Pondering PR

Exploring how we choose to be heard in a noisy online world.

Ellen DeGeneres and the “Sealfie” Twitter storm

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This week we were directed to explore an issue or crisis in social media, and suggest three possible ways based in social media to address it.  Introducing the “Sealfie” picture Twitter storm that is currently being launched against actress and TV host Ellen DeGeneres in response to the $1.5 million donation made on her behalf to The Humane Society of The United States (HSUS) by Samsung for her now infamous Oscar “selfie” picture that broke social media records when the picture was retweeted 2 million times by fans  that ended up “breaking” (read – crashing) Twitter during the awards show.

While a very generous donation from the star for a noble cause, it has come to light that the HSUS is one of the foremost sponsors of the campaign to end the practice of Seal Hunting here in Canada.  A practice that is a vital component of the lifestyle, history and self-sustainability of many of the Inuit first nations peoples surrounding the Canadian East coast and Quebec. DeGeneres had also posted on her website the following quote from 2011:


Under the rallying call of  Alethea Arnaquq-Baril – an Inuk from Iqaluit, Nunavut – the Canadian Inuit have responded in protest via YouTube videos and by sending selfies  of themselves dressed in seal fur – or “Sealfies” (via #sealfie) directed back at DeGeneres.

DeGeneres, a vegan, is entitled to her opinion regarding the practice of seal hunting, and the use of fur, meat or other seal products.  The root of the issue is that DeGeneres has through her statement and financial donation indirectly criticized an indigenous people’s way of life, equating them as “inhumane” killers. This is a people who have a rich history involving seal hunting that goes back many generations.  They depend on seal products for their very survival, as within their community starvation is a very real possibility as more than 70 per cent of preschoolers do not have enough to eat, and imported food is extremely expensive.  The Inuit people absolutely believe that the harvesting of seals is done with humanity and compassion, which is something that the Canadian government also supports.

Going forward, it’s important for DeGeneres to address this as she is a role model for many, and her words and actions carry weight. By remaining silent, she appears disrespectful and ignorant in the eyes of the Inuit and Canadian public. In my opinion a line can be drawn between not supporting the commercial seal hunting practice while apologizing for the slight made to the Inuit people.  While DeGeneres doesn’t have to approve of hunting seals, she should embrace the opportunity to shed light on the poor economic conditions in Nunavut by offering support via fundraisers or donations to the Nutrition North food subsidy program.


This is where Ellen DeGeneres can really shine – with her skills as a comedian, and likable personality and engaging demeanor, connecting via a carefully crafted message in response to the “Dear Ellen” video would help address the issue of a community feeling misunderstood. A funny 5 – 10 minute video offering the chance for Ellen to explain her position, and most importantly to apologize for offending the Inuit people is essential.  While humorous, the message should be of DeGeneres’ respect for their history and culture, and recognition of the necessity of their way of life and contain an offer to fund-raise for the subsidy program (and perhaps ship out some tofu) so that while their diet is something that is culturally respected, but should some want to try new foods (perhaps vegan?) it is cheaper for them.


A response to all “sealfie” photos is essential, with humour being used to reach out to the Inuit. She should respond back to all #sealfie tweets with a picture of her with a winter hat with a large foam Inukshuk on it and a t-shirt that reads ” I ♥ Inuit”.  Hashtags of #loveseals #respectInuit.  Messages can read “I respect the people even if I won’t wear the fur”. Offers for retweets with a link to her website to fund-raise donations for the subsidy program.


On DeGeneres’ website a revised statement should be posted detailing her apology to the Inuit people of Canada, her position on the hunt if used for personal use rather than for commercial gain, and the fund-raiser to help support the food subsidy program.  The YouTube video should be posted, and of course her Twitter stream showing her responses to the sealfie tweets.


The Right Tool…

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To quote celebrity handyman Mike Holmes, the best approach to any project is determining if you have “the right tool for the right job.”

This week I explored three different free and one paid social media web analytic tools. Keep in mind that the free options all have subscription options; some plans are more expensive than others,  so I leave it up to you and your organization to determine if they are worth the money.


1. Hootsuite:

– multiple social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, Foursquare, MySpace, WordPress and Mixi with the option to add more under  their  “App Directory”
– ability to schedule social media postings in advance, and multiple social profiles at once
– compatible with multiple devices including SmartPhones and Tablets

What you get for free:
– Up to 5 social profiles, basic analytic reports, basic message scheduling, basic app integration, up to 2 RSS feed

What’s not good:

-Hootsuite Analytics are expensive (up to $50 per from purchased points)

– forced to use ow.ly url shorteners that are only usable within Ow.ly and Hootsuite

– issues with Facebook integration
– neat team features are a paid feature and expensive for small business


2. HowSociable?


-calculates brand impact scores (“magnitude score” 0-10)  from the 36 most popular social media sites.

– it breaks down scores for different social media platforms so that “you can see where your brand is most active.”

What you get for free:

– 1 brand 12 metrics, limited features

What’s not good:

-to get the most from your account, a plan is needed to scan the full 36 sites, as well as the top 360 mentions and pages

-the magnitude score needs context for it to make sense

-can be inconsistent with its tracking results


 3. Mention:



– monitor in real time allowing users to be able to react in seconds

-export your data

-analyze by tonality, source and language

-access mention from anywhere

-alert emails that take you straight to source of a comment

What you get for free:

-unfortunately not much – you are allowed 1 user, tracking one key word at 100 mentions/month

What’s not good:

-the features of sharing and assigning tasks to your team is available when you purchase additional plans at $29.99/month (1 user 29.99, 3 users 69.99, etc), while you get a month free with the business plan purchase, for a small business starting off it gets expensive


Sprout Social:


-real time social metrics, 15 Min average tracking times, weekly data visualization reports
– view all of your social channels and profiles at once via their “smart inbox” via single, filterable stream
-assign tasks to teams and create support tickets without leaving Sprout, track conversation history
– post messages on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn simultaneously, shorten url addresses
-customize reports incorporating your own brand, with easy .pdf or CSV export options

Free trial with full options, then from $39-59-99/month

What’s not good:
– You are not able to “like” posts from Sprout’s platform – but you can respond
– Missing an influencer search option

– $39/month is expensive for new users





The Measurement Zone: Measuring the 3 A’s of Social Media Programs


…{enter eerie off-key music.  Cue Rod Serling voice-over}

Picture yourself walking through a door into a vast boardroom, dominated by an imposing table. This is not just any room, and this is not just any table. At one end is the entirety of your senior management team – directors, commissioners, CEO’s. Each with different social media icons painted on their foreheads.  All of them staring down at you while you stumble up to the table, nervous, papers clutched in your sweating hands.  You collapse into a boardroom chair under the combined weight of  their collective gaze while flip-board tear-away sheets separate and spiral down like a whirlwind upon your head.  Sheets with the words “ROI”, “Attitude”, “Action” , “Frequency”, “Yield”, “Attention” and “Reach” written in big bold block letters.  You have entered…..THE MEASUREMENT ZONE.… 

It sounds pretty scary, doesn’t it?  The stuff from which nightmares are born.  I have to admit that I read through this week’s required reading on Social Media program measurement with a fair amount of trepidation.  I love working with words, connecting with the public and seeing something I’ve worked on positively influence someone else; that is why I am working towards my public relations certificate.  But as anyone who’s taken Carolyn Kalil’s “True Colors” personality quiz can relate – I’m a blue in a gold world. Or to translate: while I prefer to concentrate on relationships, most businesses thrive on organizational processes designed to help achieve their financial goals.  And regardless of how important those relationships are, especially when the tools being used to advance those goals are social media, in the end those approving the funding for the social media tactics are going to want to know how the money they’ve spent is helping their business objectives, or basically what is their Return on Investment (ROI).  The only way to do that is to be able to measure what impact your social web programs are achieving.

“If ROI is a factor in the assessment of budgets in your organization, your social media program is competing for budget dollars against other programs based on their ability to show a positive return.  Ideas get funded when they can be show to yield results.” Blanchard, Social Media ROI

Figuring out how to measure something as nebulous as a relationship a brand has with it’s consumer is very tricky. There are a multitude of online programs on the web aiming to turn impressions, “likes” and retweets into data that can be presented to senior management.   Blanchard mentions you can measure social web activity in terms of frequency (how often), reach (increase in customers), yield (increase in action items) against business objectives.  But it boils down to first having a clear vision of what those objectives are, what it is that you are measuring, how can it be tied back to your organization’s business objectives, and whether it can be shown that what you did made a difference in achieving those objectives. Or basically the three A’s of social web measurement: Attention, Attitude and Action.



“The first problem of communication is getting people’s attention.”
Chip Heath, Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die

The world wide web as a whole is a very noisy place, with many different formats and companies all competing for your public or customer’s attention.  To be able to understand if you even reached your target audience, you need to establish your baseline – how many people have you already connected with before you launched your social web programs.  Where are they, what were they saying, what impressions were made.  After you can compare against that baseline to see if your social media program was noticed.



“In the end, people should be judged by their actions, since in the end, it was actions that defined everyone.”
Nicholas Sparks

This is where you start looking at what your target audience is doing once you launch your program.  You look at the frequency of mentions, you look at how many new customers or fans you’ve gained (did you expand the reach of your customer base), you look to see how many retweets or click-throughs.  Anything and everything that ties back into your business objective that your social media program is supporting.  And you keep track of all the data – this is what is measured.


“Could we change our attitude, we should not only see life differently, but life itself would come to be different. Life would undergo a change of appearance because we ourselves had undergone a change of attitude.”

Katherine Mansfield

And in the end of your campaign, you can measure what the audience feels about your company or brand, was the campaign effective in changing their actions in such a way that their opinions were improved and the business objective supported.  Did it help drive more sales, or encourage more donations (or yield), or bring  through greater awareness?  Using social media tracking programs you can ultimately determine by comparing against your baseline if your social media program made a difference.

“The reality of running a business is that profit and loss ultimately drives every business decision requiring any sizable investment.  If a company is going to invest in a program, it needs to know that its choice to fund that program will yield better results than where the money had been invested before.” Blanchard

This is the data that senior management is looking for, and the way to show how measurement is always needed in social web programs, and justifies that the money spent on your program was well spent.

And that my friend, is the Measurement Zone.

YouTube… the voice of the new generation


YouTube image

YouTube image

The other week I was watching the movie “White House Down” starring Jamie Foxx and Channing Tatum with my family, and the 11 year old daughter (Emily Cole) of one of the primary characters played by Tatum announced in the movie that “no one ever blogs anymore” and that she proudly had a “YouTube” channel.  Not to give too much of the movie away, but her YouTube channel becomes a pivotal plot devise as she uploads a video taken on her cell phone of a hostage situation in the White House that alerts the world to a crisis involving the President (played by Foxx).  At the end of the movie an exhausted Emily is stunned when informed by a reporter that her channel now had over 7 million subscribers.

After my first knee-jerk reaction of denial “NOOOOO- I only started blogging, how could it not be cool?!”, I couldn’t get it out of my mind that I may have been missing a vital part of what’s available on social media.

I may be dating myself (and most likely because of just that statement, I probably just did) but I know what YouTube is.  I understand that it is a video-sharing platform, and I can honestly admit I’ve wasted time watching cute cat videos or celebrity parodies.  I’ve also seen my teenage daughter lose many hours glued content from her favourite bands, to manga comics, to instructional videos on how to style her hair, to crazy animated unicorns having adventures (btw in my opinion Charlie the Unicorn’s friends tend to be jerks.)  I’ve even had to create an account to upload a video for a class project as that was the only file-sharing video option that Prezzie would accept. But I obviously wasn’t completely grasping the powerhouse that was YouTube.

According to Craig Smith of DMR in his February post “By the Numbers: 32 Amazing YouTube Statistics”, YouTube boasts of some pretty impressive stats:   

– 1 billion users as of Feb 23, 2014

– 4 billions YouTube views/day as of Jan 23, 2012

– 6 billion hours of video watched/month as of Feb 23, 2014

– 1 billion mobile video views/day as of Oct 27, 2013

– 50 per cent of teens consider it their favourite website as of Nov 5, 2013


When I took at look at the channels with the top subscribers, it quickly became apparent that while many different age groups were using YouTube, it was the younger generation that were regular users and commentators.

This could also been seen in what YouTube recommended that I watch:   recommended2

But by taking some time, you can find some really good examples of public relation companies establishing a presence on YouTube:



And brands that have carved out their place as well: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BhBjJqu5lHM

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Social Media in Customer Service – Webinar learnings

A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to listen in on an online webinar hosted by Social Media Today (click here for the audio/slideshow presentation).  While the webinar, sponsored by SAP, an international software industry titan that offers system integration platform solutions for companies looking to manage their software systems, spoke quite a bit about how using SAP’s programs would help businesses manage their social media programs, it also offered quite a bit of interesting information on the shift in providing customer service from call centre and email based to that of incorporating social media as well.  The webinar had feature speakers from the Discover credit card, T-Mobile cell phone service and Nissan Auto manufacturers (all SAP customers.)   

As we’ve been learning through our studies, business in general is starting to recognize that more and more of the public is active on social media, and that as this image from econsultancy.com shows, it’s not just the younger generation, but those in various age-groups, often favouring contacting their favourite brands through social media over and above that of traditional communication methods.  If they are communicating with those brands via social media, it then stands to reason that customer service requests are being made through those avenues as well.

Figures provided by Social Media Today in the webinar.

Figures provided by Social Media Today in the webinar.


     Where I work, providing customer service via various different stakeholders make up easily 75 per cent of my job description.  So I was very interested to see what I    could learn via the webinar.  It was interesting to note that while using social media to respond to customer service requests did not make up a huge  portion of most companies’ resources, it has been steadily increasing over the last four years.  And while those starting to reply to their customers via social media  reported a 32 per cent increase in their positive customer service responses, it still took a formulated, strategic method make it work the best.  Facebook was still  considered the platform of choice with Twitter increasing over the years (case in point – T-Mobile had used a very aggressive social media campaign using the power of  Twitter to see huge spikes in tweets and retweets with a growth of +464 per cent per year in social connections and +845 per cent per year in social growth leading to  being ranked fourth in the incredibly competitive mobile market in the USA.)

So what does it mean to provide customer service via social media?

Listening to the  representatives from Nissan, T-Mobile and Discover it can all be boiled down to this:

  •      If you are going to be on social media, you have to be where your customers are (research and identify where your target audience hangs out).
  •      If you are where your customers are, you also have to be prepared to interact with them, and be committed to responding back to them (pretty basic, I know – but how many    times have you commented on a brand’s Facebook page or sent them a tweet only to be ignored?)
  •      A company needs to have strategy on how they are going to address customer service requests – detailing how frequently they will monitor the sites (are they only 9-5 or 24/7?), to the voice and tone representatives would use in their responses so that it is in keeping with the brand, are they going to respond back within the site or direct them elsewhere, etc.
  •    Watch what others are doing well and learn from their mistakes and successes.
  •      And providing excellent customer service on social media is still very much based on providing excellent customer service anywhere else: listen, respond as promptly as possible, be authentic and aim for resolution.
  •      Depending on the size of the company this strategy needs to be communicated with internal stakeholders with responsibilities defined between departments so that conversations highlighting the need for change discussed on social media can be shared.
  •      Not everything can be resolved and a company needs to make sure that if a discussion gets out of hand it is managed and if needed closed off.  This perhaps is the hardest lesson of all, as sometimes no matter how much you try, you just can’t make everyone happy. How all your customers are handled is probably the most vital part of all, as it will influence how your company and brand is forever perceived.


The infographic I created using a template on easel.ly.

The infographic I created using a template on easel.ly.

So this week was an exciting one for me as we learned the value of using visuals to convey information – or the “Infographic”.  Being a highly visual based learner, while I have a love of seeing words used to create images and convey meaning across a page, there’s just something about bright shiny graphics or pictures that always grab my attention.  As the old adage goes “a picture is worth a thousand words”.  There are many websites and companies offering services to help users to create an infographic (take a quick look above at my quick try using a free template from easel.ly) and plenty of design advice for making it look visually appealing, but cute images and eye-catching decals aside, there has to be some sort of content – meat if you will – contained within the graphic for it to be truly effective.  The images may grab your attention, but there needs to be a message delivered for it to have the desired maximum affect (thus the “info” part of infographics).  

Please take a moment to take a look at the following three infographics on social content strategy that I personally love:

number sign1

     This lovely infographic is clever in it’s simplicity yet extremely effective in how well it explains everything that’s important when considering social media content strategy.  The image of a hamburger (or in this case a cheeseburger) is fairly universal – regardless of your social, economical or cultural background it’s pretty much a guarantee that if you are on social media, you know what this image is.  Understanding that each layer is important to the overall sandwich, but that some – like the patty which represents the audience, are more important than others is absolutely brilliant.

number sign2

    I love this infographic that I discovered on Pinterest mainly because it’s so visually appealing.  Warm rich bright tones like the gold background give the viewer a feeling of excitement    and    happiness,  with contrasting colours to help the images pop out and there is not a lot of negative space wasted. But even more important, it shares a ton of information in a format that’s  easy to read  and follow.  Like  ingredients going into a factory, it guarantees that as long as you keep important factors such as content, messaging, tone, and brand in mind while avoiding  common pitfalls, you too  can produce quality  social content.



number sign????????

While I’ve already mentioned how incredibly important it is to have quality information that you are looking to share with the reader in your infographic, the reality is that having some bright  shiny  graphics  paired with top-notch content brings any infographic from good to excellent.  From the cute “cartoony” people to the luscious iced cupcakes, your eye can’t help but be attracted to  the  images.  It’s no  good having boring graphs or pie charts if there’s nothing for your eye to be attracted to, and from that perspective, I love the visual appeal of this infographic.

Foursquare and several QR Codes ago…


We the people indeed...

We the people indeed…

I couldn’t help but think when I was reviewing the content from this week’s learnings that we as a society were perched on the edge of a new age of technology.  This level of society was one where interaction was king and information readily being available not only at your finger tips but poised waiting to explode in front of your eyes in a multitude of supporting services supplied from platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Reddit or Instagram.  We are on the verge of a brand new world where devices are being developed using interactive technology such as Augmented Reality or AR (think layers of images within a video feed or projected images), Heads Up Displays or HUD (such as Google Glass), or Location Based Services (based on GPS).

At heart I am a science fiction fan, growing up on classics such as Star Trek where the computer was expected to interact with the stars of the show.  Can’t find someone?  Just ask the computer to scan for them.  Not sure where you are?  The computer will map out your location for you and alert you to issues along the way via handheld technology like the show’s tricorder. Even more recent is the interactive tablet “book” from Douglas Adams “Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy” book series (and then movie) where the book would act as a travel guide offering information on absolutely anything in the galaxy all the while providing a friendly public relations service message of “Don’t Panic”.  The common theme however is having the right technology.  Or in our case – the right apps for our mobile devices. So while the AR and HUD devices are still outside the grasp of the common consumer, I’d like to touch on two lesser known programs that are available right now that you may not have heard about: Foursquare and QR Codes.

Foursquare image

Foursquare is all about the power of community and networking.  Imagine moving into a new city and having a friend show you around giving you tips on the hottest trends, who has the freshest produce or which business offers the best deals.  That’s what Foursquare offers, all mapped out based on the GPS data from your mobile device which can also be accessed via a computer and links to their social networks.  They see participating businesses in any city either via a computer search or populated from physical location, with access to business profiles without having to search for individual websites.  Users can see and offer reviews, and by “checking in” they have access to Foursquare-only promotions.  They can also accrue points for different interactions (like creating their accounts, signing in to a business for the first time, etc.) that provides them bragging rights to other Foursquare users.  If any user checks in to a participating Foursquare listed business the most over a period of a month, they are awarded the coveted title of “Mayor”, which businesses are encouraged to reward by offering special promotions or discounts. Most people running for the title of Mayor would require a heavily financed political campaign with months spent knocking on doors. Not so in Foursquare, where membership is free. Businesses benefit from Foursquare as they are able to tap into their marketing and have access to potential customers that are already in your neighbourhood.  Businesses can also track the success of promotions and peak times based on when users “sign in” and are able to see what customers are saying about them.

I created a Foursquare account to test drive it, and here’s what I came away with.  It’s a cool concept that needs more time to grow to really see it’s full potential. I was surprised with the variety of businesses that had signed up, being mostly restaurants, a golf course, our local theatre, a park, and some other services such as my local grocery store – Fortino’s, but was disappointed that Foursquare would only show me 30 at a time, regardless if there were more available or not. So those perhaps on the edge of the city might be missing out on my business because I wouldn’t think to seek them out.  And not every business offered me promotions, which if I was advising from a public relations perspective, I would encourage incentives for the first time “checked in” reward as a thank you for at least walking through the front door.  I would also suggest that they keep their information and their offers current; the golf course listed in my city offered free DJ services if a wedding was booked by a date in 2013, and build the community by referring users to other businesses listed on Foursquare.

Pondering PR's QR Code

Pondering PR’s QR Code


QR Codes on the other hand enable you to use a reader on your mobile device to scan this image, which then sends you to anywhere the link connects to: websites, email addresses, videos, etc. The possibilities are only limited by the creativity of a campaign, and unfortunately the knowledge of the public, as many still do not understand what this image means.

I first discovered QR Codes a few years back when the Canadian Blood Services were running a campaign around 2011 (unfortunately I can’t find any links), where those hosting blood drives could post stickers or posters with their iconic red drop of blood paired with a QR code which when scanned would enable users to link to a website that would show where the next blood drive was being hosted. It was effective only in terms of novelty, as at the time they were stuck to light posts in my city’s downtown core, and I overheard others mentioning that did not understand what they were.  I also saw a contest advertised at Fortino’s yesterday via posters using a large QR Code that directed people to complete a customer service survey for a chance to be entered into draw for cash. Not effective in my view as I had to stand there in the store and spend 10 minutes completing the survey.  If I were to suggest this tactic, I would instead suggest having the code printed on the grocery receipt or have the cashiers hand out a postcard with the code on it, so customers can take the survey in the comfort of their home rather than having to spend time not shopping or worse, trying to fill it out with a cart full of groceries.

But I’ve used QR Codes successfully shopping for wine at the LCBO, where the codes on either the shelves or labels directed me to the winery’s websites.  The downside though is that most QR Code readers operate like a magnifying glass increasing the code so it fills the reader “box” – and attempting to find the code when very little on a label was extremely difficult. My tip – if you are going to include it in your packaging, make it big.

I also found this really exciting video showing how one could use QR Codes to promote a campaign – take a look:


The advantage is that enough people saw the images the QR Codes were in to be curious about what they were and then scanned them to connect with the media that in turn lead to exposure for the indie music bands.  That to me is extremely innovative and highlights how this technology can be used.