CIPR Share This Launch at Google Campus (Image from Gorkana)

The UK’s Chartered Institute of Public Relations (@cipr_uk) Social Media Advisory Panel (#ciprsm) has this week announced its objectives for 2013.

During the forthcoming year the panel will focus its effort on updates to its Best Practice and Wikipedia Guidelines, a specification for the skills for the future PR practitioner and guidance on social media and the law. It will also be working on Share This Too (@sharethistoo), a follow-up to Share This – the bestselling book it produced last year.

Set up in April 2010, the panel – which I’ve had the pleasure of being a member of since it was founded three years ago, brought together some of the communications industry’s leading digital and social media thinkers. The aim was to establish best practice and share knowledge with public relations and communications professionals by brining together experts in social who work in a range of disciplines ranging from public and government affairs, to consumer, international and brand development.

Let’s remember that while people today use these channels as a matter of fact, companies, brands and decision-makers are still cautious and suspicious of engaging in online conversations with their publics. It is this misunderstanding that we are committed to challenging.

In 2012, the panel developed industry-leading guidance and events including:

  • Social Media Guidance (PDF) – a best practice guide to social media for public relations, downloaded more than 4,500 times in 2012.
  • Social Media Measurement Guidance (PDF) – a practical guide to measurement resulting from the panel’s relationship with AMEC, downloaded more than 1,500 times in 2012.
  • Social Summer – a series of evening events around the country on various aspects of social media, attended by more than 500 people in 2012.

Today perception and reputation is shaped by people – by how they are connected and how they share their thoughts and opinions.

Brands can no longer rely on ‘push communications’. Social is very public, and is transforming how public and private sectors organisations communicate and engage with consumers and stakeholders.

You can follow members of the panel through this #ciprsm twitter list I have set-up.

This is an exciting time to be in public relations.

Instagram, here today, gone tomorrow?
Instagram, here today, gone tomorrow?

Everybody loves a start-up. They are new, agile and the so-called ‘gurus’ like to describe them disruptive. The problem though is that many often lack basic business experience – common sense leads many to be here today and gone tomorrow.

Enter Instagram, which was founded by Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger in October 2010. Instagram was one of the first photo sharing and social networking services that enabled users to ‘take a picture, apply a digital filter to it, and share it on a variety of social networking services, including its own.’

Instagram was a runaway success. Within it’s first year the application had over 5 million users, a figure that grew to 30 million by April 2012 when Facebook approach the company and bought it for a cool $1 billion. Today, Instagram has 100 million registered users.

Facebook though isn’t going to buy such a company without thinking of how to monitise it.

Which is why on 5th December this year Kevin Systrom announced at Le Web that Instagram was going to block Twitter from displaying photos as Twitter Cards. This announcement didn’t go down that well with users who shared their photo’s on Twitter.

The removing of Instragram from Twitter cards was nothing in comparison to the announcement on 18th December that the company was changing its terms and conditions. Under the new policy, the company would have the rights to sell users’ photos to advertisers without “compensation or notification.”

This announcement was described by users as a ‘suicide note‘, especially after Instagram announced that the only way to opt-out was by deleting a users account before 16 January 2013.

Instagramers took to Twitter to denounce the new terms and conditions. High profile photographers deleted their accounts and the media, rightly so, went negative.

Kevin Systrom took to the company blog to try and manage the crisis. In a post he appeared to claim that users had misinterpreted its revised terms of service. He blamed the furore on “confusing” choice of language.

Blaming the language is an odd strategy, as legal documents are supposed to be written in plain English. And in any case, any change in terms of use should have gone through both compliance and PR.

What is stranger is that given that this was not the first time that a photo sharing site had both been caught trying to claim copyright over users content, it was odd for Systrom to blame ‘confusing language.’

Let’s remember that in May 2011 Twitpic, which went mainstream after a user captured a US Airways plane crash landing on the Hudson River, announced a change in its terms and conditions. The changes sought to secure copyright over all images on the network. A backlash ensued with users hastingtaging #twitpic #delete.

Twitpic founder Noah Everett apologised on the site’s blog for the “lack of clarity” in the language used. Photo sharing network Plixi was also caught in a similar situation when entered into a deal with World Entertainment News.

Fact is that many photo-sharing sites have tried to monitise their business by trying to grab exclusive copyrights from users.

Networks such as the Yahoo-owned Flickr tried something different though. In May 2009 Flickr entered into a deal with Getty Images. As part of the deal Getty can approach users in order to secure a deal on an image that they have taken. Users can then take anything between 20 and 30 per cent of sales through the renowned global picture agency.

And Getty is not the only site that offers to pay users. The Agence France Press backed Citizenside acts as an agent for pictures that are sold, often passing 50 per cent to the user.

So the question to Instagram and Facebook is, why try and grab everything and then blame the lawyers, when you could have set the scene for crowdsourcing opportunity for amateur photographers?

Photo sharing sites have tried to grab copyright from users in the past and failed. Perhaps, sharing money earned would have enhanced Instagram’s reputation.

Perhaps speaking to your PR, Instagram could have saved themselves a lot of grief.

As it stands, and according to Andrew Beaujon at Poynter, ‘unhappy Instragram users are still suspending their accounts.’

Kate Middleton in Singapore (creative commons Tom Soper Photography)

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have instructed lawyers at London firm Harbottle & Lewis to start proceedings against Mondadori, publishers of Closer France, after they printed topless pictures of Kate Middleton taken while she and her husband were on a private holiday in Provence.

The images were taken by a local paparazzo photographer who sold them to the French celebrity ‘people’ magazine.

Italian gossip magazine Chi, also owned by the Berlusconi owned Mondadori group, has also published the pictures in Italy.  The same Italian magazine was at the centre of controversy in 2006 after it published a black and white picture of Princess Diana receiving oxygen after the fatal car-crash.

The royals are seeking a criminal conviction with prosecutors in Paris as the images breached France’s Criminal Code.  Punishment for a criminal prosecution can be up to a year in jail and a fine or up to €45,000.  The couple are also seeking an injunction in the civil court in Paris to ensure that no more pictures are published in print or online.

Such are the penalties for breaching privacy in France that editors and their publishers cynically factor in the fines when considering if they should run sensationalist content.  That said, with the rise of the web and the fact that one of these titles has a social media editor that hypes up the content on Twitter and other social networks that civil action could be taken in UK courts, where damages could be more substantial.

Reputation today is a cross-jurisdictional issue.  The 21st Century Reputation Consultant doesn’t just have to have understand the workings of the world wide web.  They also have to have an understanding as well as a lawyer alongside them that can build a case in the various legal jurisdictions that stories today reach.

While statements have been made by the publishers that there was nothing wrong with the publishing of the images, that is incorrect.  In France alone doing so is a criminal offence.

While there are individuals, celebrities that make a living from the gossip magazines, the signal has been sent that the Prince and Princess are not celebrities.  It is a brave move, but one that in my opinion needs to be taken.

Certainly editors should have considered the past surrounding the late Princess Diana when making a risk assessment of whether they should publish said picture package.  Common sense would have dictated that given the history the response by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge is certainly not, as Closer Editor Laurence Pieau said, “disproportionate.”

Jack Wilshere | Nike #MakeItCount

The UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) today banned in it’s current form Nike’s #MakeItCount social media campaign.  Launched in January 2012, the campaign used Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere and Manchester United’s Wayne Rooney to send a tweet namedropping the initiative to their respective followers over six months ago at the launch!

Since January, Nike has taken the social media campaign across marketing disciplines including advertising and have used it’s rosta of athletes to remind consumers of the brand.  It’s become a campaign that’s been truly integrated, reaching across marketing disciplines.

The decision by the ASA, which took 6 months to reach and was the result of a single complaint, highlights how the organisation has entrenched itself in it’s traditional standard.  While it reviews advertising campaigns, in it’s adjudication it has social guidelines for advertising through social networking channels that any communications channels should not just be aware of, but be versed in!

The ASA did say that an indication that it was an advert, such as by having an #ad in the tweet, might have clarified the purpose of the communication.  So there, after 6 months you now know.

See the ruling here.

House of Lords member Lord Stoneham of Droxford yesterday used Parliamentary Privilege to make public details of an #injunction that former #RBS Chief Executive Sir Fred Goodwin had on the story that he was involved in an extra-marital affair while the bank was collapsing in front of him.

The comments were made in the Chamber at the Palace of Westminster hours before legal teams met at the High Court to discuss said gagging order, with one party seeking to have it overturned.  Sir Fred himself did not object to the removal of the injunction, which enables the media to run with a story that will put plenty of heat on him once again.

Injunctions and super-injunctions have been making the headlines recently because media outlets have been unable to report on the more salacious stories that are doing the rounds about high-profile personalities.  The pub gossip that people take part is censured.  Some people criticise the judiciary, claiming that it undermines the press.  Others believe that Privacy is a basic human right that requires individual mistakes to not be splashed in the press.

My view is that the press and the individuals using these injunctions and super-injunctions are right.  The problem is that in between both arguments lies what is known as public interest, a term used by the media as a ‘catch-all.’  With this self-regulated tool, the media can invade the privacy of anybody and any organisation.  And there lies the problem.  Organisations need to be accountable, as do the people working for them and for government.  That said, there is a fine line that divides a mistake from the effect it has on an organisation.

The law has always been a tool in the public relations armoury.  Reputation management has used the law to gag a story from being discussed in the media, very much under the impression that if the media is not able to run the story then nobody will know the issues that can be damaging to their clients reputations and trust.  This is naïve, stupid and out dated.  Public relations is rarely able to repair the damage that requires this kind of force.

Yes, there is a need for Privacy and there is a need for injunctions and super-injunctions.  The question is, should they be made available and affordable to everyone?  Yes.  Should there be further debate on which applications receive one?  Yes.  Duplicity and double-standard needs to be outted.  From a public relations perspective, reputation management is always harder when the damage has been done, even though said damage is not yet in the public arena.

How many times have we as PR professionals held our head in our hands wandering how we can repair the damage by some ill-conceived decision or action?

The current debate about injunctions and super-injunctions is of course in the media because details of many of these have been outted to social networking sites.  The fact is that we live in a less media centric world where consumers of news can obtain gossip and stories online.  It is this that smashes the legal structure and protection that the law affords to individuals to protect, rightly or wrongly, the privacy and reputation.  But this in itself is a misnomer, because sites such as Google, Facebook and Twitter are based overseas in jurisdictions with firm legal structures.

Social and search sites can be notified and given due time to remove content that libels clients.  But this course this course of action to protect one’s soiled reputation carries it’s own risk – reputation is about trust and trust is won and lost in the court of public opinion.  It is the members of this court – you and I, that gathers information and consumes it.  The fact is that we live in a world where there is less control, which is why PR should learn this and work within the new structure that social networking has created.

I have given presentations to a series of law firms, highlighting how social media and it’s central pillar of information sharing, which happens cross jurisdictions can undermine their work.  The skills and ability to share information without leaving a trace is there.  The internet is a channel that crosses geographical boundaries.  There is concern that such tactics are being used within journalism to undermine the case for privacy.  It is a case of cat and mouse, and at the moment the media is the mouse the law is the old lethargic cat.

Social media has become a tool that can undermine law and if not undermine then push it into the 21st century.  For many the law is just a form of censorship that prevents free speech and public interest.  In fact a well-known blog has made available a Google Document listing all the supposed injunctions that currently exist.  Today it is a question of if you search you will find.

Reputations today are being saved and more importantly destroyed by our own human willingness to engage in hearsay and gossip.  Individuals, companies and brands spend a lot on projecting an image that attracts business.  They should be protected, but only if the actions for which they seek an injunction or super injunction are not duplicitous.

Reputation management is today a skill amongst public relations practitioners that requires real-time management.  Controlling a crowd is nigh on impossible.  Once the damage is done an injunction will only act as a plaster.

PRs have to work not just with the legal court, but importantly the court of public opinion, a court that is a well briefed by content that is available online.

BREAKING NEWS:

It appears that a UK Premier League player has started legal proceedings against Twitter to secure the disclosure of the currently ‘unknown persons’.  Legal firm Schillings said in a statement, “to obtain limited information concerning the unlawful use of Twitter by a small number of individuals who may have breached a court order.”

We assume that such action will be taken by a partner law firm in California, though given that the unlawful act has taken place in the UK, a separate legal jurisdiction, it is going to be tricky to see how this works.  Of course, if those people who started the allegations are in the UK then they will not be eligible to America’s Constitution First Amendment, which allows free speech.