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How the #TubeStrike Can Stem the Loss of Public Sympathy

How the #TubeStrike Can Stem the Loss of Public Sympathy

The strike has affected millions of commuters

This morning, like many of my friends and colleagues, I crawled out of bed an hour earlier to spend half an hour waiting for a bus that could manage to squeeze in a handful more frustrated passengers, to spend the next 45 minutes pressed up against my fellow Londoners with a metal bar below my ribs and a gentleman’s sandals repeatedly crushing my toes. I can’t say I’m a fan of the tube being down.

Over the last few days I have spent many a conversation lamenting the imminent temporary loss of my regular commute, and almost all my eye-rolling contemporaries have bemoaned the significant salaries that striking tube drivers earn for their work. It’s obviously hard to sympathise with our better-off neighbours when they disrupt an entire capital city. But, if they had so desired, could the unions have gained more public sympathy?

The biggest problem for tube workers in such an aim is the torrent of social media spawned quips and highly shareable stats that are flying around the Twittersphere. During the last tube strike, Facebook was littered with tables and graphs comparing the salaries and training conditions of tube drivers with paramedics and other health workers – or with teachers, firefighters and the police. The vast majority of conversations – both digital and ‘IRL’ – around the strikes parrot the same statistics that tube drivers on average earn nearly £50,000 and have up to 52 days holiday a year. Twitter and Facebook users aren’t alone in their outrage at well-paid tube personnel wreaking havoc on other working Londoners’ commutes – the media has consistently highlighted the pay package of tube drivers in their coverage of the recent union action. The BBC, for example, noted that “according to HM Treasury figures, the drivers’ starting salary of £49,673 means they earn more than 90% of the population.” No wonder everyone around us is annoyed.

Comparisons have been drawn between other essential professions.

Comparisons have been drawn between other essential professions.

But the overwhelming irritation at tube drivers’ pay has dwarfed the key issues for union members: TfL’s lack of clarity on work-life balance for employees and the details on the night shift conditions workers will be required to perform under. This message has been mostly lost on the public, who are generally steadfast in their annoyance at the drivers’ remuneration.

There have been a handful of articles which have tried to debunk certain misconceptions, and which have highlighted how the multi-faceted deals must either be rejected or accepted in full and are “not pick and mix offers”. But the majority of coverage easily stokes the fire of resentment that has been spreading across social media all week.

Whether or not it’s fair and proportionate to disrupt a whole city to make these points heard, it seems to me that the unions could have somewhat improved their chance for public sympathy if they gave a human face to the issues and effectively put the public in the drivers’ shoes. This isn’t easy – I’ve heard several friends announce that they’d kill to get £200 for a night shift, that they’d switch with tube drivers any day for their salary and holiday package. For many people that’s a fair point – but if any of us had signed up to one job and then were demanded to work nights, with only vague assurances on how many nights a year or how much sleep time we’d be afforded after each, we might be more sympathetic to the unions’ cause – even if we don’t support the full extent of their actions.

Some have rallied to back the strike.

Some have rallied to back the strike.

 

It’s possible to see the impact a real-life case study can have on changing stubborn minds. An open letter from a tube driver ahead of last month’s strikes gathered viral support when he explained on Facebook how the proposed measures would affect him personally:

Drivers have had their say.

Drivers have had their say.

The public can sympathise with this kind of personal account, which clearly outlines the possible impact of the terms then proposed. And the unions could go further in putting the public in the drivers’ shoes – highlighting working parents who would need extra overnight childcare to cover the possible many weeks of night shifts, for example. Demonstrating data on the importance of certainty and work-life balance to mental health, perhaps.

It’s no mean feat to draw sympathy from often worse-off Londoners who are directly disrupted by the unions’ actions. But focusing on the human lives and stories behind the issues, alongside being clear about the real-life impact of the proposals, might tease out understanding from even the most toe-crushed, sleep-deprived of commuters.

Man Booker 2015: Let the Literary Rumpus Begin

Man Booker, The PHA Group

‘Image courtesy of Sam on Flickr’

With the 2015 Man Booker Dozen announced, the book world awaits the next literary rumpus.

From where I’m typing, there are a few top contenders for this year’s Man Booker media storm.

Up first: The Americans have arrived. It’s the second year of the new rules allowing all writers in English and published in the UK to take part, regardless of nationality – something the press release repeatedly emphasizes and the longlist of nominees throws into sharp relief. Five of the thirteen are from the US, whilst only one lonely Antipodean, New Zealander Anna Smaill, made the cut this year. This means there are half as many Commonwealth authors than last year, confirming the fears of writers like Peter Carey, AS Byatt and Graham Swift. They, amongst others, criticized the decision to make the award more global. It would dilute the ‘real Commonwealth culture’ of the prize, they warned, and potentially lead to American writers steamrolling new talent from smaller English-speaking nations.

 

A second avenue of dissension could be the notable absence of bookie favourites from the longlist. Kazuo Ishiguro, Margaret Atwood, William Boyd and Salman Rushdie are all names tripped out of a race where many critics held them as forerunners. The Telegraph, which apparently placed several bets on Harper Lee’s Go Set A Watchman, seems particularly disgruntled.

A third – though less likely – could surround the apparent dominance of women writers – seven out of thirteen – that will please many today, irk more tomorrow, and inevitably create headlines in the future. Stories in this category will likely relate to a recent survey showing women are less likely to win prizes. Especially if their protagonist is also a woman. Why predict that any of these things become controversial? Because if people think the hyper-competitive world of publishing is bloodthirsty, the write-or-die mentality of literary prizes feels like a knife-edge.

As usual the media has a stake in the whole affair.

Who has been left off the list, who should not win, who should win but won’t: these are the stories understood by cultural commentators. Therefore scandal, controversy, ridicule wrapped in newsprint become the languages spoken by prize givers.

As noted by Mark Lawson in 1994, ‘the Booker Prize is not simply “to promote the cause of serious fiction . . . [but] to provoke rows and scandals, which may, in due course, promote the cause of serious fiction’.

In other words, media outrage makes books worthy of public attention. And a crisis can turn just another book on the shelf into a best seller. If you need further proof of this just ask EL James. Or Ian McEwan. Or John Banville. Or JK Rowling.

All in all, anyone with a bookish bone in their body will be wondering where the first stone shall fall and what ripples it will create.

It would almost be disappointing if there wasn’t at least some hint of literary dispute.

After all, 2015 has five years of excitement to compete with. In 2014, when all eyes narrowed on the two American names included on the longlist, hopes turned to Neel Mukherjee whose nomination was marketed as the last bastion of Commonwealth writers. The year prior, news focused on the fact Colm Toibin’s novella of 104 pages seemed ludicrous against Eleanor Catton’s mammoth debut with debate reflecting on whether something so short could really compete. Looking back further to 2012, Hillary Mantel’s second win piqued interest and dismay, with furious observers accusing the prize of dumbing itself down – “How could a sequel possibly be more original than a standalone like Will Self’s Umbrella?” they harped.

And of course, all this followed the biggest scandal in recent awards history: 2011’s ‘readability’ criteria was praised by judges but led to the creation of the Folio Prize (the book world’s version of a challenger brand) – and the accusation that the Man Booker had lost its ability to discern ‘fiction at its finest’.

Yet all of the books involved in these scandals, the ones that won and the ones people thought should have won instead, all sold hundreds of thousands of copies.

In fact, five of the last six winners have gone on to earn their publishers a seven-figure sum (and rising) and several shortlisted books (Ian McEwan’s On Chesil Beach and Christos Tsiolkas’s The Slap come to mind) have achieved the same.

Looking at the Man Booker this way, it becomes evident how a well-controlled ‘crisis’ creates visibility, celebrity, prestige. Primed to create and mediate such a seemingly endless turnstile of scandal, awards like the Man Booker therefore thrive precisely because they are masters of public relations.

By capturing the general public’s attention through a bit of a hullabaloo, prizes open new eyes to fiction. Moreover, it explains why prizes as preeminent as the Nobel, as highbrow as the Goncourt and as inclusive as the Costa have followed the Man Booker’s trend and partaken in the odd bookish brouhaha.

Because the commercial impact is undeniable in the publishing industry.

Because, as James English explained, it allows prize givers to walk the fault line between cultural and economic capital.

Because rewarding writers, creating books that sell, bestowing cultural value, is why landing one of those coveted spots on a long- or shortlist can mean life or death for a book – particularly if it’s the sort that’s not piled high in the supermarket, invited to the top tables in bookshops, or advertised on the side of buses.

In the immediate, there’s a lot of positive energy surrounding the longlist.

Congratulations for the chosen thirteen are pouring in. Headlines applaud the diversity of the selection, the dominance of women, and representation of so many international writers.

Tomorrow, no doubt, there will be interviews and reviews and people will start to chime in with their thoughts on who should win.

How long the positivity will last, however – how long before someone finds a less favourable and more profitable opinion to espouse – remains to be seen.

The Greek financial crisis – Twitter’s take

For the past few weeks the news agenda has been dominated by the Greek crisis and what seemed to have become the never-ending discussions by political leaders to end the stalemate. However, at the same time that the political negotiations and debates were taking place, the online world of social media was also heating up.

Social media and Twitter, in particular, are now the key channels where people express views, debate, criticise and argue, but what is even more interesting is how users use humour and creativity to address hot topics on these platforms. Major political topics and personalities are targeted through a different lens, pointing out elements that are often exaggerated and have become almost stereotypical. The aim? To give a new spin to the grim reality and in many ways to challenge ‘authority’ and emphasise its ‘weak’ points.

Interactivity and engagement are among the key perks of social media and coupled with humour and political satire, they make a powerful mixture. Hashtags like #ilovetsipras and #merkelmeme gained in popularity with users tagging caricatures and other content, while hashjacking like in the cases of #greferendum and #agreekment also inspired users to post their own version of political analysis in a humorous way.

Social media has been awash with satire throughout the crisis.

Social media has been awash with satire throughout the crisis.

Is humour people’s way of dealing with a highly stressful and uncertain situation? Politics and humour have always been different sides of the same coin. Political cartoons made their presence in the UK in newspapers as early as in the 1700s. The internet, however, has enabled the creative potential of humour to unleash and at the same time it has also made it easier for satirists to bypass censorship and stay anonymous.

What was even more interesting was that the parallel online satirical trend that followed the EU talks had no geographical limit with users across the world participating and engaging with one another and exchanging jokes, cartoons and memes. Humour creates a global communication channel and social media have made it possible for this content to enjoy a global reach they never would have had otherwise.

Coverage of the issue has been mixed to say the least.

Coverage of the issue has been mixed to say the least.

What the recent example of the EU talks on the Greek crisis shows is that humour is a fantastic way to create virtual community bonds among users that would potentially have never interacted otherwise. It is also a great shock absorber helping people to make sense of reality and look at things in a more positive way. It is clear that the social media frenzy over the Greek crisis will continue in the weeks and months to come.

After all political satire was a Greek invention.

The Greek financial crisis – Twitter's take

For the past few weeks the news agenda has been dominated by the Greek crisis and what seemed to have become the never-ending discussions by political leaders to end the stalemate. However, at the same time that the political negotiations and debates were taking place, the online world of social media was also heating up.

Social media and Twitter, in particular, are now the key channels where people express views, debate, criticise and argue, but what is even more interesting is how users use humour and creativity to address hot topics on these platforms. Major political topics and personalities are targeted through a different lens, pointing out elements that are often exaggerated and have become almost stereotypical. The aim? To give a new spin to the grim reality and in many ways to challenge ‘authority’ and emphasise its ‘weak’ points.

Interactivity and engagement are among the key perks of social media and coupled with humour and political satire, they make a powerful mixture. Hashtags like #ilovetsipras and #merkelmeme gained in popularity with users tagging caricatures and other content, while hashjacking like in the cases of #greferendum and #agreekment also inspired users to post their own version of political analysis in a humorous way.

Social media has been awash with satire throughout the crisis.

Social media has been awash with satire throughout the crisis.

Is humour people’s way of dealing with a highly stressful and uncertain situation? Politics and humour have always been different sides of the same coin. Political cartoons made their presence in the UK in newspapers as early as in the 1700s. The internet, however, has enabled the creative potential of humour to unleash and at the same time it has also made it easier for satirists to bypass censorship and stay anonymous.

What was even more interesting was that the parallel online satirical trend that followed the EU talks had no geographical limit with users across the world participating and engaging with one another and exchanging jokes, cartoons and memes. Humour creates a global communication channel and social media have made it possible for this content to enjoy a global reach they never would have had otherwise.

Coverage of the issue has been mixed to say the least.

Coverage of the issue has been mixed to say the least.

What the recent example of the EU talks on the Greek crisis show is that humour is a fantastic way to create virtual community bonds among users that would potentially have never interacted otherwise. It is also a great shock absorber helping people to make sense of reality and look at things in a more positive way. It is clear that the social media frenzy over the Greek crisis will continue in the weeks and months to come.

After all political satire was a Greek invention.

Ten years on – recognising International Widows Day

Yesterday we celebrated the 10th anniversary of International Widows Day, a day to raise awareness about a topic that is rarely talked about: women (and their children) who after losing their husbands need to fight yet further battles –against poverty, exploitation and different forms of discrimination.

It is surprising to see how an issue that affects more than a billion people worldwide receives so little global attention. This is exactly the problem that Lord Loomba has been fighting to overcome for the past decade through a series of initiatives supported by the UN and a number of influential personalities such as Yoko Ono and Richard Branson. And it is great to see the fruit of this hard work, especially when this means changing the lives of tens of millions of widows and their families worldwide.

Last night's event was held at One George Street

Last night’s event was held at One George Street

This year’s focus is empowering more than 5,000 widows in Varanasi (known as ‘The Widow’s City), interviewing each regarding their desired career path, before making this a reality through extensive training, leaving them with employable skills and able to care for themselves and their families. The emphasis is therefore placed on initiatives that will have a long-term and sustainable positive impact on each woman’s life. Through doing so the cycle of poverty can be broken as there are at least 10 people benefitting from every widow assisted.

Yesterday’s Loomba Foundation fundraising event was marked by the moving and inspirational speeches of President Cherie Blair and Chris Parsons, who completed 30 marathons in 30 days from Mumbai to Bangalore to spread awareness and raise funds for widows.

The Loomba Foundation want widows' rights recognised in the UN's Sustainable Development Goals

The Loomba Foundation want widows’ rights recognised in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals

The most memorable moment of yesterday’s event was, however, when Lord Loomba received an award for his exceptional offer to the cause. He, motivated by his own mother’s personal experience of being a widow, has not stopped demonstrating his dedication and determination to support widows globally in their fight for a better life.

Lord Loomba is determined to have widows’ issues acknowledged in the upcoming UN Sustainable Development Goals and while awareness days play a key role in reinstituting the dialogue on the various topics and causes they promote, we feel that yesterday’s International Widows Day went a step further and gave a strong message to us all.

It was a powerful call to action to stand by the side of those that need us and never forget that each and every one of us deserves to live in dignity.

She-FA: Why you should now invest in women’s football

As you’ve probably heard, FIFA is in a bit of a state. However, amid the corruption and scandals, there has been one gem of positive news to emerge in the past few days, women teams will be included in FIFA 16!

This autumn, gamers will be able to play as 12 international female teams. This is just the beginning too with a wide collection of player’s stats being collated as we speak. Domestic leagues are not far away.

Soon gamers will be able to play as Ellen White and Steph Houghton.

Soon gamers will be able to play as Ellen White and Steph Houghton.

The first question on many people’s lips is why has this taken so long? One simple answer would be to suggest the gross institutionalised misogynism at FIFA and other national governing bodies.  This would be fairly accurate, considering FIFA’s soon to be dethroned president Sepp Blatter has suggested women’s football would be more popular if they wore shorter skirts.

Even in the UK, it’s not been too long since Andy Gray’s dismissal for making offside jokes at the expense of a female official. At first glance, it would be easy to suggest the sport will only succeed once the sport is taken seriously and this isn’t untrue. The first step is to give women every opportunity that the male version has and that’s where the problem has arisen.

The sport at present fails to draw the crowds of men’s matches. This results in a lack of sponsorship, TV rights and funding. Without the funding, the majority of female footballers can only ever become semi-pro and thus cannot reach their potential. In perspective, most conference teams (5th Division) are fully professional. Without this funding, awareness of the sport cannot be raised and therefore women will continue to struggle to balance a full-time job with their footballing career.

Although it’s early stages, the FIFA inclusion has the potential to be one of the best things to happen to the women’s football. People have downplayed how significant the addition is, which is a mistake. At present, FIFA is one of biggest sport franchises on the planet, shifting 2.6 million copies in the UK last year alone. These gamers are ready-made football fans, no conversion from another sport needed. All they need is a push the right direction. With the introduction of just a few teams, each team will gain a colossal boost in awareness from the regular gamers. Once they find favourite players amongst the teams (and they will), the demand for television rights and match tickets are certain to rocket. The time is now to invest.

The sport has already gone a long way in the past few years. Since their impressive Olympic performances the women’s team, led by Manchester City’s captain Steph Houghton, the sport has never been more popular. With additional exposure, the brand of women’s football is set to increase phenomenally, with the potential to grow even more when the domestic leagues are introduced.

Charity PR: Stop the sensationalism!

All businesses are acutely aware of the need to cut through the noise when it comes to making their brand, product or service visible to their target market. A great communications strategy is, of course, integral to this. You might have the best idea in the world but without the right communication techniques, no one will buy into it.

Perhaps nobody feels this challenge more than charities and campaigning organisations. With what is often a constant struggle for funding, raising brand awareness and generating revenue through fundraising are on-going concerns, even for established organisations.

The charity market is as crowded as any other and smaller, lesser-known charities must compete with ‘megabrands’ like Amnesty International and Oxfam for donors and supporters. The recent collapse of the much-celebrated charity BeatBullying is indicative of these challenges.

Beyond this though, these organisations often deal with highly sensitive and complex issues. Nuanced policy positions must be transformed into simple, attention-grabbing calls to action and with a 24-hour news hour cycle that overloads us with content from all corners of the globe, grabbing our attention – at least for more than a few seconds – is now harder than ever.

When Band Aid released their first single in 1984, people were shocked by what they saw on their television screens and donations poured in. But what to do when we’re no longer shocked and the donations dry up?

Well, there’s always a temptation to revert to ever more shocking images, messaging and stereotypes that urge us out of our armchairs and towards a direct debit and, sadly, this is still a path some charities feel obliged to go down.

As a campaigner for women’s rights, it especially frustrates me to see adverts on the tube that serve only to further victimise women and girls to evoke feelings of sympathy and pity rather than empowerment.

As Regina Yau, Founder of the Pixel Project says, “We owe it to those we serve to avoid sensationalising their pain…we need to ask ourselves: Are we fighting for brand recognition or are we fighting for real change?”

My aim here is not to name and shame these organisations. I think we should acknowledge the real difficulties they face when, in reality, brand recognition is very much intertwined with their objective of creating change. As I said, it’s hard for charities to raise much-needed funds when their campaign has no visibility.

However, it’s also important to ask ourselves how we can do this without relying on sensationalism. As communications professionals, we are all responsible for the information we present to the public and we have to think about the impact we have.

The good news is that we can be creative, innovative and forward-thinking and move away from these old stereotypes – there are loads of amazing charities out there doing just this. One of these is KickStart Ghana, an NGO that aims to enhance the sporting and educational opportunities available to the people of Ghana. Their Co-Founder, Dave Coles, recognises the importance of challenging stereotypes in order to address the root of the problem and not just providing a sticking plaster – you won’t find a negative image in sight in their marketing materials.

What’s more, Nesta now awards funding from their Innovation in Giving Fund to forward-thinking charities that challenge traditional models of fundraising and engagement.

So yes, short-term shock tactics might boost a fundraising target but will they attract long-term supporters and drive real change in the future? The answer must be no.

How to Rebuild Trust in Your Tech Brand

Scandal, scandal, scandal. Security breaches, data hoarding and ethical ambiguity – if the likes of Apple, Snapchat and Sony are anything to go by in terms of trust in technology, they certainly didn’t do SMEs and entrepreneurs any favours in 2014.

Our trust in technology brands was found to have dipped last year.

Our trust in technology brands was found to have dipped last year.

Last week, a report highlighted that Brits’ trust in technology had substantially dipped in the last year. Consumer electronics and telecoms, in particular, both took a tumble, and now, as other countries enthusiastically steam ahead with innovation, Brits’ trust (or lack thereof) in tech is significantly impeding our progression towards a connected future.

So what can tech companies do to reassure British consumers? Here are our top three tips to inspire, maintain, or, in some cases, rebuild trust in your tech brand.

Data and Security

After numerous high profile data hacks and security breaches in 2014, consumers are understandably concerned about how their details are mined, managed and manipulated. For tech brands, ensuring you are plain and transparent with your use, storage and trading of data is vital to allay the fears stoked by these incidents and strengthen that all-important consumer trust.

High profile hacks have left consumers wondered whether their data is safe.

High profile hacks have left consumers wondering whether their data is safe.

Only a couple of months ago, MPs on the Commons Science and Technology Select Committee were compelled to call for new guidelines for apps and websites, requiring them to explain clearly their use of personal data. Increasingly, regulation is making it difficult for technology to evolve, so instead of waiting for more guidelines and possibly laws to be introduced, why not prove to society that tech brands can be responsible, transparent and effectively self-regulate? As Andrew Miller, chair of the committee, noted: “Socially responsible companies wouldn’t want to bamboozle their users”.

Quality and Safety

Technology as a topic can often seem inaccessible – after all, there’s a lot of jargon and few people understand how software and hardware is actually built. So when there are rapid developments, it almost appears too good to be true, leaving some sceptical and mistrusting consumers questioning the validity of research and the quality of the design of a product.

In fact, nearly half of UK consumers believe that innovation is happening too quickly – but then, it’s not in the best interests of tech developers to slam on the brakes. Instead, it’s vital that tech companies address these concerns directly, by allowing people to trial and test their capabilities. Demonstrating quality by offering your product for high profile reviews is a good way of gaining advocacy from trusted, independent parties.

Positioning your company as experts in a relevant field – through thought leadership pieces and interviews – will also reassure consumers that the same intelligence and conscientiousness has been baked into your product or service.

Purpose

Perhaps one of the most surprising snippets to come out of the mammoth Consumer Electronics Show 2015 earlier this month was an admission from Gary Shapiro, CEO of the event. He acknowledged that over-reliance on digital products is a “Natural trend that people are talking about”, and that he believes in the good of “everything, in reason.”

A digital detox, it seems, may well be on the horizon – and tech companies must be prepared. Consumers mistrust products and brands that serve no true purpose, or that bombard them with so many that they can’t discern what the product is really for. So decide what problem you want to solve and where your niche lies, instead of trying to be a jack-of-all-trades. Less is more – or, in the immortal words of Coco Chanel, “before you leave the house, look in the mirror and remove one accessory.”

In your communications, tech brands should ensure that the value your product adds to the market is conveyed clearly and consistently. If consumers can see how your product will save them time, bring them new information or simply entertain them, trust in your brand will strengthen. That one must-have feature of your offering should shine through: purpose over puff.

As we move forward into 2015, it seems that innovation is no longer enough. Trust in your tech brand must be built upon a foundation of transparency, independent advocacy and clear communications – only then will Brits embrace the advances you have nurtured. How will trust in your brand fare this year?

PR lessons: Ebola and Robbie Williams

In the wake of Robbie Williams making a fool of himself in the name of publicity, I can understand why PR doesn’t always have the most reputable name. For those of you who haven’t seen his videos, the footage captures an animated Williams cavorting round his wife Ayda Field, during the labour of their second child.

I am often confronted with PR cynics, whom typically my breed as ‘spin doctors’ with nothing valuable to actually say. But in a world currently fighting Ebola, we can see how communicating in the face of crisis leaves no choice but to cut through the ‘fluff’ and focus on quality. Although by no means am I disputing the harrowing nature of the disease (and how easy it is to become consumed with dread when discussing the impacts of Ebola) the way in which aid workers have communicated throughout the outbreak provides a prime example of how vital PR can be when it’s done right. Leading the world to quickly realise that although a vaccine will cure the disease, communications will prevent it.

From posters and pamphlets to radio announcements, the communications response to Ebola is unearthing some valuable lesson that PR professionals can learn from across the globe, serving as a valuable reminded that truly effective communications stem from the need, not desire, for the limelight (sorry Robbie, yes that is another dig at you!).

Ebola suits

PR can be a useful tool when raising awareness of crisis issues.

So here are my top tips that I feel Robbie should learn from…

  1. Say something interesting to the right people

While a regular PR campaign may not have the ‘life or death’ hook that Ebola does, having something actually interesting to say will hugely affect if people listen.  A bit like when your mum used to say- ‘If you don’t have anything nice to say, then say nothing at all’ – sometimes it’s better to sit quietly and resist  ‘PR fluff’ until you have something valuable and legitimate to share.

Targeting the correct audience is also critical to any PR activity; UNICEF reports that around 10,000 people are infected with Ebola in West Africa with the majority of victims coming from some of the world’s poorest communities. This has led aid workers to target communications in these areas, resulting in successful rectification of misinformed beliefs concerning how the virus is spread and treated in these places.

Robbie’s video, however, appears to be directed at anymore and everyone- making us perhaps question whether the star is out of touch with his fan base (or possibly society entirely)!

  1. Be engaging, not narcissistic

Possibly Robbie’s biggest problem with his video stems from the entirely narcissistic – as without a real point behind the footage, the viewer may be drawn to the conclusion that it’s just Robbie’s attempt to cash in on the birth of his second child.

A global epidemic brings with it the need to communicate across nations; a difficult task especially when a clear cultural divide exists between rural villages accepting the presence of western medicine. Therefore engagement is a clear aim of organisations working with communities to tackling  Ebola- a variety of tools have been used to achieve this. However, the use of a video produced by the infamous Chocolate Moose is a great example of how the interjection of emotion to a cause key messages to resonate within target audiences, as a result encouraging people to accept the presence of hazmat wearing doctors and actively seek their help when needed.

  1. Keep it quick

As with any pandemic, time is of the essence when spreading your message. Quick, clear and concise messaging is a necessary and effective tool. The Ebola pandemic demonstrated this perfectly through concentrating their efforts on promoting simple and effective points, such as urging healthcare professionals to wear protective clothing when working with patients.

However, Robbie’s string of videos mean the novelty of his shenanigans are well and truly lost, leaving his audience wanting anything but more…

Greggs show the importance of social media during a potential crisis

Twitter and Facebook are the first places many people take to when angry about something these days. Gone are the days of sending angry letters or emails and people have certainly lost faith in customer services over the phone. With thousands of others able to see your comments instantly and jump on the complaining bandwagon with their own experiences, social media platforms rightly seem the best way to get a message across to a brand quickly and get a quick response.

The channels, which started off as luxuries for brands enabling them to communicate with a whole load of potential customers quickly, easily and for free, are now one of the biggest methods of direct customer conversation and complaints. The individuals behind these channels spend their days responding to tweets and Facebook posts directed at the brand, making sure the consumer leaves happy in the end and no further negativity about the brand is spread.

There are numerous examples that show the true power of these platforms, the most recent being yesterday’s ‘Google Greggs’ campaign. If you currently type Gregg’s into Google, the first thing to appear is numerous news articles regarding a prank played on them via Google. No one knows whether this was a substantial fail on Google’s behalf or an extremely clever viral marketing campaign but contrary to what the ‘prankers’ aimed to achieve when changing the brands logo to read “Greggs – Providing sh*t to scum for over 70 years”, all the coverage is positive and their SEO ratings will have gone through the roof. It may not have been planned, but the way Greggs responded was turned this into great PR for the brand.

So how did this prank backfire and why have Greggs come away as the good guys? Well, instead of trying to speak with Google to get the logo changed asap and trying to brush what had happened under the carpet, their social team very cleverly decided to converse with Google via Twitter only, using a bribe of delicious fresh doughnuts to get them to prioritise this task. They created the hashtag #fixgreggs, with Google quickly responding with, ‘Sorry @GreggstheBakers, we’re on it. Throw in a sausage roll and we’ll get it done ASAP. #fixgreggs’.

Greggs then went on to reply to all concerned customers who had been talking about the logo through Twitter as well, having banter along the way and making light of a bad situation. One tweet they replied with for example was, ‘@joannaroberts_ what? Has something happened? ;-)’.

The problem was soon resolved and all that has been left is positive news coverage in numerous outlets including Sky News, the Telegraph, Evening Standard and Independent.

Another example of social media not only saving the day but greatly enhancing positive awareness of a brand is in the case of O2 whose Twitter account became swamped with negative tweets about poor service by frustrated customers during a large network crash.  Instead of responding to all complaints with the same standard corporate jargon, they too responded to each tweet individually in an honest and light-hearted manner. Customers found this human touch refreshing and emotions quickly changed as a result.

It was the opposite case for HMV however, whose staff took to social media to vent about their frustration of losing their jobs. Instead of the marketing team foreseeing this and planning a good way to disperse the situation, they got worried and started deleting comments as they came in. To the angry staff, this was probably the most annoying thing they could have done and it showed complete lack of control on HMV’s part. This only created more negative press around the company.

These examples show just how powerful a tool social media can be, both in making and breaking the image and trust in a brand. In this day, all companies should have a social media crisis plan, whether deciding how to respond to negative comments in line with the brand’s personality or how they plan to apologise to customers should something go wrong. People naturally like to feel cared about so as long as that comes across through all channels, a bad situation can quickly be resolved.