Over the last number of years, there’s been a great deal of discussion about disclosure in social media. In fact, the US Federal Trade Commission has had disclosure guidelines since 2000, and revised them just last year. Unfortunately, Canada hasn’t provided people working in social media with such guidelines. The federal organization responsible is the Competition Bureau, and there’s nothing directly addressing this issue yet. The Privacy Commissioner and Industry Canada also have fingers in the disclosure pie, but at this point, anyone in Canada could write about anything for pay and never tell you a thing.
Lots of bloggers I know do disclose, and many quite clearly. For example, Amy Boughner often has blog posts with disclosures like: “Disclosure: I received the OgoSport Ballooza pack from PlaSmart for this review. All opinions are my own.”
But two things I ran across by chance recently reminded me that disclosure is important no matter whether you’re a blogger getting a free set of headphones or an organization carrying out an advocacy campaign.
The first was a book excerpt in Maclean’s magazine titled “An outlaw’s vision for the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.” The excerpt from an upcoming book on the museum by renowned non-fiction author Peter C. Newman and his longtime collaborator Allan Levine profiles the museum’s architect, Antoine Predock, by all accounts quite a character and a much-celebrated architect.
Because I’m a geek, I noted that the book was to be published by a company I hadn’t heard of before — Figure 1 Publishing. So I googled ‘em. Nice site, principal employees with serious publishing chops. But … a 2013 Vancouver Sun article profiling the company after its founding says:
“Figure 1 is operating under a different business model than a traditional publisher. Authors or organizations will pay the costs of production themselves and Figure 1 Publishing will look after editing, design, distribution, sales and marketing of the books they publish. Sales revenues will go to both Figure 1 and the author or organization, Nadeau said, adding the model is a hybrid between trade publishing and vanity publishing.”
So… who paid for the book? Who paid the authors? The printers?
I don’t know, because despite contacting Figure 1 several days ago, I haven’t yet received a response.
Also today I got pointed to an Upworthy video titled “No One Applauds This Woman Because They’re Too Creeped Out At Themselves To Put Their Hands Together.” The video is titled “The Secrets of Food Marketing,” and it’s a TED-style talk delivered by marketing consultant Kate Cooper. Well, actually that should be “Kate Cooper.” Because it’s actually actor Kate Miles playing a woman named Kate Cooper. And there’s no such thing as the TED-style “E-talks.” Well, there are several things called etalks, but this talk isn’t part of any series.
The following text appears if you scroll down below the video: “Original video by Catsnake Film. Full disclosure: The speaker in this video is actually an actress named Kate Miles, but the facts about produce and its marketing are 100% real. The audience is also real, and thus the looks of disgust are totally real too.” And then if you go to the Catsnake Film website, it explains further that the video was made on behalf of an organization called Compassion in World Farming.
I contacted both the film company and Compassion in World Farming to talk about the video. Catsnake Film wouldn’t comment unless I allowed them to vet this blog post. I don’t do that, so I have no comment from them. I sent questions to Compassion in World Farming by email on August 12, but haven’t heard from them yet.
There really aren’t any social-media equivalents to the communications professional associations like IABC or PRSA, which both identify a lack of disclosure as unethical in their codes of ethics. And it’s surprising to me that there is no mention of ethics at all on the website of the Association of Canadian Publishers.
In the unlikely event that anybody will offer me some sort of goodies, I’ll be sure to disclose it here. I don’t believe in not disclosing those things, and I want to know what might be influencing the way a piece of content — whether text, video, or whatever — was created.
And whether it’s a book, a blog, or a viral video, we all deserve to know just who was paying the piper.
Disclosure: A particular thanks to the folks at CIPPIC, an Ottawa organization that does superb work on Internet policy and advocacy, for their help in researching this post.
When I used to do media relations for a university, I was — all modesty aside — pretty good with a news hook. When there was a disease outbreak, a political crisis, or whatever, I could find an expert in our faculty and get that person in front of microphones pretty darn quickly. I remember the big power outage in 2003. I got a call from a radio program doing crisis coverage asking if I had any experts in history of society before electricity. As it happened, I knew a great social historian who was both expert in that period of history and a good interview. I told the producer “Give me a minute”, hung up, found the prof’s home phone (everything was shut down), called him, and within 10 minutes, he was on live national radio talking about the changes that widespread electrification brought to Canadian society and what this power outage could teach us.
But there’s a material difference between finding a news hook and newsjacking. Newsjacking is an attempt by an organization to exploit an event for its own purposes. This can be done well. For example, when there was a power outage at the Super Bowl, Oreo had a spectacularly successful tweet out in mere minutes:
But that’s a best-case scenario.
- A fashion house sending out a release and photos showing actor Amy Adams with one of its handbags. The photo was taken at Philip Seymour Hoffman’s funeral service.
- Another fashion retailer using the unrest in Syria to create a “boots on the ground” themed tweet. (Two of three examples from this blog.)
Or, just this morning:
- A PR company suggesting that the death of Robin Williams was an opportunity to talk about identity theft and pitching their client as an interview.
I guess it needs to be said. This is wrong. It’s tacky and tasteless and gross. So I’m going to suggest we do a couple of things.
- If you receive this sort of messaging, don’t use it. Don’t make it successful. Contact the company and tell them how offensive their action is. Tell them this will cause the opposite of their desired goal (whether that’s sales, media attention, or whatever). Don’t share their content. Don’t give it a life that it doesn’t deserve.
- If your company is being told it should do this, be very cautious. If the idea is related to some sort of tragic event, it’s almost impossible to think of a good reason to do it. Run it past some people not connected to the idea. See if it seems tacky or opportunistic. Err on the side of caution.
Communicators — we can be better than this. Please don’t do this.
Like everyone else, I get inundated with marketing outreach all the time. Ads before YouTube videos. Newspapers. TV. Radio. Website banner ads. And on and on. And the phone. Which brings me to this.
Got this yesterday, on our landline. (Yes, we have a landline, we’re dinosaurs, ha ha ha) A little context: We leased a Hyundai. In 2002. At the end of the lease, we returned it, and since that time, to my knowledge, we’ve got a flyer about once a year from the dealership. We haven’t had any interaction for eight years. And then we get this voicemail. I eagerly await this mysterious letter.
“Oooh, you’re getting this special offer, it’s not going out to just any customers of ours, you’re very special and important.” Really? Someone who hasn’t had a moment of interaction in eight years is in some way deserving of a special offer from you? What does the customer who’s been loyal to you for multiple purchases get?
I know I’m a prospect. You know I’m a prospect. That’s why I’m in your CRM system. Why pretend that I’m any more than that? Be honest about your intentions, and I’ll likely be honest about mine.
UPDATE, August 11:
I got the letter from the car dealership. Here’s the envelope:
The more astute of you may notice it’s addressed to “Campbell LeDrew.” That’s my middle name. Which I never use. The letter suggests that I exchange my 2002 Hyundai Elantra on the purchase or lease of a new car. There’s a problem, though. I gave them back that car in 2006 when the lease ended. Haven’t seen it since. You’d think they’d know that, wouldn’t you?
So perhaps I can summarize their pitch this way:
Hey, person whose name we don’t know? Would you like to trade in the car you returned to us eight years ago on another car? We wouldn’t ask, except you’re a really special person to us and we care.
There’s a pattern that computers and technology have made apparent over and over.
- Pre-computers: music was recorded in expensive studios, controlled and distributed by labels. Post-computers: Computers come pre-loaded with free music recording software, and some of the music has gone on to great success.
- Pre-computers: books were bought by publishing companies, printed on giant presses, distributed to bookstores. Post-computers: anyone (like my friend Sue, for example) can write an e-book (Produce: The Art of Creating Digital Content Using Professional Production Techniques)and take charge of distribution.
- Pre-computers: making video required hundreds of thousands of dollars in equipment and highly-professional staff. A few television networks distributed programs and sold advertising. If you didn’t make it on those networks, you didn’t make it on TV. Post-computers: People with consumer-grade technology make videos and upload them to Youtube and other sites, making money from advertising and sometimes getting millions of hits.
Another example of this pattern is advertising. When your media choices were (more or less) daily newspapers, radio, and television, most businesses didn’t do their own advertising. That was done by agencies, or by the media outlet. And it was expensive!
I saw a sponsored post in my Facebook feed earlier this week. Somebody did something right, because it was for a new microbrewery in my hometown. Except … the ad copy said “opening Spring 2014.” Problem #1: the brewery was already open. Problem #2: It was July.
I don’t want to call out the business in question — they’re a small startup, and there’s no doubt they have a million things that they’re trying to do. What happened isn’t a capital crime. But it did point out something that I think happens quite a bit with small businesses and new businesses — their online advertising just gets a little bit out of control.
So I thought I’d give you a quick checklist for your online advertising.
- Just because you’re not spending thousands of dollars (unless you are!) doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be serious about it.
- It’s not like traditional media — you don’t want ot run one ad or a couple into the ground. Have multiple ads running.
- Response on online advertising drops off like a rock off a cliff. That’s part of the reason to have multiple ads running at any one time, and also a reason to have an inventory of ads that you can swap in and out.
- If you use a calendar, or a whiteboard, or whatever to keep a schedule, use it to note when your ads should be staritng and stopping. Also use whatever scheduling options you have in the advertising platform to “set and forget” ads, but have a backup.
- Most online advertising gives you a limited amount of wording to play with, and an image. Work hard on those words and images, because they’re your only chance at getting people’s attention. Because you can create many ads, you can play with images and copy.
- Regularly review the performance of your ads. Be strategic — and by that I mean ensure that your ads are pushing the viewer to some ACTION.
If you’re doing online ads and want to do a little more education, I’m happy to help as much as I can — although I am not an online advertising expert. If you want to go deeper into this, there’s a ton of great resources out there. For example, e-commerce company Shopify (an Ottawa success story, yay us!) has this great guide up on line.
And Brian Carter has two great books out that can help anyone use online advertising to their advantage:
The Like Economy,
and Facebook Marketing:
If you get through all that, you’d likely know more about this stuff than I would!
I’m writing this on the day after Canada Day, which always feels like the start of the week to me. Living in Canada’s capital city means that you’re going to get involved in some way, no matter how low-key, in our national celebration. Yesterday’s revelry took place in lots of heat and humidity, and in the afternoon, there was a tornado warning — something that isn’t exactly commonplace for Ottawa.
Today, I was surprised by news that a music festival in my home province of Nova Scotia is cancelling its 2014 edition (scheduled for July 4-6) because a very early tropical storm seems like it will hit Canso, the home of the Stan Rogers Folk Festival, right when they’re supposed to be making music for an adoring crowd.
Outdoor events are by definition unpredictable. I was on the board of the Ottawa Folk Festival in 2010 when torrential rains made most of the site unusable and dealt a crippling blow to our finances. And in 2011, I was in the crowd at the Ottawa Bluesfest to enjoy a Cheap Trick show when a freak storm blew in and this happened (video shot by another bystander):
Fortunately, nobody died during that stage collapse, although there were injuries. Litigation over the collapse is still going on.
My experiences with music festivals have left me with an abiding interest in crisis preparation and response. And one of the most important things you can do as an organization is to have a “dark page” ready. What’s that, you ask?
A dark page, or a dark site, is a pre-developed website that you can use in place of your organization’s normal site in the event of a crisis of some sort. Why do this?
Well, if you look at the Stan Rogers Festival site, the cancellation media release is two clicks in. The main page, merrily promoting the festival and selling tickets, is what I see when I visit. Fortunately, you can’t actually complete a ticket purchase, but a casual visitor wouldn’t know what was happening.
If the Stanfest site had pulled down its normal page and replaced it with a simple site explaining the situation and informing various groups (ticketholders, performers, etc) of what they needed to know and how to get more information, the communication would be much more clear and straightforward.
Also, if anyone tries to share the news of the cancellation on Facebook, the site feeds FB information about the 2013 and 2012 dates, a fault in the HTML coding of the site:
Fortunately for Stanfest, their fans seem understanding and conciliatory. But if those fans begin to ask for information about refunds or rescheduling without quick answers, the patience may wear thin.
I fervently hope that the storm amounts to very little and that the folks behind Stanfest are able to put something together to salvage the festival.
Whatever your business, you should put a little thought into this. Crises happen everywhere, all the time. If you want to learn more about this, feel free to contact me, or you could read my friend Ann Marie van den Hurk’s book “Social Media Crisis Communications.” She’s a superb thinker on this topic.
I did something last weekend that I’d never done before. I played music in a bar as part of a fundraising event. I’ve played music around campfires, I’ve played music in houses, I’ve performed solo at Bytown Ukulele Group meetings, I’ve jammed with people, I’ve participated in songwriters’ circles, even on an open-mic on a boat as part of a conference. But never in front of a crowd of strangers.
Thankfully, my performance went pretty well, I think. I was pleased. But one thing that I wasn’t prepared for, even though I’ve seen it a million times from the other side of the stage, was not being listened to.
I’ve done a lot of teaching. I’ve done lots of presentations. And I’ve had these musical performance experiences. The commonality among all of those things? I as the “performer” have the expectation of being listened to. When I stand in front of a classroom, or conduct a webinar, I assume that people are gong to be listening to me, watching the slides, etc.
So to have a bar full of people happily chatting while a PA system blared my voice and instrument out into the room was disconcerting. It was a painful reminder of what professional musicians face all the time — they’re being paid to perform, but there’s no obligation for the spectators to attend to them.
My set wasn’t long enough, and my courage (confidence? arrogance?) not strong enough for me to DEMAND their attention. So I played through my songs, took the applause, and left the stage. The good news was that no matter whether a person listened to me or not, they paid to come to the show, which meant the cause benefited from them. Further good news (for me, at least) was that I wasn’t so beset by stage fright caused by their inattention that I froze up (something that’s happened before, to my chagrin — but at least it gave Chris Brogan something to write about!)
But since Saturday, I’ve been thinking about it. My conclusions?
- There are circumstances and ways you can bring people back to you. But there are also circumstances when you can’t. I once saw Josh Ritter silence a noisy bar by playing his first song unplugged and wandering through the audience. People were intrigued enough by this unusual behaviour that they fell silent, and by the end of that song, the room was silent. I wasn’t going to try that one.
- There are times when you ought to accept the circumstances as they are. Sometimes people just aren’t interested in hearing from you, and it doesn’t matter how loudly you’re singing, or even if you’re singing (or teaching) incredibly well. I once taught a class where one of the students fell asleep every time she came to class. There would have been a time in my life where I focused on that as a sign I was failing the student. But I now believe that the process of “performing” requires both the performer and the audience to be present. Whatever the reason, sometimes your “audience” can’t be there for you.
- You still have to bring your best. Even if your audience is not listening, you owe it to yourself to deliver just as passionately and as well as if you had people in the palm of your hand. Yes, it’s harder (just as doing webinars is often harder than presenting to live audiences because you lack any feedback); but you still have to.
The final thing that I’ve thought in the wake of my experience? I want to try it again. I want to figure out some of those musician’s techniques of getting an audience’s attention for myself. Who knows: maybe becoming a more accomplished musical performer will make me a better communicator.
And if you want to see the performance? A quick trip to my Tumblr will let you get a sense of what the show was like.
If you’ve never seen or experienced some form of online harassment, you are in a TINY minority. This was brought home to me recently with the impact of a hammer on a nail. Survey results from a poll by a coalition of three organizations (Rad Campaign, Lincoln Park Strategies, and Craig Connects) got released June 4, and it is a sad story.
Among the “highlights” from the infographic the group produced:
- 47% of respondents under 35 reported being harassed.
- Facebook is a particular hotspot for online harassment.
- Women and men report sexual harassment at nearly identical rates (44% of women, 43% of men).
- Half of the people who were harassed did not report it.
- Nearly 30% of people surveyed report being afraid for their life as a result of online harassment.
- 3 in 5 people surveyed think laws concerning both online and in-person harassment are not strong enough.
Perhaps you are lucky enough to not have experienced harassment online. However, chances are that you’ve seen someone — a friend, colleague, whatever — harassed online. So whether you have experienced it directly or secondhand, you have a stake in changing this. We ALL do.
There’s no doubt that much harassment both exemplifies and reinforces deep and toxic threads of hatred: racism, intolerance, misogyny. But it’s simplistic and unproductive to throw up our hands in the air and simply blame “attitudes” for this problem. To my mind, we fall into one of three categories when it comes to online harassment:
If you’re a harasser: stop it, or the rest of us are going to stop you.
If you’re a victim: don’t swallow this. Don’t hide it, or hide from it. Tell the people who care about you. Take action. Report the behaviour. If you don’t feel strong enough, ask for help with it.
If you’re an onlooker (like me): Step up.
There have been countless examples of people being affected by this, from respected bloggers going silent to comic book artists being threatened with death to people at conferences being harassed online and offline to young people killing themselves. All of it is unacceptable. And we all have two duties: to support those being harassed and to confront the harassers.
There are more of us than them. We don’t need to become virtual lynch mobs, doing to the harassers what they’ve done to others. We just need to tell these bullies that we see them, that they must stop, and that they are not going to do this anymore.
Later on comes the change of attitudes. At some point, we need to figure out why these people are doing what they’re doing, how we can help them understand how wrong it is, and make them change their beliefs. But first, the behaviour has to stop. And the biggest thing you can do? Call people out. And if we become targets, we should expect the same support from others that we give.
Can we eliminate this problem? Not quickly, easily, or likely ever. Can we improve it? Undoubtedly.
Are you looking for more help responding to online harassment? I can’t recommend the organization CiviliNation highly enough. They have lots of resources, and CiviliNation founder Andrea Weckerle’s book Civility in the Digital Age is excellent.
Everybody makes mistakes. I certainly have. You have too. Even if you’re shaking your head.
The key to mistakes is getting past them. This is the story of what happens when you try not to.
Here in my city of Ottawa, there once was a man named Jack Purcell. Postal worker Jack Purcell lived in Ottawa’s Centretown neighbourhood and became famous for helping local youngsters to take part in hockey. For his contributions to the city, a park near his home was named after him, as well as an adjacent community and recreation centre, which opened in 1974.
That park was being revitalized, with a $525,000 budget, and it was decided to put some public art in there. Great idea. I’m a big fan of public art. But, according to the local city councillor, that’s where things went wrong. A quick Google of “Jack Purcell” led the landscape architects to a famous Canadian badminton player of the 1930s and 1940s who was the world badminton champion of his day. They then designed 10 sculptures.
Now here’s where it gets a little fuzzy. According to Councillor Diane Holmes, quoted in this Ottawa Citizen story: “The original design actually called for the racquet-shaped light fixtures — which each cost $4,595 — to be strung like real racquets, but that plan was nixed, Holmes added.”
The city staffer in charge of the project says the sculptures were never meant to commemorate Purcell, and that many people say they don’t look like badminton racquets anyway.
And — here, finally, is my point — the landscape architect says they’re stylized trees. In an interview with the local paper, architect Jerry Corush, a principal at CSM Landscape Architects, is quoted as saying ““We just didn’t stick our heads in the sands and say, ‘Well, we had a design and we’re going with it no matter what…In my eyes, it’s a stylized tree…We’ve been out there and some people will walk by and they’ll go, ‘It looks like a tennis racket, it looks like a tree, I don’t know what it looks like, and we just go, ‘Perfect, it’s a piece of art, it’s your own interpretation of what it is…This was the perfect example of why you go out to the community with design ideas ahead of finalizing anything…We knew that what we were doing. It sounds like we didn’t know what we were doing.”
This is one of those really embarrassing situations. There’s blame enough to spread around, that’s for sure. The Canadian Encyclopedia’s online entry states (incorrectly) that the centre is named for the badminton player (please note that Wikipedia does not duplicate that error). Worse, There’s not a word about who Jack Purcell is on the city’s website, or on the community centre site. And when media contacted Jack Purcell (Ottawa, not the badminton guy)’s son to talk about the sculptures, he mentioned that he hadn’t been contacted about the revitalization of the park or invited to the reopening ceremony. Awkward.
But worst of all, the landscape architect is trying to have his racquet and tree it too. While Corush might like to believe that they changed their idea, it appears the biggest change was to take the “strings” out of the “racquets” and add some LED lighting. Corush would be well advised to back down on his earlier remarks to the Ottawa Citizen and take a line like this: “We screwed up. We’ve tried to make the best of it, and eventually people will forget about all this. It’s a bit embarrassing for us, but the sculptures are attractive, and with their lighting, they’re also functional. We hope people will grow to love them.”
Public art is one of the easiest things in the world to criticize. And when something like this happens the criticism comes VERY easy. It would be better for all concerned if they owned up to their mistakes rather than trying to spin, obfuscate, or stretch the facts to try to cover up what is, in the end, a mistake.
I was shocked today to get pointed to a post on the Hootsuite blog by friend Kami Huyse. The post “What is the most sought-after selfie?” looked at recent famous selfies. What galled me was this paragraph:
2014 was the year of the first billion-dollar selfie. During the 2014 Oscars, Ellen DeGeneres snapped a group selfie, rumored to be sponsored by Samsung, with the likes of Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Bradley Cooper, Julia Roberts and Meryl Streep. She then uploaded the photo to her Twitter account and ended up getting millions of retweets from people around the globe. Maurice Levy, CEO of advertising firm Publicis, said that the Oscar selfie was worth between $800 million to $1 billion to its client Samsung.
I immediately shared some inappropriate words, then I left a comment on the post. But apparently I still have more to say.
Lévy is the CEO of a gigantic conglomerate of agencies lumped together as Publicis Groupe, and he was doing a talk at the MIPTV summit in April, just after the Academy Awards. Here’s the crucial quote:
The quote: “The earned media — all the buzz which had been done around the Oscars — represents roughly a value between $800 million and a billion US dollars, because it has been mentioned all around the world, and the Samsung phone has been either mentioned or seen.”
M. Lévy has, no doubt, achieved great things. His group of companies generated $2.3 billion in revenue (US dollars) in the first quarter of 2014. Compared to me, he’s a top predator, and I’m an amoeba. So I am shocked to see a man of his stature, in his position, use a metric that has been so thoroughly discredited — Advertising Value Equivalency, or AVE.
AVEs have been around for a long time. And despite the efforts of many professional groups and individuals, they remain. Why are they problematic? I can’t state the reasons much better than this 2003 paper from the Institute for Pubic Relations. I’ll turn the paper’s objections into bullet points for brevity:
- There’s no factual basis for assuming that an “editorial” mention is equivalent to an advertisement
- The credibility of media varies from one topic and one outlet to the other. So using one “multiplier” is impossible
- AVEs only measure what APPEARS, while PR folk often work to minimize coverage or not see something appear at all. This is not measurable by AVE
- Advertisements depend on repetitive mentions to build awareness. “Earned media” cannot do the same
- Not everything is relatable to advertising. If there are no ads on the front page of a magazine, what’s the value of a cover mention?
- If a story tangentially mentions a brand or an organization, does the equivalency relate to the entire story or the portion of the story mentioning the specific brand?
In 2010, a coalition of leading communication organizations agreed upon what came to be known as the “Barcelona Principles.” Principle number five of the seven principles states: “AVEs are not the value of public relations.” Yet, according to PR News earlier this spring, the principles are not being adopted as quickly as might have been expected. Or hoped. And when you have people in the position of Maurice Lévy using these discredited and disavowed numbers, while it remains disappointing, it becomes less surprising.
The lesson for us here? I could simply and flippantly say “Don’t follow leaders.” But there’s a slightly deeper lesson here. Even if you’re working with a “top agency”, even if you’re hiring “the best” — you owe it to yourself and your business to be ready to call BS on what they tell you. Don’t simply assume they know best, that their advice should be taken. If you can’t understand the strategy, or the method of evaluation; if you can’t relate the tactics to your business goals: speak up. Ask for better.
And if you’re a communicator — find a way to help push our industry out of the bad habits that we’ve developed. We can do better. And we know how.
Apparently, the key is to dress like a fool and say a lot of really obvious things very quickly, punctuated by irrelevant personal anecdotes.
David Shing, AOL’s “Digital Prophet”, a/k/a “Shingy”, nails it.