hands-on activity where the session hosts outlined a crisis situation and audience teams were challenged to propose a plan of action. Below are some of the key learning points I gained from attending the session.

What is a Crisis?
A crisis is a major, unpredictable event. It is an event or situation that poses risk to a company’s or organization’s reputation.

So, if it’s just one event, why does it matter? Well, because one event can make a lasting impression on your overall reputation. Think back to the Exxon Valdez incident, many people still equate Exxon with oil spill.

How to Handle a Crisis in a Business or Organization:
The best way to handle a crisis in a business or organization is communication, of course. Ideally businesses and organizations will have a crisis plan outlined before a crisis even occurs. For every crisis there is planning that occurs before, moderation of the event during, and a debriefing and adjusting period afterwards.

Before the Crisis – Create a Plan
Every business or organization should have a crisis communication plan - universities, government organizations, and even non-profits. This plan should consist of several key features including: identifying potential or likely crisis’ that may occur (the “what ifs” - these may be obvious based on your industry); choose a company spokesperson, identify who will be the face of the company for both the media and the internal staff; create a list of tasks to be initiated by the public relations team; outline and develop talking points that can be adjusted as the situation changes. Finally, it is important to practice the plan, if not physically, then at least do a mental run-through.

The Organization’s Role during the Crisis
  • Tell the truth: reporters and community members WILL find out that you lied and things will get worse
  • Show empathy: especially if employees were injured during the crisis, you must show empathy and respect for the families and concerned community members 
  • Demonstrate leadership: be available to answer questions, but set your ground rules
  • Maintain internal communication: communication among employees and staff does not always flow easily, especially when high stress situations occur; the organization must maintain clear communication using available channels to keep employees and staff “on the same page”
Working with the Media – Do’s and Don’ts
Remember that reporters can be crucial in the way your organization’s reputation is affected by the crisis. They are an excellent source to work with in handling the issues.  As long as you’re upfront, they will work with you. The reporters will likely become upset if you’re not communicating openly.
  • Do keep talking points in your pocket to avoid speaking on the spot
  • Do talk “through” the reporters; your company should emerge as the expert in the matter
  • Do know the company’s record – have similar events happened before?
  • Do tell the truth – no matter what
  • Do NOT speculate on any facts; remember, nothing is off the record
  • Do NOT ignore the situation; this will only make things worse
The Public Relations Team Must Pay Special Attention to:
The holding statement: who will speak to the press? Do you need approval to release statements?
The facts: confirm the who, what, where, when, why throughout the event, updating as necessary
Is travel to the site necessary, and who does it?

Resolve the Crisis
Verify all the information: just how bad are the effects?
Continue to communicate and develop answers
Consider creating a "joint information center," - for employees, concerned citizens, and journalists
Finally: update, communicate, repeat

After discussing the components of a crisis communication plan, Barnett and Schmidt put us to the test. They split the audience into two groups, each representing a company that had just experienced a crisis. Each team had about 17 minutes to review the impact and effects of the crisis, choose a company spokesperson, develop a list of things that must be done from a PR standpoint, develop talking points, and adjust the talking points as the situation changed.

About 5 minutes into the exercise, we were informed that our company president (me) just had a heart attack. Now that our spokesperson was out of the picture, we had to choose a new spokesperson, update her on the talking points, and develop a way to inform the media about why our company president would not be available at the press conference.

A few minutes later, we were informed that two employees had died during the crisis. As a PR team, we had to decide how to announce the deaths of the employees, whether or not to state their names, to tell their families, etc..When our spokesperson stood up to deliver the company's statement, audience members acted as journalists, asking questions and seeking facts.

This hands-on experience gave me a real look into what it might be like to face a crisis in a company or organization, what an exciting workshop! I really learned a lot and am thankful to Schmidt and Barnett for the fun crisis communication challenge. Click here to read the full scenario, I think it could be a great exercise for a communication course or any public relations/corporate communication workshop.

A little bit more on the workshop hosts:
Jack Barnett, APR, is director of external affairs for Southern Union Company, a diversified natural gas company. He has 20 years of experience in media relations and communications for the energy industry and previously has worked as a reporter at newspapers in Pennsylvania and Texas.

Keith Schmidt, APR, currently is senior communications coordinator at Newfield Exploration Company in Houston. In this position, he implemented a new employee communications program, works with the media and formalized crisis communications training at the company. He also developed a community outreach program for company expansion of operations in the Mid-Continent.