Saturday, October 29, 2016

Biggest Challenge to Social Media Marketing - Being Politically Correct

One of the biggest challenges to social media marketing is being politically correct. As your organization's social media presence grows, so too does the variety of people within your social media network. The non-geographical nature of social media also complicates matters as people from anywhere in the world can also be a member of your network.
 
The recent uproar over Facebook's use of Halloween themed emoji is a case in point. Halloween is a major event in the lives of Americans and it is a tradition that has been practiced for literally centuries. Being a US based company, it is therefore natural for Facebook to get into the spirit by doing something related.
 
Unfortunately, Facebook's Halloween emojis have been attacked as being inappropriate and culturally insensitive. Some of those offended by the emojis have asked Facebook to remove them. While we do agree that, to some, the emojis may be seen as insensitive, we however also think that this group is the minority. To impose their will on Facebook based on their individual perception is thus inappropriate.
 
We believe that Facebook should not remove their Halloween emojis based on these few complaints. Given Facebook's ubiquity, to give in to the pressures of a few at the expense of the majority, will prevent Facebook from ever doing anything new. This is because in anything you do, there will always be some that see the negative in it.
 
As a business owner, or manager of your organization's social media platforms, you will inevitably face challenges to what you do online. At CW Fong & Associates, we believe that this is something that is impossible to avoid especially when your fan base grows and grows internationally. What we suggest is that you exercise discretion and good taste in what you do, and base the measure of "political correctness" on where your business operates. Thus, if it is politically correct for Singapore, it does not matter if someone in Malaysia is unhappy.
 
politically correct biggest social media challenge
 
 

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

[Digital Strategy Consultants] Real vs Chauffer Knowledge

We recently pitched for the digital strategy retainer for an Internet Start-Up. During the meeting with the Director of Strategy, the Director was explaining that his company was now in the land grab phase of the business and that he needed us to drive awareness and sign-ups. For those that have not heard the term, land grabbing is when a tech start-up tries to sign-up as many users as possible so as to become the dominant player in the market.

Like many start-ups, this start-up was also using cash incentives to drive this growth in users. Noticing a lack of loyalty amongst users and the low barriers to switching applications, we asked the Director what mechanism were they using to “lock-in” the sign-ups. Stunned, he babbled on about how they were using the sign-ups to build a data-base which they would then exploit for cross-selling and up-selling in future.

We share this story as it clearly highlights the issue of real versus chauffer knowledge. Many times our clients (and even us) overestimate their abilities and just because they read about a strategy, they think they know how it works. The reality is that they
don’t. Truth be told, the concept behind land grabbing is not just about the number of sign-ups, it is about building a profitable and loyal user base.

While we applaud the Director of Strategy and his partners for their entrepreneurial spirit, we think that they have chauffer knowledge when it comes to building a successful tech start-up. The start-up needs to quickly identify their ‘circle of competence’ and work within it. For those that fall beyond the circle, they should be humble enough to say they don’t know and hire professionals with the real knowledge.

The same rule applies when selecting a consulting firm to assist you in your digital strategy. Not all that talk a good game know what they are doing. Knowing OF a strategy and knowing THE strategy are fundamentally different.

Friday, October 14, 2016

[Crisis Communications] What You Should Consider When Hiring a Crisis Communications Consultant?

What Should Companies Look for When Hiring a Crisis Communication Consultant?

In an exclusive interview with Talking Singapore, CW Fong & Associates’ Principal Consultant explained that in a crisis, knowing what to do is only half the solution. The other half, and an equally important half, is the ability to effectively intervene at the start of a crisis. This is because the ubiquity and speed of social media has altered the information environment such that early sentiments will shape the trajectory of online comments.

Unfortunately, the majority of crisis communication firms in Singapore focus only on the know-how and do not possess any ability to intervene. In most instances, the consultant will rely exclusively on access to the main stream media to communicate with stakeholders. This, as we all know, is ineffective in the era of social media as the media cycle is slow. Additionally, there is also no guarantee that the reporter will see the issue your way and his or her reporting may add oil to the fire.

It is precisely because of the need to have the ability to intervene in a crisis that CW Fong & Associates directly owns and manages several key Singapore-based social media platforms. Having full control over what is said, and with a combined reach to over 250,000 Singaporeans, CW Fong & Associates in the only crisis communications firm in Singapore that can help our clients with online intervention during a crisis. In the same time that other firms spend liaising with the media to get a story out, our clients can have their stories out and circulating online. Thus, CW Fong & Associates not only has the know-how, but also has the how to effectively push out a narrative when it matters the most.

Organizations looking to hire a Crisis Communications Consultant should know that know-how is no longer enough. It is imperative that they hire a consultant or firm that has the ability to intervene.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

[Crisis Communications Strategies] Always tell the truth

Trump's hot mic saga took a turn for the worse when two other women came forward to claim that Trump has touched them inappropriately. In a classic strategy of doubling down when ones reputation is attacked, Trump categorically denied that he had sexually assaulted anyone. While this is the typical action of an innocent man, it is not the wise thing to do if you are not.
 
In today's era of social media, a perfect information environment exists and lies will not remain hidden for very long. And, when the truth is revealed, the crisis of telling a lie is usually much worse than the original crisis. In this case, Trump has once again doubled down by threatening to sue The New York Times that carried the story.
 
Unfortunately, Trump has miscalculated with his threat to sue The  New York Times. This is because they have deep pockets, a legal team (who probably vetted the story) and they will not be cowed by the threat. If anything, the threat will push The New York Times to investigate the case with more vigor and this will not bode well for Trump. 
 
For Singaporeans, this will bring to mind the NKF and TT Durai incident in 2004, where the then Chief Executive Officer sued The Straits Times for an article about how he was misusing public donations. Like Trump, TT Durai had successfully used the threat of legal actions to silent his critics before. This however worked only when the threat was made against an individual who did not have deep pockets. So when TT Durai went head to head with The Straits Times, the subsequent attention and media focus brought to light his misdeeds and Durai was eventually found guilty of misleading the charitable organization and sentenced to 3 months jail.
 
The key point for communications consultants is that all crisis communications strategies need to be based on the truth. Doubling down on a weak (or in this case illegal) situation will not turn out well. In instances like this, the best strategy is to come clean - admit responsibility, apologies with sincerity and offer contrition.
 
crisis communications strategies lessons from Trump
 

Sunday, October 9, 2016

[Crisis Communications Strategies] Donald Trump's Apology that Was Not

30 days before the US Presidential Election is to take place, NBC News released a hot mic video where Donald Trump admitted using his celebrity status to approach women, "grab 'em by the p---y," and recounting an unsuccessful attempt at seducing one of the show's married co-hosts. Sensing the serious impact that the video had on his chances at the ballot box, Donald Trump made a surprising and unprecedented apology while declaring that he would not quit the race.
 
As crisis communications practitioner, two elements must be present in a mea culpa for it to be effective - sincerity and contrition. If we analyze Trump's apology these two elements are missing and his apology will at best fall on deaf ears.
 
donald trump apology

 
Sincerity. The dictionary defines sincerity to mean the absence of pretense, deceit, or hypocrisy. By claiming that he has "changed" when he continues to attack former Miss Universe Alicia Machado hints at deceit. Additionally, what makes Trump's apology less sincere is Donald's parting comment that Bill Clinton has done worse things than him. This final comment alludes to hypocrisy as it shows Trump failing to acknowledge the seriousness of his own actions and negates the original intention of the apology. In short, while Donald has literally said the words of an apology, the underlying tone contradicts it.
 
Contrition. In a crisis, people know that words are cheap and, in the case of a Presidential Election where the stakes are high, PR speak will always prevail. As such, people judge the sincerity of an apology by the contrition that is offered. Contrition is important as the public expect you to "pay" for your mistake. In this case, Trump made no offer of contrition and by ending his apology with the line "see you at the debate on Sunday" demonstrates his flippant attitude that life goes on for him. This lack of contrition further reinforces the message that Donald is not sincere in his apology.
 
Lesson Learned
 
As a PR Agency in Singapore, we always advise our clients to apologies in situations where they are wrong. We however also advise our clients that any apology must be sincere. If, for whatever reason, the client cannot apologies with sincerity, our recommendation would then be not to do so. A half-hearted or insincere apology will create a crisis of its own and the aftermath may be something that the client cannot recover from. One simply has to look at the failed apology during the Anton Casey hoo-ha back in 2014.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

The Branding and USP Nexus

Whenever we enter into a branding meeting, we always ask our client what is their company's unique selling proposition (USP). More often than not, few have a ready answer.
 
This is not surprising as we are often told that in order to succeed in business, a company must have a compelling brand. After all, branding is sexy and the business world is full of examples of successful brands. Just walk down the street or turn on the TV and you will be bombarded with advertisement after advertisement of companies like Nike, Apple, Coca-Cola and BMW to name a few. It is therefore easy to believe that if you spend money on building a brand, your business will succeed.
 
What many do not realize is that before a brand can succeed, the business must first fulfill a market need. Just as there are many companies that have succeeded based on building a strong brand, there are just as many companies that have failed despite of their strong brands. Prominent examples would be Nokia, Blockbuster Videos and Borders.
Branding is a vicious cycle. Even with social media, it takes money. So unless a business can generate sales which it can then reinvest into advertising, money will run out. At the height of the dot-com bubble, where money was “free”, businesses had monthly burn rates of tens of millions in their effort to rapidly build their brand and capture users. Unfortunately as many of them did not offer a product or service that met their customers’ needs, or had product and services very similar to each other, the revenues did not materialize. When the money ran out, the companies closed.
In all of the above examples, the missing factor that determined the company’s success or failure can be traced to the lack of, or a poor, Unique Selling Proposition (USP). The USP is what makes a company different (usually better) than its competitors. The USP is what makes the company stand out from the rest of the market and focus on differentiation is the most important strategic activity companies must constantly find and refine.
Thus, in order to develop a compelling brand, a company must first be clear on its USP.
 
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Saturday, October 1, 2016

[Crisis Communications Strategies] Change the Narrative

One of the biggest mistakes in crisis communications is to be on the defensive. Often times, when a crisis happens, the organization will automatically try to justify its position even if its position is weak. This then leads the narrative down a rabbit hole where it will be impossible for the organization to turn the negativity around.
 
Instead, what organizations should do, is to change the narrative.
 
A good example of this happened on Skyscanner's Facebook page last month. In what was clearly a tech glitch where a traveler's waiting time between flights was reflected as 413,786 hours, the traveler cheekily posted a screenshot of his flight itinerary on Skyscanner's Facebook page and asked for suggestions on what he can do during his 47-year wait. Instead of responding defensively, Skyscanner changed the narrative by saying: ""Unless you're a huge fan of The Terminal, I'd probably recommend spending those years outside of the airport, so here are a few suggestions." The manager promptly recommended checking out Thailand's Songkran festival for the next 46 years and even told him that "a cruise on the Chao Phraya river could keep [him] busy for a while."
 
skyscanner fb reply to james lloyd changing a losing narrative
 
Needless to say, netizens were so taken by the refreshing reply that the narrative has moved away from the tech glitch to how fantastic the reply was. In fact, the traveler that posted the snide remark has come off as petty and small. Additionally, Skyscanner has earned hundreds of thousands of dollars in free publicity.
 
Some crisis communication practitioners might wonder if this will work in a serious crisis. In our opinion, it will depend very much on the situation and the alternate narrative that is chosen. Even if the change of narrative does not change completely, it will at least help to balance the negative stories coming out. PR agencies in the US are very adept at this. Whenever there is shooting or mass killings, a "hero" will emerge and his or her heroics will be pushed as the alternate narrative.
 
In summary, while crisis will have a narrative of its own, as crisis communicators we are not bound to follow it. Our job, is to find and push an alternate narrative that will show our client in good light.