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Twitter’s Double Standard – A Case Study in Crisis Communications

The power of Twitter is unparalleled especially when the “news” is filled with high stakes and lots of drama, such as in the case of movie mogul Harvey Weinstein.

A slew of actresses and female Hollywood A-listers recently have come out publicly corroborating Weinstein’s sexual misconduct, spurred by actress Rose McGowan, whose Twitter account had been temporarily locked after a series of posts about The Weinstein Co. founder’s sexual wrongdoings, including toward her.

Twitter’s reason for locking McGowan’s account was because one of her tweets violated the platform’s terms of service, which included a private phone number. The account was eventually unlocked and Twitter added, “We will be clearer about these policies and decisions in the future.”

Twitter’s action against McGowan prompted much resistance, including a Vanity Fair article alluding to the platform’s hypocrisy, referencing other tweets from the U.S. president and even white supremacist groups. Twitter contends it “will not ban content that is newsworthy or has public-interest value.”

Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter in 2016. Photo credit: CNBC

Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter in 2016. Photo credit: CNBC

While the story is newsworthy, a technical analysis can see where Twitter may be consistent in its user policy. Needless to say, celebrities are more inclined to make news.

Take actress Alyssa Milano for example. The “Who’s the Boss?” star jumped into the Weinstein fray by initiating a “me too” campaign, tweeting, “If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet.” The tweet went viral, sparking tens of thousands of engagements, while generating traditional media coverage.

The good news is that Twitter gives anyone the opportunity to participate in the public narrative. The not so good news is that outrageousness, conflict, fortune and fame, is what cuts through the clutter, often leaving lesser known individuals and organizations the silent majority.

Twitter is in sort of a crisis, too. Stories like the Weinstein affair keep the social network relevant and included in mainstream media coverage, although it’s hard to determine if this is having a positive impact on ad revenue since the company’s stock continues to languish since its 2013 initial public offering.

Even though 500 million tweets are posted on Twitter every day from 328 million monthly active users, user growth has slowed or even halted, according to the company’s latest earnings report.

The question remains what’s next for Twitter. For starters, it does in fact need to be clearer about its policies and decisions. An effective issues management campaign might just be what the platform needs to foster more users. Getting in front of this issue is paramount to alleviate any concerns about the platform’s so-called hypocrisy.

Messaging is starting to take shape. Twitter’s founder Jack Dorsey recently pledged to “take a more aggressive stance in our rules and how we enforce them” to safeguard users, particularly women, and in response to a #WomenBoycottTwitter campaign.

And finally, proving Twitter’s relevance in the social narrative to ensure that everyone’s voice is heard, not just high-profile individuals and organizations, may be easier said than done.

– George Medici, gmedici@pondel.com

Social Securities

The Securities and Exchange Commission’s recent decision allowing public companies to announce information via social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter is a logical next step for a government agency that has been relatively non-committal about new information channels.

Most public companies think in terms of 10-Ks, 10-Qs, 8-Ks and the like when it comes to disclosure, in addition to issuing news releases on wire services, such as Business Wire, PRNewswire, GlobeNewswire and Marketwire. But times are-a-changin’, indeed. When an executive can speak directly to his or her audience on Facebook or Twitter, it seems superfluous to shell out thousands of dollars a year to issue news releases.

Tweeting a link to financial results is, in many ways, a lot easier (and certainly less expensive) than uploading an eight-page news release to a wire service. So what if tweeting financial results will not reach Yahoo! Finance, Google News and other websites that are fed by wire services. Consider how liberating it might feel to spoon feed your messages directly to audiences who care the most about your news.

Not so fast.

To think that social media are a perfectly benign and convenient way to disclose information is about as naïve as believing that Dennis Rodman and Kim Jong-un are BFF. Consider the fact that thousands upon thousands of fictitious identities are created on Facebook and Twitter on a weekly, if not daily basis. Now add to the mix that companies are issuing market-moving information on these very same networks, and soon the powder keg doubles, triples and quadruples in size.

Don’t get me wrong. I love social media and believe that a plurality of channels begets a more well-informed public. But the SEC doesn’t (likely) have the bandwidth to police the myriad shenanigans that social media have the ability to perpetuate.

And so my question is this: Is the SEC saying OK to social media to save face(book) on the fact that it did not initiate an enforcement action on Netflix CEO Reed Hastings? Or is it due time for the SEC to embrace social media for what they really are: new information channels that have the potential to breed a hornet’s nest of Reg FD infractions.

 

Evan Pondel, epondel@pondel.com

The Downside of Social Media

While social media usage continues to grow here in the U.S. and globally, so do opportunities to reach key audiences on the Web, creating an oversaturation of content, we know all too well.

World Wide Web (Photo Credit: wikipedia.com)

 
Countless efficiency studies have been released on managing content, mirrored by just as many reports on tapping key audiences in a cluttered marketplace.  For instance, standing up in a packed movie theater yelling “Fire!” will certainly grab attention, but it’s probably not the kind of exposure that is sustainable over the long term.
 
Facebook and Google’s ad strategy of creating more personalized content based on user preferences may be the future of marketing.  The fact remains, however, that people turn off when the proverbial information flow goes on overload.
 
Walking a delicate balance is the right strategy.  Consider the following five tips when engaging
online audiences:
 

  1. Whether corporate, investor or marketing-related, make your message relevant. Know your audience’s wants and needs and develop messaging that resonates on a deeper level.  For example, time-strapped CEOs may be more inclined to listen to a vendor that understands the pressures of a “bottom line.”
     

  2. Don’t try to speak to the entire world. While having a video or tweet go viral is rare, most times less is more.  Try having more personalized online conversations and work on building deeper relationships with audiences.
     

  3. Start off slow. Don’t bombard your audiences with too many messages at once. Keep it simple. Start a conversation and then slowly move into other topic areas with time.
     

  4. Add value. Make sure you provide your audience with something they can’t get elsewhere. This is paramount.
     

  5. Try the post office.  May sound corny, but a nice follow up letter using old fashioned snail mail with an actual signed signature goes a long way in today’s fast-paced, digitized world. Think about how many personalized letters you receive these days.
     

  6. And finally, remember the old adage of selling the sizzle, not the steak. Keep in mind that there are millions of conversation threads each day. Why should anyone join yours?

 

George Medici, gmedici@pondel.com
 
 

Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow

So many forms of corporate communications have been impacted by social media; even the classic letter of resignation has been threatened.

Thomson Reuters CEO Tom Glocer and CEO of Groupon Andrew Mason at a plenary at the E-G8 Forum in Paris.

Thomson Reuters CEO Tom Glocer and CEO of Groupon Andrew Mason at a plenary at the E-G8 Forum in Paris. (Photo Credit: wikipedia.com)

 
Why bother with a bloated and often disingenuous letter, when you can cram your message into 140 words or less? That’s what founder of Groupon Andrew Mason did last week after he was shown the door. In his departure tweet, Mason had the good humor to dust off a standard corporate cliché to set up his punch line:  “After four and a half intense and wonderful years as C.E.O. of Groupon, I’ve decided that I’d like to spend more time with my family. Just kidding — I was fired today.”
 
In 2010, Sun Microsystems CEO Jonathan Schwartz got the ball rolling on this trend, tweeting “Today’s my last day at Sun. I’ll miss it. Seems only fitting to end on a #haiku. Financial crisis/Stalled too many customers/C.E.O. no more.”
 
It’s a fascinating twist on messaging when executives – and employees for that matter – are given the boot. How this might become a powder keg was on display in an episode of Netflix’s critically acclaimed original series “House of Cards.” The scene involves editor Tom Hammerschmidt, who, at the behest of his publisher, begrudgingly offers the White House correspondent job to a young, ambitious, rising star reporter named Zoe Barnes. When Barnes turns the job down, he calls her an “ungrateful, self-entitled little (expletive)” and fires her. While the confrontation has Tom steaming, Zoe calmly pulls out her smartphone in front of him and tweets to her legion of followers what he’s said and done. The end result is that Tom is forced to step down and Zoe lands a new job at a political blog.
 
How will this all play out in the future?  For good or bad, it’s possible that more and more corporate
goodbyes will trend toward bluntness and, gulp, honesty.

 

Ron Neal, rneal@pondel.com

Cashtag Blues

Last summer, with relatively little fanfare, Twitter added clickable stock symbols to its tweets.
This is how it works: Add a “$” in front of a ticker symbol in Twitter’s search box and you’ll be able to engage in conversations about a particular company, similar to what would happen with a hashtag “#” followed by the name of your favorite pop star.

twitter
In social media circles, introducing the “cashtag” is yet another way to stimulate chatter among people
who are interested in a particular topic, such as public companies. But like all seemingly helpful social media tools, the cashtag may, in fact, send your stock tumbling down in 140 characters or less.  We recently observed such a scenario.

Shortly after market open on an otherwise average trading day, an anonymous tweet began surfacing about an FBI raid on a certain public company.  Soon the company’s trading volume began rising and its shares began
dropping, so much so that, as IR representatives for the company, Bloomberg called us to find out if the rumors on Twitter were true.  We confirmed that the rumors were false, and soon the stock corrected itself.

We later learned that the SEC opened an investigation on the tweeter for a possible “10b-5” infraction, which is when someone makes fraudulent claims in connection with the purchase or the
sale of a security.

Rumors surrounding public companies have been swirling about the Internet long before the cashtag, but this example serves as an important reminder that new information channels, carrying potentially market moving information, are reaching influential audiences at light speed.  And that means the onus will increasingly fall on investor relations professionals to ensure chirping birds are not making fraudulent claims.

 

Evan Pondel, epondel@pondel.com

Social Media’s Global Growth

The stats on social media’s global growth are staggering.  A graphic recently posted in Mashable.com illustrates how the world consumes social media.  And boy does it!

Facebook Logo

 
We all know that Facebook now has one billion users in 127 countries and is the top social media destination.  It’s also interesting to learn how countries and regions outside the U.S. are adopting social media like Asia, which has grown to more than one billion Internet users in a little more than ten years.
 
Or that 800 million users visit YouTube each month with more than 70 percent of the site’s traffic coming from outside the U.S.  In fact, 700 of these videos are shared via Twitter every minute.  Moreover, LinkedIn increased its membership nearly by half in the last two years with Turkey, Brazil and Indonesia seeing the largest user growth.
 
All this data can seem very overwhelming.  Even though the growth of social media seems to be a no brainer when it comes to global marketing, many executives still fail to grasp the opportunity.  Let’s be clear: social media is not slowing down anytime soon.
 
Not all social media platforms may be relevant for every business organization.  There is no one size fits all solution for tackling this new media landscape.  However, given the global economy and the opportunities social media presents, these new platforms can help organizations engage with consumers, customers, and even investors, all over the world.  It’s like six degrees of separation on steroids. The proof is in the data.
 
So, the world is consuming social media.  Are you?

 

George Medici, gmedici@pondel.com
 
 

socIal netwoRking

There is something about the word “Twitter” that makes my hair stand up. And then there’s the word “Tweet,” which really gets my goat. Why? Because I have this perception that all of these social networking activities are nothing more than digital pollutants, clogging up the arteries that feed the Internet.
 
From an investor relations perspective, many social networking tools are being utilized to promote stocks, whether justifiable or not. And therein lies the rub: How do you distinguish the good information from the bad?
 
Personally, I think it comes down to social responsibility. For example, if an IRO would like to Tweet about a company’s 20% increase in revenues, I say Tweet on, as long as the news has already been publicly disseminated. But how about the use of Twitter to spout off about unsubstantiated information? Ultimately, there is a certain social responsibility that Tweeters should abide by to ensure that important messages do not get lost amid the cacophony of superfluous Twits, I mean Tweets.
 
Instead of perceiving social media as another outlet to senselessly bombard audiences, they should be perceived as a privilege, a tool, an effective method that, when used judiciously, provide valuable information.

 

Evan Pondel, epondel@pondel.com