This time last year I made a series of predictions about social media and public relations.  I suggested that while 2010 was a year of discovery, the past 2011 was going to be about sharing and engaging.  About communities being empowered by the knowledge they will have pooled together.  I highlighted from my perspective the challenges and opportunities that Facebook, Twitter and YouTube will pose for companies and individuals.  The impact that social networking has had on events during the past year has truly been beyond what anybody could have expected.

While 2010 was about Wikileaks, the past year has been about challenging the reputation of companies, organisations and individuals that used the law to hide their indiscretions.  Twitter and other social networks came into their own as members of the legal profession struggled to grasp the structure of communications across international jurisdictions.

In my post ‘2011, A Year Of Change In Public Relations,’ I said that the coming year was going to be about communities that were engaged and empowered.  Wikileaks showed what you could do privately.  Facebook, Twitter and YouTube were the channels through which you could anonymously share content and opinion.  They are the channels that gathered a community together, empowering them to seek the transparency that was far too often absent.  Even the once trusted media estate came under the gaze of the community.

The Arab Spring in North Africa was an occasion that surprised many commentators. Sharing of stories on Twitter about high-profile individuals was going to happen.  Managing reputations has now moved into a real-time business.  In fact, if something wrong has been done it is today best expected that such an act will become public.

Last year I also raised the point about the power of mobile, of cellphones.  Wherever you are you have a cellphone.  You are connected to a world of real time information that reaches you as quickly as you wish to access the news that is available.  News shared by the network that you are connected to.  Reliance on traditional news channels is long gone.  News is shaped by members of the communities that we trust, which is why from a public relations perspective crises are today that when audiences go negative on a brand, cause or individual.

As I stated, news organisations are not dead and they are certainly not dying.  They are just changing and adapting to become what their primary audience wants of them.  An adoption that will continue in the 2012.

But what about the coming year?  Well, I am finishing my thoughts on this and will share these with you pretty soon.

Facebook is moving into the news business, hoping to capitalise on news outlets latest refocus on social networking.  It’s Edition’s project will see the networking giant face-up to Apple and Google, who are both working on project to monitise our appetite for news in real-time.

Fifteen years ago news outlets opted to make the content that had a cover-price free online, a strategy based trying to get a slice of the then large online advertising pie.  Then, after putting all of it’s eggs in one basket, it faced with a severe decline in advertising revenue, forcing many newsrooms to cut their staff.  Then, after much strategising some outlets opted for paywalls, a decision that to this day still causes plenty of debate in the news industry.  Some outlets, like the The Times, Sunday Times, New York Times and the Financial Times delivered various options – fully restrictive or freemium services.  It all appears to have provided some security for the medium-term.

Enter Facebook, who with over 750 million members has decided to move into the news business with it’s Facebook Editions – an app that allows users to consume news within it’s walls.

News outlets had been working with Apple and it’s Newsstand offering which would update subscribers news subscriptions via an exclusive App.  I wrote a post about this in September 2009 about the ‘Changing And Charging TimesFor News.’ Many outlets have signed-up to Apple’s Newsstand.  Others haven’t, not liking the terms set out – including a 30% fee for Apple.  The Financial Times is a case whereby they have taken their content from the App Store and have developed an HTML5 site that can be accessed through iPhone, iPods and iPads.  Developed by Assanka, the HTML5 app is fluid and smooth and as a subscriber I have to say that it set’s the standard.

Facebook knows that over a third of its 750 million users access the site through mobile devices, and those who access the site on a cell-phone or tablet as active than traditional desktop users.  This explains why news outlets like CNN, The Washington Post and Rupert Murdoch’s The Daily are wanting in on Zuckerberg’s next project.

The fact is that the consumption of news has not diminished, it has most probably risen.  Start-up’s like Flipboard show how we the consumer like our news to be gathered from trusted sources that can verify content, such as journalists, as well as from friends and peers that can deliver unverified news, enabling us to be the first for news.

The speed at which news is consumed is what the PR community is going to have to focus on as outlets compete to deliver quality content.

News Corporation Chairman and Chief Executive James Murdoch this afternoon made the shock announcement of the clousure 168 year old News Of The World (#NOTW).

In what is seen as a high risk decision aimed at both ending the scandal surrounding News Of The World’s alleged phone-hacking and placating the political beasts who are calling for a ‘No’ to News International’s BSkyB deal, Murdoch and his Executives decided to sacrifice this title.

It is being reported that over 200 jobs will be culled in the clousure, with the offer being made to staff to reapply for work within News International. This of course has raised the question of if the decision is just a PR masterstroke to push through News Corporation’s desire to secure the BSkyB deal. It equally raises the question of why Rebekah Brooks still in her job, given that she was Editor of the title during the Milly Dowler phone-hacking.

Since it was made public that journalists had hacked into people’s phones, social media channels vocalised their disgust at the News Of The World with many thousands targeting companies, calling on them to remove their advertising from the title.

This is a going to be a text book PR case study of HOW NOT to manage a crisis and solve the reputation of an established news outlet.

Excuse after excuse has cost the jobs of many journalists just so News International can gain full ownership of BSkyB.

Of course, is there a Sunday Sun on the way? Well, On Tuesday 5 July 2011 – two days ago, the Sun On Sunday UK domain was registered (Registered by News International), so, we’ll have to wait and see!

 

UK national tabloid The News Of The World (#NOTW) is caught in the eye of a very public storm as revelations allege their involvement in the phone hacking of not just the murdered Milly Dowler, but the parents of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman and victims of the July 7th London bombing.

The esteemed Nicholas Tomalin, said that ‘the only qualities needed for real success in Journalism are ratlike cunning, a plausible manner and a little literary ability.‘ He was not wrong.

It is this cunning that’s got The Guardian’s Nick Davies  the story, as it’s served up insight into the activities that were allegedly common place at the News Of The World.  But let’s not single them out exclusively.  News outlets are in competition with one another and it would be odd to think that they were the only ones guilty.  In fact, In the 2006 ‘What Price Privacy Now?’ report (below) the Information Commission highlighted that 305 journalists had been identified during Operation Motorman as customers driving the illegal trade in confidential personal information.  Have a look at the list and you’ll be surprised by some of the titles that were named and shamed.  The various reports confirm two methods that journalists and private investigators use to get information, including, ‘through corruption, or more usually by some form of deception, generally known as ‘blagging’. Blaggers pretend to be someone they are not in order to wheedle out the information they are seeking.’

What Price Privacy Now Notw

Phone-hacking is really just the tip of the iceberg.  Given that most people do not change the default password on their phone it is pretty easy to intercept voice messages.  But, getting information on addresses, car registration requires deception and/or as the law describes, corruption.

The above report highlights the case of how in November 2006 Stephen and Sharon Anderson of St Ives in Cambridgeshire pleaded guilty to obtaining and selling information unlawfully whilst operating as private investigators.  They used ‘blagging’ techniques to obtain and attempt to obtain personal information about individuals from a number of organisations including Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, British Telecommunications plc and various banks.

So, while our eyes are currently on The News Of The World, the real question is, what about organisations that private investigators get their data from?  How safe is your data – your bank details, phone numbers, your bills and tax information?  And how ready are these businesses for the questions that must be asked?  If you work PR in-house or agency-side are you ready for the reputation of your client or employer being questioned?  And questions about how safe customers data is?  And today, when we work online, how safe our our emails and our personal profiles?

News Of The World’s official line that it was all down to a ‘rogue reporter’ just did not wash from a public relations perspective.  While it might have held back the criticism, it was like putting a finger in the dam.

Some newsrooms are aggressive places with boiler-room like cultures. You have to get the story. You don’t ask questions about the how, you just need to make sure that all the pieces fit together and that your legal team sign it off.  All of course with the safety net of ‘Public Interest.’  But what is the definition of public interest? And why is the very quiet Press Complaint Commission so neutral?  The PCC’s statement was just pointless.

Carter-Ruck Partner Magnus Boyd says, “public interest is always the justification used for such intrusion. It appears the lack of an adequate definition of public interest has allowed many spurious claims to the public interest.”  He says, “At the moment only Ofcom and the PCC offer working definitions of what is in the public interest and both are deliberately vaugue so as to retain sufficient flexibility and applicability.”

“Conversely, however, the lack of precision in the definition of ‘public interest’ allows the concept to be cited on ‘a rather tired and formulaic basis’ in many cases as Mr Justice Eady noted.  What is interesting to the public may not neceassarily be in the public interest but we can no longer afford to seek to define it by ommission or by the adage, ‘you’ll know it when you see it’.” We need to define what the public interest is in a way that the general public can understand and relate to and which will have sufficient flexibilty to adapt to changing circumstances without being all things to all men

Talking about celebrity reporting Boyd goes on to explain, “Ironically, celebrity reporting usually requires the least invasive investigation techniques – there are usually people ready to talk off the record and perpetuate the gossip. What may well emerge from recent events is that hacking and blagging were used far more in the investigation of financial and corporate stories than readers may have realised as well as more general news items.”

Up an until The Guardian revealed that the phone of Milly Dowler had been hacked the story seemed distant from the public.  It was an issue that just affected celebrities, people, as some might claim, that courted the media.  But knowing to what lengths certain media outlets would go to has turned the tide.

A social media campaign by the public has been targeting not just readers of the paper but companies that advertise in the News of the World.  Public revulsion is pushing this gossip paper into a tight corner.  Companies like Ford, Mitsubishi, NPower, Virgin Holidays have cut their advertising from the title.

The Daily Telegraph’s Harry Wallop commented on Twitter, ‘NotW makes c£35m from ads + c£135m from sales. Few weeks of dropped ads won’t hit paper hard. Reader loyalty is what matters.’

The community is using Twitter and Facebook to spread their disgust and it’s having an impact, with subscribers to The Sun and other News International cancelling their subscriptions.

Social media can whip-up a storm and highlight public sentiment in real-time.  Give the community and argument and it will express it’s view.  But let’s remember, they are not the only guilty party and PR’s need to be ready for the questions about data, information and privacy that now need to be asked.

****UPDATE***

The Press Complain’s Commission yesterday released a statement that, well, didn’t say much apart from it being unhappy with the conduct of one of it’s members.

In Press Gazette today, Dominic Ponsford highlights how a Independent Enquiry might (we hope) focus on the role of the PCC.

Labour MP Alun Michael, himself a former journalist, speaking in an emergency debate about phone-hacking in the Commons yesterday, said: “The PCC is well meaning, but frankly it’s a joke, the public deserve better and the journalists deserve better. The PCC clearly has neither the will nor the ability to change things. What we need is an independent body, that is robust, effective, and has the powers to investigate and enforce. That would be a major step forward.

Twitter this week launched ‘Twitter for Newsroom‘, an online guide to help those in publishing and journalism understand how best to find sources, verify stories and publish news online.

For many events Twitter has become the stories break, confirming how, as @nicnewman states in a report that news organisations are ‘abandoning attempts to be the first for breaking news, focusing instead on besting the best at verifying and curating it.’  Twitter has become a must-have tool for journalists, enabling them to reach out directly to people caught in the story and who want to share their experience.

All this said, the #TfN guide is very basic and top-line, not adding much value to what we already know.  The announcement highlights more how Twitter is understanding the use of it’s channel by the community as it tries to set some standards and best practice.  The channel has already made public ‘Producers’ guide to Twitter on TV‘ and ‘On-air [TV/Web] display guidelines.’

You just have to look at the case’s of injunctions in the UK of the uprisings in various Middle East countries to see how Twitter and other social networking channels have made the public into individual broadcasters, voices that can add value to a story.  But with so many voices journalists are having to develop a forensic view to enable them to dig through the noise and spin.  It is these skills that add value to journalism.

The announcement this week is a case of how the community is leading and the company is accepting the standards that we are setting.

With the upcoming integrating into Apple’s iOS5 we will see Twitter as a possible default messaging platform for those using Apple products.