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Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide

A company cannot just start a twitter and/or facebook account without having any competences in this field. Well, (technically) it can. But acting in an unfamiliar but public arena generally bears risks and this is especially true for social media. But what if a company does not have the man power – or the know-how – to professionally run a social media campaign? Fortunately, there are PR agencies that offer professional advice.
But when social media is all about transparency and authenticity how can that be handled through an external PR agency? Ok, this seems to be a no-go and could mean the end of all social media activities in the above mentioned case.

But wait – taking a closer look at the issue, there is an approach to outsource major parts of an enterprise’s social media activity without interfering with the social web’s ethos. Most important thing here: major does not equal all. A successful outsourcing of social media marketing requires active partnering and contribution from both the enterprise and its chosen agency.
At the end, it is much more crucial that the created content sticks to the social web’s rules and expectations than the question of its originator. It is important that a consistent delivery of quality content is guaranteed. And that is a task a social media specialist who is familiar with the company’s business can fulfil even better – if he is not stuck in time-consuming approval processes.

Paul Sherer

by Paul Sherer
Category: Media, Technology

When Apple users were part of a devoted cult, they were willing to put up with the way Apple does business - never admitting problems (until now), keeping its users in the dark about serious bugs even when its own discussion forums are filled with dozens of people struggling to fix the issues. But the iPhone and the resurgence of the Mac have brought in millions of new customers from the world of Microsoft, and they’re not willing to give Steve Jobs a pass when the technology they depend on fails to work right. They’ve seen this movie before — Microsoft Vista — and it doesn’t have a happy ending.

Apple is having serious quality control problems with the iPhone 4 going well beyond the antennae problem that being discussed at the press conference Apple is holding at this moment. There are at least two severe problems with iOS4, the upgraded operating system that runs the iPhone. Most of the millions of existing iPhone 3G and 3Gs customers will update their OS, as they will be prompted to do automatically, and wish they didn’t.

iOS4 is excruciatingly slow on the iPhone 3G, starting with the several seconds it takes to unlock the phone. Switching between apps can be glacial, to the point where I’m less likely to use the app at all. Users are struggling to figure out how to revert to iOS3 while keeping their data intact.

Worse still, people who own both an iPhone and a Mac – i.e., Apple’s best customers – have had their calendars screwed up by a syncing bug between the iPhone’s Calendar app and Mac’s iCal. If you’re a busy person who depends on these applications to keep track of dozens of upcoming appointments and other important tasks and your calendar stops working reliably, that’s a very, very big problem.

Apple, as always, won’t acknowledge the problems, even on its own forums, and customers are very unhappy (see http://discussions.apple.com/thread.jspa?threadID=2495372 for the calendar problem and http://discussions.apple.com/thread.jspa?messageID=11919484&tstart=0 for the slow performance problem).

My suggestion to Apple? Stop thinking that the rules no longer apply to you, and start being more honest with your customers.

When we work to help clients through a communications crisis, we advise them to stop the slow leak of damaging news and come clean. If your product or the behavior of some employees doesn’t meet the company’s standards, your customers and employees need to hear that from you. Then show you’re doing everything you can to fix the problems – and get them fixed. Otherwise each bit of negative news will trigger a new news cycle built on the story line that this is a company in crisis (see Toyota).

Does anyone feel like they are watching the Apple-version of LeBron’s ”Decision?”  Sure, one is a device and one is an athlete - but they are both monumental brands in their respective industries being faced with very difficult decisions.

It is hard to argue that both the iPhone 4 and LeBron are at the top of their game – sure there are others great players, but these are the two heavyweights of their markets and its not very often they have been tested the way they are now.

Almost every man, woman and child (even those of outside of Cleveland, New York and Miami) are aware of the drama and speculation surrounding the free agency choice LeBron James made last week.  It has become a parody many cannot resist having some fun with (my favorite being the skit from the ESPYs last night) and has drawn the attention and commentary of celebrities, politicians and just about anyone with a blog and remote interest in basketball.

Equally so, almost everyone knows about the iPhone 4 antenna issue.  The way the iPhone 4 antenna “problem” has played out over the last two weeks feels very similar to me to the LeBron “Decision.”  Both spurred great excitement around their arrival (iPhone 4 hitting the market and the day LeBron became an official free agent).  Both had to make big decisions in very small time frames.  Both are on the receiving end of mass media and public pressures (where to play? what to do? when to do it?).

With the LeBron decision already made, here are a few things I think Apple can learn…

  • Take your time, but not too much: I’m not arguing that either party is taking too long, but responding in a timely manner is very important.  One report I read yesterday stated that Apple lost approx. $5B in market valuation since the issue started.  Not to say a company like Apple they can’t regain that, but it is a steep price to pay.  The longer you wait, the more the speculation will mount, the opinions of what you should/could/would/may want to do will pile up — and your ultimate decision will be criticized or debated. 
  • Stick to your brand/what you do best: LeBron went into uncharted territory with his one hour ESPN special and it wasn’t well received.  When I heard LeBron would host a one hour event on ESPN from Greenwich, CT, I was quite surprised.  The location (Boys & Girls Club was great - but Greenwich?), the format, the tone, etc. just felt packaged and it was wrapped in a commercial way that just didn’t feel right.  I was equally surprised this morning when I saw that Apple is now hosting an press conference tomorrow.  This seems very non-Apple to me, but the situation they are in is very non-Apple.  My hunch is that they stay true to their roots in how they manage this conference.  This will certainly be challenging for them as they’ll have to walk a fine-line between swagger and style and the more serious issue of what they plan to do to address the issue.
  • Get to the point: If you watched the LeBron ESPN one hour special about 15 minutes into it — you suddenly realized this was a 60 minute show, to find out a 20 second (or less) answer.  Q: “Where are you going to play next year?”  A: “Miami.”  Done.  People want answers around what you’re going to do and the why you’re doing it can follow (the details are still very important). Apple would do well to be up-front about this, provide the answer and then the right amount of details to follow.

Ultimately, how you handle your “decision” is quickly becoming almost as important as what you actually decide to do, but hopefully they’ll do it quickly, directly and with a bit of Apple style.

Now, lets sit back and wait for the next round of “The Decision” to play out…

Jun 27

FlipTips

Many of us have seen first-hand (or second-hand) the proliferation of Flip Video camcorders being used in our industry.  From man-on-the-street interviews to interviews to footage shot at events, conferences and launches - video and visual storytelling has become an integral part of our profession.

I’ve started to compile some tips on how to use ‘Flip Cams and also some of the basic features of the FlipShare software.  I’ll be the first to admit the beauty of the FlipShare software (and ‘Flip Cams themselves) are their simplicity — but along with that there are some pitfalls and setbacks.  Hopefully this series of videos will help you get the most of your ‘Flip Cam (and the FlipShare editing software if you choose to use it)…while avoiding some of the downsides.

These were all shot using Flip Cams and edited with the FlipShare software – so you’ll see first-hand the capabilities - the audio sound quality, video quality, automatic transitions, etc. that the software builds in for you.  Personally I mostly use Adobe Premiere Elements for my editing, but if I’m in need of creating  a quick, easy, somewhat raw video - FlipShare makes it very easy to edit, compile and share.

For those of you who’ve read my posts in the past, I’m a big fan of learning and listening…so let me know what you think.  Other tips we should/could share?

Shortly after Friday morning’s US – Slovenia World Cup match, which ended in a draw following a absolutely terrible contentious officiating call, I logged onto Twitter to join scores of US soccer fans tweeting their collective disgust over the outcome only to reach Twitter’s ‘fail whale’ screen…my second ‘fail whale’ in less than a week of World Cup play.

These fail whales led me to do a bit of research about the popularity of Twitter around sporting events and how this is being utilized by marketers.

As it turns out, both the World Cup and the NBA Finals have been a bit overwhelming for Twitter. Records for posts in a single day have been broken and re-broken, with major peaks occurring around the times points are scored. As Benny Evangelista of the San Francisco Chronicle pointed out in a recent blog post, Twitter has experienced several site outages, slowness, bursts of error messages, duplicated or missing tweets and timeline problems that can be attributed to the World Cup.

Beyond a discussion of why Twitter’s architecture is unable to handle the tweet traffic of so many sports fans, this points to an interesting shift in the demographic of Twitter users (see Claire Cain Miller’s excellent NY Times article here). Where once the social networking site was composed primarily of early adopters in hi-tech hot spots, it has become apparent that the makeup of Twitter has started to reflect the interests of the general population.

As Twitter more closely mirrors a cross-section of the US and the world at large, it has become a valuable tool for measuring the buzz associated with any given product or event. In a recent Wall Street Journal blog post, Jennifer Valentino-DeVries describes how Twitter is now one of the primary measurement tools for determining which brands are winning the World Cup marketing battle. Much to the dismay of official FIFA World Cup sponsor Adidas, Nike has dominated World Cup online chatter, with a dominant share of Twitter mentions.

While ambush marketing has long plagued official sponsors, the rise of Twitter and social media creates new headaches for official sponsors. As brands learn to capitalize on Twitter, YouTube and Facebook, their successful domination of world events is leading savvy marketers to ask whether the sponsorship of a major sporting event is necessary in the era of social media.

For the next Olympic Games, should companies shell out millions of dollars just to have exclusive rights?

While I believe that sponsorship of major events continues to have a significant ROI, sponsors must be aware that the marketing game has changed. As Nike has successfully demonstrated, to become the brand most commonly associated with the World Cup, a company must make use of social media to drive creative content across the Internet.

When considering the ROI for sponsorship of major events, one thing is certain–sponsorships alone will not ensure a victory. Word is still out on if scored goals will.

Since we’re PR people, we tend to favour words rather than images.

That’s changing thanks to the rise of Social Media and the need to embed rich multimedia in our communications because, in the end, it makes for more effective communications.

However, the idea that images are more powerful than words is an old concept.

I’ll illustrate the old Confucian saying that a picture is worth a thousand words in this post about the changing face of Asia — in this case, specifically China.  Visual storytelling at its best, you could say.

This is a 1990 picture of Lujiazui in Shanghai:

Shanghai in 1990

Shanghai in 1990

Now compare this with the same area in 1996 — a mere six years later than the picture above:

Shanghai in 1996

Shanghai in 1996

Now take a look at Shanghai in 2010:

Shanghai in 2010

Shanghai in 2010

As I said said: a picture does tell a thousand words.  All of this change in a mere 20 years.  Can’t wait for the next 20 years in Asia.  It will be very cool.

(Images sourced from here.)

I have worked with David Kirkpatrick in the past with no issues and have always been a fan of his. And while this detailed account of events does not change my outlook on him, I must say after reading Michael Arrington’s blog post, I can only hope that David and others have a new appreciation for what PR people are up against on a daily basis. How many times have you had to go back and ask a reporter to pull something down or correct misinformation because of a miscommunication? Even if you know the reporter has a right to keep it posted or you and the publication have already agreed upon terms, sometimes circumstances require the information to be changed. And as a PR person who has had to do this more times than I would like to admit, it is never an easy process.

How did you feel after reading the blog post? Siding with Kirkpatrick or Arrington?

I came across the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s history of Facebook privacy statements yesterday while investigating reactions to Facebook’s new information-sharing features, and the response they elicited from legislators. It got me thinking about the profound communications problem many companies are just beginning to confront.

Privacy is being forced to evolve - yes, by companies like Facebook and Google - but also by consumers who are sharing more and more about their lives without regards to their own privacy, and now, by their growing interest in legislating the issue, by our governments.

Brands that play in this space - and these days, which brands don’t - have to find a way to maintain the trust they have with consumers while experimenting with different privacy regimes (in the case of platforms like Facebook), or with the wealth of data that social platforms can make available to them.  With so much changing, so fast, it seems unlikely that companies or consumers will willingly walk away from the potential benefits of tapping into the data, or, in the case of consumers, happily handing it over to derive some other benefit.

So while the world waits for the forced evolution of privacy to come to some sort of generally accepted conclusion, what to do? It seems to me that the only way to navigate these shifting sands is to follow some very simple communications rules:

There’s certainly more a company can and should do, but it seems to me that companies often lose sight of simple communications precepts that help them demonstrate to their audience that they care, as they invariably do, and take their audience’s concerns seriously.  At the end of the day it amounts to following the golden rule, but don’t the pressures of business life often make it seem much more complicated?

If you’re doing business in Germany, chances are you’ve heard of XING and are probably wondering how to use it for marketing and online reputation management. In Germany alone there are approximately 3.5 million high-level personnel are using the business network XING - the European pendant to LinkedIn - to manage and expand their professional contacts.

This network has proven to be an effective social media channel for B2B communications and reputation management. Why? XING has more than 30,000 topic-related groups where members exchange ideas, thoughts and experiences concerning nearly every branch or every professional field of activity, like “Risk Management”, “Underwriting”, “Corporate Publishing”, “Construction Engineering” etc.

We include XING more and more into our clients’ communication plans. As far as planning and implementation are concerned we recommend following these best practices:

1) Basic identification of relevant groups:

  • Keyword search within the network
  • Analysis of which groups our target persons have subscribed

2) Rate the relevance of a group:

  • To what extent does a group talk about my client’s topics?  
  • How active and “alive/vital” is a group?
  • How many members does the group have?
  • What is the quota of target persons?
  • Who’s the initiator?

3) Develop a content strategy

  • How does the group work?
  • Which approach/topics/formats should be used to
    be noticed and included into conversations?
  • Which topics create the greatest response?

4) Identify and train client employees to represent the company on XING.

5) Work with these employees to develop different and relevant content to be posted within the groups’ discussion forums. Depending on the group that could contain:

  • Short expert articles by
  • Leading and initiating discussions
  • Content syndication to special topics, e.g. linking back on corporate homepage
  • Answering questions of other group members

6) As a last step we recommend founding a branded group on XING. This offers new opportunities like organizing real life group meetings or issuing newsletters. As this requires greater involvement of client employees, we recommend commencing in only after conducting 6 months of XING-relations.

Summing up, one can say that XING has been proven to be a good tool for social media B2B communications. For foreign enterprises coming to Germany it is furthermore a good way to demonstrate market knowledge and integration into German business communities.

By now, almost all the western world — and a good chunk of Asia and Africa — have all heard of Apple’s latest breakthrough product, the iPad.

The sheer number of impressions this launch has generated is in itself impressive. But what is even more impressive is the use of early adopters and key influentials to drive the story, enthusiasm, excitement and buzz for Apple, not the company itself.

Remember that Apple is not a company that is that into social media, yet check out the Twitter hashtag #ipad and end user blogs to get a sense for the mountain of coverage and interest generated for the iPad.

How does it do this? Good old-fashioned smart PR and a communications strategy that relies on the magnification effect of early adopters and influentials to amplify launch noise via traditional PR, Word of Mouth (WoM) buzz and aspirational excitement.

Here’s some of the ground rules:

1. Carefully pick and choose your hero product(s) for the year and put as much wood behind these arrows as you can. The iPad was THE launch of 2010 for Apple. The company maintains ongoing influencer relations, a thorough reviewer’s program, and ongoing engagement for other products, like their laptops, iPods, etc., but the focus was iPad and later this year iPhone OS version 4.0. That’s it. Laser-like focus, picking and backing your product bets, not spreading the wealth across a wide product range that all cry out for PR support, even though they may be close to end-of-life (EOL) and have reached the downward side of the S-curve. The other products bask in the halo of the hero products. See what the iPod did for Macintosh sales post launch? See what the iPhone has done for iPad sales?

2. Focus on long term influencer and early adopter relations and engagement. These are your natural allies. Cultivate them, let them talk for you because they ultimately carry far more weight and credibility than your own Press Releases, blog posts or advertising. Engage with not just technology influencers, but with business, social and celebrity folk that give you brand cache and style. It’s no accident that Stephen Fry is an Apple fan boy, so is half of Hollywood, thanks to decades of engagement with product placement on set and off set, with the stars themselves. Every episode of Seinfeld has a Macintosh and a small statuette of Superman in the background. Check it out next time re-run comes on. At one point, Jerry Seinfeld had a Mac too (and probably still does even though he did ads with Bill Gates last year).

So how does this translate into the iPad launch? How do these uber-strategies map with launch tactics? Well, here’s a synopsis:

The iPad launched officially on April 1, but embargoes were set for March 31. This means a wave of launch buzz and hype 24 hours prior to people being able to buy one (not counting the rumours and speculation in the prior nine months).

Key influencers were seeded with Product Verification & Testing (PVT) units three to four months out in some cases, depending on when these units were deemed stable enough and of sufficient quality to pass muster for people that will forgive non-production machine foibles because they love the technology and because they consider themselves Apple-insiders. These units went to key Apple business partners/friends (remember Google CEO Eric Schmidt got a pre-production iPhone and not so surreptitiously flashed it at Davos, where it stole the headlines rather than dry economic prognostications?), celebrities, technology gurus, etc. Also note that they all honoured the strict Apple NDAs — no insider wants to be ostracized and get thrown out of the club.

Journos/key bloggers in the US (a very select few, high impact folks) had their iPads under NDA for a week prior to launch, enough for them to play and enjoy, but not enough time for them to be too heavily critical. Launch reviews reflect that and it’s commonsense when you think about it. The shine always rubs off the shiny new toy the longer you have it. This early enthusiasm sets the tone for the launch coverage, providing the initial launch gestalt.

Celebrity Twitter-ers helped fuel the social media buzz. Stephen Fry was on the US West Coast at launch (funny how that happened) and put up video of the un-boxing of his iPad. He openly Tweeted he had one a day prior to the rest of the population. Robert Scoble did the same thing, except for the video of the unboxing (he later went out and bought two more iPads because his family kept hijacking his — and Tweeted about it). Reviews popped up the day before the official launch by Walt Mossberg and David Pogue in the US — two of the most highly respected tech journos in the country. Surgical media placement and engagement for maximum impact rather than a broad ‘hit as many as you can’ approach most companies take.

Foreign (that is, non-US) media got flown to a glitzy New York event and even if there was no pricing for their markets, they got to play with units at launch in salubrious surroundings and with high profile Apple execs. They in turn also had the opportunity if they were keen enough to buy their own units in the US, which judging by the coverage, a good few did, thereby continuing the buzz momentum.

And the result is, as you can see, a wave of initial great coverage that drives WoM, then sales and sets the tone.

More importantly its a self-reinforcing cycle of clever, surgical market engagement that fuels Apple’s mystique as a cult rather than as a technology company.

And the interesting thing is that other companies with ‘insanely’ great products could be doing the same to build their own mystique and stories. Mass communications doesn’t have to be massive, just smart.

Postscript: The iPhone OS 4.0 was announced a few days ago. Only Apple developers are supposed to have the beta code for testing. Stephen Fry, who last time I checked can’t cut a line of code, Tweeted yesterday that he had just installed it on his 3G iPhone. General availability for the masses is not expected until the northern hemisphere summer/autumn (fall).

Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide