In defence of ghost blogging

casper-friendly-ghost-31There’s nothing unethical about ghost blogging.

Before I explain, let me emphasize that I’ve never done it, I probably never will and we at com.motion recommend that clients not do it. But not because of ethics.

“Ghost blogging” refers to the practice of a professional writer or PR type writing a blog on behalf of an executive or celebrity. This is very much frowned on by most of the social media fishbowl. This point was underscored in a recent session on ethics at the Talk is Cheap unconference at Centennial College and a followup post by panelist Dave Fleet.

After labeling ghost blogging as unethical, the panelists were put on the hotseat by Centennial College public relations students and other participants. Why is it okay to write speeches for clients but not to write blog posts? Dave and Michael O’Connor Clarke said the difference is that when a CEO reads a speech, he takes ownership of the words, even if he didn’t write them. Which makes it ethical. But this differentiator doesn’t apply to quotes PR people write for executives in press releases, the president’s statement in a monthly newsletter or op-eds (newspaper columns) written on their behalf.

The ethical divide isn’t disclosure since ghost-writing is rarely acknowledged offline except when it comes to books. And its not expectations, since most newspaper readers probably assume that columns attributed to executives were actually written by them.

So either all this stuff – from ghost quotes to ghost messages to ghost op-eds – is ethical or none of it is. And I lean towards the latter former (kind of changes the meaning of my post, but yes, I meant to say I think it’s all ethical).

There is one important difference, but it’s not ethical. The difference is consequences. Even if most readers aren’t aware that op-eds aren’t always written by the “writer,” the repercussions of getting found out are almost non-existent. But ghost blogging comes with a motrinmoms-esque public relations risk.

And that’s the real reason why – ethics aside – we don’t recommend it.

Has Obama Twittered his last Tweet?

obamaI’ve heard that if you keep a birdfeeder in the fall, you need to keep it stocked through the winter, else the birds that have come to rely on your feed will die. It reminds me of one of my favourite quotes, from St. Exupéry’s Le Petit Prince: “Tu deviens responsable pour toujours de ce que tu as apprivoisé.” Translation: We are forever responsible for what we have tamed.

There is perhaps a lesson here for Barack Obama who used Twitter – a popular social media tool – throughout the recent election campaign to communicate with more than 120,000 followers, but quietly exited the conversation after his historic victory. Valleywag accuses Obama of having “pumped and dumped” his supporters – Twittering them into donating time and money, then dropping them for a more “presidential” means of communication.

His last message came Nov. 4 at 2:34 p.m.:

We just made history. All of this happened because you gave your time, talent and passion. All of this happened because of you. Thanks

Then radio silence.

Like the president-elect, many brands and organizations turn to social media for one-off campaigns, but the best results come when the commitment is long-term. Barack Obama will need those followers again – perhaps much sooner than four years from now when he returns to the polls. He’s not past the engagement phase; he’s only begun.

The five tribes of social media

Just came across a terrific post from my friend Sean Moffitt at his Buzz Canuck blog. Sean argues that there are five basic character types swimming around the social media fish bowl – each speaking a different language and each having a fundamentally different understanding of what is social media.

He writes:

The fact that these different 5 tribes exists is a good thing – it points to the multi-faceted nature of social media’s benefits. The inability for these social media tribes, particularly the more seasoned ones, to accept that they operate inescapably in the same social media bouillabaisse is a continuing issue that threatens the future financial health of the social media industry. It’s just too bad we don’t have some kind of United Nations of social media where people of different tribes could try to understand the other’s positions with the help of translators…because right now, we’re still talking different languages.

He’s right, of course. I’m constantly amazed at how every social media “expert” defines social media in a different way. Even buzz words like “conversation” can mean very different things to different people.

How do public relations types come across in Sean’s analysis? He gives credit to our tribe for recognizing that influencers deserve special attention, but says we don’t pay enough attention to the community aspect of social media and don’t spend enough time on relationship building.

I don’t necessarily agree with that analysis (I think PR actually pays more attention to relationship-building than many other marketing disciplines) but Sean’s overview provides some good insight as to how we’re viewed.

Now tell us Sean — which tribe do you belong to?

Scandal 2.0 Rocks Aussie Liberals

The following post will appear in this week’s Touchdowns and Fumbles, Veritas’ weekly newsletter which highlights the week;s biggest communications hits and misses. It’s free to subscribe.

FUMBLE
Scandal 2.0 Rocks Aussie Liberals

Here’s a bad idea: Team up with one of your co-workers to create a blog which completely and utterly discredits your boss. But that’s exactly what two Liberal campaign staffers did in Australia.

John Osborn and Simon Morgan, paid employees of the Liberal Party, created the blog Ted Baillieu Most Go. The site attacked the Party leader in Victoria, the Australian province that incorporates Melbourne. Not surprisingly, the pair were fired for their lack of loyalty.

They clearly messed up and paid the price. But the real FUMBLE goes to the Liberal Party itself. As Gerry McCusker writes on the PR Disasters blog, the scandal suggests that the Liberal Party was engaged in little or no online monitoring. The blog was created late last year, but it wasn’t until last month that the party figured out who was responsible. McCusker calls it a “complete lack of Liberal e-savvy.”

We tend to agree. The conversations going on about your brand or organization can’t be ignored. Veritas provides Online Reputation Management services and we can help you listen, understand and react to the conversations that are taking place. These conversations can help you improve your products or customer service. They can also alert you to crises of brand confidence before they reach the tipping point. Blogs matter. Smart marketers ignore them at their peril.

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Is authenticity in social media an infallible truth?


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document.write(unescape(“%3Cscript src='” + gaJsHost + “google-analytics.com/ga.js’ type=’text/javascript’%3E%3C/script%3E”));There’s a great discussion going on over at glossblog.ca about the marketing for the film Forgetting Sarah Marshall.

The campaign includes a phony blog, in which one of the characters in the film writes about how Sarah Marshall has broken his heart.

Rayanne Langdon, who works with us here at com.motion, wrote a post on glossblog, where she gave the campaign a thumbs up because it raises awareness and gets people talking.

That post generated a comment from Mary-Margaret Jones of Thornley Fallis’ PR Girls blog, who strongly disagreed. Mary-Margaret said the campaign was “inauthentic from the get go” because it wasn’t clear that it was a character blog. In the realm of social media marketing, she wrote, that “hurts.”

To be sure, the No. 1 rule in social media marketing is that transparency and authenticity must prevail. But once you know the rules, isn’t it okay to break them once in a while?

Take this example of a completely non-transparent social media campaign that worked. Millions have watched this YouTube video of Australian party boy Corey Delaney:

After Corey became a worldwide bad-boy celeb, the Aussie blog Random Brainwave set up a MySpace page pretending to be Corey. Media called seeking interviews; the Random Brainwave guys complied; and their website got loads of attention and (presumably) loads of new readers.

No, they weren’t transparent. No, they weren’t authentic. But as a fringe website, they could get away with it where a big brand, like say, Wal-Mart, could not. I’m usually the guy telling my clients that authenticity is critical. And 99.9 per cent of the time, it’s the absolute truth. But aren’t we still too early in the evolution of social media marketing to be talking about indisputable truths?

Facebook marketing: Effective but picky

We recently administered a Facebook campaign for one of our clients with a social ad directing users to a fan page and a microsite. The results have been terrific.

But getting the thing set up was a bit of a comedy of errors.

When I first submitted the social ad copy, I was told it was awaiting approval. I was worried it might get rejected because it had the word “sucks” in the headline. It did get rejected but for an entirely different reason. This particular client spells its brand name in capital letters as a point of style. But apparently this is not allowed by Facebook.

I received the following e-mail from the Facebook Ad Team said:

The text of this ad contains excessive or incorrect capitalization. All ads must use appropriate, grammatically correct capitalization. The title of your ad, as well as the first word in each sentence, must begin with a capital letter. Lastly, all proper nouns and acronyms should be capitalized. As per section 4 of Facebook’s Advertising Guidelines, all ads should include standard and proper capitalization.

I resubmitted writing our client’s brand name with just a single upper case letter. But again, the social ad was rejected. This time the culprit was a period I had placed at the end of a URL.

The text of this ad contains improper or unnecessary punctuation. All ads must end with a form of punctuation. As per section 5 of Facebook’s Advertising Guidelines, all ads should include logical, correct punctuation.

I removed the period and the ad was accepted.

For those of us who live and breathe social media, Facebook is viewed as, like, soooo 2007.

But the truth is that – despite its pickiness on points of capitalization and punctuation – it remains the most important social network for Canadian marketers by a massive margin.

Happy Easter all!

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Does your job suck?

We’ve been crazy busy here at com.motion over the last few weeks. And now we can talk about why.

We’re helping STAPLES Business Depot to launch Staplesville.ca, an online recruiting Web site that is totally unlike any other.

The launch is being supported by a social media release, a blogger relations campaign, a Facebook fan page and a YouTube video.

The following video features Ben Miner, a Toronto stand-up comedian who hosts a XM Satelite Radio’s Laugh Attack channel:

"YouTube no place to discuss ideas"

What do you get when you take a land claims dispute, a politician, an iconic Canadian doughnut shop and mix in a little social media? An innovative if somewhat hokey YouTube video.

Here’s one of a series of five videos released last week by Michael Bryant, Ontario’s minister for aboriginal affairs, to mark the two-year anniversary of the Six Nations dispute in Caledonia.

And here’s what NDP Leader Howard Hampton had to say about it:

YouTube is not the place to communicate either policy or to communicate government messages.

To me, Howard’s comments show a complete lack of appreciation for the social media and the cultural revolution behind it.

Joseph Brean, a fine reporter at the National Post, called me up to get my thoughts on the tactic and did to me what I did to hundreds of others in my years as a reporter — he boiled our ten minute talk into a dozen or so words.

Fortunately, I got the chance to expand on my views in the latest Inside PR podcast, which will be released tomorow. After 100 episodes, co-hosts David Jones and Terry Fallis have turned the show into a round-table format and invited me, Julie Rusciolelli and Martin Waxman to join them.

In episode 101 we discuss the thorny question of why PR people are somtimes seen as slimeballs and the Bryant YouTube video.

THIS JUST IN: Bloggers make mistakes

It was the kind of story that social media bloggers love. Lawyers at an old economy company were ordering fans to “cease and desist” from showing their love for the brand in user generated content. In this case, Ford was barring Mustang lovers from using pictures of their cars in a calendar.
Great story. Except that it wasn’t true.
As Shel Holtz wrote, Ford denied the report, saying it was actually the supplier, CafePress, that wouldn’t print the calendars. But after one blogger published the initial report, dozens more piled on in judgement, without ever calling Ford for comment.
Holtz writes:

If I were working for a newspaper today, I would still call Ford. If I had opted to blog about this over the past couple days, I would not have. I’m as guilty as anyone else. (And thank goodness I passed on this story.)

Another example over the weekend: Fred Wilson calls out a couple of “journabloggers” for quoting people without checking the facts, then Michael Arrington of TechCrunch goes after Wilson for saying his own post was “conflicted and wrong.”
Do bloggers make more mistakes than journalists?
Is the burden of accuracy different?
Are the consequences of making mistakes in a blog any less significant than in a newspaper or TV report?
These are some of the issues I’ll be discussing this weekend at Podcamp Toronto in a seminar with my former Globe and Mail colleague Mathew Ingram. Since we are both bloggers who have also worked as journalists, we may be coming at this from a particular point of view. In the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts on these questions.

Why podcasts will take over the world

In February of 2005, I wrote a story in the Globe and Mail about how leading edge marketers were using a new technology to reach consumers — The podcast. One example: Warner Bros. was releasing a daily podcast from Paris Hilton to promote her new film House of Wax.

I called a bunch of smart people at various ad agencies and branded content companies. Most had no idea what a podcast was.

In a year-end piece at the end of 2005, I opined that podcasts were a waste of time for marketers that were jumping in. People wanted to listen to music, not words, on their iPods, I wrote.

I was wrong.

As the months go by, I am increasingly convinced of the power of podcasts. In the spring of 2006, I recorded twice daily podcasts from the Cannes Lions Advertising Festival. I was still skeptical. I still hadn’t begun listening to podcasts myself. But I came home to tremendously positive feedback from ad agency folk who had visited the Rivera vicariously through my podcasts — some of which I recorded on the beach in Cannes, complete with ambient wave sounds.

Now I listen to five to ten podcasts a week dealing with marketing, public relations, social media, and, um, fantasy baseball.

Podcasts are growing like crazy — an estimated 29,114 per cent in 2007 according to one estimate. And that growth will continue. Cars of the future will automatically download your favourite podcasts and have them ready for you to listen to at your convenience. There will be high-quality on-demand programming, targeting each and every interest and hobby — and that will take a serious toll on traditional and satellite radio.

We’re big believers in the power of podcasts at com.motion. That’s why we’re proud to sponsor Podcamp Toronto on Feb. 23 and 24. It’s a free unconference dedicated to this exploding medium. You can find more information and register for the conference here.

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