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Online activism, India et al


Online activist... can you ignore me??

Online activist… can you ignore me??

My country, India, has seen a spur of online activism in the recent few years, thanks to the growing disillusionment of the much touted urban middle class, and a perceived failure of the present country administration on a whole range of issues – from corruption, which has swept the carpet under the polity to law and order – where my sisters do not feel safe to step out late evenings, right at the heart of my national capital.

Some notable examples of recent online activism

  • The movement, India against corruption which sprung into existence thanks to the moral leadership of Anna Hazare, has used online tools in a big way, to spread the message across, gather people, and consolidate views and crowd source protest ideas. On twitter, they have mad e of numerous handles, the primary one being @janlokpal, and successfully built opinions.
  • In the protests against the recent moral assault and subsequent death of Delhi girl Nirbaya,  by a gang of rogues on a moving bus, many groups and individuals used the social media to spread their angst against the establishment and the police, protesting consistent inaction. Some notable handles in this episode were activist @tajinderbagga who was the target of police action, and a girl activist who was arrested for joining the protests.
  • Online activists crowd sourced strong protest against a Gurgaon hotel hosting a singing even of notable Punjabi singer Honey Singh, whose lyrics provoked anger for their lewd views on women, in the light of events after the death of brave girl Nirbhaya.

(just to illustrate a few; twitter handles selective and not exhaustive)

The increasing spread of information through social media, and a large number of concerted online and offline activists spreading information to garner support for any cause that affects the common man is a new trend that is catching up swiftly in India and neighboring countries as well.

The establishment and the stakeholders who are the target of such activism, either out of compliance and deference to the views of people, or out of the fear that a cascading effect of the information on them from online to offline to the houses to the streets, will impact the credibility – are partly giving in to some demands as a result of online activism.

While the measurement of the effects of online activism will be a bit farfetched as of now, the day is not far when social media mavens will also find out means by which the on the ground impact of such efforts can be quantified and the impact measured.

While in India, online activism has only sprung into action only in more recent times, globally, the trend is in place at least for the past decade, and is only increasing/bound to increase by the day as the social media has proven to be a platform for swift dissemination of real time breaking news and events, and in many countries where democracy is nonexistent or in peril, where mobile devices in the hands of the affected, disgruntled and victimized, are the only means by which they make messages go viral – and for the global media to take note.

There’s also a raging debate that’s been going on since a while on whether online activism is really a cause for worry across the globe – questioning the likely effect isolated groups can have on ground realities.  Malcolm Gladwell’s article in The Newyorker of Oct 4, 2010 http://nyr.kr/ap4hO1 stirred a social hornets’ nest, inviting a flurry of responses to the statement “ Social media can’t provide what social change has always required”.

Amongst the many interesting debates as a reply to Gladwells story, Erum Haider from neighboring Pakistan made very relevant and sort of ‘local’ responses to why social activism will make an impact and will stay on, and gain more power if used appropriately, for the right causes too. http://bit.ly/arngfb

With a fair amount of confidence, and the emerging nature of polity and demography in this part of the globe, one can say, with a fair amount of confidence that ‘social activism’ is indeed here to stay, and gain more strength as the clock ticks.

If you are a social media maven, ‘social media activism’ making J must be in your armor as well.

By the way, is it in the things to watch for in 2013 in your trend-watching list?

You can also see a brief history of online activism here http://on.mash.to/qYMYUU  

In public relations measurement, keep ‘context’, as a mantra!


Veracity with Tenacity: VVV Public Relations F...

Veracity with Tenacity: VVV Public Relations Firm Offers Guerrilla Marketing Revelations & White Hat Black PR To Take Down Corrupt Corporations With Truth (Photo credit: watchingfrogsboil)

How many times has someone walked up to your organization with this as a pitch – hey, look, you are working with xyzee agency, and I see that you are not getting optimal coverage across platforms : and to seemingly substantiate the claim presents the easy tool in the PR weaponry – the competitive news track?

The tendency of any management or internal communications team is to jump at the prospect of having more column cms’ and more clipping and mentions in prime time television media! At the quest of measurement of PR, the crucial parameter – context – is given a miss.

Stories about your organization or about your product, services or people, are not the media’s making… they are always your making – what PR does is to amplify the talking points, at the appropriate time, in the right context. And when the mention or coverage is apt enough, that is a winning communication that some pointless ‘friendly journo’ spiel on your product, which most in your target audience will attach little value to.

Both in the practice of PR (which now effectively is trans-media story telling), and in PR outcome measurement, CONTEXT is the thing to look for. Keep asking, if the media or social-mention of your brand or people, is in the right context in the right form/media.

Good to remember this – one column inch in the right place may be more relevant for your communications program, which a ten plus column inches in a media that does not anyway matter.

So, when someone comes in with a pitch which only speaks the language of quantity (measurement), ask you, whether it will impact to the power of context.

Remember, context is the most relevant and powerful PR measure mantra!

Agility ‘myopia’ – will your social media plan ever help?


Social Media Cafe

Social Media Cafe (Photo credit: Cristiano Betta)

Organizations’ round the world are slowly adopting to the brutal embrace of the social media.  The word brutal might sound crude, yet, that is only to signify the powerful impact the medium has on how contemporary business is done, and how customers across every business are gathering real-time information of your products, services and people!

As a matter of fact, it will not be an exaggeration to say that your customer knows better than you, or your product/service or people, more that you; not just that, the customer gets to know it faster that you.

Once the customer gets to know – by virtue of your brick and mortar touch points – they could be your product performance, your people response, or your service credential, he gets online and shares this knowledge to the world – by a blog, a podcast, a tweet or a face-book post…  any tool that comes in handy to him at the click of a mouse.

Speed or call it ‘agility’, is the mantra. And your organization being ready to embrace the power of social also means that you are willing to engage in conversations real-time, round the clock, and round the year!

Most organizations miss this point – they have a social media plan, yet, the system is steeped in old world bureaucracy – the social team, or the team that is meant to respond real-time is a victim to the rigor of seeking approvals from the higher ups – who are completely myopic to the power of agility in social media. When the need is to swiftly respond, they engage in internal debates on the how and when, and sometimes the tangible benefits/losses and the ‘budgetary’ impact of the actions to be taken.

Little do these agility-myopic people realize that there is a negative spiral out there swallowing the reputation of the organization, one bite a second (or is it faster?!). In this age and world of 24/7 social, your hard-built reputation is at stake, every minute you are embroiled in useless bureaucracy!

Social media is not for the agility myopic – if your organization has a well made social play-book, yet does not have the culture of agility or is not willing to swiftly embrace the ‘agility culture’, then there is one way out – throw the social play book in the dustbin, and get back to business as usual.

May sound rude, yet, that’s the harsh reality – the social space is NOT for those with agility myopia!

News-jacking…. right or wrong?


Hurricane Sandy Aftermath

Hurricane Sandy Aftermath (Photo credit: FlightDreamz2012)

In the armor of public relations professionals all across the globe, news-jacking has indeed arrived.

By now there are a handful of examples, as to how the alert and agile communications professionals can plug in his brand with any real-time news to get a viral visibility – in a sense, an exponential brand visibility which no other conventional tool in the PR armor can ever bring in. This lucid post by PR thought leader David Meerman Scott informs about the what, where, how and when of news-jacking. For any aspiring news-jacker, Davids latest book on the subject is a must read.

To quote from a popular post – you news-jack on virality… that’s what any smart communications pro does – take something that’s already gone viral, and piggyback on its success by creating your own awesome spin on it. There are several companies out there who have done it — and done it well.

Move on now to the debate on what is right and wrong in news jacking. Some of the most popular brands in the US have now started to gain a tangible brand-lift by news-jacking the presidential elections. But, what is beginning to generate a debate now on the virtues and vices of news-jacking is Hurricane Sandy, that has battered the east coast of USA, causing huge damage to people and property.

Brands – as diverse as from careers to cosmetics, and essential supply services lost no time in jumping into the news-jacking band-wagon!

But is it right for brands to look at promoting themselves, by plugging them in the visibility that a monstrous disaster like Sandy gets in the social world? The answer for this can be – yes, only when your brand is placed well to serve the essentials for the people who have been tormented by the storm. And no, if your brand intention is to just exploit the visibility, but has nothing to do with the aftermath of the event!

Extending that, its fine if you are a utility or essential service provider for your brand to be plugged in. But if you are a hair-do company, or a cosmetic (like the one suggesting to spend your home time trying a new product of theirs!), then news-jacking will be a fail in the long run.  What are your views? You think a hair do company must news-jack Hurricane Sandy?

Is Social ‘brand lift’ your target?


Social is all about engagement, and conversations.  The singular objective of any sane social media strategy is to foster engagement and create an ongoing stream of conversations, around your product, services, people – all encompassing to your brand!

Any strategy that drives up the engagement levels of your brand (or call it engagement of people with your brand), does in all certainty add to the overall marketing goals of your organization.

To rephrase, the singular intent of the strategy of any organization in social media space must be, to borrow a term from Jon Steinberg , to endeavor ‘social brand lift’.

How does Jon define ‘social brand lift?

He says, in one of his posts – “Social Brand Lift occurs when content that is candid, interesting, though provoking and shareable lands in the hands of the people most interested in discovering it”

In the case of your organization, or brand, the targeted brand lift must lead to an increase in a favorable perception towards the product or service. So, the goal of every single component of the social media plan is to make sure brand lift happens.

Brand lift happens when there is a purposeful engagement by the visitors to your site, followers across the various platforms your organization is in, and in the manner in which every query or concern in respect of your product, service, or even people issues is answered.

Social brand lift also happens only when compelling content is in place in all your social touch points – which are veritable goldmines that must be aimed at a great engagement with your target world.

To endeavor a social brand lift, is the baby step your social media strategy/execution takes, in building stronger and favorable brand perceptions for your organization.

Revisit your social plans now. Have you made sure that each of its components aims at a brand lift?

Social Media… Who wants to be a champion?


ESA/ESOC goes Social Media _10

ESA/ESOC goes Social Media _10 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Circa 2012, social media has well indeed arrived in full force, and there is no way that you or your organization can continue to look away or turn a blind eye to. Unless offcourse, you suffer from a monumental myopia to what value a social presence can mean for you, your company and its brands.

This has propelled the need for social media champions in these organizations, big and small, to wake up to the need for someone who can lead and spearhead the social media initiatives’ – welcome the social media “executive champion”.

But wait, there are some key facts (factors) you must weigh before you are prompted to take the plunge to usher in your organization and brand to the whole new ‘social’ world – the world of likes, fans, followers, re-tweets and so on.

Behind all the buzz and socmed jargon like above, there is a whole lot of ‘back-end’ preparedness that is really needed before you take the first step.

So, what are some of those ‘musts’ if you need to be a social media champion for your organization or brand?

  • Does the organization, which wants you to be a social media proponent (okay, champion), cede all the authority in you, to facilitate the creation/execution of a long term social media plan? And along with the authority, does it also trust you with all the resources that would be needed to put the social media face in place?
  • More importantly, do you think you possess the relevant knowledge and bouquet of skills which will be needed to eventually make the social media plan a workable, and to some extent measurable (the board always loves to ask – where are the results to see) one? Social media is a dynamo and keeps evolving by the minute, in some nook and corner of this animal called internet – one can never be ready with all the know-how, but must be willing to look around for emerging trends, and what works and what does not – across the globe, across platforms: are you willing to be always on that learning curve?
  • Do you have the ability and agility to sell a ‘vision’ (social media vision) to your internal customers – your big bosses, the CEO, the board, and the stakeholders? And to do that, you must have the insight and prowess as to how, where, why and when of the social media plan. Do you?
  • Social is free is the biggest assumption, out there – which is patently false. This premise leads to too much internal strife once the plan is kick started – yes, platforms may be free, but the team in your organization which will work in delivering the social media plan will have to be paid – and paid well at that. Social media calls for tremendous long term investments in time and money – and once the organization decides to make that investment, then it’s obvious that they want to measure the results as well. So, right at the word go, you must have the wisdom and vision to decide the goals on social media, the investments, and how the final or intermittent measurement will be done. Do you have the ability to do that?
  • Can you seamlessly work hand in hand with all the cross functional leadership of your company – be it with HR, marketing, finance, supply chain and the board/CXO of the organization, with the larger interest of a successful and workable social media presence? This will need the ability to possess the leadership skills and ‘moral’ authority to counsel, in case there happens to  be teething issues – which will be almost always there.
  • You are the social media champion – more of the driving force behind the scenes. There will be a host of people, who will be executing these plans from the front, on the ground – these will be a group of social media savvy professionals, who will need all the support needed; and also the counsel and intervention when there are goof-ups and crises due to errors of judgment. In the social media world, there is nothing like a perfect plan or even near perfect execution- some unexpected tweet or post or comment, unintended may be, will erupt in a big way – it’s your sagely presence and ability to lead in crises that will be the day saver. Think you are that kind of a person who will not wilt under pressure?

Thinking of some or all of the above even when you want or are wanted to don the mantle of a ‘social media champion’ will be the baby steps in your success out there.

So, ready to champion ‘social’??

Followers DON’T matter! Engagement DOES….Yes!!


Out there, you will have a hundred social media experts knocking at your door, armed with flashy presentations – aimed at bedazzling you, and indeed luring you to sign up their services to get more followers to your socmed accounts, or more visitors to your website.

Let me tell you a simple, but most forgotten fact – In the omnipresent and connected world – the number of followers or visitors matters the least!

What matters is how engaged are the handful of followers or visitors who are clued on to your work or brand. And how much they perceive that your brand might be of some value to them, now, little later or much later – somewhere in that distant time horizon.

If that is not to be, your hundreds or even thousands of followers may be of sheer cosmetic value, serving just to pamper your ego – the make believe world that you will win with so many 1000s of followers.

The easiest I can illustrate this folly is the retail business in that real world out there (thanks to a handful of my friends in the retail space). Out there, footfalls and actual sales may well have no connect at all. Footfalls are just a baby step – the consumer who comes in has to see tangible value or a great service. The footfall is miles and miles away from the tangible sale – and the interregnum ought to be filled with value, engagement, content, customer support, choice, USP… almost all those terms you will come across in the blue book of marketing.

Every click towards your social media platforms has to lead to content, engagement, and a valued conversation. Much more worthy for the visitor that what he invests in clicking and browsing through your social-omni-presence.

Does your presence out there in the social media world lead to such a kind of engagement? Value? Dialogue?

If the answer is in the affirmative, you are ready to call the bluff of a whole lot of social media strategists!

Are you ready! And Are you there??

How about some ‘information integrity’??!!


All our press releases

All our press releases (Photo credit: Christopher S. Penn)

What puts off journalist friends most, when you churn out information on behalf of a client, in the form of a press kit or a media release is this – factual errors.

Might sound so rudimentary, but as a matter of fact such errors creep in while we battle with deadlines, or with over-enthusiasm to send out the release so that we help the journo meet the deadline?

It’s the journalist’s responsibility to check the facts in any story – that said, if you are representing a client, you are the custodian of the facts mentioned in any media information that disseminates from your end.

Factual errors are not the big ones like the client concealing the facts or misrepresenting reality, in a crisis situation. Simple errors like getting the name of the person/product spelt wrong, getting the timeline of events wrong, or just spelling the CEO’s surname wrong – such errors come easily to the notice of the consumer – the reader of the viewer of the news, when and if it finally gets there.

And if it does, at stake is the credibility of the journalist, the media house, and your own client. In most cases, such mistakes creep in, in minor details which we tend to take for granted.

As a PR pro, make sure that the eye for detail is in play, every time, with every client. When you claim to manage reputation of clients, the least expected from you is to ensure information integrity.

To err in information is a big fail in the world of PR and reputation management!

Who in PR is promising you the moon?


Does you PR advisor tell you this – come what may, we will make sure that we get
your company covered in the media – in a nutshell, call it a “column cm guarantee”?

Nothing can be far from a blatant lie, and honestly, PR never works that way in any
part of the globe.

As a matter fact, if you have a long term PR/communication strategy for your company in mind,
you must quietly stay away from such ‘column space coverage’ guarantors!

Look at the media (and the journalist fraternity) as end consumers of your content. They have their their own creativity constraints – and its in a sense a battle between classy content, the most crucial advertisers (who walk away with a chunk of the col cms), and the editor who wields the wand as to what the reader must see and know!

The same analogy can be drawn to all kinds of media – print, television, online and so on. Add to this, the clutter of competition in your own industry – which is only increasing by the day!

In all this, if someone walks up to you and gives you as assurance of guaranteed coverage, it can be only if you are gullible enough to think that any of us in the PR business wield that influence.

The fact is, none of us, yes, NONE of us have that, and to some extent, it would be an insult to the independent thinking of the media if we imagine such a thing!

While we could be your company’s image advisors, we are just facilitators to friends in the media – sometimes involuntarily pushing information we perceive as useful, and at times offering a helping hand when sought. We are only catering to the content needs of the journalist fraternity, and this is in their own terms.

In all this, we also see how well we could position our client PR needs, and offer some expertise in creating media oriented content, which will be relevant and consumed!

Look at PR advisors as partners in your long term communication strategy execution plan. Not as someone who could just wave a magic wand and get you instant headlines in the next mornings newspapers! And by the way, such a magic wand never exists with any PR advisor!

Is your spokesperson ‘battle’ ready?


The word battle ready might sound ominous, but that is how spokesperson must be always.

There could be a call from anywhere in the globe on something which happened a few minutes ago, and which would have an impact on the company or its fortunes. It’s a viral world and not always does the spokesperson have the luxury of having information by the minute.

But the ability to respond in an appropriate manner to any query from anywhere is one quality which is a must!

The spokesperson does not have a magic wand to all queries, and it is important to admit that – the best answer when confronted with an uncomfortable or ill-informed query is very simple – give me a while and we will come to you with the facts!

But most times, out of a quest to close the issue, and under pressure of the situation, the response is a bit casual. This is a perfect recipe for inviting negative media, and possibly messing up an already fluid situation.

In case the spokesperson needs any coaching in this front, the organization must provide it time and again.

Most organizations tend to have the belief that spokesperson must be suave and possess extra-ordinary skills in communication, particularly verbal. Yes, this is an added advantage. But that is certainly not a pre-requisite at all. In fact, track some PR crises and how suave spokesperson handled them – you will see that the over-confidence that comes out of being suave and flamboyant brings in a tinge of arrogance – a perfect recipe for many a media disasters!

Facts, put across in simple language with amazing clarity and miles ahead of a suave and ambiguous, arrogant and just too casual remark.

The term spokesperson, in the present scenario, is a misnomer in a way! The spokesperson or your media representative not just has to speak, but to respond in other media – mails, newsletters, and social networks… an endless list this can be. He must be competent in handling all this – yes with speed, but more than speed in a language that is appropriate and publishable to the world!

Many PR careers have been shunted by usage of inappropriate language, unintended it may be – someone somewhere leaks it out when things go out of the hand! The mantra ought to be state the facts and only facts, in a language that can be scrutinized anytime later.

While speed of response is a paramount criterion, it never can be at the cost of language that reflects an unprofessional attitude!

Sometimes, it does happen that the chief executive himself is the spokesperson – this is mostly when there is a larger than life event, or a huge crisis etc. – whatever be the reason, the past shows that the top management, out of their familiarity with the media, take to a casual approach in handling queries – and this sparks of a full blown PR debacle!

It’s important for senior leadership to take to some caution in handling such situations, and to repeat, facts mist not be colored by style and the way it is delivered!

Hope these simple yet powerful tips help your spokesperson to handle PR situation better! And as an organization, make sure the needy training is imparted through PR professionals, if it will help!

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