May 1, 2013

The Online Troll: To Engage or Not to Engage

It’s a scenario that I’d bet virtually EVERY SINGLE company has endured: an unwarranted online attack against its reputation. Much of the time, at the heart of these attacks is what people refer to as an online troll.

Wikipedia defines a troll as “Someone who posts inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community, such as a forum, chat room, or blog, with the primary intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion.”

To paint a clearer picture, most trolls hide behind a fake name, a pseudonym or post anonymously. Trolls often act alone, but they may occasionally band together.


The troll can’t just be labeled by one generalization. He or she comes in all shapes and sizes. Andrea Weckerle, author of Civility in the Digital Age outlined five types of trolls in her book:

Spamming trolls: These people make the same post to many platforms.

Kook: These regular members of platforms consistently post irrelevant comments.

Flamer: These users make inflammatory comments.

Hit-and-runner: These trolls stop on a platform, make one or two comments and then disappear.

Psycho: These people have the psychological need to hurt others in order to feel good.

Now that we’ve got the types of trolls clarified, let’s get back to the heart of this post: What to do when (notice I didn’t say if) your company comes under attack from an online troll. My answer isn’t a blanket statement. You’ve got to take the type of troll into account, what his or her accusations are, etc.

As a general practice, my stance is, don’t give the trolls the satisfaction of a response. No matter how articulate your response is, nothing is going to be enough for them.  In the end, your comments could get manipulated and used as more ammunition against you. Plus, a response generally (not all of the time) makes a company appear weak or desperate. If a troll’s comment is unfounded, why stoop down to that level?

Another way to combat trolls without a public response is to reach out to a website’s moderator to report unfounded or just plain malicious posts. More often than not, those moderators will recognize the issue and strike out the troll’s posts that cross the line with slander.

The Internet is a powerful tool, and unfortunately, some people have decided to use that power to smudge businesses, either out of maliciousness or for fun. To come out smelling like roses when you combat these cyber trolls, think before you click.


April 16, 2013

Five Ways Pay Walls Impact PR

Image courtesy of Digital Trends

As readership continues to shift from print to online, newspapers have begun to embrace pay walls (as opposed to free online content) as a way to regain some lost revenue. But how will pay walls impact public relations? Some might worry about reduced exposure for a client or reduced ability to research reporters, but PR professionals shouldn’t worry. It’s likely pay walls won’t hurt PR, but they might change it. Let’s examine how.

Why are online papers using pay walls?

Print readership is in decline. In response, many online newspapers have beefed up online content and tried to add online advertisers, but that might not be enough. Figures from the Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism show us that for every dollar newspapers earn digitally, they’re losing seven in print. That’s why they’ve turned to pay walls.

Besides the obvious bump in revenue, pay walls offer newspapers three main benefits. First, though charging for access might cut down visitor numbers initially, those that are left will be more loyal to the brand. Charging for access opens up a whole new revenue stream and allows publishers to serve up more targeted content and ads. It also benefits journalism itself by requiring the news organizations to produce unique and high-quality articles to convince people to pay.

How will pay walls impact PR?

1. Pay walls create a shallower pool of potential readers, but the remaining audience will be more engaged. Online newspapers see a drop in readership after implementing pay walls, but their remaining audience is typically more loyal and more engaged. When someone pays for content, it can be assumed that they actually want to read the content. And for PR pros, we want people to actually read the content about our clients.

2. Content marketing will become more important. Content marketing is presenting brand content in the style of journalistic reporting rather than regular marketing copy. Being blocked from some content, readers may turn to brand websites for more information. In this instance, it’d be important to write content as it would appear in a media outlet, or as a reported piece.

3. Most pay walls allow visitors a generous number of free clicks. Most online newspapers allow visitors free access to a certain number of articles before having to pay. For instance, the Los Angeles Times offers 15 free stories per month while The New York Times offers 20 free stories. Most website visitors will not reach this threshold; however, this could have an impact on researching beats of reporters.

4. The potential for articles going viral is not likely to be affected. Content accessed via links shared from social media platforms don’t count toward the monthly limit. In case PR pros have reached their monthly limit for free content, this is another route for them to conduct their media research and review articles for free.

5. Online newspapers will likely be more interested in running a story as an exclusive. It might be enticing to offer an exclusive if papers can run a story as “exclusive subscriber-only content.” If their paper is the only place readers can get a story, then they’ll be more likely to get more people paying. 

As we can see above, pay walls will not negatively impact PR. There might be some changes, but there will also be added benefits, including survival of print newspapers. And if they survive, there will be more opportunity to secure original articles for your client.

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April 10, 2013

PR Damage: A Retrospective Look at the Super Bowl

He became public enemy number one heading into the 2013 Super Bowl.

San Francisco 49er Chris Culliver made anti-gay remarks on a radio show as his team prepared to play the Baltimore Ravens.

“I don’t do the gay guys, man,” Culliver told radio host Artie Lange. “I don’t do that. No.”Culliver

Asked whether there are any gay players on the 49ers, Culliver said, “Nah. We don’t got no gay people on the team. You know, they gotta get up out of here if they do. Can’t be with that sweet stuff.”

Lange then pointed out that gay players might be able to play well, too, but Culliver responded, “Nah. Nah. Can’t be… can’t… uh… be in the locker room.”

Culliver was then asked whether he thought gay players should stay in the closet while playing professionally, and Culliver responded, “Yeah, you gotta, you gotta come out 10 years later after that.”

As you’d imagine, the 49ers PR team scrambled to play damage control quickly preparing a written apology on behalf of Culliver:

“The derogatory comments I made yesterday were a reflection of thoughts in my head, but they are not how I feel. It has taken me seeing them in print to realize that they are hurtful and ugly. Those discriminating feelings are truly not in my heart. Further, I apologize to those who I have hurt and offended, and I pledge to learn and grow from this experience.”

In retrospect, all of this got me thinking that some good PR planning might have avoided some of the outrage in that week. Here are some highlights:

- At the beginning of the season or at least heading into the Super Bowl, the 49ers PR team should have issued guidelines to speaking with the media that included some topic no no’s. Topics that should be off limits could include homosexuality, politics, drug legalization, etc. (Note: this may have been done and Culliver just ignored that advice.)

- When a player makes such sensitive comments, that player needs to make a public apology immediately and not a written one that some in the press have said is obviously written by PR brass. Sincerity with apologies is essential.

- The organization, in this case the 49ers, needed to take some sort of action when such a sensitive comment is made. You may say I’m overreacting here, but I’m thinking a symbolic benching might have been in order for Culliver. Had he been a starter, suspending him for the first half of the Super Bowl could have been a consideration. Like the cliche goes, actions speaks louder than words.



February 29, 2012

TechCrunch flames out has a post up regarding TechCrunch, and it isn’t pretty.

The site has lost almost every one of its top writers and traffic has fallen sharply, dropping by 35 percent from a year ago.

The included graphic says it all. Read the whole thing for the gory details.

techcrunch traffic.jpg

NPR: Be fair to the truth

NPR has released a new ethics handbook entitled “This is NPR. And these are the standards of our journalism” that’s getting a tremendous amount of attention in media circles, and for good reason. Here’s a key paragraph:

At all times, we report for our readers and listeners, not our sources. So our primary consideration when presenting the news is that we are fair to the truth. If our sources try to mislead us or put a false spin on the information they give us, we tell our audience. If the balance of evidence in a matter of controversy weighs heavily on one side, we acknowledge it in our reports. We strive to give our audience confidence that all sides have been considered and represented fairly.

As we discussed in an earlier post regarding The New York Times editorial that asked “Should the Times be a truth Vigilante” (answer: yes!) — there is an insidious slide in journalism toward what’s known as “He said, she said” reporting. Jay Rosen at PressThink describes it this way:

* There’s a public dispute.

* The dispute makes news.

* No real attempt is made to assess clashing truth claims in the story, even though they are in some sense the reason for the story. (Under the “conflict makes news” test.)

* The means for assessment do exist, so it’s possible to exert a factual check on some of the claims, but for whatever reason the report declines to make use of them.

* The symmetry of two sides making opposite claims puts the reporter in the middle between polarized extremes.

The result, of course, is a reader who’s left to guess where the truth lies. In short, an uninformed reader. And we think this is lazy journalism. The new NPR handbook strives to get the balance right, and in the process coins a new phrase: be fair to the truth. In fact, they are now very explicit about this at the very start of the handbook:

Our Mission.

The mission of NPR, in partnership with its member stations, is to create a more informed public, one challenged and invigorated by a deeper understanding and appreciation of events, ideas, and culture within the United States and across the globe. To this end, NPR reports, produces, acquires and distributes news, information and other content that meet the highest standards of public service in journalism and cultural expression.


(via DF and PressThink)

January 12, 2012

Truth and the media

Arthur Bisbane, Public Editor of the New York Times, has an article up today asking “Should the Times Be A Truth Vigilante?” The question at the heart of the matter is whether journalists – specifically beat reporters – should “challenge ‘facts’ that are asserted by newsmakers they write about.”

…on the campaign trail, Mitt Romney often says President Obama has made speeches “apologizing for America,” a phrase to which Paul Krugman objected in a December 23 column arguing that politics has advanced to the “post-truth” stage.

As an Op-Ed columnist, Mr. Krugman clearly has the freedom to call out what he thinks is a lie. My question for readers is: should news reporters do the same?

If so, then perhaps the next time Mr. Romney says the president has a habit of apologizing for his country, the reporter should insert a paragraph saying, more or less:

“The president has never used the word ‘apologize’ in a speech about U.S. policy or history. Any assertion that he has apologized for U.S. actions rests on a misleading interpretation of the president’s words.”

I have long been a critic of the news media’s current approach to coverage. It had its birth in journalism schools decades ago when, as a natural extension of “objectivity” in journalism, these soon-to-be reporters were taught to remove themselves entirely from the story and let the article speak for itself. When taken to its logical conclusion, this school of thought dictates that any statement by the reporter disputing one side or the other re-inserts the journalist back into the news, and should thus be avoided.

This also has the side benefit of being easier, as the reporter does not need to be an expert on the subject matter. One could attribute this to laziness, and there is certainly some of that, but more realistically it’s a by-product of news organizations that are stretched way to thin to do justice to the news – a result of years of cost cutting. And so you get he-said, she-said articles, and the reporter calls it a day. These issues – a mis-guided effort to achieve objectivity and a steadily decreasing pool of quality reporters employed by news organizations – go hand in hand.

The problem is that there are such things as facts and truth. Merely reporting what each side says without any effort to point out that one side is either ill-informed or lying is not doing the reader a service or justice to the news.

At its heart, the question is: what is a news article? If it is a conduit to pass along talking points, then the current system works. If it’s a tool to provide the reader with a better understanding of the world, then it must offer context, scrutiny and analysis.

The media establishment regularly fails at the latter.

(via Steve Benen, Washington Monthly)

September 12, 2011

NFL Lockout… What Lockout?

With the first week of the National Football League (NFL) season wrapping up, it’s time to reflect on the PR implications of the recent lockout that lasted months. After watching game after game after game (my wife can attest to this), I saw and heard very little mention of the lockout during the first week of games. But why is this? Let’s take a closer look at why a lockout that on the surface involved greed (millionaires vs billionaires) survived the work stoppage virtually unscathed from a public relations standpoint.

However annoying it may have been for fans to hear owners and players squabble over how to divide up the billions of dollars they rake in, the league and its players eventually came to an agreement, at the mere cost one preseason game. And now that the agreement is more than a month old, it APPEARS that the lockout is out of sight and out of mind for most people.

It’s more than can be said about its “Big 4” sports brethren.

Major League Baseball (MLB) lost a ton of credibility among fans during its unfinished 1994 season. Although it bounced back in popularity during a steroid-fueled home run boom, it is still way behind the NFL in terms of popularity and has yet to reach the even popularity between the NFL and MLB from a couple decades ago.

The National Hockey League appears to still be  in recovery mode after a labor dispute wiped out its entire 2004-2005 season.

And then there’s the current National Basketball Association lockout, where the two sides appear to be farther apart then the NFL ever was in its most recent labor dispute. Worse yet… no one seems to care!

Which brings us back to today. The NFL would have endured a fairly severe self-inflicted blow if the lockout was still dragging on today. What was key is that both sides (players and owners) APPEARED transparent during the process and most importantly, virtually no games were missed. Let’s take a closer look at transparency by evaluating some key instances during the NFL lockout.

Not long into negotiations the NFL filed an unfair labor practice charge against the players union, alleging they have failed to bargain in good faith. By preempting the players, the NFL and its owners made sure their message was heard first. The owners clearly saw what the union planned on doing from day one and in response filed suit, which they knew would bring media attention to their point of view.

On July 21, the beginning of the end of the work stoppage, the owners voted to approve a new collective bargaining agreement, and rushed to report that a deal was in place. Even though the players hadn’t agreed to anything yet, the NFL and its owners positioned themselves as the “good guys” by saying that they had finalized a deal. Lesson learned: If your business accomplishes something make sure others know it as soon as possible. By alerting the media that a deal would be in place they put all the pressure on the players.

The next day the players said they could not vote on something they hadn’t even read and accused the owners of making a power play. By being very transparent, any delays while the players read the agreement were clearly understandable.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the NFL is America’s most popular sport with 17.9 million TV viewers watching each game. From the immense popularity to how the lockout was handled, in seems the lockout has  whetted the appetites of fans even more. Expectations are for TV ratings to continue to outdo everything else, and for the NFL, even in the wake of one of its ugliest periods, to remain the king of American sports. Lockout… what lockout?

August 31, 2011

Give PR People a Chance

I have been a liaison between clients and the press community for nine years. Along the way, I have received many notes of thanks from editors appreciating how I handled their requests for meetings, information, images and more. So it always baffles me on that very rare occasion when an industry contact that I’ve had no real interaction with, tells me up front: “I’d like to deal with the client directly.”  The other way we learn of this preference is especially hard to understand –  a client tells you that so-and-so over at such-and-such contacted them directly, even though you’ve repeatedly tried to engage so-and-so to offer your help. Bottom line, it never feels right when your client is doing your job — liaising with the media.

What these contacts may not know is that their requests are our first priority. Our goal is to act fast, ask all the right questions and be forthcoming every step of the way. They also may not know that making asks directly to the client may throw up unnecessary roadblocks (clients are busy and tend run a longer cycle for turning these kinds of requests around). And besides, that’s why they hired us!

The only thing the PR community can do to reduce these instances — which are already pretty rare — is to handle every request as quickly and as thoroughly as possible. I tend to follow the same order of action for each request:

1. Learn what is needed and when
2. Take action immediately to get what is needed
3. Anticipate any issues (preferred file formats, content approvals, time zone differences, etc.)
4. Keep the contact posted on progress frequently
5. Once the request is delivered, offer additional help

If every PR pro followed these steps, then maybe, just maybe, we can turn some of these PR non-believers into fans.

February 16, 2010

I'd like to call Facebook to the stand

With Valentine’s Day but a sweet memory this week, I thought we’d take a look at the other side of love, divorce, and the dubious role Facebook can play in the ensuing battles. PC World has published a great article “Marriage On The Rocks? Better Stay Off Facebook” that cites some frightening facts for all the Facebook fanatics out there.

According to a survey by the American Academy of Matrimonial Layers (AAMl), 81 percent of its members have, in the past five years, seen an increase in the number of divorce cases using social networking evidence.

Facebook leads the pack with 66 percent of survey respondents citing it as the primary source. MySpace and Twitter made a splash as well, with 14 percent and five percent, respectively.

So, as we are always warned, watch what you do on social networking sites! Not only could bad behavior cost you your job, your friends, or your relationship, it could lead to nasty divorce court problems and “evidence” you probably don’t want anyone to see.

-posted by Stephanie

February 10, 2010

The digital dilemma: vampires vs zombies

It’s a digital dilemma that has an outspoken tech entrepreneur comparing content aggregators and search engines to vampires, and newspapers to zombies. Keynoting the recent OnMedia conference in New York, chairman of HDNet and Owner of the Dallas Mavericks, Mark Cuban, made a bold statement. According to AdWeek, Cuban essentially said content aggregators and search engines are vampires, and newspapers are the chesty blondes who fall victim to their charms — and ultimately get bitten. Cuban particularly called out Google as a Web giant that continues to reap benefits off of the valuable content that traditional media companies produce either through search or Google News .

“At some point, you would think that the vampires run out of victims—people to suck. … But that never happens in the vampire story. What happens is, someone drives a stake through their heart. That’s the only way to stop a vampire,” said Cuban.

Which brings us to the next point Cuban addressed: the proverbial silver bullet. Here’s what Cuban had to say about that;

…The iPad is, the Kindle isn’t. The Kindle just reprints what you already do. The iPad represents a new way to present information and, most importantly, sell ads against your content. The Kindle looks nice, it’s portable, but ultimately, it looks like a first generation product that has no future. The iPad will allow content companies to present their work in a new way, and most importantly, sell ads against it.”

However, Cuban’s bold vampire/zombie comparison isn’t the first time something like this has been uttered. According to Crain’s New York Business, in a keynote address to the PricewaterhouseCoopers Entertainment and Media Outlook last year, Dow Jones CEO Les Hinton compared Google to a vampire, sucking the blood out of the newspaper industry.

How did I come up with all of this information you may ask? I did a Google search:)

We’ve got our newest version of Twilight brewing on the Web and I for one am interested in if and/or how the Zombies will come back from dead.