Archive | October, 2013

Hashtags—Think before you become the ‘bum’ of PR jokes

25 Oct

While I was Tweetchating Monday night during #socialchat’s weekly hour-long session, the topic of hashtag usage for events came up. I really hadn’t thought much about it.

You come up with a name, you put a # sign in front of it, and you release it into the Twitter wilderness, right?

Well, you can, but it might end up like British singer Susan Boyle’s well-meant attempt to promote her new album with #susanalbumparty, but instead users had a field day coming up with this:



In January 2012, McDonald’s had the unfortunate experience of having its #McDStories, which was supposed to bring up warm fuzzy sentiments of McDonald’s memories, ridiculed and hijacked by Twitter users who went with a different messaging direction.



The failed campaign was taken down after only two hours. Ouch.

“Creating hashtags is no easy feat and not something left to an intern to brainstorm for 30 minutes. They embody a part of your brand in as few characters as possible, but they still tell a story. Make sure it’s the right one,” said Jon Thomas of SocialMediaToday.

Who knew so few characters could do so much damage?

“If you associated a poorly-crafted hashtag with your brand, it could make or break your reputation online,” said Vanessa Doctor of

Thomas says that being honest about your brand is one of the first steps to ensure if your campaign with flop or be successful.

“McDonald’s, as well as a number of other half-health-conscious restaurants, has to get honest about its business. Domino’s is the poster child for owning up to a negative brand story and using that negativity to craft a new brand story. Domino’s used to be like most fast-food restaurants—making the food as quickly and at the lowest cost as possible in pursuit of high volume and profit margin. Unfortunately, the lack of pride in the product resulted in feedback claiming it was ‘mass-produced, boring, bland pizza.’

Instead of deflecting or ignoring the negativity, Domino’s embraced it, publicly admitting its faults and using them to fuel a marketing campaign called The Pizza Turnaround. It documented its reinvention, changing its recipe and tracking down the detractors in hopes that they’d try its #newpizza and reconsider,” Thomas said.

When in doubt, Domino’s Pizza went all out. Their hashtag was the cornerstone of a massive PR campaign that included a separate website specifically for all things “#newpizza,” positive TV coverage and a stint on Gayle King’s (Oprah Winfrey’s BFF) radio show.

San Francisco advertising firm RadiumOne released findings in March related to a mobile hashtag survey of 494 respondents asking about how they “perceive, value, and use hashtags.”

  • 58 percent of respondents utilize hashtags on a regular basis, and 71 percent of regular hashtag users do so from their mobile devices
  • 43 percent of respondents think hashtags are useful and 34 percent use them to search/follow categories and brands of personal interest
  • 51 percent of respondents would share hashtags more often if they knew advertisers awarded discounts for sharing product based hashtags
  • 41 percent of respondents use hashtags to communicate personal ideas and feelings

With these kinds of numbers, it’s worth it to put a little effort into creating a relevant and honest message with your hashtag. Being included in the “worst of” category is never pretty. Just ask Susan Boyle.


Homecoming mums go social

18 Oct


Drive around most Texas cities on a fall Friday night, and chances are you’ll pass by glaring stadium lights, busy parking lots full of cars, bleacher seats packed with color-coordinated fans cheering with megaphones, plastic pompoms, wearing letter jackets and bearing the sacred colors of their local team as the marching band plays in the background.

Friday night high school football has an electric energy all its own. Never is this truer than during homecoming, a right of passage for Texas teenagers.

Other than going to play-offs, the homecoming game is as big as it gets. The cheers are louder, the sea of colors is larger and homecoming mums are on full display in all their glory.

If you’re from Texas, there’s no need to describe to you what a mum looks like, but, apparently, if you’re from outside the borders, it’s a different story.

Source: my personal photo collection - junior year of high school

Source: my personal photo collection – junior year of high school

My junior year of high school, my homecoming date’s craft-gifted aunt had used three regular sized round mums to make me one huge heart-shaped mum.

Garland, bells and whistles adorned the purple, white and black ribbons that swished all the way down below my knees. My date’s name and football number were written in a cardboard star right at the top of the mum. In case that wasn’t eye-catching enough, the dang thing lit up.

There was a string of white Christmas lights powered by a battery pack that was mounted to the back of the mum, which was mounted to little me. This was more than a decade ago, so before neck or shoulder straps were used to help bear the weight.

The 16-year-old version of me felt a mixture of mortification and victory at all the attention my mum and I received.

I secretly loved that mum, even though I felt like a walking pep rally.

The rise of the Internet has taken mum-making and exposition to a new level.

It use to be that high school yearbooks and personal photo albums were the final resting place for visual archives for mums, but social media has exploded with ways to digitally share photos and videos.

There are 60 pins and 841 followers for mums on Pinterest, although the California-based site lists them under the “sports roses” category, which I’ve never heard before.

There are numerous how-to blogs and videos. One 15-minute video on YouTube has more than 60,000 views.

Tumblr, Twitter, Instagram and Statigram, house ever growing photo collections of mums of all colors and sizes.

What about the mum-makers?

Growing up, you were either related to someone who made your mum or you paid someone to make it for you. There weren’t too many options in our town. The lady who worked at one of the only two dry cleaners we had downtown also ran a side mum and garter business during football season.

Other than that, Hobby Lobby or H-E-B grocery store made more generic looking mums for a hefty price.

Now, in addition to having their own websites, mum-makers have set up virtual shop on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

I think this is a good partnering of new technology and Texas tradition to let mum-enthusiasts have their fun year round.

Lack of social media presence is bad PR call for federal government

10 Oct


Everyone in the broadcasting world knows that dead air is a sign of loss—loss of signal, loss of the technology and loss of control.

The abandoning of official government Twitter and Facebook accounts during the current government shutdown is like radio static in the social media world.

Going radio silent during a crisis is a big no-no in crisis communication, and PR professionals and some media outlets are taking the government to task about best practices.

“Like any successful business, the government needs to have a top notch crisis strategy in place,” said Gabe Shaoolian, CEO and Founder of Blue Fountain Media. “The worst thing to do when your customers (or in this case the American people) are upset and nervous is to cut off communications. It’s the same as telling people you don’t care.

1. Never shut down communications during crisis. It tells your employees and staff you don’t care. It also threatens the future rankings of your digital properties as well (the SEO and online reputational damage could carry forward for many months, or even for years.)

2. Never underestimate the power of the underground communications network – especially in this day and age. If you are not in control of your communications someone else will take over (namely, the unsatisfied customers or employees who take to the internet and create negative impressions  or gossip about you in a variety of ways).”



At least 11 members of the House and Senate have taken to their Twitter accounts to tell Americans who are on mandatory furlough that as long as they aren’t getting paid, they will also forgo their own salaries or give them to charity.

“The government shutdown comes with peril to both political Parties.  Both need to be savvy PR wise.  But ultimately one side or the other must prevail when that happens, a whole new PR strategy will be needed for both Parties,” said David E. Johnson, CEO of Strategic Vision, LLC.

For most people, the shutdown has only heightened their opinions of certain political players in the game. Blame debates are taking place in the court of social media.

“Social media channels are very powerful and important to us. We thrive on learning and staying up to date with the day-to-day gossip and the latest news. In this day and age, we control the social media we want to use, and block the rest of it out of our lives.  As a result, the government shutdown crisis is an example of just how big of a role social media plays in our lives. Luckily, social media comes to our rescue by summarizing the issue using very few words, something all Americans can understand, therefore making it not only addicting, but also demanding,” said Justine Barretta, of CPR Communications.

We don’t know the short and long term domestic and international consequences, yet, but social media is playing a huge part.

Who will the PR winners and losers be at the end of this? We’ll just have to wait and see.

ObamaCare – the lemon of the decade

4 Oct


PR consultant Chikodi Chima has an interesting take on eating “your own dog food.”

“The term ‘dog fooding’ is a well-known concept about being an enthusiastic user of your own tools.

If you build a factory to make dog food, you’ll be in serious trouble if your dog won’t eat it. The only way to know is if you sample your product and delight in using it to solve your own problems,” Chima said.

President Barack Obama is in a public relations pickle right now from public backlash of ObamaCare, aka the Affordable Care Act, which was supposed to start taking new enrollees on Oct. 1.

Part of what’s at stake during the current government shutdown, is that there are reports that aides and members of the House and Senate are threatening to quit or retire if they are forced to be covered under the Affordable Care Act, the very same act that Obama told the media several times must pass for the good of the American people.

Also, this is the very same act that Obama and his family, and the Vice President Joe Biden and his family are fighting to not be made to enroll in and give up their current insurance like the rest of the American population will be mandated to do, or risk paying hefty penalties to the government.



“This is a good law but it can’t work if people don’t understand it,” Democrat Sen. Max Baucus of Montana, said. “I hear from people on the ground in Montana that they are confused about the health care law. For the insurance marketplaces to work, people need to know their options and how to enroll. I want families’ lives to be easier, and I want small businesses to focus on job creation, not confusion.”

People are confused. They’re confused because Baucus, Obama, Democrat Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California and all the other advocates of this act are playing fast and loose with the facts and definitions in the 906-page law.

In 2010, Pelosi, former speaker of the House, said that they would have to pass the bill before they were able to see what was inside of it. Does that make any sense in logical land? No, and it was just the beginning.

“ObamaCare advocates (and many supposedly neutral news outlets) regularly characterize the new law as health care ‘reform.’ But the term ‘reform’ presumes that the law is a step in the right direction — which is the very issue under dispute. By implication, ObamaCare opponents must be against progress.

This is an old tactic, long used by politicians by both parties. Names such as the ‘Save American Jobs Act’ or the ‘Patriot Act’ are deliberately chosen to undercut opposition. After all, who could possibly be opposed to saving American jobs (or to patriotism)?

If ObamaCare advocates use the term ‘health care reform,’ insist on a more neutral term like ‘health care law.’ Don’t concede the moral high ground without a fight,” said Forbes contributor Paul Hsieh.



If you’re not honest about all the quarks of your product, and you don’t even want to use your own product, that instills 0 percent confidence in your consumers, in this case the American people.

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