Thursday, September 27, 2012

CEO Blogs

For this week's PRL614 blog, we were tasked with reading a CEO blog and evaluating it.  Is it an effective form of public relations for the organization? Is it in sync with the other communications by the company? Is there more risk or reward in a CEO blog of this nature?  I chose to use the blog of Dallas Mavericks' owner, Mark Cuban: "Blog Maverick". 

The most recent post was about Wall Street.  Others below it touched on issues like CEO pay, corporations, taxes, even politics.  My first instinct: what are the Mavericks doing allowing their CEO to comment on such highly-politicized and potentially-alienating topics?!  It seems to go against many principles of public relations to allow a CEO, on a blog associated with the business (the Mavericks' official website even links to Cuban's blog), to make such bold statements.

Reading on, I came to realize that Cuban is a masterful writer and a very smart man.  Topics that most people would butcher, he easily navigates, making effective arguments based on intellectual thought.  While his blog still runs the risk of alienating publics of the Mavericks who disagree with his ideas, his ideas are at least articulated in a mature, thoughtful fashion. Inherent in his blog's name (Blog Maverick) is the expectation that this blog will be honest, even rogue.  Cuban will express his ideas about the world in an authentic voice, and he won't sugar-coat hot topics. 

I would be curious to see analytics on his blog.  How many people read this, and who are they? Are they reading this as Mark Cuban, CEO and voice of the Dallas Mavericks? Or are they looking to him for his business expertise? 

I believe Mark Cuban has struck an often-elusive balance in a CEO blog; he is being true to himself in his postings, and is using this blog to build not only his personal brand but that of the Dallas Mavericks.  Who wouldn't want a savvy businessman running their sports team?  In this unique case, Mark Cuban's opinionated CEO blog is a successful use of personal blogging by organizational leadership.

However, most organizations should tread carefully where CEO blogs are concerned.  Something tells me that if the CEO of Chick-Fil-A had a personal and political blog, it may not go over as well as Mark Cuban's blog... What do you think?   

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Social Media Professionalism

One of the overarching themes of our Newhouse graduate school education in public relations seems to be the power of social media.  In nearly every course thus far it has had applications, and in many ways this contributes to our value as future employees of organizations in need of some social media expertise.  Our generation (the Millennials) has grown up with the internet as an everyday reality of life.  We've been taught for years about online etiquette, what to post, what not to post, and that nothing is ever truly private online.  But an interesting question has arisen recently, over the idea of shifting every one of our personal social networks to a professional social network.  For most of us, shifting our posts on Twitter from pictures of our dinner to content relevant to our careers has been a no-brainer.  Google + and LinkedIn are the same; we see clearly the value of using these social platforms for professional networking and personal branding.  Facebook, however, presents an interesting dilemma. 

While us graduate students are certainly not advocating posting about binge drinking or inappropriate behavior, Facebook is our final connection to our personal lives. We post about our interests, our friends, our fun adventures in Syracuse and Central New York.  We connect with family and friends who live across the U.S., or even across the globe.  We are so busy building our professional lives here at Newhouse, that Facebook often seems the only communications platform upon which we can be ourselves.  

Must Facebook too be a platform for solely 'professional' posts? I'd like to think not.  Our personal brand that we work so hard to build is just that  ̶  our personal brand.  Posting about going to the Syracuse football game, going apple-picking, or on wine-tasting trips in the Finger Lakes is part of that personal brand.  We are students, and we are serious about our professional ambitions, but we are also multi-dimensional.  We have personal lives.  We have loved ones, and passions and hobbies.  Facebook is the final frontier, the last untouched platform.  We certainly won't be posting anything inappropriate, but allow us to post about what matters most to us as people.  I'd like to think employers want to hire people, not simply robots. 

Additionally, I believe the value (both economic and intangible) of Facebook lies with its promise of personal connections.  If all the users of Facebook were to suddenly transform into exclusively-professional-posters, I don't think I (or many people) would access the site as regularly as we do now.  The social media platform would certainly not hold as much value to marketers or public relations professionals.  I once heard a public relations pro say that social media is all about meeting people where they are.  If Facebook becomes impersonal, solely a source of artificial, manufactured professional postings, it no longer is 'where people are'.  It loses its value to marketers, public relations pros and the everyday consumer.

For these reasons, I will not be transitioning my Facebook to a solely professional platform.  My connections with friends and family will be most valuable to me in the long run if I keep these connections personal.  One of the most powerful pieces of advice for social media etiquette is to be authentic, and I intend to keep my personal brand authentic in every social platform on which I post.    

Friday, September 21, 2012

Free Speech vs. Inflammatory Content

                As the world watches the violence and anti-American protests in many Arab Spring countries, it is hard not to wonder if this could have been avoided simply by YouTube invoking prior restraint on the anti-Muslim video created by a mysterious American. Since the development of the mass media, people have debated the question of the media's ability to truly elicit actions.  Who can be held responsible for the negative outcome of a message disseminated through the mass (or in recent cases, social) media?  I believe this question has two components; first, the legal question (can a medium be held legally accountable?) and second, the ethics question (does a medium have an ethical duty to act  in these cases?). 

The Legal Question
                In terms of the legal liability of media for the content they produce or disseminate, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled consistently that unless specific instructions for violence were in the messaging, it is not the media outlet's fault if violence ensues.  (See Brown v.EMA).  In the United States, the First Amendment protects even offensive speech, and even protects the medium through which such messages are communicated. However, it must be noted that with the rise of social media, a nearly-international medium, the legal  factor is thrown by the wayside as different governments have different views of and implications for free speech.  

The Ethical Question
                In most cases, although legal action may be pursued by a government trying to restrict speech or attain information, the question of dissemination of potentially inflammatory speech often boils down to a question of organizational ethics.  This is not as simple as the difference between 'right' and 'wrong', however.  For example, YouTube willingly removed the anti-Muslim video from being accessed in certain countries, where it was most likely to elicit violence.  YouTube/Google believed that their ethical obligation was to try to curb violence in an already-inflamed situation.  However, Twitter is well-known for its firm stance against infringements of speech.  Earlier this year, the Pakistani government blocked Twitter after the company refused to remove certain content that had been disseminated through its channels.  Although its reaction was the opposite of Google's, it believed it was acting ethically by standing for free speech.  YouTube takes the more utilitarian view of free speech ethics, acting in the best interest of the greatest number of people (by attempting to stop violence), whereas Twitter acts in the deontological view of free speech ethics, seeing a moral duty to uphold the principles of free speech.

                In my opinion, although I am a supporter of free speech, I believe that social media outlets like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube have an ethical obligation to curb the dissemination of inflammatory material.  However, this is a difficult call to make for these organizations.  In the United States, groups regularly poke fun at religious symbols and other 'sacred' images or figures.   We would probably not think much of a video poking fun of a prophet, certainly not enough to begin massacring people and destroying things.  However, in other countries, where there is not an everyday reality of free (and offensive) speech, this video elicited an unprecedented reaction of violence and hate.  Social media outlets, being international entities, must tread carefully when balancing the social and political value of free speech with the equally-important value of peace and stability.  

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Thursday, September 13, 2012

#NBCfail: A for effort

               During the 2012 London Summer Olympics, NBC was eager to stretch its social media wings, hoping to make use of its Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram and Google+ expertise to engage with viewers of its TV and online coverage.  NBC provided a comprehensive guide to its social media 'coverage' (here) and had every member of its team contributing to it.  From broadcasters to analysts to Ryan Seacrest, NBC provided viewers with countless lenses through which they could experience the games.
So how did NBC and its good intentions become #NBCfail?  
                The answer: easily. Just as is the case with all public relations or audience engagement efforts, social media provides the tools for audiences to revolt.  NBC was fighting an uphill battle by attempting to please all of its diverse viewers in its coverage of the foreign events.  Some viewers wanted timely delivery of events, while others wanted to be kept in suspense if they could not feasibly tune in to the live coverage online.  Evening news viewers heading to bed early wanted to know what happened at the Olympics earlier in the day, while night-owls wanted to wait for the primetime coverage.  Workplace multi-taskers wanted to join an online conversation about the events they watched live online, while busier workers wanted to wait until the 8-11pm hours to enjoy the games.  It was simply impossible for NBC to please the divergent desires of its audience simultaneously.
                Rather than social media being NBC's legacy for the 2012 games, it became the legacy of the many people contributing to the #NBCfail conversation.  While NBC was certainly very present on a variety of social media platforms during the games, it was simply unable to control the wild Twittersphere in its critique of the network's coverage.  I give NBC an "A" for effort.     

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

"You Always Have Your Stalkers"...and other social media advice

Professor Christy Perry Tuohey presented to our PRL 614 (Advanced Writing for Digital Platforms) class today, bringing with her a wealth of social media tips, tactics and words of caution.  Perhaps her most valuable tips were those that were most practical:
  1. Don't overpost
  2. Always give links (videos, photos, interactive content)
  3. Use hashtags (but don't overuse them!)
  4. Don't duplicate information across social media platforms
  5. Give credit to friends, colleagues, and content creators
While numbers 1, 2 and 5 are easy enough for me to put into practice, numbers 3 and 4 are those with which I often struggle.  With twitter, hashtagging provides a great opportunity to categorize one's posts and to have the posts heard on a larger scale.  For example, when tweeting for the LGBT advocacy conference I run, I tweeted a sympathetic post about the Chardon, OH shootings, expressing concern for those affected.  In that tweet, I used the common hashtag, "#Chardon".  Little did I know that that one hashtag would propel that tweet onto the national stage, resulting in hateful tweets from the Westboro Baptist Church being sent to my little, fifteen-man organization.  One simple hashtag brought my organization and our message to a much broader audience, even though that audience responded in hate.  It will be difficult (yet imperative) for me to limit my tendency to end some of my tweets with hashtags categorizing them, as Professor Tuohey recommended.

Number 4 (don't duplicate information across social media platforms) will also be a challenge for me.  It is so easy to simply link one's Facebook, Twitter and other social media accounts, and feel that you have all the bases covered.  However, as Professor Tuohey pointed out, one's audience (that of an organization or an individual) does not want to see the same information twice.  The modern attention span is barely able to digest information even once, let alone twice or multiple times.  For this reason, I will be sure to follow Professor Tuohey's advice as I manage the Life Gets Better Together account (and my own personal account) this upcoming year, and tailor the content I share on each platform to the audience/platform needs.

Overall, a very impressive presentation from Professor Tuohey, the woman behind the @NewhouseSU mask!

Tweet Chats: The Recitations of the Future?

                During my first tweet chat this week, (#brandchat) I could not help but wonder whether these pseudo-anonymous, fast-paced conversations could be the 'recitation sections' of the future.  The dreaded 8am Friday discussions with a teaching assistant or professor could take place online, in the comfort of one's own bed and pajamas.  No need to trek through wind, rain or snow (in the case of Syracuse) to a small room to sit awkwardly with fifteen other, equally hung-over undergraduates.  Simply log onto Twitter, and follow the assigned hashtag to participate in and learn from the online discussion. 
                In just one hour, #brandchat covered four great questions about social media/brands/public relations/marketing techniques and evaluation.  Hundreds of people participated, sharing their ideas and expertise on the questions at hand.  I have no doubt I would have been far less vocal and far more loathe to share my opinions on the topics had I sat in a room with my renowned and experienced fellow-tweeters.  However, hiding behind the mask of my Twitter handle, I had no problem throwing my ideas out into the abyss, hoping the good ones would be caught and re-tweeted, and the bad ones forgotten quickly in the deluge of #brandchat tweets. 
                If students were asked to participate in weekly tweet chats rather than weekly recitation sections, I have no doubt that participation amongst the typically less-vocal students would increase, and overall student engagement would rise as well.  The ideas being shared could link quickly and easily to new content.   Want to reference a movie clip from The Great Gatsby or a scholar's analysis of election trends? Simply add a hyperlink to your tweet, and you and your classmates are instantly engaged with the content and ideas on a deeper level.  Want to bring a guest speaker in to mediate the discussion about the week's readings? Simply have them join the twitter chat by using the class hashtag. 
                In the world of tweet chats, engagement and knowledge-sharing reaches a new level.  Higher education institutions would do well to incorporate this new media into their classrooms.