Ethics in the blogosphere

April 4, 2009 at 12:00 am (1) (, , , )

 Ethics and the Internet are not exactly co-dependant principles in the realm of blogging and social media.  As part of a society so reliant on information received from the Internet, it is often difficult to decipher the truth.

Ethics in blogging brings to mind the doubt that most communicators grapple with in their career: ghost blogging.  Ghost blogging can be defined as a blog run and managed by anonymous author(s), often written on behalf of someone else.  The most common example of ghost blogging is one written on behalf of a CEO. 

In response to the trend, several companies employ ghost writers to update company blogs and web sites.  I don’t have an issue with ghost blogging, as long as it is fully disclosed.  The idea of being duped into thinking that something is true, when it’s not is not my definition of ethical practice in PR.  Transparency in ghost blogging is key to your credibility.  

In Eric Eggertston’s blog: The Ethics of Ghost Blogging, he rasises the question of whether there should be more transparency about the role PR practitioners play in ghost blogging.  He believes that more identification of the behind-the-scenes work would be a good thing, eliminating the need for secret authorship. 

Many bloggers are of the stance that if you subscribe to ghost blogging, then you shouldn’t be blogging at all. That is the opinion of  CEO blogger, Michael Hyatt in his post: Ghost Blogging and Twittering. In his post he explores how those who use ghost writers don’t understand that social media only works well if the communication is personal, authentic, and near-immediate.  If people know they are not communicating and networking with the “real” author, then they may be less inclined to continue to continue that social interaction.

I do understand the appeal of hiring a ghost blogger.  For one, there is never enough time for a busy CEO or professional that may not be the best writer.   A ghost blogger will ensure that regular blog updates are being posted and can free up time for other more immediate tasks.  

Is it a violation of ethics in PR?  Not if it is done with full disclosure.  If that’s not the case,  you are simply acting in a misleading manner towards your audience(s).  

Do you think there could be more transparency in blogging?

 

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Tim Hortons sips on social media

March 31, 2009 at 4:26 am (1) (, , )

timhorton2  Tim Hortons, the brew of choice for many Canadian coffee drinkers, is an early adaptor of social media.  With the recent launch of its website http://www.everycup.ca, Tim Hortons has brewed itself a steaming cup of social media joe. 

The web site is centred on the idea that every cup has a story and is in response to the millions of people that write in to the company eager to share their Timmies stories.  The site encourages its drinkers to share their special memory and post pictures or videos to the site.   From hockey moms to engagements, Tim Hortons shares in the moment. 

 Like other social media sites, every cup allows for viewers to share the stories via e-mail or Facebook, and even make the content the wallpaper on their desktop.  I think this is a mediocre attempt at a social media campaign however, the site is a great way to promote the brand and get people to talk and share their positive stories about the company. 

 Tim Hortons has experienced a significant increase in profit since launching the site.  With a 7.8 per cent total revenues increase last year, their social media site is doing more than strengthening the bond between brand and drinker.  

In addition to the profit increase, they are adding value to the brand by using social media. The site makes real the tie people feel with Tim Hortons, and I think that their social media campaign is a great way to make connection and share in the iconic brand image.

What makes this social media campaign such a success? In my opinion, it’s that it is so simple to use.  Tim Hortons accounts for 42 per cent of sector traffic in the quick serve restaurant industry in Canada.  How many of the 63 per cent of Canadians over the age of 18 that drink coffee on a daily basis, use social media on a daily basis?  Well, I don’t know.  But, what I do know is that 56 per cent of social media users are either joiners or creators.   Tim Hortons certainly has a strong market advantage and is only increasing it by using social media. 

According to Jude Fiorillo, in his blog post titled “Every Cup Tells A Story” = Every Story Sells A Cup  he argues that web site content is a lot like a product.  Web sites with poor content do not succeed, just like a bad product.  If we compare the content of the Tim Hortons site to a product, we are only able to see success.  This may be due to the high level of content monitoring the site has, but nonetheless it is success.  

Fiorillo comments on the success of the web site.  Anyone who wants to can participate, and in this case, the maximum size of the “available content pool” is large, because it turns out that … a lot of people drink coffee, and many people do interesting things while drinking coffee! Additionally, it’s likely that anyone creating an (indirect) messaged tied to Tim Hortons, is likely to share a positive message about the company (e.g. positive message about  due to the nature of the website.” 

He furthers to say that: “A byproduct of these strong associated feelings is that people feel a deeper relationship to the campaign’s content, and as a result, are more inclined to investigate the website. Consider also that people have the opportunity to talk about something important to them (their story), and that it’s easy to participate (all you need is a picture and a 1+ paragraph story) and this further facilitates participation, and an active website or community, in turn, fuels more participation. 

Therefore, Tim Hortons customers are drawn to the site to share their story and remain subscribed to the site because it is easy to use.

In Wayne McPhail’s blog post titled “Decaf social media,” he discusses how Tim Hortons has made a weak attempt to use social media.  It’s very clear they don’t want your stories, they want your stories that put Tim Horton’s in a good light. And, they really don’t want your comments. They want your comments that put Tim Horton’s in a good light. So really, it’s decaf social media. It’s social media co-opted by an organization that doesn’t really understand what social media is about.”

I happen to disagree with McPhail.  He does however, make a valid point about monitoring your social media site for appropriate content.  Although it is crucial for business’ to promote positively, Tim Hortons and other companies using similar social media techniques, are finding that strict monitoring of the content posted on their sites can be potentially detrimental to the brand if they appear to promote in a “gushy,” yay us type-manner.   

In all, Tim Hortons does a good job of using social media to generate awareness and the connection people feel to the brand.  Tim Hortons’ use of social media is not so much to make a profit and market itself, but rather it is an attempt to reinforce to its loyal customers that they should remain a part of their lifestyle.  

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The benefits of social media “Groundswell”

March 24, 2009 at 6:35 am (1) (, )

Social bookmarking tools, such as Digg and Delicious, are changing the way people are using the internet.  These sites offer a place where one can bookmark, monitor internet dialogue and keep tabs on favourite blogs or web sites.  They also alert you when a site or blog has been updated and allow you to share your tabs with others.

 In Shamus McGillicuddy’s article: “Social Bookmarking: Pushing collaboration to the edge,” he explores how social bookmarking allows people to put an identity to connecting with people online.  He gives the example that if someone tags the same sites, or has similar interests as him he is drawn to want to meet them.

In my experience with Delicious, I have been able to get my information quickly and in non-conventional ways.  I essentially type in a keyword about what I’m looking for, and see what others are tagging on the topic.  Not only does this weed out the countless hours of searching the web for the information, but it allows me to literally keep tabs on what is being said and by whom.  

Suthan Mookaiah’s article: 4 irresistible benefits of social bookmarking he claims that this “trend in cyber space comes with a lot of benefits that you don’t want to miss out on.”  The benefits, as they are listed in the post, are: quick indexing; traffic generation; personal branding and quality backlinks.  As he notes, the best way to have any web site indexed and on major search engines is to post it on social bookmarking sites.   This works like bait to attract others to a personal site. 

Traffic generation practically guarantees that a site you tag is visited.  And, as the author mentions, if there is useful information on the site it will likely be visited again.

Personal branding on social bookmarking sites can be achieved by creating a profile, or your own page on the site.  These sites provide a way to network and establish yourself.  This works cohesively with generating traffic as the larger your network of taggers becomes, the more traffic you will generate.

Finally, there is quality backlinks.  This is when your personal page is visited by search engines that will index your site through following links from other sites. 

Therefore, in my opinion, without social bookmarking you can potentially lose on the opportunity to generate traffic to personal sites.  As a soon-to-be PR professional, generating traffic to my blog, confessions of a social media newbie, can be used as an effective networking and personal marketing tool.

 In the book “Groundswell,” by Charlene Li and John Bernoff, call online tools like Digg, twitter, facebook, blogs and other evolving and trendy social media sites, groundswell.  They advocate that companies should adjust to this new way of monitoring business and take advantage of it.  One thing to consider is the change in consumer behaviour.  The authors argue that the groundswell surrounding social media offers people to get more from each other, rather than traditional ways of conducting business. 

 For a business, participating in the groundswell, and truly listening to what people are commenting about, can place you ahead of the competition.  Social media helps people identify with a brand, while creating a PR dream because it creates buzz about the company.  I do believe however, the groundswell is certainly a force to be reckoned with. 

I strongly urge any company interested in using groundswell to promote and market to proceed with caution. If it is done incorrectly, it can easily backfire on the company.  However, if done correctly, you can have millions of people discussing your company.  Free promotion, without the in-your-face advertising.  

Another important point for companies to keep in mind is to constantly update your profile.  Blogs, twitter and Facebook should regularly be updated to avoid a stale image.  The groundswell at that point, becomes counter-active and begins to turn and spawn negative information about a company.  If the groundswell is to be used, it should be productive social interaction, not pointless. 

I find that most companies are on twitter and Facebook just for the sake of joining.  My main issue with that is they are generally posting information that is unrelated to their brand.  Business’ need to keep in mind that their brand needs to be at the forefront of their efforts, not aimless posts with little or no content behind them.  Most importantly, the company needs to monitor what is being said to know whether to continue or abandon the groundswell movement.

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Does social media belong in the hands of PR professionals?

March 18, 2009 at 4:55 am (1) (, , )

Recently, there has been much debate about social media, and its use by PR professionals.  Using social mediums, such as twitter, as a means to market a product or event, is considered somewhat taboo; especially, if the organization is not being transparent about it. 

As a marketing tool, social media offers an advantage to reach new audiences in creative and dynamic ways. However, I must question, is that its intended use? 

I don’t actually think the creators of Facebook, twitter or Digg feel that filtering information is necessary, or even appropriate (to a certain extent, with explicit and offensive content aside).   But, in the recent Facebook fiasco, where companies can sign up to target personalized ads by using a technology called beacon is a complete contradiction of what social media should be.  In Malik Om’s blog post titled Is Facebook Beacon a Privacy Nightmare?, he explores how Facebook is using these more focused ads as a way to capitalize off of the site.  The use of the beacon device allows subscribers to control their privacy, by selecting if they want or do not want personalized ads on their page.  The beacon tool is a clever enough tool that the average person would probably not notice the specific ads.  Let alone, think that focused ads are mere coincidence and never turn their privacy filter to a higher setting. 

What about social media and the not-for-profit sector?  In such volatile market conditions, fundraising efforts have turned to social media as a way to beef up donor lists.   The non-profits such as Pledge to End Hunger, use social media to encourage others to join in their plight and to promote their site.  The unique part is they also use social media against itself, by encouraging twitter users to write a blog about the Pledge where the Pledge’s logo is prominently displayed and referenced. 

 In Beth Kanter’s blog How Non-profits Can Use Social Media she discusses taking the pledge and lists names of others who have joined her cause.  She states that social media “is designed to make it easy to do something meaningful in the short-term and create a dialogue about solving root issues.”  From a public relations standpoint, social media has opened a way for donor-based organizations and corporations to spread the word and promote their cause or business. 

Since the economy is at the forefront of every one’s mind lately, corporations and non-profits have to find creative ways to ‘stay afloat.’ Social media offers a relatively free access to marketing techniques to broader audiences and with more expansive tools at their disposal.  In his blog, How Could Social Media Save Your Favorite Brand?, David Finch explores how brands are increasingly using social media to communicate to find out how to engage audiences, participate in the organization and discuss brand experiences.  His claim is that: “brands need to figure out how to best participate in such an environment,” he continues to say that “the weaker brands that fail to recognize, adapt and exchange with this behavioural shift are likely to suffer.” 

Social media used in these methods offer a make or break situation for some corporations and non-profits.  The problem faced is the ethics behind how to properly use social media, how to engage the audience without seeming like you are trying to sell your product or overtly promote your website.  My answer is simple: be transparent.  If people want to engage with your company they will, do not try to shamelessly try to plug it because then people will just ignore your brand.

Ultimately, social media are not tools that should be limited or have restricted use policies.  They are shared communities and networks where the freedom to exchange information, opinion, rants or whatever, are perfectly acceptable.  To be used however, and by whomever one chooses.  

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Brand me

February 21, 2009 at 1:39 am (1) (, , )

business_brandingMy online personality, brand me, can be crafted, edited and used to influence.  An online persona allows us to manipulate our image to suit the way we want to be perceived.     

Establishing a brand online took me no longer than a few careful mouse clicks and 15-minutes to set up my profile.  I selected a suitable picture and clicked send.  No overt intention, no real thought going into the process.  Just that easy.  

Branding oneself in reality takes a lot more consideration. Years of honing tastes, building experiences and trying to stand out from the crowd, has only left me more confused and still debating the meaning of individuality.

An online brand does not come without its challenges.  As simple as it may be to set up a profile, an alter-ego or a manipulated version of you, it can just as easily backfire.  If you’re like me–using social media to market yourself to potential employers–we must be weary of the image we project.  Representation of  brand me should reflect and highlight my skills, rather than discuss the latest weekend fiasco.   

A little more contimplation than click and send.

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Anti-social media

February 12, 2009 at 11:34 am (1) (, )

antisocial1Anti-social media is not a personality disorder.  Well, not yet at least.  Rather, it is the act of socializing using symbols, acronyms, status updates, videos and pictures to communicate.  In an effort to “connect”  with friends, we are disconnecting from face-to-face interaction.  The advent of social media has me wondering: does twitter and Facebook make us less social?  In one swooping answer, yes.

Non-verbal communication accounts for the majority of what we say, without actually saying it. We are able to pick up on the subtle cues that the written word simply cannot.  Facial expressions, body language and eye contact, add impact in a way that emphasis with CAPITALS and smiley faces can’t measure up to.  The removal of the lived experience when using media like twitter and Facebook, make communicating a guessing game; unsure of what the other is really expressing.

The symptoms of anti-social media behaviour are easily detected.  Compulsion, secrecy and perhaps even isolation.  However, the severity of the symptoms depend on how you choose to use social media.  As a marketing tool for a young PR student such as myself, it only makes sense to promote on sites like Linkedin, Digg and twitter.  Social media used in this sense, provides the user with global networking capabilities, and the opportunity to keep with the trends.  My only challenge: learning to do so in 140 characters or less.

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