It’s been over a year since I last wrote a blog post. I took the decision to take a step back from blogging to asses how I presented my thoughts on the changing communications landscape. The vacation from blogging has been for longer than planned, but it has been worth it.

While I decided to not pen long-form posts here, what I din’t do is stop curating, sharing and giving my opining on the influence of technology and digital platforms on reputation and brands. I shared my thoughts on Twitter and developed my lists for people to follow insights from those that I respect.

A lot has changed since my last post. My work has also moved into areas including development of Customer Experience (CX). Areas that have a direct impact on the reputation of companies and brands.

Blogging is not dead and the time is right for me to return to it.

Over the coming months my site is going to undergo some changes, so stay with us. And with regards to the subjects that I will be once again writing about, these will continue to include matters relating to reputation and social and digital. But I will also be focusing on #SocialBusiness, Customer Experience, Technology and Start-Ups and Innovation.

It’s good to be back!

 

Twitter Cards
Twitter Cards – Julio Romo: Google AuthorRank, What PRs Need To Know

Earlier this year Twitter rolled out Twitter Cards, a unique feature that would allow partner websites to present their content on Twitter in a more engaging way.

The service was initially designed to help media organisations preview in their Expanded Tweets content, images and video that they had just published on their websites.

Initially developed for journalists and publishers, this opt-in feature allows sites that offer ‘great content and those that drive active discussion and activity on Twitter‘ to potentially secure increased click-throughs from to their websites their tweets.

For Twitter, the aim was simple, to further position the network as a primary source for real-time news, content and comment.

I have been testing Twitter Cards Expanded Tweets for a few months now, to see if the feature could be used by companies and brands. And if so, if Expanded Tweets could help content creators secure increased engagement from the communities they have around them.

For brands to make the most out of the Expanded Tweets feature they are going to have to seriously look at the content that they create and publish on their websites. Get the tone and voice wrong and you will see no change in the level of interaction – reinforce negative perceptions. Adapt your brand style and how you communicate online and Expanded Tweets could help how your content is seen and shared by influencers on Twitter. To put it in simple terms, brands are going to have to learn how to become publishers.

Here are a few tips to guide you how to use twitter cards for blogging and content marketing.

What is Twitter Cards?

Simply put, Twitter Cards is a facility that enables you to present the content you publish on your website in a more engaging way on Twitter.  The feature will:

  1. Give you control of how your content is displayed on Twitter
  2. Help drive more traffic to your site
  3. Increase the number of people following your company on Twitter through content attribution.

And it is content and the attribution of it that is central to what Expanded Tweets is. Facebook Open Graph already enables how content is displayed and shared by individuals, while Google’s own Author Rank, which I wrote in this earlier blog post, confirms how people and what they share has become central to how reputations are built and authority is gained online.

Today, PRs have to remember that to help establish your brand and the thought-leaders within it you have to think about people, the content and the knowledge that is there to be shared online.

How do I activate Twitter Cards for my website?

There are three quite simple things you will have to do:

  1. Read Twitter Cards documentation and add the appropriate markup to your website – typically just 3 lines of HTML
  2. Test the markup using Twitter Cards Preview tool, and
  3. Once you have added the markup to your website, fill out this Twitter Cards application form and include a link to a representative page containing markup. Note that your submission will be rejected automatically if you have incomplete or broken markup.
Twitter Cards HTML Code for Twitter Summary Card

Once you have submitted your email application you will have to wait for an email from Twitter confirming that your request to be included in Twitter Cards has hopefully been approved.  Following the activation and depending on the type of content you publish on your site, tweets will be shown in three different forms:

  • Summary: The default card, which includes the title of your story, description of the post, thumbnail image used on the article, and Twitter account attribution
  • Photo: A Tweet sized photo card showing image posted on your site
  • Player: A Tweet sized video/audio/media player card displaying content that can be clicked and played

Twitter Cards will attribute both the author of a post by mentioning their Twitter handle and the Twitter account of the site that carries the content.

Why has Twitter launched this service?

A lot of people are turning to Twitter for real-time news. Today though news comes not just from traditional media outlets, but from bloggers and influencers online. As I have mentioned before, many news outlets are no longer battling to be the first for breaking news. Instead they are focusing at verifying and curating the content that people are capturing and sharing around the globe.

Today, everybody has a community around them and Twitter is aiming to be the hardwire that connects us.

I am a PR within an organisation that traditionally just publishes press releases on our website, can I use Twitter Cards?

Yes, you can. But don’t expect to improve the level of engagement between your audience and your brand if the content that you share has no personality.

The challenge that you are going to have to overcome is that of developing a tone and personality that your brand is going to have to use online and in real-time. Think of your team as a newsroom. You might have to:

  • Adapt the structure of your website
  • Increase the amount of content that you share on your site,
  • Increase the frequency of the content
  • Attribute individuals to content – CEO, CIO and other internal thought-leaders, which will require you to develop their own online personalities. Google search results is pushing people with authority to the top of rankings. Twitter is looking to do the same.

Get it right and over time you could see increase engagement between your audience and your brand.

As a consultant I have spent time reviewing the communications departments of clients, restructuring and training teams to ensure that they are more flexible and their content is more in tune with what their audience wants.  Through PR and social media consultancy I help companies and brands capture the ground and enter the conversation – teaching how to listen and engage. The aim is to help get their audiences talking and carrying their messages off-line.

Twitter Cards is just one tool that can help brands increase engagement. One tool that can maximise conversations and discussions.

Research unveiled today by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism reveals how smartphones are starting to ‘play a significant role in the consumption of news.’  The institute’s 2012  Digital News Report (#risjdigital2012) tells how more than one in four of those questioned accessed news stories via a mobile device or tablet.

While traditional journalism providers like the BBC, Sky News and individual print outlets remain central sources amongst consumers of news, the size of the audience getting their news from unverified sources is growing, especially amongst the 16-24 age group.  The report additionally reveals how outlets in the UK have been ‘relatively quick to innovate, with developments such as live blogging, social media, and data journalism – leaving little space for new providers.’

These findings not only put questions on how news organisations deliver content to the public, but how, through public relations, governments, companies and other organisations can better engage and communicate with their respective audiences.  Traditional PR in this 21st Century is no longer an option.  Reaching the audience has to be done by understanding where the public is and when and what they want to receive.

Considering the speed of news dissemination through Facebook and Twitter, especially when content is verified, it is becoming essential to change the approach that brands use to engage with their individual publics.

Newman also reveals in the report how news spreads through social networks, with 78 per cent saying they were more likely to click on a link from friends and other people they knew if they had shared content during the past week.  Newman adds in the report that Facebook is still key to disseminating of news online, with 55 per cent using this platform, against 33 per cent using email and 23 per cent using Twitter.

Further details can be found in the report, which will be unveiled at MSN this evening, 11 July 2012 from 18.00.  Follow the Hashtag #risjdigital2012 then for comment and discussion.

Reuters Institute Digital Report 2012

Global public relations and communications agency Burson-Marsteller was outted last week by a blogger for planting anti-Google stories for Facebook that would smear the reputation of the search giant.

Blogger Chris Soghoian was approached by Director of Burson-Marsteller’s Washington DC Media Practice John Mercurio to see if he would write an op-ed for a top-tier media outlet that from a PR perspective would further raise awareness of privacy issues surrounding Google’s business.  Soghoian rebuffed Mercurio and published their email correspondence, which was subsequently picked up by The Daily Beast who confirmed that Burson’s client was the social networking mammoth Facebook.

The assignment raises questions not just about the ethics of PR in promoting one set of views over another, but also our industry’s understanding of the media landscape in which it operates.

Let’s not be naïve, assignments such as the one that Burson accepted does take place.  It is part and parcel of what the business world.  Briefings, allegations, misinformation are tactics that while they are crude, are part of certain people’s skill-set.

That said, one of the first questions that needs to be asked is that of why did Facebook deide to or even agreed to a campaign to highlight the failings of a competitor?  Such campaigns, as we have seen, carry a lot or risk and can leave ones reputation severely damaged.  Why didn’t Facebook embark on a communication initiative that would highlight it’s strengths, while ignoring competitors weaknesses.  Strategically the answer lies within Facebook and the counsel it received from Burson-Marsteller.

All this said and knowing about the factitious relationship that exists between these two giants, questions have to be asked about the quality of Burson’s work, an agency that I must declare I did work for in 2008.

The content, structure and tone in the brief email correspondence between the two parties that Soghoian released raise a number of key points and questions:

Bearing these points in mind and from reading his email exchange with Soghoian one questions why Burson would have Mercurio work on such a project.  Let me highlight the reasons I ask this:

  • In Mercurio’s opening email on May 3rd, John addresses Chris Soghoian as ‘Mr. Soghoian’.  Would a person who had a close working relationship with this blogger address him as ‘Mr’?  Isn’t this quite a detached introduction from somebody who does not have a strong working relationship with said blogger?
  • Mercurio is a Burson’s Director of Media with a background in politics, why is he involved in blogger relations?  Surely this would have been the responsibility of a tech team or at least of somebody who would not approach Soghoian with a ‘Mr. Soghoian’.
  • While Mercurio offered the opportunity of an op-ed piece, why is it he and not somebody with a better working relationship offering Soghoian this opportunity?
  • Why is Burson using email to connect with bloggers, knowing full well that email correspondence can be leaked?

Such work is only successful if there is an element of trust that you can work on.  Approaching bloggers in such a cold manner leaves not just an agency such a Burson-Marsteller open to attack, but also the client who rightly so would expect anonymity.

Mercurio is trained as a journalist, with a background in politics.  Surely he has experience on how to received leaks and how to protect sources.

From a communications perspective the whole operation leaves one questioning not just the suitability of Burson for such an assignment, but the internal understanding of how views and opinions are shaped in a world that is less media-centric.  There will be plenty of internal questions within this prestigious agency given that it isn’t just Facebook’s reputation that’s been damaged.

It has been an interesting year for public relations.  The recession has affected how businesses communicateReputation and issues management have been the watchwords as companies throughout the world battled to safeguard their image and reputation during what could be described as the first major downturn in this globalised era.  And it has taken no prisoners as it spread across sectors and continents, highlighting how interconnected we all are today.

What’s been interesting is that while the recession was causing havoc around the world, consumers became better connectedIssues that once might have only affected reputations in a small geographic region spread like wild fire thanks to social media and networking.  Media outlets across the world wasted no time in reporting issues that were trending online.

While this was happening companies continued in their monologue culture, dictating at consumers while they engaged and networked online – sharing feedback and their experiences through websites, blogs and real-time platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube

And that is the point.  Social media and networking has empowered consumers.  It has given them a platform through which they can share knowledge and experience.  It has also raised their expectations with regards to what they want and how they want it.  They expect good service and that expectation crosses sectors.  Today, if you have outstanding service when buying a car, you expect the same level of service when dealing with your bank or utility company.  Social media has unified the expectations of people and it is now up to companies to realise this.

The fear that the business community has is that it isn’t able to control the conversation.  Entering into a conversation with current or potential consumers on a digital platform “entails considerable risk” as the Accenture report says.  Risk because if your levels of service do not meet the expectations of your empowered audience, said stakeholders will amplify their displeasure and share it with others, may others.  In fact, the Accenture says that “one-quarter of respondents have used these channels [digital] to relate their negative experiences to others.”  In fact, nearly nine in 10 consumers globally told the people around them about their bad experiences.  And this is not what businesses want during an economic recovery.

You just have to look at how Eurostar created a rod for its own back by behaving in such as detached way from what was affecting their customers.  A lack of empathy and the use of corporate language only helped turn an issue into a crisis.  Such was the reaction to horrendous customer service that customers turned to Facebook and other online sites to vent their anger at how they were treated.

And let’s not forget how Rage Against The Machine became the UK’s Christmas Number 1.  Tired of being fed ‘pop-tastic’ fodder, people joined a Facebook group that attracted over 1 million supporters who wanted to break the monopoly of X-Factor.  People power at it’s best.

So, what should businesses do in order to meet the ever-increasing expectations of consumers?  Accenture rightly says that companies should dump the ‘one-size-fits-all’ customer service model and “embrace a service model that provides differentiated service experiences based on the expectations and requirements of individual—and closely understood—customer segments.”

Businesses in the so-called emerging markets have become more vulnerable to the power of people.  One could argue that it’s because consumers are keener on making the most of their new found wealth, while customers in mature markets are more patient and will only as a last resort take their business elsewhere.

For quite some time consumers have had customer service that’s been designed for them rather than with them.  With the speed at which the public can create a backlash it is going to be essential that businesses learn to listen and start developing models that can be customised by customers.  Collaboration and prompt attention and the understanding that each consumer is unique will help businesses succeed as the economy climbs out of recession.  This culture and philosophy will work to turn consumers into advocates, turn people into an invisible word-of-mouth and online sales force.

I believe that 2010 will be a year where public relations forces businesses to take note of what customers want.  A year where cultures will need to change, because if they don’t and consumers ever increasing expectations are not met reputations will suffer.  Businesses will start noticing that their customers are now critics that will make their opinions known not just through word-of-mouth but online, to a much wider audience.

In 2010 consumers that share their positive or negative thoughts and experiences will attract cult following.  Of course on issues such as banking we already have this with MoneySavingExpert.com’s Martin Lewis.  Just think of what he’s achieved and wonder what others could do in sectors in which they are customers.

We are witnessing a change and social media is the platform through which consumers will fight for the service that they expect.

But as Niccolo Machiavelli said, “whosoever desires constant success must change his conduct with the times.”