Posts Tagged ‘twitter’
Justin Bieber fell foul of public opinion earlier today following comments made after a visit to the Anne Frank Museum saying that he thought Anne Frank was a “great girl” and that he wished she too were a “belieber” (term for a Justin Bieber fan).
Although defensiveness is an immediate reaction to the atrocities of the Holocaust, there is perhaps a blessing disguised in this misguided 19 year old boy’s comments. Whilst his remarks may seem flippant in the light of the atrocities suffered by Frank and countless others during the Holocaust, what is perhaps more striking than the 19 year old’s light treatment of history is the Twitter reaction to it. When Anne Frank started trending on Twitter, it was not a result of the united voice of people defending her; it was the united voice of uninformed young people rising to the defence of their idol.
Whilst it might be a travesty that so many young people did not know who Anne Frank was this morning, we can at least be assured that a proportion of the 37,000,000 individuals said to follow the singer will know about her by the end of the day.
For those who have climbed life’s greasy pole of ambition, nothing is quite so wretched as past indiscretions. This week, Paris Brown, Britain’s first youth police crime commissioner, has joined ranks with Paolo Di Canio, facing a flurry of public outrage in light of flippant, childish comments made that have been picked up and elevated in status by the media circus.
All thought and passionate energy is meaningless when hidden from public scrutiny, however, embarrassing remarks made by a past self can become particularly noxious to a person once they become a target caught in the cross hairs of media snipers.
In this new age of accountability, hosts of petty, gnawing vices cling like worms to the corpse of a reputation that has been targeted by the modern communication swirl. Personalities see their regurgitated comments thrown up like a foul smell, a constant reminder of mistakes past.
One must never lose time ignoring the sins of the past: self-scrutiny and a sharp memory are essential attributes for a public life forged in the white heat of the 24/7 media cauldron. Complaining about these forces, or worse, ignoring those who cause discomfort, is futile. The modern age of PR demands high scrutiny and a sharp vivid memory. Perilous public social banter leaves an indelible mark on record, and is available for those who seek to undermine; faults are held in the ether and can be released at any time for maximum damage.
Past failure becomes an unfortunate foundation for the person behind the public mask. It’s a sad truth that the greatest trouble is thrust on the least prepared. Expect more negative headlines to surround public figures who have enjoyed the rough and tumble of social banter, without reference to the rules of the Now! Economy.
We should all hypothesise about the future and take greater care about our conduct on Twitter and Facebook. The Ancient Greek philosopher Epictetus once said, “The greater the difficulty the more glory in surmounting it. Skilful pilots gain their reputation from storms and tempests.”
All those thrust into the public eye should consider a reputation audit before embarking on a new career. Many fail to grasp the enormity of their past. In the length of time it takes to update a tweet or Facebook status, a life can be turned upside down.
The Truth must dazzle gradually. Or every man be blind. – an interesting aphorism from the pen of Emily Dickinson.
Sipping a lukewarm soya latte served by a man wearing a comedy moustache in a breathlessly contemporary Shoreditch caff, a client declared “I guess PR is all about crisis these days”; fascinating point of view.
At the time, like the caff (no, I’m not going to name it – it doesn’t deserve the benefit of a negative riff), I put it out of my mind as yet another exaggerated view of the misunderstood craft of modern public relations. Later, while shuffling back to office, his presumption reasserted itself.
The woe of Nick Clegg and the Liberal Party is out there for all to see, and for many people to feel. Chekhov apparently once said that any idiot can face a crisis, but that it is day-to-day living that wears you down. I’d like to suggest that the daily tyranny of social media might be added to this wearing-down process. Since its inception, the yoke of responsibility has become harder to bear for most people in the public eye.
The Liberals’ immediate reaction to this crisis has been to deny all knowledge of the sexual misdemeanours occurring under their watch. Such denial of knowledge, and thus responsibility, is becoming increasingly commonplace. From the senior management at Barclays bank in the wake of the LIBOR fixing scandal, to George Entwistle as the Jimmy Savile affair blazed on, it seems that nobody in a position of power knows what is going on below them these days.
In the digital era however, hiding behind ignorance isn’t as easy as it may have been in the past. It doesn’t take much digging to find a paper trail, and chronicling wrongdoing when a scandal breaks as a means of proving or disproving guilt is becoming standard practice in the news.
The crowd’s capacity for distrust attacks the weak and sullies reputations on a daily basis, rather like the medieval stocks. Public figures are tried by social media and judged for their sins; just look for the indelible stain of rotten tomatoes as you browse the media.
The avalanche of Twitter retweets must be utterly perplexing for the political spin machine. Robust PR has always been a game of solid advice delivered by independent consultants with a helicopter vision, consultants able to look at a client’s universe from the outside in. Internal, hubristic advice can miss the obvious as it is encumbered by myopic hope. Administrators and hope-holders pray that a maelstrom will pass, despite knowing where the locked cupboards are that store the familiar hanging corpses.
It’s time to wake up. Reputation damage isn’t just caused caused by what you know and what you are able to bury. Total transparency isn’t just a sound bite, it’s a reality – and falling in the comedy cow pat is avoidable if you face the worst case scenario. It’s not what you know that breaks figures – it’s what you don’t know. True, trusted help should be centred around rigorous governance that doesn’t let matters slip.
Unfortunately, the devious and the Machiavellian are thick on the ground. I like to refer to them as Subterranean Pond Rock Scum: happy to enjoy the perks of the job, these creatures edit the work description for greater gain. Finding those authentic, true and trustworthy is extremely challenging.
The post-Thatcherite, capitalist belief in success at any cost has created a generation of individuals blessed with the ability of conversing from both sides of the mouth. They trade in the speech equivalent of a linoleum: a cheap veneer to cover rotten flooring, adept at manoeuvring away from the mess that their stupidity has fashioned. Check for smiles and laughter: these people are great at hiding the facts because the difficult stuff might threaten their position.
If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don’t have to worry about the answers. Unfortunately, there are few defences when the tsunami hits.
So what are the key attributes required to be a modern day PR, if the gig is all about crisis? Consider this: enduring reputations are earned and must reflect proven capabilities, values and accomplishments.
The expanding digital and social media universe amplifies reputational risks and feeds off the weak and unprepared.
Business brands and individuals face intense collateral damage and need to monitor their reputations in a way never seen before. Clients require experienced, battle-hardy, intelligent support as value is derived from what is understood, more than who is influenced.
If you haven’t the stuff, the moral compass and intelligence for the Now! Economy, pass on by. PR isn’t about clipboard Nazis, Yes men and women, or fluff and bluster. It’s about bright heads and formidable experience. Ask the difficult questions and dig deep. Challenge those you trust.
I’ll leave the last word to Banksy: “Your mind is working at its best when you’re being paranoid. You explore every avenue and possibility of your situation at high speed and with total clarity.”
Whether or not the Apocalypse is approaching this Friday is speculation that I will leave to the Mayans. As life flashes past us, however, the approaching end of year provides a good opportunity to contemplate the changes that have happened in our world over the course of this past year and some of the PR dilemmas generated by a tsunami of negative memes.
As we have been quaffing the dregs of the Diamond Jubilee and delighting in the now-distant memory of the success of Team GB, a strange transformation has been taking place in the celebrity sphere. Celebrity culture has been punctured by the Post-Savilegate Twitter Trials that now drive the media agenda.
Whether we are looking at the names of those implicated in Operation Yewtree or Chief Whip Andrew Mitchell’s scuff with the Metropolitan Police, it is the ire of the crowd that has dictated, and continues to dictate the narrative – and in some cases – the outcome of the story. Where the old vanguard festers in its own corruption, there is growth, but not of the kind we might anticipate.
Where the post-World War Two working class would turn to professions such as boxing, football or music to seek fame upon the Yellow Brick Road, in recent decades we have seen the emergence of people seeking fame for fame’s sake. The value of culture has been undermined by a sugar rush driven by ten years’ worth of reality TV. Further proof of this generational lust for fame and overarching cultural shift came in the form of an interview earlier this week with Rylan Clark, the X Factor’s latest pantomime Dame. In Rylan’s words, “I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to be famous. I didn’t know what I wanted to be famous for. I didn’t care. It was about being, not doing.”
But reality TV and Twitter cannot produce the kind of culture we export around the world. As luminaries argue over the future of the Arts post eBacc, they miss the point. The first question we should be asking is why this type of culture has slid so far down our list of priorities. I can point to one word: ‘elite’.
The word ‘elite’ has become a political power word that plays upon British class sensibilities. What we forget is that the word is not always about exclusivity, but about quality – and the UK is in possession of a cultural elite of which it should be proud.
The daring production and creativity showcased in the Olympic opening ceremony was a brilliant example of this, showing that a risky idea could reinvigorate the nation. It reminded us of just what Brand Britain has to offer in terms of quality of thought across all disciplines. Writing about the event, Frank Cottrell-Boyce reminded us of GK Chesterton’s old adage: “The world shall perish not for lack of wonders, but for lack of wonder.”
I fear that this prophecy might be the actual Apocalypse we are awaiting. While we laud the efforts of our artists and thinkers at a time when the world’s eyes are upon us, we have failed to create the right circumstances to sustain this creativity in the future. The likes of Danny Boyle were supported by a subsidised sector and institutions that many would now consider ‘elitist’.
The fact that these institutions have failed to defend themselves from such criticisms is a PR disaster not only for these institutions, but ultimately, for all creatives and potential creators of culture that we celebrated this year.
Our EU neighbours don’t appear to suffer from the same problem although they too are feeling the bite of the downturn. Where Angela Merkel is frequently seen at the opera and Germany has increased Arts spending by 8 per cent despite spending cuts, in the UK we continue to peel and pare the Arts out of existence.
While we may be able to reduce Shakespeare to 140 characters, we could never get Shakespeare from 140 characters, and though we may enjoy Rylan’s exploits, I don’t think he could get close to igniting the nation in the way Danny Boyle did.
If I could have one Christmas wish, it would be for our politicians to stop being too embarrassed to stand by culture and support it for fear of being branded ‘elitist’. The Arts are for everyone, and nothing embodies this better than the volunteers who worked tirelessly to create the opening ceremony this summer. Unlike the ultra-ambitious fame junkies like Rylan Clark (though he too has his place), they were not chasing Fame for Fame’s Sake, but Art for Art’s sake: for the people, to be shared by all.
In a world driven by the Twitterati, I can only hope that we start to see some real support for – and investment in – the Arts. If we run away from away from our cultural heritage, what will be left to export? Financial services? Well, we’ve seen where that’s got us.
The most challenging PR brief for 2013 will be how to rehabilitate elite culture and save it from damnation.
Last night, I went to see Viva Forever with Krista Madden, the lady behind the highly influential Handpicked Media network. It corrals the best digital talent, from a hemisphere of independent networks of fashion, beauty, and lifestyle blogs.
These are the people that grew up with the Spice Girls. In their youth, they lived and breathed Union Jack dresses, platform trainers and girl power V signs. I asked her to pop along to see if she thought the show connected to the generation that was touched by Girl Power.
Krista tweeted after the show: @Beautyanthedirt: Anyone who didn’t want to get up and dance at the end of that is dead inside #vivaforever – happiest audience I’ve even seen!
Ever the man looking for a chance to promote a brilliant meme I retweeted the response to the show. It wasn’t long before some old dinosaur from ad land counter tweeted a wretched broadsheet review of the show. He’d read the review, and concluded the show probably wasn’t for him. He was probably right- he certainly wasn’t the target demographic. But the exchange served to illustrate a truth about how audiences engage with theatre in the 21st Century.
The forces of new media and the accelerators which now motivate the crowd for a show like this are not necessarily swayed by print media. The broadsheets, who would once have made or broken a show of this nature, no longer maintain their grasp on the fortunes of the West End. Productions like Viva have the power to transcend the star rating system and connect directly with the fans that hunger for them. Just look at We Will Rock You- still going strong more than a decade after being pretty universally panned by the crits. The 21st century enables theatre goers to express their delight in an ecosystem of conversation and influence.
I embrace the energy of the Now Economy, but I am no digital evangelist. Old and new are symbiotic, and we should avoid throwing out babies with the bathwater. Traditional media still has a hugely significant role to play. But leave the dancing in the aisles to those who really do want to spice up their life.
Waitrose have joined the happy band of consumer brands to have a well-intentioned twitter campaign hijacked, as their #waitrosereasons hashtag found itself the source of various class-based jibes at the expense of this most well-heeled of retailers. I am still trying to work out if this was a calculated attempt to kick off a conversation. Certainly It’s part of a noble tradition, stretching back to Skittles’ 2009 decision to replace their homepage with a live twitter feed (cue a series of posts along the lines of “skittles: ANAL CUNT THAT IS GOOD”). Recently, Mountain Dew has also succumbed.
Many will applaud Waitrose, however, for turning a potential damp squib into some great column inches. Countless outlets ran significant analysis pieces, presumably as the result of a quick nudge from a Waitrose PR pixie, and the Waitrose social media team made it expressly clear- albeit in the ‘forced grin’ fashion of a doddery politician or low-status boss- that they found it all, mostly, really rather funny.
Timing wise, they’ve scored a great coup, cementing themselves firmly into the media consciousness on a Friday and thus ensuring coverage throughout the lucrative affluent shopping hours of Saturday and Sunday. There’s no doubting, too, that this was an admirable display of both flexibility and a sense of fun.
Yet at the same time, the question is begged as to whether anyone sought a long-range, helicopter view before taking this tack. Responsive and attention-grabbing it may have been, but the PR team’s actions sit uneasily with the brand as a whole, and one must wonder whether any c-suite figures would share their sense of humour. Was this a creative bit of conversation wrangling or a last-minute bolt on?
Nonetheless, the gods of evaluation are likely to applaud this as a major success: damned stats are always good for obscuring the backstory. The team should enjoy the coverage, whether it was them chasing it or no.
Earlier this week, I became fascinated as a journalist acquaintance of mine- Grace Dent- suffered a much publicised insult at the hands of a young PR executive with a too-happy twitter finger. The guy, in what we can only assume was a moment of alcohol-fuelled ill judgement, as well as somewhat startling boorishness, offered an opinion not worth repeating. In so doing, he sparked a controversy and became the latest misguided individual to make headlines for tweeting or posting something they shouldn’t have in recent weeks. He exemplifies all that is wrong with a generation of PRs raised on hi-speed, low-traction tactics.
What makes this story different from the spate of ‘troll’ tales is that this man works for Hill and Knowlton- a firm with whom Dent has worked, as she pointed out. For the sake of your sanity, if nothing else, you’d like to think that an employee of one of the largest and most famous Public Relations organisations in the world would understand the very public nature of Twitter, the current media appetite for troll-bashing, or at the very least would be loath to send a direct insult to an influential journalist with whom he or his colleagues might well discuss stories in the near future.
I have no idea what motivated him, but I’d hazard a guess that the culture of a PR megalith like H+K had something to do with it. I’ve got nothing against big agencies, and I’m not saying that they breed malice. Arguably, though, certain of their practices breed indifference and distance. In the Lower echelons of the big agency landscape, journalists aren’t contacts, sparring partners or friends. To our unfortunate Twitterer, Grace Dent the journalist is just a name, a faceless entity at the other end of an email who might occasionally provide his agency with some sought-after coverage.
We hear constantly about the alienating implications of digital contact- it’s often stated that, to the average teenager, a celebrity (or fabulous nobody) like Britney Spears or Rebecca Black is nothing but a target, fair game for cyber attacks. Even in the media world, we can’t lay the blame solely at the doors of H+K and their ilk. In world where bloggers and tweeters increasingly dominate the agenda- and use email to do it- one on one contact can seem irrelevant and pointless.
However, I can’t help but think wistfully of a time when a PR was someone known for their empathy, their ability to near-instantly connect with others. Perhaps someone needs to remind the big agencies that even at the lowest level a publicist will be judged not only by journalists but by clients on the closeness of their contacts, not their ability to scour Gorkana. If PR was a cold-calling industry, clients could hire a consultant and a telesales team.
‘Fools rush in’, then, not only to Twitter battles but to the very process of making contact with a journalist. However easy it might be now to take that initial step, the time invested in making a strong contact and building the mutual empathy that gets great coverage hasn’t ever changed. If anything, in a world of disassociated online connections, a well-chosen joke over the phone probably gets you further than it ever did.
On Tuesday I got involved in a good, old fashioned almighty Twitterstorm. Kicked off by the recent re-ignition of the age-old breast implant debate, it effectively centred around Newsnight, and the embattled Health Minister Anne Milton, besieged on all sides by parties with a variety of grievances.
Star of the show, however, was Naomi Wolf, who waded in calmly and with considerable dignity to point out that the dangers of breast implants aren’t exactly a surprise. As she said with delicious poise, ‘I wrote a book about this, which was reported in every major news outlet’. She referred to ‘twenty five years of data’, and told Milton, quite simply ‘if you don’t know this, you’re in the wrong job’.
As I subsequently tweeted, we should pity as much as we chuckle at the poor ministry PR pixie who seemingly failed to even google the issue before her boss went on air- bright eyed interns everywhere take note. However, there is something far more sinister than ‘Thick of It’-esque bungling here.
There was a great post by Kevin Bakhurst on the BBC editors’ blog the other day explaining the changes to the nature of the newsroom in the post-social media age. Bakhurst gives a pretty considered rundown of the challenges posed by social media, not least the fact it almost always has someone else be first with the scoop, as well as its benefits for newsgathering, research, and understanding the zeitgeist. It’s great to see journalists so honestly and humbly engaging with the great communications innovation of our time.
However, I think what really needs to be assessed- not just by journalists, but by all of us in the communications industry- is what exactly the social media landscape means for our role and our image. Journalists no longer find the scoops, PRs no longer control the conversation, Marketing people no longer enjoy hegemony over public information. These are no longer problems to be considered: they are facts, known to public and media alike.
As a consequence, how do the communications industries present themselves and their function? If the newsmakers are, often, not seen as sleuths and explorers, then what are they?
Read the rest of this entry »
Britain’s Got Talent has rolled around again and again the nation is gripped. Out with the old and in with the new. It’s been this way for a while. Remember, it’s not five minutes since the X Factor was all anyone could talk about, but that’s seeped away into the mists of time as BGT conquers the attention spans of the nation.
Like a Chinese meal, it is all you can taste and think about, but when it’s finished it’s forgotten and all you want is the next fix of foodstuff. There’s news, there’s excitement, there’s hyperbole scattered all over the place like MSG – and then it’s gone.
Of course, we are at the point that everyone is most interested in – the freak parade. Never mind the machinations behind the scenes or the commercial value of the brand; this is what the people most care about; the narrative, the crazies.
Given that it’s all about BGT right now, will we ever know the truth of what caused Cheryl Cole’s American X Factor exit and non-admittance to the UK judging panel? I doubt it, as the people have spoken and what they want is the tears, the heartache, the visceral stories, whether good or bad. What use is a nation’s sweetheart without some pain? We’ve used up the divorce tears – here’s the next weepie Cole adventure. Read the rest of this entry »