Something Funny Is Going On … @BPGlobalPR

Posted on June 14, 2010 by Comments Off

BP is facing a public relations disaster on yet another front — this one over the highly publicized fake Twitter account BPGlobalPR. The social media hoax, called “brandjacking,”  tweets sarcastic news about BP’s missteps and suspect corporate behavior.  It currently has more than 150,000 followers and continues to gain attention.

This week, the tweets finally caught the attention (or hit a nerve) of BP’s communications team, who demanded that the site declare itself to be a parody. Those behind the BP parody tweets are refusing to back down. If BP presses the issue, things are going to get nasty.

Two observations jump out from this situation.

First, why did BP wait so long to try to stop the hoax? Were they not monitoring what was being said about them in social media? Is it possible that a multinational corporation currently embroiled in an environmental disaster failed to recognize the influence of Twitter?

Second, this issue speaks to a growing acceptance of pseudo-news and comedian commentary as a mainstream source of information and influence.  

Granted, editorial cartoons have been a mainstream source of influence for centuries (it has been a Pulitzer Prize category since 1922), and for years The New York Times Week in Review section has included quotes from late-night hosts such as Jimmy Fallon and David Letterman in its news summary, but something funny is going on here.

The Daily Show and The Colbert Report are now routine stops for politicians, authors and opinion leaders. More young adults get their news from these programs than from nightly broadcast news shows.

Blogs such as the Huffington Post and The Drudge Report regularly cover items that are decidedly ironic or funny (and generally with a political bias).

The list of bogus Facebook pages and YouTube videos has also proliferated.  By some estimates, roughly 40 percent of Facebook postings are ficticious. 

Funny thing is, these parodies are proving to be effective tools. They enter the web of influence and have a lasting and profound impact on public opinion.

I guess everything is news in the ever evolving environment of influence.   A valuable lesson for all of us.

When the Jury Is Still Out

Posted on January 27, 2010 by Comments Off

You know you’re a permanent resident of Manhattan when you get called for jury duty and you have no exemption. Last week I had the distinct pleasure of serving as a juror for the Supreme Court of New York City for three days.

Sitting silently in rows with nearly 200 of my fellow New Yorkers, I had plenty of time to think about our judicial system and its purpose. Its mission is to deliver justice; to sort out right from wrong.

Jurors are told that we are the last checkpoint between a society of order versus chaos, and our duty is one of the few demands our government places upon us in trade for our freedom (except taxes and military draft).

It’s challenging to feel the patriotic benefits of administrivia when jurors are constantly being counted, escorted and questioned. Aside from the grumbling, jurors do provide a critical service to the people. One day you might need to call upon the power of the courts and be processed through “the system.”

The opinion of 12 people set the destiny of the defendant. As I heard the details of the criminal indictment being read, I realized how difficult it is to not presume guilt once an accusation is made. The judge then specifically forbade us to research or view ANY form of related media — specifically mentioning social media Web sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

The presumption of guilt reigns in the court of public opinion. Millions of people collectively set the destiny of the accused. During a crisis, like the young man accused of gunpoint robbery in my case, there is massive confusion and a scramble to get the facts straight. The media and citizen journalists jump on breaking stories before we can get grounded in reality.

With wrongdoing crises, it’s a situation of “everything was fine and then it wasn’t.” One could become embroiled in a bevy of white-collar crime situations or heated criminal activity. Whether it’s cooking the books or killing your spouse, the public will render a swift and resounding verdict on the supposed perpetrator.

Communications professionals must take fast action once a criminal story has broken. Your strategic choices are centered around apology, denial or attacking the accuser (the people). Constructing a clear and certain depiction of the facts will be critical.

  • An apology will bring on lesser legal ramifications and remove your client from the spotlight sooner — this should have been O.J. Simpson if he had been rational.
  • With denial, you must make sure that your client is absolutely 100 percent innocent for this strategy to be successful; otherwise, the payback will be tenfold — think how dearly Martha Stewart paid.
  • Attacking the accuser is an invitation for a mud-slinging contest and can make your client seem emotional — remember Enron executives’ profane statements to Wall Street analysts.

While the public jury is still out, stay focused on the facts and controlling the short- and long-term outcomes of reputation. Our courts provide the assumption of innocence, but the media does not.


Posted on January 20, 2010 by Comments Off

The world is mourning the loss of life and dreams of the Haitian people. We are watching the television reports, scrolling through the online news pages, and exchanging heartfelt conversations with friends and family.

Yet a week after this horrific disaster, hope and help continue to pour in through social media channels. Twitter feeds are providing on-the-ground accounts of the terrible conditions. The Red Cross request to send a $10 USD donation by texting “HAITI” to 90999 is yielding astounding results — upwards of $22M to date.

Just when we were getting jaded about finding the Big Purpose of our worldwide social community, we stumble upon the pure genius and humanity of what technological togetherness really means. It means that we can reach out and make a difference in times of need.

In crisis we often look for who to blame, how to deny or what to hide. But when a nation is literally flattened (the image of the collapsed dome of the Haitian Presidential Palace is heartbreaking), we must overcome our natural tendencies. In this crisis, there is no bad guy — there’s only the focus on rescue, recovery and tomorrow. This crisis requires full attention on the quick, consistent and open communication of critical data to save lives and clear the path to a solution.  

When traditional communications outlets are destroyed, we still find another way to tell our story. As humans we are compelled to tell our story. Like the hostages trapped in the Taj Majal Hotel during the November 2008 Mumbai attacks, nontraditional communications met the need to connect with texting and tweeting about their personal safety.

And it is personal, isn’t it? We can all feel it. Social media provides the channel to emote, collaborate and learn in crisis. The floodgates to our hearts are open, and as communicators we must learn to shepherd, not control — because one day you might need social media as social worker too.

As you can tell, the Haiti disaster is deep in the minds of my colleagues, and many of us are sharing our own accounts. Here is some of our thinking on how social media and social crisis merge:

  • “Innovations involving technology, communication and culture — whether they be the printing press, celluloid or the cell phone — have consistently led to deep societal shifts. The tremendous response to the tragedy in Haiti reminds us of the amazing opportunity the digital space provides to turn intention into action, and give greater clarity to the vague hope of making the world a better place. As our collective experience is increasingly digitized, it’s possible that one of the greatest beneficiaries will be the needy — as social media will make social work an integral part of identity — whether it’s aligning with a cause on Facebook, or giving 10 dollars for Port-au-Prince.” — Cathleen Witter, Singapore


  • “It’s interesting to see how social media is playing such a significant role in the immediate aftermath of this unbelievable natural disaster. As I read the countless stories chronicling creative and ingenious ways everyday citizens, major NGOS, foreign government and MNCs are all engaging their respective communities to help those in need, I’m struck by the reality that to no small degree what we’re experiencing is social media functioning as a form of ‘the new Red Cross.’” — Torod Neptune, Washington, D.C.


  • “The proliferation of social media has meant that the reality of this unimaginable disaster has been brought right into our front rooms, in full Technicolor. Individual testimonies are peppering news stories related to the Haitian earthquake and that is largely down to miniblog sites. News is travelling faster and more vividly. Those of us following this story are watching events almost in real time. Pleas for help via Twitter have been published in newspapers, making the calls personal as if they are directed at me. A powerful sensation.” — Toby Doman, London


Yesterday, Stephanie Strom of the New York Times pondered what does this “Deluge of Donations via Text Messages” mean for the future of charitable giving. From a crisis communications standpoint, we can be sure that humans will use any available technology that will enable them to connect and communicate their needs and desires. No doubt, the Haiti earthquake will be noted as the disaster that cemented social media as an essential tool in any crisis communications strategy.

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