Nov 232014
suspicious man watching for an interent scam

The debacle of Uber’s management proposing to threaten journalists drags on and is becoming a classic case of what not to do during a public relations crisis as the company and its supporters continue to make matter worse for themselves.

What’s notable about the hole Uber finds itself in is that it didn’t need to be there; a bit of maturity and commonsense, not to mention knowing when to shut up, would have helped avoid this self inflicted wound to the business.

Much of the damage done by the story could have been avoided by following a few simple steps.

Stop digging

One of life’s key rules is when you find yourself in a hole then the first step to getting out is to stop digging. When the critics are loud, shut up and take a breather. Instead of exacerbating problems, step back, have a think and, if necessary, get some professional help.

Have some perspective

The most fundamental attribute for managers and owners is not to take criticism too seriously; there are always critics and letting them consume your daily lives is counterproductive and ultimately destructive as Richard Nixon would attest.

Usually in business the critics aren’t diminishing you as a person, in most cases they are making observations about your company’s economic model or its actions in the marketplace. If you’re taking criticism too personally, it might be time for a holiday.

Just because someone is criticising you, it doesn’t mean they are in the pay of your competitors or part of the socialist-masonic-jewish-illumaniti conspiracy to get you, they may actually your best friends and even have a point.

Your business priorities

How do these criticisms affect your ambitions for your business? If Sarah Lacy thinks you’re a bunch of misogynist scumballs, does it matter? Often the critics don’t matter to your business as they are a different group to your customers, investors or staff.

Is there merit?

A key question when confronted with criticism should be ‘is there merit to this?’ Before threatening to smear or sue those pointing out your business’ shortcoming it’s good to have a look to see if the critics do have a point about what you’re doing wrong.

Fix the problem

Should it turn out the critics do have a problem, then fix it. Should it turn out your business has a toxic bro’ culture then fire a few of the toxic bros and hire some people with the backbone to fix the problem.

Be open about things

If the criticisms are legitimate, then acknowledge them and be open about how you’re going to fix them. Some critics won’t be satisfied but that’s part of life, you won’t keep everyone happy.

For those critics who will be happy, admitting you’ve made mistakes and are working on fixing the problems will win more fans and supporters. People love a bit of humility and it probably doesn’t hurt for managers to be a bit humble.

On the other hand, it might be that some of your critics do genuinely hate you, are in the pay of your competitors or part of the Illuminati conspiracy. In which case, use facts and stand your ground. In the battle for public opinion, having the facts on your side always gives you the advantage.

Personally attacking your critics though is always a mistake and, as Nixon found, smearing them turns out to be a mistake. Life is too short and time in running a growing business too scarce to be consumed by hate. Get over it and move on.

Get professional help

In Uber’s case it appears their managers have been frantically calling their buddies to help out — this hasn’t helped and has probably exacerbated an already heated environment. A good professional PR adviser or reputation management company will know how to at least ease the pressure if not completely defuse the situation.

Regardless of how good the PR adviser are though, ultimately a business’ good name comes from its management and how the company behaves. This where Uber has to take more care as it becomes a global giant.

Nov 122014
the retail industry is cahnging with our shopping habits

In China, the human flesh search engines track down people who have offended the herd sensibility.

As Australia becomes more conservative and reactionary, the same phenomena is developing Down Under. Aussie businesses now have to be prepared for when they come to the attention of an online lynch mob.

Last weekend a South Australian dairy company, the Fleurieu Milk and Yoghurt Company, announced it would not be seeking Halal certification for its yoghurts following concerted harassment from bigots, a decision that will cost it a $50,000 contract with Emirates Airlines.

Fleurieu was not the first company to be targeted by groups of online bigots, a few weeks earlier Maleny Dairies from the Queensland Sunshine Coast announced it would not seek Halal certification for after being deluged with queries from similar groups.

For a company of any size, a wave of abuse from online hate groups is difficult to handle but for smaller businesses like rural dairy companies it’s particularly hard as there’s little training for dealing with obnoxious and ill informed virtual lynch mobs and the resulting drop in morale can affect the entire workforce.

Many managers would draw the conclusion that social media is a dangerous place that only exposes staff and the business to these vile individuals, however withdrawing totally from online channels might actually magnify the effects of being targeted as companies don’t see the internet campaigns developing.

Reacting to a hate campaign is difficult however and much of how a company deals with being the target of one comes down to the owners’ and managers’ appetite for dealing with such a crisis.

Submit to the mob

The quickest way of defusing the situation is to agree to the mob’s demands, as Maleny and Fleurieu did, which has the advantage of relieving the stress on staff and management distractions.

Submission though is not without its risks; the mob may not be happy or agreeing to their demands may upset other customers who actually spend money with the business.

This latter point is something Australia’s agricultural industry and governments should be paying attention to as Middle East nations takes over ten percent of the nation’s food exports.

Agreeing to one group’s demands may also irritate other equally other vocal groups which could actually make the problem worse. Ultimately though it comes down to what a company’s management is most comfortable doing.

Should you decide to go along with the mob, don’t equivocate. Be absolutely clear about what you are doing and why you are doing it. This is something both Fleurieu and Maleny diaries have done.

Don’t engage

If the choice is not to submit, either on principle or for commercial reasons, then it’s necessary to be prepared for continued criticism with staff and management coming under further stress. It’s important everyone is supported by the team in the face of often vile and crude behaviour.

One of the key tenants of online marketing and community management is to engage with your critics, however there is a point where trying to engage with irrational people is pointless and possibly even counterproductive.

When that point has been reached, then there is no need to reply to them and any inflammatory or provocative posts should be deleted. The saying of “don’t feed the trolls” applies.

Should commenters become too strident or silly then they should be blocked and, if they are misbehaving on a social media site, their actions reported to the service’s management. Any threats of violence should be immediately documented and a complaint made to the police.

Don’t provoke

Provoking these groups is also a mistake, descending to their level of behaviour will only encourage them and their friends along with risking alienating your own supporters. Keep things professional and straight forward.

Not being a dill yourself is something that could have heeded by one of the other businesses that found itself on the receiving end of an online lynch mob this week. Mark Clews, the proprietor of Tuk Tuk Hunter Valley, was on the receiving end of an online campaign after a snarky post about a vegetarian who visited his hamburger bar in the wine country north of Sydney.

Reading the Tuk Tuk Facebook page quickly gives one the impression Clews enjoys an online fight and he certainly got one which led to his business receiving dozens of poor reviews and at least one critic set up a Facebook page, later taken down after legal threats, highlighting the business’ poor reviews.

In a heated environment — be it vegetarianism, Halal certification or any sort of politics — it’s worthwhile business owners keeping their own personal views separate from their company’s online presence.

The moral of all three of these stories is the internet is a tough place and in today’s increasingly intolerant society one not without its risks. While every business needs to have an online presence, it’s necessary to be prepared for when the online mob appears with virtual torches at your door.

Jul 082013
anonymous comments from online trolls damage the net

One of the truths of social media is it gives idiots an opportunity to expose themselves for what they are.

For businesses using social media idiots posting stupid or offensive content on the company’s site or Facebook page can do a lot of damage to their brand and reputation.

This is the problem Australian airline Qantas faced last week when some fool posted a pornographic image to one of the company’s promotions pages.

As the Sydney Morning Herald reports, the father of an eight year old reported an inappropriate post to the airline after his son found the image while visiting the Qantas Wallabies page. He was allegedly told by the company’s social media staff “there was nothing we can do about it.”

The father points out correctly that both the airline and Facebook are 24 hour operations so claiming a post that is put up at midnight – one assumes Eastern Australian time – is out of hours seems to be disingenuous.

Until recently, businesses had given social media responsibilities over to the intern or the youngest person in the office. While organisations like Qantas have moved on from that, they largely leave these tasks with the marketing department.

While marketing is a valid place for social media responsibility – it’s probably the most obvious area to establish a return on the functions – it leaves organisations vulnerable to out of hours customer service and public relations problems.

Social media doesn’t knock off at 5pm and spend the evening a bar like the marketing department, it’s on all the time and customers are using it to complain about problems while twits and trolls are gleefully posting things to embarrass businesses.

For those businesses who do operate on a 24 hour basis, and probably all big corporations, it’s no longer good enough for the social media team to just operate during office hours.

Smaller businesses have a different problem – most don’t have the resources to keep a 24 hour watch on their Facebook page but the effects of a social media disaster could be proportionally far greater – so they shouldn’t be overlooking regular checks on what people have posted to their business sites.

What’s happening in social media is part of a broader trend in the global economy that’s been going on for thirty years as the pace of business has accelerated. It’s something that all managers, entrepreneurs and company owners need to understand.

Jan 242013

“Married Men Who Like Prostitutes” is juicy search term and the results can wreck marriages, careers and lives.

This is one of the Facebook Graph searches UK tech commentator Tom Scott posted on his Actual Searches on Facebook Tumblr site which lists, mercifully anonymised, the results.

What should worry anybody who uses Facebook is that this data has been in the system all along, advertisers for instance have been able to target their marketing based on exactly this information, Graph Search just makes it quicker and easier to access. This is why you should be careful of what you like and who you friend online.

Tom Scott has a terrific Ignite London presentation which looks at just how vulnerable an individual is by over sharing online. In I know what you did five minutes ago, Tom finds an individual, discovers his mother’s maiden name and phone number all within two minutes.

Facebook isn’t the only service we should be careful of, it just happens to be the one we overshare data with the most. When you start stitching together social media services with government and corporate databases then a pretty comprehensive picture can be made of a person’s likes and preferences.

The best we can hope for in such a society is that picture is accurate, fair and doesn’t cast us in too unfavourable a light.

In same cases though that data can be dangerous, if not fatal.

As potential employers, spouses and the media can easily access this information, it might be worthwhile unliking obnoxious, racist and downright stupid stuff. There’s a very good chance you’ll be asked about them.

Jul 182010
Kennedy Nixon Presidential Debate 1960

In the 1960 US Presidential race, Richard Nixon’s campaign was thrown off course when his team misunderstood how the new medium of television worked from politicians. Today’s political candidates are facing the same challenges with the Internet and social media.

Social media and the internet are great platforms for politicians to talk directly to their constituents without going through the filters of mass media however there are risks for the clumsy and ill-prepared.

The main risk for politicians, and businesses, is the Internet increases accountability and magnifies gaffes; a mistake in a remote town that may not have been noticed by the press ten years ago can today be the lead story on the national evening news thanks to an audience member with a mobile phone.

Social media increases that accountability as every tweet, Instagram post or Facebook update is effectively a public statement making these services powerful tools that need to be treated with respect.

1. You’ve put it in writing

As soon as a tweet, update or email is sent or published, it’s in writing against your name. Once you’ve posted it, it’s impossible to deny it – don’t even think about using the lame ‘my computer was hacked’ excuse. So don’t put on the Internet what you wouldn’t write in a letter or memo.

2. Everything you do online is permanent

Even if you delete an email, tweet or blog post after sending there will always be a copy somewhere. Nothing on the net is ever completely deleted and if it’s in the slightest bit controversial assume someone will make a copy. Think before pressing send.

3. All online comment is publishing

Prior to the Internet, publishing involved owning or hiring a printing press, radio station or television studio. Today anyone with a PC, tablet computer or mobile phone is a publisher. Every time you press “submit” you are publishing a comment with all the same potential consequences as writing an article or campaign flier.

4. Off line rules apply online

Many people on the net have the idea rules don’t apply online. Those people are wrong, defamation and electoral rules apply online as much as they do offline. What’s more, the Internet magnifies errors and dishonesty. Even if you haven’t strictly broken the rules, you still may find an ethical lapse could sink your campaign.

The difference when you do it online is that the record is permanent and available world wide, that’s why it’s called the World Wide Web.

5. The net makes copying easy

In a digital world, all content is endlessly reproducible, so your material can be copied, altered and distributed easily. This was a lesson learned by a bunch of London lawyers ten years ago. Learn from their mistakes and use it to your advantage.

6. Nothing is off the record

Everything you write on the Internet is on the record; an offhand Twitter comment is just as official as a press conference statement or media release. So keep the smart comments off line. If you’re going to be rude about someone, don’t put it in writing on the net even if the message is supposed to be private.

7. Online private and public domains are blurred

While there are private channels on the Internet, the boundaries between them are not always clear. For instance a Facebook group can be seen by anyone who is a member, so postings in that group can be passed on from there.

It’s also easy to make mistakes; a private Twitter message could go public if you hit the wrong key. There’s no shortage of horror stories where people have been included on email messages that were never intended for them.

Assume everything sent on the Internet can potentially become public.

8. Be transparent and consistent

As a research tool, the Internet gives media, the voters and your opponents the opportunity to quickly verify every statement you make.

If you are going say the dollar collapsed when your opponents were in government, check this really did happen. If your party promises a can of baked beans in every household then details of The National Baked Bean Access Program have to be online.

9. The Internet loves a vacuum

Should you leave questions unanswered, or if you make an empty promise with no supporting information, then you’ll find no shortage of people on the net willing to fill the blanks for you. Leaving people guessing is the quickest way to get an issue spinning out of control.

10. Be careful of delegating

It’s tempting to give the job of social media expert to the youngest staffer or volunteer in the office, however you are responsible for everything written. So if you delegate, think carefully. Blaming an over enthusiastic intern or contractor is rarely a good look even if it is true.

A good example of this was Hugh Jackman’s Sydney Opera Center gaffe which was clearly a Tweet from someone who wasn’t Australian. While for Hugh it was a minor embarrassment, a similar trivial mistake could derail a political campaign or career.

11. Think before you tweet

The best measure for posting on the internet is never to say anything you’d be embarrassed to explain to your mother. In a political context, don’t say anything you’d be uncomfortable justifying to your party leader, whip or the host of a radio talk back program.

12. Engage with your audience

You need to be adding value, while mediums like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter are quite effective for getting out prepared material, that isn’t using those channels to their full potential.

The word “social” in “social media” indicates how these services have become communities where people exchange views and participate. Your Facebook pages and Twitter streams should be engaging voters and acting as a rallying point for supporters. Think of them as a virtual 24/7 town hall meeting.

13. The net is a big playground

The Internet is a perfect democracy. Everyone who chooses to participate has a voice.

This means the informed, engaged and intelligent have an equal voice with the ignorant, deranged and obsessed. While it is important to listen to what the lunatic fringe have to say, you don’t have to engage with them.

14. You are judged by your company

Be careful of joining online groups or being too closely associated with individuals who may be an embarrassment. Facebook is particularly bad for this as you’ll get many offers to join groups. Resist most of the invitations as even the funny ones could backfire.

15. Play nice with the trolls

On the net, you should never get into a fight. As the saying goes; “never wrestle with a pig; you both get dirty and the pig enjoys it.” The same applies with internet trolls.

The Internet is the greatest invention for idiots, giving them a forum to exercise their ideas and find like minded fools. Don’t join, argue or engage with them, you’ll only encourage them.

16. Don’t get clever

One thing the Internet doesn’t do very well is humour, sarcasm and irony. So be very careful with the smart comments as what would be a funny off-hand line at a press conference or walk around could be totally misinterpreted online.

Another problem is context which is easily lost on the net; be careful with statements that could be taken poorly by those not aware of the surrounding circumstances. This is particularly true with Twitter where it can be difficult for bystanders to understand the entire online exchange.

17. The web is worldwide

There’s no such thing as an intimate chat online. Everything you do could be passed on. You may only have a thousand Facebook friends or Twitter followers but if each of them has a similar following, that’s an immediate audience of a million people. Treat each tweet, post or update as if it is going out on the Morning Show or 7.30 report.

Similarly, some political organisers think the web is best for rallying the troops. That’s a dangerous idea as many teenagers have discovered when a horde of gatecrashers have turned up to their Facebook advertised parties. Your political opponents are probably taking as much interest in your posts as your supporters.

18. Don’t deceive

The New Yorker once said “on the Internet no-one knows you’re a dog.” So it’s tempting to set up anonymous accounts and webpages to discredit your opponent or derail their campaigns.

In reality, your posts in dog food forums will probably give you away and all but the most sophisticated hoaxer will leave clues in their digital footprint. Even if you cover your tracks, being mischievous can bring you unstuck.

You need to also keep your volunteers and staff aware of this; by all means let them engage, promote and defend your positions but make it clear that underhand and childish stunts will hurt more than help if they are exposed.

19. The net does not replace other channels

The digital natives will tell you old media is dying and only the Internet matters while older comms people will mutter darkly into their drinks about the net being over rated as a tool. Both are wrong.

Mainstream media and the Internet increasingly rely on each other as sources and distribution channels. Tools like Twitter help journalists find sources and spread stories while the news papers and TV shows provide material for Twitter and Facebook users.

Where the Internet works particularly well is enhancing the “traditional’ channels of community meetings, media appearances, fliers and articles.  What you can’t say in a 15 second TV ad or 500 word article can be expanded on and enhanced online because you aren’t subject to other peoples’ restrictions and guidelines.

20. Experiment and learn

In a risk adverse world it’s easy to ask why you should bother with the Internet as most voters are still getting their information through mass media and advertising spending is still largely used for broadcast ads.

The reason you need to be on the Internet is because your constituency has moved online and the broadcast journalists are online. You need to be listening to them and to understand how issues are developing and how these channels are being used.

As these tools develop, they are going to become more powerful. The politician who ignores them today and misunderstands how the medium works could find themselves being remembered in the same way Richard Nixon was in 1960.

Our society is increasingly using the Internet to debate and develop new ideas. If you hope to be part of those ideas, you need to be part of the debate.