Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Can you damage your brand yourself? Step forward Mark Ames and XXL Club in London

Can posting something inadvisable on Facebook (or elsewhere) damage your brand in the long term? And how much damage does it do in the short term?

Most of you probably are unaware, but last week there was a bit of a furore in the gay community here in London around a rather inadvisable posting made by a club promoter on his Facebook page.

Some background..... Mark Ames promotes a pretty successful club in London called XXL. It was originally aimed at the more hirsute members of the community, and used to pride itself on it's open, non judgmental approach to gay clubbing (which, back in the day when it started, was a pretty new approach). In fact their tag line was "One size fits all". And it used to be a hoot to go to - lots of hi energy dance music, a fun busy crowd, cheap booze and a generally a really good night out. The crowd has changed a bit now (well, it has been open for nearly 10 years) but generally its still a fun night out - as long you're a fan of the Freemasons/Kylie/Lady Gaga.

Mark posted a bit of a rambly posting on his Facebook page, about boycotting Muslim businesses and "sending them all back" because of the number of casualties we're experiencing in Afghanistan. The Pink Paper and both picked up on this and ran with it. A couple of Facebook communities then started up in response - including Bears Against Bigotry. There were talks of a ban on XXL, and people did march with Imaan, the support group for Muslim LGBT people on Saturday's Gay Pride march here in London.

Mark closed off his Facebook page pretty much immediately (not sure that was such a good idea, but understandable knee-jerk reaction), and on Thursday last week he (or his PR advisers) published an apology, which also appeared on the XXL website (well, kind of - there's a link to Mark Ames Promotions' page on Facebook, which has no apology on it... oops!) and elsewhere.

All within 48 hours of the news breaking!

So... short term, what happened to XXL? Well, Mark allegedly banned some of the organisers of the Facebook groups from XXL. Bears Against Bigotry marched. They now have over 900 supporters, and have a logo and everything - and arguably are now not a group to be pissed off lightly (well, if they ever mobilise and actually *do* anything).

And I've heard XXL had a busy night on Saturday. I'm not sure banning a couple of people will really hurt takings any great deal. Although time will tell - this news has got round the community (mostly through Facebook) and once the Pride party weekend has been forgotten, it'll be interesting to see what happens longterm to the attendance.

But to be honest, this will probably all blow over in a few weeks time. After all - Mark's Facebook page has been around for years, and if some of the screengrabs I've seen of the alleged photos he'd published on there are anything to go by, he's made no secret of his personal views. I hadn't noticed any significant pressure to boycott XXL then.

And lets face it, we gayer's aren't really known for putting our ethics before our lifestyle if it inconveniences us!

Friday, 11 June 2010

BP - corp comms teams can learn from this

I’ve been watching the story of BP the past couple of weeks, and how the mess they created (and I’m not just taking oil here) has got worse and worse. So, if like me until a little while ago, you’re sitting in the corp comms team of a large corporate, one that is only one c*ck up away from a BP-style crapstorm, what can we all learn from this whole situation?

Be humble
BP’s response at the very beginning of this was poor. The early attempts to deflect responsibility to their US operational partners was badly thought out and inappropriate.
Never forget that the start of this was a horrendous accident which caused the rig to catch fire and sink, killing 11 people. BP’s public official response to this was a pretty hands-off press release on 21 April, where they “offered ... full support to drilling contractor Transocean” as they evacuated the rig. A day later, they followed this up with another release, to say they were activating “an extensive oil spill response”. Nothing then, until 24 April, when their next release “offers sympathy to the families of those lost”.

In each of these releases they make significant mention of Transocean – in many ways this is understandable (and accurate, don’t forget) but was it sensible? It was clear very early on that this was going to be a significant incident and a deeply sensitive issue. A UK company being so quick to blame a US company for this, right on their doorstep, and so early on, was not sensible.

Compound this with the comments made by Tony Hayward on the now notorious CNN interview (but more of this later) it was enough to sow the seeds of discontent in the US.

Anyone would think this was BP’s first major disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

Own the story
BP’s initial hands off approach allowed the story agenda to be set by others – in particular the US media, the US government and it’s response agencies. BP has since been responding, rather than initiating, comment on the spill. This has not panned out well!

With no quick fix, the White House has been increasingly keen to find someone to blame; to deflect criticism from southern, deeply Republican, deeply hostile states, that they are powerless (who says Hurricane Katrina did no good for anyone – it taught the White House media staff a hard lesson!). Step forward BP – conveniently listed abroad, and with much more to lose (both reputation and money) than any of the other parties who may be responsible.

Even Transocean has been happy to hide behind BP’s large, corporate, well funded skirts. A quick look at the Transocean corporate website shows some real estate on their home page given over to it, but that's about it. More interestingly, a look at their press releases shows relatively little official comment since the accident itself. And who can blame them.

The official response site was setup and is maintained by the Unified Command center (mostly US agencies with input from BP and Transocean), and is powered by Pier Systems, a US based emergency response specialist. They also manage BP’s four state-specific response sites, but more of these later. If I was being disingenuous I might even hint that BP was outsourcing their digital response, but that would be mean...

Unfortunately, the media cat is now out of the bag, and BP are in the unenviable position of being permanently on the back foot. When Congressmen are even saying that “everyone with a British accent from BP is lying to the American people” you know you have more than a passing reputational issue (will the last person in BP’s press centre please turn out the light as they leave!). Mind you, he may have a point. Today, the US Geological Survey have announced that the initial spill figures may have been significantly lower than the reality.

The Attorney General has even said that the US government will not pay a dime towards clean up and that BP will be held responsible. Now, I wasn’t aware that the cause of the initial incident had been established yet, and that culpability had been decided (step forward Transocean, Halliburton, US legislators and indeed BP). If not then BP may have a legitimate claim for prejudice and have any potential lawsuit against them contested accordingly.
Talking of which, amazingly Halliburton seems to have slipped almost unnoticed under the radar. After testifying at the Senate hearings, they seem to have ducked out quite successfully. In fact, there’s not even a mention of the oil spill on their website home page, other than a cursory financial statement about an IR call. Mind you , the Halliburton website contained very useful information about their Texas headquarters. Read whatever you want into that...

Never mind, BP did buy sponsored links to their response site from the major search engines. so that’s OK then. Media response owned. Not.

Manage your senior management better
Never let your CEO in front of the press when he’s stressed. Never. Really, never, ever do it. Have a look at that CNN interview again I’m not sure about you, but I get the distinct impression that he’s continually trying to suppress a smirk. I’m sure that’s not for any other reason than he’s stressed, tired, and generally incredibly stretched, and is no more than a human defence mechanism. But still... a bullish approach to slicing up the blame cake by a smug overseas CEO was never going to play well in Peoria. Or Alabama.

And if you insist on taking him off his leash and letting him run around in front of the press unsupervised, please warn him against either saying something tactless (like about getting his life back) or being arrogantly dismissive about the impact your incident might have in the future (compared to the size of the ocean, the spill is tiny).

Hopefully the forthcoming meeting between and Obama and the BP chairman will be better managed by BP’s comms support staff.

Unfortunately, it took far too long for BP to engage openly with their stakeholders. Their initial hands off approach didn’t lend itself to any form of engagement – which has subsequently become a damage limitation exercise. Their four local response sites have been set up by Pier, who registered the relevant domains on 14 May. That’s nearly FOUR WEEKS after the disaster. Seriously people... what’s going on?

Well, at least they had some idea of doing something – on 7 May they registered which is currently used for emails. Mind you, note to Pier staff, please check the “title” tags of your websites a bit more carefully. Oh, and while you're at it, please sort out the .ico images on the HEAD element of your response sites - check out the URL bar on to see a rather lovely hurricane image. Best not tempt fate, eh? (Bet you can't tell that Pier System saw significant business during Katrina...)

I can’t see much in any of these official BP sites that is any real attempt to engage. There’s some fairly bland info about volunteering, reporting, wildlife and so on. But nothing that really reaches out. And the tone of voice really leaves a lot to be desired. Dry, corporate, unfriendly – there’s a time and a place for content like that, but arguably this isn’t it. And if you’re going to launch an official site, please at least try to follow your own visual identity guidelines. The site design is a mess! As is the IA, the UX and all sorts of other things. But I digress.

However, on the ground it looks like BP are starting to wake up to the benefits of direct engagement. The Belle Chase Outreach meeting on 9 June, and the video, is a great start.
And the official BP response site does show evidence of what they’re doing to contain the spill, but again tone of voice is dry and corporate. Even the failures of initiatives like “top kill” are smothered in corporate language. At this point, it doesn’t help, and it’s really adding to the wider perception that BP is not acting openly and honestly. However, when you start reading sections like this on the response site you can see why the whole ToV thing is a nest of vipers for BP. This magazine-stylee, chatty verbose crap is really not appropriate in this situation.

Social media has really gone into a frenzy on this. BP have tried in Facebook and in fairness have kept the page up to date. There’s lots of commentary on their wall, and it looks like they’ve undertaken minimal editing of user posts (points for that!). Their official Twitter account has also been busy at but mostly pushing out info, not much engagement. However, I can understand this, they’re using it as an update service rather than a conversation channel.

Let dissenters have their space
Big snaps to BP on this one. They’ve allowed space for critics and dissenters to have their say (they must have learned from Shell’s issues with

So step forward my favourite have-a-go heroes:
Stop the oil spill by stuffing BP executives into the leaking pipe
Design a new BP logo at Greenpeace

How would BP handle a coffee spill? (this is a great, cynical view of the whole incident!)
and my personal favorite, the fake BP twitter account.

Clearly, this isn't over. BP is starting to get things under control, both in the GoM and in the media. But this has become so much worse for them than it needed to have been, and it's not over yet...

Thursday, 13 May 2010

UK election, media coverage gets social?

Just back from a long weekend in Berlin, so thankfully I've managed to miss most of the high drama of the hung parliament negotiations. The Germans did find it strange that we were making such a big issue of having a coalition government....

So now most of the dust has settled, it's been interesting to see how much, if any, digital media has managed to influence either the campaign, or actual voting.

I think the biggest impact on the whole party campaigning has been those sites that have given voters an ability to take the piss out of their politicians. One of the earliest, even before the official start of the campaign, was the "My David Cameron" fake Tory poster site where users could upload their version of Conservative party posters. This probably did more to bury Tory billboard ads than anything, particularly as the site went viral REALLY quickly, courtesy of their Facebook pages.

Sites like The Straight Choice (where people can upload local canvassing leaflets) proved a great supply of nonsense for the press to pick over. And gave all of us transparency on what out party of choice were doing at a local level - and all the major parties can hang their head!

The more mainstream, established political bloggers (Ian Dale, Guido Fawkes et al) have really become just that - mainstream. They were being covered in press and broadcast just like many of the other established media outlets, or as official outlets of one of the political parties - is this a sign that political blogging has now grown up? I do hope not, though checking sites like UK poll blogs makes for rather dull reading. I can only cling on to sites like Liberal Conspiracy or Old Holborn to restore my faith in old fashioned, nutjob political blogging....

And talking of Facebook, how many people joined any of the "I bet I can find a million people who....[fill in your hated election outcome here]" groups that were around? Or published links to various websites or news stories? I think Facebook has only just been noticed as a tool for grass roots political activism... and not necessarily by those people that really need to!

Twitter seemed to come into its own during this election, particularly during the leader debates. The number of people who felt the need to tweet every time they heard something they thought newsworthy was pretty astonishing. Quite who they thought was reading their tweets rather than watching the debates seems beyond me, but there we go.

So, now we have a coalition government, one that will need to work together in a consensus. One that could break up if enough grass roots support fails. Let's hope that they have learnt from the election, and not ignore the power of crowds.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Social Media in a Corporate Context conference

I was one of the speakers at the Social Media in a Corporate Context event today, run by the lovely people over at Communicate Magazine. I was whittering on about the role of social media and investor relations.

(yes, again!)

Really interesting set of presentations and discussions, the summaries of which you read here.

What struck me most about this whole event was how the whole sector is maturing, particularly when comparing it with similar events I went to a couple of years back. I remember back in 2006/2007 talking almost exclusively about CEO blogs and wikis - we didn't even touch on Facebook or Twitter. And how scared everyone was - all the discussions then were about getting management buy-in, establishing a business case, looking at what IBM and people were doing.

Speaking to people today was so different. Now, we're looking at social media as being almost mainstream. There isn't the "fear of the new" that permeated the audience back then in the dim dark days. Now, we're openly assuming that most organisations are embracing social media, either as an established comms channel, or as a monitoring tool.

The challenges now are how we can get most bang for our hard earned comms dollars, how we can minimised organisational risk, and how we get people to start using the tools in the way that we comms professionals expect them too!

And if you want to follow up on any of the points I talked about, feel free to contact me.

Friday, 23 April 2010

That splintery sound you hear is newspapers scraping the bottom of the barrel

Interesting article today on econsultancy all about the Express newspaper group flogging off links to advertisers, in piss poor advertorial copy. And there was me thinking that this type of bottom-feeding revenue generation went out of fashion about the time went bust. You can even see a "list of shame" for those advertisers who have gone along with this at the econsultancy article.

But I can't say I'm surprised - the the and the website still uses popunders (remember them?) to some of the pikiest sites (online bingo anyone?); and the Express site hides links to commercial partners in the left hand main nav bar for their site. To help the user experience, each page is totally covered in ads and sponsored links, and to be honest looks a complete and utter mess. It's sometimes difficult to tell where the content finished and the advertising starts - mind you this might not be surprising when you consider the offline products, and the demographic of their readership (again, online bingo anyone?).

However, above all, this really does highlight a problem for newspapers - just how are you going to make money now, when circulation for your offline product is dropping, and people can get online news for free in real time elsewhere?

The Murdoch solution to this is paywalls. Fine for a bit of short term revenue generation, but this really doesn't have any long term future. In my last job, we used to take the temperature of online reputation influencers on a regular basis, and one of the surprises that kept coming up was how little people referred to publications like the Wall Street Journal, where users were charged to view content. This isn't good for these publications in the long term - if you can't share content or show off the quality of your editorial, not only will you lose off line readers, but your reputation as a quality publication online is in jeopardy. If companies like mine didn't see you as a key influencer (because people couldn't share your content) why would be engage with your journalists?

And the WSJ example is probably not even fair - it's a specialised publication aimed at a professional community who are used to paying for content. How this is expected to work for Joe Public is yet another question. After all, if would I want to pay (or could I even afford) a subscription to see a site that's covered in ads for dating, payday loans and betting sites?

Online bingo anyone?

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

FT Bowen Craggs 2010 results

The annual FT Bowen Craggs corporate website effectiveness index has just been published for 2010, and pleased to say that my old site, ranked 5th globally for most effective corporate site.

Great news! and goes to show how much you can achieve on a limited budget, with targetted resources and a bit of thought, planning and a supportive team.

Friday, 16 April 2010

Google moves to web disclosure for Reg. FD

Google moves to web disclosure for Reg. FD

Really interesting bit of news on, about Google moving away from the newswires for distributing regulatory news announcements. Traditionally, listed companies here in the UK and abroad have used these newswires to syndicate their announcements to a variety of news channels (in the UK this often covers UKLA requirements for market sensitive information), and so it's an interesting development that Google regard their own website as having the same (or better) reach.

Wonder if any UK companies will start to take this approach...?

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

reBlog from Twitter launches Ads, New Business Model

I found this today. Realling interesting post from Shiv Singh, all about Twitter and their new "adwords" concept:

Something we've all been eagerly (maybe too eagerly) waiting for has finally happened. Twitter has finally launched Promoted Tweets which is a Google AdWords like program to further monetize its business. On first blush, I like the promoted tweets program unlike the third party sponsored tweets programs that I've blogged about in the past. But first let me explain how it works.Companies can buy search result terms so that their chosen tweets appear at the top of the page when a user searches for that keyword. So for example, if I were to buy the keyword "television" every time a user searched for television, he'd see my ad. My ad wouldn't be like a Google Adwords customized advertisement though. It would be a previous tweet of mine that I would have selected to appear as the ad for that search term. The promoted tweet would be clearly labeled as a promoted one and wouldn't get lost in the stream as time passes. It'll stay at the top of the page. Some other factors to keep in mind about promoted, Twitter launches Ads, New Business Model, Apr 2010

You should read the whole article.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Social media conferences

I'm speaking at the forthcoming Communicate Magazine conference on social media (Social media in a corporate context). Investor relations and social media and networks.... riveting stuff!

I'm also going to be on a session at the Investor Relations Society conference IR in the new decade, again about the use of social media in investor relations.

Get tickets while you can!