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Archive for May, 2009


You ask, they… erm…

Openness and transparency is a great asset for a company.  Opening up a public forum to receive questions from the public can offer a great opportunity to build a positive vibe around your company.

But think it through before you agree to do it. Stempra tweeted a wonderful example of how not to do it.

Neal’s Yard agreed to take part in The Guardian’s You Ask, They Answer blog. There have been some really positive examples of companies using this blog to engage with their audience; Divine Chocolate were on last week and handled it well.

It didn’t go so well for Neal’s Yard. Straight from the off they received lots of informed questions about homeopathic remedies (no surprise from a paper which has Ben Goldacre as a regular columnist). Neal’s Yard should have been expecting this and had answers ready, even the intro to the blog brought up the subject.

24 hours in and they still haven’t responded to a single question.

So now all we have is a very widely read newspaper website listing criticism after criticism of the company with not a single response.

So what is the lesson here:

You have to anticipate what questions you are likely to be asked before you agree to take part in the forum, if you don’t like the questions you think you may get – don’t open up a forum like this.

You need to be ready to respond and properly engage with the comments you receive. When you do it well you get huge benefits from this kind of approach, when you do it badly the damage to your brand can be immense.

Neal’s Yard may yet respond (I hope they will at least do a statement), but I am imagining they are regretting this exercise and I hope other companies learn the lessons.


Oh dear – they won’t be responding to any of the questions. See this comment from the Guardian Moderator


The Guardian have done a follow up on this, agreeing it was a PR disaster.


Ariel Gel – A tale of bank holiday boredom.

So, it’s a Bank Holiday. I’m bored and a bit of a geek. I see the Ariel gel ad on TV talking about how good it is at low temperatures and I want to try it for myself.

So I take an ordinary white t-shirt (A freebie I won at a Davis Cup match at Wimbledon).

The before shot.
The before shot.

I add to this the traditional laundry detergent ad stains: Red Wine, Tea, Mustard, Ketchup and Blackberry Smoothie.

Freshly stained

I leave to stain for a couple of hours.

Letting the stains set.
Letting the stains set.

Here’s the t-shirt, ready for a wash.

Ready for a wash
Ready for a wash

I now put it in the washing machine with a full dose of the gel (as recommended for heavy soiling).

Loading the machine
Loading the machine

The lowest we can get the machine to is 20, 5 degrees hotter than the adverts, but I go for it anyway.

As near to 15 degrees as we could get it
As near to 15 degrees as we could get it

After a standard wash I have my results –

The results - FAIL
The results - FAIL

and I’m sorry Ariel, but I’m not impressed. The only stain that seems to have gone is the ketchup – and that had hardly made a mark in the first place. The tea is almost gone, but still there. The wine and smoothie have left horrid dark stains and the mustard is still bright yellow.

Now I should give a disclaimer – this was as scientific as I could get it in my kitchen – but this probably wasn’t a perfect experiment. I had no control group to compare it to, for example.

But i’m not impressed. To be honest, I was never convinced that washing things at 15 degrees would ever get them clean, and this test has confirmed it for me.

Perhaps I should complain to the ASA.


The Best PR Job In The World

Sometimes you have to take your hat off to a perfect piece of PR. So tonight I take my hat off to Tourism Queensland for their Island Caretaker campaign.

As an idea it was absolutely perfect – advertise ‘the best job in the world’ offering someone from anywhere in the world the chance to ‘look after’ an island for 6 months and do some blogging in return for lots of money, free accommodation and, well, the best job in the world.

So first they launch the campaign and get tonnes of publicity all over the world. Camera crews showing what a wonderful holiday resort this part of Australia is.

Then they get a second hit, the shortlist of applicants. They make the most of the medias obsession with YouTube by getting applicants to provide video application – perfect to be shown in the applicants home countries.

Finally they get to pick a winner, and I think it’s no surprise that the brit won. The UK is probably the main target market for tourism to Australia. Ben Southall being in the final at all got lots of coverage over here, but him winning it will give them more free advertising then they could have dreamed of.

So well done Tourism Australia (and what every PR agency came up with the idea) and well done Ben Southall. I’d be lying if i said i wasn’t jealous.


Enough about Twitter already

Well, after this post I promise…

It is all getting a bit silly, but I reckon I’ve got one more post in me.

Firstly, Josh pointed out to me the results of this poll of government communicators:

GCN users who twitter
GCN users who twitter

Before I rant, a caveats. This is a voodoo poll – it’s a self selecting sample of whoever can be bothered to actually vote on a poll on the GCN website.

But it does upset me that 64% can’t see the point of twitter.  It’s a way of directly interacting with an intelligent and engaged audience (they’ve all chosen to follow you so are interested in what you have to say). And more importantly if you have any proactive work to do it tells you what journalists are working on and what you might be able to pitch to them.

Those 64% really need to learn why it’s useful. If their ministers or chief executives are tweeting, then they need to be too.

Secondly, I felt the need to respond to Laurie’s post about twitter.

So I get a little annoyed, now that Twitter is going crazily mainstream, being used by everyone from Oprah to the CDC, when people misunderstand what Twitter is, and what it’s for. Some of them are aggravatingly stupid ideas, and yet are blithely echoed around the mediasphere. So here’s my top ten things that Twitter is not.

I’m not sure we can be so prescriptive about what twitter is and what it’s for. It’s many different things to many different people.

For some people it does work well as the new telegram, for others it is a great way to interact with celebrities. This is no bad thing.

I guess what Laurie is probably grasping at is that it’s stupid to try and define twitter (in the way that the media simply loves to do). But trying to list what it isn’t probably falls into the same trap.

That may not be what twitter is for you – but it’s lots of things for lots of people.

And that’s probably that for twitter for a while – I’m getting boring.


Social Media and Political Campaigning

Hazel Blears’ Observer piece this morning makes some strong arguments about the need for the labour party to actually engage with voters. A lot of what she says is eerily similar to John Major’s (undeniable effective) soapbox strategy in the 1992 general election.

I think she picks up on the tendency for organisations (I include private companies in this as well) to see social networking as ‘the solution’. She is clearly not impressed by Gordon Brown’s video message, coining the fantastic phrase “YouTube if you want to”.

YouTube is not ‘the answer’. Social media is the means not the end.

But she misses the point – Blears calls for politicians to spend more time actually engaging with people, hearing their anger. Used correctly, social media offers a fantastic way to do this. Gordon Brown’s problem is not that he’s using social media, it’s that he’s trying to use it in ‘old media’ ways.

That YouTube video is simply a broadcast, something politicians have been doing ever since they invented the radio. Comments have been turn off – it’s about as disengaged as you can possibly get.

A lot of politicians are getting it – where Twitter, Facebook and blogging work well it’s where the publisher engages with other users. People like Tom Harris get this. He interacts with his commentators and gets into the debate on twitter. He isn’t looking at the web as another tool to broadcast but as yet another way to meet with, listen to and engage with voters.

I think the biggest sign that he gets it is that he knows it’s just one of the many methods he needs to be using. He held a town hall meeting in his constituency to listen to his electorate in person.

Everyone looks at Obama’s election victory and get excited about social media – but it wasn’t the web wot won it for Obama – it was engaging with the electorate. Online was the right tool for certain circumstances, but it isn’t a panacea that will solve everything and miraculously win elections.

So Hazel Blears – you’re right, politicians do need to get on their soapbox and engage with the public. But don’t rule out doing that online.