Social Media and Crisis Management. No. Just no.

So I responded to a question on LinkedIn – see. I AM hip. And savvy. I DO know something about social media and I DO quite like it – I just don’t think it’s going to save the world of PR and Communications. No matter what Anthony Hilton says (PR Week April 23 2009). Sadly, I don’t think he knows what he’s talking about, which is a shame.

Anyway, I had a go at social media – again – and whinged on – as usual – about how you can measure it, but not evaluate it and thus it’s all fine and dandy if numbers of hits and views are your bag, but if you want to know what people have ACTUALLY DONE in reaction to your content, then social media does not deliver. End of.

The hapless soul who’d been on the receiving end of my jaded rant (a jaded rant, I may add, that is absolutely 100% correct, every time) came back with another question, which got me thinking. Here’s the question and my response:

“I am curious: What do you think about brands using SM as a tool to deal with a crisis? Similar to what Dominos is doing now with the YouTube videos, Twitter account, etc. Is this a smart tactic?”


I’ll go back to what I said earlier – one shouldn’t ignore social media, but I don’t see it (at the moment anyway) as a serious tool for ‘front foot’ PR/comms campaigns. If you want to publicise your brand or product, or want to enhance corporate reputation and – importantly – you want to be able to evaluate (not measure) the results, then social media, for all sorts of different reasons, is not your first port of call.

But when you come to bad news, ‘back foot’, reactive stuff, then social media is real trouble, as Dominos found out. And because you cannot evaluate it, they’ll never know – apart from impact on sales – what the damage is. My gut feel is that it’s a flash in the pan, it’ll be forgotten and Dominos will continue as normal.

That being said, while they cannot control the spread of a message through social media and nor can they, effectively, counteract it, they did make some stupid errors.

Firstly – why did their employees (or their franchisee’s employees) see fit to post a video on YouTube anyway? I’d make sure that it was company policy to ensure that every single employee knows what the Dominos’ Code of Conduct is and, more importantly, what can be expected if it’s broken. There clearly aren’t enough controls in place.

Second – if there’s something wrong with their food hygiene processes – why is this and how can it be rectified. Prevention is better than cure.

Third – why did it take them so long to react? And when they did react, why did they use Twitter and not a media announcement to all media? If it’s that important, why didn’t they take out print advertisements to put their side of the story?

I’ll repeat myself – because of what social media is, and because of the way that people who use social media react to ‘Big Corporate’ content (they ignore it, or are deeply suspicious of it), a Big Corporate response against user content is always going to be a loser.

In addition, let’s not forget, a lot of their customers are not going to be ‘hip’ to social media and thus, while they’ll be exposed to the hype and title-tattle arising from social media (via friends and family) they won’t be exposed to the company’s message because it’s not been disseminated to their diet of traditional media.

I suppose the point is that, in times of crisis – no matter where that crisis arises – do not ignore social media, but do make sure that your message gets to the widest audience possible, as quickly as possible. And that can only (currently) be achieved through traditional media outlets – traditional media is your priority, social media is secondary.

I’m a Communications Professional – Get Me Out of Here

Sorry, the title of this is simply there as a desperate attempt to lift the blog up the search engine rankings. And also because I find it amusing.

Let’s talk about Damian McBride. I think I can safely call him ‘McPoison’ because that’s what all the lovely media commentators have told us that that’s what he was referred to as by the great and good in Whitehall and Westminster. Apparently. No names – as far as I read – were allocated to this, but, hey! ‘McPoison’ it is. Great.

Once upon a time – and thanks to AA Gill for making me shake with laughter with the comment that if he opened a restaurant, it would have to be called ‘Once a Ponce a Thyme’, genius – (and I’ve taken it out of context, sorry) – I had a boss who at the very beginning of my career with him told me never to believe my own hype. Basically, what he was repeating was the old ‘rule’ – the communicator is not the story. Once the communicator becomes the story, or, worse, believes that she or he should be the story – because of the amount of power, knowledge or influence that that individual has, or believes they have – then the only way is out. Generally a fast out, and in a downward trajectory.

It has to be said, being a f*ckwit adds to the issue.

So, Mr McBride. Not a good look, it has to be said. When the papers said that he was old school, spending his time briefing over long lunches, you just had to take one look at him to accept the veracity of the reportage. Hold on, though – just one cotton-picking minute – wasn’t this a man who probably worked 24/7 without any time for himself or others – mostly in darkened rooms long after the rest of us were home dining with our families or enjoying beverages and badinage with our mates? There’s a reason why politicians and those who work with them look rubbish – stress, overwork, the general horror of being a (reasonably) public servant in the spotlight, all the time.

So forgive McPoison for looking bad. But what about the name – ‘McPoison’? Daily Mail (eurgh) readers are happy to believe that this man was evil incarnate, and it only takes a few well-chosen rumours to ensure that this nickname becomes a matter of public record. Let’s – however – not forget that the same journalists that had been feeding off him for years are the ones who nailed him the moment they got a sniff of misfortune. Fickle, that’s the issue – but (and again, hey!) if you’re reading this and you’re in communications, this ain’t no surprise.

So what’s it all about then? Well, if I can bear to squeeze myself into the mind of a Daily Mail reader once again (god, it’s small in here) it’s about the scurrilous nonsense that Mr McBride was emailing to others. Made up rubbish. All without foundation. And yet, if you can believe the subsequent media coverage (and I have to, it’s my living) these rumours were nothing new. They’d been going round for some time.  There’s even a perverse theory that implies that somehow the Conservatives themselves may have been complicit in this. (No, I don’t know how that works either.)

Anyway, so what was McBride’s real fault in all of this?

Believing his own hype. He actually thought that sending those emails, to the people he sent them to would be fine. And that, because he was what he was, they would not come back and bite him on the bum. I’m sorry, but even the rawest junior account executive – if she or he has any talent at all – realises that you do not commit that sort of stuff to paper, never mind email. And, supposing you were stupid enough to do so, you pick who you send it to. Very carefully indeed.

 No-one – in the PR/Comms field – is that important that they cannot be comprehensively caned. We are not the story. Never forget.

(I’m sure, however, Mr McBride is now an extremely highly-paid consultant to a City Public Affairs firm. And good luck to him.)

Social Media as a Comms Tool – The Fish Theorem

So. There I was, in Belgrade, attending a press function. As you do. It was a CSR affair, so there was the usual smattering of government officials, intellectual elite and the odd random performance artist. Unfortunately, that very morning, the Serbian government had called a press conference to unleash the latest war on, and I quote, (a quotation from one of the intellectuals there), ‘the mob’. Thus, all things being equal, war on the mob vs CSR, there weren’t any TV crews. Oh – and the centre of Belgrade was gridlock, probably because of all the TV crews trying to get pictures of dubious men (and possibly women) in dark glasses.

Be that as it may, as the event wound down, I got into conversation (over a complimentary glass of the local hooch, which appeared to be – to all intents and purposes – peach flavoured meths) with a lady from the PR agency who’d organised the whole shindig.  Having ascertained that she’d been in the business we call spin for some five years, I asked her what she considered her speciality and she told me that she mainly practised digital PR, on behalf of a number of hi-tech clients. She also said – and here I had to question whether I’m actually wasting the money I give to that nice Mr Clinique and his wonderful male grooming range – that I would probably hate digital. The words ‘because you’re a bit old’ were left, politely, hanging unsaid.

And maybe it’s because I’m a bit old, or maybe it’s because I feel the Emperor is slightly bereft in the vestements department, or maybe (altogether) it’s because I’m a Londoner, I rose, snapping, to the bait and developed the fish theorem of social media. Or maybe it’s because of the peach flavoured meths, which, I have to admit, is the only drink in recent times that I have had to put down unfinished. If you ever find yourself in Belgrade – well, don’t. Just don’t. 

So I asked the nice young lady how she measured her work in the digital field. How she could actually deliver a sensible measure of ROI to her client. What she felt was achieved by the whole social media effort. Whether, in point of fact, there were any tangible results at all. And we progressed to the big debate around social media (in its ‘real’ sense) vs the commercial aims of a comms practitioner’s clients and, further, the raison d’etre of a comms practitioner period. After all, what do we, the benighted few, actually do – if it’s not sell our clients products through image and reputation creation?

The stark fact is that, with social media, the only way to achieve an end is to produce something that people want to read or view and that they then want to re-post or circulate to their friends. It’s all a bit Ronseal – social media. Does exactly what it says………… The other unavoidable deal about social media is that it is completely uncontrolled. To quote Will Smith in Shark Tale – you may think you know, but you have no idea.

No – until someone can actually measure social media and tell you (or your client) exactly what you’re getting for your investment (financial or opportunity) then it must remain second string to traditional media.

You see, going after social media as a comms tool is like fly fishing. You cast your fly and you watch as all the little fishes gather round it. All the little fishes are thinking “oooooo – look at this, something new, are we going to like it?” But to hook them, you’ve got to be oh so careful. Adding a commercial message at the wrong time is like striking too soon – you rip back the rod and all the wee fishies scatter, never to be seen again. And unlike fish, which are renowned for being stupid, your social media audience will never come back. However, even if you get it right, and you strike at the right time, then your reward is one fish or, possibly, if you’ve got a few hooks, several fish. OK, so they’re yours to do what you will with, but it’s still just a few fish.

Traditional media is like a stick of dynamite. Get the story right, get the mass coverage – BOOM. Fish everywhere. OK, they may not all be the right fish, but amongst your gasping, flapping haul, there’s going to be a great deal of the right fish.

And, not that I’ve ever bought a stick of dynamite, but it’s got to be cheaper than a couple of days fly fishing on a decent stretch of river. And that’s the deal – working against social media is disproportionately expensive, especially as you – no matter what anyone says – cannot measure the results.

“Evaluating social media” – give me a break

Ooooooh, I am cross. Clearly, as are we all, I am a member of endless online networking fora, in the blind hope that one day I might ecounter someone who’s not either trying to sell me something or wishing to suck my brain dry for free or an ex (or current) colleague for whom time obviously weighs rather heavy. I’m actually hoping that I’ll encounter someone that I can sell something to, or whose brain I can suck dry at no cost. And I know all I want to know about my colleagues, so I see no real need to connect with them online.

Anyway, as you know, gentle reader, the internet is just one big ethereal balloon full of questions – and these online networking fora seem to have been allocated more than their fair share (see point above ref sucking brains dry gratis and for nothing). Unsuprisingly, as the whirlpool of hype around the use of social media for communications purposes continues to get wilder and louder and drags more people into its evil clutches, so the amount of questions – often from those who should know better – about evaluating social media gets greater and greater.

So, for your delight and delectation, here is the answer I posted to the question:

“Quantative research on social media is evolving quite fast, however what’s up with evaluative research of social media? Is anyone measuring the qualitative value of social media relationships and what are the basic criteria for this kind of measurement?”

I said: “At the risk of being a Luddite (and, potentially, in the future, being the modern day equivalent of the numpty who said that “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers”) why would you want qualitative research on social media? Trust me on this one, we’re still trying to find some sort of meaningful evaluation system for “traditional” PR and communications, so what makes anyone think that they can perform serious research into social media? The beauty of social media – and indeed, t’internet as a whole – is that it is unregulated and therefore – QED – unquantifiable. Don’t ignore social media. But from my point of view, until someone comes along and demonstrates not just how much reach it has, but how it impacts on its participants, then I, for one, shall treat social media as second-string to “traditional media” which – while it still cannot be evaluated satisfactorily (and anyone who’s even thinking AVE should be quietly put down) is at least measurable in terms of audience.”

Since then, I’ve developed what I’m calling the ‘Fish’ theory of social media vs traditional media – but, hey, that’s another post.

Away From the Standard Press Release

I was contacted recently by a friend and ex-colleague who is Marketing Director at a large, but specialist, global organisation. Over the last year, and bucking the trend completely, the company’s been on the acquisition and expansion trail and, as such, is starting to attract attention outside of its immediate trade media. They’re quite used to issuing media announcements, but it’s now got to the point where the managing director feels the company needs to develop its own persona – in his words “our press releases are too ‘corporatey'”. Actually, my heart sank when I heard that – those are the words of someone who knows it should be different, but doesn’t know enough about communication to express how different it should be, but that’s another story. (Soon to be addressed here.)

A couple of their latest releases were sent to me, and I’ll simply reproduce my response – with the names and places changed to protect the innocent.

“If you wanted a template for the construction of future releases, there are a few things you might consider:


1)      Snappy headline. I know it sounds a bit trite and obvious, but the headline is what sells the story. A good headline saves the journalist writing his own, so if you can provide something clever, then – chances are – it’ll get used. The other thing about the headline (and the sub-head, if you choose to use one) is that it should contain the essence of the story – what’s the key fact, what’s the news.

2)      Less is more. The old adage goes ‘tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them it, then tell them what you’ve told them’ – this is the three paragraph model of the press release. The first para – and forgive me if I’m teaching my granny to suck eggs – should have the five Ws – who, what, why, when and where – and the sixth W if necessary – (w)how. The rest is icing.

3)      Develop a few key messages or phrases about your business – “Cxxxx, the world’s fastest growing xxxx organisation”. “Cxxxx, the leader in the utilities xxxx sector”, “Cxxxx, the leading provider of xxxx solutions” – and use them wherever possible. Also develop a ‘boiler plate’ paragraph, a ‘this is Cxxxx’ statement, which you should append to every release. Given that you have so many subsidiaries, each one of them should also develop their own boiler plate – eg Sxxxx should have its own.

4)      Develop your own company ‘language’. Some companies are happy with the straightforward, tell-it-like-it-is, corporate stuff – others (and being lazy, I’ll cite Innocent) have their own way of presenting themselves – irreverent, rebellious, iconoclastic – choose which suits. But bear in mind that this is what corporate reputation is built on and if you choose a particular style or language, it becomes part of the corporate ethos and you have to stick with it – and you have to have someone who can write it, consistently.

5)       When it comes to quotations, be a little more creative. It’s a representative of the company, talking about the company – it’s a person, not a machine. Here you can use colloquialisms and be a bit more gung-ho. Don’t attribute a quotation to two people – a journalist will never attribute a quote to two people – so it’s better to give each spokesperson their own quotation. They may not get used, but at least the journalist has something to choose from.

6)      Give it context – this is the ‘why’ piece. Is there background, relevant reasoning to what you’re doing. I like the piece in the Singapore release about opportunity out of turmoil – this makes the story relevant and part of a bigger picture and thus more newsworthy.

7)      A minor thing, but worth pointing out – it’s not ‘Cxxxx subsidiary, Sxxxx has opened an office……….’ It’s ‘Cxxxx, leading international xxxx organiser has opened an office through subsidiary Sxxxx’. Sxxxx’s not the story – Cxxxx is.

8)      Ultimately, when you’ve decided what your communication’s going to look like, make sure that everyone in the organisation knows about it. Any communication coming out of Cxxxx should have the same look and feel and be recognisable as news from the global brand.”







AVE – What’s that all about then…..

Today, I was asked a question about whether it was possible to assign an AVE value to coverage on the internet, given that if you buy space on a decent site, then you’re paying for space and rotation, so it’s rather more – well – dimensional than ads in print or via broadcast. It’s not to say it can’t be done – in fact I think it can, and I’m sure there are people doing it quite effectively – but the point is that it got me thinking about the whole concept of AVE and that, I’m afraid, made me quite cross.

AVE’s not just unreliable, it actually belittles the effect of actively-generated editorial, communicating brand or corporate messages. Editorial coverage cannot be compared to advertising – they are chalk and cheese, apples and oranges etc etc. But, sadly, somehow clients get all warm and runny inside when they see the magic AVE figure – I blame the communications industry – if the clients actually understood what corporate communications does and delivers, they’d see AVE for the rank nonsense that it is.

Sorry Metrica and all the others making vast amounts of money out of evaluation (and telling me that my last quarter’s coverage was 95% positive – what? On what basis? How? Who?) – it’s horse droppings. No matter how cleverly you use it, it’s still horse droppings. The results of corporate communications activity – in the media at least – have to be measured against business benefit – so that’s an uplift in sales, or a properly measured and surveyed change in audience opinion. And that’s expensive.

But no more expensive than paying an agency to produce some lovely graphs that mean nothing.

As an aside, in four days time I shall present, to a global audience, the results of Corporate Relations activity over the company’s last reported quarter. In terms of positivity of coverage (95%), number of pieces of coverage (vs the quarter before) and AVE.

The sheer grubbiness of it makes me want to have a shower.

Simply communicate………….

So, welcome to The Wordmonger’s blog – a companion to, comms and pr counsel, online and onna budget. If we can, we will and if we can’t, we’ll tell you why not.

As a flavour of what you might expect from this, here’s a story from today. Cutting a long one short, in the depths of a multinational company, a senior bod is being thrown to the media lions in a country not far from Russia. Understandably, he’s looking for guidance from his comms person on the ground and there’s not much time before he’s out there and being grilled.

What does he get? A Q&A document – but it’s mostly Qs, which he’s going to have to answer himself. In fact, he could have saved himself some effort and simply cut out the middle man – in this case, his comms advisor.

What do we learn from this? Comms, PR, call it what you will, must add value. If it’s not helping you position yourself or your business, making suggestions as to what you should say and how you should present yourself, understanding your business and defining your messages – well – then it’s of no use to man nor beast.

Good comms can make the difference between success and failure – poor comms is a drain on resources.

All the best.