When staying on message makes you look like a schmuck

Okay, crisis communications 101, or really even media relations 101, the first rules we teach students or clients is….create your key messages and whatever you do stay on message.

Unless of course, the act of staying on message makes you look like a schmuck.

Case in point, New York congressman Rep. Anthony Weiner, who for two days now has taken the art of staying on message and is riding it into his own political grave.  The background story is someone tweeted a picture of a man in his underwear from Weiner’s Twitter account to a female college student in Seattle.  Weiner denies he sent it and claims it was likely a Twitter hack.  But here is how it handled an Capitol Hill news briefing to address the “scandal.”


“If I was giving a speech in front of 45,000 people….and someone threw a pie….”  Please.

So in seven minutes plus, he tried to tell that story three times, more than antagonized the media that covers him daily, and still didn’t answer the question.

The punchline is because of those seven minutes, Weiner had to spend the whole day the following day doing one-on-one interviews with the media to do damage control.

Sometimes as PR folks we need to learn that standing behind the written word, in this case, the Congressman’s office had first put out statements, is all you can do until you are able to fully answer a question.  Stay you’re doing an investigation, do it, release the results, if he’s clean you’re done, if he’s not you’ve got a bigger problem.

By trotting him out with the “pie throwing story” and telling him to stay on message, you extended the story by three days and made him look awful.

Throwing Weiner to the wolves with an analogy and a prayer didn’t do him or his political career any good.

Would love to hear your thoughts on how they are handing this “crisis.”


Will digital platforms learn in their old age?

In the past week, I’ve done four speaking engagements, some with my colleagues at THP.  Included in the audiences were students, journalists, PR professionals, small business owners, folks from non-profits, consultants from all walks of life.  A pretty good mix of people.

Some of the focus was on journalism and public relations but in all cases social media was in the forefront.

In all cases though, the message back to me is clear.  We are now in the “mature” phase of the social/digital/online thing we’re living though.

Some observations:

  • We asked a room of small business/non-profits/consultants of they were managing their organization’s Facebook presence.  Last year less than half would have said yes.  This year they ALL raised their hands.
  • We asked the same question about Twitter.  Last year maybe two or three would have raised their hands.  This year ALL of them did.
  • ALL of them where active on LinkedIn
  • Some were managing their organization’s YouTube and Flickr accounts.  Last year most of them couldn’t have even spelled Flickr.
  • Journalists are using Twitter to break stories (not a surprise but always interesting to hear)
  • College students have a much higher level of understanding not only about the platforms and technology but only about their importance to the student’s future and vocation.

All very exciting.  But also the beginning of a cautionary tale.  I know I’ve been beating this drum a little.  Make way because the banging is about to get louder.

More than one person on the business side told us stories about how it used to be easy to get fans on Facebook and get folks to comment.  But now after reaching a certain level that feedback has stopped.  The same on Twitter.  They are finding it harder to start and maintain blogs.

In past posts I’ve talked about the need to ramp up cross-promotion across all marketing platforms to kick start your engagement levels.  I’ve also mentioned that it’s time to increase posts to your Facebook wall because of the increase in speed on most people’s personal walls.  If they blink, they will miss your post so frequency, once a nuisance, is now more important.

In addition, Facebook ads are becoming a necessary tools to grow a “like” base.  Again, social isn’t viral anymore.

All these platforms, Facebook, FourSquare and Twitter in particular, had better listen closely.

They need to make it easier for all customers, not just the big brands, to create ads that grow fan bases, create landing pages that engage, create identities that break through the clutter.  If they don’t they will lose this increasingly frustrated marketing common man who will then go searching for the next big thing.

They will become TV advertising, only catering to those who can afford it and not reaching an ever-growing number of folks who just decide to fast-forward through it.

It isn’t too late but the time is fast approaching.  It is our job as communications pros to help clients navigate these platforms and help them build communities.  Our job is more exciting this year compared to last, but it also challenging and it will also take more time and resources (money) to break through the increased clutter.  We also need the people behind the platforms to create ways to make it easier for all of us.

Would love your thoughts and comments.

The story of #bubbleswarm: Badges? We don’t need…

Foursquare, we don’t need no stinkin’ badges. 

Actually we do.  Really.  Want them. 

But I digress.  The story begins earlier this week on Twitter as Matt Lake of Wine and Beer Westpark (@wbwestpark on Twitter) in Richmond’s fashionable West End, his wife Caroline (who works with me: full disclosure) and others were volleying back and forth on Twitter.  Someone, not sure who it was (maybe Kira Siddall, maybe not) brought up the quest for the holy grail of Foursquare — the elusive “Swarm Badge.” 

Kira Siddall, Caroline Platt (Lake) and don't know the guy (l. to r.)


"Checking in" on Foursquare

Foursquare, for the uninitiated, is the downloadable app/game, that allows people to “check-in” from places that they are visiting, eating at, hanging out at, etc.  It is enabled my GPS technology that now comes pretty much standard with mobile devices since that’s how it knows where you are.  Everytime you check in, you get points.  You can find friends on Foursquare and compete for status through points.  Visit a place often enough and they make you “mayor” of that place.  Foursquare also awards badges (a la Girl Scouts) for milestones.  

The primo milestone is the “Swarm Badge” awarded when 50 or more people check-in from one place within a short period of time.  Once you hit 50, their PDA’s or phones flash with the badge reward, they get congratulatory emails.  Life as they know it is very good in the world of Foursquare status. 

Before I go on and since the aim of this blog is to sometimes educate, I have written on Foursquare and its brothers Yelp and Gowalla before.  They are THE social media tools of the small business owner, who if they play the game the right way will reward visitors in real life for coming to their place of business to play this virtual game.  You can see the opportunity before you, can’t you?  By encouraging people to check in, they are encouraging them to come and spend time and money there in the first place…capeesh? 

Matt Lake of Wine and Beer Westpark with celebratory bottle of Cristal

So, back to this week.  The Swarm Badge.  So during the back and forth, Matt and Caroline made the following offer, come to WBWP on Thursday night at 6:30, we’ll offer some libation.  The goal was to get at least 50 people there to check-in to get the badge.  Hence, the event “#bubbleswarm” was born. 

Fast forward to last night, by estimates more than 75 people showed up to #bubbleswarm.  As is usual in a social media setting, many of the folks knew each other online and were finally meeting each other in person.  For others it was a chance to catch up.  For all, it was their shot at “The Badge.” 

Annette Kennett (foreground) and the "swarm at WBWP

The plan was for a synchronized check-in at 7:00pm sharp.  As happens sometimes with technology, some folks got through, some folks had network issues.  Foursquare also picked that exact time to have capacity issues. 

But we counted, in person and online.  The result?  More than 50 people, confirmed, checked in.  Really.  Scout’s honor. 

Did some get their badge? Yes.  Did I?  For some reason, no. 

Can’t say I’m not bummed. But at the end of the day the point was not the badge, but the fun and the company. 

For Matt and Caroline (and other small business owners), the point was exposure and sales.  As a PR person I’d be lying if I said that my head wasn’t spinning with the possibilities of how to incorporate such events into PR plans. 

There aren’t many things that compel that many people to go anywhere at the same time for a spontaneous (well, all most) celebration.  If you are a small business owner, take note. 

So again, Foursquare we don’t need your stinkin’  badges. 

(I wouldn’t be too upset if mine just magically appeared though.)

The day TV news died

You can argue that TV news, as folks from my generation knew it, died on Friday.  Not only because Walter Cronkite died, but because the network that his carried on his back for almost two decades decided not to blow up entertainment programing on the east coast and ran reruns instead.

CBS execs say that’s because no one watches on Friday nights and they wanted folks to watch the pre-produced special they ran on Sunday.  But for a man who created the art form of the breaking news story on television, not to report his death in the same manner was the highest form of irony and injustice at the same time.

Perhaps, as Brian Williams and Dan Rather explained in that special Sunday from their own unique perspectives, TV News actually died in 1981 the night Cronkite signed off at the same time.  Paraphrasing Williams, he said he couldn’t help wondering that night whether TV news would ever be the same.  For Rather, it was the fact that no one not even he could replace Cronkite, a fact that remains to this day.

For many including myself, Walter Cronkite was the face and voice of their childhood.  I was born in 1961 and remember vividly the events of my youth, from the Kennedy’s to Martin to the Moon to Watergate being reported and explained to me by this man.  He created the art form that was the television news anchor.  An art form that sadly today many try to copy but no one can replicate.

In some ways Cronkite was the very first social media practitioner, following the principles of honesty, transparency, consistency, etc.  In many ways he was and always will be the best.

Maybe that’s way I shake my head sometimes when people are quick to say that “citizen journalism” practiced on platforms like Twitter are the future of journalism.  When I grew up that journalism was delivered by people like Cronkite who reported facts that needed to be double and triple checked and only on those rare and powerful occasions interjected his opinion and emotion.  I’m afraid that many today check the facts at the door and lead with opinion for effect.

As we enter into this next era of journalism fueled by this explosion of technology I hope future journalists do not regard Cronkite as a distant memory.  In many ways it was the last explosion of technology (television, phone, satellite, etc.) that allows him to shine.  May others follow his example as we ride this next wave.

The “blogging nun” and others in Richmond’s social media scene

Bill Lohmann is back where he should be.  Bounced around the Times-Dispatch because of the well-document “churn” at the paper, Bill is back writing the long-form stories that best showcase his reporting and writing talents.

Leave it to Bill to find Sister Vicky Ix, or as I like to call her, “the blogging nun,”who showcases her social media and culinary talents on YouTube.   Sister Vicky is just one of the many Richmond-area folks included in Bill social media roundup in today’s Lifestyle section. 

Bill does a great job showing how individuals, companies and agencies are using social media to communicate to different audiences.  Whether they are helping to market clients like Virginia’s Community College’s Jeff Kraus and THP are with the Virginia Education Wizard or whether they are using it to market themselves to find a new job.

Many of those in the local social media scene are featured including folks like Jonah Holland from Lewis Ginter, some of our friends atSiddall and Sonali Shetty at Compleo Apps and our friendly competitor John Hopkins at CRT/Tanaka

But I think I will use Sister Vicki as a great personal example moving forward. 

If a client says they don’t want to use social media because their boss doesn’t believe it will do their company any good, I have no problem telling them, “if it’s good enough for Sister Vicky’s “Boss,” it should be good enough for them.”

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