The BBC announced this week it’s plans for coverage of the London 2012 Olympics. Thanks to a dedicated Olympics Player, users will be able to access every single event online and by the press of a button.

Four years after the impressive Beijing Olympics the BBC has capitalised on the growth of technology and the rise in smartphone ownership to ensure that audiences never miss a moment.

Broadcasters have been living in fear of the fragmentation of the television market place, but because the BBC is tax-payer funded it has been able to take a leap and use technology that will put the audience truly in control.

For advertisers the segmentation of viewership has signalled confusion, forcing many to relearn how to reach and promote their brands to potential customers. Television, let’s not forget, is still the most dominant media when wanting to engage with an audience. But this is changing. Today, corralling people together is more difficult as more channels allows people to watch what they want to watch.

The BBC is using these Olympics to test out social features that will enable viewers to learn, comment and share about the event and athlete they watch.

By focusing on a platform agnostic belief, the BBC is putting the Olympics in the hands of the user, weather they are at home, work or travelling.

And if you are outside the UK overseas and want to see how it works then now is the time to get that VPN network up and running.

The Olympics, in your hand. Wherever you are.

Less that a month after the Bell Pottinger gets caught boasting about using ‘dark arts’ and ‘having a team that could sort Wikipedia,’ it appears that another agency has been outed.

Rival public relations agency Portland Communications has been caught by West Brom MP Tom Watson for trying to edit out the name of Stella Artois, a brand owned by Portland client inBev, from the Wikipedia description page for Wife-beater.

Watson rightly suggests in Portland Communications Wikipedia discussion page that agencies list their clients in their own Wikipedia entries so to declare conflict of interest and as I suspect for transparency sake.

What is interesting is that at 16.31 today (04/01/2012) Wikipedia user Portlander11 edits Portland Communications Wikipedia page and adds, ‘Current and previous clients include BTA Bank, Mukhtar Ablyazov and AB InBev,’ before adding, ‘The reason for this change is that Mr Ablyazov is not and never has been a client of Portland Communications.’  That final statement is very clear, stating that Mr Ablyazov ‘is not and has never been a client of Portland Communications.

Looking at the Wikipedia page for Mr Mukhtar Ablyazov one sees that the page has been edited on a regular basis, mostly by registered Wikipedia users.  A number of edits though are from a user whose IP address has been captured as ‘83.244.252.242.’  This IP address has the following hostname associated with it, ‘mx9.portland-communications.com.’  Perhaps, that bold and unambiguous statement is not as accurate as Portlander11 led many people, including Tom Watson MP to believe.

The fact is that fingerprints exist online.  The web connects people.  Wikipedia and social networking site brings groups together that act as editors and fact checkers, something, it appears that some public relations consultancies are yet to understand.

UPDATE: I should point you to two blog posts that were equally published yesterday by Stuart Bruce and Phil Gomes, the latter calling on Wikipedia to ‘have an open, constructive and fair discussion about the important issues where public relations and Wikipedia interset.’

The Times ran a story this week on how celebrities were using PR agencies to drive bad news that is circulated online away from public’s view – burying it away in pages people rarely visit.  Times reporter Billy Kenber followed up his initial piece with further insight on how some agencies work.  There is a problem with his piece though, that being the insinuation that it’s solely PR agencies that are behind these shady practices.

Reputation management as we know is not a new discipline within public relations.  The skills needed have been around for many, many years.  That said, since today we are influenced by what we read online and what our friends and peers share with us the need and demand for online reputation management (ORM) has dramatically increased.

Reputation is at the core of any business. It shapes our trust with brands and individuals.  If that trust is challenged we take our business elsewhere, which is why in today’s real-time and connected world it is essential to keep track of how communities can build or break reputations.

Kenber gave the example of Woburn Safari Park who allegedly paid an agency to bury news stories about a critical report from the Department for Environment , Food and Rural Affairs  (DEFRA) on the conditions of the animals in its care.  Weeks after stories were published The Times reported that the park hired the services of an online reputation management agency.  If this is all it did then rightly so one can be critical of how it acted given DEFRA’s findings.  Certainly not a way of repairing a reputation.

Online reputation management agencies are not public relations agencies.  There is a need for their services, but these should be used as part of a much more strategic campaign.  Burying bad news and the associated debate that takes place online is not going job is not going to serve a company good in the long-term.  In fact it is likely to do further damage.

Public Relations is about reputation.  It is as the CIPR states about ‘the planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain goodwill and mutual understanding between an organisation and its publics.’  Key words here are planned and sustained.  Making a sustained effort is much more that just burying news, much more that negative briefings.  It is in today’s business and consumer environment about real-time decisions that can humanise a brand and assist it in gaining support and the much needed understanding.

There is a need for the skills that Kenber highlights.  We have seen plenty of examples of how small businesses have suffered because of critical online reviews that have either been wide of the mark or libellous.  We should remember that people have different standards and can quickly mount negative online assaults, often without realising how they are opening themselves up to a legal dispute.

PR agencies do use whatever is needed help organisations protect their reputation.  But, it is these PR agencies that use these tools in proportion to what is needed to achieve.  If a client or employer has messed up the damage has been done.  Doing what Kenber talks about only makes matters worse.  A professional communications agency would have advised to stay clear of burying bad online news.  Agencies that would do this kind of work, do it without understanding the bigger picture.

Facebook Credits

Facebook Credits came out of beta in January this year.  Since it was launched in May 2009 in alpha it was believed that Credits would be used solely by people playing social games such as FarmVille and Mafia Wars.  Virtual currency would give gamers that added experience when competing with their friends on Facebook.  Those thinking that might have missed the whole point about Facebook having it’s own currency and the opportunity that it presents to companies and causes.

During the last two years Facebook has been rolling out a series of offerings such as Facebook Connect that have enabled users to log-in to third party sites with their Facebook account.  This made the social networking site into an aggregator, allowing users to not just publish, but see what people within their network like online – based on websites that adopted Facebook Connect.

More recently Facebook has been rolling out it’s Questions and Comments applications.  The latter has been received plenty of views from the social media community.  Techcrunch’s Jon Evans says that Comments epitomizes everything that he hates about Facebook, before adding that because it is so simple he might end up using it.  Comments allows Facebook to further plough into third party sites.  It is becoming the platform of choice for websites.  Why?  Well because everyone appears to be on it.  In the UK there are now 30 million individual users, 35 million in Indonesia and many million more in the US.

I came back from Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia and what I learnt is how quickly they started to trade on Facebook.  E-commerce is being replaced by f-commerce.  Businesses are realising than rather that spending money to get people to spend money on their sites, perhaps they should be investing to get the business of people on Facebook – cross the road to sell to your audience rather than get the audience to cross the road.  Sounds simple, yet for many businesses a step too far.

Today you can buy airline tickets, clothes, tickets, just about anything.  Business is slowly realising that Facebook is also a site through which you can sell.

Facebook Credits might in the future be another extension that can be implanted onto third party sites.  The days though have passed when the cashier used to ask if “sir would be paying by cash or credit?”  PayPal is now looking over its shoulders at the over 500 million account mammoth that is bearing down.  “Will that be with PayPal or Facebook Credits sir?”

Who knows, perhaps one day we will all pull up a paywall that will charge Facebook Credits, which we can then redeem on other people’s sites.  Crazy idea, but you heard it here first!

BBC DG Mark Thompson

Convergence.  This was one of the keywords that came of out of this year’s 2011 Financial Times Digital Media & Broadcast Conference.  It’s taking me some time to pen this, but I wanted to share some of the key points that were discussed.

Last year the conference coincided with the BBC unveiling the results of it’s Strategy Review.  This year gathering started on the same time as Apple unveiled its much-anticipated iPad 2, Facebook announced the rollout of its Comments plug-in and the all-important decision from the Department for Culture Media and Sport Minister Jeremy Hunt MP to allow News International’s full take-over of BSkyB.

Chief executives and senior board members gathered in London to outline their thoughts on an industry that is changing at breakneck speed.  It’s an industry that is no longer operating by itself, but a sector that is being driven by the technology that their own consumers are engaging with.  And the speed of adoption is forcing many boards to re-evaluate how they engage with their audiences.

Mobile and social networking are the two platforms, the two elephants in the room, that media and broadcast organisations are still struggling to grapple with.  They are also the platforms that public relations professionals must fully grasp for themselves and their clients.

BBC Director General Mark Thompson highlighted this year how ‘new media’ and the consumer have shaped how it offers content.  The corporation accepted that consumers want the BBC’s content on every platform.  Its iPlayer is today available on the iPhone and iPad, with Thompson confirming that people even watch BBC content on their mobiles in bed.

Thompson understands simplicity and highlighted that the iPlayer works because it is straightforward.  In January of this year 162 million downloads were made through the iPlayer, this in a country of 25 million households.

Thompson confirmed that 2011 is the year of convergence, stating that strength is with those that have a strong presence online and understand the value of simplicity.

One of the areas that the BBC Director General is looking at is the power and influence of social recommendations and how this will shape how we all watch television.  Indeed Thompson confirmed that the BBC and Facebook are having conversations.

Speaking at the conference Facebook’s EMEA Managing Director Joanna Shield confirmed that the company now has 30 million active users in the UK, accounting for 1 in 2 of the population.  Talking about how it ‘supports‘ UK media Shields highlighted that 10% of the Daily Mail’s web traffic now comes from Facebook and that the sites plugins have helped The Independent gain up to a 700% increase in traffic.

Talking of Facebook, Sales and Marketing Director for mobile provider 3 Marc Allera in a separate session said that a staggering 75% of their data traffic is directed to Facebook – an incredible statistic.  Allera also said that 90% of 3’s sales are Smartphone’s.

Facebook is the platform of choice for the consumer.  For business it is the ‘frenemy’, a business that delivers eyeballs to those with an online presence, but a business that can quickly cannibalise those that work with it.  Take Groupon and Livingsocial for example.  Both living in the hype, but both under the knife of Facebook, who a few days ago announced ‘a new service that will sell discounts deals to consumers.’ Sound familiar?

So, Facebook is becoming an entity in itself.  The stats show it, but for the time being, it is a fact that business needs to learn to live with it.  Equally, it needs to retain control of the data that makes it’s business a business.

I was going to ask, remember when clients used to ask about needing a Facebook Strategy?  Something that made PRs and Strategists cringe?  Well, there is a need to have a Facebook Strategy, but a strategy to manage them and avoid each business being cannibalised by this growing entity.  The data that companies share with the social giant make the same businesses vulnerable.

Convergence and Facebook, and of course all the other offerings.  The tables have turned and consumers are showing businesses how and where they want their content.