05 April 2011

Red Bull "More than Wings" Viral Campaign

For my New Media PR class (aka. Social Media PR) I had to develop a viral social media campaign of a brand of my choice.

The requirements were to choose a product, service or organization and produce a video which would generate a viral effect within the social media environment. In addition to the video, we had to create a fully integrated and interconnected social media environment. All social media tools had to have a very specific purpose within the campaign and assist in reaching the objectives of the campaign (raise awareness, brand reputation, increased sales, etc). I won't bother you too much with details, but if you do want to know how I executed the whole campaign, I would be more than happy to provide my pitch document to anyone on request.

As for the video itself, I chose to create an amateur-style video with the effect of mystery and surprise, while highlighting the consumption of Red Bull and how much 'More than Wings' it gave me. And yes, it's me in the video.

Would love to hear some feedback from the PRO's! Enjoy!

Drinking Red Bull and throwing a tennis ball over River Thames:

03 April 2011

The Business of Virtue: Corporate (Social) Sustainability & Responsibility?

"For many business people, CSR was just a case of BDF: babies, dolphins and forests."
Stefan Stern

Is that so? Are CSR activities really just about being a 'good person' with a social interest in humanity, or is CSR the way we need to go?

The importance of corporate social responsibility is undeniable: CSR activities are, if planned out well, desirable solutions for everyone involved. They only bring advantages rather than problems and with the current situation of the world, in terms of climate, finances and human social interest, it is essential for future business developments in all sectors.

CSR is defiantly much more than just 'babies, dolphins and forest'. Globalisation, aging population, scarcity of resources, climate change and change of behaviors are just a few areas CSR engages in. So essentially, CSR activities are not just important to the business and their stakeholders, but to everyone.

Sustainability within business is important in times of low resources and global problems. If companies develop sustainable practices within their operations, it benefits them on several levels. It improves brand reputation and allows them to position themselves as future-thinking companies. It also allows for future business opportunities from sustainable solutions. This can be implemented within their supply chain and eventually lead to operational efficiency, which creates cost savings and less usage of energy.

CSR activities make companies transparent. In an age of social media and high investigation through 'citizen journalism', transparency is key with any organization. It allows to get to know the brand better and see how their products, services or causes are developed. This insight creates strong bonds of trust, which brings stakeholders closer together. This bond may lead to increased awareness of the brand and eventually support for their operations (sales, participant in causes, etc).

Benefits may not be seen at first, due to the financial impact CSR activities may have. That is why CSR activities may seem out of place with senior management and financial advisors of corporates. But if we take a closer look what CSR does to the brand reputation and sustainability, benefits can be earned in near time. The benefits of well prepared CSR activities do not only add value to the organization, but to everyone involved with the organization. Therefor are CSR activities key if we wish to avoid future conflicts on resources, power and equality amongst humanity. Organizations give us the jobs we need to live and it is their responsibility to be sustainable to make a good impact on society on several levels.

CSR should not be questioned but fully integrated in any organization. It should not be used 'just to be part of the solution' and not actively and honestly engaging it, but fully enforcing it on all levels of any organization. CSR brings benefits to everyone involved and makes the world a better place. Besides the benefits, consumers demand CSR activities in times of massive distrust in large organizations.

Below you will find a very interesting presentation by Wayne Visser, who discusses the development of CSR over the past few decades.

01 April 2011

Social Media - How suggestions kill our identity

"Life is not about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself."
Brian Solis

Social Media platforms, such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, are already fully integrated parts of our daily lives. They provide us with information, current statutes of our friends and content we were most likely never really aware of before. All of them add so much value to our lives, make things easier for us to discover and connect the most important people and interest we have with each other. And to make things even better, all of these services are completely free. Or are they?

The Cost of Free
With the services we use, we tend to not consciously think how the corporations make their money. We see an advertisement or two and see how it somewhat connects with the interests we have. By participating in social media, we give out our details to the companies and they use it for their marketing operations. Our data is their money, the product they sell is us.

While companies promise us strict privacy rights of the content we share, they use our information to develop extremely targeted advertisements. Personally myself, I am surprised how accurate the advertising on Facebook is for my profile. Quite scary, but we can trust these corporations with our data not to be exposed to the public. The problem of the cost of free is not necessarily that companies own our content and may or may not do whatever they want with it. The problem is with user profiling and suggesting of content.

The Problem of Suggestions
In the old days when we discovered something like old rock music from the 60s or a movie we have never heard of before, we discovered these things by doing our own research or got suggestions from our friends. Each discovery we made was connected to a story and developed us as a person. We started to create ourselves over time by finding things we find interesting.

In the social media world of 'free', we are being suggested with products, services and content. All these suggestions are based on keywords we post, chat conversations with our friends, and content we already consumed before. While this may seem harmless at first, it essentially destroys our identity. As human beings, we are all individual with different interests and desires. By finding content on our own, we create the person we are today by ourselves. Online suggestions however, compare your interests with the interests of people with smilier interests, combined with the data they collect within our social media profiles. By doing so, suggestions put us into little 'identity boxes', constantly bombarding us with content they think is relevant for us.

Suggestions need to be consumed with extra care. If we entirely base our interest on suggestions, we will develop ourselves to people with identical interests and loose a significant amount of personal identity. While we may realize this now, we need to be more aware of the younger generations, who already use the Internet from a very early age on and are not too much aware of consumer profiling. These generations may fall into the problem of being put into these 'identity boxes' and develop themselves to identical human beings with too many similar interests.

The video below is a BBC's trailer for their highly interesting documentary series of 'The Virtual Revolution', discussing the digital age from very different perspectives.

28 March 2011

A critical view on NGO's and Activism

When we think about large NGO organizations such as Greenpeace and World Vision, we tend to see these organizations as publics with very specific goals in mind to change behavior in society. In comparison to for-profit corporations, NGO's focus on societal changes rather than income. However, both sectors use very smilar strategies and tactics in order to reach their desired goals. This blog post tries to position NGO's within the public relations industry and discuss the power and influence of the 'third sector'.

Activism within the Public Relations Industry
Activities of NGO's are entirely based on public relations practices, which allow them to spread their message amongst their stakeholders, providing a platform for changes in society. For NGO's it is key to have an excellent relationship with their publics, as they are the heart and soul of every NGO organization. Essentially, NGO's use persuasive tactics to change ones mind about an issue. By using these tactics, it is key to question the objectives of all NGO's, to ensure honest practices with a meaningful purpose for the industry.

The Power of NGO's
The importance and massive influence of NGO’s is undeniable. After extensive growth in the past 20 years, NGO’s reached a level of influence that easily exceeds that of large corporations and even countries. With such an importance in society it is important to analyze and observe their size and financial power, as well as what political and societal powers they have developed over the past two decades. Influence of NGO’s is so strong that they have the power to influence virtually any corporate company if they seem to have a problem with their practices. With this power, a lot of responsibility comes along and it important to have a closer look at their operations with the rise in power they have gained.

When NGO's fail - Greenpeace and the Sea Shepherds
In a blog post by Captain Paul Watson, Greenpeace has been exposed of distracting public attention of illegal whale fishing by investigating in corruption within the Japanese whaling industry. While this may seem a regular activity of Greenpeace, it is important to keep in mind that issues such as corruption is something governments should take care of, not NGO's. Another issue with their investigation was that two Greenpeace employees broke into a whale fishers home and removed whale meat from the workers. While Greenpeace was trying to expose a scandal, this act was completely illegal and not in the honest practice of the third sector industry. In addition to the illegal activity of the Greenpeace members, the ownership of whale meat is not even illegal in Japan. The problem with this 'scandal', was that there was absolutely no scandal being investigated, but merely trying to hurt the whale fishing industry with brute force and unethical practices.

NGO's are essential in our society and they try to do more good than bad. Whale fishing is a horrible act which needs to be stopped as soon as possible. However, this example clearly shows that NGO's may act more extreme as they claim. This 'eco-terrorism' does not only create distrust within the third sectors, but also questions their tactics in achieving their goals. With the power the third sector has gained, responsibility towards their goals, stakeholders and objectives has to be continuously practiced within the limits of the law and with the most honest practices possibles.

Suggested reading:
Criticism of NGO's: http://knol.google.com/k/non-governmental-orgnaizations-ngos-criticism-of#

LA Times article: http://articles.latimes.com/2009/feb/14/world/fg-japan-whales14

17 March 2011

Overlapping Disciplines: Social Marketing and NGO PR?

Social marketing is the systematic application of marketing, along with other concepts and techniques, to achieve specific behavioral goals for a social good. Social marketing can be applied to promote merit goods, or to make a society avoid demerit goods and thus to promote society's well being as a whole (Wikipedia.org).

Just like 'traditional marketing', social marketing uses identical tools to achieve specific goals and objectives. While traditional marketing goals may be the increase of sales or the maintenance of brand reputation, so essentially financially related objectives, social marketing focuses on good causes and societal changes. Both disciplines strife for different goals but they both rely on creating a "...management process responsible for identifying, anticipating and satisfying customer requirements..." (Chartered Institute of Marketing). With this definition in mind, it seems that both are identical in their activities and tools of use, but different in setting goals and objectives. This comes not necessarily as a surprise as both are heavily related with each other. The question now is how social marketing overlaps with public relations, if they compliment each other or if they should be treated as individual disciplines.

Public Relations is about maintaining images and relationships by using tactical tools such as public speaking, conferences, media relations, social media, crisis communication, surveys and many many others. These tools are used to persuade the audience into following and promoting ones message. Specifically in NGO PR these tools are used to promote an NGO organization, who has its own agenda, goals and objectives in mind. Organizations such as Greenpeace are entirely based on PR activities and use these tools to follow their mission. Looking at the definition of Social Marketing from above, it seems that Greenpeace would use NGO PR to present themselves to the world, maintain their brand image and communicate with their audiences and publics, while using social marketing to actually reach their goals of societal changes. Social marketing seems to be used to promote a very specific cause, such as trying to make people stop smoking, while PR may be used to create pressure to key leaders or lobbying towards tobacco companies.

Looking at both fields of communication, it seems that both have specific tasks to fulfill in each others own way. To be effective in ones goals, it is important to understand both disciplines with their strengths and powers. Successful communicators need to understand both areas and use them in conjunction, rather than seeing them as individuals tools. Social marketing combined with NGO PR activities work together very well, while overlapping on certain areas. However, each discipline follows distinct goals in mind, so it is key to understand and use both of them at the same time.

I kindly forward you to one of our guest speakers from University, Sean Kidney, who is a leading figure within the social marketing industry and board member of Greenpeace, amongst many other organizations.

05 March 2011

Online Soapboxes: New Problems of New Communication

"We have a far more sophisticated audience today than in the past, one that sees more clearly behind the manipulations and stagecraft of its political leaders"
Allisa Quart

Technological developments were always substantial parts of any successful political communication campaign. Whether in ancient Greece during elections of their futures leaders by screaming on the marketplace to support their causes, or with the invention of the printing press throughout Europe in the 16th century, technological developments played a crucial role in any communication to the people. Political communicators quickly realized how important media communication was in any campaign, so mass media communication tools such as radio and Television were quickly adopted in their toolset soon after their introduction to the mass. Today, these tools are strategically used with very specific communicative tools in mind.

In contemporary political communication and public relations, social media and the digital space is not just a novelty, but a crucial tool for effective communication. Obama's 2008 political campaign is seen as the first successful and fully integrated political social media campaign in history. Obama's advisors quickly realized that social media communication was on the rise and that direct and open communication develops trust and transparency towards their potential voters. With their open approach to be transparent and more 'connected' to their audiences, the Obama campaign revolutionized political communication for future political campaigns around the world. But with this new communication tool and its power, new responsibility and problems occur.

When we look at the fundamental philosophical aspects of Social Media: transparency, sharing knowledge, information, contacts, content, profiling; we clearly see the importance for campaigning and political communication. Before the 'digital revolution' in our age of information, communication within politics had more control over their messages and how they distributed it. Now, with information traveling faster than ever and the highly tech-savvy average social media user, everyone has the power to manipulate messages and exploit political messages for their point of view.

While the political social media revolution changed the way politicians communicate with their audiences and spread their messages, individuals or 'enemies' have the same powert to change perceptions as well. At the same time, citizens are now actively being engaged to positively contribute to the cause and help winning elections. Clearly, social media not only changed the way we communicate with each other personally, but also on a political level.

The political digital revolution changed the way we support or destroy our causes. This development allows messages to spread faster than ever, which may be of advantage as well as a disadvantage for political communicators. Just like in crisis communication within corporations, social media should not be ignored but actively being followed and practitioners should manage the message by following the fundamental to give a feeling of trust within politics. A feeling that has been gone for far too long in this industry.

Politics 2.0 - The power of the Citizen shows how social media is now a fundamental part of any political campaign and how much power the citizens have.

01 March 2011

Social Media - An Interactive Introduction

So what exactly is Social Media? How does it work and where does the name come from? What are the sociological and cultural aspects of Social Media? Why is Social Media relevant and so important to the Public Relations industry? How can Social Media experts help you? What are the benefits and disadvantages of Social Media? How to deal with it the best way?

So many questions and only one video to answer them all.

This presentation is quite short and limited on the content, but I hope it will give you a basic and fundamental understanding of Social Media. Please feel free to connect with me if you have any questions or other inquires. Please comment and share this with anyone who is interested in Social Media and the Public Relations industry.

I recommend you to watch this video in HD quality for the full experience.

Enjoy :-)

23 February 2011

‘Spinning Communication’ – Vice or Virtue of Democracy?

“We believe in shaping the mind of the public!”

Is this quote slightly disturbing to you or is this exactly how you see active engagement in democracy? With our freedom of speech we created, virtually anyone can say anything about anything they want and send their message across the public. This freedom of communication allows individuals to communicate in the way that suits them best. However, it is important to question which party is distributing what kind of information, in order to understand how information is being produced, processed and distributed.

The picture below is a small visual example of how the media could potentially ‘spin’ a story, following their own agenda. In the middle we see the actual picture. Left and right we see part of the picture, both telling a completely different story.

Every organization has their own agenda they follow and practice their activities according to it. With this in mind, how can we trust anyone if distribution of information is subjective on all levels? A fellow student at university provided an excellent example:

“If there is a suicide bomber in Palestine, CNN talks about a terrorist and Al Jazeera talks about a martyr”

Two news outlets that are supposed to ‘speak for the little man’ have two different approaches in providing information, eventually shaping the mind of the public with their own set of agenda. So if the media is subjective to their activities, how could anyone criticize political agendas and ‘spin doctors’? If the media is supposed to be a ‘watch dog’ of the government, but follow their own agenda, who are we, the public, to trust? It seems that there is little objectivity in providing political information and news for the public. This leaves us with little surprise that people trust more organizations that are ‘transparent and have honest practices’.

Public Relations practitioners within politics obviously have their own agenda and communicate accordingly. PR’s are the ‘advocates for just one voice’ and communicate between themselves and the public. However, if too much power over the communication is gained, how can a democratized environment be sustained? If Alistair Campbell chooses on purpose selected journalists during a press conference talking about critical issues, is this still part of the freedom of speech we are all proud of?

The line between representing the communication between a political party and their publics, and the distribution of selective information being sent is very thin. While one is a fundamental element of democracy and freedom of speech, the other one leans towards censorship and propaganda. So if both the media and other parties have their own agenda they follow, how can information be objective? If ‘spinning’ is a soft form of propaganda (Moloney, 2006), how can this happen in our political organization? Seems like our democratic system has some big flaws in it.

Clearly, this topic of contemporary theory and issues in public relations creates more questions than answers in an area of extreme importance for the industry and democratic practices.

So who are the real ‘spin doctors’ after all? It’s a question only oneself can answer.

Davis, Anthony. Mastering Public Relations. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004. Print.

22 February 2011

Audiences and Stakeholders – The ‘Publics’ of Relations?

When we think about the term ‘Public Relations’ on itself, the question remains who exactly the publics are and how the practitioner communicates with them accordingly. Several theories on audiences, stakeholders and publics have been presented over the years that prioritize certain groups of people by categorizing them via various elements and variables, which have some sort of impact towards the organization.

So what is the exact difference between stakeholders and publics?
According to Grunig and Repper (1992), they describe the difference between the two as stakeholders being affected by the decisions made by the organization, or their decisions effecting the organization. The relationship between the organization and their stakeholders is based on effects caused by either ones activity, but does not necessarily mean they will be active towards an action. Publics on the other hand, are seen as stakeholders who actively organize something about a problem an organization has done, therefor being more active than just stakeholders and tackling a problem. Additionally, Davis (2004) suggests that ‘publics sound more important’ and continues suggesting that some groups do not develop from stakeholders to publics, but to publics immediately, such as pressure and cause-related groups.

(Polonsky's Model of Stakeholders)

New problems with old models?
While discussing theories on audiences and stakeholders, we quickly see problems that the PR academics did not take into consideration while developing the models. Even though the models and theories have important elements for the academic understanding of the industry, it is required to question the models and see whether they apply to our modern age or if they need adaptation and modification in accordance with contemporary developments.

Bernstein’s communication wheel for example is not considering or implementing new variables such as social media (ea. two-way communication), which is a key aspect of modern PR practices. Also, the model puts all communication channels and their stakeholders as equal parts. Today it should be quite clear that certain stakeholders, as well as specific communication channels, need to be prioritized. This prioritization is necessary as equal focus on all audiences and channels is not very effective.

(Bernstein's Wheel of Communication)

Another model, which may need some modern changes, is Esmans linkages theory. The problem with this model is the importance of certain stakeholders of the organization. With the development of social media and the ‘bottom-up’ power of the consumer and other minorities, we clearly see the need of change of prioritizing stakeholders with their linkages towards the organization. Even though the model categorizes stakeholders somewhat basic and perhaps well for its time (1967), reconsideration of the actual linkages needs to be made. Stakeholders such as students, women and minorities should be placed in different categories or simply be eliminated and seen as part of the ‘main stakeholders’.

(Esman Linkages Theory)

With so many questions and adjustments towards the models, it is important to understand that the models were created in accordance of their time. However, with emerging technologies and new developments in communication, these models need to be either modified and adjusted to the present progress of the public relations industry. Alternatively, new models based on old theories, need to be created in order to work for contemporary public relations understanding and practices.

This well structured and clear presentation describes and explains the communication between organizations and their stakeholders, public and audiences.

Davis, Anthony. Mastering Public Relations. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004. Print.

Grunig, James E. Excellence in Public Relations and Communication Management. Hillsdale, NJ: L. Erlbaum Associates, 1992. Print.

04 February 2011

Hyper Communication: A trend the PR industry needs to be prepared for

In an age of instant access to the largest information source we ever created, the Internet, and digitalization of virtually every single medium we are familiar with, models of communication change, merging with these new developments. With new technologies being substantial parts of our daily lives, we need ask ourselves how the way we communicate with each other changes and what potential impact this development has on the public relations industry.Surfing the web and consuming information takes a lot of time. Think about it: you sit down for several hours, checking your most favorite sites and often you will be distracted by that 'funny video' your friend just sent you. More time in front of the computer means less time for other activities. So in these busy times your time off gets more valuable than ever. This blog post discusses the evolution of communication models and questions the implementation of this development in different sectors of the industry.

So what exactly is hyper-communication?
Simply speaking, the model is a two-way communication model we are all familiar with. In these days, two-way communication is pretty much the most important model of communicating, which is a fundamental part of social media. Social media allows for a two-way communicative platform, where both the sender and receiver have the opportunity to communicate with each other and express ideas. This is particular important to understand, as the hyper-communication model I am about to explain is an evolution of the 'traditional' two-way model.

While conducting research about communication models, I stumbled upon a relative old book about mass communication models (Communication Models - For the study of mass communication by McQuail and Windahl) and realized quite quickly that many of the models were outdated and did not take into consideration variables which are very important in the digital age we live in. Basically, the models listed in the book described how mass communication works and how the models change from industry to industry. What some the more important models did not take into consideration were three very important factors I believe are essential for the future development of the way we communicate with each other: access, delivery and location.

Access of Information
With mobile Internet on the rise and soon surpassing 'traditional' access to the web via your computer, we need to understand what potential impact this may have on the industry. Consuming the content of your favorite Blog or going on Facebook is primarily accessed from either home or work. It is true that more and more people access these platforms with their mobile, but if we are talking about the every-day consumer, this means that access to your sources of information is limited to certain times of the day. However, with mobile communication taking over, access to information is location independent and therefor requests adaptable and new ways of thinking from the industry.

A recent, failed example: On my way to King's Cross I saw an advert from the London Midland trains. They are currently having a promotion where you can travel anywhere on their routes for 10 Pounds return. On the bottom left of their advert they had a QR code for your mobile to be scanned. So there I was, downloading a QR reader for my iPhone, getting excited for an easy access to the promotion, expecting some sort of mobile friendly website that would allow me to directly make use of this sweet promotion. What happened next justified my thoughts on the evolution of communication and how many companies are not realizing what they are missing out: the QR code, which was essentially a bit.ly URL, forwarded me to their official London Midland train site in original size. Complicated to navigate and not optimized for a mobile environment in one of the most busiest places in London. While this would have been greatif I'd had my laptop with me, trying to take a picture with its integrated webcam in the middle of King’s Cross, this was clearly a stupid and quite useless approach to integrate social scanning in order to redirect their audience to the site. Their attempt to have an easy access to the site was a simple fail in my eyes and they potentially lost a customer. Yes, the link could have been bookmarked for further use for home/work, but if you already have an A1 advert in front of you, I’m sure most of us will somehow find in on the web. Actually, scan any QR code in the city and they all lead to pretty much nowhere, unless you are up for bookmarks which you will, and let's be honest about this one, never ever use anyway.

So clearly, the actual access of your information needs to be accessible in such a way that your audience has to do as little as possible. QR codes may be one possible tool to be used, but if used, it’s important to keeping in mind where the code leads. Then again, with NFC coming and growing, who knows if any of this will be ever relevant? Looking it from a somewhat theoretical perspective, I guess the most important thing to keep in mind is the ease of access of the information.

As important as access to your information is, delivery of your message is another way to see the evolution of the traditional two-way communication. With Twitter and other (micro) social media taking over in the way we communicate, information travels faster than ever and we clearly see a development the industry often overlooks: the receiver does not want to consume big chunks of information (text, video, audio) and is more likely to understand and pay attention to more concentrated and shortened amounts of information.

A good example is the well-designed CNN app for iOS devices. Every news story has an image followed by two bullet points summarizing the whole news. CNN understands that their receivers do not have enough time to read all news in a full context. My teacher in Social/New Media PR keeps on telling us that “people do not ready anymore, they skim information” and I couldn't agree more. Other news apps such as the NYTimes, Reuters, BBC and many others are more traditional and have a headline that has to describe pretty much everything in one line. Clearly, this approach does not allow for too much information and the receiver therefor may loose interest in the story.

As PR professionals it is essential to understand that receivers skim information and tend to be quite selective with the content they consume on the go. Reaching the audience efficiently in such a way that they get hooked to your message is key. This means that instead of bombarding your audience with large of amounts on information, feed them accordingly with bullet-points, concentrated one-liners, etc. This is the reason why I love Twitter’s 140 characters limitation. It forces us to be very direct and to the point (unlike this blog post), & evn chnges the way we wrt thngs. Pls RT.

Another important aspect of the ‘hyper communication’ environment we live in is the value of information. Information has been commoditized to such an extent that our dear friends from the newspapers are struggling so much competing with online news, which delivers news to the second and not just once a day. What does this mean?

Delivery + Time = Value of Information

The faster you deliver, the more valuable your message is. While this is definitely true for news, it is also relevant to PR practitioners if mobile communication becomes a more and more important of our lives. Just think about time limited promotions combined with location-based information. I am already running slightly out of ideas, but I guess my point is that the more we move, the more we travel and are out and about, value of information decreases so fast over time and the messages we consume are pretty much disposable (anyone reads a blog post twice?).

As information is virtually everywhere, location-based information will be of more and more importance. Foursquare is pretty much the forerunner of location based information and data, but who knows what the future will bring in location based data. Perhaps some PR in augmented reality? I guess it is important to understand that information and data will be more important based on access of location in the future. With smart phones outselling 'normal' phones, its just a matter of time until we all get familiar with these promising technologies and use them like we never missed them.

Specific roles of the social media channels
I hope that so far you had a little thought on how I think communication changes when more people will access the web with their mobiles than from home. We won't create massive documents or power points on our mobiles or tables (phones to create things other than pictures/videos = fail), replacing our home computers, but quick and concentrated consumption of information will take over at some point. Personally speaking and being a typical example of the mobile generation (Generation Y?), I reduced reading the news and consuming other content by approximately 50% since I started using my smart phone.

But when we start consuming more and more content on our mobiles, how can we be more efficient at it? A recent Tweet from PR2.0 master @briansolis suggested that all social media channels have some sort of role in our lives and I couldn't agree more.

Maybe slightly scary at first, he put several aspects of our lives in 'little boxes', ea. social media platforms, and has therefore created a good overview of which tools help us doing specific things. What made me use this suggestion for categorization for this blog post and a research paper I had to hand in recently, was the fact that if the sender, or perhaps we should call PR professionals 'producers' now, need to understand what kind of information goes where. Understanding this categorizing of information allows us to be specific with the messages we send and understand where the receiver gets his data. The graph may be common sense, but its just a really good way to see where information is stored and accessed. Oh, and let's not forget that common sense is not quite common.

My tiny conclusion
We can speculate and discuss 'models' as much as we want, but in the end we have to understand what receivers want and how you (and one day me too) can reach them the easiest and most efficient way. From what I see in London every single day, the industry needs to learn more and understand how to work with new technologies and developments more than ever. Content and access of information is nowhere near mobile friendly and only a handfull of sites are designed specifically for mobiles, making is easy for the receiver to, well, receive information. The implementation of the so called 'new technologies' seems to be very slow or poor. So the question is if the professionals within the industry have the necessary tools and skills required in order to be successful. In my opinion there is quite some training needed and I hope the PRO's know that as well. Where there are lots of new opportunities, there is a lot to learn.

So, what do you think? Does the industry need new skills and in-depth understanding of these developments? Is my approach right or wrong? Do you believe in the future of mobile communication as the way we'll communicate in the future or is this just a useless 'hype' (geo-tagging 2.0, hello?)?. Discuss, comment, criticize constructive and please share if you like this post and want to give a post-graduate PR student some exposure within the industry ;) Any feedback is highly appreciated.

Until then, enjoy the upcoming week and watch out for more interesting stuff to be posted soon.

31 January 2011

Why PR's ♥ Crisises: 5 things to keep in mind when screwing up

Wēijī: Crisis = Danger + Opportunity?
During our last session on contemporary theory and issues in Public Relations we discussed why PR's love a crisis. The lecture started by getting introduced to the Chinese characters of 'crisis', which is supposed to consist of the characters 'danger' and 'opportunity'. Even though this translation of the Chinese script is often misinterpreted and essentially wrong, it allows us to think what opportunities lie within crisises and issues in relation to the Public Relations industry. What happens during a crisis and where does the message go? What to keep in mind during the 'age of transparency'? Is crisis management ethical?

A crisis hits, what now?
The first thing to realize is to what extend something can be described as a crisis or issue. Obviously, a crisis can occur in virtually any area of our lives, whether it is a governmental crisis, a corporate crisis involving a product/service/CSR failure, or a personal crisis. For all these difficult areas, Public Relations practitioners come into play and help with a strong communication strategy, ensuring a controlled and manageable stream of information and messages. But then again, for a personal crisis, please do consult a professional before approaching an agency.

So what exactly happens to the organization's communication during a crisis? OgilvyPR published a great presentation which clearly describes how the message of a crisis spreads through the world of information within 24 hours.

I would still argue whether a crisis hits the search engines and editorials within 24 hours (Google's algorithm to spot news is incredible), but the point here is to understand how fast the message of a disaster spreads throughout the media world and eventually to the company's stakeholder.

So clearly, hiding the secret of a crisis is virtually impossible. Add uncategorized 'media' organizations such as WikiLeaks/OpenLeaks and we quickly see that the transparent human has quietly evolved over the past years. So when transparency is all too common these days, it is essential to handle a crisis very professionally. Some basic thoughts on what to take care of during a crisis:
  1. Communicate immediately: Whether big or small, every single company should be present on social media platforms, in order to immediately communicate to their audiences. The more they wait, the more damage they create for themselves. Act now, not tomorrow.

  2. Handle the media well (obviously): Imagine the media as a hyaena looking for flaws and victims. Together with the Web2.0 community, the media will be the first one actively looking for the damages the organization has done. In order to minimize misunderstandings, be honest to your flaws and most certainly, do not blame the consumer.

  3. Be transparent: Admit the problem, explain how it came so far and suggest a solution. Hiding errors in these times is virtually impossible, so you might as well stand for your trouble and fix it.

  4. Being prepared for a crisis: Let's hope for all organizations that a crisis will not happen, but be prepared for 'just in case'. Buying yourself into media later on or sponsoring cultural events might look good at the beginning but think what you have done and what your potential audience thinks about you engaging in such activities after a crisis hit planet information.

  5. Always comment: Whether you organize a press conference or talk to your 'Tweeps' and 'Friends' on Facebook, give them an answer they can work with. No comment = they really screwed up.
Of course there are virtually unlimited reasons and tips to have a good crisis management strategy, but I believe the five listed above are possibly the most important ones to keep in mind.

An Ethical Issue or Crisis?
When a company, brand or organization screws up, should you (and in the future me) help and steer the message truthfully to the audience that matters most to them? Is is ethically right to help a company that puts people in danger and eventually kills them? Is it OK to support suppressive regimes and put them into a good spotlight for the worldwide audience? Shouldn't all these organizations, including the tobacco and arming industry, have the right to manage their reputation and defend themselves, just as we are entitled to defend ourselves in court?

Clearly this is an ethical dilemma to many people working in the industry and the question can only be answered by the individual himself. This is a question I can't and won't answer, but fact is that in this 'hyper-transparency' environment we communicate in, it is essential to understand the power of new media and put much more focus on these channels than most companies currently do.

Below you will find an excellent presentation from Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide, which discusses the role of social media during a crisis.

25 January 2011

Spinning the bottle - When PR(opaganda) goes to War

"See, in my line of work you got to keep repeating things over and over and over again for the truth to sink in, to kind of catapult the propaganda"

- George W. Bush

During our last session in 'contemporary theory and issues in Public Relations' at the University of Westminster, we discussed the role of the media and governments while being at war. Our first assignment seemed quite simple to execute: create a basic strategy which justifies country 'X' to invade country 'Lalaland'. I sat down and started to think which strategy I should take. I thought about creating a demonized image of 'the enemy', which seemed the easiest way to justify a war with a country. Once I created a strategy that was based on safety concerns, I continued to think about specific tactics that would justify my strategy:

"We received documents from our secret services that indicated that 'Lalaland' is training and supporting terrorist organizations", "Internal documents of 'Lalaland' suggest they are preparing for a nuclear war", "Evidence proves that 'Lalaland' is violating basic human rights and it is our responsibility to change that", "'Lalaland' is in preparation of attacking us!". These were just a few quotes and tactics I spontaneously came up with when thinking about how I would deal with the media and so justify the invasion of 'Lalaland'. After all, safety is the most important concern we all have, right? These simple and obvious tactics promote the basic aspects of propaganda:
  1. Use of selective stories
  2. Demonizing the 'enemy'
  3. Provide facts by 'experts'
  4. and most importantly: repeat, repeat, repeat!
So once I had good reasons to invade 'Lalaland', I thought about how I could continue my strategy without being investigated by the media too much. "Imagine you are at war and all reporters that investigate the issue are all locked up on an island and you provide them with the news you choose", our teacher suggested during the session and asked us if we thought that this scenario would be possible. Obviously, in an age of democracy and transparency, the majority of the class just giggled and said that this hypothetical situation seemed like from some bad Hollywood movie. What we experience next was something none of us expected.

We continued the class by watching the BBC documentary 'War Spin', which explained how the military spun various stories of the war towards the media. The prime example of the documentary was Jessica Lynch, who supposedly got captured by Iraqi soldiors, tortured and almost killed, before the U.S. military rescued her. This fabricated story was then used as a selected story for the public to demonize the enemy even more. What shocked me most was the fact that reporters were locked up in a 'media center', about 500 miles away from the action, being 'fed' with information from the military, who initially started the war. Ok, so now we have these reporters who truly believe in the fundamentals of democracy, the right to report honestly to the public and have a freedom of speech, and all the information they get is from the military? Seems highly unreliable to me to be honest, but this is exactly what happend during the invasion of Iraq.

When I think about how much fabricated/modified gossip goes around my social environment with people being able to find out the truth quite simply (social networks), then I really do not want to know how easy it is to virtually spin any story from a country that is approximately 4700km far away from here, with limited investigation by the media and manipulated reports by the military. The invasion of Iraq was largely based on false statements and wrong reasoning, based upon strong propaganda and limitation of media investigation.

Clearly, this unethical act taught us all something. We need to have less boarders and more access to information. Reporters should be able to investigate in anything they want and make serious issues like war as transparent as possible. There is nothing we can change about what happend and the only thing we can learn from the situation is to be critical of military reports and make stronger use of new media and 'alternative' information sources such as WikiLeaks. Let's hope that the recent strong development in social media allows us to gain information from various sources and that the 'citizen journalist' will gain more power than the military in informing the public.

Learn more about the propaganda used during the Iraq war by watching the video "Control Room - Propaganda of the Iraq War"

22 January 2011

Contemporary theory and issues in Public Relations

Part of my postgraduate studies in public relations includes the core module “contemporary theory and issues in public relations”. This module explores global and current issues related to the public relations industry and allows me to take a look at the industry from an academic perspective.

Over the next few weeks I will take a closer look at current PR issues that may be interesting to some of you. Style and tone will be slightly changed due to its final assessment through the University of Westminster, in comparison to the other blog entries.

To keep you interested and excited about upcoming posts, check out the following topics I will discuss soon:
  • Is PR being left behind by the new media revolution?
  • What does the ‘public’ in Public Relations mean?
  • NGO and the rise of activism
  • Culture and PR
  • Ethics - Is the PR industry worse than any other?
  • Why do PR’s love a crisis?
…and a few more, so stay tuned and check the blog from time to time, connect with me, RSS me or hit 'refresh' on your browser approximately every 5 days for new content.

Besides the blog being a platform for my own expression and as a portfolio of my work, I would love to see some input from your side. Let's leave the office world for 5 minutes and think what social impact our industry actually has. Let's have discussions and see what we can learn from it. Comment, Retweet, post this on your Facebook.

Thank You.

10 January 2011

Your own online brand and identity

I am sorry for the few followers that I already have, but I barley had time to write down some of my ideas in detail due to [enter random excuse here]. You see, because of the [enter random excuse here], I had not enough time to express my views accordingly, but today I managed to sit down and finally start writing my things down. And you know, it’s a lot of fun actually!

So, this first post discusses why you should be engaging in the web and what you should keep in mind when doing so, so here we go:

In an age of financial disasters, fierce competition, and
the fact that everyone is trying to strive for the best possible results for their careers, I believe it is essential to have a strong online portfolio in a way or another. Online engagement within the industry is key, whether you follow PR professionals on Twitter or create blogs like this one here; it develops you as an individual. Essentially, like with most things you engage in actively, you start learning without to necessary hitting the books. It’s a gradual learning curve and soon you will discover why this is important.
So why should you have an online portfolio? Well, the reasons are quite simple:

Creating content – Tadaaaa! Engaging in socia
l networks or posting stuff on blogs allows you to have your owned media channel. Your own platform allows interacting with people and discussing things you may find interesting. Like in this case, BurnYourPRBook tries to be a discussion platform for PR related topics where professional and fellow students may add comments so everyone can learn from it. In this extremely fast paced industry, keeping up with knowledge and especially technology, is key.

Commitment – Oh yes, this is probably my favo
rite one. Engaging in the Web 2.0 shows that you are committed. So basically, next time you apply for that awesome job you always wanted and you claim to be a committed person, show them what you have done, what you think about certain topics and what other people think about your ideas. Start a blog, Twitter around, create a LinkedIn profile, have a website, just be out there. There are plenty of other people with huge potential out there but with no backup and representation, so be ahead of them and do your thing now.

Transparency – In these days, transparency is very important. This does not necessary mean that your Facebook account is accessible to everyone and all your ‘Friends’ see what you’ve done last Friday night or what kind of dress you bought recently, but you
can be transparent without worrying too much about your privacy. In my opinion for example, I truly believe that Facebook should be used for private purposes, blogs and broadcast tools as your own media platform, Twitter to send out your message and LinkedIn for your professional purposes. Going back to Facebook, be a fan of Lady Gaga or Justin Bieber, I’m not going to judge you, just make sure your personal interests and professional interests are a bit separated. In my own case, I follow brands, DJ’s and PR professionals on Twitter, because they provide me the info I need and want out of them. Facebook is strictly for people I actually know, classmates and old friends. If you want to be professional, why bother with Facebook if you got specific site for professional profiling?

Online Resume – Obviously, as soon as you start creati
ng content you create an online resume where potential employers, fellow students and professionals can get a pretty good idea of who you are and what you think about certain issues. Also, whenever you claim to have 'strong visual and presentation skills', show them. Online services such as SlideShare are excellent platforms to share your presentations online.

Accessibility – I remember when I started getting used to the Internet about 10-12 years ago, and in my own little world, a company or brand that had no website, did not exist for me. Toda
y, this feeling is stronger than ever and if I do research for anything and I can’t find it on the Internet, it just doesn’t exist for me. I know, it may be a totally wrong approach, but anyone not being on the web nowadays, on the most successful and open communication platform every created is planned to fail. Come on.

“So now you got me all excited now. What should I do next?”

To be honest, I am not quite sure what to sugg
est but with my background in media production and management I would assume following things to keep in mind:

Relevant content – Give your followers content they want, something that is
interesting. What upsets me most with the major marketing/PR/ad blogs out there is that most of them repost content over and over again. Of course there are many exceptions (Brian Solis) as well, but if you start following blogs you see that content repeats itself. What does this mean for you? You read stuff over and over again and well, it’s a waste of time. Create relevant content, content that people might find interesting to read and engage with. It may be crappy at the beginning, but eventually, hopefully, please God, it will evolve into something interesting and specific people may find worth following and actually engaging with. Don’t post how awesome your breakfast was or how cute that puppy was you saw yesterday, if you want to be professional, keep content relevant.

Create an identity – Global companies spend millions in their brand identity because they are represented in very different markets and areas all around the world. They want you, most likely being a consumer, to associate a certain color or style with their brand, so why not apply this fundamental theory to your identity as well? Basic marketing and design theories show you clearly how to do this, but to make things easy and simple, I listed a few very basic things to keep in mind:

1. Brand consistency – If you can, try to be consistent with your image. Create an appealing design for your blog that people will associate with you, modify your Twitter page with the same colors, make your YouTube channel the same s
tyle as your other platforms, add the same colors to your signature in your Gmail account. Its all about details and people will see that. Have a unified profile picture, a distinct writing style. Nothing worse than one person with several media channels and completely different styles.

2. The vicious circle - Connect everything you have with everything you have. Have your Twitter, LinkedIn, whatever social media you are using, to your Facebook, to your MySpace account (oh wait a second, does anyone still uses MySpace except artists?), to your FourSquare, even in your e-mail signature. Create vicious circle people cannot get out from, muahahaha.

3. The exception: LinkedIn – With a slightly satirical and very casually written blog like this, I do not want people to think that this is the way I act professionally. By now I hope that most of you realized that this blog is more of a fun project with a, hopefully, relevant content for the world. That is why professional social networks such as LinkedIn are very important. It is where the fun times are over and where you as a professional can post your whole educational and professional life. Be detailed, do not make any mistakes, join groups, network with everyone you meet at networking parties and have a strong ‘Summary’.

Ok, so this was the first post. I hope I provided with some interesting content and perhaps a few of you got inspired to start writing and setting up online identities. And please, write some comments, let me know what was good or bad. I am looking forward for all your comments so we can all learn from this ☺

In the mean time, connect with me if you want. Next post will be hitting this blog soon!