Category Archives: Blogging

Anatomy of a credibility war–global warming and Superfreakonomics

Here’s a blog war that seems to be heating up faster than our climate: The New York Times guest editorial column by Freakonomics co-author Stephen Dubner takes on a very strident attack by a prominent environmental blogger.

From a reputation management standpoint, this kind of interchange is fascinating. Here are a few of my observations:

1) Your viewpoint on this–whether you agree with blogger Joe Romm or Dubner depends mostly on your own biases and perceptions. We never really start on neutral ground. I happen to be a big fan of Freakonomics and admired their courage to bring up issues such as abortion and falling crime rates in the face of the political correctness police. So that is my bias and I approach this war from that standpoint.

2) It’s all about credibility. If you take the time to dissect Dubner’s response to Romm’s attack you can see it goes directly to the heart of whether or not Romm can be trusted and believed. This is where such reputation wars always end up in my mind which means the first caution to any communicator is never ever ever give your opponents any reason to question your complete honesty–including what you don’t say.

3) Borrowed credibility–here the debate is largely over what position one of the subjects in the book–Ken Caldeira who according to both seems to be one of the most respected climate scientists in the world. Both are making claims about what he says and doesn’t say about the reporting. From that standpoint, it seems to be that Dubner delivered a knockout punch to Romm when he demonstrated that Caldeira’s denial of a statement in the book was from Caldeira’s failure to carefully edit it and not due to the author’s lack of integrity as Romm is trying to prove.

4) Tone matters–Romm can’t help himself in his outrage. There are certainly times when outrage is appropriate and should be used. But Dubner’s even tone and very careful dissection of the argument vs. Romm’s more emotional ranting communicates that Romm is just deeply disturbed by what the book is saying and Dubner is understanding this is about who is to be believed more than who is most passionate. Romm does his argument a disservice in my mind by his tone. Lending a lot of credence to the statement in the book about the religion of global warming.

Ignore the mainstream media–from Amazon to the White House, looks to be the new trend

I was fascinated the other day with Breaking News On announcement of the White House announcing a press conference via Twitter. What’s amazing about that, is that they announced it via Twitter quite a while before letting the press know via traditional means.

Then this story today about Amazon and Zappos announcing the acquisition of Zappos by Amazon. They did it through company blog and posting a video of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. They ignored main stream media calls. Ignored them. The cheeky ValleyWag blog commented:

Bezos cut out the middleman — the press, in this case — big time. And why not? Instead of having to answer boring financial questions, Bezos got to pontificate on Amazon’s history, ostensible focus on its customers, and on his management philosophy. The manic laugher would never have been able to sermonize like this in the Wall Street Journal.

Note: Cut out the middleman. Exactly. I’ve been trying to convince public relations managers, heads of communication, emergency response managers, PIOs, etc., that they days of media-centric communications are gone. Been preaching this since 2001 when I wrote it in my book with the chapter title: You Are the Broadcaster.

Clearly Amazon and Zappos could benefit from all the news coverage around this important acquisition. Clearly they are getting it. Plus a lot of blog talk, etc. But they opted not to go first–or in this case, at all–to the media. Why? Because they are the broadcaster and they know it. The post-media world is here to stay.

What comes first in news cycle–mainstream or blogs?

I’ve long suggested and provided a few solid examples of where major stories originate on blogs and then migrate to mainstream media. The Dan Rather gaffe on President Bush’s military record was one noteworthy example. I think conventional wisdom, certainly in my case, has it that blogs come first, then mainstream. Afterall, they often are plugged in, are done by one person rather than a staff, don’t have editorial layers, and don’t have accountability to worry about.

Turns out I may be quite wrong. At least according to this item from Slashdot that references a NYT article. The very process at work here probably explains their research findings however. MSM to blog – to other blog – to many more blogs. Sot it looks like it is following based on the volume of references. But where did the story start? In this case, probably MSM because that’s where the findings might be released. I don’t know. Kind of skeptical here.

Who's a reporter when it comes to press credentials?

One of my esteemed colleagues sent me a question about policy relating to press credentials today. A very relevant issue for many. The old rules don’t apply in the era of new media. But it certainly doesn’t mean you give equal access to anyone who happens to know how to turn on wordpress. Below is the answer I provided. What’s yours?

That’s a tough one. The advice I give to clients is that while there may be 300 million citizen journalists out there (anyone with a cell camera can quickly send images to any major news outlet) that doesn’t mean that you need to treat all of them the same. The same basic criteria should apply to reporters–the stringer from a wild and crazy sometime newspaper with four readers should not necessarily receive the same focus as the reporter from the New York Times. Of course, if we are talking about adding to a list to send out updates, that is different–include everyone. But press credentials is more difficult. The truth is blogs are media. There are now 400,000 bloggers who make their livings with their blogs. Many have thousands of readers (my daughter is one of the top food bloggers in the country according to Financial Times anyway). And some have influence far beyond their limited readership.

My suggestion is to start with the understanding that bloggers are journalists and some far more reputable than others. Your group may have to come up with some criteria to decide if a blogger should be treated as a legitimate journalist some of which could be objective–how many visitors per month, how many commenters, etc., and part subjective: does this “journalist” have any credibility, is he/she responsible in the way information is treated, etc. Arianna Huffington of Huffington Post is one of the keynote speakers at the fall PRSA conference. She is hardly unbiased but her blog is considered one of the most influential in the nation–and most heavily visited. It would be insane not to grant her press credentials because she doesn’t write for newsprint.

I don’t know if that helps but my suggestion is work on a criteria for admission that is based on credibility and reach and include bloggers.

Message to Emergency Management pros: Here's why social media is important to you

Let’s face it. Most emergency management professionals are more than 45 years old. From their perspective, they have far more important things to worry about in preparing to respond to a major emergency than silly things like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and the like. They and their Public Information Officers (PIOs) are very clear about what has to happen to communicate with the public in a major event–they got to get a press release to the media and hold a press conference. The media is their “partner.” Do that, and the job is mostly done–oh yeah, answer some questions along the way.

I’ve had this conversation recently too frequently to tell. It’s how those in emergency management think about this world. I’ve been trying to tell them they are wrong, the world has changed. But now I have some serious academic studies to back me up.

The University of Colorado at Boulder, with Dr. Leysia Palen leading the research, is becoming a center for study about disaster communication. I heard several references to Dr. Palen and the studies at this university at the Booz Allen conference in DC last November. This release from the university documents the shockingly fast move of the public to online communications and particularly social media during major events.

The world has changed. No sense sticking our heads in the sand.

OK, so not all bloggers are toxic–a new study

You’ve heard me talk about “toxic talk,” the propensity of the social media/blogosphere/online community to engage in over heated, hyper-sensitive, hair trigger outrage and activism. Here’s an article about a study relating to bloggers comments about retail brands and comparisons to comments in the mainstream media.

A quick summary. Blog comments about national retailers were 41% positive, 31% neutral and 28% negative.

And while bloggers overall were a little more likely to say something negative than mainstream media and less likely to be positive, this comment shows a key difference:

Bloggers were more likely to have extreme negative reactions in their coverage, while the mainstream media was more likely to be “slightly unfavorable” or “intensely positive” when covering global organizations.

A few reasons why I think that is so: no accountability (at least for most), anonymity, and teh fact that they are not linked in most cases to ad revenue. I would guess that those who depend on ad revenue tend to be a little more careful about biting the hand that feeds them. On the other hand, it is often the outrageous comments that generates the traffic that feeds the ads.


Dominos lessons learned: no better advice given

If you read and absorb just one thing this year in crisis management, read this. Dominos’ team responding to the YouTube stupidity crisis took time out of their busy lives (they have to still be in response mode) to participate in the Ragan Social Media Bootcamp and share some lessons learned.

I can’t possibly imagine a more succinct or powerful message in crisis management today than the four key points they make. Here they are:

1) Establish Twitter account now (and/or other appropriate channels)

2) Be transparent

3) Respond–NOW!

4) Appreciate your customers.

‘Nuff said.

How is news told in age of Twitter? Great example from Austin "hostage" situation

Is Twitter a good way to get news? Heck no, everyone says and still more and more are relying on tweets. Are citizen journalists credible? Heck no, but still what they are reporting is believed and believed believable until proven otherwise. Such is news today. And one role for journalists and established media to play is to help the rest of us know what is real and what is not. In my book (written in late 2001 I might mention) I predicted that that the media would evolve into a role of “truth filters.”

This article from Media Bullseye, written by a journalist, provided a vivid account of one local news situation in Austin. It shows the speed of the initial tweets, the rumors, how fast they spread and how one newspaper–fast on it feet and very impressive I must say–worked to keep up with the pace but also providing the kind of credible information we want and need from them.

Here is today’s journalism–the interplay of professionals and citizens, the use of new media and old media (a phone call to the police from the newspaper)–and how they work together for our benefit.

CNN, Dominos and Amazon–three case studies of the new crisis management

Kind of ironic I guess, but one of the best stories dealing with the crisis management challenges of the new media comes from the old media–the LA Times. Here’s a great summary of three major brands and how they all have had to face significant crises in the last while either caused by or related to social media.

For PRSA members, Kami Watson Huyse and I will be presenting on social media and crisis communications via teleseminar for PRSA. Still time to sign up I assume.

For those not able to attend, we will discuss ten things to help you prepare to respond to a crisis in today’s “twitch-fast” world as the LA Times calls it. It’s not just twitch fast, but it seems filled with people with too much time on their hands and too many things they are hypersensitive and just plain old angry about. Not a pretty picture–particularly if you have employees dumb enough to do what two Dominos employees did.

Ryanair clearly doesn't get the world of us "idiot bloggers"

This story from The Guardian in UK is so astounding I kind of wonder if I am being hoaxed. I just got off a call with a student researching online crises and crisis management and one of the questions essentially was: do companies today “get it” when it comes to the online risks. I said I they were quickly moving in this direction, and then, literally moments later I come across this item about Ryanair’s exchange with a blogger.

I certainly understand that by linking this story, which recounts the interchange between a Ryanair very rude and obnoxious staff person with a blogger about a potential bug, I am adding to the social networking spread of this rather ugly story. But that is just the point. The blog conversation is like a quiet, interchange in a corner of a very busy room when suddenly the room goes quiet, the conversation is miked and the conversation goes on in multiple rooms around the world. Don’t these companies get it? Is that really so hard to understand?

It is quite remarkable that the training of people authorized as Ryanair staff to respond was so poor, but what completely blows me away is the official response of the company when it was pointed out on a travel website that their interchange with the blogger was less than positive:

“Ryanair can confirm that a Ryanair staff member did engage in a blog discussion. It is Ryanair policy not to waste time and energy corresponding with idiot bloggers and Ryanair can confirm that it won’t be happening again.

“Lunatic bloggers can have the blog sphere all to themselves as our people are far too busy driving down the cost of air travel.”

OK, so maybe there are some companies that don’t get it yet. Yes, more work for us consultants.