Monthly Archives: April 2014

CEO Blogging: Moves Like Jagger, or Dad Dance?

bk april 2CEOs are gettin’ jiggy with it—social media marketing, that is. A 2012 study by Weber Shandwick found that executive use of social media soared to 66 percent in 2012, from 36 in 2010. That’s big news, if the numbers are accurate. A similar study by CEO.com, pegged the percentage of Fortune 500 CEOs online at closer to 32 percent, with more than half of those merely dipping a token toe in the social media waters by posting, or having someone post a LinkedIn profile on their behalf.

The payoff: Weber Shandwick reported that two-thirds of consumers judge a company by their perception of the CEO.

The risks: Like live television, it can be hard for a CEO to erase an online mistake. The cautionary tales are legion—the CEO who sparked a Securities and Exchange Commission inquiry after blogging about a previously unreported pricing strategy, the racist rant, the heated retort heard round the world.

The reality: CEOs are a busy bunch. Given their typical hourly pay rate, it’s hard to justify spending critical working hours online pontificating. And honestly, it’s what they do when they’re not online that makes the biggest difference in their organization’s performance.

And yet . . . there is no denying the panache of Virgin Group CEO Richard Branson, the reigning Social CEO Supreme, with more than 4 million Twitter followers, 4.5 million LinkedIn connections, 1.1 million Facebook friends, and a Klout score of 91 of a possible 100. Klout is a form of social media that assigns an “influence” score based on an individual’s social media reach. The average Klout score is 62. Mick Jagger, by the way, had a Klout score of 89, as of April 28th.

So how is it that some executives seem to find time in their busy schedules to tweet and greet? Some even manage to keep up with weekly or even daily blog posts. What’s their secret? Only their ghostwriter knows for sure. I’m not saying Richard Branson uses a ghostwriter. I’m just saying that for the past four years, I’ve played Cyrano to a number of online thought leaders and I can tell you there simply aren’t enough hours in the day for a normal human to keep up with the voracious appetite of the social media succubus—so, yeah, maybe I am calling Richard Branson out.

This shouldn’t come as any big shock—nothing like Milli Vanilli, or lip syncing at the SuperBowl. It’s just the way it’s done.

Social media, done right, requires consistence and persistence. And hiring an executive communications consultant to accelerate and sustain the flow of ideas is good business. It’s not unusual for me to turn a 15-minute monthly phone call with a CEO on the road into a weekly 500-word blog. The ideas are theirs. I just facilitate and accelerate the passage from thought to page.

Heartbleed Screed: OpenSSL goes AWOL

hb-blogAm I the only one surprised to learn that SSL, the bedrock upon which all these supposedly secure websites are built is an open-source code—meaning 66 percent of so-called “secure” sites on the web entrusted their customer and client data to a largely unsupervised volunteer workforce?

With the proliferation of WordPress, also open source, most creative agencies, including marketing and public relations firms, have added web design to their menu of services. SSL Certificates are sold, and installed, by all of the major web hosting companies.

The marketing pitch behind open source software is the Linus Law, named for Linux inventor Linus Torvalds, which states that the more eyes involved in reviewing and revising source code, the faster bugs can be found and fixed. That’s fine, in theory, but I’m not sure I’d trust my money to a bank that picked my pin number by committee. And, as we have learned, it took those many eyes more than two years to figure out that their super-secure encryption formula was so badly flawed that a savvy hacker could pick the data lock on all of those websites in, literally, a heartbeat.

What makes Heartbleed most alarming is that it can be virtually invisible, attaching itself to a verification signal called a heartbeat, a digital ping attesting that a website is secure, emptying the vault as it proclaims the impossibility of someone doing so. It kind of reminds me of the Martians in the cult classic “Mars Attacks,” blasting away with lasers while proclaiming: “Stop. Come back. We come in peace.”

Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, and others have acknowledged that their sites were vulnerable but have since been repaired. Multiple large corporations have followed suit and recommended that users change their passwords to ensure no breach of their data.

Companies are running their software through a test that is supposed to check for the flaw, but the question remains: How do we know that the Internet is safe? Is online banking or online shopping really a smart move when even a so-called secure site can be so easily compromised?

The truth is we don’t know. The best way to protect yourself against Heartbleed is to change your passwords on the websites that have been affected — although, that’s really just window dressing until the security breach has been fixed. And, even then, we can only take someone else’s word for it.

As much as we have all come to rely on e-Commerce for everything from books to banking, the Heartbleed bug should remind us that we’re still living in the frontier days of the Internet. I’m not suggesting we turn back. But it’s important to know there are desperadoes out there. Proceed with caution.

Public Relations: A Rose, By Any Other Name . . .

Is “Public Relations” a proper title for what we do on a daily basis? Public Relations used to be a fairly narrow field, where the main goal was to protect the reputation and image of clients and gain exposure for them with the help of the media.

Now, an account executive’s role involves writing extensive content, marketing, and running social media channels/websites, in addition to pitching to the media. Suffice to say, we wear a lot of hats. So, is Public Relations a proper title?

Jeffrey Sharlach of JeffreyGroup brings up in this article from PR Week how PR is perceived outside of the industry. The sad truth is, for as much work as we in the industry are putting in, we only get credit for the “old PR” tasks. Multiple companies are making the change of branding themselves as a marketing or strategic communications firm to avoid the PR backlash.

Where do you think PR is headed as an industry? Will we be able to salvage the everyday opinions of the term, or will we be forced to coin our expertise with a new term?

Pitch Perfect PR: Stop Hunting Big Game With Birdshot

cabelasIn a recent Huffington Post post, The PR Problems with Public Relation’s Firms, author Carol Roth lobs a few brickbats at the PR profession, calling out those among our brethren who continue to carpetbomb the media landscape and count all hits as victories. You know what I’m talking about PRWeb? She chides those who pitch to outdated media lists (GASP! You mean you can’t trust Cision?), and those who solicit opinion writers.

A successful colleague, a recipient of a prestigious Silver Anvil from the PRSA, once explained the PR profession to me like this: “I’m selling magic,” he said. “Pixie dust. People pay me because they believe I possess some special knowledge, or relationships, that they don’t have. I have to do everything I can to preserve that mystique, because if they ever started to think they could do it as well or better themselves, they wouldn’t need me anymore.”

Isn’t that what it all boils down to? Public relations is an art, not a science. Our success depends on our ability to consistently deliver a product or service that delights our clients and exceeds their expectations. If it were simply a matter of posting a release on PRWeb, or querying a database and accepting what it says as gospel, anyone could do it.

That’s not to single out Cision and PRWeb—these are powerful tools and they have their place. Rather, Roth suggests, and I concur, that real PR is based on relationships. And while some may read this article and get defensive, I know many more who would agree. It’s old school. But that doesn’t mean it’s old-fashioned.

Sure it takes time and effort to get to develop your own personal media list. It takes time, and considerable effort to cultivate real relationships—two-way streets, where you know the reporters and what they are interested in and they hear from you regularly and not just when you’ve got something to pitch.

I’m not one to throw stones. I’ve sinned. We’ve all fallen victim to deadline pressures and unrealistic client pressures and expectations. But that kind of PR is not sustainable. I think Roth was right to call us out. The question now becomes: What are we going to do about it?

 

 

#Twitter Teeters

twitter-logo-birdHate to be a marketing magpie, but this shiny object caught my eye recently.

John McDuling’s online article “Inside Twitter’s Plan to Fix Itself” examines the social media giant’s plans to revive its flagging fortunes to keep investors who bought into the bird’s public offering at $70 a share, from looking like twits as the stock continues its four-month slide toward half its original offering price.

Falling behind Facebook in unique, active users and barely ahead of newcomer Instagram, Twitter is suffering a serious identity crisis. Created for the social chatter of friends, touching base in 140-character bursts, the medium found its niche as a news ticker, perhaps best known for its role as the first with the most on the Arab Spring and the Boston Marathon bombing, and as a celebrity gossip sheet, #mileycyrus, #justinbieber, #katyperry.

Ask a teen or twenty-something whether they use Twitter, and they’ll roll their eyes as grimace as if you’d asked them to try on a pair of mom jeans.

Twitter’s CEO has promiseda makeover to align the medium with its evolving user base. And plans are in the works to evangelize fallen robins, former tweeters who have forsaken the bird for newer, hipper e-virons. That’s Marketing 101—the idea that former fans are more easily re-won than customers that have never seen any reason to do business with you.

Some would suggest, however, and I’m inclined to agree, that in the fickle world of modern media, you’re almost better off starting with a tabla rasa, a clean slate, than trying to re-engage someone who has already judged and found you wanting—witness newspapers, AOL, and myspace.