CEOs Avoid Social Media

Ah – there you are. As you were.

When I read the title of this piece from the august and authoritative communications organ, Communicate Magazine (a title which I have simply stolen and used as my own), I was – I will not deny it – delighted. At last, I thought, CEOs show some sense. CEOs have (collectively) told their social media advisers (gurus, probably) – people whom I imagine to look and behave rather like the character Grima Wormtongue out of The Two Towers – that enough is enough and, starting today, we’ll be avoiding that social media malarkey, an’ thank you kindly.

Grima Wormtongue and a CEO, yesterday

Grima Wormtongue and a CEO, yesterday

Unfortunately, I was a bit previous. On fuller examination of the article’s contents (go on, do the clickety, you know you want to) I find it is reportage of yet another survey by yet another holistically thinking communications agency, promoting their expertise in the field of corporate reputation management by revealing (ta-DAAAA!) that “more than one-third of American CEOs do not consider the reputation their company has on social media when making decisions…….however, B2C CEOs consider social media more than their B2B counterparts.” The figures, because you’re gagging for them (I can tell) are thus:

  • B2B businesses only respond to online crises 43% of the time
  • (This is) well behind consumer-facing companies’ 63% response rate
  • B2B companies are twice as likely to entirely avoid addressing reputational issues with their digital audience

(I am afraid that I didn’t feel compelled to read the rest of the findings, but should you – dearest blog trotter – be desperate, here’s a link to the source.)

Anyhoo, having taken a bit of time to analyse the sentence “more than one-third of etc etc etc”, sad to say, I’m not sure what it means. Does it mean that, when making decisions, American CEOs don’t think about the potential effect that decision may have on social media communities and how they may, therefore, react (positively or negatively)? Or does it mean that American CEOs (possibly through the offices of Grima Wormtongue) have managed to put a value on the reputation their company has on social media, but don’t really care about whether that value goes up or down as a result of the decisions they make? Either way – and this POV won’t surprise those of you who know me – I think we’re allocating social media a corporate-reputation-affectiveness weighting (yes, I just made that up) that it doesn’t have. I would be fascinated if American CEOs have managed to put a value on social media reputation, mind.

(And, just briefly, how was this research carried out? Was the question “Out of every 100 online crises, how many did you respond to?” really asked? Yes, I know I’m being facile. Sorry.) (But, a serious point here – we’re obviously not talking about crises, we’re talking about issues. No company can be unlucky (or incompetent) enough to have encountered 100 real crises.)

So. I’d like to attempt an answer to the burning question raised by this research, which is (obviously) ‘why are CEOs avoiding social media?’ And in formulating my answer, I provide this piece of evidence, which I shall call (to make it sound weighty and official) ‘Exhibit A‘. It’s quite old, but it is the record of an online complaint being addressed, reasonably sensibly, by the company at which the complaint was aimed, and the subsequent response from the complainant.

Ladies and gents, I put it to you that the reason that social media ‘issues’ are being avoided by many (not enough) companies is because a vast majority of those using social media – and commenting on a vast range of topics, including the doings of big corporate – are completely and utterly hat stand. Dribbling, incompetent loons, gibbering into the void. And no matter what you, the corporate, do or say, you will not win.

Best, often, to keep schtum.

Blatter Microblogs – Sepp’s Twatter?

OK, OK – I am guilty of writing the headline before I wrote the post – but the combination of Blatter and Twitter was just too good to be passed up. (Although, on reflection, I could, possibly, have done something better with it. Suggestions on a used, non-sequential £20 to the usual address. Winning entry will be featured on this blog.)

So, gentle reader, a further apology for being late to this issue but, as they say, and rightly so, better late than never. Clearly, this is all about the loathsome Sepp Blatter (clearly, just my opinion, never met the man etc etc etc) and his frankly disgraceful meanderings around the issue of rascism in football. (Now, is it just me, or does he remind anyone else – in terms of appearance only, obviously – of Mohamed Al-Fayed, the Egyptian Grocer of London, as was?)

When you read the transcripts of the man’s pronouncements, you really have to wonder what planet he’s on. Or what interesting and expensive substances. But – whoa – there’s me being rascist, as it’s fair to assume that English is not his native tongue and, gor’ bless ‘im, he’s having a go. Clearly, it might be better had he, in fact, NOT had a go, but there we are. Too late now.

So, a couple of lessons to be drawn from this, communicators all – and, as I’m late to this, you’ve probably all drawn these lessons already – but, no matter, they bear repeating.

This is the real power of social media – you mess up and there is nowhere to hide. Once you have messed up, regardless of whether it’s a real mess up or not, whether it’s your fault or not, whether you meant it or not – too late. There is nothing you can do but be contrite and – if you can justify yourself – put your point of view across. But be warned – your point of view had better be squeaky clean and beyond reproach – if not, then shut up and apologise, abjectly, for all you are worth. Blatter’s Twatter didn’t do this. His continuing refusal to do the decent thing and throw himself off the top of FIFA Towers – sorry, did I say that out loud? – the decent thing and resign is not going to make it any better. And while he hangs on, the already tarnished reputation of FIFA will continue to lose the little shine that remains.

And do I really have to say anything about the decision to release a picture of Blatter with his arm round Tokyo Sexwale? Do I? Just proving that no matter how sophisticate we think communications has become, in the heat of battle, we still make really stupid choices. Now, in fairness, I can only surmise that the decision to release a picture of Blatter hugging a black man was made right at the top, and the hapless comms person really didn’t have a choice. But this goes back to something I’ve said before – we all should try and remember what the true role of the communicator is. It is – in cases like this – to have the presence, respect and sheer brass b*lls to stand up and say ‘ no way – over my dead body’. Think on’t.

Finally – and on a completely different topic – may I commend The Sun newspaper for coining the term ‘Sunemployment’ which, I believe, refers to all the ‘good work’ the newspaper is doing highlighting and addressing the issue of rampant unemployment. (Some may say, remembering the closure of the NoW, that this is a little ironic – but I’m not one of them.) I don’t know why, but when I read ‘Sunemployment’ I was taken directly back to the 70s – strikes, three-day weeks, power cuts, austerity and unemployment – the newspaper in my hands went all black and white and somehow things were a little darker, a little colder and a little less broadminded.

I do hope this is not one of those self-fulfilling prophecy thingies.

A Response From Orange, Mobile Network Provider of This Parish

So, Blog Snorkellers all, I got my mobile network problems sorted and am now up and running with email onna go. Amazing how quickly these things get sorted when you loop in the senior personnel of a company.

In fairness to Everything Everywhere – I sent an email to their CEO, CMO and Chief Performance Officer late on a Wednesday evening and by Thursday midday, everything had been rectified. I got an email from the CMO and a ‘phone call from the office of the CEO. It became the sort of experience that, as a loyal customer of ten years’ standing, I would have expected from the off. (Well, I don’t actually expect a ‘phone call from the CEO’s office, every time I renew my contract, but I do expect easy and quick.)

But I guess you can see where I’m going with this. Why does it take several hundred words of borderline crazy rantiness, delivered directly to the C-Suite, to get a result?

This is the digital age. This is the age where anyone can broadcast their thoughts and opinions far and wide, easily and instantaneously. As my faithful few followers will know, I’m not a fan of social media – but I do recognise that where it comes into its own is during a crisis, either as a response, or as a crisis creator.

Customer service is key. No matter how good your corporate reputation, no matter how loyal your customers, they can be turned against you almost immediately by one person’s bad experience. In days gone by, you could let it slip occasionally, safe in the knowledge that – as long as no-one died, and you didn’t annoy a journalist (or a journalist’s friend) – no-one would find out.

No more. The bigger you are, the more important it becomes that you get it right every time.

A learning, I think.

A Letter to Orange, Mobile Network Provider of This Parish

Here, dearest Blog Trotters mine, is a letter sent, via the medium of  ‘e’ mail, to the CEO, CMO and (oh but yes) the Chief Performance Officer of Everything Everywhere, the company formed through the alliance of Orange and T-Mobile. I’ll let you know whether I get a response.

(Still have no email on my B’Berry, by the way.) (I knew you’d be concerned.)

“Dear Olaf, Pippa and Ralf
Having been, finally, beaten by your impenetrable ‘customer service’ network (a completely new and totally unexpected definition of the term ‘customer service’ that I’d not encountered before), I am really, really hoping that you will be able to solve my Orange problem for me. (Congratulations on the company name, by the way – genuinely visionary and grandiose. If only it wasn’t the complete opposite of my experience to date.)
A long story short – as I’m sure you’ve all got better things to do (I know I have) – I’ve been a genuinely loyal customer of Orange for over 10 years and, to date, while it’s been (with hindsight) a bit pricey and I don’t like being sold insurance that I don’t need, I’ve been happy with it. Never even considered moving. Over the last four days, however, all of that has changed – rarely have I felt so powerless in the face of complete corporate ineptitude. Seriously, guys, whoever designed your call handling systems, the automated responses and the customer-facing website functionality should be tracked down and punished, in a cruel and unusual way. And so should the person who sold you the idea of outsourcing your call centres (I’m guessing that they are outsourced) – as the systems don’t work and even if they did, the call centre staff don’t have the knowledge to do anything with the account data the system is supposed to provide. I suspect it’s cost-cutting and lack of forward planning – but, whatever the cause, it’s frustrating and it will lose you business.
So – I’ve got an upgrade to a new Blackberry device. There was a slight delivery snafu, but it arrived. I’d been told to ring a number to activate the SIM. Did that on Sunday – the rather irritating call centre chap told me I should have done it online (incidentally, when I DID try to do it on line, the service didn’t work), but then said he’d be able to sort it out. Monday morning – not done, so I called again. Monday afternoon, nothing happening, called again, assured that a supervisor would be activating my SIM. Late Monday afternoon, call again, recorded message tells me that a problem precludes me being connected to an operator, and I should call back. Monday evening, nothing doing, call again, put on hold for 20 minutes, then cut off. (Meanwhile, and while I’m on a roll, why do I have to go through umpteen ‘if you want this, press that’ prompts, every time I ‘phone, when I still end up with the same lacklustre call centre staff, all of whom (without exception) have to contact someone else to address my query? And what, in the name of all that’s holy, is a ‘magic number’?)
Tuesday morning – hallelujah – SIM activated. Attempt to connect to my internet email accounts. Wah-wah and, indeed, oops. Either I’ve got a purely enterprise device, not allowing (as I’m sure you know) connection to internet mail accounts, or I’m being stupid. Let’s take the latter option – it’s been known. I visit your Orange website – again, do you know how difficult and painful it is to find things on that site? Couldn’t find anything helpful. Today I braved your call centres again, looking for a resolution to the problem – who knows (not me) maybe Orange can tweak the B’Berry enterprise software and provide me, remotely, with a consumer-facing device. Suffice it to say, your operative either couldn’t, or didn’t, address the issue. Nor did she call me back when she said she was going to.
So, here I am, with device, without email. Perhaps unfortunately, I tend to rely on email to keep me in touch with career and business opportunities, so I’m a little stifled right now. Two questions:
How has Orange come to this? It was brilliant – now it’s rubbish. Is this the Everything Everywhere influence?
Can you sort this out for me – or do I, and with regret, take my business elsewhere? I know I’m just one punter, but on the basis of my recent experience, I won’t be the last.
Perhaps a little less spend on marketing and a little more on nuts and bolts and getting the experience right.
All the best
The Wordmonger
PS And, lest I be accused of not making enough effort (sigh), yes, I have emailed Orange, via the same difficult website, twice, once asking advice and once complaining. No response to date. I know it says ‘a response within 48 hours’ – but, really, 48 hours? In today’s social media-driven world? Time for reflection, I think.
PPS I know I wrote, earlier, ‘long story short’ – but, well, hey……….”

God Loves Facebook – Could He Be Fallible?

Following my post of yesterday, in which – in the desultory and louche fashion that is my wont and has become such a firm favourite with discerning blog snorkellers worldwide (hey – forget worldwide – GLOBALLY) – I examined the Busy Bees of the Divine’s decision to invest some $450m in the Book of the Face, I have some across simply acres of opinion that – to a greater or lesser extent – agrees with my conclusions.

Now, to say this is unusual would be a masterpiece of understatement, but that notwithstanding, it should also be genuinely concerning for those who are investing their hard-won marketing budgets in ever-more-complex Facebook campaigns. It should also be concerning for large companies whose digital media function is becoming ever-more powerful and starting to grasp at the reins of the whole shooting match.

You see, when even Goldman Sachs Capital Partners (the company’s private equity fund) turns down the opportunity to invest in Facebook – and does so (in part) due the lingering burning sensation that remains from the serious injury it received when the dotcom bubble burst – you have to question the longevity of Mr Zuckerberg’s monster.

And when Facebook falls – and it may already be on shaky ground, given there have been no membership number updates since July (is it possible, whisper it, that people are beginning to sign off?) – what will be left of the social media phenomenon that was going to change the way we communicate? Whither the social media gurus then? Whither the value? Eh?

Anyway – don’t take my word for it – read all about it here. (Thank you, Fortune magazine.)

So Farewell Then, Julian Assange

OK, OK – he’s not actually been terminated with extreme predjudice just yet.

On Tuesday, when Mr Assange was remanded into custody, I joked with a colleague that he (Mr Assange, not my colleague) should beware of being any length of time at the top of staircases while in the care of Her Majesty and Her Majesty’s finest. Seems someone shared my (yes, sick and depraved) sense of humour, for on Wednesday I came acros this piece, courtesy of the twisted minds behind The Daily Mash. Somehow, I can’t seem to post links today – must be the workings of those cuddly hacktivists, Project Payback – so here’s the url. Cut’n’paste, people, cut’n’paste. (Obviously, supposing there still IS an internet by the end of today.)

Today, however, I’m rapidly coming to the realisation that this probably isn’t a joke at all. I cannot comment on Mr Assange’s state of mind and, arguably, if he hadn’t done the whole Wikileaks thing, then someone else would. Much of the information contained therein is – as London’s Evening Standard rightly pointed out – in same news category as ‘Small Earthquake in Chile, Not Many Dead’. Frankly, I’d be more surprised if diplomats, politicos, SPADs etc etc DIDN’T say and do these things.  And as for Prince Andrew – yes, he’s an inbred arse – tell me something I don’t know.

But, and oh dear for Mr Assange. He has irked the US. More to the point he has irked the Ghengis Khan de nos jours, Sarah Palin and her Teapots. On top of this, whether he wanted to or not, he has unleashed the crusty might of the hacktivists who, as we know, need (and needed) little excuse to show how technologically capable they are. (With their stupid names. Who, in their right mind, styles themselves ‘coldblood’? That’ll be a 34-year old man, called Kevin, living in Milton Keynes with his Mum, then.) Sadly, coldblood (Kevin) and his mates bigaxe (Barry) and deathquake (Alan) can actually do some real damage here. (Which, in the case of them destroying Twitter, would be No Bad Thing. In the case of them preventing the world doing business in a time of economic crisis – not so much.)

Someone’s going to have to do something. And if I was Someone, I’d start at the top. Of the stairs.

Of course, I’m only partly serious. But what odds that Mr Assange is still here by Christmas?

Chilean Miner PR Stunt

Hi all, glad you could make it. I guess you’re wondering why I called you all here today – well, it’s just a brief update on my last post in which I questioned the whole Chilean miner deal, and whether, or not (like the moon landing) it was faked for someone or something’s own ends. (And I’m not the only one, before you start hurling digital rotten fruit, I’m not the bloke who coined the phrase ‘Dig Brother’. ) (Although I wish, of course, that I was.)

The papers (inna UK at least), on Saturday, provided the answer to my plaintive question ‘why’? Who did this? Who stood to benefit?

And it was the Chilean government, who, on the back of the ‘miraculous’ ‘rescue’ of 33 miners – why didn’t they eat anyone, answer me that – are not only going to make a fortune off of the movie of the rescue, which should help them bail out a few banks (which is what most governments seem to spend most money on these days), but are also going to get some high level talks with Her Maj’s government on how spiffing Chile is. Cue rehabilitation.

There is some PR guru behind this. Mark my words. (Not necessarily anyone called Mark, mind. Or indeed Matthew.)

Doing God’s Work – And Serving Mammon

Goldman Sachs, after a bit of a PR disaster last year (‘doing God’s work’, they were, apparently, according to that nice, humble and eminently charming Mr Blankfein) has taken what I consider to be the correct course of communications action – kept its head down, kept schtum and got on with its raison d’etre, which is the making of frankly obscene amounts of wonga. I’m not going to talk about its first quarter results – do the light clickdango here – but suffice it to say that amongst other little frissons was the figure of $5.5bn that they’ve given to their staff. Equivalenting to some $100k per employee, including the blokes who clean the loos. (No of course they didn’t – you figure it out.)

One of the recipients of some of the Goldman’s cash fallout – quite a lot, I am told by unreliable sources – is one Lucas van Praag (apologies to Mr vaan Prag if I got his name wrong), Director of Corporate Communications of the Sachs Parish. It should be said that, following last year’s PR shambles, some did wonder whether he’d actually earned his money.

So did I – until I read this. It takes a genuinely skilled exponent of the spinmeister’s art to come up with the idea of leaking the suspicion of fraud in order not only to initiate an investigation by the FSA, but also get none other than Gordon ‘Wingnut’ Brown lobbying for it.

It’s a stroke of genius. So Goldman Sachs gets investigated – worse, it’s found guilty of misleading investors in the area of toxic stocks. It gets fined. It has to lose the middle-ranking member of staff that (apparently) landed it in the mess in the first place.

But – but. The fine will be but a fraction of its profits. One gets the feeling that the middle-ranking member of staff is persona non grata anyway and is already washed and in the laundry basket waiting to be hung out to dry. The loser in the whole toxic stocks issue was RBS – hardly the most popular or stainless of financial institutions.

No. On balance, all this investigation will succeed in doing is making people see that nice Goldman Sachs as the underdog, unfairly pursued – nay, scapegoated – for something that could have happenend to anyone. And while people are thinking this, they won’t be thinking about the telephone number profits and fat bonuses that have never stopped being a part of the Goldman’s culture.

Mr van Praag – there’s another big sack of money waiting in your office for you. Enjoy.

Volcanic Communication

Well. I know that this has been rumbling on for a while now, and, frankly, from a communications point of view, there’s not been much to say. Volcano, ash cloud, danger to human life, ‘planes grounded. As Aleksandr the Meerkat would have it, simples. But we’re now entering a smoke and fire scenario, or possibly, a smoke scenario involving mirrors, depending on who you are and your point of view and it merits a few moments thought.

Firstly, and obviously, there’s no smoke without fire. (Or in this case, no ash without superheated gases.) By which I mean if the aviation experts say that ash in the atmosphere can cause aircraft engines to fail – and provide examples of same – then it’s fair to say that flying when there is ash in the atmosphere is most definitely Not A Good Thing. There was a bloke on the TV last night who spelt it out quite well – so well that I almost choked on my glass of wine – when he said “if the engines fail, everyone will die”. (I’m paraphrasing slightly.)

Then there are mirrors within the smoke, which is there, obviously, because of the fire. The airlines are losing hundreds of millions of pounds through not being able to fly. And as the situation continues, there’s been an increase in the number of airlines voicing the opinion that it’s perfectly safe to fly – if you’re careful – and that they’ve sent ‘planes up (one with a CEO on it – see how safe it is, if we’re prepared to risk our CEO!) and the ‘planes have come down again completely unscathed. Now I’m but one cynical step away from suggesting that, despite the fact that there is a risk (and I’ll misquote bloke again “if the engines fail, everyone will die”), it isn’t a big risk and – well, set the risk against the money being lost and – hell – get the ‘planes in the air!

Despite the fact that two F-16s flew into the ash yesterday and sustained damage to their engines.

Meanwhile, here on the ground, I can’t see the ash, and I’m relying on the media to assure me that it’s there. Cue the conspiracy theorists who would have me believe that there IS NO ASH and, in fact, the closing of airspace is in reaction to a real and present threat of international terrorism identified by the European governments. Which, if true, wouldn’t make the airlines’ decision to start flying again any less reprehensible.

And as this is, in some small way, a communications blog, spare a thought for the communications people within the airlines with responsibility for crisis management – in fact those crisis communicators working for all the interested parties – aviation authorities, airports, government, weather agencies etc etc.

One ‘plane. That’s all it’ll take and this will be the biggest communications bunfight that we’ve seen in quite some time.

Oh – and if you’re due to fly somewhere in the next week or so – are you sure? I can’t say I am.

I’m Michael – Fly Me

British Airways – what a shambles. A once-proud organisation inevitably succumbing to the terribly British tendency to take something good, and solid, and FUBAR.  (See Sly Stallone and Kurt Russell in that meisterwerk of the silver screen, “Tango and Cash”.)

Mind, this time round, you have to give some credit to ‘Wee’ Willie Walsh, who – it must be said – is not doing a completely rubbish job – of the communication of it, anyway. His tactics, of dividing and conquering and picking off elements rather than addressing the whole, seem to be paying dividends.

For the first time, it seems that media sentiment is not wholly against BA’s management. It seems that, perhaps, the tide is turning against those on strike or threatening to strike. What the truth of the matter is, I don’t pretend to know, but the way public perception is being handled is excellent.

And the latest strike-quelling tactic – the threat of appointing Michael O’Leary as CEO – is a stroke of genius.

(OK – it’s not true – but it is very funny.)