Big brand social media blunders and lessons for #highered

shocked business woman“The bigger they are, the harder they fall” is an adage that seems to hold true for big brands in social media these days. When big brands mishandle a situation in the social media sphere, the fallout can be significant for the companies.

But these failures hold valuable lessons for us in higher ed social media work. These situations, as they become magnified and amplified into full-blown crises by social media’s “Ever-Shifting Mob” (fellow higher ed blogger Dennis Miller‘s apt description), should serve as cautionary tales for all of us who deal with social media in the higher education.

Brandchannel recently dissected two recent big brand blunders:

  • The Applebee’s firestorm that occurred after the company fired a waitress for posting a photo of a receipt from a pastor who wrote on the bill, “”I give God 10% why do you get 18”; and
  • The out-of-control Twitter chatter that occurred in the UK when struggling music retailer HMV announced layoffs, which one of its social media managers live-tweeted.

(Hat tip to Kary Delaria, @KaryD, for sharing the Brandchannel post via Twitter.)

Social media and PR, integrated

Both situations contain important lessons about the importance of integrating social media and public relations functions during a crisis. But there are other issues at play here:

  • Respond quickly but thoughtfully. Speaking to Brandchannel, SHIFT Communications CEO Todd Defren advises to “respond immediately to show you’re listening, but that needn’t mean falling on the sword. Most reasonable folks just need to know you’re aware and pondering vs. reacting thoughtlessly. ‘We hear you and we’re thinking this through. We’ll get back to you’ is a placeholder for sanity.”
  • Manage your social media presence. A no-brainer, right? But the ultimate failure in both situations was a lack of organizational structure for handling a brewing social media crisis. “Crisis communications in social should be planning like a PR crisis: there should be both preparation and response,” Teresa Caro of Enguage told Brandchannel. “[B]rands must have an upfront plan that anticipates a reaction.”
  • Be transparent. It’s cliche, but true. “The essence of a strong relationship with customers is transparency,” said Frederick Felman, CMO of MarkMonitor. “In the case of a faux pas, do the right thing – acknowledge the issue and engage in sincere and honest dialog with the community.”

All great advice. But much of it boils down to 1.) integrating social and PR functions for any organization, 2.) planning and preparing for the inevitable social media dust-up, and 3.) management training and empowering the PR and social media team to respond in real time.

A year ago, I wrote about how the PR and social media functions in higher education should be integrated at all times — not just during a crisis situation. Maybe it’s time to revisit that topic for further discussion, and to see how far higher ed has come in a year.

P.S. – Another post worth reading on one of these crises is Dennis Miller’s A tip for Applebee’s. A higher ed PR veteran, Miller offers some good thoughts on how that corporation and its “sadly under-prepared management” might have handled the situation better.

Image courtesy of © Dead_morozzzka | Stock Free Images & Dreamstime Stock Photos


Time to ditch ‘web 2.0’?

web 2-point-0 will saveWhen I first launched this blog some seven-plus years ago, one of the taxonomy categories I created was called web 2.0.

In those days, the phrase had currency. It referred to the fandangled new (at the time) way of using the web — a move from static billboards to more dynamic approaches of communicating online. It referred to the web as participation platform. It had to do with blogging, sharing and social media.

But web 2.0’s time has passed. Nowadays, saying something is “web 2.0” is as archaic as calling a YouTube video a “moving picture” or referring to automobiles “horseless carriages.” As TechCrunch pointed out in a December 2012 piece, “Nobody says ‘Web 2.0’ anymore.”

And yet the “web 2.0” category on my blog remains. For months now, I’ve thought about killing it off. (I never have used the term precisely, anyway.) But I haven’t done it yet. Because, as that TechCrunch article also points out, the phrase used to mean something.

I do plan to stop tagging posts with that phrase. (This will be the last one. Unless for some reason I need to resurrect the tag for a future post.)

But for now, “web 2.0” will remain as a category on this blog, if only for archival purposes and in recognition of all the phrase once stood for.

Image via bensheldon on Flickr.

Facebook’s Graph Search: Good news for #highered pages?

FB signFacebook’s announcement on Tuesday of a new feature that lets users search for information that has been shared with them could be good news for college and university Facebook pages.

At the least, the new function should give us a reason to keep our Facebook sites updated with fresh content.

Called Graph Search, the new search feature was introduced Tuesday in limited preview, or beta. Facebook’s announcement of the tool notes: “If you have a Page on Facebook, Graph Search can make it easier for people to discover and learn more about your business.” PR Daily’s coverage of the news suggests that the more brands update their Facebook pages, the more likely their content will appear in a person’s Graph Search results.

“It appears Facebook is making a push to further encourage brands to invest in cultivating relationships with their fans online; the more popular the page, the more often it will show up in search,” writes PR Daily’s Michael Sebastian.

Perhaps most important — for all of us, not just brands — is that with this development, “Facebook finally has a search technology that works,” writes Adrian Covert in CNNMoney’s coverage of the announcement.

I haven’t had a chance to investigate Graph Search yet, but it sounds like it could help brands extend their reach within the Facebook universe. That is, if brands use the tool in the right way. Keeping content fresh and relevant on Facebook will be important. Those brands that ignore their Facebook content could find themselves ignored by users who Graph Search for information on their friends.

The EDUniverse just got smaller — and bigger

Today, two of important online resources for the higher ed marketing world merged. Set Odell’s HigherEdLive and mStoner‘s EDUniverse will become one unstoppable force for good.

“The merger brings together our industry’s best in rich media with the best of crowdsourced collaboration and content, all with the goal of building Higher Ed Live/EDUniverse into an even more useful platform for the higher education industry,” writes Odell in his announcement of the merger. Michael Stoner also wrote about this merger, promising that he and the mStoner group are “going to work very closely with them to ensure that Higher Ed Live becomes even more dynamic and inspiring — and that it becomes more relevant than ever.”

For now, the sites will continue to operate independently as the mStoner team and the Higher Ed Live team determine how to best bring these two sites together. But I’m sure we can expect some big things to happen — and soon — as a result of this new venture.

Congratulations to Seth, Michael and everyone else who was involved in making this happen.

Your input needed on a book in the (social) works

Our good friends over at mStoner have been busy putting the finishing touches on a forthcoming book about social media campaigns in higher education, and now they’re turning to the higher ed social media community for input.

The collection of case studies is called Social Works: How #HigherEd Uses #SocialMedia to Raise Money, Build Awareness, Recruit Students and Get Results. The editor, Michael Stoner, recently discussed this project on the mStoner blog, where he pointed out that 17 contributors (including me) wrote “25 detailed case studies illustrating how 26 institutions in the US, the UK, and South Africa have used social media, along with other channels, in successful campaigns to recruit students, raise money, muster public support for institutional projects, create brand awareness, and boost alumni affiliation.”

Now, Michael is seeking your input on the cover designs. He’s posted three potential versions on his blog, and he wants to hear from you on which you like the best. I’ve already cast my vote. Now it’s time to cast yours. (By completing the survey on Michael’s blog, you could even win a free copy of the book.)

P.S. – As the publication date for Social Works draws closer, I’ll share a bit more about my contribution to this project. I’m grateful to be a part of it, and I’m looking forward to reading about other great social media campaigns.

Why it’s important to share your news via social media

More proof that social media is altering the way news is consumed and distributed: A recent study of news consumption trends from the Pew Internet and American Life Project points to the growing socialization of news content.

For people under 30, digital — and social — is the preferred method to share and get news content, according to the Pew study, which says that one-third of people under 30 get their news from social networks. A slightly higher percentage of that age group (34 percent) watched TV news, but only 13 percent read print or digital newspaper content.

Translate this to the higher education sphere. All colleges and universities are media organizations to some degree. Some institutions are more sophisticated than others, but we all generate tons of content, and we push it out through newsletters, alumni publications, our official websites and our social media platforms, to name a few. Since one-third of the under-30 demographic gets their news from social media, it stands to reason that at least that proportion of our under-30 stakeholders — young alumni, current and prospective students, younger faculty and staff — will follow suit. In fact, it’s a good bet that an even greater proportion of the under-30 people connected to higher ed institutions use social media to get their news.

How are we taking advantage of social media to share our news?

Are we leveraging our Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn sites to distribute news from our university?

News-sharing should be a key component of our digital content and connection strategy. Let’s not toss out the good ol’ alumni magazine yet, but let’s think about how alumni news could — and should — be shared via social media to meet the preferences of that under-30 group of alumni. Let’s think about how to reuse content from the employee e-newsletter to communicate with our younger faculty and staff. Let’s remind ourselves that students don’t check email as often as they check their social media accounts.

Let’s start thinking about social media as more than a marketing channel. Let’s look at it as a news distribution channel as well.

The new Myspace (and the headline I never thought I’d see again)

There’s been a lot of PR and marketing chatter lately about the new Myspace. (That’s Myspace with a little “s” — not MySpace, which is so 2008.)

It’s shocking enough to learn that Myspace is launching a comeback. But even more shocking to my sensibilities was reading a headline like this one from PRDaily:

What brands need to know about the new Myspace

Wait. Wasn’t Myspace supposed to be dead? Didn’t we all abandon Tom’s site long ago to pursue the (then) up-and-coming upstarts Facebook and Twitter?

But apparently Myspace is undead — just in time for Halloween season. It’s making a comeback, and brands need to be ready, right?

Not so fast, fellow higher ed marketing types. While “it’s likely that brands will be welcome with open arms, eventually,” writes PRDaily’s Kevin Allen, it’s still uncertain how it will all play out. All signs point to Myspace focusing on the niche that made the original site popular in the first place: music. And according to Allen, “MySpace will likely skew younger,” since the kids love music. This means that Myspace should attract that college-age audience, and “therefore brands that target the 18-24 crowd will probably be early adopters.”

I can see a migration of college students from Facebook or Twitter to Myspace. Once their parents, uncles and brands — including their universities — get into their social media space, they tend to look elsewhere.

That’s certainly true with Facebook, once seen as the hot spot for teens, and Twitter, which was the subject of a rash of “teens don’t tweet” media reports a few years back. But at the university where I work, we’re seeing a rise in Twitter usage and a decline in Facebook usage among new students. In 2011, only 3 percent of our incoming freshmen said Twitter was their social media of choice. This fall, 14 percent did. Meanwhile, the percentage of freshmen choosing Facebook as their main social media platform declined from 93 percent in 2011 to 79 percent in 2012.

Why the change? The anecdotal reason I often hear is that, now that mom’s on Facebook, the kids want to hang out somewhere else.

But if mom follows the kids to Twitter, then where are they going to end up?

Myspace, perhaps?

Hard to say. Maybe the new Myspace should go up against Tumblr for social media supremacy with the younger crowd. After all, it wasn’t that long ago that people were proclaiming Tumblr as the new MySpace (with a big “S”), and now, some are calling the new Myspace the new Tumblr. So why not face off against Tumblr and let Facebook and Twitter increasingly focus on the “get off my lawn” crowd.

No matter what happens, we higher ed marketing types will need to keep an eye on the new Myspace. That doesn’t mean we need to chase this newly revarnished shiny object, though. Let’s heed the advice of a seasoned higher ed marketer, Michael Stoner, who in a recent post advises us to stay focused an “get to work on the really important channels,” whatever those may be for your institution. Stoner has a few suggestions. Go read his post.

Focus is apparently what the new Myspace is attempting. Maybe we should try it too.

But with a watchful eye on Myspace. So, let’s go reactivate our accounts, and let’s hope Tom hasn’t abandoned us.