Things That Make You Go hmmm…

Craig McInnes had an interesting opinion article in The Vancouver Sun yesterday with the headline: Digital pictures are the tattoos of the Internet: You wear them forever. It is a great headline, a good piece and worth a read.

In the article, McInnes talks a little about Ray Lam, NDP candidate for Vancouver-False Creek and the Facebook photos that led to his resignation. He also mentions Sharon Smith, Mayor of Houston, B.C., who had a photo of her wearing only her chain of office show up online. There are many instances and incidents—political, corporate and personal—where inappropriate comments, images or videos have shown up on the Internet. McInnes is right, even if you pull them off your Facebook page, blog or website, chances are they are still out there somewhere and accessible.

We talk to clients a great deal about this new and unedited world when we consult on brand/reputation management as well as how to deal with an issue or crisis online. It’s a part of who we are today as communicators, professionals and people.

One key point that I think hasn’t been talked about a lot yet is that right now, it seems that the medium is the message – or at least provides news value. Ashton Kutcher takes on CNN and the discussion surrounds the ethical use of Twitter and whether Kutcher represents the “common” person. Somehow the story that this “stunt” (for lack of a better word) did something good for charity. Oprah starts to Tweet and pundits wonder if Twitter has jumped the shark. Never mind that Oprah is highly influential and does some good things for the world and might use Twitter to create positive change among her followers.

I think one of the most interesting cases of the medium overtaking the message is the miracle of the crash landing in the Hudson River by the US Airways pilot. There were some great stories about the miracle landing, the amazing abilities of the pilot and how the story was broke on Twitter. All good news stories. What I didn’t see much coverage on was the reason the plane crashed or much focus on that key point – THE PLANE CRASHED.

Right now, an organization that starts to use social media has a good chance of generating some coverage – good or bad – about their use of social media. Are they using it right, what does it mean for the organization, it is a good or bad thing for that particular tool?

Oprah on Twitter, oh my goodness, it’s gone mainstream and that’s a shame – cry the purists and early adopters. And I can see their point, to a degree. But aren’t these tools being developed to create opportunities for all of us to communicate?

Perhaps Oprah will use the tool more as a broadcast medium to send out messages rather than join the conversation. Personally, I give her more credit than that. However, if she does use it only as a one-way megaphone to talk at people, then either her specific community will either accept that form of communication from her or they will abandon her. At the core of it, usage depends on what your stakeholders and/or community will or won’t engage with. It’s all about them.

Social media has opened the door for real conversations. Some smart organizations realize the value of embracing the fact that the consumer now has a strong voice. These organizations also support, encourage and collaborate with their communities.

I have to admit, I can’t wait until this phase is over and social media is seen as what it is – another tool in the communicator’s tool belt. We can do some great things with the organizations we work with – both as in-house communicators and consultants. Don’t let the buzz around it all push you away from looking at what will work for you.

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Domino’s has created a YouTube response to the issue that they recently faced regarding what we have now heard was supposed to be a “hoax” video on YouTube. There were several videos made by the two young people who worked (past tense) at a Domino’s franchise in North Carolina. (See our previous post on this.)

Domino’s takes a very interesting approach to this issue – and in my opinion, it’s a little over the top. Depending on what kind of policy Domino’s has, maybe these young employees didn’t realize how wrong this was. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a stupid, stupid thing to do, but not only have they been fired, according to Domino’s USA President Patrick Doyle, there are warrants out for their arrest.

Here are some of the phrases from the video:

  • We are taking this incredibly seriously.
  • This was an isolated incident.
  • The two teen members have been dismissed and there are felony warrants out for their arrest.
  • The store has been shut down and sanitized from top to bottom.
  • We’re re-examining all of our hiring practices to make sure that people like this don’t make it into our stores.
  • We have auditors across the country in our stores every day of the week.
  • The independent owner of that store is reeling from the damage this has caused.
  • It sickens me that the impact of two individuals could impact our great system.

I want to point out that I was not a part of managing this issue and don’t know all the details. This review of what I see is armchair quarterbacking, but it is also what I perceive as a consumer.

I like that he was taking this seriously; it is a serious issue. It was very important to say that this was an isolated incident and that the teens have been dismissed.

I don’t know what they know and was not privy to how many complaints that they received or what the loss of revenue is but these two teenagers did a stupid thing. They should be fired, but felony warrants? (Mail Online is reporting that the two have been charged with distributing prohibited foods.)

It was important to let people know that the store was shut down and sanitized from top to bottom. (Although using the term “bottom” is kind of ironic…if you saw one of the videos.) I also think it’s important to let people know that there are auditors in their stores ensuring the cleanliness of the kitchens and that this is part of their ongoing policy and not just because of this incident.

I really think they need to look at what their social media policy is—or define one—rather than create hiring practices to make sure people like these two kids don’t get hired by Domino’s. Is this even possible? I expect that employees at Domino’s are like other fast food chains – many of them are young adults. We have all heard of these types of stories at fast food restaurants – so I am sure this kind of thing happens more than we think. I would love to believe that a hiring practice could remove this type of thing from all restaurants. If Mr. Doyle comes up with it, he should share it with the world!

It’s a new world; people do silly things on videotape and upload it to the Internet. Before this sort of thing happens, let’s give employees the knowledge of what is or is not appropriate and the repercussions if something like this was to happen.

Perhaps Domino’s might have said that we are now implementing a social media policy and are going to assist our franchises in working with staff so that they understand the damage that can be done by what they might perceive as a “hoax.”

I expect millions have seen the videos by now. The charges will now have hundreds of millions of people around the world searching these videos out. This will create further damage the Domino’s brand.

To me, it seemed like Domino’s used the heavy hand of “THE MAN” here and it could have used a little finesse. The words used were very powerful and created a strong emotional reaction in me – including fear for these poor, and not so bright kids. In this video, Mr. Doyle sounds angry. Maybe he could have gone to the gym and got rid of a little bit of his anger before taping the video. I get that he is taking it seriously, but I didn’t leave with a positive feeling about Domino’s after that video.

It may have been more effective to have this video done in an interview style or have Mr. Doyle speak directly into the camera. Having him read from a teleprompter didn’t allow for a connection to happen for me.

Compare this to how JetBlue handled a huge issue a few years ago. This isn’t the best produced video and then CEO David Neelman trips over a few words, but he comes across as sympathetic, believable and authentic. This response video works, in my mind. Domino’s…not so much.

I would be interested in hearing other perspectives.

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There seems to be a new issue online every day. Over the weekend, there was the Amazon issue where it seemed the online bookseller had removed thousands of gay and lesbian themed books from their listings and search results. Social media guru B.L. Ochman has a very good post about this issue.

And then there is the Domino’s video that showed up on YouTube yesterday. The company quickly took it down. But you know that sneaky Internet…there is always another copy somewhere that gets put back up.

According to this piece in Advertising Age, Domino’s corporate headquarters was reacting cautiously to the kerfuffle about this disgusting video. It turns out the two Domino’s employees have several videos – check out what The Consumerist has managed to track down, if you can stomach it.

It’s always easy to be an armchair quarterback and say what should be or could be done about the situation. Without knowing what went on at Domino’s, it’s hard to say whether for their situation their strategy is sound. I just have one question – given these videos and the “cautious” response from Domino’s, how quick will you be to order from them? (Even knowing that your local Domino’s store isn’t the one in the video.)

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There is an interesting gap in knowledge and acceptance when it comes to online/social media in some organizations. I have seen a range of emotions about it from some senior executives (including communicators). And it hit me the other day – it’s not much different than the stages of grief that are often cited.

First we have denial. – Oh come on, this is just a trend. It will all work itself out and go away. Look at the dotcom boom and crash. This is all just a bunch of technology that has no business case for our organization. None of our stakeholders are using social media, right?

Then anger. – How are we supposed to add this to our plate? What do you mean our competition has 10,000 followers on Twitter and the CEO blogs everyday and LOVES it! What next? I just can’t keep up! How are they making money anyway…and why should this matter to us?!!! I will just pass this off to an intern and it won’t matter.

Followed by bargaining (or as we liked to call it the “pilot project”). – Ok, I will approve a small budget to try it this once. But <INSERT your supreme being here> (God, Universe, Board of Directors, Shareholders, etc.) if I do this – and it works, you need to give me help. And by the way Director of Communications, I think this falls under your department, don’t you?

Onto depression.Well, it worked…(sigh). We got responses from our stakeholders – and they’re excited about this opportunity to have an authentic conversation with us. I am beginning to realize the value – and what it all means (sigh). For the next month or two, I am not going to look at the report on the pilot project and just let it sit on my desk because I know there is so much to do and I don’t know where or how to start.

And finally onto acceptance, which can even lead to hope! This is by far the most exciting and rewarding stage – both for the organization and the individual. Realizing that not only is social media here to stay, but used strategically there is real value in it. The understanding that there are communities of people – decision makers, influencers, supporters – that want to interact with people in their organization dawns and it is exciting. Here is where you begin to embrace the fact that the world has changed and start to recognize the opportunities that come with this paradigm shift.

Below are a few random examples of how the world has changed.

In this report, a judge in the U.S. had to recently rule on a juror’s use of Twitter during a trial.

And here are some stats on the growth of Twitter and Facebook.


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TechCrunch has a very interesting article entitled “The Whining Sound You Hear Is The Death Wheeze Of Newspapers.” It’s well worth a read.

The article discusses how some large media organizations are accusing Google of “stealing” their copyrighted content. It also links to another TechCrunch post about the Associated Press declaring that it will now police the Web and “develop a system to track content distributed online to determine if it is being legally used.”

There is a huge challenge in trying to police the Internet and, while I am not a copyright expert, it seems to me that some of these large media conglomerates are spending an awful lot of time, energy and money on trying to control the Internet instead of focusing on creating a new, interactive and collaborative business model.

I read a lot of blogs, follow a lot of people (but not too many!) on Twitter, spend time on Facebook, use Google, and spend far too much time on Mashable. From my perspective, content creators online are quick to credit and to link to others – including media outlets. Doesn’t this drive traffic to the media sites? Isn’t that a good thing? And – according to the TechCrunch article – there is a way for these big media moguls to stop Google from listing their content and it’s just one line of programming. So why don’t they…because they WANT people to find the news and click that link. It seems like they want to have their cake and eat it too.

One of the few “grown ups” in journalism that I think really “gets it” and is investigating how journalism and the Internet can create a mutually beneficial relationship is Kirk LaPointe of The Vancouver Sun. His blog is also worth following.

I love journalism. I grew up at Maclean’s and I have a huge respect for how the mind of a journalist works. We, as a society, need journalists to ask the tough questions, to research and fact check, to make complex subjects more understandable to those of us who are not experts in the field, and to bring perspective and balance to an issue. In my opinion, journalists are an important part of the fabric of our society. It’s not the journalists doing this…it’s the big business that has been behind the media for all these years.

The Newspaper Association of America is meeting in San Diego this week and according to a blog post by Jeff Jarvis, author of What Would Google Do?, he says that Google CEO Eric Schmidt will speak to them.  That will be an interesting discussion.

This is an interesting time. I hope the business of the big media companies doesn’t get in the way of true journalism and that the big dog media conglomerates can find a way to see the value of the Internet, bloggers and Google and the fact that this wide open approach to information, sharing and a global conversation is a really good thing. And if they put half as much energy into finding a way to make money from it as they do trying to control it, their world would be much less stressful. 

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