World Vision, a popular Christian charity organization, has announced today that it will reverse its decision to hire individuals who are in same sex unions. The decision comes barely two-days after the organization received a myriad of complaints according to the Associated Press. Despite its best intentions World Vision created a communication crisis.
In examining the response to the complaints, it appears as though the organization employed a vocal commiseration strategy. This strategy included releasing an apology letter from the World Vision U.S. board of directors. The letter addressed that the board regretted its decision, acknowledged it made a mistake, and asked for forgiveness.
This strategy does have its advantages, admitting regret and issuing an apology can help temper “public hostility”. In a crisis management situation, the goal of any response is to repair the organization’s image and reputation.
However, simply issuing an apology does not automatically repair the damage. It is often not possible to completely repair an organization’s image with all its publics or stakeholders. World Vision will have to identify all the relevant publics and decide which publics are the most important.
Additionally, World Vision will have to decide if they will pursue any corrective action. This action might be implementing policy that will prevent this situation from occurring in the future. Corrective action reinforces the organizations commitment to its values and mission.
It remains unclear as to why an organization with such a large evangelical public would establish such a controversial policy. This calls into question the organization’s familiarity with its publics. Public relations is built around establishing and maintaining positive relations. Perhaps World Vision will remember this fundamental principle in the future.
We love the idea of privacy. In the era of big data it is comforting to believe that there is a communication channel that will allow us to securely send and receive sensitive data. This idea has fueled a number of developers to create mobile apps that promise anonymity.
Readers are well associated with with the popular picture sharing app, Snapchat. Snapchat is a mobile app that allows users to share photos or short videos. After the picture or video has been received it automatically self-destructs in a matter of seconds.
While Snapchat has been a huge hit in among teenagers and young adults, a new startup, Confide, is creating a “Snapchat” for professionals.
Confide differs from Snapchat as it allows users to send text messages. In addition, it applies end-to-end encryption and promises that messages are never stored on their servers.
Although this is an intriguing product, lets examine why Confide and other “anonymous” apps are far from secure or anonymous.
Confide’s Security Features
Confide offers several “unique” security features to deter receivers from taking screen shots. It sends an alert to both parties if someone attempts a screen shot and each line of text is concealed until you swipe your finger over the line. Although these are interesting features, an alert might not be received if you do not have a cellphone signal.
In addition, the swipe feature does not keep someone from recording the message with another device. Users can feel slightly securer knowing that the company uses end-to-end encryption, however given enough time any encryption scheme can be broken. Recent reports by cryptography experts also suggest that ‘end-to-end encryption’ is quickly becoming a pointless security feature.
The Promise of Anonymity
Hopefully, the above rundown has given you a slight pause about using an encryption app. I would like to take a moment to review the general myth behind these types of apps. These apps promise you a sense of privacy and anonymity. I think these myths are believed due to a general lack of knowledge about how technology and the Internet works.
The idea of anonymity goes against a primary rule of using the Internet. Everything you post or send online is public. When you send something through the Internet it goes through a number of servers and locations. Copies are created and information is saved. Even if the private sector is not storing your data you have no idea which governmental agencies are saving your data for future analysis.
Who’s Collecting Information?
Once again I question whether the general public realizes an exchange is taking place. You are buying the “free app” with your personal information. For example, a very popular Android flashlight app is under investigation by the FTC for transmitting users’ precise location and device identifier to other companies.
What this means for PR
The idea that technology (specifically the Internet) provides a secure and private means of transmitting confidential information is a myth. As public relations professionals we should realize the potential damages and ethical issues surrounding the use of these types of “anonymous” communication apps.
We should undertake an advocacy role in explaining the weaknesses of these apps to our various stakeholders and administrators. In fact, like social media, it might be necessary to address these types of technologies in our digital communication policies. Do you use an encryption app? If so I would like to hear your comments and thoughts on this topic.
It is no secret that Google and Apple have historically established unethically sound agreements not to poach each other’s employees. Back in 2010 theses agreements even garnered attention from the U.S. Department of Justice.
The incident, however appears to be more extensive. Pando’s Mark Ames has released a new batch of emails from a number of high-ranking Google and Apple administrators. The emails suggest that a number companies (including Google, Apple, Intel, Dell, Microsoft, and Oracle) were attempting to fix employment in the technology industry.
There is little doubt that this story will gain significant media attention in the weeks to follow. However, Pando states that a number of companies highlighted in the article (AMD, AOL, Cingular/AT&T, Dell, Microsoft, Google, Apple, etc.) either declined to comment on the story or have not responded to inquires.
This lack of response offers an unfortunate opportunity to discuss the negative impact of offering “no comment” in a crisis situation.
Undoubtedly this is a major crisis communication situation. I am sure that all the organizations involved are evaluating the most effective response, but the story explicitly identified those organizations that did and did not comment. By simply identifying these organizations the story is indirectly stating which organizations are more open to the media and the public.
Declining to comment or stating “no comment” is rarely a good strategy in a crisis situation. However, it is commonly the result of diverging perspectives between legal council and public relations. Public relation practitioners in an advisory role often recommend early and open responses to a crisis situation.
If an organization does undertake the “no comment” defense, it is frequently perceived as hiding something. It damages an organization’s reputation and alienates both the media and the public.
On the other hand, an organization can decide to undertake “strategic silence”. Engaging in strategic silence can often decrease the life span of a crisis and/or provide the organization with extra time to construct an appropriate response.
A strategic silence relies heavily on the assumption that the media and stakeholders perceive the silence as positive. If facts are unknown or the safety of individuals is at risk the public may be more willing to accept the silence. For example, a number of organizations are adopting the strategic silence strategy with the Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 crisis.
The organization will also have to rely on its social capital and reputation to orchestra this strategy. A good public image, positive reputation and excellent media relations will greatly asset an organization in instigating a strategic silence strategy.
Finally, a strategic silence does not mean no communication (i.e., no comment). Instead the organization needs to issue a public statement as to why it will address the issue publicly in the future.
Things to Come
It will be interesting to see how this situation unfolds in the weeks to come. The companies who initially issued a “no comment” defense may quickly adopt the strategic silence strategy and issue a follow-up response.
The Address Book 1.0
Everyone uses an address book. It’s a valuable cache of essential contact information that helps us connect to our family, friends, and colleagues. While we rely on address books everyday, our standard Web 1.0 address book apps (think Apple Address Book and Microsoft Outlook) are bulky, and unintuitive.
The primary downside to these address books? You must manually enter and update information for each contact. What happens when a contact changes phone numbers, Facebook profiles, or Twitter names? You are left with no option but to engage in time-consuming Internet searches. What is the Solution?
Atmospheir: The Smart Address Book
Enter the smart address book. Smart address books have the potential of changing the way we manage our personal and professional relationships. These address books are designed with the Web. 3.0 in mind and have the ability to “pull” in information from a number of different media platforms, including social network sites, automatically updating information about your contacts.
A number of apps (Smartr Contacts, and Addappt) have attempted to integrate social media and standard contact information, however, none have captured the public’s attention and have seen wide spread adoption.
A new app, Atmospheir, may completely break through this adoption barrier. Atmospheir is essentially a smart address book with a focus on relationship management through social media. “…it is the first application that aims to address all stages of the contact management life cycle: creation, storage, expansion and retention,” said CEO Matt Crumrine,
Atmospheir has several interesting features that meet the needs of Web 3.0 users including perpetual updates, varying access modes, privacy and location specific tools. These tools make your current address book look like a rolodex.
New Tech, New Issues
While the primary advantage of smart address books is the ability to receive perpetual updates and connect all your media platforms, it is also the downside. A major element of relationship management is the ability to control the flow of information. For example, you might want to share your Facebook profile with friends, but do not want potential employers to have access. The winner of the smart address book wars will be the app that can balance the privacy vs. access issue.
With the advantages offered by smart address books it might be time for those Web 1.0 address books to rest in peace. Will Atmospheir be the winner? Only time will tell.
Monday, Air New Zealand landed a Boeing 777-300 aircraft with 54-meter (177-foot) images of the dragon from Peter Jackson’s Hobbit Trilogy. This event was an excellent example of a public relations pseudo-event.
The event revolved around revealing the image of the new Hobbit dragon, Smaug. This is the first time that fans had the opportunity to see Peter Jackson’s interpretation of the dragon from J.R.R. Tolkien’s book, The Hobbit. Trailers for the movie only revealed the dragon’s eye, leaving the rest to the imagination.
The company behind the event, Admark, teamed up with Air New Zealand to install the decal on a Boeing 777-300 aircraft. Representatives from the airlines noted that the image will remain on the airplane until the third movie premiers in 2014.
Is the image a simple “flying billboard”? No, it’s a pseudo-event, a pre-planned event to capture public/media attention. Daniel Boorstin in his book The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America defines a pseudo-event as: (1) not spontaneous, it has been planned in advance (2) constructed for the purpose of fostering media attention (3) not dependent on real events or a situation (4) is a self-fulfilling prophecy (if the event is designed to be positive, it will be perceived as positive).
Does the Air New Zealand’s event fit Boorstin’s definition? Absolutely. The event was planned, well in advance, designed to capture public attention, based on a fictional work, and it established a self-fulfilling prophecy, to complete the story gap left by the trailer, revealing the Smaug’s eye.
Boorstin (2012) also notes that the public thinks in images more than ideals. The image of a flying dragon in the book or on film is abstract, fictional, and obscure. However the image created larger than life on a Boeing 777-300 is concrete, believable, and vivid. The event also helps blend the fictional and real world, transferring a Middle Earth quality to the airline.
In the past the tourism board of New Zealand has capitalized on the film series and launched a public relations campaign, New Zealand – Home of Middle Earth. This pseudo-event fits well into this campaign. If you are planning on traveling to New Zealand, home of Middle Earth, why not fly on a dragon?
Was the pseudo-event successful? A quick news search revealed over 200 print news and over 500 online news mentions. Concerning social media just examine Air New Zealand’s USA Facebook page, they have prominently featured the event and the posts have received numerous “Likes”, comments and shares.
When planning pseudo-events, you must think creatively and larger than life. What is more creative than a flying dragon?
Wikipedia has just publicly named a Texas-based “public relations” firm, Wiki-PR, for whitewashing a number of entries on their webpage. Specifically, Wikipedia accused the organization for “sock puppetry” or creating false user identifies to “praise, defend, or support a person or organization.” (Wikipedia). This story is receiving significant attention from several media outlets (i.e., Verge, Los Angles Times, Wikipedia), but some of the news coverage is framing the company as a public relations firm, not a Wikipedia consulting firm.
This story raises an excellent question, what should a company look for in a public relations or social media consulting firm?
The best place to start is to review a commonly accepted definition of public relations. PR is not simply the distribution of a news release or the creation of a social media pages; instead it is a “Strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.” (PRSA). In the Wiki-PR case, Wikipedia is a public that can be both influenced by outside sources (i.e., your company) and influence your stakeholders (i.e., potential customers). Engaging in “sock puppetry” does not build a mutually beneficial relationship between your company and Wikipedia, the firm representing you, and other publics.
A public relations firm should have an “about us” page or other relevant information that demonstrates they understand the role of public relations in creating and maintaining mutually beneficial relationships. For example, Edelman, one of the top public relations firms in the world, has an extensive “about us” page that presents its values and understanding of public relations. When searching for a PR consulting firm, make sure that you can review the firm’s values and approach to public relations.
A public relations firm becomes an ethical advocate for a company or organization. In turn, ethical practices are critical in fairly representing your company to the public. A PR firm should have a statement or clear description of ethical values. PR practitioners are often members of the Public Relation Society of America (PRSA). The PRSA is the largest public relations organization in the world and places significant emphasis on educating its members about ethical standards. Over the years, PRSA has established a Code of Ethics that helps practitioners and firms navigate ethical dilemmas. Compare a firm’s values to the PRSA Code of Ethics. This comparison should give you a good idea of whether a firm places enough emphasis on ethics.
Another sign of a reputable PR firm are employees who hold Accredited in Public Relations (APR) credentials. APR is an industry recognized standard established by the PRSA in 1964 and evaluates a practitioner’s understanding of a number of important aspects of public relations, including ethical practices. A quick Google search or inquiry to a firm can confirm if an individual holds an APR.
Just a Name
Would you judge a book by its cover? When looking for public relations firm you must be very selective. You are not simply selecting someone to write a media release, but someone who will be publically advocating for your company. A little bit of research goes a long way to preventing a crisis situation, (think Wiki-PR and Wikipedia). Go beyond the aesthetics of a website and review a firm’s concept of public relations and ethical values. A great PR firm will be more than willing to share with you their strategies and tactics for achieving your campaign goals