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Ignore the Trolls

Any individual who spends a significant amount of time online has been witness to an act of trolling.  What used to be limited to forums and comment boards is now a prolific activity throughout online space, especially on social platforms.

Organizations as well as individuals on social media need to be aware of this, and know the consequences of engaging these individuals.  Recently, a somewhat off -color (you have been cautioned) case study has played out that illustrates the harm one can do to your own online image by responding to trolling.

Popular internet humor site http://www.theoatmeal.com produces memes, comics, and other imagery that are spread throughout the internet.  Until I became aware of this particular incident, I had never visited The Oatmeal, however the owners material was easily recognized as works I had seen shared, tweeted, pinned, and otherwise spread throughout the web.  Other sites will also reproduce this material, sometimes failing to credit the original author.

Funnyjunk.com is one of those sites.  Following a comment by The Oatmeal on their use of his material, Funny Junk threatened a lawsuit.

You can read about that and The Oatmeal’s response here, in addition to this particular page, he has documented the rest of the incident in other posts.

Well, The Oatmeal’s post led to Funny Junk’s lawyer suing him for defamation.  This was a result of the massive amount of angry trolling emails, letters, and other contact the lawyer received.

Now this is where today’s lesson comes in- when the trolls of the internet attack you in any number, don’t, I repeat DO NOT engage them.  Ignore them.

This article illustrates how you look when you respond in kind.

By responding, this lawyer has absolutely destroyed whatever public image he once had.

So DON’T do it.

Please

And if you do, then the internet will enjoy laughing at you.

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Selling Social

Anyone who has ever tried to convince an organization to use social tools knows of the challenges that can follow.  From questioning the ROI, to struggles over strategy and the direction to take a social presence, starting down the social path can lead to many frustrating situations.

The underlying problem behind all of this, is not an organizations desire to adapt a new tool, but rather their comfort level with a whole new style of communication.  Some would call this communication revolutionary, to myself it is far more natural than the decades of barriers companies have constructed between their audience and themselves.

When selling this transition, here are some pointers to help you out.

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Social Media Mishaps

One of the biggest risks associated with an organizations venture into the social realm is the #fail.  Whether on Twitter, Facebook or any other medium.  Companies without proper structure and planning in place open themselves up to all sorts of dangers.

Go here for some great examples

It is hard to pinpoint the exact cause of these PR disasters.  From my observations of companies, I would identify a few possible issues.

For small businesses, mistakes often come as an owner/manager who also runs social media gets too personally involved, many small businesses may even feel comfortable saying some of these things to a customer in person (I disagree with that approach), but when you put something online, it becomes a much bigger issue.  Case in point- Boner’s BBQ (note- this is pretty much as bad as it gets).

Another issue I see frequently with small businesses, is (I’m going to make some generalizations here) when the Baby Boomer owners, ask their 16 year old digital-native grandchild to help them get their business on Facebook.  This can work out all fine and well, but there is a lot of risk involved, and it is always critical to know and trust the people running your online media.  Companies need to remember, that just because someone has their own online presence, doesn’t mean they should be managing an organizations.

In larger organizations, a similar situation exists, where Social Media has become something the IT department handles, because it is done on a computer.  Luckily this is changing.  It is also important that professional communicators handle your online communications (this really is a no-brainer).

Another problem that plagues larger businesses, is the scheduled post.  People catch onto this pretty fast, and if not, events will make sure it blows up in your face eventually.  If any further example is needed, just look to The Great Twitter Crash of 2012; reports have indicated that when service was restored, accounts with tweets scheduled during the outage dumped them all at once.  That makes your organization look very authentic (or not).

The answer to all of these issues (and I am sure there are many more causes I’ve missed) is to employ, hire, contract, bribe with cookies, etc- people you know and trust to communicate for your organization online.  In addition to this, a social media plan needs to be in place, preferably woven into a larger communications plan.  This plan should allow for the flexibility necessary online, while still accounting for humanities more pathetic tendencies to say stupid things online.

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Communication is a 2 way street- Don’t forget to listen.

The internet and new media have opened up limitless channels for organizations to spew forth promotional information hoping to hit a relevant public.  Talk is constantly being made of how new media is revolutionizing communications.  But how many organizations are really allowing for innovation in this regard?  A vast number of companies continue to blast their messages out onto every available channel, hoping for a few conversions.

The benefit of social media is the two-way communication channel it opens up.  Organizations need to listen and interact with their audiences through these tools, and in reality each medium they use.  Social media isn’t just a new tool, it is a change in how people communicate.  It has put power back to the customer.  After decades of companies expressing their desire to listen to consumers by outsourcing call centers, providing 1-800 numbers and generic support desk email addresses, there are now tools that give companies the opportunity to really listen and act.  After years of red tape, new media gives consumers a new avenue to pursue for help, concerns and other important feedback.

The challenge is for companies to adapt to, and embrace communication as a 2 way process.  Organizations must listen, and then act, demonstrating that they do in fact care about what their public is thinking.  As opposed to monitoring the conversation solely to report a set of statistics about engagement to justify their online presence.

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Moving beyond “Spin”

The mention of PR often leads to an imaginative journey through dimly lit back rooms, where spin is discussed by those pulling the strings.  If I recall the first thing I learned in a university Public Relations course, was that this is not what we as PR professionals do.  And throughout my educational experience it was reinforced, over and over and over again.  Outside of my coursework, I see this message regularly from practitioners and industry related materials.

With all of this repetition, why are PR professionals still known for beings “spin doctors?”  Amidst a communication revolution brought on by the internet, there are more opportunities for open, honest (albeit well thought out) communication than ever before.  Organizations and PR professionals need to work together to encourage rather than inhibit this type of open communication process.

Organizations need to make their PR team accessible.  This article has some great tips for setting things up this way.

In addition, communicators from throughout an organization need to be capable of responding to this level of open communication.  With the level of interaction available through new media, people have to be ready to respond and participate in the ongoing dialogue regarding their organization.  Now this requires careful thought and planning, rather than a shoot from the hip approach- but that is another post.

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Communicators vs the IT department- Challenges of New Media

20 years ago, the internet at work was solely the realm of IT experts.  With today’s constantly connected life and the increased use of social platforms to communicate with an organization’s audience, PR and communications professionals need access and influence over technological matters.

As “social media” has evolved over the past decade, I have seen it placed under IT, Marketing and PR.  Early on, nobody seemed to know where to put it.  Luckily it has largely become part of an organizations Marketing or PR departments, if not given its own place.  Where social communications are placed does have a critical impact on their usage, but that is another subject altogether.

Even with social media’s shift to communications, in many organizations, IT still plays a large role.  This article gives suggestions on overcoming those issues.

In addition to those suggestions, it is becoming increasingly important for communicators to understand the use of new tools.  This may begin to include basic IT functions, particularly in smaller organizations.  However, the need for PR experts remains.  As technology continues to find its way into every corner of our lives, it is important that communicators have access to all of these tools.

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Content and PR in the Digital Age

As the internet and social media have changed the way we communicate, it has become increasingly important for organizations to be active and involved online.  Without content, this is difficult.  PR practitioners must be able to assist in the development of content as part of a larger communications plan.

Through quality content, effectively disseminated online, any organization can become a go-to source for information relevant to their field.  As your organization produces useful content, it will be easier for people to find you online and you will have effective material for growing your community on social sites.

Check out this article for some great tips on producing effective content.

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