An excellent analysis of how blogs put reputations at risk

Here is one of the best articles I’ve seen yet on the subject of reputation risk and the increasingly important role that bloggers play. It’s from Financial Times in Germany.

I especially like this quotation by one of the leaders in thinking about the online environment and what it means for companies, Rob Key CEO of Converseon.(I was fortunate enough to meet Rob by phone the other day):

“It’s frightening for companies to think that their brand reputation is in the hands of third parties but, by definition, it is,” says Rob Key, chief executive of Converseon, a New York-based digital communications company. “The heads of corporate communications in many ways are still dealing with traditional media relations and haven’t embraced this broader social media environment.”

It is interesting that I should hear about this excellent article from Russ Fagaly of walmartwatch.com., one of those very active activist sites that the article discusses. Thanks for the tip Russ.

What do the British think about crisis communications

I always find it interesting to hear what others in communications or PR think about crisis communications. Here’s a blog post from Phillippe Booremans blog conversationblog.com. I like the title of the PR conference in London he attended: Taking the Drama Out of Crisis.

Here is his post about what folks in London are saying about crisis communications. I especially like his first point: “No vacuum please”; in a crisis situation constant updates are needed – even if no major changes in the situation take place.

What strikes me as missing, and what I continually complain about as missing from most people’s crisis communications plans or thinking about crisis communications, is the lack of attention to people other than the media. There are typically a whole number of people affected by a crisis. Investors, neighbors, employees, community leaders, elected officials, NGOs., etc,. etc. Experience has shown that these people demand information just as much as the media and have very high expectations about you communicating directly with them. The answer that they will get from you that you were way too busy dealing with Katie Couric or Brian Williams simply won’t buy you much.

It reminds me of a story I have repeated often in presentations. A global oil company had a major refinery explosion in the UK. The company was HQ’d in the US and the head of communications believed he was doing a marvelous job of answering all the media inquiries he was receiving. Not only did the newspapers in London complain about inadequate information, two weeks after the event the company got around to opening its email. (the communicators were busy, you see)  It had a number of emails from neighbors near the plant who had emailed the company right after the explosion and fire asking if they should evacuate. Those people expected (and one might even say deserved) fast, direct, and straight up information from the company. Hearing that the company was too busy dealing with the media simply would not square with them as it would not with you.

Every company or organization facing major crises needs to have a way not only of filling that vaccuum by providing a constant flow of information to important stakeholders other than the media. Some are doing it and doing very well. It is the standard. No matter what side of the pond you are on.

Michael Richards' PR expert

If you were wondering who Kramer would turn to for help during his attempt to rescue his career from almost certain destruction, here is the answer. The “apology” on Letterman was pitiful. The attempt on Jesse Jackson’s radio show was improved but only heightened the opinion that wherever a camera shows up or attention is focused briefly, Mr Jackson will be close at hand. Mr. Rubenstein has perhaps his greatest reputation crisis challenge. Will see what magic he can conjure to restore poor Mr. Richards.

A word to local TV "investigative" reporters: knock of the chases

I’m a faithful watcher of KING5 tv news in Seattle. They have pleasant tv personalities, some quirky reporters, and do a generally good job of the formulaic process we know of as local tv news. But they frequently feature an “Investigative Reports” segment that, quite frankly, makes me cringe in as much pain as George Costanza of Seinfeld used to create. It is embarrassing. Susanna Frame is the reporter and I don’t know if it is her, her producer or editor, or the general manager with his eye on the ratings meter that makes her do these things. But every one of her “investigative” reports features an “ambush journalism” sequence of her and her camera crew chasing down some poor soul who is trying to escape from the ambush while she yells at them, “Why are you lying to people.” (See video clips)

Come on, please! This was new and intriguing when Mike Wallace did it about a hundred years ago on 60 Minutes. But is more than passe, it is a cliche and a sad and uncomfortable one at that. Especially when the “gotcha” clip is repeated endlessly on the teasers leading up to the news show.

If this doesn’t show that tv news has devolved to formulaic and trite entertainment, I don’t know what does. KING5 is a great organization, with a storied history here in the Northwest. I hate to see them embarrass themselves in this way. Bullitt sisters, where are you when we need you?

Could it be a reputation problem leading to Wal-Mart sales woes?

Wal-Mart has a reputation crisis on its hands (see previous posts on this). One question executives have to struggle with is, does it really matter? They tend to only get nervous about critics (especially online critics) when they see an impact on sales. And sales decreases tends to be a lagging indicator of a reputation crisis. Is this why Wal-Mart sales are weak this Christmas? Goodness they have done everything they can to lure in customers with even lower prices. (When businesses only have low prices to lure customers in, sooner or later they find diminishing returns along with diminishing margins).

Clearly, the lustre is gone, and the juggernaut that is/was Wal-Mart has been threatened. Advertising more low prices will not solve this problem. Sooner or later they are going to have to come to grips with the violations of societal values that lies at the heart of their reputation problems. Change, or begin to die.

Kramer Loses It, Twice

Kramer, Kramer. Unless you are living on another planet you know that Michael Richards, the much loved actor with the explosive entrances lost it during a comedy routine. Lost it big time–with one of the most digusting racial tirades in the last fifty years. What is it with these celebrities and Hollywood types? YouTube is filled with copies of the tirade and the follow up with the hecklers on the Today Show and then Kramer’s “apology” clearly set up by his friend Jerry Seinfeld on the David Letterman show.

For crisis management purpose I want to focus on two things–the role of online video and Richard’s pathetic apology. There were only a few people in the audience when Richards went nuts. But now millions have seen it. Yes, on mainstream TV, but would they have reported this story they way they did without the unbelievable video? I doubt it very much. It would have been the hecklers’ word and some audience members against Richards and his supporters. Sketchy proof, little story.  And if it were not now possible to “broadcast” that video via YouTube, would the MSM have played it up? Again, I doubt it. Even without the play in the MSM, hundreds of thousands on now viewing on YouTube.

The point is, you screw up and it is on videotape, there is no hiding and no denying. This represents a tremendous change–and gives great impetus to the trend toward transparency. Video plus video sharing on the internet creates a glass window into lives, actions, deliberations, that were otherwise invisible.

Does this increase the risk of reputation damage? Ask Kramer.

Now to his apology. Pathetic. The only good thing one might say about it is that if you doubted his sanity during the “show” you had even more reason to doubt whether he is now operating on all cylinders after watching the apology. Apologizing was the right thing to do. No doubt, his friend Jerry arranged the botched apology. But, Kramer needed more help than getting a live feed to the Letterman show. Jerry should have helped him with the script as well.

Too bad. He screwed up big time then screwed up again. A second apology is never as effective as the first, even if it much more well thought through. We will watch those old tapes of Seinfeld now with a good deal more sadness as we have witnessed the implosion of one of the most unique and creative personalities. Sometimes, no apology and no recovery plan in the world can save a brand. It seems to me that this is one of those times.

Best Buy Lies? Is this why I can't get a Wii?

I’m dying to get my hands on a Wii. OK, a 55 year old guy isn’t supposed to get excited about video games but my sons, daughters and their spouses help keep me up with what’s going on, and this Wii thing looks pretty cool. Especially for someone who likes to play tennis. But I can’t get one.

And maybe here’s an explanation. This blog, from a former Best Buy employee, explains how he believes Best Buy is operating relating to the Wii and probably all other “hot” items. Not sure if it is all true, but I have say it is credible.

Since my interest in more than just Wiis, I’ll be very interested to see how Best Buy and other retailers who are “gaming” the system respond to these kind of accusations.

California Supreme Court Protects Websites from Libel

I just posted about how sites like MySpace and YouTube are being held responsible for whether someone posts copyrighted material they don’t own or control. Now, here comes a ruling in the opposite direction. The California Supreme Court decided yesterday that websites can’t be held liable for libelous statements published on their sites.

It’s a difficult question and the dilemma faced by the jurists is reflected in these comments: “The prospect of blanket immunity for those who intentionally redistribute defamatory statements on the Internet has disturbing implications,” Associate Justice Carol A. Corrigan wrote in the majority opinion. “Nevertheless … statutory immunity serves to protect online freedom of expression and to encourage self-regulation, as Congress intended.”

Well, this is California. How I interpret it is that the online culture of free expression overrides the potential damage to individuals when websites publish information they know is libelous. This is very good news for the dedicated reputation terrorist and quite bad news for those involved in blogwars who are hoping for some protection against the most outrageous lies and accusations. My sense is a balance needs to be struck–and this one doesn’t quite do it.

The Meaning of Thanksgiving–and Symbols

A History Channel
show last night on the history of thanksgiving help provide a new appreciation for this national holiday and the meaning of symbols. Thanksgiving has probably been the favorite holiday in our family with all the kids (now grandkids), grandparents, cousins, uncles and aunts all gathering for a big feast and a relaxing day. Behind all the celebrations and expressions of thanksgiving lies a picture of that first thanksgiving where the Puritans shared a feast with their Indian neighbors. And that picture is rich with meaning, complex, contradictory. I found it most interesting to learn that a young widow by the name of Hale made it a life work of hers to get Thanksgiving declared a national holiday. The reason behind this passion was the recognition that the nation was being torn apart in the mid 1800s around the issue of slavery. The woman believed, very correctly, that this unique American experience, rooted in history, transformed by myth and legend, had power to unify. It is interesting that Pres Lincoln, just months after the horrific bloodletting at Gettysburg, acted on Mrs. Hale’s idea and proclaimed the first national day of thanksgiving.

It is unifying. It is rich and meaningful. It does help to make us a people with a shared experience and shared consciousness of what is important. And if it helps make us just a bit more grateful for the undeserved blessings that we daily enjoy, that is a good thing too. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

The pressure to police users–a blogwars update

A growing issue for companies and organizations involved in a “blogwar,” is the posting of copyrighted content on places like YouTube. Here’s the scenario. Your company produces ads or promotional videos which the critics take, distort, turn into parodies, comment on, or in other ways attempt to turn against you. Then they post it on sites like YouTube, GoogleVideo, MySpace, etc.

If your company is in this situation, you have an interesting dilemma. Use the copyright laws to require your critics to take the offending post down? You can do that, but you face the very likely attack in the blogosphere of “trying to control content and end debate.” It runs counter to the blog values that says anyone should be able to say anything about anyone else and any for profit entity that tries to protect itself is not transparent and is trying to hide something.  So the policy seems to be that reserve the big legal hammers for only the most egregious violations of copyrighted content and have a pretty high level of tolerance for most of the garbage that gets thrown out there.

Now some help on this issue is coming from content producers who have a strong financial interest in protecting their copyrights. We noticed lately how YouTube had beefed up their requirements for the person posting content to make certain that they owned the copyright or had permission from the copyright owner before posting anything to YouTube. Clearly a defensive measure.

Now comes a lawsuit by Universal Music Group against MySpace for failing to police MySpace users against posting copyrighted material (music in this case) which they don’t own. Look to see MySpace beefing up its policies in order to protect itself. Clearly YouTube and MySpace don’t believe they are in a position to take no responsibility for the copyright issues. And since they are the big target, it means that they will work harder to protect themselves against those who misuse copyrighted material. And that’s good news for those in “blogwars.”