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We’ve all seen the damaging effect “Frankenstorm” has had on the east coast – and now we’re seeing the nation come together in the relief effort. With elections this week, a new set of problems has joined the massive list. From electronic voting machines without power and shortages of backup paper ballots; polling centers without power, damaged or moved; voters unable to reach polling centers or unable to mail in absentee ballots by the deadline to election administrators unprepared to deal with the multitude of unforeseen complications.

One source that will undoubtedly be utilized in getting the word out to voters today – Twitter.

Hurricane Sandy has been one of the most covered natural disasters on social media thus far. I remember Hurricane Katrina – as does the rest of the country – very well. I was a junior at Tallassee (AL) High School and we got most of our news from TV and radio. I didn’t have Facebook yet (that was back when it was still “exclusive” to college campuses), and I certainly didn’t have Twitter – so I watched the news the old-fashioned way.

Today, those who were in Sandy’s path live Tweeted the entire experience. As long as their phone battery lasted, witnesses Tweeted photos, assurances and videos of sharks swimming down the street. Between Instagram and Twitter, the whole world had a first-person point-of-view of the superstorm.

According to CNET writer, Eric Mack, “The Instagram community has been sharing photos from the storm – at a rate of nearly 10 each second – with hashtags #hurricanesandy, #sandy and #Frankenstorm.”

On October 30, for instance, #Sandy had more than “4 million mentions by almost 400,000 unique sources on Twitter” (via).

News spread quickly on all social sites, but Twitter has really taken center stage. A CNN article listed a few ways “it’s hard to beat Twitter.” The National Weather Service tweets our forecasts and analyses hourly (National Hurricane Center). The Weather ChannelCNN meteorologists and surely your local weather team have also posted frequent updates and images. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and NASA have been tweeting satellite images of the storm.

FEMA and the American Red Cross are posting updates about local shelters, blood drives and safety reminders. Elected officials are also tweeting up a storm with regular updates about evacuation plans, highway closures and emergency hotlines. Finally Amtrak, Greyhound and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, among others, are tweeting our transportation updates.

There are some cons about having an instant connection with anyone in the world – people have been spreading fake photos since the first drop of rain. For those of us not near the storm, we could believe that Photoshopped photo of the ominous cloud behind the Statue of Liberty was real. (Hopefully you didn’t.) There have been photos from other storms – and even movies passed off as photos of Sandy.

On that note, the whole world is watching … and commenting via social media. In Iran, the country’s state-run PressTV used an image from the disaster film “Day After Tomorrow” to illustrate their story on the hurricane. While over in China, users of the country’s “Twitter-like service” passed around the viral (and fake) video of the shark swimming through a flooded New Jersey town. One joked, “In China, it would’ve been cooked already.” (via)

Twitter didn’t just sit back and let the world post its concerns, jokes or Instagramed photos – it took an active role. Twitter set up a dedicated hub with curated resources (e.g. tweets from some of the above mentioned resources) just for up-to-date news on the superstorm. It also published more online resources detailed state-by-state on its blog.

Rocking the Vote

Those in the Northeast will be scrambling to print paper ballots and set up polling sites today. All the states that experienced power loss should have power mostly restored by the times the polls open, but with millions of voters powerless because of the storm, power companies are warning that full restoration might be more than a week away.

Luckily, states impacted by the superstorm could extend polling hours on Election Day or could have during early voting last week. Any vote cast during extended hours within 10 days of the election must be done via provisional ballot. Those in states affected should follow elected leaders and state offices to find out more about polling locations.

The whole world will continue to watch, whether through traditional media or social media, tonight as the next leader is selected. Hashtags will be changed from #Sandy to #Romney or #Obama and everyone will be offering their opinions – whether we like it or not. (For those interested, Unpolitic.me is a Chrome extension that will block posts on Facebook and Twitter that has common political terms or names.)

Twitter has become an excellent channel to spread the word in good times and in bad. Today, millions of people will log on to find out where they should go vote, what time polling places close and ultimately who won the presidential election. Lives have been saved (Check out this amazing story of a “one-woman Twitter response team.” Not everyone can get through to 911, not everyone has a generator for when the power goes off – but Twitter seems to be an easy way to connect with those who may need help.), cranes have been photographed and tonight the Twittersphere will become voting central. Was your vote affected by something you read on Twitter?

– Sarah Funderburk


Posted September 24, 2012, 2012 by Chris

Why I’m a beauty contest drop out.

I never thought I’d be entering a beauty contest but here I was again, showing a little leg.

Like a lot of progressive PR firms, we resist the process known in the industry as a “beauty contest” – competing against other agencies in a series of presentations otherwise called Request for Proposals, or RFPs.

It’s not that we fear competition, we just find the process flawed. In almost every case, the decision-makers looking to hire a PR firm have already decided with which firm they want to work, but they invite others into the process to make it appear they have met their bosses’ mandate to conduct an exhaustive search.

In the go-go years of the mid-2000s, landing new clients was the least of worries for our small firm. As we experienced 50% growth each of the years following our 2002 launch, meeting the demands of our existing clients was our top priority. However, when the Great Recession hit, things changed, including our need to keep our new client and prospect pipeline full. So we sometimes found ourselves agreeing to dance and pose on stage in front of a panel of judges we had not had a chance to meet beforehand.

Three years ago, we were seduced into talking with one of the larger real estate firms in the city. They asked us to come and talk with them about how we could raise their profile in the market. We were so excited to meet their team that we forgot to ask if we were part of an RFP process. Turns out we were.

No worries. As we dazzled the younger members of the hiring committee with our recent successes of growing our clients’ market share through videos, eNewsletters, micro-websites and social media management, we were encouraged by the enthusiastic nature of their line of questions. They smiled and nodded and gave us such reassuring winks, we walked out thinking we had connected with the decision-makers. A few days later, we got a call from the CEO, who had not even attended our presentation.

“We appreciate your efforts to push us into new areas,” he said. “But we decided to go with a firm that is more anchored in basic PR practices of simply cranking out press releases and shoving them into real estate columns. We’re not ready for all this new-age stuff that I heard you presented.”

We were stunned. Did we not do our homework? Should we have asked more questions before we showed up for the presentation so we could have limited our discussions to the more traditional part of public relations? Or should we have remained true to our beliefs that today’s changing media environment demands a more diverse platform of communicating to our clients’ customers?

When we began our firm nearly 10 years ago, it seemed every client wanted to be in the newspapers and magazines or on the radio or TV – what we now call traditional PR. Our first two clients were firms run by professionals we knew before we ever hung out our PR shingle. Then, as we met their customers or outside partners to gather quotes or take their photographs, they would often invite us in to discuss how we could assist with them with their PR needs. There was low-hanging fruit all over the PR orchard and we were enchanted by the ease with which we landed new clients.

As the years passed, the seeds of much of our varied new work were planted in prior years through discussions with our existing clients about ways they could increase their market share by trusting us to implement new technologies to promote their services. As we brought them new ideas and informed them of new available technologies, our clients always listened closely and, even if it took them a year or two to agree to try something new, they’d eventually trust us to invest their dollars efficiently and more effectively. They found we could not only expand their voice in the marketplace, we could do it for fewer dollars than they were spending in more traditional areas, such as advertising.

As our client base expanded, so did our service offering. In the early days of our firm and in the beginning stages of a client relationship, we often focused on traditional media. Then as they grew to trust us and as we expanded our discussions, our work work expand as well. It seemed to come in waves or stages. There was the age of redesigning websites. Then, for a year or two, just before the Great Recession, we were busy producing award-winning videos and eNewsletters.Then we produced several books. In the past three or four years, our clients all seemed to catch the social media bug. In the early part of 2012, we managed a lot of thought leadership media campaigns. Then as the summer heated up, we began preparing our clients in advance how to handle crisis management situations.

While we are thankful our intellectually curious clients are open to new ideas, it’s often quite the contrary when we talk to firms considering hiring a PR firm. It appears that marketing directors of larger firms enter engagement discussions with PR firms with their own set of priorities. I suspect that adage of “no one ever got fired for hiring IBM” has frightened fiscally challenged CEOs during the past few years to tether their marketing forays to tried-and-true methods until they discover to their horror that their competitors are emerging ahead of them in new communication arenas.

The CEO who called us that day to let us know we did not win their beauty contest moved on to run another firm within a few months. We decided it was probably good that we didn’t win after all. It probably wouldn’t have been a good fit for our firm and it proved once again that I probably just don’t have the face or the legs for a beauty contest.

– Chris Schroder, Schroder PR

Do followers = votes?

JFK … definitely a winner

In history class we learned about the first televised presidential debates. In 1960, Americans could turn on their television sets to see Richard Nixon – a sweaty man, gripping the podium and blending into the grey background – versus John F. Kennedy – a calm, tanned, extremely handsome man. In an election where every vote counted, media power shifted public opinion.

Fast forward to 2008. President-elect Barrack Obama does the usual advertising, rallies and debates, but takes it a step further as he pioneers the social media frontier. The day after he won, Obama’s Facebook fan page had more than 2.5 millions likes (now up to more than 27 million), and it included the Obama application developed by Obama for America that allowed supporters to share inspiring Obama quotes, videos and speeches.

On Twitter, Obama told his 118,000 followers (today, he has more than 18 million) exactly where he was each step of the campaign trail, complete with links to live video streams. Obama’s feed was updated multiple times during the day in the first person – this made followers feel a strong connection with him, like Obama was their Twitter buddy.

According to Edelman Research, Obama had four times more YouTube viewers, five times as many Facebook friends, and 10 times the online staff than opponent John McCain … and November 2008, Obama was the winner, taking residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Four years have flown by and this November, Americans will be back at the voting booths to pick our next president. According to a DIGITAS survey, 61 percent of social media users say the expect candidates to have a social media presence. Almost four in 10 users say that information found on social media will help determine their voting choices as much as traditional media sources.

With Romney announcing his VP candidate last weekend, Romney/Ryan have their work cut out for them. Romney announced his running mate via Twitter, Facebook and a “VP app” even before sharing the news on TV. Less than an hour later, Ryan tweeted from his a new “PaulRyanVP” account.

Just having a lot of fans and followers on social media isn’t as important as the interactions with supporters, how many people share the candidate’s messages with their own network, and how much attention beyond social media (such as in The Wall Street Journal, CNN) those actions receive.

(Of course Facebook isn’t sitting back and just letting the election happen, it has partnered with Politico to design an algorithm to measure sentiment among those of voting age who send private status messages and comments, turning unguarded moments into fast polling data.)

Does Romney have what it takes to catch up in a race Obama started more than four years ago?

Having social media updated frequently gets the conversation going in a friendly way, which is much more appealing than just passing billboards or seeing TV ads. Obama tweets for himself – signing it bo – and also allows his campaign staff to tweet for him, which merges politics and personal touches nicely. On the other side, Ryan’s Facebook page lists his favorite movies, preferred music and favored activities. The personal touches are particularly important right now, as negative ads are shooting back and forth. It’s nice to know who the candidate it – that they’re real people.

We’ve long since been able to see the candidates duke it out in televised debates, but is the social media platform the bigger, better stage for today’s candidates? I mean, would you vote for a candidate who didn’t Tweet?

-Sarah Funderburk

Is it a moo point? 

Chick-Fil-A earns significant opponents when expressing long-held view

Posted July 25, 2012

It’s like a cow’s opinion …

I love Chick-fil-A’s food. I love how the staff answers everything with “My pleasure.” And I love Chick-fil-A sauce. I don’t love how the cows in the commercials and on the billboards appear to be smart enough to skydive, write and try to convince people not to eat beef – yet they can’t spell? It’s cute, but I don’t buy it.

However, Chick-fil-A’s food and marketing ploys aren’t the reasons Chick-fil-A has been recently trending in the Twitter-sphere. Chick-fil-A is being criticized for their support of traditional marriage. Even the Muppets are mad!

“If the 40-year relationship of Bert and Ernie wasn’t enough to convince you, know that the Muppets are officially supporting gay marriage,” said Tony Hicks from the Contra Costa Times. “In the wake of Chick-fil-A declaring its opposition to same sex marriage, Kermit and the gang are the latest in a growing list of Hollywood stars, including “The Office” actor Ed Helms, who are now boycotting the fast food chain.”

Helms is joined by Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino, who was recently quoted as saying “Chick-fil-A doesn’t belong in Boston. You can’t have a business in the city of Boston that discriminates against a population. We’re an open city, we’re a city that’s at the forefront of inclusion.”

Photoshop of Chick-fil-A cows via patheos.com

What should Dan Cathy, Chick-fil-A president, do about this controversy? Abandon the beliefs of the owners of the privately held company that is widely known as faith-based? It will be interesting to see if the Cathys profess their religious beliefs or tone them down to sell chicken strips and (really good) lemonade.

In a world where no one has secrets – thank you Internet – more and more CEOs and presidents are having their beliefs thrown in their face. In Susan G. Komen’s case, thousands of dollars in donations were lost because Planned Parenthood was eliminated, causing all of the company’s donations to come under scrutiny. That position was surprising to many of its prior supporters, but is Chick-fil-A’s strong, Biblically based, stand against same-sex marriage really a shock?

I’m not agreeing or disagreeing with Cathy and Chick-fil-A, but I am concerned about free speech. It is certainly your right and privilege if you don’t want to eat at Chick-fil-A because its owners are standing firm in their religious convictions.

“But public officials have a responsibility to carry out their ministerial tasks fairly and evenhandedly – and to uphold the principle of free speech – whether or not they like a business executive’s social or political stances,” opined an LA Times editorial.

Also, is Chick-fil-A’s crisis team doing enough in releasing statements such as this quote from its Facebook page:

“Going forward, our intent is to leave the policy debate over same-sex marriage to the government and political arena. Chick-fil-A is a family-owned and family-led company serving the communities in which it operates. From the day Truett Cathy started the company, he began applying biblically-based principles to managing his business.”

Chick-fil-A definitely has supporters for its stance. Former presidential candidate and former governor Mike Huckabee is currently trying to organize supporters to eat at one of the 1600 Chick-fil-A’s nationwide to show support. Are you picking a side?

Keep in mind that Chick-fil-A never proclaimed it was against anyone, it simply stated it was for the traditional definition of the family unit. Implications are running wild, but with no claims actually being stated – is it all, as Joey Tribbiani said, a moo point?

What do you think? Will you still eat Chick-fil-A, or begin boycotting it. If the latter, do you also boycott every establishment that doesn’t share your values? Or is it just this particular issue that causes you to be proactive? Please comment below.

– Sarah Funderburk
For your reading pleasure, here are a few additional links:







Waging War on the Internet

Posted June 19, 2012

Matthew Inman might be the next Sun Tzu. The Seattle resident and founder of TheOatmeal.com publishes webcomics about everything from “How to Pet a Kitty” to “How a Web Design Goes Straight to Hell.” His work is hilarious and his fan base is dedicated (and loyal), which made his anger and retaliation against FunnyJunk.com that much more potent.

FunnyJunk.com is an image-collecting site. Inman wrote a blog post almost a year ago about its practices, frustrated that his own work was being stolen. Here’s what he had to say:

“Here’s how FunnyJunk.com’s business operates:

1. Gather funny pictures from around the Internet
2. Host them on FunnyJunk.com
3. Slather them in advertising
4. If someone claims copyright infringement, throw your hands up in the air and exclaim, “It was our users who uploaded your photos! We had nothing to do with it! We’re innocent!”
5. Cash six figure advertising checks from other artist’s stolen material”

Inman didn’t continue posting about the site, though several news sites reported about his post. FunnyJunk removed some of his comics, but then returned to business as usual. A year later, FunnyJunk hired a lawyer and demanded that Inman pay it $20,000 in damages. Inman’s clever response was to annotate the letter FunnyJunk’s lawyer sent (be prepared for colorful language) and return with this:

“You want ME to pay YOU $20,000 for hosting MY unlicensed comics on YOUR [awful] website for the past three years?”

Inman did raise the $20,000 FunnyJunk requested. He asked his fans to donate money via IndieGoGo – it took just 64 minutes for him to reach his goal. At the time of this writing, the total amount had risen to almost $150,000 thanks to almost 10,000 contributors. Half will be given to the National Wildlife Federation (Inman loves to draw bears) and half will go to the American Cancer Society. According to his blog post, Inman plans to take a photo of the money and send that to FunnyJunk. The campaign is called “Operation Bearlove Good. Cancer Bad.”

According to Paul Tassi, a contributor at Forbes, FunnyJunk has no case. They might be defeated in court as badly as they’ve been beaten in the court of public opinion. Matthew Inman harnessed the power of his fans and created a cunning campaign to shame and discredit FunnyJunk’s lawsuit. Inman’s retaliation is strengthened by his use of philanthropy. No one wants to be viewed as a bear-hating cancer lover.
As Sun Tzu says, choose your battles wisely. FunnyJunk wound up with negative press, and its intention to wound The Oatmeal backfired – Inman comes off as a clever, funny guy, and a philanthropist to boot! FunnyJunk struck without a strategy and lost.

UPDATE: Charles Carreon, the lawyer for FunnyJunk, is suing Inman, IndieGOGO, the National Wildlife Federation, and the American Cancer Society. All the blogs I’ve read link back to Lowering the Bar and Popehat, both legal blogs. They’ve stated that Carreon has no case. What Carreon needs at this point is common sense (or to hire someone with common sense to advise him.) I’m not even going to go into this. Crazy speaks for itself.

–Mary-Nevaire Marsh

Facebook might have a new relationship status with its investors

Posted May 29, 2012

Did you see The Social Network? Watching it made viewers root for the Winklevosses and cheer for Eduardo Saverin. Mark Zuckerberg came off as a socially inept jerk, greedy and just a little bit pathetic. I bet you a billion dollars of Zuckerberg’s fortune he wishes everybody would just go back to talking about how awesome that movie is.

Facebook has a PR snafu on its hands. First Eduardo Saverin ditched the United States, presumably to avoid taxes on his sizable fortune. US Senators Schumer and Casey have proposed the Ex-Patriot Act to punish him and a list of other tax dodging citizenship renouncers. Both the senators are democrats, and it should be noted that even John Boehner supports this act.

Saverin’s defection has been all but forgotten in the face of the IPO fiasco. Facebook opened with a lot of fanfare and a ton of hype. While it led many to recall the dot com bubble, those concerns didn’t stop the majority of investors from leaping at the chance to buy shares. On the opening day, shares hit a high of $45. Today, they sit at around $30. Mark Zuckerberg and the Facebook board aren’t shocked at the incredible rise and fall of the stock. They expected it, but neglected to share the news with investors at large. They instead chose to divulge their knowledge with a only a few large and powerful investors.

Investor relations is a lucrative and important field within public relations. Those who work in investor relations need a high degree of financial literacy, knowledge of laws and policy, and should excel at communication. Investors can be forgotten in the wake of a billion dollar profit, but without them companies struggle. Investor relations professionals work to inspire and maintain investor confidence, both in the company’s ability to make money and the company’s credibility. Right now, Facebook is 0 for 2.

Facebook has some rough months ahead, given the current climate and the attitudes of the American people and the American investor what they did, while not illegal, was pigheaded. Top executives made an extra billion dollars or so, at the expense of a good relationship with their investors. Facebook should hire a crack team of public relations experts; it has a big fence to mend.

– Mary-Nevaire Marsh

Penn State’s ongoing battle with crisis communication

Posted on April 26, 2012
Last fall when news broke of the Jerry Sandusky scandal, the entire nation wondered how Penn State would handle the crisis. The child abuse fiasco is a public relations disaster that Penn State will surely be dealing with for years and years to come. So, what should Penn State do?

The day after Sandusky was arrested and charged with 40 counts of sexual abuse of eight young boys over a 15-year period, Penn State University’s Board of Trustees enlisted Omnicom Group agency Ketchum for crisis communications counsel.

Two days later, the firm assisted the school with a press conference during which the vice chairman announced that Joe Paterno (JoePa to most), as well as university President Graham Spanier were stepping down.

In January, Penn State President Rodney Erickson said the university was no longer working with Ketchum PR. Erickson told the Faculty Senate that “the university had used Ketchum as a crisis coordination firm primarily in November, and it had been decided after the holiday break that the university had moved to a point where that company’s help was no longer needed.”

Oh, that’s it? Penn State’s Board of Trustees think it’s all over because the story is not on the front page anymore?

Luckily, something made them reconsider. Edelman and La Torres Communications, were hired this week by Penn State to help rebuild trust and improve its media relations efforts.

According to PRDaily, the two firms “will support the school in upcoming litigation related to the Sandusky crisis and work to foster greater transparency among Penn State Stakeholders.”

In my opinion, the two firms have their work cut out for them. I think it was smart to not only hire Edelman – which has a proven track record for crisis communication campaigns across the globe – and a local firm to handle the campaign.

A quick tangent – according to The Morning Call, the new yearlong contract with the two firms will cost $2.5 million. Also, Penn State has already retained at least 12 other firms at the cost of $7.6 million to provide communications and legal assistance. Where is this money coming from – tuition money? The new strategy should consist of transparency and letting the public know just where the BOT is pulling funds.

What else should be in the new strategy to regain trust and offer great transparency? Is forthrightness enough?

Traditional rebranding may not be enough, considering children are involved and so much wrongdoing has occurred on so many levels at the university. Penn State lost the public’s trust. It’ll be a long process to earn it back.

via TheAtlantic.com

The first thing I learned about crisis communication was concern for the victims, their families and communities. Penn State should donate copious amounts of money to child abuse charities, or even start their own. It should implement a no tolerance policy when it comes to any sort of misbehavior, empowering its faculty and staff to do the right thing – not simply tell someone else and consider the situation handled. College funds could be set up in the names of those victims who have not yet attended a university. Media training will probably be implemented to faculty, staff and coached for future situations. Penn State needs to somehow prove that it is a safe, stable environment that is suitable for everyone.

There is so much work to be done for Penn State, but it seems to be on the right path. This subject will surely be discussed and studied for many more years. What do you think Penn State should do?

by Sarah Funderburk

Is Pinterest worth the hassle?

Posted on March 19, 2012

As of late, my roommate Brianna and I cannot go a day without bringing up Pinterest in at least one conversation. The dialogue usually goes something like this:

“Did you know that if you put a wooden spoon over the top of that pot, the water won’t boil over?” she said last week, as my pot of pasta was about to spill over.

“What? No, that’s really cool!” I replied with sincere amazement.

“I saw it on Pinterest.”

Pinterest, for those who are unfamiliar, is an amazing world of new ideas for cooking, fashion, home decorating and exercising, among many other topics. I know of women who have planned their engagement parties, wedding and honeymoon – all from their “wedding” boards. Users “pin” images on bulletin boards that they’ve created. It’s a sort of virtual scrapbook, where users can collect ideas they run across on the Internet.

The site, which was founded in 2009, has attracted more than 16 million monthly users, according to the New York Times. According to a recent Shareaholic Monthly Traffic Report for February, Pinterest beat out Twitter for referral traffic. From the report:

Why is this significant? Our previous report dug into our referral traffic and revealed that Pinterest outpaced Google Plus, LinkedIn and YouTube combined for share of referral traffic. However, admittedly, Pinterest’s digital collage wonderland is essentially a photo-sharing/link-sharing service that is naturally inclined to drive referral traffic. But as Twitter is another share-heavy platform, Pinterest’s edge over the micro-blogging service is particularly significant. Not to mention, Pinterest is still invite-only.

And according to Blogher’s 2012 survey of women and social media, when it comes to women’s faith in social media, 81 percent trust newcomer Pinterest, while only 67 percent and 73 percent trust veterans Facebook and Twitter, respectively.

So, with all this love and trust surrounding Pinterest, we were all shocked when we heard about Pinterest’s culminating issues. Copyright infringement? Who really reads the terms and agreement section before they start pinning away?

Atlanta photographer and lawyer Kirsten Kowalski did just that. (Read “Why I tearfully deleted my Pinterest inspiration boards.”) As you’ll read, Kowalski explains about the site’s terms of use. Apparently when you pin photos to the site, you agree that you are the owner of the photos or have permission from the owner to post them. (Oops.) The terms go on to say, “YOU ACKNOWLEDGE AND AGREE THAT, TO THE MAXIMUM EXTENT PERMITTED BY LAW, THE ENTIRE RISK ARISING OUT OF YOUR ACCESS TO AND USE OF THE SITE, APPLICATION, SERVICES AND SITE CONTENT REMAINS WITH YOU.” (Yes, it is in all caps. Don’t worry I missed it too.)

It’s the user-friendliness that hooks you and makes it all too easy to share copyrighted material. It’s easy for attributions to get lost when you’re repinning your friend’s cousin’s boyfriend’s little sister’s recipe for the perfect chocolate chip brownie. Getting lost in all the shares and re-shares are the rights-holders. Pinterest, like all other popular sharing sites, has attempted to regulate this. The thing is, the sheer scale that makes sites like Pinterest popular is too much for any sort of organization.

Another point to bring up is the media industry can’t have it both ways. It wants the exposure and traffic, but try to limit just what exactly can be shared, and when it can be shared, and who shares it. According to Jim Nichols, a Forbes contributor,

“Large media companies aren’t the only one with the social sharing oxymoron; many creative professionals are guilty too. That’s how we wind up with misguided legislation such as SOPA.”

Pinterest lovers are pinning pleas to site owners.

The movement to put pressure on Pinterest to change its terms of service has already began – some users have even gone so far as to delete their pinboards. The way its terms or service agreement is worded, Pinterest’s ability to invoke the indemnity isn’t limited to instances where you actually infringed copyright, or did something to otherwise violate a third party’s rights. It can be invoked if the losses simply flow from your use or access to the site of your pins.


Another clause: “You agree to defend, indemnify, and hold Cold Brew Labs, its officers, directors, employees and agents, harmless from and against any claims, liabilities, damages, losses, and expenses, including, without limitation, reasonable legal and accounting fees, arising out of or in any way connected with (i) your access to or use of the Site, Application, Services or Site Content, (ii) your Member Content, or (iii) your violation of these Terms.”

Web and digital media lawyer Paul Jacobson says on web.tech.law that the question remains as to how real the risk of this clause actually being invoked against a user is. “It may seem implausible, but consider that a number of content creators are pretty concerned about Pinterest users sharing their content without their permission,” he said recently. He went on to say it may not be too long before we begin to see the first lawsuits emerge. “At that point, users will have to wait and see if the indemnity is invoked and their lives changed because of a whimsical share.”

Pinterest founder Ben Sinlbermann has said he is just a “guy with a computer who had a vision,” and that he is aware of the issues and is working in possible solutions. So, will you keep pinning? Will you contact copyright owners before posting images? This will give Brianna and me a lot to talk about tonight …

Sarah Funderburk

Social Change and Social Media (#mindblowing)

Posted March 12, 2012

If you’ve lived near a college campus in the last few years, the chances are good that you were familiar with the activist group Invisible Children (IC) before their Twitter explosion on March 6. Last week, IC debuted a video on YouTube and promoted it with a Twitter hashtag, #stopkony. For those of you who haven’t heard yet, IC is trying to “make Kony famous”. Joseph Kony is the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army, a rebel group that once operated in Uganda. Kony is known for his brutal tactics, including the use of child soldiers. You can read more about him here.

This is the year of exploding social media campaigns. The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) was stopped in its tracks after an online campaign to kill it. Planned Parenthood took to Twitter and Facebook, creating activists in a matter of hours and soundly humiliating Komen for the Cure. IC was trending worldwide for hours; the video had over seven million views in two days. Within a week, it was pushing 80 million. It has been one of the top stories in all the major news networks.

How did this campaign explode, exactly? The group began by recruiting celebrities. Rihanna has 14.5 million followers, Taylor Swift has 11.5 million, and Zooey Deschannel (with a mere 1.7 followers) joined the cause. By tweeting #stopkony, and including a link to the video, celebrities helped create an avalanche of tweets.

Joseph Kony

It is trite to say, yet again, how quickly the world has changed. But let’s take a moment to look at how we become a part of a movement today. 20 years ago, grassroots campaigning meant hosting a meeting at your home, putting up signs, or going door to door. The modern yard sign is a status update or a tweet. We host forums on our blogs, and we spread the word about causes that matter to us through social media. The speed of modern movements is breathtaking and awe-inspiring. The social media platform makes it possible for individuals to shine an ever-expanding light in dark places across the globe.

No campaign is complete without backlash. If you’d like to learn more about Invisible Children, Inc., this Washington Post article is very helpful (and contains other great links), as is this article from The Independent, written by a Ugandan. Finally, this link to a blog called “Visible Children” has been tweeted a lot in response to #stopkony.

– Mary Nevaire Marsh

Facebook’s Timeline for Brand Pages

Posted on March 6, 2012

Featuring Posts on Timelines

Last Wednesday was a pretty big day in the world of social media managers. Facebook unveiled its timeline for brand pages, and everyone should take note for several reasons. The main reason is all pages will convert on March 30, so you should be prepared. My favorite part about the timeline is the storytelling capability. With timeline, you can fill in your company history, from milestones like opening a new office to new hires.


Brands can now make historical posts to their history. (The best I’ve seen so far is New York Times.) It may take time to organize the content in a compelling way, but once accomplished, it provides an easy-to-navigate story about your brands success. Add photos to highlight key events, and try to map out as many key dates as possible, even those before the Facebook era!. Take this opportunity to tell your brand or business’ story, add personality and let people know how it all began!

Cover Photos

Timeline is also very photo-content heavy. Cover photos have been given a large amount of real estate, and brands should take advantage of this space. What is the first thing you want visitors to see? Social media managers can use this as a welcome banner of sorts, since the welcome tabs will now be obsolete. There are some restrictions:

–       The cover photo dimensions are 851 pixels wide, 315 pixels tall.

–       Cover photos may not contain price or purchase information

  • Example: “40% off!” or “Download free from our website!”

–       Cover photos may not contain contact information, such as phone number

–       Cover photos may not reference other Facebook elements.

  • Example: “Like our page!” or “Share”

–       Cover photos may not contain calls to action.

  • Example: “Get it now!” or “Tell your friends!”

Coca-Cola uses a snazzy design for its cover photo.

That seems like a lot of restrictions, but you shouldn’t think of your cover photo as an ad in the paper. You should consider it an additional way to tell something about your company, or to draw in new fans through staying timely and interesting. Make sure you choose wisely though, this photo is prominent and will most definitely impact a visitor’s experience.

Direct Message Page Administrators

Users can now privately message administrators of that page. I guess Mark and the others at Facebook Headquarters were a little jealous of Twitter’s Direct Message feature. Users can now directly message Facebook page administrators in hopes of faster problem solutions in a more personal way. Administrators should have an established process in answering these messages in a timely manner. If a message goes unanswered, the disgruntled messenger could take out his/her frustration on your Brand’s wall.

Brands can now pin a post to the top of the page that will last for seven days and take up the width of the page. This can be used to feature the top content of the week. If you’d still like to “highlight” posts that have surpassed the week’s limit, you can. By using the “highlight” feature, you will expand the content to the full width of the brand page – I’d say use this feature primarily with videos or photos.

I’ll leave you with a few last notes about brand timelines and then you can do your own exploring. Users are more likely to engage with brand pages when they see that their friends engage with the brand, so friend activity is now featured at the top of the page. This means companies should continue to focus on creating content that sparks activity (likes, comments, etc.) that others will see when they visit the page. Also new is the Admin Panel, which now functions more like a dashboard. Administrators can get a quick view of insights, notifications and private messages, and respond right away!

– Sarah Funderburk

Attack of the Meme

Posted February 28, 2012 by Mary Nevaire Marsh

Oh, the Internet meme. How we love them, until, you know, they’re absolutely everywhere and lose their cleverness. But don’t worry. The next big meme is already out there!

How did memes get started? I searched the Internet and I’ve come up with: the Dancing Baby. You may recall the crude, 3D baby dancing the cha cha. The baby graphic spread through email and websites, which is a pretty good example of how people lived in the dark ages of the Internet: BYT (Before YouTube.) The baby went viral, even making an appearance on the show Ally McBeal.

I remember another early meme that became a big deal while I was still in elementary school. The Hamster Dance is a testament to the ridiculous. It features hamsters and rabbits dancing to a sped up song. That’s all. It was everywhere.

Memes have evolved. While early memes spread by duplication, contemporary memes spread by imitation. “[Stuff] Girls Say” (“Stuff” is substituting a four-letter word here) began as a single video and then exploded as others took the idea and applied it to Indian parents, New Yorkers, and finally “Stuff” No One Says.  YouTube was drenched with these memes, and just when you couldn’t stand it … they were on Facebook.

“What People Think I Do/What I Actually Do” were plastered over news feeds. Some were pretty hilarious. I found a University of Texas meme, which led me to a UT meme Facebook page. Turns out a lot of colleges have meme sites now. Have I stumbled upon the next big thing? We’ll see.

So, are memes a trend or here for the long haul? I’m inclined to argue for the latter. Memes allow for creativity and mutate so quickly into something new. Specific memes are trendy; the meme genre is probably here to stay.

–Mary Nevaire Marsh

Edelman’s 2012 Trust Barometer Study Finds Trust in Government Decrease, Media on the Rise

Posted February 20, 2012 by Sarah Funderburk

Edelman recently released the results of its 12th annual Trust Barometer survey. Given everything that happened in 2011, it’s no surprise that trust is pretty much decreasing across the board. The 2012 Edelman Trust Barometer examines trust in four key institutions – government, business, media and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) – as well as communications channels and sources. In the U.S., trust in government remained stable, despite all the political discourse, but the majority of countries surveyed do not trust their government to do what is right. Governmental officials are also not the least credible spokespeople, with only 29 percent considering them credible.
Like every year, the Barometer looked at the number of times people need to hear something to believe it – 63 percent said between three and five times, which is a four-point jump from last year.

”Business is now better placed than government to lead the way out of the trust crisis,” said Richard Edelman, president and CEO of Edelman. “But the balance must change so that business is seen both as a force for good and an engine for profit.”

Media happened to be the only institution to see an increase in trust over the past year, with new media jumping 75 percent. This is how media is broken down:

  • Traditional media is still the most trusted source (+10% from 2011)
  • Online multiple sources, such as search engines and news/RSS feeds, trails traditional media, but the gap is small (+18%)
  • Social media, which consists of social networking sites, constant-sharing sites, blogs and microblogging sites, saw the biggest percentage increase (+75%)
  • Corporate media was the least-trusted media source, but still jumped +23% from 2011 (Corporate communications and corporate/product advertising)

Before we get into moving forward and the Barometer’s implications in the field of PR, I wanted to mention one more interesting set of findings. As previously mentioned, government officials suffered the biggest decrease in trust of any spokespeople (and in Barometer history), falling 14 percent. Only 29 percent of those surveyed viewed them as credible. CEOs were not far behind, falling from fourth most-trusted to second least-trusted. As these two categories become less a source of information, people are once again turning to their peers. “A person like me” has re-emerged as one of the three most credible spokespeople, with its biggest increase in credibility since 2004. Regular employees also saw an increase in trust, rising 16 points. So it would seem the smart thing to do would be for CEOs to empower regular employees to drive the conversation among their peers about the company and its role in society.

Instead of making your head spin with more numbers and findings, let’s talk about how this affects public relations, and more importantly our clients. The study shows that traditional media is in fact not dead, but actually a trusted source of information. Traditional media – TV, newspapers, magazines, radio– and online search engines are the most trusted sources of information for people searching for general news and information, new product information, news on an environmental crises and company announcements. This makes total sense. For instance, when news of the Costa Concordia cruise ship accident first broke, I heard something about it on the radio in my car. I didn’t have time to listen to the whole story, so I went home and Googled it. Other people saw it on TV over their morning coffee, and still others read about it in the paper. Traditional media also did a solid job covering numerous crises in 2011, including the Bank of America debit card fee, the Netflix/Qwikster snafu and the Occupiers.

Even though I do like to read an actual newspaper every now and then, as a 24-year old, I’m much more likely to use digital media and social media to read about current affairs – and I trust those sources. I use my iPhone to look at Twitter, which has a story from CNN that I click through to read the story and watch a video. It’s no surprise to me that social networks witnessed the most dramatic percentage increase as trusted sources of information. We need to communicate this rise to our clients. The continuing rise of trust in SoMe and online sources is a signal that our clients need to think beyond print while communicating. Again, traditional media is NOT dying, so we should still focus efforts on placement there, but should not count untraditional media out. We need to provide a complete media cloverleaf and use all of these outlets together effectively in order to communicate effectively.

That being said, gaining new fans for your clients isn’t an equivalent to ultimate success and trust. Social media can be used to show transparency and to show CEOs are “people like me.” Social media is not traditional media, and cannot be thought of similarly to traditional media. Instead it needs to be thought of as bringing people together around a common interest – your client’s service/product.

Here are a few more takeaways we can learn from the Barometer:

  • We need to work on raising our clients’ search engine optimization (SEO) rank. It is so important to ensure content about your client can be easily found online.
  • We also need to get our CEOs and experts to talk. A great example is a Thought Leadership site. CEOs, presidents and key executives write weekly blogs here and that offers transparency. These are heads of companies writing their thoughts for the whole world to read. Hopefully if more CEOs write blogs, become active on SoMe sites, etc. their trust will increase for the 2013 study.
  • The very first PR maxim I learned was people usually aren’t interested in what you have to say… unless it concerns them. Listen to consumer needs and feedback and place consumers ahead of profits.


If you’d like to see the results and draw your own conclusions you can click here to see the presentation. Also, leave a comment below if any of the results are surprising to you or if you have other ideas to increase trust for clients.

by Sarah Funderburk

Power of the People: Komen for the Cure vs. Planned Parenthood

Posted February 7, 2012 by Sarah Funderburk

If you still had doubts about the power of social media after the SOPA incident, the recent Komen vs. Planned Parenthood incident should erase them.

Unless you live under a rock, you’ve no doubt heard that Komen for the Cure recently decided to halt grants to Planned Parenthood that were mainly used for breast cancer screening for women who needed financial assistance. Planned Parenthood said the move was made as Komen gave in to pressure from anti-abortion activists. Komen said the main reason was that Planned Parenthood was under investigation in Congress. (To learn more about the investigation, click here to read an LA Times article.)

Though many blog entries, news articles and op-eds have been written on this PR disaster, what we should take away is the role social media played. The story could have gone under the radar, especially because the amount of money involved was such a small portion of Planned Parenthood’s annual budget. Instead, Facebook and Twitter users employed these tools to speak out against Komen’s decision. What used to be something discussed over dinner, has now turned into instantaneous posting, viewing by social media users, and potentially allowing millions to see.

Minutes after the news broke, social media sites were bombarded with viewpoints on the decision. Women from all over announced they would “stop buying pink.” A “Komen Can Kiss My Mammogram” board on Pinterestwas created, pinned with “I support the cause, not the pink” and “We will not RUN for Susan G. Komen, we STAND with Planned Parenthood” pins. On the other side, anti-choice supporters were also vocal with their tweets and posts, like encouraging followers to write to Komen to thank them “for their truly pro-woman decision to defund abortion group.”

One of the several anti-Komen pins found on Pinterest.

What was most surprising was Komen’s response: no immediate response. Komen didn’t post to its social media sites the day the story broke or the day after. Its only action of Facebook was to delete the anti-Komen comments. On Twitter, it only tweeted a story about prostate cancer in mummies. Even Komen sponsors received backlash from Planned Parenthood supporters. People vowing to join an “Energizer boycott,” until Komen reversed its decision, quickly overtook the battery provider’s Facebook page.

Komen has since reversed its decision, planning to “amend the criteria to make clear that disqualifying investigations must be criminal and conclusive in nature and not political,” according to The Wall Street Journal.

Obviously ignoring a problem is not the best way to handle a situation. Komen was barraged with angry reactions and promises to take donations elsewhere, while Planned Parenthood gained 10,000 new donors, raised $3 million in three days and managed to recast its controversial image. Komen acted like this incident was taken completely out of context and had nothing to do with pro-choice/anti-choice politics, but with the presidential election coming up in November, American’s are extra-sensitive to hot issues like abortion.

So, what now? Komen’s next moves are very crucial to the organization. It’s going to take years, if ever, to regain the public’s trust. According to Bloomberg, two-thirds of more than 3,600 sentiments expressed online about the split were negative to Komen. Even after the decision was reversed, questions have been raised about Komen “playing politics with women’s lives.” It doesn’t matter now how much money the foundation has raised in the fight against breast cancer, it will have every move questioned from now on. Will Komen choose sides in the abortion debate? I guess we’ll have to wait and see. It’s already a lose-lose situation, in my opinion. Komen angered and lost the trust of pro-choice advocates by pulling money from Planned Parenthood, and then did the same thing to anti-choice advocates by reinstating the grants.

I think the most important thing right now is transparency. Anti-choice supporters have come out to say they didn’t even know Komen supported Planned Parenthood, and pro-choice advocates may never trust anything Komen communicates ever again. Komen executives need to act quickly and communicate everything to the public. Instead of having a silent social media presence, its activity should be off the charts. It should use the “hair of the dog” approach with its social media strategy. Social media had a major affect on Komen’s image last week. This week, the goal should be to use social media to regain trust (and followers). Every move Komen makes is going to be scrutinized, but engaging with its social media fans is a much better plan than staying silent and inviting more distrust.

– Sarah Funderburk

Media Relations in a Social Media World

Posted on January 31, 2012

Elyse Hammett and Kimberly Kennedy

In the 1950s, the model of communication between PR representatives and the media could be drawn in a simple black and white chart. Then, charts became PowerPoint presentations, letters became emails, and phones now talk to you. The digital age consists of blogs, email, Facebook, Google Chat and Google +, RSS feeds, texts, Twitter, and YouTube. All the avenues might make you miss the easy days of Andy of Mayberry, but don’t worry. To prepare for a Public Relations Society of America meeting in January 2012, Elyse Hammett, APR – Executive VP of PR, and Kimberly Kennedy, media and communications coach, both of EOS Marketing and Public Relations, did a qualitative study of journalists throughout Atlanta. Here are some guidelines for our current Law & Order world based on their survey results.

Know where reporters are going for stories. 62% of reporters use Facebook, 44% use Twitter, and 25% turn to blogs to find new material. To get the word out about your product or company, start with these tools.



Know when to pitch to reporters. 38% say it’s best to pitch a few months out, and 38% say several days out. Only 6% want a pitch the night before. And what about calls, texts, or emails after hours or on the weekend? If you’re reaching out to reporters when they’re off the clock, it should be for a great story. 31% of reporters don’t want to be bothered, while 62% say it depends on the strength and time constraints of a story.

Okay. We’ve got when and where, now what about how? 94% of reporters want to be contacted in an email and 64% want to be contacted directly. When you’re writing an email, don’t get clever; get to the point. Let the reporter know why it’s a good fit for them, the station, or the paper, and how it will benefit their readers.
Be sure to avoid a reporter’s “pet peeves”. These were given as the most annoying PR pitfalls. Be upfront about the money trail. Say whom you work for in the first line of your email. Take “no” for an answer. Be positive! The next pitch might be a perfect fit. But don’t pester them, or your emails could end up with “miracle” diet pill offers in the Spam folder. Be discerning. Ms. Manners may love reading about trends in the housing market, but she won’t be writing about them in her column.

Building Relationships The Andy Griffith world is gone, but “Nothing replaces old-fashioned connections based on relationships and years of performance,” says Ms. Hammett. We just use 21st century tools to sustain them. Facebook has 800 million users, and your go-to journalist is on it. 85% of business-to-business journalists comb Facebook for stories, and 35% use Facebook for story angles. “Friend” them and follow them on Twitter (84% of journalists are on Twitter and 27% use it more than anything else) to scope for stories they’re interested in. Remove their name from mass email lists and instead send them custom designs. When you pitch, have real people ready to interview.

– Mary Nevaire Marsh

SOPA – Will we lose Wikipedia forever … probably not, but made you look.

Posted on January 24, 2012

January 18th, 2012 is a day that will live in search-engine infamy. The popular site, Wikipedia announced it would go dark on this day in protest of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA). In other words, January 18th was the day that no homework was done and no one knew what SOPA was because we couldn’t look it up on Wikipedia. Well played Wikipedia, well played.

According to Wikipedia, SOPA is a United States bill introduced by U.S. Representative Lamar S. Smith (R-TX) to expand the ability of U.S. law enforcement to fight online trafficking in copyrighted intellectual property and counterfeit goods. Provisions include the requesting of court orders to bar advertising networks and payment facilities from conducting business with infringing websites, and search engines from linking to the sites, and court orders requiring Internet service providers to block access to the sites. The law would expand existing criminal laws to include unauthorized streaming of copyright material, imposing a maximum penalty of five years in prison.

Because of this proposed bill, the English Wikipedia, Reddit and an estimated 7,000 other websites coordinated a service blackout, or posted links and images to protest against SOPA and PIPA in an effort to raise awareness. Did you happen to visit Google.com on that day? It did not participate in the service blackout… just blacked out the “Google” image above the search bar. If it were estimated that MY website would lose $100 million per day in advertising if I did more than cover my logo… I’d stay live too. More than 160 million people saw Wikipedia’s banner that day, which is twice the amount of visitors the site gets on an average day.

Rep. Smith was not impressed, calling out Wikipedia’s efforts in particular as a publicity stunt.

“It is ironic that a website dedicated to providing information is spreading misinformation about the Stop Online Piracy Act. The bill will not harm Wikipedia, domestic blogs or social networking sites… This publicity stunt does a disservice to its users by promoting fear instead of facts. Perhaps during the blackout, Internet users can look elsewhere for an accurate definition of online piracy.”

Unfortunately for Rep. Smith, absence does make the heart grow fonder. Thousands of tweets such as “What am I going to do without Wikipedia today,” “Why is Wikipedia down? I have to write a paper on Shakespeare!” “I feel like crying over the Wikipedia Blackout. Because we’re doing research PowerPoint’s in social studies… today of all days!” and “Wikipedia is down for 24 hours? How do I find out why?” and hundreds of articles and blog posts were written about the Wikipedia blackout. Sites collected millions of users opposed to the measures, and several co-sponsors of the measures withdrew their support of the online legislation.

Smith has since said the House Judiciary Committee will postpone consideration of the legislation. Markup on the bill, which began in December, has been slated to continue in February, after the Committee “revisits the approach on how best to address the problem of foreign thieves that steal and sell American inventions and products.”

In sum, Wikipedia’s plan worked. Millions of people heard about SOPA and the bill was shelved (which I think is great!) We cannot be sure that even half of the people outraged by SOPA and the blackouts understand what it is or have taken a gander at the proposed bill, but it was stopped nonetheless. And Wikipedia’s other plan worked. People are obviously still talking about the blackout almost a week later, and its traffic doubled and has continued to show higher numbers since, according to International Business Times. While Wikipedia’s true motive is not clear, one thing is: the site will continue to be one of the top 10 most visited sites in the world with all this publicity.

– Sarah Funderburk

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