Chick-fil-A’s Turf Toe

by Tony Scida

Recently a Chick-fil-A executive made a statement that caused a bit of a stir in the media and, especially, online. Yesterday, Gizmodo reported that Chick-fil-A (or someone representing them) created fake Facebook accounts (complete with stock photo profile photos) just to defend the company online.

Chick-fil-A denies this charge, but it brings up a very important piece of advice for companies trying to navigate the digital landscape: Do not make fake accounts.

It’s awfully tempting for companies that see criticism online to want to jump in there and post in their own defense. And since an official response may not be taken at its word, some companies engage in what’s known as astroturfing (I’m sure much to the chagrin of the presumably fine people who make imitation grass sporting surfaces), which is meant to look like grassroots support, but falls short on closer examination.

What makes astroturfing even worse is that it’s often not even necessary. If CFA did indeed create these accounts, they’ve just made themselves worse. Their fans had already come to their defense, with Fox News correspondent (and former presidential candidate) Mike Huckabee already calling for a Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day.

In the best case, astroturfing just costs a lot of money and fools no-one. In the worst case, your brand could be tarnished long-term (but you won’t be around to see it, because you’ll be fired).

#RVA Sweet 16 kudos

So of course I picked the worst two days in recent memory to be out of town on business (although the business partner and I did have plenty of bonding time listening to classic rock.  My rendition of “Carry On, My Wayward Son” was especially poignant).

Congrats go out to the folks at Venture Richmond including Jack Berry, Lisa Simms and Lucy Meade for seizing the day and quickly organizing the Turning Basin rally last night.  This is exactly what we needed and was the point of my Sunday night blog post.

Also a public tip of the hat to our good friend Greg Burton from ESPN 950, those cool t-Shirts handed out at the rally were his idea.  Rick Whiteman of Pixel-Works designed them, great stuff Rick.

This is a prime example of cool, smart people jumping on quickly and taking advantage of a one-in-a-generation event.

Congrats to all, and to all who helped them make it happen.

Oh and by the way, Dickie V, “Eat Crow, baby!”

Twitter. Dead.

More than one person has come back to me/Sonali after our PRSA Richmond presentation concerned and surprised about our remarks about the future of Twitter.

The interesting thing they told us is after those remarks they spoke to others who agreed with us.

For those who weren’t there, we pretty much said that Twitter was dead.

I know, pretty dangerous blanket statement, huh?

So here’s what we meant (and by we in this case, I mean me because Sonali isn’t looking over my shoulder right now):

  • Twitter has become difficult:  There was a time where you could meet new people, have insightful comments and linked retweeted, engage in conversation.  That has become more and more difficult on Twitter likely because of its growth.  There is too much broadcasting and not enough conversing.  There is too much clutter and spam.  There was a time where a valuable tweet with a link to a cool article was met with conversation and re-tweet.  Now?  Bupkis.
  • Twitter has become siloed:   Which is not necessarily a bad thing, btw.  I am more likely to be talking to my Rutgers friends, or my #nightlybaconchat buddies on Twitter because hashtags make that easy.  Those silos make continuing long-standing conversations easy, it makes starting new conversations hard.
  • Facebook is easy:  And it now incorporates Twitter.  Our colleague Caroline Platt says Facebook has become “the mall of social media” where everything is available and within walking distance.  People will gravitate to where everything and everybody is and by extension stay away from where there are too many detours or boarded up storefronts.
  • Twitter is too constant:  The stream never dies and even with searches and filters it can be too hard to maintain and keep up with.

These are just some of my off-the-top-of-my-head reasons.

For those not willing to buy into my argument, here are some reasons that there still may be some hope:

  • It is still a great way to find specific people in specific areas:  You can track down journalists and others in specific categories using third-party tools like and  The challenge then is to engage those folks in a meaningful conversation.  My argument is that given the breadth of Twitter, that is now much harder than it was two years ago.
  • Twitter is still a great place to share an event:  the Super Bowl, the Grammys, the Oscars, the overthrow of a middle eastern country, Twitter is great for breaking news and reaction.
  • People that want to break news on their own.  See: professional athletes and celebrities.

What I haven’t really addressed so far is brands.  I’m just not seeing it.  Maybe for monitoring for reputation management purposes?  But for branding, engagement, conversation and eventually social commerce,  I’m just not seeing it.

Sorry, Twitter.  After two years as a pretty active user I will continue to tweet every night on my iPad to my friends, neighbors, TweetChat friends and colleagues.  But call me back when I can once again through a quality tweet out into the vast wilderness and get a valuable replay that starts a beautiful friendship.

Okay Twitter lovers, I’m braced for your comments.  Tweet away.  Maybe I will hear you.



What is PR?

My dad died a little over a year ago, and to this day he really didn’t know exactly what I did for a living.

It’s not that my dad wasn’t smart, in fact as a small businessman he was one of the best marketers I ever met.  It’s just that it is very difficult to explain exactly what public relations is, especially to people who aren’t marketers.

Bottom line, is I’d love to have a dime for every person who after I explained to them what I did, they said something like “so y’all make ads right?

No, we don’t.

But we as the public relations industry do a very poor job of explaining what we do do, because we as an industry can’t really agree on what that is ourselves.

This was underscored in a great blog post by my Twitter pal Shonali Burke in which she outlines “The Problem with PR.” In it Shonali calls out the PR industry for poorly defining and promoting what it does for a living.

Are we a press release mill?  Do with just deal with the media all the time?  Are we writers?  Do we update Facebook and Tweet?

As public relations has evolved over the 20 or so years I’ve been in the business, it has become much more about the “relations” part of the equation.

The first question we at THP ask our clients is “what do you want to accomplish, or what is your end goal?”  And while they might think the way to reach that goal is to get a segment on The Today Show or Oprah, the truth is in many cases the best way is for us to introduce them to three people who can help them get their product or service to market.

As an industry we are too quick to write a release, promise the client two big media hits, or tell them the solution to all of their ills a Foursquare check-in strategy.  We are not good enough listeners or question askers to get clients and companies to drill down to what will really make them successful.

Read this post from Beth Harte in which she outlines about one hundred questions to ask when trying to solve someone’s business problem.

At the end of the day this is what it is all about.  Yes, some clients come to us because they have big egos and just want to be interviewed by Matt Lauer to scratch that itch.  I hate those clients.

The best clients are the ones that come to us to solve their marketing or business issues.  They come to us because we have the tools and relationships to help them achieve their business goals.

Sometimes that means getting them the big story, sometimes that means introducing them to the right people, sometimes that means writing a great piece of internal communications that they can share with their employees, sometimes it means engaging the “Twitterazzi” and asking them to help create the buzz for product, movement or event.

A great example of this is the recent Cookies for Kid’s Cancer event led by many folks including local PR diva Jennifer Pounders. Jennifer tapped into all of her relationships, friends, employers, clients, associates, media, social media, etc. to help raise more than $30,000 in a mobile marketing efforts that was as perfect a 21st Century grassroots public relations example as I can think of.  Hats off to her and those who participated.  It was accomplished on a shoe string with no ad budget, but EVERYONE knew about it and helped.   It was about relationships, it had a end goal and all the communications around it focused on that goal.

PR is uniquely positioned to take all the communications tools available from fax to Foursquare, from typing to Twitter, from LinkedIn to lunch and make those connections.

We are in the “relations” business and that’s how I will answer that question from now on.

Dad, now you know.

Facebook Places: The Monster has been fed.

So there I was a bachelor for the night (Kyra and the kids are in NOVA, their annual pilgrimage to the Price William County Fair) and I stumbled on a new production of Live from Lincoln Center.  They were doing South Pacific with Kelli O’Hara and the closet Broadway freak that I am was ready to settle into “One Enchanted Evening.”

One last Twitter check.

A mad dash to the computer later and I was watching “Mark Z. and the FB’s” clad in their t-shirt and denim best launching the supposed “geo-location” killer, Facebook Places.”

For those not knowing what the hell I’m talking about Facebook today will add a service that will allow you to use your mobile device to “check in” and tell everyone where you are.  Similar services like Foursquare, Gowalla and Yelp have grown by leaps and bounds over the last year.  They offer people the chance to review, get discounts from and get credit for checking into places like parks, stores, restaurants, etc.  They act as least as “updaters” letting your friends know where you are, and at most business tools as retailers offer real-life incentives to check in from their location.

But it was assumed by some that Facebook Places would be the category killer, putting the rest out of business.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the Facebook Forum.  One by one during this event, leaders from Foursquare, Gowalla, Yelp and game maker Booyah, joined the FB’s on stages pledging allegiance and telling those watching how they plan to feed their information to Facebook Places and incorporate it into their services.

The Facebook monster was fed and licking its chops.  Not only will it’s 500 members be able to play but everyone can including those already playing elsewhere.

While I haven’t seen Places yet (I checked for the update on my Droid this morning) and I haven’t been afforded the media preview like WSJ’s Walt Mossberg and analyst Michael Gartenberg (full disclosure Michael is an old High School friend of mine, he’s great).  Here are some initial thoughts from a business and PR perspective.

  • Like those other services, you will be able to check in on Places so people will know where you are.  Unlike those others, you will be able to see which of all of your FB friends are already there or close by.  For businesses this is important because checking in now takes on even added importance as a traffic driver.
  • You will be able to tell others what you are doing and tag friends who are with you thereby creating a “narrative of sorts.”  This dialogue/living history aspect is extremely important and I’ll get back to that in a second.
  • When you check into a place, a Places Page is created and a “living history” of that page is started.  As they explained, you will be able to tap into that page to see who else is there, has been their, what they did, what they ordered, what they liked, what they didn’t, the photos they took.  Not only that day but for years to come.  THIS IS IMPORTANT from a business and PR perspective as now we will need to add these pages to the list of things we will need to monitor online.   It wasn’t till they were asked directly by the media did the FB’s fess up that businesses can “claim” these pages as their own to help in the monitoring process.
  • And of course, Facebook will open the API, or the ability for others to tap into Place to create APPS and games and the like.

While he sidestepped the “how will Facebook make money from Places” question, Eric Z. left the door wide open for more additions to the service that will allow businesses to use it to their advantage at a price.  Shocking.

It was interesting to watch all this unfold in front of me and while on Day One we don’t have all the answers about how this will rock our social media world, it did strike me at how Facebook will likely be at its core for years to come.  Their vision as articulated from the stage last night is that years from now, someone with check into Places and images from when their parents were there years before will pop up.  You will be able to see what they did, the picture they took, etc.

It’s clear that Facebook  is not going away.  After all, last night the monster was fed….again.

Your thoughts?

Are you asking yourself these social media questions?

From time to time people ask me who I follow or read to learn more about the intersection of PR and social media.

My answer always includes Jay Baer.

Jay’s “Convince and Convert” blog always has something of interest to me because he views social media through a public relations focus and always seems to be asking the same questions that I’m asking myself.  The difference is Jay answers back.  🙂

Jay’s latest post covers “The 8 wrong questions PR firms are asking about social media.” In the post, Jay not only covers territories that PR firms are treading but those which all companies and organizations struggle with as they engage with intersection of PR and social media.

At the core of the “wrong and right” questions is the daily struggle of broadcasting vs. engaging.  Are we just throwing content (good or bad) out there and calling it social media, or are we strategically taking the steps needed to identify audiences and customers, engage with them, and then turn them into the pied pipers for clients, organizations and brands.

As we have discussed before most organizations have reached at least “Stage Two” of their social media engagement. They are on the platform and sending stuff out into the great social media divide and saying “now what?”

Only those who know the answer to that question (or who can provide that answer to their clients) are asking and answering the questions posed by Jay in his post.

Do you agree?  Would love to hear your thoughts.

Facebook….at it again….

All over the world today folks who manage Facebook Fan pages are scrambling once again.

National Harbor (client) landing page that will need some adjustment under the new Facebook guidelines.

Late yesterday our fine friends announced changes to custom landing pages that will likely force the redesign of a certain percentage of those pages as FB literally squeezes the width of the custom designs to fit into the crystal ball that is Facebook’s future.  About ten months ago Facebook told us these changes would take place in a number of weeks.  I guess we now know what calendar they use.  🙂

If you “admin” one of those pages make sure you check the page to see what changes you need to make.  It appears that the information down the left side of your pages “wall” will now mirror the left side of the custom landing page.

Or maybe not.

Since the interim page for admins is more or less a guidepost to shrink your design to 520 pixels, we’re not quite sure what exactly will be down the left side of the custom pages.

All this when Facebook also announced the demise of  “boxes” and is trying to explain exactly what that means as well as a launch of a page redesign scheduled to appear on August 26th.

One hopeful note is that this all may be helpful to marketers in the future, as this was included in Facebook’s note to admins:

“These updates are designed to simplify navigation for users, reduce complexity for developers, and enable us to build the next generation of tools for growing your business with Facebook.”

As usual the Facebook wheel keeps spinning and we’re all just along for the ride.

If you have any insights to share, please do as it will be helpful to me and others.

Social media execution is a collaborative process

Interesting blog post by Lauren Fernandez on the Radian6 (social media monitoring firm) blog today exploring the question “Should Agencies Execute Social Media?”

In it she details some of the factors that go into that decision including the now what seems to be long-time debate of “who should do what” and some rules of the road like planning, education, etc.

Personally, and for obvious reason, I’m glad to see the conversation move from an absolute yes or no and more towards how agencies and clients can collaborate on social media for companies and brands to be successful.

Our experience is that the extent of collaboration is related to the comfort level of the client, some of the factors that go into striking that balance include:

  • The experience and education of the client:  The levels vary, but the clients know their organization needs to be playing in the social media space, so they work with the agency to do as much or as little as needed to help them on a daily basis.
  • Manpower:  Some companies have enough people to do the day-to-day while others need the agency to shoulder more of the work.
  • Cost:  While most of its platforms are free, it takes time and money to execute social media work on a daily basis.
  • Layers:  This is newer phenomenon on “layering” higher level design and execution like Facebook landing pages, contests, games, etc.  In some cases all the client needs are the ideas and counsel, in others they need soup to nuts like design work and development.
  • Trust:  Not the trust between brand and consumer, but the trust between client and agency.  Does the client trust the agency to represent the brand?  How good of a plan can be created to make sure roles and responsibilities are clear?

Not every client has the knowledge, manpower, money or creative resources to execute what is needed in the increasing competitive social media space.  Agencies (you can debate which agencies – Ad, PR, Digital – till the cows come home) are an important partner for those who need to extend those capabilities.

IMHO, we are beyond whether agencies execute social media campaigns and we should focus on those best practices that will make agencies good collaborative partners for their clients.

Your thoughts?

Is Tumblr for ya?

So we were in a client meeting last week discussing our social media proposal which focused mainly on Facebook and he said, “Did you see where Facebook is losing traction among teens, I just want to make sure we’re keeping an eye on what’s next.”

Then I read this article in The New York Times touting the sort of microblog Tumblr as Facebook and Twitter’s New Rival. The article points out that media companies and outlets like Newsweek and The Today Show are using Tumblr because of its ability in manner more “rich” than the other more famous platforms.  The thought here that might excite the younger set who are frustrated by the mainstreaming of Facebook and Twitter and the limitations both have in truly sharing rich media.

So what does a PR/social media guy do next?  He signs up for Tumblr.

My usual experience for new platforms is that I sign up, play with them for five minutes, get frustrated and dump them quickly only to come back to them later when others validate them (see Google Buzz…not).   Not so yet with Tumblr.

The platform is a “major mash” of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, blogging with elements of Flipboard (the new hot iPad APP) sprinkled in.

Here are some of the highlights:

  • Once you set up your page you can customize the background and info similar to Twitter.
  • You can post just about anything in a more rich way.  For example, photos are BIG as are videos, you can do full blog posts or random thoughts similar to Tweets.  You can link to anything and bring in your own feeds.
  • Just as with Facebook and Twitter you can follow people or outlets that are searchable through categories.  Once you follow them, their posts will populate your dashboard.  They can also follow you and you are notified of that follow by email.
  • You can “reblog” their posts as a way to show your interest in a manner similar to a retweet.  This of course will help people find each other as common courtesy usually has a follow following a reblog.

Since I’m just starting on Tumblr I’m likely missing about 90 percent of its capabilities.  So I’d love some direction from fellow “Tumblrs” who can steer me in the right direction.

The question over time is whether we can fit a third (or more) social media platform into our daily social media routine.  Tumblr does allow for easy cross-pollination between itself Facebook and Twitter although I hate overdoing that.

But my initial feedback is positive and I will continue my Tumblr experiment and report back soon.

What’s your feedback?

Facebook landing pages: Pros and cons

National Harbor's Facebook landing page

Over the first half of this year we’ve had the opportunity to work with a number of clients as they expand their presence and communities on Facebook.  In some cases, we have designed fun contests with viral elements.  In others we have created customized landing pages for designed to inform, driving traffic, increase community and extend the client’s brand.

After some learning, I’m comfortable enough with our own experience to share those experiences and talk about what has worked and things to keep our eyes on.

Two examples that we have direct experience with are landing pages for AMF Bowling and National Harbor.  In both cases, people who discover these brands on Facebook but who aren’t yet “likers” will land first on the branded landing page and not the clients “wall.”

As you can see, the landing page mirrors the look and feel of the client’s brand and website, provides links to the website, provides direct links to events and information, and is easily updated.  Once you “like” either brand, the landing page is accessible as one of the tabs on the wall and can be easily accessed.  The client provides a wall update to drive “likers” back to the tab to get new information.

While we have not worked directly with our client Kroger on its page, we do like the simplicity, how they encourage folks to “like” them, and how you can get information, updates, offers and coupons through the page.  Kroger also has a separate “promotions” tab that is more coupon oriented, thus reinforcing those offers for customers.

So what have we learned so far?:

  • These pages, also teamed with offers and contests, are great ways to grow community in a relatively short period of time.  Those growth rates vary from client to client and should be supported with Facebook advertising if possible.
  • People who are on Facebook like to stay on Facebook in most cases so giving them the ability to get information ON Facebook and not drive them elsewhere is important.
  • That being said, these pages are great “drivers” to linked information and websites.  In some cases, like National Harbor, the Facebook pages drives significant traffic to additional information on the website.
  • More “big brands” are using these pages and everything they have to offer.  Ford launched their new Explorer with an entire day’s worth of activities including taped and live streaming video on one of these pages.  Look for others to follow.
  • They are quickly being converted into “social commerce” portals where you can sell directly to consumers.
  • They are great ways to extend and reinforce the brand and to differentiate the brand from all others on Facebook.  This is similar to ten years ago when folks were doing the same thing with websites.

There are a couple of cons:

  • For some this might be overkill.  This is not necessarily the forum to create your brand, but to extend it.  I’m not sure I’d want to launch a company’s look and feel on a landing page.
  • For some the investment might be too expensive.  It does not and should not cost the same as launching a solid website, but it does cost money for design and FBML development, as well as the ongoing analytics to make sure your investment is paying off.  So it is not for everyone.

For sure you can grow your Facebook communities without these additional bells and whistles but we may be quickly be getting to the point where this could become the additional “cost of admission” to separate your brand from others.

If not your brand may literally “against the wall” with little to differentiate it from its competition.

Would love to hear your thoughts and insights.

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