#Tweet and be damned?

Sally Bercow recently suspended her Twitter account after being surrounded by another legal storm following her tweet in which she named Lord McAlpine and faces legal action as a result.

Up to now the world of Twitter has been a sort of Wild West where Tweeters come crashing through the swing doors of the saloon and shoot off a couple of thoughts from the hip.

These invariably are views about a public person and quite without regard to the laws of libel. Hitherto the world of Twitter seems to have been a renegade state quite unregulated – a free-for-all for anyone with a view however vile or ill-informed.

That is all about to change as the 70-year-old Lord McAlpine sets his legal team to track down the people who perpetrated or spread the innuendo that he was implicated in a paedophile ring. There are reports this could amount to 10,000 people who chose to compose a Tweet or to re-Tweet a message.

Roughly speaking libel is lowering the reputation of someone in the eyes of right thinking people. If a Tweet (or published article) exposes that individual to ridicule or contempt and causes that person to be shunned or avoided, the legal boys will be out with the writs.

While the dawn of ‘citizen’ journalists has long since broken they should be warned that they have to follow the rules of their professional counterparts. Ignorance is no defence in law even if you didn’t read Essential Law for Journalists, as I did while at college.

One well known journalist of my acquaintance indicated he had been showered with distasteful messages about Lord McAlpine. Those indiscriminate Tweeters should now been quaking in their cowboy boots.

As Boris Johnson recently wrote: “To call someone a paedophile is to consign them to the lowest circle of hell”. While not every Twitter message was that low the sniggering and nudging was distasteful as not a scintilla of evidence had been offered up in the case of Lord McAlpine.

Not every libelled person is rich or even famous and probably without the funds to prosecute their case. More solicitors are offering conditional fee agreements (no win no fee) which mean those who believe they have been libelled have a chance to fight back.

So where will this all lead? It is probably the beginning of the end of Twitter being a lawless frontier and, while we all appreciate free speech, in the future those trigger happy Tweeters might just have to reign in their thoughts to be within the law.

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Livestrong and the fundamentals of rebranding

A brand is built on trust. People trust in its values and believe that they are similar to their own.

Never was this more apparent than with Lance Armstrong and the former Lance Armstrong Foundation or ‘Livestrong’. But what happens when this trust breaks down? How do you go about rebuilding the brand?

The key rule of building a strong brand is to have a compelling, and credible brand promise. Livestrong’s was built on determination in the face of adversity. So the narrative went, it was determination that helped Armstrong recover from cancer and go on to win seven Tour de France titles. This gave hope to cancer patients and survivors around the world and attracted millions of dollars’ worth of donations.

But in not contesting the doping allegations against him, Armstrong has left the brand promise lacking authenticity. He has tacitly acknowledged that his achievements on the bike weren’t built solely on determination, but also on performance enhancing drugs. Livestrong needs a new brand promise, and many marketers believe a total re-brand.

But how do you go about rebranding an organisation with a tarnished reputation and regaining trust? There are three key stages crucial to any organisation going through this process.

1. Consider the past

Rebrands happen for a reason, and it is important to address the issue that has caused it.

In this case, it must come from Armstrong himself. He would arguably best serve Livestrong, not to mention his own credibility, by accepting what seems to be an overwhelming weight of evidence against him and explaining why he did it. As it stands, he has stepped down from the board, but retained ties with the foundation, and neither the brand nor Armstrong has addressed the issue.

2. Go back to basics

The organisation needs to address the basic questions of why the organisation exists in the first place, who for and why.

Livestrong relies on its supporters to donate funds in order to help people who have cancer or have survived it. If Armstrong’s continued presence results in a fall in donations, Livestrong should cut all ties and consider a name change. The basics of the brand are fighting cancer and helping survivors. These are worthy aims that can be emphasised without needing Armstrong’s presence.

3.  Over-Communicate

Once these basics are addressed, communication is key.

If Livestrong decides to sever ties with Armstrong and completely rebrand, it must be communicated as a business decision in order to continue supporting those who rely on its funding. It must ensure this is conveyed sympathetically to stakeholders, as their emotional connection to a charity brand will be so strong. It also must explain its current stance on doping and its plan to rebuild following the Armstrong saga.

As with any organisation facing a rebrand, Livestrong faces an uncertain future. Can it survive after the departure of a man tied up so completely with its ethos and branding? It faces tough decisions and a long road in rebranding sufficiently to rebuild its lost trust. Perhaps determination in the face of adversity is what’s required.

The inexorable march of Facebook

Earlier on this year, Facebook celebrated its one billionth user. Not bad for a website which is no more than six years old. This statistic looks all the more startling when you consider that globally, there are just 2 billion people online.

Their game plan now is to take on the might of the internet itself, certainly with regard to consumer-facing websites. Facebook Pages, pay-per-click advertising and promoted posts mean that brands can engage directly with potentially vast target audiences accessing the site through computers or, increasingly, via mobile devices.

Since its IPO earlier this year, Facebook has had to look at innovative ways to make a profit without alienating its users – not an easy task. The introduction of sponsored stories enabled it to post advertisements in the news feeds of users accessing the social network via smartphones or tablets while it is also introducing Facebook Deals as a way to incentivise engaged consumer bases – again on a mobile interface.

However, all this activity has come at a cost. The sheer weight of content being posted means Facebook has had to introduce a filter. Known as EdgeRank, this algorithm (similar to Google’s PageRank), decides what will and won’t appear in people’s news feeds. The result is that on average, only 15% of a Page’s fans will see the updates which are posted. The same is even true for individual’s Profiles. How many of YOUR friends’ updates do you no longer see?

This algorithm looks at three different factors:

  • What is the quality of the content being posted. Images, videos and links all rank highly.
  • How often is content posted. Three-five times a day is now deemed the norm.
  • How viral the content is. That is to say, how many of your Page’s fans engage with what you post through sharing, commenting or liking.

Clearly, this means that for a Page to work effectively, you need to be devoting considerable time to planning your content, gathering together the necessary information and collateral to post as well as posting the sort of things that your fans will be interested in.

Unfortunately most brands don’t know about EdgeRank and as a result, their Pages are effectively invisible in news feeds. Coupled with the fact that 92% of people who Like a Page never visit again, you may find that having a Facebook presence is a total waste of time.

This is why it is absolutely vital that you have a dedicated strategy for Facebook and you are able to answer these key questions:

  • What are your objectives for the Page? Customer service, lead generation, brand awareness?
  • What are you going to post? Updates, press releases, comments, videos, pictures?
  • How are you going to get people to Like your Page? This is a strategy in itself.
  • Who is going to administer the Page? There are five different levels of access.
  • How will you deal with negative comments on the Page? Think about service recovery.
  • How will you measure the performance of your Page?

We can help with all these aspects so if you are thinking about using Facebook as part of your marketing and communications strategy, get in contact.

Good PR needs good journalism

The rise of the power of PR is undeniable. It even featured in the Financial Times this month, which quoted the latest estimate of global turnover for PR firms at $10bn a year. However, that the industry itself rather than its actions appeared on the front pages might not seem welcome, at least not by the old rules.

Roy Greenslade of the Guardian was particularly scathing. His stance is that journalists are now outnumbered by PRs and because of that the press has little power, which is “bad for democracy”.

Despite this, it’s arguable that the PR industry’s financial success is actually beneficial for the wider society and even democracy.

First, $10bn is nothing extraordinary for a global industry. Some bankers might call that a good night out!

Second, PR has always existed alongside journalism and communications, and the professionalisation and globalisation of the global media means that content, and true understanding, is king.

It’s arguable that effective communications are actually essential to good democracy; public or private bodies that communicate effectively are better fulfilling their role in civil society. If they want to communicate in order to help them to make money, they need to communicate well to persuade a sceptical, well-informed public that their services are valuable.

The rise of PR makes that conversation more competitive, not easier. And the fact is democracy is in rude health in 2012.

Finally, the counter-argument is that professional journalists actually retain just as much power as in previous decades. While some titles have fewer readers and there are fewer paid titles about generally its arguable that having less competition has significantly increased the influence of many professional journalists. News that the Evening Standard returned to profit after years in the red was everywhere last month and shows that professional journalism is far from dying a slow death.

In an age where anyone is a publisher of instant communication, doing it well is precious. Telling a true story in a compelling way is the most effective way to gain trust. If you don’t do this it can backfire spectacularly and people will not choose your services. Democracy in action.

Image: “Media Definition Button” by Stuart Miles, FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Managing expectations

Crisis, what crisis?

Although the majority of crises start out as ill thought remarks – think Andrew Mitchell and whether he called police officers “plebs” and Governor Romney’s now infamous 47% comment – and it’s clear that without considered and decisive action any slip can quickly snowball, and overshadowing other arguably more important issues.

It’s important to remember that crisis management isn’t necessarily about making a problem go away. Instead it’s about clearing a path through the woods so that you make it out the other end with the least amount of collateral damage.

Below are the three golden rules of managing a crisis anyone involved in positions of power would be wise to remember:

1. Don’t be rushed into saying too much too fast. Although a crisis requires an authority figure to be seen to take firm hold of a situation, always consolidate the facts and consider what action is to be taken before saying something you might come to regret. Holding statements are a useful tool in helping to appease the sometimes frenzied demand for instant comment or information from the press and put paid to the rumour mill which moves at breakneck speed in the social media age. Every company should have holding statements prepared for different eventualities, and also have a plan on who needs to drop what they are doing and come together to decide on the best steps forward.

2. Sense the mood. While a strong defence of a company or situation might be the ‘go-to’ option to save face it’s imperative to acknowledge public sentiment. “We are disappointed to hear of the accusations made against us” is more likely to diffuse anger than “We refute entirely the accusations made against us”, even if you believe this to be the case initially. It can take time for the full facts to emerge. And also, taking an objective view of a situation can be hard from within the confines of a company and is something an external agency can help with.

3. Actions speak louder than words. If you want to make sure a problem is dealt with and will not recur, then following through with what you say is a must. Claiming you intend to get to the bottom of a problem is all well and good but how are you going to ensure the same problem doesn’t happen again? Details of new workplace processes or an external investigation that will suggest changes will add credence to your assurances.

Image: “Man Sitting With Problems” by Master isolated image, FreeDigitalPhotosnet 

Subtle alignment

As far as events go, jumping from a helium balloon at the edge of space and breaking the sound barrier in the process was bound to stand out. However, Felix Baumgartner’s recent world-record breaking skydive wasn’t just a huge PR success just because of the scale and death-defying nature of the stunt (although this admittedly had a role to play). More significant was the way sponsor Red Bull deftly handled this project, demonstrating skills which apply to all aspects of good PR.

Consistency

While on a grander scale, the ‘Stratos project’ actually fitted in well with the general message of Red Bull’s PR. The brand has long sought to ally itself with risk-taking and daredevil action, sponsoring a multitude of extreme sports in a bid to tie the energy drink to high-energy sports. Had a brand less well-known for its relationship with extreme stunts promoted the Stratos jump, it would have perhaps seemed gratuitous and too obviously geared towards gaining publicity. This is perhaps the first lesson to take away – credible PR must be consistent and in-line with the brand if it is to reinforce rather re-invent previous activities. If an idea is creative but doesn’t mesh well with the image created around a client, then it probably needs re-thinking.

Build the hype

Red Bull guaranteed itself coverage before the actual event even took place. A CGI mock-up of the jump was circulated to press and broadcasters to spark initial interest and build anticipation. Two real-life test jumps were also carried out, followed by a jump that was aborted due to high winds. There has been some debate as to whether this really was a genuine attempt thwarted by the weather or a calculated way of drumming up further interest, but either way it created more interest as people understood more about how risky the endeavour was.

Steadily building up media interest before a launch can lead to greater coverage, but only if the launch is genuinely newsworthy. In this example, an aborted jump due to dangerous weather was far more likely to be covered than simply saying: “This is going to be amazing!”

Tapping into Social Media

The twitter account set up for the stunt pumped out a series of instagram shots from test flights, various preparations and inspirational quotes in the weeks leading up to the jump, underlining the importance of pre-promotion. And this resulted in a staggering 3.1 million tweets sent relating to the event.

A live video feed for an event such as this was always going to be successful, and putting it on YouTube meant it was instantly accessible to millions. In this case it attracted around 8 million views, which were the highest ever viewing figures in YouTube’s history (although ghoulishly, a high proportion switched off when his parachute opened).

The lesson? Don’t forget the impact of broadcast media – highly visual events deserve appropriate coverage, and engaging with social media can amplify the message massively.

Subtle Branding

While the temptation to plaster the Red Bull logo just about everywhere must have been tempting, the branding used for the event was surprisingly subtle.

The same should go for any piece of PR – don’t detract from the point of the message by pushing the brand too hard. It can be tempting but it’s more likely to turn journalists off and distract from the news or even result in no coverage.
Photo: snapshot taken from footage of the jump posted on Youtube.

The importance of video

Cisco estimates that by 2016, 86% of all global internet traffic will be video. Many people will be astonished by this figure. They may be even more surprised to learn that already, 62% of the content we view online is video.

Movie clips can now be viewed in many different ways whether on video sharing sites like YouTube and Vimeo, social media sites such as Facebook or Twitter, blogs, company websites or BBC iPlayer. Not only that, the profusion of mobile devices means that film can be taken, watched and edited almost anywhere.

For all but the largest organisations, video has historically been too costly, and until the advent of high speed internet too difficult to post online. However, with the introduction of inexpensive digital cameras and smartphones, allied with the digitalisation of film, video can now be a viable part of most companies’ marketing toolkits.

There are a host of different ways in which video can be used:

  • Humanising your brand
  • Testimonials
  • Sales
  • Educational or ‘how to’ films
  • Building voice of authority

But there is one other very important way in which video can benefit brands. It is common knowledge that fresh content on websites – in the form of blogs or news feeds – greatly contributes to enhanced visibility on search engines. However, according to a recent study by Forrester, videos are 53 times more likely to generate a first-page ranking on Google than traditional written content.

The trick with video is to have a dedicated strategy designed to promote your film clips. Uploading your footage to a YouTube Channel, while useful in building your online presence, will not reach the widest possible audience.

It is important that you promote your video using a range of other marketing methods including via your website, through the social media channels, QR codes on printed material and even on email signatures.

Here are our top tips for incorporating video into your marketing strategy:

  • Look at how you may be able to use video for your business
  • Identify which people within your organisation are ‘camera friendly’
  • Allocate a budget – important whether you are shooting clips internally or employing an agency
  • Aim to add some form of video feed to your website
  • Put together a strategy aimed at promoting your videos
  • Measure how well the videos are performing using Google Analytics and YouTube’s own analytics.