Holiday Tips to Protect Your Online Reputation

As we close out the year, many of us will attend office-sponsored holiday parties and fun gatherings with friends and neighbors. Risks for online problems have never been greater as 2018 was marked by a rise in people losing their jobs due to negative social media posts and all manners of online reputation problems.

A few key tips for holiday party season:

More cameras than ever

Each year, it becomes easier for holiday party misdeeds to be captured digitally. The global digital surveillance market is projected to grow by more than 9% per year, and this year Amazon bought video doorbell company Ring for a purported $1 billion. More cameras are coming.  According to Pew Research Center, more than three quarters (77%) of U.S. adults own a smartphone. That means that three out of four folks at your party have a camera – and many are not afraid to use it. So when you are thinking about having that extra glass of wine,imagine that nearly every adult can take your photo in an instant. Be on your best behavior.  And when you are at a gathering with coworkers, don’t complain – about anything.  If you are not having fun, power through it and leave early.  Don’t over-imbibe,over-stay or over-talk because bad behavior can be memorialized online. Have a good time but as I tell my college-aged daughter: “Don’t do shots.”

Speaking of politics: Don’t do it

I have this theory that our current political landscape has turned into reality TV, and the White House, Fox, CNN and all of us are complicit.  You will not hear about this from me at a holiday party. 

Discussions about politics today are an impassable minefield. Don’t talk about it at a holiday event, and avoid folks who will try to draw you in.  If you mix heavily opinionated talk with too much spiked eggnog, you open yourself up to contentious conversations which won’t help you at the office or with your neighbors. And you don’t want any of it to find its way online.

#MeToo far too complicated for a holiday gathering

Last year, I warned that the office holiday party is, more than ever, not the time to “hook up.” That’s still true. This is not the time to make your move, and always keep your hands to yourself. In the past 15 months, we have seen hundreds of high-profile cases of sexual harassment: from Harvey Weinstein to Les Moonves and many, many others. (This list from the New York Times shows the breadth of it: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/10/23/us/metoo-replacements.html).  Society is on heightened alert about sexual harassment, and a holiday party’s mix of booze and collegiality can make for a bad concoction.

In addition, discussing the #MeToo Movement is perilous.  The so-called pendulum of public opinion continues to swing on this issue, and you don’t want to be on the wrong side of it.  Avoid the topic.

Personal online posts and opinions can impact your business life

I have spoken many times about how online missteps can cost you a job, and I detailed plenty of examples in my book How to Protect (Or Destroy) Your Reputation Online (A great holiday gift.) Just last week, the Green Bay Packers fired associate head coach Winston Moss after he tweeted that star quarterback Aaron Rodgers should be held more accountable. Moss had been with the team for 13 years and while his salary isn’t published, you can bet he had a very respectable six figure annual income. 

And even if Rodgers should be held more accountable (He makes $22 million a year and the team is on a three-game losing streak, so you be the judge.), airing your personal opinions on social media about a privately held, though very public, business can get you fired.

I wish everyone a happy and fun holiday party season. Enjoy your time with family and friends, and once again: Don’t do shots.

–John

Can You Really Submit an Op-Ed Anonymously?

Can you really submit an anonymous op-ed?Events of last week struck me regarding the concept of anonymity these days.  Like everyone else, I’m curious to learn the author of the now infamous New York Times anonymous op-ed. (Analysis from Slate and the BBC is fun to read.) I will let others jump into the mud pit to wrestle over whether the author is a patriot or a coward. I’m interested in how one actually remains anonymous in the digital age.

Word is that the op-ed author approached the Times through an intermediary, and his/her identity was confirmed by the paper.  If you or I wanted to get sensitive or confidential information to an outlet like the Times, could we do it and remain anonymous?

You can go right to the media outlets for answers. The Times, Associated Press, Bloomberg, Forbes, NPR, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post and USA Today, among others, offer ways to send a confidential news tip.  SecureDrop and old-fashioned postal mail are the most common, but here are a few options:Read More

No Reputation is a Bad Reputation

no reputation is a bad reputation David PRSome businesses do well operating “under the radar.”  During my career I have met many executives who have purposely kept a low profile, avoiding publicity as they focus intently on their business and their market.  The strategy sometimes makes sense when companies face large logistical and operational challenges that supersede public relations and marketing.  Some executives also shy away from PR because they don’t want to draw the attention of potential competitors.

My experience is that this only works up to a point.

In recent weeks, I have encountered several companies that are facing significant online issues.  One is a a great company that took flying beneath the radar to new extremes.  The company has thousands of employees and multiple offices, appears to be very successful and yet has almost no online presence.

Using the old strategy of “lay low so we don’t invite competition” worked fine until the company faced-off with some nationally known competitors who used their low profile against them.  A few negative articles and blog posts threw a sure-thing contract into jeopardy.  The first information you see about the company online is negative information, and a lot of folks researching them don’t go any further. “All of a sudden,” the executives realized that no reputation actually equates to a bad reputation.

The second company suffers from a similar fate.  The owner is successful and known within the right circles around the world as a masterful businessperson.  However, like many executives, he tried to keep a low profile online, perhaps as an attempt to control his image.  Somehow, this idea of avoiding the internet as a way of controlling your image still pervades.  As in the prior example, it might work for a little while but if something bad happens – a social media misstep, a rogue blogger pops-off or a major crisis hits – then the company is in no position to respond to the negative online reputational hit.  In this example, one aggressive blogger is causing major damage.

I see similar situations when it comes to PR.  Business owners sometimes steer clear of public relations until they are ready to make a move.  I have met dozens of executives over the years who would tell me that PR is a good thing, but they will call me when they need me.  Typically, I wouldn’t hear from them until they were ready to make an acquisition, raise capital or plan for an exit.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m always open to assisting companies in transition, but today I don’t think it makes sense to wait, particularly given online reputation hazards.

Build your presence now. My usual advice, here.  Optimize your website for search results, build out company pages on main social media sites and claim your online review site listings.

Start planning for the transition earlier. Think about your communications strategy well in advance of making an announcement.  We in the PR field know how to sign non-disclosure agreements and help lay out your plan for implementation later.  Don’t wait until the last moment to organize your announcement.

Monitor and be ready to respond.  Assess your online presence and put a monitoring program in place. This can be as simple as setting Google alerts to more comprehensive media monitoring systems.

More and more, your online reputation is your overall reputation.  Many great companies, like yours, have spent years building it.  Don’t get derailed due to inaction.  No reputation is a bad reputation.

–John

5 Simple PR Tactics to Grow Your Business in 2018

5 Simple PR Tactics for 2018With the new year come new marketing goals. Many folks I speak with want to increase their name recognition and build their brand in 2018.  While a full-blown public relations campaign is a surefire bet, a number of other tactics exist to meet your goal of improved name recognition.

Originally published on Business.com.  Read more at https://www.business.com/articles/5-simple-pr-tactics/T

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PR Lessons from 2017

The past 12 months have been fascinating in the world of public relations. We have a president who communicates off-the-cuff each morning to his more than 45 million Twitter followers, and for the first time in at least eight years, most of us can name the White House Press Secretary. Communications from the White House has never been more high profile. We also learned this year that no amount of PR wizardry or spin control can save executives, even at the highest levels, who are guilty of sexual misconduct. Here are a few main PR lessons from 2017, when perception and reputation ruled the day.

Words Matter

Each day, major news networks focus part of their daily coverage on what President Trump tweeted that morning. Whether you agree or disagree with him, he is showing that he can control part of the news cycle and that words still matter. Trump’s tweets have a huge impact on how he is perceived. His word choices and tone are interpreted by both his supporters and detractors, and he often makes mistakes that cost him on the perception front. He recently “called-back” a tweet, claiming it was instead written by his lawyer. Again, it doesn’t matter what side you are on, but even in this age where visuals and short videos dominate, words still matter.Read More

Holiday Party Season Dangerous For Your Online Reputation

One should always be careful during holiday party season, when alcohol typically flows and bad decisions often follow. Whether it is office-sponsored or just a gathering among friends and neighbors, this year presents greater risks than holiday seasons past for your online reputation.

Holiday Party Season Dangerous For Your Online Reputation

Cameras, cameras everywhere

Every year, it becomes easier for holiday party misdeeds to be captured digitally. According to Pew Research Center, more than three quarters (77%) of U.S. adults own a smartphone. That means that three out of four folks at your party have a camera in close proximity – and many are not afraid to use it. For the younger crowd, smartphones are even more prevalent, as 92% of 18- to 29-year-olds have one. So when you are thinking about having that extra glass of wine, imagine that nearly every adult under the age of 30 can take your photo in an instant. Be on your best behavior, don’t order a round of shots and don’t complain, even if you think the food is lousy or the ambiance is lacking or lame.Primarily, you don’t want to start a ruckus that gets posted online.Read More

First Amendment and Social Media Don’t Mix

First Amendment and Social Media Don't MixWe feel it in our bones.  Free speech is a cornerstone of our democracy, and the First Amendment guides many of our core beliefs.  It shapes how we think as Americans and how we view ourselves compared to the rest of the world.  But guess what?  The First Amendment and social media don’t mix.

Yes, you can say practically anything online, often without legal consequence, but the First Amendment won’t protect you from losing your job, your livelihood or your reputation – and sometimes you lose all three.

Earlier this week, Hayley Geftman-Gold, a vice president and attorney for CBS, wrote on her Facebook page that she was not sympathetic to victims of the Las Vegas shooting because, she claimed, most country music fans are Republican.  She was quickly fired.

Geftman-Gold wrote: “If they wouldn’t do anything when children were murdered I have no hope that Repugs will ever do the right thing. I’m actually not even sympathetic bc country music fans often are Republican gun toters.”

Nothing illegal about her comments.  Her argument is insensitive and idiotic but well within her right to free expression as an American.  Yet even a law license and a thorough understanding of the First Amendment didn’t help her keep her job.

Last year, United Airlines Pilot Michael Folk was suspended after tweeting that Hillary Clinton should be hanged for treason.  Folk, who also serves in the West Virginia House of Delegates, let his political leanings, and some despicable word choices, directly impact his income.  Again, he has every right to say it, but his employer didn’t, and shouldn’t, allow it.

Also last year, a Miami man went on an epic rant about the election in a local coffee shop.  His disparaging words were captured on video and posted online, turning him into a viral sensation.  The self-employed man lost clients almost immediately and is still rebuilding his tattered reputation. Did he say stuff that was offensive?  Yes.  Illegal or slanderous or defamatory?  No.  Yet severe punishment was meted out by the marketplace.Read More

NextEra Energy’s FPL Unit Stakes Reputation on Sept. 17 Restoration Deadline

FPL says power will be back by Sept. 17Hurricane Irma ripped through Florida on Sunday and Monday, leaving millions of people without power.  While NextEra Energy’s FPL unit is without question working diligently to get the lights back on, it has done a lousy job of providing details or progress reports to its suffering customers.  Even though technological advances might suggest real-time updates could be found online, FPL has instead drawn an ambitious line in the sand and said that all customers in its East Coast zone (which includes the state’s largest concentration of residents in Miami and Fort Lauderdale) will have power restored by the end of the day on September 17.  Residents in the West Coast zone should be back by September 22.

For the sake of my sweltering home, the body odor of my neighbors and the reputation of FPL, I hope they are true to their word.

Let’s get one thing out of the way: Hurricanes and the power outages they create really suck, for the customers and the power companies alike.  Having been through many extended outages from named storms including the big dog Andrew, Wilma, Jean and now Irma, I can tell you that the experience falls somewhere between being on Tom Hanks’s island in Castaway and the post-apocalyptic world in the original Road Warrior (maybe the remake too, but I never saw it.)  You’re hot, sweaty and cranky while regularly scavenging for essentials like water, gasoline and ice (I wish.)  It’s not pleasant no matter how many times you experience it.Read More

Businesses Should Fight Back Against Online Attacks

Social media and online reviews bring an incredible new level of accountability to the customer service equation. The internet enables consumers to reach out to companies and service providers in brand new ways, and I believe the transparency that exists because of these online tools is a great thing for commerce. However, there’s a difference between feedback and online attacks.

Companies that fail to deliver on their product and brand promises are quickly weeded out, and frankly, it’s keeping many business owners on their toes. However, sometimes these powerful tools are misused, and it’s important for both individuals and businesses to understand that one should not go on social media and bash a company without considering the consequences. A couple cases have been publicized recently.

Conservative commentator Ann Coulter caught considerable heat recently for her online tantrum about Delta Airlines. If you haven’t heard the story, Coulter had her seat assignment changed and got very upset.  I guess sitting by the window or aisle or whatever is extremely important to her.  She felt wronged by Delta, yet before the airline could even make an apology to her, she started tweeting and tweeting and tweeting her disgust.  She wanted to really hurt the airline; instead, she ended up just making herself look petty and foolish.

Here’s the thing, we all make mistakes. In the grand scheme of life, Coulter’s seat change is a pretty minor thing, and most of us understand that businesses make mistakes. But Coulter went bonkers, and her acrimonious online attack didn’t fit the crime.  Delta, thankfully, did not roll over for her. The airline apologized for the mistake, gave her a refund for the change fee and then did something that I thought was really important. They scolded her.Read More

Don’t Send a “Mooch” to do a (PR) Man’s Job

The Mooch's short tenureWhen I learned President Donald Trump appointed a former Wall Street hedge fund manager as his new director of communications, I groaned.

I’m sure my fellow PR pros, and many others, have also watched the actions of the White House press office with a combination of bewilderment and “you’re kidding me, right?”  I wrote a few months ago that Trump was setting our profession back years, and what’s amazing is that it got worse last week.

I had figured this topic had run its course, but when Trump appointed Anthony Scaramucci as the new communications director, all my fears and concerns came flooding back.

If you don’t know the story, here’s the recap: The White House, in an effort to improve its overall messaging, brought in the brazen Scaramucci to shake things up.  Saturday Night Live punching bag Sean Spicer quickly resigned, and then the self-proclaimed “Mooch” almost immediately gave a profanity-laced interview to the New Yorker where he insulted practically everyone in the White House except the president.  (If you haven’t read the story and want to know what a political debate inside a fraternity house sounds like, I suggest you check it out.)  Within days (10 to be exact), Scaramucci was unceremoniously escorted from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.Read More