Social Media & Public Relations. A 21st century love affair?

Social Media and Public Relations are without a doubt, inextricably linked in 2016. There are few international brands which do not possess some sort of social media presence. The more savvy of these, will have been using it with some skill for a few years now. But do these brands use social media for their Public Relations for their own benefit, or of simple necessity.

Social media allows a brand to communicate instantly with it’s audience without the need to go through newspapers or advertisements. Equally, it allows a customer to lodge a very public complaint and within seconds a representative on the receiving end may see it, and respond. The use of twitter has become commonplace when complaining about maybe a train delay, a flight cancellation or a product malfunction. Whilst these conversations will be public only for the opening salvos of the conversation, this public sphere forces the company to respond in some manner satisfactory to the accuser.

An interesting exchange above, note how the PR doesn’t open the compensation floodgates.

These efforts to answer public inquiries are the price a brand has to pay in order to gain instant access to its stakeholders and is something that is not optional. A company which uses social media to communicate to, but not with, stakeholders will find that complaints made may snowball and badly tarnish a businesses reputation.

Valentini highlights a keen observation in the development of Public Relations alongside social media. Valentini has observed that as brands have attempted to appear more transparent the opposite effect has instead spawned. Consumers have become increasingly skeptical of organisations whilst becoming steadily more concerned regarding the use of private information online. This will result in consumers seeing and understanding the hidden messages promoted by brands. In short, this instant access to brands has led consumers to become resistant to the thinly veiled efforts made by brands to accommodate consumers.

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Conversely of course, Allagui points out that efforts on social media continue to generate massive attention. A common example is the 360i  Oreo’s ‘You can still dunk in the dark’ which managed to gain 5x more impressions than the amount of people who viewed the Superbowl itself. This is one of many campaign pieces which have garnered media attention and audience engagement with minimal effort.

Whilst PR and social media have become nearly inseparable, problems do seem to lie in whether or not the effort made actually makes any meaningful difference towards a company’s public relations. Yes impressions are made, but whether or not consumers have become resistant to the underlying goal of these messages is in dispute and this conundrum may continue to be such for some time.

Can the internet be suppressed? Celebrity Threesome injunction.

 

truth-lies

This time, something a little different. In the digital age, it is generally believed that no story can be withheld from the cruel grasp of the internet, and that is generally quite true. Or so recent events would tell us. The celebrity hacking scandal stood little chance. Hundreds of private and personal celebrity photos (some of them very personal so reports say) were leaked by an anonymous hacker, or hackers. None of these images appeared on mainstream media, even smaller blogs that showed them found themselves approached by legal representatives. But still these images survived. But before we discuss the title case, we must realise, why they are still easily findable on the internet. Search engines. Whether or not they blocked these images at the time, I do not know. Certainly there is no attempt to do so now. The images can be found with incredibly minimal effort, that is because the search engines allow us to look.

This celebrity threesome scandal though? Google the phrase “celebrity threesome scandal” and at the time of writing, you will find no names. Not only do the mainstream media outlets follow the court ruling and continue to withhold these names but Google, Bing and all the popular search engines are actually blocking whichever websites publish these names. If you think outside the box, you might find something, even then however it is unverified if you look from within the UK.

This is a crucial reminder, that the internet is not as free as we may like to think. Here in Britain there is the soon to be passed into law, snoopers charter, which will allow enforcement agencies to view all emails and social media. Facebook censure how many people see posts if one doesn’t pay to promote them. Google, Bing etc will simply make any results disappear.

The belief that the internet is unsuppressable is swiftly fading, this is clear to all to see.

Cameron, clueless or clued up? Follow up.

Well well, it seems this Panama Papers scandal has really gone badly for DC. His handling of the revelations regarding his fathers holdings (from a PR perspective) have been truly farcical. Anyway, this is just a short follow up to my previous post.

My conclusion to my previous post was that Cameron was Clueless, not Clued up. And in the wake of his declaration of owning £30,000 worth of assets in Blairemore holdings I feel I should clarify my current position.

David Cameron hails from a family with a strong history of stock broking, that he should invest at some point is no surprise to anyone. Anyone who has investments is likely to know exactly where all their money is invested, it can be quite a complicated process. It really isn’t unthinkable that DC might have forgotten where investments he sold six years ago had been invested because the Blairemore investments were probably not all he had invested, and quite frankly just because he is the Prime Minister it’s not necessarily any of our business where he put his money a decade ago as long as he cashed in his chips before becoming the top dog.

So I stand by my Clueless conviction. If Cameron had actually realised where a past investment had specifically been he’d say so. Oh and a final point, he’s done nothing illegal. To invest in USD Shares they need to be in a USD region, you cannot invest in US stocks directly from the UK, hence if you want to do so, you need to move that cash offshore.

 

Right, until the next scandal.

Cameron. Clueless or Clued up?

abczmg2onby3vwg5cr2jae0cbnd2tktyWell I’ve decided to make ‘Clueless or Clued up?’ an actual feature of this blog. Each week I will pick one notable public figure or celebrity and analyse whether or not they were Clueless or Clued up.

David Cameron, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain. In the past few days it has emerged that one of the worlds largest and most secretive law firms, Mossack Fonseca, has been helping the extremely wealthy to avoid tax. Tax avoidance itself is not illegal, it is however, to put it very lightly, frowned upon. An unknown whistleblower leaked millions (11.5 million to be exact/2.6TB of data) of confidential documents from Mossack Fonseca in what has been called the biggest data leak in history. Hundreds have been vindicated by the documents, just hours ago the Prime Minister of Iceland resigned over his own personal controversy. The Presidents of Argentina & Ukraine, the Prime Minister of Iceland (since resigned), Pakistan and a former PM of Qatar. The King of Saudi Arabia, a former emir of Qatar as well as high ranking FIFA officials and Lionel Messi. And those are just the most notable clients, close friends of Vladimir Putin and the families of Chinese officials are also on the list.

What does David Cameron have to do with this? Cameron’s father Ian, who passed away in 2010, was a director of Blairmore holdings. An investment fund previously based in the Bahamas which at one point held up to $100,000,000 of which, the Guardian claims didn’t pay a single penny of tax in 30 years. Now of course it is based in Ireland is is privy to European financial laws.

So the question at hand? Just how clued up was DC regarding this fund?

The Guardian seem to have led the way in attacks against the PM and are quite insistent upon his guilt. However, lets begin with an official statement on the controversy.

A No 10 spokesperson said: “To be clear, the Prime Minister, his wife and their children do not benefit from any offshore funds.   “The Prime Minister owns no shares.   “As has been previously reported, Mrs Cameron owns a small number of shares connected to her father’s land, which she declares on her tax return.”

The issue has been raised that nobody has clarified whether Cameron benefited from this in the past or will in the future, I feel however that this is a fundamentally unfair position to take, if the PM did/will benefit could be unclear even to him given that it was his father who owned the shares. Of course, the money within had to go somewhere. It is not unlikely that the Prime Ministers older brother Alexander (who inherited a larger proportion of the estate than his brother) is more privy to this sensitive information given his (legal) profession.

However, what is more surprising than a politician having his hands in too many pockets is how badly that politician dealt with it. Throughout his career, David Cameron has shown an acute skill when handling PR and he has been helped by the skillful Sir Lynton Crosby. On this occasion however, he bungled the whole affair. Beginning with incredibly evasive “In terms of my own financial affairs, I own no shares…)” and this was followed up by more and more statements that were neither here nor there until finally he pursued the only option available to him which was to publish his surprisingly innocent tax return.

My personal presumption is that the Prime Minister believed the whole thing would simply blow over, which, thanks to his evasive statements it did not, it is understandable of course that he did not wish to besmirch his late fathers name.

It is easy of course to say that if I had been in his position I would have published my tax returns straight away. But put yourself in David Cameron’s shoes. He is the PM of one of the busiest, most powerful countries in the world. Yet, he is expected to remember details of long sold investments as well as every aspect of the countries foreign, fiscal, internal policies and more. He was never going to be able to publish an accurate statement straight away and so I agree that it was wise to delay doing so. It was a difficult decision, it will have taken his accountants time to trawl through dozens of documents trying to ascertain whether or not he had something to actually fear from the Panama Papers fallout. To say that was happening would also have elicited shouts of scandals and cover ups. All David Cameron could realistically have done, is choose his words more carefully. In an age where answers must be instant, he could not provide one without risking falsifying that answer. He was somewhat foolish, but he has survived a scandal that would have crushed lesser politicians.

I personally find it extremely unlikely that Cameron had no knowledge of the fund and I am sure he will have benefited in some secondary form from his fathers wealth. I do however feel that given the Prime Ministers long term political ambitions that his family would have been wise enough to keep him from such nefarious activities.

To finish up, there is simply not enough information available to come to a definitive conclusion. However, I simply do not believe David Cameron is not clever enough to have buried this information if that had been within his power.

Clueless-ish.

Sharapova, clueless or clued up?

Maria Sharapova

In the news today it emerged that Tennis champion Maria Sharapova had been found guilty of taking a substance banned by the ITF (International Tennis Federation) during this years Australian Open. In the wake of massive doping scandals such as Lance Armstrong, the Russian doping scandal during the 2012 Olympics and more recent allegations against the Kenyan running team allegations for doping are taken much more seriously.

Maria Sharapova however is a different case entirely. Sharapova had been consuming meldonium since 2006 (two years after winning Wimbledon) for “health reasons” but it was only banned months ago. Sharapova claims she did not read the memorandum highlighting its outlawing and so was ignorant of this change. This mistake could cost her her career. Already Tag Heuer have cut all ties with the pro, Nike have immediately suspended their contract with her and she will be provisionally suspended from professional tennis on the 12th March.

One thing stands out as odd, Maria is doubtlessly surrounded by an army of coaches, aides and publicists. Yet none of them checked this new list of banned substances. Though I don’t overly doubt Sharapovas innocence, it is a stretch of the imagination to suppose that not one of her support team knew about this. The drug itself increases blood flow to muscle tissue effectively increasing exercise capacity. The Guardian reported that in 2015 17% of Russian athletes were using this medicine. The drug is primarily used to combat ischaemia but Sharapova was using it supposedly to combat a magnesium deficiency. My personal conclusion is that she did use it being fully aware of the advantage is provided her, what puzzles me is that if 17% of Russian athletes had to immediately cease using the substance how word could not have reached Sharapova of this change. It is likely we will never know for sure whether or not this whole debacle is truly down to ignorance.

I would however like to comment on her own announcement of this(monumental) slip-up. Doping has destroyed the careers of multiple athletes, usually it is given the image of something done seedily in the shadows. Sharapova has done all she can do at this point, damage limitation. By hosting a press conference and confessing her sins before the media can accuse her of all sorts of nefarious deeds she has taken the bull by the horns. She has done what she can to make the story favourable and give herself a chance at saving her career. In 4 years (the usual doping ban length) Sharapova will be almost 33 and could struggle to make an effective comeback. Sharapova is not Serena Williams (World number 1). Serena has beaten Maria 19 out of 21 times they have played. Whilst Maria clearly has a clever publicist, you can’t get blood out of a stone.