Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Movers and Fakers

We’ve all seen the famous scene from When Harry Met Sally. Meg Ryan proved that “faking it” only requires a well constructed performance and perhaps a sense of humor.


And now, thanks to advancing technology and social media savvy, mock PR – whether for the benefit or disgrace of a company – has reached new heights. The good, the bad and the ugly publicity stunts that have recently surfaced got the folks at Black Sheep thinking... How do these disingenuous pranksters change the landscape of public relations?

Example 1: AT&T Twitter Site
Apparently, someone had their call dropped for the last time. While the rest of us at the end of our proverbial ropes would have just redialed, or at the very most resigned to a life without the iPhone and changed providers, the person behind the @ ATT_Wireless_PR Twitter had had enough. He/she started an entire Twitter account dedicated to negatively impersonating the cellular company. Most tweets (while sometimes accurate) are dripping with snark and lacking in cleverness. Plus, it’s just a phone company – not quite a life and death matter warranting the effort and dedication.

Example 2: BP Twitter Site
Equally as snide as the AT&T site, but with a little bit more cause for concern. An activist under the moniker “Leroy Stick” has garnered tons of attention and sold more than $10,000 worth of “free” t-shirts that benefit the Gulf recovery. More than 190,000 followers must find some kind of value in the @BPglobalpr content, which is mostly funny, but also a little petulant.

Obviously, these are not professionally run sites, and they are in no way an example of quality social media. What they do represent is the challenge facing companies today in terms of risk. Whether your business is on social media or not, anyone has the opportunity to criticize your practices on very public forums. While insults can clearly damage reputations, true stories can completely destroy them, so be weary of the dark side of the online force. If your company is in a situation that lends itself to PR crises, prepare a solid strategy for overcoming and managing social media outrage.

Example 3: HeishmanFillard.com
Clearly satirizing PR giant Fleishman-Hillard and the rest of the corporate public relations arena, this website was created in the same vain as our buzzword blog post, and we have to admit, it’s pretty damn funny. Again, it’s not being used to promote or even necessarily demote any particular party, but it’s another good example of the lengths people will go to make a statement, so watch out.

Example 4: General Mills Press Release
As nasty as our previous examples have been, this one takes the cake. Currently under legal scrutiny, someone sent out on wire a false press release announcing the presidentially mandated investigation of General Mills supply chain. The release was picked up (and then dropped) by the Wall Street Journal and other big-name news sources, causing potentially devastating effects and confusing tons of people. The danger of this is not only the immediate consequence, but the diminishing trust of PR professionals and their communication. If journalists can’t rely on newswires, then that’s a big game changer.

Bottom Line: In spoofy PR, the coin flips both ways. Social media gives everyone a voice, allowing two-way PR to take the stage. And while anonymity can diminish credibility, a certain audience will take what they read online at face value.

But does this mean you should steer clear of social media and interactive PR tactics? Definitely not.

Companies that avoid social media because of these fears, concerned that some measure of power is going to be taken away if they get involved on social networks, lose in the long run. What they don’t realize is that this power has already shifted, and whether they participate or not, they’re still fair game – to anyone. Those who avoid the social media platforms give “citizen journalists” the last word and miss the opportunity to be heard.

Instead, companies should dive in – with a plan. Outsmart the potential opponent. Consider all crisis situations that may arise and possible negative backlash. Planning ahead for such scenarios, and having written strategy in place to address each situation gives your business the upper hand. Monitor your brand thoroughly and assign damage control responsibilities to qualified members of your PR team. In extreme cases, respond quickly and tactfully, doing your best to let the public know you’re on top of the issue while providing one-on-one attention in private. If you already have a presence and an established reputation in the social media world, you will be better positioned to not only address criticism, but to use the negative attention to your advantage.

Do you follow mock Twitter sites? Have you fallen victim to online retaliation? What do you include in your crisis control plan? Share your stories and ideas in the comments below!

2 comments:

davidsonsonsonson said...

I really like reading this post and I am very happy that you posted it on this blog...

Shear Creativity said...

Davidsonsonsonson,

Your link doesn't work! But we're still happy you're happy. Thanks for following along!

Black Sheep