Re-thinking personal reputation

Yesterday Mike Arrington posted a story about a start-up who later this week will be launching a service that’s effectively a Yelp for individuals. 

Mr. Arringtron asks if – with the launch of these services, along with the growth of personal data online – we need to become more accepting of people’s indiscretions. It’s a worthy sentiment but of course the reality is different.

It’s already pretty easy to research people online whether using a search engine, Facebook, LinkedIn or one of the other many social services. In an environment like the internet where everyone has opinions and many aren’t shy of sharing them, managing a personal reputation becomes more difficult.

However it’s also true that managing a reputation has always been complex and it could be argued that the internet just makes it more so (Read Frank Shaw’s post: Reputation is more important than ever – some good common sense comments also). 

Valeria Maltoni had a related post over the weekend which looks at today’s reality where everyone is the “media” and everyone can share their views online.

So given it’s going to become more difficult to manage an online reputation.  What’s the answer?

Well as I wrote previously one of the ways you can manage your reputation online is by investing in it.  Be aware that before people meet you they’ll probably do some research online.  What are they finding? Engage with people online in a thoughtful manner, understand the privacy implications of your online presence.  Avoid the temptation to indulge in the knee jerk pontification that so many people seem to engage in online. (Have a read of Dave Fleet’s post today: Cut companies a break )

Yes, managing a reputation is hard.  But first and foremost you need to manage what is within your control.  The reality is that people disagree and accidents happen, but investing in yourself is a great start. Building a strong reputation has always taken time and with that investment you can deal with issues that will, no doubt, arise. This advice of course applies to organizations as well as individuals.

As always the best advice is to plan ahead.

Common sense ain’t thought leadership either

Recently I wrote about the importance of being yourself online and avoiding the temptation to call yourself a guru or a thought leader. Today I want to touch on a separate but related issue. 

A common theme from a number of highly rated social media related keynotes and posts  – which it should be said are very interesting, relevant and well written and/or delivered – that I’ve watched and read recently, have focused on the importance of things that you’ve been reading in management or marketing books since the 1960s (probably earlier):

  • The customer is king
  • Build a relationship with your customer
  • Provide great customer service

Although I’ll admit we often forget these basics, and it’s great that people remind us, and even better that they provide context for how social media can help address these issues.  It’s not revolutionary. It’s common sense.

For me, the real challenge is taking this common sense and making sure it’s part of what we do. There’s no question that there is value in that. 

Let me give you a PR example. The poor press release.

Now let’s get the baggage out of the way:

  • Yes, press releases are overused
  • Yes, the press release is an old format – created in a world far different to today
  • Yes, most press releases are badly written
  • Yes, most press releases are unimaginative
  • Yes, most press releases are a waste of time for the reasons outlined above and because they are mis-used and badly “shared”
  • Yes we should re-think how we use, plan, write and share press releases

I don’t debate any of these points (so save your exasperated comments) it’s common sense.

But rather than take these lessons on board, we had to go after something “new”, so we created (and I use the word we in the royal context) the social media release.

It emerged with hundreds, if not thousands of blog posts, webinars and even (I kid you not) training courses.

I’ve never bought it.  Well maybe I did for a little while.

The press release is just a tool, it serves a purpose (see some of the old links below).  Why not use our common sense and  just make it better:

  • Focus on something that’s newsworthy – not everything needs a press release what about blogs, Twitter, Facebook or lord forbid calling someone?
  • Add some real creativity
  • Invest time in the writing and more importantly the editing process
  • Tell three dimensional stories with online content and links

Obviously the list could go on. 

The core point is this – use some common sense.  Common sense is open to everyone, there’s no barrier to entry.  Adding common sense approaches to solving new or old challenges is probably every bit as effective as pretending something is bright, shiny and new, when in fact, it isn’t. The challenge is applying that common sense to the new new thing.

Just my thought for what it’s worth.  Very little probably.




Supplemental links for the press release nerds out there:

CSR, social media and your self-defending brand

One of the biggest concerns executives voice about social media is the lack of control.  The idea that anyone can comment, share or disagree with you makes people uncomfortable.  Of course the fact that you know people are having these conversations about your brand or product, and that – if you choose  – you can engage with them, is far better than not knowing at all.

As I mentioned previously, Corporate Social Responsibility is increasingly becoming an imperative for every company – big or small. CSR is not about token’ism.  It’s not about throwing a cute photo of a puppy with sore eyes on your website and donating $1,000 to an animal shelter, it’s not about pumping money at a problem.  Effective CSR is about understanding how your business can operate responsibly and what resources you have that can have a beneficial impact on your community and often more importantly help your people to have a positive impact.

There’s a lot of cynicism online.  And that’s one of the reasons many companies often shy away from “publicity” around their CSR efforts.

However, here’s an alternative view.

If you make a sincere commitment to address a real issue using your resources and your expertise, then that is something you shouldn’t shy away from communicating in an appropriate manner.

One of the interesting things that I have noticed recently, is that where it’s clear that a company is making a sincere effort to drive positive change (on any issue) the internet can be a positive environment for debate and discussion.

I am seeing more and more cases where internet citizens are actively addressing cynics and actually defending companies who are doing the right thing. 

This is a development that all communicators should be monitoring. 

There is nothing more effective than individuals standing up for your brand and calling foul on people who are making unfair or illogical criticisms of the work your are doing.

Don’t get me wrong, you will still experience negative sentiment, but if you are committed to do the right thing, then often you will be pleasantly surprised at the support you’ll receive and often from unexpected quarters.

Self-promotion isn’t and shouldn’t be your motivation for implementing corporate responsibility, but it is yet another business benefit and one that will become increasingly valuable as your brand lives and dies online.

Don’t be afraid of talking about Corporate Social Responsibility

Partly in response to my post about the growing importance of appropriate communications on a company’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) efforts, the Textifying blog over at Arizona State University (sorry there’s no bio page and the post was written by ‘tburns’ – and I tried to leave a comment but couldn’t) published a post entitled: Socially Responsible Communication Methods.

Among other things, the author expresses their conflict at the idea of an organization communicating or promoting its CSR work:

In a way, the idea of “promoting” the good a company does reminds me of people who only do generous things so they can brag about it later and create the image of a genuinely nice person. This defeats the purpose of giving and destroys the definition of a true “kind soul.”

First off let me say that I am delighted that they wrote this post.  As I mentioned previously there’s far too little discussion on the PR implications of CSR, so it’s great they took the time to share their views.

However, I should also point out that I disagree with their sentiment, and let me explain why.

Every commercial organization, regardless of its location, business or size has a social responsibility.  Why? Because every business, whether directly through its operations or indirectly through its staff is part of the local community and broader society. 

In general, good CSR means aligning corporate responsibility to the organization’s business strategy.  This is important for a number of reasons.  If CSR is aligned, then it can have a positive impact for the business – it will therefore create value and will be sustainable over the long term – that’s how CSR can deliver real measurable impact. 

Today stakeholders; from investors, to customers, employees and investors want to know what companies are doing in the community and society at large. If we can agree that it makes sense to align CSR efforts to the core business, then it becomes a central element of what that business does. That’s why communication is important.

CSR is about more than philanthropy – albeit that’s an important element.  CSR is about being a responsible business.  It’s about good corporate governance, ethics, being a great employer, reducing environmental impact and many other elements. But let’s focus on philanthropy for a moment.  In my experience, the value a company brings to a non-profit organization is three fold.  The first, and most obvious is financial support, but in many cases the expertise and resources a company can bring to bear through a strong partnership is often more important.

Companies can often help nonprofits broaden the reach and impact of their communications – raising awareness and helping them increase their effectiveness. Of course, that communication should be appropriate and transparent, but companies should not be embarrassed to tell people how they are constructively being a responsible citizen. Indeed companies, in my view, should be up front about their commitment to CSR, about how they are measuring their efforts and how they are tracking against their commitments.

There are risks.

We live in a far more transparent world where companies need to be wary of sacrificing goodwill for short term publicity.

But doing well by doing good, is not only accepted as good business practice, it’s becoming an imperative. That’s nothing to be embarrassed about.

Now given that I work in communications for Microsoft’s Corporate Citizenship efforts, you should expect me to be an advocate.  But then I see the incredible work that we and other companies do every day in partnership with nonprofits – work that positively impacts people and communities all over the world.

Communicating a company’s commitment to CSR or Corporate Responsibility or Corporate Citizenship is not only a good thing, it’s a vital thing.

Agree or disagree?

Leave a comment or ping me on Twitter at @tpemurphy.

PR + CSR = Just Good Business

There’s no question that Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has hit the mainstream for companies of all sizes.  The last five years have seen an explosion of interest in CSR (or Corporate Citizenship), driven by our changing society, pressure from employees, interest from customers and often a company’s own desire to have a positive impact.

While CSR has become increasingly popular and arguably important from an image perspective, you don’t find a lot of content or discussion online about how companies should be thinking about how they communicate their commitment to CSR. Of course it goes without saying that we’re talking about appropriate communication here, but the reality is that many companies don’t share the great work they’re doing – and they should.

Last week I had the good fortune of meeting with Kellie McElhaney, Corporate Responsibility Faculty Director at the Haas School of Business in UC Berkeley. She is a passionate advocate of CSR, but more importantly of CSR being aligned with a company’s core business strategy and of the need for companies to sensibly measure and promote the impact of their CSR efforts.

Just Good Business

I have just finished her book: Just Good Business and I would strongly recommend it.  Kellie takes a real world, pragmatic view of CSR and how it can and should be connected and delivering value to your business  – while also having a positive impact in society.

The book doesn’t get lost in the theory but instead provides excellent real-world insights and examples of how companies are (and are not) effectively implementing CSR programs in their business.  She also looks at the measurement and appropriate promotion of CSR efforts.

As valuable as CSR is, it is not the panacea to all that ails companies – lousy products, overpriced services, poor branding, or inadequate customer segmentation – let alone all that ails the world. Similarly, I want to be clear that telling your story always holds an element of risk, although I would argue that the risk of telling your CSR story is likely significantly less than not telling your CSR story.

If you’re working in PR and your employer or client is making an investment in CSR (and I’m imagining that if they aren’t they are in the minority) then do yourself a favor and buy the book.  How we manage and communicate CSR is becoming more important and if you’re not already thinking about it, your probably should be – regardless of your industry or location.

This is a subject I’ll come back to again…

PR Miscellany – January 31st 2010

So you won’t be surprised to find out I’ve been a little behind on my RSS feed reading. It’s been busy recently.

Slipping through the (PR) feeds, it’s interesting to note that probably 90+% of “PR” posts are actually about social media.  Now social media is clearly very important, but to me, the intersection of PR and social media or even business or marketing to social media is far more important.

So what interesting stuff is there this week – at the risk of drawing Valeria’s ire :-) ?

First a surprise, for me at any rate. In the blogs I scanned there is very little commentary on the PR implications of Toyota’s U.S. recall, which I have to say is strange (though I admit I may just have missed some other blogs that did cover it). So kudos to Jon Harmon who has a number of posts covering the developing issue and the company’s response.


It’s amazing just how widely Edelman’s Trust Barometer is quoted in talks, blog posts and meetings.  So we should mark the arrival of this year’s report by linking to Mr. Edelman himself I suppose.

Trust in business has stabilized and is trending upward, with a substantial jump of 18 points in the US (from an all-time low of 36% in 2009 to 54% in 2010). Trust in business falls into three categories (High-Brazil, China, India, Indonesia-at 60-70%; Middle-Canada, Japan, US-at 50-59%; Low-France, Germany, Russia, UK, Korea, -at 35-49%).


Interesting piece from TechCrunch, via Andy Lark, on a recent AOL PR snafu around the departure of the company’s chief technology office.. eh there but for the grace of god…

PR is not supposed to be fiction and spin. At least not all the time. Occasionally the communications professionals at companies, particularly publicly traded companies, are supposed to actually tell the truth. And perhaps help journalists and bloggers with a story instead of sending them off on a fake trail.


I am a firm believer that laughter is indeed the best medicine, so via Stuart Bruce, do watch Charlie Brooker illustrating how to report the news.


Valeria Maltoni has a very worthwhile post on developing a content strategy process for your blog. She also has a very interesting interview with Doc Searls revisiting the Cluetrain Manifesto a decade later.

It’s important to remember that Cluetrain in the first place was an expression of rebellion against marketing, and a declaration of liberation from it. Note the voice in "We are not seats or eyeballs or end users or consumers. We are human beings and our reach exceeds your grasp. Deal with it." We were not speaking there as marketers, or as "the audience," or as "consumers," but as ordinary people.


Finally, Morgan McLintic shares my view that we need to focus on making a difference. Speaking of which I have just added Seth Godin’s Linchpin to my reading list. I’m a fan of Mr. Godin’s constant challenge to people to think differently, but I think he’s come off the boil in his last couple of books so it’ll be interesting to see if this one hits the mark. (I have a hardback copy of the book, but if I was reading it electronically, that would be a Kindle before you ask, and I love my Kindle :-) ).

Where’s your pride?

On a cold Dublin day in 1985, the Irish rugby team were playing England at Lansdowne Road.  The country’s rugby team has traditionally played with a lot of pride and passion, but never had the quality to trouble the world’s best teams on a consistent basis (I am delighted to report that the situation is a little different today). This day they had the opportunity to win the “Triple Crown” by beating the old enemy (well everyone’s old enemy :-) ).  It was a tough match and the English team clearly had the upper hand.   In fact it was becoming apparent that once again Ireland would come so close, but fail and have to take some consolation in a moral victory.

As time ticked on, there was a break in the game, and the side’s captain, an army officer by the name of Ciaran Fitzgerald, turned to his tired, beaten team mates and roared at them words that have since become a national institution: “Where’s your f*****g pride?”.  The words were caught on TV cameras around the ground and broadcast all over Europe.

It won’t be a surprise, given the title of this post, that his team rose to the occasion following his call to arms, drove down the field and a Michael Kiernan drop goal sent a success-starved nation into sporting euphoria.

Pride and passion (as opposed to Pride and Prejudice which is a different post entirely) are incredibly valuable assets in the sporting and business worlds.  When I think of all the spokespeople I’ve worked with or observed, it’s those with pride in what they do, and a clear passion that stand out.  You can’t fake passion (let’s refrain from the toilet humor now folks), it is addictive, it brings people on a journey. 

Of course there are some downsides.  People with real passion often go beyond their brief, but I’ll take that issue any day over someone droning on with no passion.

Working with passionate people is easy, and it’s enjoyable.

Back in December I wrote about the importance of loving (and having passion) for what you do:

It amazes me how many people hate their jobs. They dread the sound of their alarm clock. Well, they are clearly stronger than I, because I couldn’t do that. It’s a personal thing. I need to have a passion for what I do. There’s a nice quote I read recently from a Steve Jobs address to students at Stanford: “You’ve got to find what you love… If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle.” Spot on.

Passion gets you out of bed in the morning. Passion forces you to think about new and better ways to work and to get results. Passion makes you an incredible ambassador.

Are you passionate about what you do? If not, think about what you’re doing today and then think what you’d like to do – what are you passionate about?

There is nothing most depressing than working with people who have lost their passion. 

If you’re working in Marketing or PR, re-capture your passion and get your colleagues passionate about what you are trying to achieve, the results will be worth the trip – and the alternative doesn’t bear thinking about.

Author aside: Please note that this entire post, which is related to PR, did not include one, single mention of social media….doh.

Update: Read Louis Gray’s post on a related subject.

The secrets of controlled media leaks…

There’s a lot of great content online.  If you wade back into the mists of time (I’m probably talking about oh 2001) then there really was very little information to find on subject areas like PR (believe me I used to look for it). 

But now we have the luxury of thousands of people actively blogging and twittering about PR and PR-related issues. This is fantastic.

Even when you consider quality-versus-volume, we’re still in a far far better place.

However, sometimes as I monitor what’s getting lots of Twitter love I just scratch my head and wonder.

The latest is this piece in MacObserver on How Apple Does Controlled Leaks (great headline) is a case in point.  You think ‘wow, we’re going to get the inside track here from a former Apple marketing dude’. (Well I personally wouldn’t say dude but come with me.)

This is being re-tweeted ad infinitum, people are getting ever so excited.

To save you the 45 seconds it’ll take you to read it, let me summarize:

“They call a reporter and tell them the leak.”

My God, why didn’t we think about that before? How clever, insightful, strategic and crafty. So, they ring a reporter and tell them the leak.  Fantastic.

I am now better equipped than ever to face the day.

Seriously, did everyone think they used to meet people in a dark corner of a parking garage? Did people think it was a mysterious envelope?


Seriously… dump that social media stuff and get back to work

Happy New Year. I had a lovely time, thanks for asking.

I have spent far too much time over the past couple of weeks monitoring the online chatter.  My god there’s a lot of noise.

I think I am having Social Media sweats. There are just so many articles, posts, rants and links.  Now don’t get me wrong it’s great that people are sharing their views, and opinions and, in a very small number of cases even their experiences.

But really… there are only so many Social Media Top 10s, 10 things to avoid, 10 brands that…. you know… enough already.

Social Media is incredibly exciting, important etc.

We get it. 


Enough with the colorful* graphs, bar charts and stock photography.

Honestly. If you don’t get the importance of the whole social media thing, then you are probably still faxing and spamming people with press releases and let’s be frank there’s little hope for you is there?

The reality however is that most of us aren’t paid a princely sum just for thinking about social media or antagonizing about the global impact of a new widget or phone. At least not me, if I missed that memo can you send me an e-mail or even a letter, please.

The reality is that we’ve got a day job and that day job requires us to think about mundane things like personal and professional objectives, managing our ever growing workload, understanding how our audiences are using social and unsocial media, how we can be more creative and how we can fundamentally change the way we write and think about communications.  In summary we are focusing on how we can be more effective in communicating with people who matter to our clients or employers. People not tools, widgets or hardware.

Social media is important for all of us, but as my grandmother often said don’t forget the knitting, it’s cold out there.

At least that’s what I think she said.

*Yes I’ve migrated to US spelling full-time.  I keep getting blank stares from my colleagues when I deliver pithy and if I say so myself, witty phrases that didn’t travel over the Atlantic, so US spelling reduces other risks.