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BOO! Who’s Afraid of Social Media?

Happy Halloween everyone! I’m marking today by sharing my experience when asked to be a featured speaker late last month at a client’s national conference. Selected Independent Funeral Homes (no Halloween jokes please) is a wonderful group of individuals, the vast majority of whom are community leaders and philanthropists who have, for the most part, gotten into this business because it was in their families for generations but also because they inherently want to serve others. They think of themselves as caring for the living, not necessarily for the deceased. What they do provides closure and helps in the grieving process. But I digress. My post is about the scary topic of social media.

However, I wanted to give a little context about the people in my sessions and their profession. My topic was “Working with Today’s Media,” which focused heavily on integrating marketing and PR into your business but also had an entire section on social media. As you can imagine that could have been a session all its own. The funeral industry is not unlike many others, which have been forced to evolve or become extinct. People’s attitudes toward funerals and associated costs has changed dramatically and to succeed, practitioners and business owners must keep up with the times. Also like many businesses, theirs is about relationships and making a connection with the people they serve. Those people, of course, happen to be on social media in growing numbers.

My session included social media statistics in order to set the stage for the trend. Most of the attendees already “got it” and several were doing it right and served as case studies in my sessions. One has a fantastic blog with a great following that covers a wide array of eclectic topics. Another has a community outreach program that builds and strengthens partnerships. A third has a huge Facebook following built over the past three years. But, what struck me were the fraidy-cats and the can’t-be-bothered’s, particularly when it comes to Facebook, arguably the largest social networking platform.

And, not to pick on this group that I presented to, either. I’ve come across this with other clients and in plenty of business (and social) networking conversations. What I’m talking about are those people who are either plain scared of social media or acknowledge its potential but don’t want to be bothered. Show of hands . . . do you know one? Are you one?

The Fraidy-Cats.  These are the folks who aren’t necessarily internet-averse, but they don’t like the idea of sharing information on the internet, creating personal profiles and posting their status for all to see. Perhaps it’s the fear of the unknown, in terms of a simple lack of understanding for how it works. The other thing keeping the fraidy-cats away could be a fear of the time commitment (or potential time waster) inherent in getting on board the social media bandwagon. All valid concerns. Now on to . . .

The Can’t-Be-Bothereds.  These are people who have given social media a try and are really not averse to it in theory. In fact, their status updates may be quite interesting and they found themselves connecting with people that they were happy to find after all these years; possibly even leading to business networking opportunities. However, they simply cannot bring themselves to care about what the people in their news feed had for dinner or to muster up the energy to even log on to Facebook on a regular basis to keep it active. So they abandon it altogether.

Here’s where I have great news for both groups of people:

Social media can be your friend.

It’s true. You don’t have to have hundreds of Facebook friends and post several times a day (or even every day) to make this medium work for your business. You also don’t have to keep up with what your long-lost high school buddies did last weekend. Don’t let these things prevent you from starting — and maintaining — a Facebook page for your business. Here are just a few tips to get you past your fears:

  1. If you aren’t comfortable with Facebook, enlist someone who is (from within your organization or get outside help) to get you started.
  2. Share the page with the friends and business associates who you know are on Facebook and ask them to “Like” your page. Make sure your employees do so as well. They will be your best ambassadors.
  3. If you are only using Facebook for your business, then do just that; focus your time on posting to and growing your business page, using it as a tool to connect with customers and build relationships.
  4. Remember that Facebook is for social media. It is NOT a sales tool or for self-promotion. Your posts should be about topics of interest to your followers and the community and not what you’re selling. Be a helpful source of information and when a customer needs what you have to offer, you will be top of mind.
  5. Last but not least, set yourself up for success. Don’t overwhelm yourself with expectations you can’t meet. Set an attainable goal for consistent posting and updates (include photos, events and other interesting content). Consistency and quality is more important than quantity. Solicit content ideas from your staff and make it fun — run monthly contests for the best post ideas!

I hope this will help allay your fears of the social media monster. If you have additional tips or feedback to share, please chime in.



The Full Cycle News Story

Wisconsin Anchor Jennifer Livinston

Or “The Tale of the News Anchor and the ‘Helpful’ Email”


Rewind to Oct. 2 when previously unknown (except locally) news anchor Jennifer Livingston takes up four minutes of air time at the Wisconsin CBS-affiliate WKBT where she works to share with viewers an email she received. Mind you, she gets lots of emails, but this one was from Kenneth Krause, (initially identified as a personal injury lawyer but actually a security guard) who admittedly wasn’t a regular viewer but felt compelled to write Livingston to tell her she should lose weight. He went on to say he felt she wasn’t a good role model to young girls in her present condition.

Livingston obviously took offense as the mother of three young girls and pointed out that Krause, who doesn’t know her personally, has no right to judge her based solely on her appearance. She said she chose to bring the email to light to make a point about bullying and to teach young girls, like her daughters, that bullying is never acceptable. Interesting angle. Keep in mind she did not identify Krause at the time, but her station did identify him in a story on its website.

Overnight, the video became viral and news stations around the country picked up the clip. Livingston appeared on national morning shows speaking about her new anti-bullying platform and women’s positive self-image issues. She reminded viewers that October is National Anti-Bullying Month. Celebrities including Ellen DeGeneres spoke out in support of Livingston and it turns out that her brother is actor Ron Livingston of Office Space and Game Change fame, adding a little more notoriety when he also made a statement to People magazine in her support.

Livingston did reveal to the Associated Press  that she and Krause had initially exchanged several emails and that he refused to back down from his position prior to her going public with his email. “It’s not what this one particular man said to me,” she told the AP. “It’s the reaction that what I am saying back to him and bullies everywhere (that) is impacting me. I am just shocked right now that the words of one journalist in small La Crosse, Wisconsin can make such a loud roar.”


As you can imagine, Krause was quickly pounced on by the media and forced to answer to his actions — which in reality amounted to a private email that he sent to a public individual. Finding himself under siege, Krause issued a statement to the station and continued to stick to his guns, suggesting that Livingston use the opportunity to start a diet right away and even offering to help. Seeing the firestorm that had begun, soon Livingston was asking the media to back down from Krause and respect his privacy.

However, not long after the tide began to shift just a bit.

“When you are in the public eye, you should be big enough to ignore. What he did was hurtful. She was behaving like a bully,” said PR Donnie Deutsch on The Today Showguru Donny Deutsch Oct. 4 on the Today show’s “Today’s Professionals” segment. He went on to say that a bully by definition uses strength or power to intimidate those who are weaker. Clearly, with a platform of TV viewers she was doing this when she exposed Krause’s email, in Deutsch’s opinion. Others on Facebook began calling her “overly sensitive” and worse.

“I’m in no position to bully her,” Krause told ABC News. “She’s a big media personality. I’m just a working stiff.” Krause eventually revealed that he was obese as a child and could therefore empathize with the medical condition that Livingston since claimed has made it a challenge for her to lose weight.


In a (hopefully) final chapter billed as an “ABC News Exclusive” airing on Good Morning America on Oct. 5, Alex Perez confronts Krause as he reports to work his midnight shift and asks if he has any regrets. For the first time, Krause issues an apology saying, “If she is Kenneth Krause Apologizes, Sort Ofoffended, I truly apologize to Jennifer.” “That’s the last thing I ever wanted to do.”

Never mind that by adding “If she is offended . . . ” it is the classic non-apology type of apology.  It is being billed as an apology nonetheless. Whew, closure.


So, what are the lessons we have learned — PR or otherwise — by watching this entire news cycle unfold, start to finish?

  1. Emails are not private. This may seem like a big duh, but before you hit send, remember that once what you’ve written is out of your hands (and outbox), there’s no telling whose hands it may end up in and what may become of those words.
  2. As soon as you point the finger at someone else, prepare to have it pointed back at you.  This happened to both parties in this case, and I think both were surprised by that fact.
  3. There’s no end to what will spark the imagination of the media and the public.  Andy Warhol was right. Everyone will have their 15 minutes of fame, and in this age of new media, that’s more likely now than ever before. Just make sure that for you (or your client) it’s not the wrong kind of 15 minutes and that you are prepared for whichever way the tide turns.

Like many people I was supportive of Livingston when I first saw her heartfelt clip, and I do agree that people shouldn’t be judged merely by their appearance.  However, I’ve found it a fascinating case study to watch it come full circle and see all sides of the story.  Curious to know your thoughts . . .


PR Lessons from the Ryder Cup and Hash Tags in the Sky

Recently I had the honor and privilege of serving as a volunteer (along with 4,000 others from around the world) at the 2012 Ryder Cup at Medinah Country Club. It was an exciting chance-in-a-lifetime opportunity, at least for me. Whether or not you follow golf, it was easy to get swept up in the excitement of team competition and the pride of cheering on the home country in its attempt to win back the Cup from the Europeans.

In the end, despite the U.S. team leading going into the final day, the Europeans managed to put up stunning scores in the singles competition to win, much to the disappointment of American golf fans everywhere. Though many golf analysts called it a collapse, it was a valiant effort by most members of the the U.S. team, led by Davis Love III and featuring a who’s-who of golf’s best players. Most notably was the duo of Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley, who dazzled the crowed and dominated the team portion of the competition.

Among the lineup was Tiger Woods. We all know what this high-profile athlete has gone through since his November 2009 scandal heard round the world. There’s a debate as to whether Woods was already on the decline prior to his fall from grace, but the record shows that he’s won only three tournaments since then (all of them this year), and no majors. In 2009, he had already won six tournaments before November.

What struck me about his appearance at the Ryder Cup, however, was the ongoing dichotomy of reaction to this sports icon. He’s currently the No. 2 ranked player in the world (behind Rory McIlroy) and also second in the money rankings on the PGA TOUR. Naturally, hoards of people still root him on to recapture his former glory. At the Ryder Cup, fans young and old and were eager to follow him from hole to hole — and were disappointed when he opted not to finish the Tuesday practice round when many of the junior golfers had their one chance to come out and see the players.

But what I’ll never forget is what I saw on the last day of volunteering, which happened to be Saturday, on my way to the parking lot.  That morning, Paddy Power, an Irish gambling site known for its controversial ad campaigns, took to the skies above Medinah with “Sky Tweets” (complete with hash tags)  in support of team Europe. Supposedly the messages were selected from their Twitter followers’ suggestions. Woods had been benched by Love for Saturday’s morning round (for the first time in his career) and the “Paddy Power planes” posted the message:  “Seen Tiger? #GOEurope” as a way to taunt him for being absent from the line-up.

However that afternoon when Woods returned to play it got more personal. What I captured in the photo at left read, “Fore! Tiger’s Back”, which is snarky enough. What you don’t see is that the planes went on to write “Go Team Nordegren!” Ouch. A direct reference to his ex-wife Elin Nordegren. Woods’ play that day and the next has been described as a “disaster” by some sports writers and he revealed yesterday that he had issued an apology to the younger Ryder Cup team members for not being able to win more points for the team. Does the negative publicity get to him and affect his play? I don’t know, but it does affect his brand.

We have come a long way from the days of JFK almost openly having an affair in the White House (according to Mimi Alford who revealed all in an autobiography and media tour earlier this year) and no one ever breathing a word of it to what some would say was a total collapse of the career — or at least image — of a sports legend whose personal life became the subject of national headlines in almost real time.

Now, not to compare Tiger Woods to a president of the United States, but only to say that nothing is secret (or sacred?) anymore in the eyes of the public or the media. News, or anything of interest to the public, is reported in real time and spreads instantly around the globe. And although three years have passed and he’s starting to win tournaments again, Woods has been unable to shake the ghost of his actions and they continue to haunt him. He’s no longer the platinum standard for major sponsors and companies now think twice before aligning their brand to his.

Therein lies the PR lesson. Anyone at any time is open to being part of a news story (next I’ll take a look at Jennifer Livingston and Kenneth Krause — you know, the man who wrote the email to the Wisconsin news anchor telling her she’s overweight?). And even if you’re not part of a news story, you are projecting an image. Whether it’s you as an individual or your company, everything you do is open to interpretation, criticism or even outright judgement. It’s up to you how you handle it (or not), but know that your actions and  what you put out there for public consumption sticks with you and becomes a part of your brand.

We are all CMOs of our own brand image. What is the PR message we would want written in the sky about us three years from now?


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