Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Facebook privacy controversy does nothing to damage its reputation

Posted by Greg Matusky
Google "Facebook privacy" today and you would think that recent allegations about Facebook's privacy breaches could potentially threaten its very existence. "Could privacy be Facebook's Waterloo," asks BusinessWeek. "Has Facebook Gone Rogue?" is the title of a NPR segment on All Things Considered.

It harkens me back to 1996 when I sat in on a focus group for PhotoNet, a former client and pioneer of online photography. The group members claimed they would never post their personal photos online because of privacy issues.

Skip ahead nearly 15 years, and it's a requirement for every overly engaged parent to post photos of their six-year-old's weekend soccer game on Facebook.

Against that backdrop, Mike Lizun, here at Gregory FCA, was interested to learn how the current privacy controversy might be threatening the image and reputation of the world's largest social network, with some 400 million users.

He asked Brian McDermott, our director of media research, to fire up Nielsen's BuzzMetrics to identify Facebook's online sentiment by analyzing over 100 million blogs, forums, message boards, tweets, and traditional media.

After following the media, we expected to see big damage to Facebook's image as it deals with criticisms from everyone from Sen. Chuck Shumer to a group called Quit Facebook Day, which claims to have 15,000 members ready to quit Facebook on May 31, 2010.

Well, guess what? Just like the online focus group that wrongly predicted the failure of online photo sharing, the current media and political backlash against Facebook has had no impact at all on the brand or consumer sentiment toward it. In fact, Facebook continues to enjoy a positive 4.6 sentiment rating, with five being the highest and negative five being the lowest.

LIKE: Facebook's sentiment stays positive (click to enlarge)
What accounts for the disparity between the media reports and the consumer reality? First, as the focus group showed, consumers always seem to be more concerned about privacy in the abstract than they are in reality.

How else can you reconcile our willingness to share personal details online, but then object if an entity gathers and uses this information for marketing? Or how about the credit card anomaly?

We gladly hand over a credit card to a tattooed waiter who looks they haven't slept in three days. But entering those numbers into a secure online retailer's website? Well, that makes us squeamish.

We all seem to guard our privacy heroically at times only to misuse it by telling anyone and everyone all we can about ourselves. And that's the very nature of Facebook. For many, it provides a place to tell our stories and share the very intimacy many of us seem to be missing in real-world relationships.

That's a powerful attractant that seems to easily overcome any concern we might have about our personal information ever being used against us. After all, you would think that so much negative reporting and buzz would impact the brand called Facebook. But for now, I have to run and update my status.

UPDATE: Media continues to follow this story, and I left additional thoughts on CNET's coverage and The Wall Street Journal's coverage.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Mommy, why don't companies talk like human beings?

Posted by Greg Matusky
Part of the public's disappointment over the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico centers on our inability to gain any real information about the catastrophe. Five-thousand feet of water presents ample opportunity to conceal the truth, and BP has done little to nothing to inform the world as to the extent of the spill.

In an industry that prides itself on numbers (I should know, because my first job was working in public relations for an energy company compiling its annual fact book), it's remarkable that BP can't calculate the rate of flow from a well that cost $1 million a day to operate.

BP's unwillingness to share these numbers suggests that the spill is much larger than being estimated. Even more troubling is why our government refuses to force BP to divulge numbers, or even send our own research vessels and scientists to gain insight.

So then you turn to BP's website. Its homepage now opens in big bold letters that read, "Gulf of Mexico Response." There are a lot of links present, some of which are way too self-serving at this point in the crisis. I do give BP credit for linking to actual press interviews, many of which challenge BP managers for answers.

Click on the "TODAY Show" interview where Matt Lauer confronts BP Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles. Suttles is quick to note BP's success in inserting a four-inch tube into the collapsed underwater pipeline. But Suttles gives no idea how much of an impact the procedure will make, even after Lauer analogizes the process to inserting a straw into a swimming pool.

Now turn to BP's own press releases, and you understand why BP's public response is failing. In written communications, the company turns to engineering jargon to give little real information about the incident. It makes you wonder, why don't companies talk like human beings? In times like these, why wouldn't BP want to impart meaning, instead of confusion?

Take the opening headline of one release. It reads, "Subsea Source Control and Containment." I assume the company is trying to update us on its progress in stemming the flow of crude oil. But that's left to our best guess, when the company refuses to even speak in plain English.

You can debate whether subsea is a word or just a term of art in the oil and gas industry. After all, the sea is water, not the air above it. So the subsea must be something underneath the sea -- maybe mud, maybe bedrock, maybe oil reserves. Who knows? Wouldn't it be nice if BP had just said, "Here's an update on our efforts to contain the spill on the floor of the Gulf of Mexico?" See, I would have understood that. But then the release gets even better:

"Subsea efforts continue to focus on progressing options to stop the flow of oil from the well through interventions via the blow out preventer (BOP), and to collect the flow of oil from the leak points."

"Focus on progressing options?" What is BP trying to say? I presume it wants to say that it is simultaneously pursuing a number of options to stop the underwater oil spill by working on the blow out preventer and collecting leaking oil. But the sentence is so poorly constructed, you don't know what it is saying.

I am sure the language was all twisted and edited by round after round of legal review, as well as the industry's own prescribed methods of responding to problems.

See in da earl bidnis, there is no such thing as a spill. Note that BP calls the spill a flow and a leak point. I can just imagine the powers that be debating the difference between spills, leaks, and flows. "A leak is a drip. A spill is a calamity," they might be saying to one another over a secure teleconference between New Orleans and London.

It's an energy company trick I learned early in my career, when a vice president of public relations explained to me that coal is not black, dark, dusty, or chalky. Rather, it's rich and luminous, and should be characterized as such in all press materials.

All this answers the question, "Why can't companies talk like human beings?" Some of the smartest people in the world work in the energy business, which is precisely why they refuse to talk like human beings. Using clear and compelling language would require BP to answer the prime question, "How much oil is being spilled?" Right now, that's the last thing BP intends to tell us, and it is doing a good job of it.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Reply round up: My responses to the latest comments

Posted by Greg Matusky
We've been receiving a steady stream of great comments lately on our blog. I love hearing your insights, feedback, and contributions to the conversations we have here. I wanted to respond to some the most recent comments you've shared with us.

RE: Each person who commented on The hottest new job in public relations: chief content officer

You're not the only one who found value in the post about chief content officers. We received loads of e-mails and six comments on the topic. It seems to have hit a real chord.

My colleague here at Gregory FCA forwarded me a post from David Meerman Scott who used the term "brand journalism" to communicate the same notion I expressed in the post. I am not comfortable about the use of journalism in this context.

Rather, I think content is a little more transparent. Journalism connotes objectivity. A chief content officer will always have to have the corporation's best interests at heart. But more and more, that interest has to include a degree of transparency, less the audience simply stops listening because of the bias.

Thanks for your note.


RE: Frank Freudberg on When good social media goes bad

Thanks for the thoughtful comments, Frank. In communications, the future is hitting us like a giant wave. We shared an important mentor years ago. Sid might put it a bit more bluntly. Get up every morning and run like hell! I'm eagerly awaiting your next book.


RE: Anonymous on When good social media goes bad

Thanks for your kind comments. With the blog, we're just trying to tell it like it is from inside the world of Gregory FCA. It sounds like you share our interest and inquisitiveness about the changing face of public relations. Perhaps we should talk?


RE: Anthony Graziano on Gregory FCA is 20 years old today

Thank you for the compliment. We love working with you guys at Integra. It's been a very good ride. We are fortunate at Gregory FCA to have attracted the quality of talent that you reference in your comment. Kathryn, Kathleen, and Leigh have set some pretty high standards, and I appreciate you singling them out for the credit! Now, if only this real estate recession would end!


RE: Elaine Hughes on 48 hours of bliss with my new iPad

You're right. The iPad can't run Flash, a real bumper when you go to Hulu and learn that you can't watch any of the videos. Let's hope Mr. Jobs makes friends with Adobe.

I do think the iPad has the ability to replace my desktop. I have found lots of apps to help me get there. One allows me to see my network files. Another allows your iPad to emulate a Windows 7 computer. I think we'll get there. But right now, an inability to print to my network and the challenge of typing directly on the screen has divided my time between the iPad and my Windows-based laptop.


Tuesday, May 11, 2010

When good social media goes bad

Posted by Greg Matusky
Five rules to remember when structuring a social media campaign
Fifty blogs, thousands of posts, and millions of tweets later, I realize that great social media campaigns have the power to build and enhance reputation and awareness, while bad campaigns can damage and distract even great companies.

In the froth of the creative process, all too often, the brakes come off. What would be considered offensive or high risk in the real world is thought of as cutting-edge and acceptable in the digital domain. After all, it is the Wild West, right? To gain attention, don't you have to scream and insult?

Not at all, and nor should you. Instead, it would always behoove the creatives in the room to work alongside the suits and gray hairs in order to understand the risks associated with social media -- and mitigate them. So here are five golden rules to always remember when structuring a social media campaign:

1. Look at the campaign from every angle and audience. The campaign might work for teens. Then again, it might offend employees, shareholders, and other consumer segments. The first rule of communications is to know your audience, and that audience should include anyone affected by the message.

2. Have a real business objective. At the outset, the objective needs to be defined and documented. After 25 years of working in public relations, I have come to realize that social media offers PR firms the Holy Grail of being able to demonstrate results. Set performance metrics at the outset and build the program accordingly.

3. Forget about viral. Oh so many brand marketers create videos hoping they go viral, but so few contrived videos ever do. Those videos that do break through and generate millions of views are often accidental, with no marketing message whatsoever, like David After Dentist.

The other kind of viral video -- the kind that some marketers point clients to and suggest that they are cheaper and easier to do than good old-fashioned marketing -- requires millions of dollars to make. After all, compelling has a price tag. Check out Saatachi & Saatachi's T-Mobile Dance.

Even here, there's a degree of authenticity in that T-Mobile went the extra yard, spent real money, undertook a creative execution, and complied with the rules of the Internet (short, high-impact, and seemingly real life). Bystanders in the T-Mobile video appear to be real, so the viewer believes it's an authentic stunt. Authenticity is the key factor with viral video. If viewers sniff out a fraud, it's game over -- a tree falling in the forest.

4. Digital communications live on forever. Make a fool of yourself once, and the act could be forever memorialized, showing up every time someone Googles the company or brand.

5. Be transparent. Don't believe you can make a campaign succeed by faking posts or fan club membership; writing phony reviews; or conscripting employees, friends, or family to take part. What's more, it could be illegal. Grassroots marketing must be transparent and the sponsor must be disclosed. A company that thinks it can hide on the Internet and use anonymity to sell or persuade simply doesn't understand digital communications, and in the end, can easily be outted by purists who lay in wait to embarrass the insincere.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

48 hours of bliss with my new iPad

Posted by Greg Matusky
I'd rather be on my iPad ...
So it came. Friday, just as promised. The very day the new 3G iPad became available, it appeared at my office, ready to be loved and adored. A couple of staff members gathered around, grunting and groaning in excitement as it lit up ... like Neanderthals first viewing fire.

Sure, it's elegant. And yes, for any iPhone user, it's inherently familiar. I had 48 hours while watching a daughter's track meet and then relaxing at a fishing cabin to play with it and review it. Some conclusions:

Will the iPad revolutionize the world?
Not everyone's. Its limited computing power (can't run simultaneous apps at once) will confound linear thinkers. But for those of us who love media, and love to read to stay current, it will be as revolutionary at Google.

The iPad's New York Times app sets the bar high -- like the West Point high jumper I watched all day Saturday -- and unfolds like rich digital parchment. It dares you to engage, and hastens you to flick through stories and tap to read more.

Sunday morning I awoke, 40 miles from nowhere to enjoy the Times. Just me, the silence, and a hatch of March Browns that I ignored in favor of a too-strong cup of mountain-brewed coffee in the pre-dawn glow of a new day.

Will the iPad liberate me from my desktop? My desk sits as a wall between myself and office visitors. A flat screen and laptop set the divide. Will the iPad rid me of such barbed-wire clutter? Perhaps not at work. I fear I will still need my Windows-based box, and its 10-minute boot up time and ganglia of wires.

But at home? On the road? I see a new friend to comfort me while sitting on the sofa watching Hulu and YouTube. Or in bed, checking mail or watching movies.
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