We often talk about the power of social media on our website (and on our own blog), and some may think it’s a cliché or perhaps over exaggerated but this latest piece of news would suggest otherwise.
11 councillors in the rural town of Somerton have staged a mass resignation after becoming tired of a critical blogger. This may sound a little ridiculous but the resignations were started by (Ex-vice chairman) Anthony Canvin who said “I’m not going to tolerate it when I’m working for the town…I’ve had enough’ and handed in my resignation.” The councillors claimed that their resignation was due to impossible working conditions (you can read the full BBC story here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/somerset/8332616.stm).
The author in question, who apparently wields such great power with his keyboard, is Niall Connelly who writes the Muck&Brass blog (http://muckandbrass.blogspot.com/). Not one to hold back, it would seem, Niall Connolly called members “jackasses” and said a leaflet was “like a Nazi call to arms”. He does also deny that his blog was the real cause of the councillors’ resignations saying “If blaming Muck&Brass helps these ex-councillors to sleep at night then that’s fine but it ignores the truth…These councillors had, for too long, ignored the community which they were meant to serve.”
You would think that it would, surely, come as no surprise to the councillors that people in public life and positions of ‘authority’ are likely to face; scrutiny, questions and, shock horror, criticism from time to time. While not wanting to detract from the apparent opinion forming skills of Niall Connelly, it does seem difficult to believe a single blogger, can have so much sway over elected officials (indeed as stated above Niall denies he actually has this ‘power’ anyway).
It’s unlikely that the council of Somerton has a PR department but if they did what would, or should they advise their client (assuming they hadn’t just resigned!)? Firstly, be honest – this may seem a little too much of a generalisation but without having a policy of honesty in all your communications you can get in an awful lot of trouble (a wise old man once said; ‘never lie to a journalist, because one day they will find out’, and the same goes for bloggers). Secondly, as in traditional PR, if you are at the sharp end of criticism you need to open a dialogue with your ‘attackers’. Ask yourselves, do they have a point/is there some truth in what they are saying, has the blogger misunderstood your message or intention? If so this mistake can be easily rectified. Thirdly, (as we say in our social media training course) the worst thing you can do is ignore the critic, especially when they have a substantial following and are persistent in their negative comments. Chances are that if you start talking, or even posting replies to, a blogger they will appreciate their voice is being heard.
One of Niall Connelly’s comments was that the councillors ignored democracy – surely, since ancient Greece, communication and democracy have gone hand in hand – it just so happens that there are few different platforms upon which to communicate these days.
In short; beware the power of the blogger.
According to the BBC story “Prince Edward has suggested the risk of death is part of the attraction of the Duke of Edinburgh award scheme for young people.”
Other headlines have been even more sensational, using just a few words, out of context, from the interview. Reading the full story on the BBC, you can see that the Prince wasn’t quite as blunt about the tragic deaths that have occurred, but he still said the wrong thing and surely must have forgotten his media training tips.
The truth is that if you don’t want to see it in print, then you shouldn’t say it to a journalist. The Prince will know better next time that making fairly incendiary comments during an interview will undoubtedly hijack the story’s agenda.
More evidence of the power of citizen journalism and social media in action this week, as the TfL worker filmed by a member of the public verbally abusing a commuter public, resigns.
A mass Twitter campaign calling for the worker’s dismissal was sparked off after the video of a tube guard at Holborn tube station allegedly abusing an elderly passenger, saying “sling him under a train” was posted online. The incident was filmed by fellow passgenger, Jonathan MacDonald, who then posted the video online and blogged about the incident prompting other Twitter users, including Boris Johnson (!) to comment: “Appalled by the video. Have asked TfL to investigate urgently. Abuse by passengers or staff is never acceptable,” he tweeted.
Then, fast work by the TfL press office, as shortly after they issued the following statement: “We are appalled by the scene captured in this video and will investigate thoroughly and urgently what took place and what led to it. We do not tolerate members of the public being abusive to our staff but neither will we tolerate members of our staff abusing members of the public.”
The staff member known only as ‘Ian’, was then suspended pending further investigation. The incident began when an elderly member of the public approached ‘Ian’ to complain that his arm had become trapped in a door for a few seconds as he tried to get off a train. MacDonald said that the “timid and quiet” man raised his complaint in a calm manner, but that ‘the TfL employee became infuriated that he would not step away from the edge of the platform as the next train approached, and demanded that he come see the police upstairs’.
When the elderly man ignored his request not to board the train, the staff member laid into him – all of which can be clearly seen and heard on the video posetd by MacDonald, who said “I just felt absolutely amazed that swear words and abuse would be levelled at somebody in such a way. I was shocked, stunned and appalled,”.
Of course it’s great that today this kind of thing can be brought to light so easily and to such effect by a member of the public. But, on the other hand, what of the victim? One wonders how he must feel at being revealed to have been in such a situation, vilified? Possibly. But also a tad embarrased? Probably. And what of the treatment of the tube worker – okay he massively over-stepped the mark, but did he deserve to be at the hands of the ‘virtual lynch mob’ as one newspaper put it? What do you think?
Gemma Carey, Bluewood Training Ltd
I understand that some people will go to great lengths for fame and fortune. X Factor, Britain’s Got Talent, Big Brother; they all reveal just how desperate some people are for five minutes in the spotlight. But last week’s publicity stunt by Richard Heene and his wife has got to have set a precedential new low.
The Heene family of course caught the undivided attention of the worldwide media last Thursday when claiming that that their youngest son, Falcon, may have taken off aboard their home-made helium ‘flying saucer’. Millions of people around the world watched the live coverage with baited breath as the balloon floated for more than two hours across Colorado, before it eventually 40 miles away – with nobody on board. Their son was later discovered safe and sound, hiding in the attic of the family’s garage, saying that he had hidden because he was scared that his father would shout at him.
Falcon gave the game away, revealing that the whole thing was a hoax during a subsequent television interview with his father, saying: “You said we did this for a show.” Falcon apparently then vomited repeatedly when he appeared beside his father on breakfast TV shows the following day. I’m sorry. The stunt caused the boy to suffer such extreme exhaustion that he is being sick on national television? Surely the parents are guilty of abuse here – never mind the complete waste of the emergency services’ time and resources?!
Anyhow, Mr Heene apparently protested his innocence at the time telling ABC’s Good Morning America: “I went though an emotional rollercoaster. To have people say that is extremely pathetic. We were holding on to every second, every second, just hoping he might come out OK. I am not selling anything,” he added. “This is just what we do all the time. We have made the Heene family schedule a year in advance, what we’re going to do, where we are going to do it. I do not have a can of beans I am trying to promote. This is just another day in the life of what we do.” Riight.
Unsurprisingly, Heene and his wife are facing criminal charges over this massively irresponsible publicity stunt. They are looking at charges of ‘conspiracy, contributing to the delinquency of a minor and attempting to influence a public servant, as well as misdemeanour for filing a false police report and face up to six years in jail for each criminal charge.’ The authorities will also seek reimbursement of the cost of the rescue operation, which could equate to hundreds of thousands of dollars. I mean, aircraft were diverted away from the area, and at one point rescuers had even planned to dangle from a helicopter and snatch the boy to safety – the rescue operation was vast.
The family’s previous role on the reality-TV show Wife Swap in the US caused suspicion of the couple from the outset, but of course the authorities had to take the situation seriously given that the boy’s life was seemingly at risk. The local sheriff, who originally supported Richard and Richard and Mayumi Heene changed his views when the scam came to light saying “these people are actors. Not only have they appeared on several reality TV shows and YouTube, we have since determined they met in acting school in Hollywood,” with the county sheriff adding “Needless to say, they put on a very good show for us and we bought it.”
I expect I am not alone at struggling get my head around the fact that these parents could be so desperate for the exposure that they would do something so irresponsible in the name of publicity. A bit of embarrassment on X Factor is one thing, but putting a six year old through that, and not to mention unnecessarily wasting thousands of dollars worth of emergency services time and resources takes it to an entirely different level.
Written by Gemma Carey, Bluewood Training Ltd
The BNP have been hitting the headlines a lot this week, which if that was their main aim, it has been a success. However, the news yesterday told us that the BNP has compared UK Generals to Nazi War criminals. An unusual way to win over the voters you might think?
The controversy started when a number of former UK Generals and senior staff (including Major-General Sir Patrick Cordingley, former Chief of Defence Staff Lord Guthrie and two other former army chiefs, Generals Sir Mike Jackson and Sir Richard Dannatt) put their names to a letter in which they:
“call on all those who seek to hijack the good name of Britain’s military for their own advantage to cease and desist…The values of these extremists – many of whom are essentially racist – are fundamentally at odds with the values of the modern British military, such as tolerance and fairness.”
This letter was in response to a number of things (or so it’s generally believed), including the BNP’s use of various WW2 ‘British’ images (Winston Churchill and the Spitfire fighter plane for example) and slogans such as ‘Battle for Britain’. The letter, which did not actually, specifically name the BNP, was not well received by BNP leader Nick Griffin, who went on the offensive. He stated on the BNP website that: “At Nuremberg, they hanged the politicians and generals for war crimes”. He goes on to hit back at the military figures that had signed up to the letter and suggested they should be treated like Nazi war criminals. Nick Griffin has also claimed that Winston Churchill would join his party if he was still alive and that his party was the most widely supported among rank-and-file soldiers. Even if these outlandish claims are taken with a pinch of salt we have to wonder who, if anyone has been advising the BNP on their communications?
There have been a number of people lately who’ve attacked others by comparing them with Nazi war criminals, or in the case of Ken Livingstone, a few years ago, accusing someone of being like a concentration camp guard. The word of advice, unsurprisingly, from a media training company is to steer clear of this kind of accusation! It is unlikely to do you much good in the long run (even Ken Livingstone would agree with this). So was the statement just ‘a little bit of dark black humour’ as Nick Griffin stated later on in the day? I think instead it was a bit of back peddling, once the BNP realised they didn’t want to upset (any further) quite such an illustrious list of military figures… and the supporters they most likely have.
What this is doing, for good or bad, is getting the BNP on top of the media agenda, and their appearance on BBC’s Question Time tomorrow night will do this again, but are we starting to see what they really have to offer as a political party now? It would seem that support for them has not been forthcoming in the last week or so, and if the BNP are throwing around such random and strange statements as the above, it’s difficult to say they are doing anything other than grasping at straws to get some media attention.
We will have to watch Question Time to find out if there is anymore to their policies than this but all in all, it doesn’t look like they will stand up well against those rather more ‘popular’ political parties.
Written by Will Edwards – www.bluewoodtraining.com – October 2009.
The political conferences this year were, once again, filled with many gags, gaffes and delights (at least for those looking at them from a communications perspective!).
One of the many clips to come out of the Labour party conference was this interview between Sky News journalist Adam Boulton and Prime Minister Gordon Brown. See it here on YouTube:
Never has there been a clearer example of how an interviewer and interviewee can have very different agendas to communicate via the media.
As you would expect from a politician under fire; Brown makes a not so subtle effort to bridge away from Boulton’s questions but he rarely makes a decent effort to actually acknowledge it (our media trainees will remember Acknowledge the question, Bridge to your message, Communicate your message). This makes him look defensive and makes it very clear to the audience that he wants to avoid the journalist’s agenda altogether.
Brown had been having a fairly tough time of it, The Sun had just dumped them in favour of the Tories and Boulton wouldn’t take the ‘hint’ that he just didn’t want to make a decision on the ‘Leaders’ Debate’ that Sky News have been pushing so hard to bring about. It also doesn’t help that Brown calls Boulton a ‘political propagandist’, when the journalist is simply trying to push the same question again (although admittedly it’s in the interest of Sky News that the debate goes ahead, at the very least for the ratings).
So we see a rather struggling PM, not very elegantly, ducking and diving the questions being fired at him and relying on his ‘I have a job to do and that’s the job I’m going to get on with’ answer to all tricky questions. In his defence, Brown doesn’t have the public speaking skills of an Obama or the interview skills of a Hague but we know this, and some may even find his clumsy way down to earth and perhaps endearing. What we cannot forgive is what happens at the end of the interview; Boulton asks the same question one last time, gets the same non-answer from Brown and does a fairly polite and chirpy ‘…back to the studio’ style sign-off. Then Brown leaps out of his seat, still with the clip-on mike attached, and starts to charge off. Boulton tries to point out, politely, that he needs to stay on site, and Brown gruffly announces that he won’t. And so the PM stomps off, dragging the recording equipment with him, in what can only be described as a big strop!
Everyone is entitled to get annoyed with a journalist, and everyone is entitled to lose their temper when under pressure, however, if you’ve been a government minister for over 12 years, you should have probably learnt to keep your cool in front of the media. Furthermore, as we say in all our broadcast media training sessions, never leave your seat until your mike has been removed, and in this case, you should probably make sure the cameras are off before making a spectacle of yourself at the end of an interview!
Written by Will Edwards – www.bluewoodtraining.com – October 2009.
The Daily Mail has stirred up a huge amount of controversy this week after Jan Moir published her article titled ‘Why there was nothing ‘natural’ about Stephen Gately’s death‘.
Within a very short space of time this had caused a number of websites to strain under the amount of hits they received. Twitter, the BBC and the press complaints sites all shook and shuddered as people vented their rage over what the Mail had printed. The column was declared idiotic, blockheaded (by Charlie Brooker), and by many people, homophobic.
At this stage the comments people are making tend to be focussed on the journalist in question and perhaps a few have been levelled at what is being said is the Mail’s ‘agenda’.
Social media, and particularly Twitter have caused many, many issues to be looked at again, or looked into, by the authorities or just caused a new or different stance by an organisation. Some time back it was a group set-up on Facebook that prompted Cadbury’s to bring back the much loved and missed Whispa bar and in the last week we have seen the Trafigura case and the corresponding call for free speech ‘championed’ by Twitter and (Private Eye, always seemingly keen to stir things up!) many other online portals. The Trafigura case could not be talked about in the papers because of their lawyer’s heavy injunction, but no such injunction could stop comments on Twitter or Facebook, or a hundred and one different blogs.
The latest social media ‘campaign’ against the Daily Mail article has already been labelled as an orchestrated liberal plot but surely the width and depth of anger we are seeing implies that no single entity (not even someone with the Twitter following of Stephen Fry(!) could plan this kind of outpouring of feeling.
The protest against the article has caused some of the Mail’s advertisers (alongside that article at least) to pull their ads and it has surely caused long-term headaches for those at the paper. Some of the article does make you surprised the editor allowed it to get into print and while the Mail is no stranger to controversy, surely they must have had an inkling that to write an article like this, the day before such a well-loved individual was buried, would cause a good deal of angry response. Now, of course papers are written to get sold and this latest controversy has certainly drawn attention to their brand but was this too high a price? And has this done the Mail more harm than good?
The power of social media cannot be denied and it seems unlikely that the Mail would have expected this kind of tirade from the public. So the lesson to be learnt is perhaps this; if you write an article, or indeed even post a blog, in this day and age that piece of news can be read and transmitted many times over, furthermore it will never go away, as some server somewhere will always have a stored copy. As we say in our media training courses; there is no ‘off the record’ and so if you don’t want to see what you say in an interview, put in print, then don’t say it to a journalist. This situation is a little different as it’s the journalist who may be regretting writing something that has now created such an unstoppable tirade towards them and their paper.
Written by Will Edwards – www.bluewoodtraining.co.uk – October 2009.
In less than 24 hours there have been seemingly dozens of Labour ministers and supporters telling us that The Sun’s campaign to back the Tories in the next election doesn’t matter. To use a cliche ‘he doth protest too much’, if you really don’t think something matters, then it’s fine to say so, but then you move on to communicate your message and try to get past the negative coverage you received.
The problem is that Labour are the ones who keep reminding us that the newspaper with the biggest circulation in the country has just backed the opposition. They should probably know better than to give the Tories free publicity. Anyway you can watch someone tearing up a newspaper here on the bbc site!
Someone choosing his words very carefully this week is Airbus’ Chief Commercial Officer, John Leahy.
Panorama reportedly sent a journalist along to a press conference that the aircraft manufacturer were hosting this week “with the sole purpose, it seemed, of extracting disobliging remarks about the Irish motormouth and his airline” according to the Times’ City Diary, referring, of course, to Ryanair’s Michael O’Leary.
The Panorama journo was clearly out to provoke, questioning Leahy incessantly about reported run-ins with O’Leary. But to his credit, when asked whether it true that Ryanair had agreed, and then walked away from an order, Leahy carefully replied, “yes, but that’s business”. Then, when it was suggested that Airbus would not be accepting any more orders from Ryanair, Leahy refused to be drawn on the subject, nipping things in the bud by telling the reporting not to put words into his mouth.
Although he had to concede that Michael O’Leary “plays hardball”, I think it’s fair to say that Leahy did well under such provocative questioning. I wonder if Michael O’Leary would have faired so well had he been in that line of questioning…
There was a brilliant story in the news a few days ago regarding a ‘Jedi’ in Bangor, Wales, who was asked by staff in his local Tesco store to either remove his hood or leave the store. He claimed that the hood was part of his religion and as such he was being persecuted by being asked to take it off. As a result he is seeking legal advice and planning to boycott that store.
As if this wasn’t enough of a story (although we acknowledge he says he claims staff were rude and of course discrimination should never be laughed at), the response by Tesco’s spokesperson was sheer genius: “He hasn’t been banned. Jedis are very welcome to shop in our stores although we would ask them to remove their hoods. Obi-Wan Kenobi, Yoda and Luke Skywalker all appeared hoodless without ever going over to the Dark Side and we are only aware of the Emperor as one who never removed his hood. If Jedi walk around our stores with their hoods on, they’ll miss lots of special offers.”
We suspect that this member of the press office might be a (not so) secret Stars War fan as well!