Saturday, January 19, 2013

Lance Armstrong, The Dad, Delivers


“The Truth Shall Set You Free”
Yesterday, I wrote about message delivery and how LanceArmstrong did not deliver that appropriately for the gravity of the situation he was discussing: doping, lying, cheating, bullying. I even said he failed. And he did.

After watching the second part of his interview with OprahWinfrey, I have to say that while the disgraced cyclist did not deliver his message well, the man who loves LiveStrong, the dad who loves his kids…he delivered his messages very well.
The brash, ruthless, defiant competitor didn’t show up much in the second part of the interview. For the sake of the LiveStrong Foundation he couldn’t. For the sake of the five Armstrong children, he couldn’t.  Watching Lance talk about stepping down from the foundation he founded and the conversation he had with his children, the people and thing he cares about the most, was painful to watch.  But, as I said yesterday, the truth is always the best way to go, especially when you can deliver the message with feeling. Lance did that well.
Lance has always been savvy when it comes to the media. I’ve often used him as an example of someone who used social tools to reach his audience and actually control the message during his come back. He was brilliant at it. Last night he talked about his kids seeing what he couldn’t control: Twitter, Instagram. He knows that, “Dumb tweet with the yellow jerseyslives forever.” He’s right. And, to his credit, he hasn’t removed it from his Twitter stream.
Lance Armstrong showed much emotion last night, in all the right places, and delivered his message, spot on. I was roped in and felt for the guy. Yes, me. If you follow The Spokesmen Podcast you’ll know how hard that statement was for me to make. Yet, after digesting a bit, I realized something….Lance Armstrong is still the master at controlling the messaging and being extremely calculating in what he says in public. He worked that interview for all it was worth – started out as the guy you still wanted to “hate” and then built to the guy you could, almost, root for again…not on a bike (never!), but in life.
Now, Lance had help. Oprah either asked her questions in a logical order for that to happen or edited the piece for that to happen. Either way, it was a brilliant message delivery vehicle. Don’t get me wrong, while I’m not as taken in by it all now and see it for what it is….it doesn’t make it wrong. Lance had a job to do during that interview. He had to say some ugly, painful, shameful things to get to a place where he could talk about what is truly in his heart (kids and foundation). A place where people may start to see him as less calculating, less brash – more human….to get to the next phase of his life, whatever that may be.
Make no mistake about it….from a PR standpoint, Lance delivered flawlessly. 

Friday, January 18, 2013

Lance Armstrong, Tyler Hamilton and Message Delivery


One of my favorite quotes is from Mark Twain:
“If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.”

That is something that I’ve posted on my office walls over the years and is permanently posted on my social profile. It’s how I’ve always conducted myself in the spin world of public relations and communications.
Last night, I was asked on Twitter, as a PR professional, how I would have handled the Lance Armstrong doping scandal. That’s a loaded question because there are so many layers of this story. I would have advised differently 5-7 years ago than I would have over the last couple of months. However, I replied that I would have always said to tell the truth – then and now.
But, let’s start with just now. We have to assume that Lance Armstrong didn’t do the Oprah Winfrey interview for “fun.” He did it to start redeeming his reputation in some way. He wants to move on with his life and put this all behind him.  Maybe he expects to be forgiven and, in the best case scenario, be allowed to publicly help in the cancer fight again.
In my opinion, he failed to even take a first step in that journey in the first half of his Oprah interview.  Yes, he admitted doping. Yes, he admitted being a bully. That is good and cleansing for Lance himself.  Then why is he being lambasted over social media and the news outlets today? After all, didn’t Tyler Hamilton do the same thing? Didn’t Tyler lie over and over and then come clean?
Now, Tyler has been courted by all the television outlets, wrote a book and, in many cases (not all), people listen and condemn past actions but then get past it. Why the difference between these two? After all, Lance’s foundation has helped millions of people, given hope and strength. Why no love for Lance now when he’s confessing?
In a crisis situation (and this is one for Lance Armstrong, the brand) a message must be delivered, yes, but it must be delivered in the appropriate way for the situation. PR folks can help you with your comments, write a speech for you and even coach you about how to deliver the words. However, the person giving the comments must always be the one to ‘sell’ the message. It’s always a lot easier if you are speaking the truth, of course.
However, one thing the truth alone can’t give you…sincerity. Tyler Hamilton has always seemed sincere, even when he was denying doping. He’d stammer and look ashamed that this was happening to him, that his good name was being tarnished…he’d be sad and upset. It was the same when he confessed. He was gutted; sad and embarrassed and completely sorry. You felt that from him.
The big difference? Lance did not come off as sincere or sorry.  He came off as he always does: calculated. He came off as The Boss, as he was called in the peloton.  He stopped just shy of intimating that he was just a victim of the times, too. He didn’t think he was cheating, he didn’t know how big this had become, he wasn’t special in the doping he was doing and no, he didn’t call Betsy Andreau fat.  Ok, that was just a big, “what the…” moment and it didn’t work. There is no humor in this, Lance. None.
So, my “professional” opinion is that Lance didn’t do what he’d hoped in the first half of this interview. For the sake of the LiveStrongFoundation, I truly hope he delivers more sincerity in the second half when talking about his family and foundation.  The words are only part of the message, delivery is key. In this case, Lance needs to be humble, sorry and ashamed. A tall order for the man who recently tweeted a picture of himself and his framedTour de France jerseys.  Talk about delivering a message….

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Crisis, Social Media & Lance Armstrong


Next week I’m speaking at my alma mater, Emerson College. Their PRSSA group has asked me to come and speak on crisis and social media. It’s something I know a little, teeny bit about. Granted, the crisis I weathered was back in 2004 – ancient days of social media. However, the lessons learned are as applicable today as they were then. Sure there are some additional tools in the toolbox (“some” being an understatement), but how you communicate in a crisis isn’t much different. Just faster.
While I’m getting ready for this talk next week, and coming from the bicycle industry, I’m watching the Lance Armstrong implosion with interest. I’m part of The Spokesmen Podcast and we’ve beat the doping angle of the story to death. However, as a communicator, what I’m most interested in is: when are we going to hear from Lance?

I’ve done several other public talks on social media and have often used Lance Armstrong as an example of someone who harnessed social media and used it in such a way that he controlled the messaging. He and his team (because he had a team, of course), were brilliant at using social tools when he made his comeback into professional cycling after his brief retirement.
Lance knew he needed to reach a new base of fans to cheer him on as he flew down the roads, but also a legion of fans so that he could sell himself to sponsors.  He started to Tweet and brought his fans along with him on this new journey. He gave some pretty great access into the life of the great Lance Armstrong. Cyclists ate it up. Cancer survivors ate it up. And his Twitter followers grew.
Then someone in the media pissed him off. I forget who, but it was during the Giro d’Italia. He decided he wasn’t going to talk to the media for the rest of the raceand that, if they wanted to hear what he had to say after each stage, they’d have to go to his Twitter account or his video blog. Faithfully, each day he’d do a video chat and give his take on the day. He didn’t talk to any media. Talk about controlling the message and, at the same time, growing his follower base on Twitter. Everyone wanted to hear what Lance had to say, and they could hear it directly from him, not some version of what he said in a story.
Lance has been using Twitter as his tool for years now. He promotes where he’s going, he promotes LiveStrong and their programs and he has used it to deny all that is going on around him with the doping charges. Until now. He’s been radio silent since October 12.

Simply changing your Twitter bio to remove your Tour de France references and add in “golf” isn’t going to cut it, Lance. You can’t have it both ways. You need to tell the 3.7 million people that you cultivated as your powerful audience, something. My professional opinion is to do whatyour former wife did and tell the audience you are spending time with your kids, helping them through the difficulty of this time. Something that puts a human voice to all of this, that’s what will help to at least keep people listening again and, maybe, just maybe, if you are lucky, caring again.
Brands need to take heed. When a crisis hits, and you have an established follower/fan base, you need to interact with them in some way. You can not leave them hanging. If you do, you risk your community leaving you in the dust and not returning or caring about you any longer. That’s too high a risk for any brand because it means potentially shutting your doors. It may be too late for the “Lance Armstrong” brand, but that doesn’t mean that your business can’t learn from this and not make the same mistake.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Proper Disclosure in Social Media

It’s been awhile, I know. But, I am not blogging to pontificate with nothing to say. There’s so much noise out here that blogging just to do so would be annoying at best, right? But, inspiration has struck this week so…a little pontification.

In 2010, Reverb Communications was reprimanded by the FTC for providing misleading online endorsements.  Why? Well, they had employees post game reviews on iTunes without disclosing that they were part of a company that was paid by the developers of those games. The game developers were clients and, as such, any employee of the agency should have identified that these games were coming from a client. Not to was unethical and they were slapped for it by the FTC and Reverb got a lot of bad press. And, 3 years later, are still being used as an example.

At the time, Mary Engle, Director of the FTC’s Division ofAdvertising Practices said, “Companies, including public relations firms, involved in online marketing, need to abide by long-held principles of truth in advertising.”

What does that mean for companies, brands and agencies of all types? You need to educate your employees – all of your employees – about how to support a brand or campaign. It’s simple: If you work for the brand or company you must say so in your status update. If you work for an agency and promote a client’s video or campaign, you must say they are a client. There aren’t any exceptions to this.

Some companies and agencies are huge, with lots of enthusiastic people who want to help promote the next campaign through their own status updates. That’s great. The more the merrier. Just make sure they are trained to know to disclose their connection to the campaign. It’s as simple as adding a hashtag (#client, #ad, #employer) or adding copy (note: client video) as part of the status update. My guess is that your legal department will tell you exactly what it should be.

Nobody is going to step in the doo-doo on purpose. But, they are going to do it without knowing it, if they aren’t educated about the pitfalls. In the end, they could be fined, and the company could be fined for every instance by the FTC and it could get them in hot water with WOMMA, if they are a member.

Education is the key. Brands: Create social media guidelines and make sure your employees are aware of them and abide by them. Agencies: You aren’t exempt. You should really be on top of this without any excuses. I'll say it again: Educate your employees.  Then, have at it…passionately promote that great campaign, video, app or whatever… with a little disclosure.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Social Must Partner With Legal

I’ve spent a lot of time in lawyer’s offices. Not because I’ve been in trouble, but because I’ve been working with them on how to best work in social media, be transparent and stay on the right side of ethics and the FTC.  Yes, there are rules and if you are going to use social sites as a brand, you need to be aware of what the rules are before participating.

Lawyers do not like social media. I know that’s a blanket statement and a generalization, but I’ll bet any lawyer who reads this will be nodding their head at that statement. It makes them nervous, all kinds of red flags go up and they are generally uncomfortable with social networking sites even for themselves, personally, never mind for the company. So, you’d think that lawyers and I wouldn’t get along well, right? Not true. I actually like working with legal teams; both my own and the legal teams of clients. I’ve learned a lot from them and, hopefully, they have learned from me, too

Basically, lawyers play everything safe. It’s their job to keep the brand out of any mess or court battles. They figure that there is always a risk in business, but that social is off the charts risky so they tend to want to shut it down right away without even knowing what you want to do.  It’s your job as the person in charge of the social plan to work with the legal department. If they see that you have a well thought out plan, understand the rules of the road and will keep them updated, they tend to feel better and even give their support.

So, how do you go from a, “No way, not our company” to “Let’s be smart about this together”?  It’s not as hard as you might think.

Set a meeting with the legal team early on in your planning. Tell them why you have chosen to use some social sites and how you plan on incorporating these into the overall marketing strategy. Talk to them about how you are in the planning stage and want to learn from them about what is actually acceptable and what isn’t, legally.  Show them that you have your ducks in a row with a draft of your plan, the WOMMA Code of Ethics and the FTC guidelines.

You will also want to enlist one member of the legal team to be on the escalation team. Talk to them about how the social team is going to be monitoring conversations and mentions of the brand, products and associated key words and the plan for escalating any red flags.  When a potential crisis looms, you’d better bet your bottom dollar that you want the legal team right there next to you.

The legal team is there for your protection. Ask them questions. Understand their viewpoint. Don’t be antagonistic and tell them that you are doing this no matter what. Understand the risks and work together to mitigate them. That’s the best way to have a successful partnership.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Social Buzz: Unique Content at the Right Time to Right Audience

Twitter: Faster than Earthquakes” is a fun video that Twitter put together after the East Coast earthquake last Summer. It’s a simple piece that reminds us that Twitter is about right now.  Not 10 minutes ago. Right now. In 10 minutes the moment is over and the trend is about something else.

Last Monday night, Twitter was all about the Daytona 500 and Brad Keselowski (@keselowski). When Juan Pablo Montoya’s car broke, sending him crashing into a jet dryer on the track and created a jet fuel inferno, Twitterville became interested. When the driver of the #2 car, @keselowski, started to Tweet from his stopped car, Twitter exploded nearly as fast as the jet dryer.  
Brad Keselowski, phone in hand, walks
on the track during Daytona 500
In one evening, really over the course of a couple of hours, Keselowski gained well over 130,000 followers.  NASCAR was also a beneficiary of his tweeting, securing the top spot in the Top 20 TV Shows with Most Social Buzz last week.  

Is this me trying to get NASCAR on to my blog? Of course. But, it also illustrates a few important things for businesses:
Second screens drive conversations. 70-80% of people are watching TV with a second screen…and interacting with each other when they are interested. They have a smart phone or tablet or laptop with them and, when something catches their attention, they are Tweeting, Facebooking, Instagraming and more with their networks.  Are you advertising on television? Involved with a show or related content in any way? Do you capitalize on that in the moment in any way?
Content and context is important. If Keselowski was just one of us at home watching and tweeting, it would have been interesting to get a driver’s perspective, but not totally unique. Even though millions of people were watching the coverage live, the fact that he was on the track tweeting exclusive pictures and information was key. What information do you have that nobody else does? Thought leadership content, unique perspectives on products and events? Are you sharing that information in a timely manner?
Personalization continues to be more important than you realize. Not only was Keselowski tweeting, he was responding to some of the flood of replies he was getting. Those people were thrilled and retweeted the response to their networks. And then they retweeted every tweet of his from the track to their network because they now felt like they had a personal connection to this driver and his exclusive content. Do you reach out to your audience and interact with them on a personal level often? At all?
You have content that people want and, in many cases, need. The trick is to get the right content to your audience at the right time. That balance comes from listening and knowing your audience’s needs and behaviors as well as being aware of the perpetually on world we live in and relating to current events and making that work for you right now. Not 10 minutes from now.  Not tomorrow. Now.
What’s trending now? Can you be relevant in that conversation?

Monday, March 5, 2012

Your Brand Isn’t Justin Bieber

You’ve heard the quote, “If you build it, they will come.” But, that’s just not the case online. It may have been so at one time, but now there is so much noise/chatter in the digital space that people and brands often easily get lost in the noise.

Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga can sneeze and the whole world knows it in a matter of seconds, but, I’m sorry, most brands are not that popular. Sure, there are exceptions, but really think about your company. Are you the exception? No? Then how are you going to make sure people come to your new Facebook page or Twitter stream? Do you think that you just start posting or Tweeting and people will come? Did you tell them where you are so they can find you?
I’ve seen brands go to Twitter, start Tweeting and, within a few days, come to me and say that Twitter isn’t for them because nobody is listening. Of course nobody is listening. They haven’t told anyone that they are there yet. They haven’t used good keywords to show up in search queries and they certainly haven’t followed other people and tried to enter the conversation with them. When you think about it like that, you know why they weren’t followed either.
In this way, social isn’t any different than traditional marketing. If you were opening a cupcake shop in a small town you’d have to let people know where you are (flyers, advertising), drive traffic there (coupons, deals) and then have some yummy cupcakes for them to consume. IF you do all of that correctly, you will be rewarded with a lot of customers and, if they are really good cupcakes (are there bad cupcakes?), your audience will share your information with their network quickly.  That’s how your business will become successful and grow.

It’s the same thing when you “open” a new social media presence like Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. Let people know you’ve just opened up by direct mail, email, website links and a whole host of other ways. Drive traffic there by telling them what type of content and activities they will find and why it’s important to them. Provide great content, personalized content and experiences when they check out your “new place” and they will share your information with their network which will drive more traffic.
Have a launch plan. Listen to what your audience is talking about and where they have some angst that you can help solve. Then, introduce yourself. Offer some good content. Tell them where to find you for more information. Be there when they need you. You’ll find that followers will start to find you and then you’ll see the power and the goodness of social media.  

Still, don’t expect the 20.1 million followers that LadyGaga has on Twitter now. Then again, you don’t need 20 million followers to be wildly successful and drive actionable results.