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Fifty Shades of Shade: How to avoid a Twitter Q&A Bind

Fifty Shades of Shade: How to avoid a Twitter Q&A Bind

'Image courtesy of Chris Griffith on Flickr'

‘Image courtesy of Chris Griffith on Flickr’

Fifty Shades is in the news again, though this time not for record-breaking book sales. Instead, it’s possible EL James might be making history for the worst twitter Q&A kerfuffle of all time.

If anyone else was paying attention to twitter yesterday, they’d have noticed #AskELJames trending. In order to publicise her latest book from the ‘Fifty Shades’ series, the PR for EL James organized an ‘ask the author anything’ on Twitter. It’s the kind of easy, fun exercise that’s been done by everyone from Boris Johnson to Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

It’s also the kind of exercise that’s known to go wrong. In this case, the #AskELJames hashtag was quickly overtaken by Christian Grey ‘haters’ who accused the author of romanticizing stalking and the abuse of women, glorifying rape and being misogynistic.

However, this is not the first time Twitter has reacted less-than-enthusiastically and Q&As have #failed.

There’s something of a league of extraordinary naivety. Everyone seems to think today’s tweeps will flock to engage positively with a marketing hashtag. Yet whilst it works for some, it definitely does not work for others.

So why set yourself up to make the Twitterati palm-twitchingly mad?

What are some things that can be done to ensure it’s more #DareToZlatan than an #AskELJames?

1. To Twitter or not to Twitter

There’s no doubt that a Q&A can be a fantastic way to engage with an audience. But is Twitter the space for you, your brand, product or company?

Dead Good, the ‘home of killer crime books, drama and film’ host a Q&A every month. Whilst they market it on twitter, they don’t host the Q&A there. Instead, they prompt interested parties to head to their Goodreads page. Whilst reaching fewer people, it weeds out many who might ask uncomfortable questions for the sake of it and offers more direct engagement with those who actually read and buy the books they’re promoting.

Would EL James have been safer on Goodreads? Hard to say given the notoriety of the Fifty Shades novels. However, it almost certainly wouldn’t have resulted in the storm of non-reader engagement it garnered.

2. Organise. Detail. Plan.

Who are your audience? Do they already engage with you on twitter? What’s the aim? The best result? The worst result? How do you want to market it? What topics should be anticipated and prepared for? Answer these questions and you’re halfway to organising your Q&A.

Furthermore, check the details – ie. if you’re hosting a twitter party, take a look at the social calendar to ensure it’s not clashing with another big event. British Gas bungled their Q&A because they didn’t think about the wider company news. They went live just as national headlines announced their price hike, leading to ridicule, anger and some long-lasting damage to their digital footprint.

Similarly, if you’re going to put your CEO live online, consider whether or not they’re digitally savvy. If they’re newbies, consider some Twitter training. If they’ve got a strong personality, think about how it’s going to come across in 140 characters. ie. Don’t hang them out to dry because their sense of humour isn’t as Internet appropriate as their critics would like.

Having a crisis management plan in place can be handy. It’s important to be ready for the worst-case scenario before heading off into the Twittersphere.

3. Hashtags #ThinkAboutIt

One of the most important things to consider is the hashtag. The simplest hashtags work best, especially with a conservative word count. This is why #Ask____ works so well. It’s clear, concise and easy to remember.

But blunder with the hashtag and you’re on the back foot from the outset. When McDonald’s changed their #MeetTheFarmers to #McDStories, the engagement rocketed but not with positive, heartwarming burger-eating stories they wanted. It became a bashtag.

One last note: hashtags are immortal. Google #DareToZlatan or #WaitroseReasons and you’ll find the original threads and the continued conversations.

#AskELJames will last a long, long time.

4. Don’t Feed the Trolls (Do Expect Them)

Connected to having a crisis plan in place, it’s generally a good idea to think about what can go wrong and how you’re going to respond.

Waitrose’s campaign ‘I shop at Waitrose because … #waitrosereasons’ was widely criticized because it led to some negative responses about snobbery. However, many were also funny. And the brand recognised and saluted this. Instead of freaking out and slamming the lid down, they applauded humorous tweets about unicorn food and Orlando with the papaya.

It seems EL James’ publicists seriously didn’t consider who would engage with the hashtag.

Moreover, though it’s ironic that many pointing out the allegedly abusive content in the novels were ok virtually abusing the writer, it’s poignant that instead of addressing the haters EL James simply blocked many of them from the Q&A. Ignoring this kind of problem doesn’t make it go away. It gives them more ammunition – especially when you’ve promised to answer ‘any’ question. Having a redirection plan, having links prepared in advance to answer the more controversial questions, could have moved a lot offline to phone or email. A personal touch, offering direct engagement, can also go a long way to soothing potentially problematic grievances.

As a series, Fifty Shades has always thrived on controversy. In many ways this is yet another example of how ‘any publicity is good publicity’ works – after all, Grey was trending on Twitter around the world. #TeamGrey wins. She made new headlines.

However, considering the effort reporters have made to emphasise complaints from survivors of domestic and sexual violence, not just the more humorous attacks on the ‘literary merit’ of the novels, there’s certainly space to suggest that in this instance a little more thought might have been a good idea…

Fifty shades, EL James, Twitter

‘Image courtesy of Mike Mozart on Flickr’

 

Are our child stars doomed?

Amanda Bynes is back in the press this week and Justin Bieber, Lindsay Lohan and One Direction regularly grace our headlines with news of their shocking antics. Whether at the root of celebrity feuds, drink driving charges or rumours of drug abuse, the stories continue to be churned out as the world spectates at the downward spiral of our child stars. This pattern of erratic behaviour seems to occur all too often and begs the question, are the pressures of fame too much to deal with as a child?

Amanda Bynes rose to fame with The Amanda Show on Nickelodeon aged just thirteen and from there went on to star in Hairspray, feature on the front pages of Vanity Fair and win numerous TV awards. However, over the last few years her increasingly strange behaviours have hinted at psychological problems, all of which have been well documented by the media. There were the celeb twitter spats which saw her comments become more and more outrageous, rumours of drug addiction and most recently shoplifting charges. Having looked a little further into her story, I have found one of the saddest aspects to be the fact she is now estranged from her parents. In a time when they are needed the most, her family support network has broken down.

Image Courtesy of Amy Wood, flickr. com

Image Courtesy of Amy Wood, flickr. com

Justin Bieber recently came under scrutiny for a series of seemingly racist videos which showed him singing offensive songs, aged 14. The media went into a  frenzy and he was blackmailed as people tried to extort him and make a quick buck out of his poor judgement. Photos were also leaked of Justin smoking weed that saw him taken swiftly off his ‘role model’ pedestal and then there were mentions of speeding and car crashes in his £150,000 Ferrari. With a loyal fan base of ‘Beliebers’, JB has a wealth of youngsters looking up to him.  The downside of this, is that aside from his talent for singing, his every mistake will be read about all over the world and we all know that negative headlines sell.

Aged 20, JB is supposedly one of the current most hated celebrities in the USA. It seems he has burnt most of his bridges in the celebrity world and alienated himself from the paparazzi. Although he has grown up with the pressures of his celebrity status, he needs to take some responsibility for his disrespectful actions, of which there are countless. His story thus far has an element of self-destruction and he almost seems to be setting himself up for failure. Other similar examples include Lindsay Lohan, who spent time in prison and battled an eating disorder, and Britney Spears who famously had a meltdown in 2007 which involved shaving off all her hair whilst supposedly being addicted to amphetamines.

This year, the UK X Factor has lowered its entry age from 16 to 14 to draw in ‘fresh talent’. The decision has come under much scepticism and judge Cheryl Fernandez-Versini has been vocal about the fact she thinks this is too young. I am inclined to agree, given that the audition process sees candidates publicly ridiculed for poor performances whilst the judges make cutting remarks. Furthermore, numerous candidates have already been rejected for ‘not being ready’, so the change seems a little counter-productive.  Past winners of the show have gone on to be dropped by their record labels and have failed to maintain their success after being told they are the ‘next big thing’. I don’t feel it would be fair to face a 14 year old with this level of disappointment and inconsistency, especially when a school education may be at stake.

Reality shows such as X-Factor can literally catapult people into the limelight overnight and this combined with the rise of social media, means fame and

Image Courtesy of Catherine Laight, flickr. com

Image Courtesy of Catherine Laight, flickr. com

celebrity status can be obtained more quickly than ever. One Direction are one of X Factor’s most prominent success stories, with 122 awards between them, a world record and millions of pounds to their name. However, with the media waiting in the wings to make or break these stars, it was only a matter of time before band scandals started surfacing as we have seen.

So, what is the solution? These young stars need a strong network of people around them to support, ground and manage expectations. A reliable agent, publicist and accountant that aren’t only in it to make money, and have genuine concerns for their wellbeing are necessities. Kris Jenner’s family tie to her Kardashian clan may be the reason they have all been able to deal with the trials and tribulations of fame despite being one of the highest profile families on the planet. In times of crisis, reputation management PR may prove essential but preventing these scenarios from arising in the first place should be the priority.

It seems unsurprising that growing up in the limelight can lead to a premature mid-life crisis- how can anyone be expected to know what the fame package comes with in their early teens? Although success clearly has many benefits, this downward pattern repeats itself all too often and the power that comes with money and fame cannot be taken lightly. The future of 1D, Justin Bieber and this year’s young X Factor hopefuls remains to be seen but regardless, they need to be prepared for what could lie ahead. Although talent can shine from a young age, fame comes with a lot of baggage and a child is not equipped with the maturity and life experience to deal with this single-handedly.

Peaches Geldof: A Tragic Life Cut Too Short

On 7th April 2014, Peaches Honeyblossom Geldof passed away.  Her death was completely unexpected and is still unexplained.  Several theories about the circumstances of her death are circulating; was it an overdose; did she commit suicide; did she have a heart attack as a result of a strict juice dieting regime?  Whatever the cause, another talented starlet has faded away before their time.

Popularity

Peaches was only 25 but she lived every second of her short life and had two beautiful Sons and a loving husband to show for it.

What struck me most about the news of Peaches’ passing, was her popularity.  Countless celebrities and journalists expressed their sadness and shock and within minutes of BBC News breaking the story, Twitter was awash with tributes. This says a lot about her recent transformation, not just personally but from a public relations perspective too.

Peaches spent her late teens as a self-confessed wild-child, dabbling in drink and drugs. In 2008, Peaches was treated by paramedics after a suspected Heroin-overdose but refused to go to the hospital in case her father, Sir Bob Geldof, found out.

Marriage

In the same year, Peaches flew to Las Vegas and married American rocker Max Drummey, although the romance was not to last and they separated six months later.

Peaches’ wild days seemed to end when she met lead-singer of Brit band, S.C.U.M, Thomas Cohen.  The couple wed in 2012 and had two Sons together, Astala (23 months) and Phaedra (11 months).

 

Image Courtesy of Nahin Khan, flickr.com

Image Courtesy of Nahin Khan, flickr.com

Reputation Management

The birth of her boys was the turning point in Peaches’ life and certainly the turning point in her wild-child reputation.  She quit the rock and roll lifestyle in favour of being a Mum and was said to be happier than ever.  In a recent interview given to Mother and Baby magazine, Peaches said:

‘Now, with a new-found group of mummy mates, both locally and online – all the exact same struggles and issues, and who don’t question if my child flings food at their hair or care if there’s a screaming fit in the middle of the street – I’m happier than ever.  I’ve achieved a sort of perfect balance. Right now life is good.  And being a mum is the best part of it.’

Over the years, Peaches’ PR consultants were regularly dealing with crisis management situations as she lurched from one disaster to the next. But since becoming a Mother, she quickly became more wholesome, healthier and more focused on carving out a career that her family would be proud of.

Style Icon

This is the Peaches we came to know and love.  She related to so many people and not just new, young Mums.  Peaches’ was a fashion and style icon, admired by the glitterati and her cool, celebrity peers.  She was a brilliant journalist and outspoken in her views which secured her an army of admirers and 273,000 Twitter followers.

Peaches was the master of her own media relations and just like legendary father, Sir Bob Geldof, she managed to develop strong relationships with journalists.  The media knew that Peaches would give them an honest and opinionated interview because just like her mother Paula Yates, Peaches was an interesting and eccentric young woman, with so much life inside her; tragically taken away too young.

RIP Peaches Geldof.

Celebrity parties and French privacy law

Rod Stewart was in trademark gruff voice as he sang “happy birthday” on stage – shortly after jokingly telling the champagne quaffing guests to politely “shut up” so he could get on with the singing.

John Cleese stopped for a quick natter with Sir Bruce Forsyth, while Kimberly Walsh and Denise Van Outen looked as stunning in their party outfits as they did whilst competing on Strictly Come Dancing. Seeing Joan Collins in the flesh was an experience.

No, this isn’t me recanting some bizarre red-wine induced dream but a vignette of my night at the Hello! 25th birthday party, held in the beautiful setting of the Wallace Collection in London’s Manchester Square.

A colleague told me the next day that all he could see on his Twitter timeline was people tweeting about being at the party.

We Brits are perennial curtain twitchers. We love to know what’s going on in celebrity lives. (It’s why magazines like Hello! exist, why we read newspapers and scan the web).

We love news, we love gossip, we love revelations.

And that is one thing we have in common with our pals in France, so it seems.

Fast-forward from the Hello! party to a dinner I attended some days later at the offices of Farrers law firm in Lincolns Inn Fields. There Alain Toucas, the leading reputational management and privacy lawyer in France (he advises the Monaco Royal Family, among others).

In a wonderfully illuminating talk, Alain revealed to me and other Farrers’ guests how they deal with privacy breaches and defamation in France.

The French media has recently come into our focus once again due to those Kate Middleton pictures being published in the French edition of Closer. The case in is on-going.

France has privacy laws – thought to be the toughest in the world – as well as being defined by the European Human Rights Act (where, as in the UK, article eight, the right to privacy, and article ten, freedom of expression, are key to media).

Like Article Eight, the French Civil Code has Article Nine  – “Everyone has the right to respect for his private life.”

Infringements can be a criminal act – with jail terms looming for those who breach.

But the key point that stuck with me was that when a publication gets it wrong on a celebrity or Royal, the remedial statement – or apology of sorts – needs to be printed on the same page. That’s right – screw up a page one story, and your apology, or admittance of a privacy breach, goes smack on page one as well.

Incredible. The look of faces of other reputation management PRs around the dinner table as respective copies of Paris Match and the like were passed round with half-page splash apologies was a sight to see. I know I joined them all in this surprise. Although campaign groups have argued that the same should happen here, seeing it on a page is totally alien to PRs and media in the UK.

I asked Alain’s team if sales of these magazines plunge when they had to print page one apologies. He didn’t have those figures to hand – but he did know that huge revelations in French magazines put sales on.

And the revenues from those sales far outstrip the fines that could be levied on privacy fines for publications, meaning the decision to publish, even when warned over privacy, was a no-brainer for an editor. Sure, there is embarrassment for the more serious magazines when they have to print remedial statements on page one. But the good – the commercial gain – far outweighs the bad.

And although lawyers in France can have seven or eight actions EACH week for just one client, the ball-game rolls on. And on. And on.

There is the threat of criminal prosecution but take the high profile example of the Kate pictures – it is widely accepted that the two people charged over the Kate pictures will escape with a fine and not be jailed.

Most startling was the game-playing that goes on in France – one publication passed around the table showed an apology at the bottom of the page relating to Prince Albert. But the top half of the splash had a brand new story on Prince Albert basically singing the praises of the story that they had been taken to task over.

So, not a remedy at all really – the magazine publishers apologise on one hand, then laugh about it behind the other.

There is huge cynicism and despite the legal cases flowing and page one apologies hitting the news-stands, the juggernaut roles on. The French press have decided it is okay to take risks.

Interestingly, there is no press-regulatory body in France, unlike the much maligned and soon to be replaced PCC in the UK.

So, as the UK newspapers battle it out with politicians and self-appointed, un-elected campaign groups over a new form of press regulation – said to be the first press laws this country has ever had – the need to get it right is so important.

And while some of the details Alain wonderfully outlined at dinner would seem very appealing for those of us working in reputation PR, the world’s toughest privacy laws don’t seem to be the answer. We should be careful what we wish for.