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Category Archives: Public Relations

Typos in educashen tweets mask bigger issues

I’m sure Dan Quayle, the vice president who got famous for (mis)spelling ‘potatoe must feel vindicated, now that the new US Education secretary had a tweet sent out to correct a typo in a previous tweet. Unfortunately the apology contained this gem:

“Post updated – our deepest apologizes for the earlier typo.”

Now I’m not going to join the bandwagon and frame it as the end times in education. We all make mistakes. Even one like this, as her staff did. Mistakes happen when we blurt things out without much thought.

However, there are some lessons here worth repeating about using a social media handle to go public:

What is the purpose? Micro-blogging, or trying to communicate in 140 characters requires a different discipline (from say shouting, or firing off a press release). One needs to craft the message to the channel and its audience. What was the point of the Education secretary’s Twitter handle being used to publish a quote from the essayist and author? Just to show that the department is clued up on sociology and civil rights? Come on! Does the Dalai Lama need to quote Gandhi to prove himself?

Whose ‘voice’ is it? A department or an organization comprises many divisions. But the top dog sets the tone of voice. A random quote is quite an anemic way to communicate, since it basically reflects no one. Is the channel a news feed, or for insight into the workings of the organization? Is it a place to link to important assets, or ideas? It can’t be all things to all people. Define your brand voice!

Who is doing it for you? Sure someone else may manage the communication, but you oversee it. Or, as some companies like Dell do it, set up multiple Twitter accounts for different constituents. This was something we discussed in 2009 and 2010.

Perhaps government agencies shood should go back to Twitter skhool school. Or at laest least take communication 101.

 

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No magic eraser on the Internet. UC Davis learns the hard way

There’s a corollary to that old saw, “On the Internet, information lives forever,” and it’s this: “There’s no such thing as a magic eraser.”

But that doesn’t stop people from trying. Like this case of University of California, Davis and the ‘image scrubbing’ scandal. There are still companies offering services to clean up bad information by some dubious SEO work. But most experts say this isn’t possible. Search engines crawl, index and place information in so many places it’s not possible to delete a bad story once it gets out. Especially something has covered by the media, shared, and posted to several media channels. UC Davis reportedly paid two PR firms $175,000 for this magic eraser.

Is this a good thing that we cannot turn back the clock? It has given rise to a privacy right case known as the ‘Right To Be Forgotten’ right that the European Union fled against Google in 2012. It states that : “Individuals have the right – under certain conditions – to ask search engines to remove links with personal information about them.” A good Fact Sheet is available here. There’s a longer discussion in Stanford Law Review, here.

I feel sorry for US Davis, because the story they tried to bury has given rise to hundreds more – giving the original piece that much more links. SEO companies often advice as much: Instead of trying to delete a story try to generate enough good information that will push down (not take down) the bad.

Oddly enough, while Google has complied, it accidentally revealed data about these requests.

Which brings me to social media literacy and privacy. We ought to be telling young people the ramifications of over sharing, being in pictures –group shots or selfies –that they might regret later.

 

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“Sending a message” – There’s the contents and there’s the medium

Slogans or protest messages on T-shirts get stale, however funny.

Speaking of making a statement, I can’t think of a better artist who has been ‘sending a message’ than Bansky.

But when a mailman landed a gyrocopter on the Washington Mall this week it was not the message that got people’s attention, but the medium. One man in an exposed flying machine.

You know it’s creative because no one seems to be talking about the contents of the envelopes that c was supposedly carrying to the nation’s lawmakers at the Capitol. We are all focused on the delivery method, aren’t we?

Marshall McLuhan  who coined the phrase ‘the medium is the message’ must be smiling, up there. No tweets. No PR agency. No Facebook page. But a pretty powerful statement.

Note: Hughes does maintain a website, where he says

Hello – I’m Doug Hughes, a mailman, pilot and the author of this web site. In my time, I’ve delivered a lot of letters, and I’m delivering 535 letters by ‘air mail’ today – a special delivery to every member of the US Congress.

On this blog post (worth a read) he speaks of wanting to ‘change the narrative’ in Washington about whom we elect. He might succeed — if only the evening news folk will only stop talking about the potential danger of the stunt.

 

 

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Speaking like Jobs – Presentation tips from 10 years ago

Exactly 10 years ago this week, Steve Jobs took to the stage –a technique he would go on to perfect — to launch the iPod Shuffle.

That was Jan 11th, 2005.

I often do ‘anniversary’ events in my class, to get young people to think about where we are now, in relation to where we and the technologies we take for granted were once at. After all, this is a Computer and Technology Lab, and I don’t want to get into the trap of always featuring today’s shiny new object, or the hottest new parlor trick in digital media. We often need context, and it tends to fly by when we refresh our feeds, doesn’t it?

Back to Jobs. His presentation trick was to use insanely simple devices. Well rehearsed, and well timed but simple. Which made him very different from his tech contemporaries, who revel in Silicon Valley argot. (Yes, I listen to ‘This Week in Tech, to catch up with the other kind of tech-talk!)

Listen to how he works up the crowd, and keeps them hanging on for that characteristic”One more thing.”  Fast forward to 1:35, and see what I mean.

  • He uses words like ‘noodled’ (He “noodled on it” not “researched it”)
  • He uses unexpected pauses, and slows down and speeds up suddenly
  • He uses home-spun images – comparing the iPod Shuffle to a pack of gum, and contrasting it with four quarters

Notice how he also stays away from big words, using words like “easy”, “simple,” “thing,” etc. (And yet, peppering his presentation with keywords!)

Even if there was no YouTube, I bet we would still listen to it.

 

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Brand Voices vs Brand Conversations

It’s easy to confuse the power of voice, when discussing ‘brand voice.’

(Don’t bother Gogling it, as there are some 441 million results, some of it with the predictable talk about signage etc.)

The Voice of the Brand belongs to two groups, depending on whom you speak to:

(a) The people who define the brand, and “know” what it stands for, and articulate it in their channels. This is really what I would call Brand Talk. Sometimes I cynically call it Bland Talk.

(b) The folks to buy it or use it, and talk it up in their own communities, and sometimes on the brand-owned channels. These are, arguably, more authentic Brand Voices. They tell you why people are using the product or paying attention.

But let’s cut through all this and look at brand conversations, to figure out what are the most valuable conversations? These are what social media helps us unearth: those incomplete, poorly phrased sentences, the angst-ridden, or cult-like exchanges in a forum, or comments section. Those self-appointed ambassadors and know-it-alls…

Sadly, brand managers are not always up to snuff on handling the latter; this sort of anarchy; of data-mining conversations; of engaging with those the bosses instinctively want to block or ban those outside voices from the website.

ONE OF THE FEW AD-MEN who bucks the trend and critiques one-way Brand Talk, calls for true brand conversations.

Nimal Gunewardena, CEO of Bates Strategic Alliance, happens to be moderating a round table discussion I will be part of, when I launch my book, Chat Republic, in Sri Lanka in a few weeks.

His screed about Brand Conversations, called for an abandonment of ‘sales talk’ and the 30-second-commercial mindset. It seemed akin to 1st century monks arguing against using calligraphy.

“It’s time to start thinking beyond that 30 second commercial. It’s time to combine the power of TV with the connectivity and engagement power of digital and social media. It’s time to explore new formats. Two-way conversations, rather than one-way broadcasts. It’s time to talk to communities who have common interests.

To which one person commented:

“oh how our vocabularies have changed recently! We are all part of a social media revolution and it’s simply not possible to have our heads deep in the sand any more.”

It’s so easy to provide knee-jerk responses to the role of conversations: To engage, to discuss, to share etc. I try to pry these apart in Chat Republic, and encourage readers to think of conversations as the ‘operating system’ for their community (OK, maybe the brand) they manage.

We cannot bury our brand-saturated heads in the bland.

 

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Update on my book: “Chat Republic”

It’s official, and I’m now ready to announce the title of my book, which is in its final stages.

It’s called Chat Republic.

Angelo Fernando, Chat RepublicI’ve been covering the intersection of technology and business; technology and culture for more than 18 years. More recently, I’ve focused on digital media and our social media-centric lives, and I wanted to put my ideas into perspective.

Chat Republic is more than a fictional country. It’s about the spaces you inhabit.  Those online and offline communities you move in and out of: conference rooms, Google Circles, IM lists, Facebook, online forums. I think of it as a ‘country’ whose fluid borders take the shape of a giant, invisible speech bubble.

The conversations and opinions pouring in and out of our republic, in real-time, are what make our communities more civil, more vibrant. Our chats are certainly not friction-free! But absent these conversations we would be one dimensional citizens, won’t we?

As of today, I am planning to launch the book in two time zones, in June.

Some specs:

  • 25 Chapters – Divided into 3 sections
  • Case Studies from the U.S. and Asia
  • Interviews with non-profits, tech companies, activists, chief execs, editors, citizen journalists, PR consultants, podcasters, government officials

More information here at ChatRepublic.net

 

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On camera, or on Mic, don’t over-produce your subjects

I am never comfortable whenever someone freezes that smile or his head angle for a picture I am about to take. It’s become the done thing to strike a pose. Not sure where this comes from, but I get the feeling it’s got something to do with a celebrity culture –and perhaps the media uproar when someone is caught looking less photo-ready.

I’ve also worked with PR people and know there is a solid reason to make sure the room is set up well so that the Big Guy (or Gal) acts natural. Controlling clothing, lighting, messing with hands or tapping on a table etc. There’s a good post about this by Paula Lovell, with a related discussion worth following at a LinkedIn group.

Gerard Braud is a pro at this and I’ve even sat in one of his media training workshops some years back at an IABC conference. He knows what he’s talking, so if you do have a client or am planing to put someone on camera, this is a great place to start.

But I have some comments about looking too ‘produced’. It’s not what the pros may say, but think about this:

  • Why should a CEO or thought leader always look like he/she never makes mistakes, and is flawless? Given the big push for transparency in communications in general, business and government in particular, wouldn’t the target audience prefer to see someone who looks slightly more human than studio settings permit?
  • A videographer or photographer could over-prepare a subject. Isaac Pigott makes a good point that the confidence from being who you are trumps all other external factors. That’s why teleprompters are scorned so much, today.

I my new profession, Education, I also teach children to present ideas and ignore the technology as much as they could. Yes I use cameras – video and DSL. I also put them in front of a microphone –corded and a ZoomH4N. It is possible to train them too much; it is also possible to let them come up with the most amazing things, unscripted, warts and all. I know what you may be thinking. They don’t have stakeholders to convince.

It’s a long shot from a CEO interview or podcast that I used to do until recently, but I’ve found some striking similarities in making them come off ‘as they are’ not as we want them to be.

If you are an educator, I write about these education issues at Voices-On.com

 

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