Kevin Smith, Sarah Silverman & Social Media

Somehow managing to crack technology, business and entertainment news, Kevin Smith went nuclear on Southwest Airlines this weekend.

Smith, admittedly obese, was removed from a SWA flight after being seated.  He knows his social media.   TwitPic from the plane itself and a Twitter stream (NSFW) about the Smith-Southwest debacle.    Smith is a celebrity with 1.6 million Twitter followers.  After being removed from the flight, he went on a social media jihad.  Dozens of tweets were broadcast to his followers.  Just from Smith’s reach, figure that he had 30 million impressions.  That is not the kind of earned media you want in your business.

Case takes on Silverman

But Southwest got into a slugfest, publishing two blogs on the subject, including one on Valentine’s Day called Not So Silent Bob.  Apparently the marketing and communications team all took Valentine’s Day off because from United Breaks Guitars to RyanAir calling bloggers idiots, you would think the airlines have learned they take a major PR beatdown in social media when they cross celebrities.

Hint:  people like celebrities.  Airlines?  Not so much.  Airlines that have weight policies in a country 30% overweight and that charge $25 to check each bag?  Most people really hate those.

A company can’t beat a celebrity at this game.  Strike three, airlines, cut it out.  Yes, I know the safety issues involved.   I’ m obese too, but like Smith I can put the armrests down and buckle my seatbelt.   Heck, on Facebook doppleganger week, I used a mashup of Smith with my photo.  We’re not twins, but we could’ve been brothers.  Unlike Smith, I don’t have millions of people cashing their paycheck and lining up to see my work.

Smith looks like a populist hero especially having blogged twice himself (still NSFW).

But that’s the hoi polloi.  Let’s talk about the idiocy surrounding the TED Talks.

TED is a non-profit that brings folks together to push out ideas.  The organization’s name is an acronym for Technology, Entertainment, Design.  The online content is often high quality, throught-provoking material.  The conference runs about $6000 so TED’s website actually has an FAQ that asks “Is TED elitist?”

If you have to post that question, you probably are.

Comedian Sarah Silverman got slammed by Wired editor and TED dude Chris Anderson.  His now famous Tweet called Silverman’s talk “god-awful”.   Then Anderson deleted his tweet, as if he thought that might end things.  For those following Silverman (she has 463,000 Twitter followers, but she’s nowhere near as fat as Smith) on Twitter, she unleashed a second jihad.

Then Steve Case stepped in for some reason and actually told the comedian and speaker she wasn’t very funny.

Now I first met Steve Case 20 years ago.  I wouldn’t call him a friend, but I’ve watched him eviscerate people with a look.

Silverman nailed him with a crack about AOL, reminding him to be nice to the last person on Earth with an AOL account.  Then they started sparring.

Here’s a hint.  If you run a company and you’ve ticked off a celebrity, don’t engage.  There are a number of PR and crisis communications firms who can help you.

From this perspective, the celebrities being right or wrong is irrelevant. They won.   Businesses and businesspeople lost.  I don’t see that model shifting anytime soon.

What do you think?   Besides having a debate on obesity, profanity or any of the symptoms, should the businesses have gone after Smith or Silverman?

HARO Gets A Facelift – Fast Friday Fact

KHJ-AM radio in 1927

Journalism uses the web now

We last wrote about Help A Reporter Out (HARO) in November 2008.    At the time, we were using a line of 23,000 addresses.  I have no idea if that was HARO honcho Peter Shankman’s number or one that came to me in a dream, but I know from observing (disclosure: and from buying ads) that HARO has grown like a weed.

What started as a Facebook group is now a lovely little site that just happens to connect 100,000 people with 30,000 journalists.


You need to be one of those 100,000 if you’re not already.  I’ll venture a guess that I send a client or friend a HARO listing at least 3-4 times each week.  They’re appreciative 0f the chance to be a source for a media outlet, and I’m glad that someone whose skills and knowledge I trust is actually a source.

Since writing that last HARO piece,  the list is now a site that lets you specify additional verticals you want to read about and has a nice web interface for managing your web account.

Over a relatively short period of time, my wife has appeared in a book on working moms, I’ve been interviewed by NPR for a healthcare piece on a subject dear to me and a really terrific blogger ran another interview with me about small business ad agencies.  Then there are those hundreds of referrals.

So sign up for HARO already.  I have no affiliation with the site beyond finding HARO the best example of crowdsourced data sharing that ever hit the Internet.  You’ll get a minimum of 3 pieces of email a day and some reporters have tight deadlines so at least skim the mail when you’re reading the rest of your email.  Stacking it with other email to read on the weekend doesn’t quite work.

Oh, and HARO is free for reporters and sources.  Ad supported with a single tiny text ad at the top, HARO is a smart read.

See you in the Sunday papers.

Prepping Employees For Wage Freezes

Only 43% of U.S. companies expect to provide compensation increases in 2010.  In addition to the wage freeze, 37% of companies say they plan to cut benefits.  The Society of Human Resources Professional quotes a Careerbuilder survey.  The association said that even during the height of the recession last year that 65% of companies provided compensation increases and only 32% planned to cut benefits.

That’s a 12% decrease in companies offering raises during 2010.

And a 13% increase in companies cutting benefits.

On top of this bleak employee news is last week’s 2% increase for federal government employees.

If you haven’t yet spoken with your employees and been transparent about whether there will be increases this year, that should be a priority this week. Mainstream media continues to talk about a jobless recovery, but media reports can’t shoulder your burden.

If you’re not giving employees a pay increase during 2010, part of being a responsive employer is telling them now.

Cynics will note that the true jobless rate is over 17% while reported unemployment is 10%.   That means many employees likely won’t leave over compensation issues.  As a small business owner, you need to be blunt, but kind.   You’ll need talking points about when you anticipate restoring compensation increases.  At a minimum, your accountant and attorney should be involved.  If your organization is big enough to have a HR professional, put that person on the case today with a draft due to you by Wednesday so you can make the announcement Friday.

Staying quiet is an unacceptable form of avoidance for any organization, much less a small business in the midst of a horrible economic downturn.

Be Honest About The Rules – Communicating Bad News #1

Big Thinking is kicking off a series about How To Communicate Bad News because we see too many partners, clients and friends often miss the mark and make bad situations worse.

There are apparently not enough distractions here so Timothy Chaney and Richard Cole jumped on their laptops

There are apparently not enough distractions here so Timothy Chaney and Richard Cole jumped on their laptops

The first guideline we’ll share is straight out of today’s headlines:  Be Honest About The Rules.  There is an incalculably multiplier if you break the rules, your actions cause problems and you are not immediately forthright with every possible stakeholder fast. Lightning fast.  Greased lightning fast.   So fast that you may not have a solution yet, but you’ve already assured people you are resolving the matter right now.

The problem may be as basic as a spreadsheet error that only becomes a broken rule if you cover up the mistake.  Or the problem could be as specific as flying a jet with more than 100 passengers for more than an hour past your destination.  The comments the cockpit crew made puzzled everyone.   The federal government announced today that the flight crew claimed they were using laptop computers in the cockpit, were distracted and ignored radio calls and other signals.

If their story is true and they were looking at new schedules resulting from their merger, they have hopefully handed over their untampered with computers and will face whatever disciplinary action occurs when you don’t do your job and fly 160,000 pounds of plane on top of thousands of gallons of jet fuel.   But Timothy Chaney and Richard Cole blew their chances for problems by releasing cagey statements since Thursday.  Only today, on the fifth day, have federal investigators released a statement about the events that caused Chaney and Cole to operate their plane in the way they did.

Imagine two headlines.

One reads, “Pilots Reprimanded, Suspended for Using PC In Flight

The other reads, “Government Investigators Uncover Truth About Stray Jet

Continue reading

Redskins Shatter Implied Promises, But What About Your Business?

Not all promises are explicit.   Sure, if a small business says they’ll provide a service for $100 and either doesn’t provide the service or charges more, trust takes a hit.

Prize winning reporter James Grimaldi broke story on Washington Redskins

Reporter James Grimaldi broke story on Washington Redskins

But there are implied promises every business makes every day.  At Silver Beacon, we promise each client that we are going to stay on top of online marketing trends, notify them when their business could be impacted and maximize the return on their advertising dollar.   If I visit a client tomorrow who asks about Bing and I think he’s talking about Bing Crosby, we would have broken our implied promise.

Implied promises are getting a workout here in Washington where the city’s beloved Redskins claim to have a season ticket waiting list that stretches tens of thousands of names to along with decades of sold out games, including in what is now the NFL’s largest stadium.  Great reporting by The Washington Post‘s James Grimaldi, a reporter with a passel of awards including a shared Pultizer Prize, uncovered a broken implied promise.

The Redskins — who are still the number one topic of sports conversation in this town when they’re not playing — sold tickets to ticket broker StubHub instead of whittling down the list of fans willing to shell out thousands for tickets and endure hours of snarled traffic.   The Redskins made no promises.  But they’ve broken an implied promise.   Just like we vow to keep the best interests of our clients in the forefront, the Redskins’ implied promise was to take care of its most ardent fans who were willing to prove their loyalty with money.

Unpopular owner Daniel M. Snyder now faces a public relations crisis as his team takes the field tonight in its final preseason game.   The blowback on larger than life figures like sports team owners is huge.  Snyder needed no fake scarcity to drive his team’s popularity.  The Redskins were locked and loaded for decades of financial growth.

And once **a promise like this is broken, everyone can opine, even in a small business blog.

For his part, Grimaldi’s followup was a knockout PR blow in today’s paper where he reports that during the recession, the same business that broke implied promises to its fans have filed 137 lawsuits against multiyear ticket holders who could no longer make payments.  Sure, there was a promise to pay and people get sued when they don’t honor those promises.  The Post’s reporting has uncovered that those seats were then sold to ticket brokers as well.

Today, not tomorrow, but today:   take 15 minutes while you gobble your lunch at your desk like the hectic small businessperson you are and start scribbling on a notepad.   You’re answering this question:

What implied promises have I made to my customers, my employees and to my equity holders? Include yourself as an equity holder because like any small business leader, you’ve been making promises to yourself for a long time.

Then come back here and post your findings.  You don’t have to share what you’ve learned only how well the exercise worked for you and any changes you’ll be making.

Postal Service Still Can’t Run A Business

NEW YORK - MAY 14:  U.S. Postal Service spokes...
Forever may be more transient than you thought.  Image by Getty Images via Daylife

When news first swept DC that the US Postal Service (USPS) was making noises about cutting delivery days from 6 to 5, the U.S. Congress knew that the fish were in the barrel, ready to be plucked out and, well, eaten(?)

There was no way that lawmakers were going to concede such a critical issue while wars rage on, the economy is ruins, unemployment continues climbing and the State of California pays people with Monopoly money.

And while the USPS can’t run their services profitably, they also do a horrible job managing their online presence.  After today’s announcement that the PRC might instead seek to slash costs by closing post offices, the web site went bananas. In short, the PRC’s site was inaccessible from almost every possible access point.

How did I finally get in?  I went to  Google, typed the agency’s name, found a newsroom link and looked at Google’s cached copy so I could get the direct, ugly URL generated on their ASP site.

One need only look outside postal facilities to see a brightly colored FedEx box that competes with the high margin services the postal service operates.  Perhaps we just ought to open mail delivery to FedEx and UPS and let the three compete in an oligopoly.  Because even on the day before Christmas, I’ve never had trouble reaching a Federal Express tracking page.

The 12 page list of proposed post office closures is on our site too.   It’s a PDF file, and a  big one, but we wanted to post because the USPS says their IT engineers are working on the problem.  The “problem” is likely the spiked demand that will likely continue another day.

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Reputation Smearing Online

Image via Wikipedia Note no gang signs on this sign. Maybe we should look into that rumor first.

Three things hit my desk today that made me continue reflecting on the issue of misinformation or brutal subjective comment on the Internet.

First, a client told me about an ugly forum comment made about him during his days as a journalist.  As is often the case with forums that allow anonymous posting, people piled on, and whether they were wrong or right, they were ugly.  Then I saw media hits that wouldn’t subside for two relatively silly incidents:

1)  A spider – a single spider – was found in an Oklahoma grocery store.

2)  The stupid Wal-Mart gang initiation story is generating headlines in multiple cities because people forward email without first checking whether the facts in the email are correct.

The spider first.   A Brazilian walking spider was found in some bananas at a Whole Foods in Tulsa.  The spider was supposedly deadly, able to kill an adult in as little as 30 minutes.  Decent “oh gee, look at that news”, but not really of any consequence.   But due to the flow of information online, the story appeared in hundreds of mainstream media outlets.  Some good reporting today from Sharon Munchmore at The Tulsa World brought forward a local zoologist who questioned whether the spider was truly as dangerous as media reports might lead one to believe.

Now from spiders to gang members.   The gang fight at Wal-Mart is not happening, people.   Stop forwarding the story to your friends in email like lemmings.    This is group hysteria at its ugliest with every person in the story, including me, having a megaphone.  When I see garbage like this, I usually head straight for Snopes, and the debunkers there once again saved America from a mass panic attack.     There is no gang attack at Wal-Mart in your town, reports Snopes, the site that has documentation going back four years.  Wal-Mart would like you to return to the store now.

Last is the story of my client and is a great case of how something can be a maddening function of a search engine algorithim.   Because this person is not a self-promoter, search engines often show this one bulletin board / forum thread about him high up in the rankings.  The problem is an easy one for an online marketer to fix, and we’ll start promoting this client by name so that people can read about the person rather than some anonymous screed.

What you have in front of you is the most powerful communcations device in all of recorded civilization.  Please be careful when you post information.  I referenced a major newspaper and, a generally acknowledged ‘authoritative’ site.   Then I shared a client story that you have no way of testing, but if you’re a regular reader, ask yourself why we would make the story up.

You are responsible for checking your facts, and you are responsible for the informaton you transmit and retransmit.

Be careful out there.

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Calling Your Customers Names and Hoping To Succeed

William Shatner as Captain James T.
Image via Wikipedia

Star Trek fans still bristle when reminded of William Shatner‘s infamous “get a life” line during a Saturday Night Live skit about the show’s legendary followers.  The actor, who has now appeared in multiple hit series in multiple decades, was accused of turning his back on the ardent fans who propelled his Captain Kirk to iconic status.

Now consider your own business.  Imagine that the local newspaper has come to you and said that a letter to the editor in that very same paper criticized your business.   “Idiotic letter writers,” you blast to the reporter.   “People who write letters to the paper are lunatics!”

Can’t see yourself saying that?   Think you might lose a customer or two?

Well, that’s what Ryanair managed to pull off this week.  In a time when Congressional members were using their smart phones to Twitter and live-blog President Obama’s first major speech since taking office, joining 100 million other bloggers, Ryanair officially commented on the company’s view of bloggers:

It is Ryanair policy not to waste time and energy in corresponding with idiot bloggers and Ryanair can confirm that it won’t be happening again. Lunatic bloggers can have the blog sphere all to themselves as our people are far too busy driving down the cost of air travel

This statement to CNN came after three different Ryanair employees reportedly criticized Jason Roe, an Irish web developer.

The above statement to the global news network was reportedly made by Ryanair’s Stephen McNamara, a spokesperson who if the quote is correct, was absent the day Marketing 101 commenced.

100 million plus bloggers active at any time.   Ryanair has hit a wormhole of public relations disaster so deep that not even Captain Kirk can save their ship.  Media expert Nick Peters at CommCore, the company I trust to help before media disasters like this strike, told me within minutes this morning that Ryanair could see a backlash similar to the one that led to the outster of JetBlue founder David Neeleman.

And a final thought.   If you ever find yourself having contempt for a big segment of your customer base, do yourself a favor and stop serving that base.  Life is too short.

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Papa John Says Don’t Eat Too Many Slices – Fast Friday Fact

Papa John's Pizza
Image via Wikipedia

Folks sellling alcohol have toed an awkward line for years, encouraging at least one potential person in each social group to avoid their product.   Then they had to remind every customer to responsibly enjoy their product.

John Schnatter, who you may know better as Papa John of pizza chain fame, joined their ranks today.   Faced with an obseity epidemic and worldwide belief that his company’s core product was one reason, Schnatter spoke with conviction about how to enjoy pizza.

“You can’t eat five or six slices,” CNN quotes the pizza mogul as telling BBC’s Radio Four.  Papa John argued that one or two slices was healthy, a position nutrition site Calorie King might agree with.   Each slice of the chain’s original crust pizza has 300 calories, 39 carbohydrates and 11 grams of fat.  The especially bad thing:  salt.   Two slices contain more than 60% of the recommended daily sodium intake.

Denny’s Uses A Loss Leader To Bring Back Customers

EMERYVILLE, CA - FEBRUARY 03:  Denny's custome...
Image by Getty Images via Daylife

This offer was inspired.   Denny’s, long relegated to the forgotten breakfast anytime nook of the restaurant scale, popped for a Super Bowl ad.  The restaurant chain went for more than awareness.  This advertisement came with a special offer:  show up between 6 a.m. and 2 p.m., the chain promised, and we’ll give you a free “Grand Slam” breakfast.

The Grand Slam is a portion controlled but large breakfast plate with pancakes, bacon, eggs and sausage.

The store in tiny Ukiah, California pumped out 1,800 free meals according to the local paper.  The town only has 15,500 inhabitants so the question for marketers anywhere is this:  When did you last do an offer that converted at 11.6% of the addressable market when the offer required them to drive somewhere?

Mind you, this isn’t a free offer like a flat screen television or even a portable CD player.    The Grand Slam retails for less than six bucks.  If you went with someone, you save twelve dollars, but then needed to factor in the cost of the tip (hopefully you tipped at least a couple of dollars), gas to get to the restaurant and time.

11.6% in Ukiah.

Similar numbers poured in from all over the country.  By the end of the promotion, Advertising Age quoted Denny’s officials as saying two million free meals were served at a cost of 5 million dollars.   Of course, there were offsets and five million likely isn’t the real number.  But the total U.S. market is roughly 300 million.

That means 0.6% of all Americans had a free meal, or more likely, a number representing that total had a free six dollar meal today.  Some will undoubtedly return to Denny’s, and it doesn’t take many of two million restaurant customers returning to quickly make up five million dollars.    There were also undoubtedly add-on items, and although I can find no proof, any Denny’s manager who didn’t use a sign-in sheet with contact information should be beaten with a spatula used to cook one of those Grand Slams.  Even Seth Godin would undoubtedly agree that a free mail is worth some form of permission marketing.

Two million people looks like this:   2,000,000.    Convert 0.5% of them into regular customers, and you’ve just increased your loyal customer base by 100,000.  That’s genius.  No one will ever know how much the collapsing economy contributed to the day’s success, but two million anything is a lot for a five million dollar investment.

What Your Online Marketing Agency Should Be Telling You About Today

Google has long had some unique and interesting ideas on what words advertisers can use in their ads and what words they could bid on.  If I ran a restaurant today, chances are quite good I could have bid for the term “Grand Slam breakfast” and ran an ad for my own business.  Technology legal blog is reporting that Tribunal de Grande Instance de Paris has fined Google 350,000 euros — about a half a million dollars with court costs — for trademark infringement for this practice.  Google is appealing the ruling, of course, but you need to ask your online advertising firm what trademarked terms are being used for your advertising and why.  We rarely find a compelling reason for the practice.

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