Tweets that Come back to Haunt You

The footballing community was shocked last week, when Bolton midfielder Fabrice Muamba collapsed during a Premier League match against Tottenham at White Heart Lane.

Bolton and Tottenham fans alike watched in horror as it became increasingly clear that Muamba the incident was a serious one. The reaction from the fans, and the wider footballing world was an admirable one. Both sets of fans chanted his name as he was stretchered off, and games held the following day observed a minute applause for the the player who was fighting for his life in intensive care.

However this reaction was not universal. Tweets were sent from the account @liamstacey9 containing number of threatening, hateful, racist, and homophobic slurs against Muamba and people who objected to his language. Such was the vicious nature of his tweets, he was reported to the police by many different people and groups, including the Society of Asian Lawyers.

He was arrested within a day and told he may face a prison sentence. Far from the tough-guy image projected in his tweets, this news reduced the 21 year old to tears.

Many platforms, are pretty poor at self regulation. Everything from inciting racial hatred, to X-rated content from underage people is to be found on twitter. And they are often very reluctant to do anything about it. However a highly engaged, and extremely large, user community has proven itself time and time again to be capable of using the very medium people utilise to abuse, in order to bring people the consequences of that abuse.

So the message of the story is; if you wouldn’t shout it in the street, it’s possible you shouldn’t tweet it either.

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Kony 2012 and Youtube: The Power to Distort?

Kony 2012 is a campaign by controversial organisation ‘Invisible Children.’ The campaign focuses on Joseph Kony; leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), an armed group in Central Africa widely condemned for its human rights violations, and use of child soldiers. The campaign has been launched with a fantastically well made video, that has attracted a phenomenal 27 million views on youtube in just three days. But just as youtube has the power to change lives for the better, it can also help distort the truth with unacceptable consequences.

From a methodological PR perspective, the video is really very good if not a bit long.  The dissonance between the lives of two young boys, one in America and one in Uganda, drives a desire to act. The emphasis on targeting opinion leaders, demonstrates a understanding of how to spread a message.

However from an ethical perspective, there are serious questions hanging over this organisation’s head. Invisible Children admits on its tumblr page that it works with the Ugandan Army (UPDF). This is the same UPDF that has been accused of severe human rights abuses by Human Rights Watch. This includes the murder, torture, and rape of civilians.  Three founders of Invisible Children have also posed with members of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) an organisation riddled with accusations of rape. Oh, and they were holding weapons too! Their rather remarkable explanation of this, again to be found on their tumblr page, is as follows:

‘We wanted to talk to them (SPLA) and film them and get their perspective. And because Bobby, Laren and I are friends and had been doing this for 5 years, we thought it would be funny to bring back to our friends and family a joke photo. You know, “Haha – they have bazookas in their hands but they’re actually fighting for peace.”‘

Finally, the video cheerleads the deployment of US forces to assist the Ugandan government and their armed forces. The same armed forces themselves accused of committing atrocities against the Acholi people of Northern Uganda. As the author of one letter puts it:

‘Haven’t enough Acholi people suffered in the violence between the LRA and the Ugandan government? Our alliance should not be with the U.S. government or the Ugandan military or the LRA, but the Acholi people. There is a Ugandan saying that goes, “The grass will always suffer when two elephants fight.” Isn’t it time we let the grass grow?’

So just as social media can be a force for good by empowering people, and giving them hope, it can also distort the truth. Miss this, and you may end up donating to an organisation who campaigns for the US government to give military assistance to an army accused of war crimes!

 

 

Posted in Ethics, Social Media, Third Sector | 2 Comments

Welcome to Arabic and Persian Twitter!

Twitter announced this week that it is launching new foreign language versions of its micro-blogging site, this time for languages written from right to left. This BBC article tells of how 13 000 volunteers helped to translate the social media platform into Arabic, Persian, Urdu, and Hebrew. In a time of Arab Springs, and Iranian summers, what are the implications of this move?

As of 2011, Arabic was the 7th most used language of the internet. Between 2000, and 2011, use of the Arabic language grew by a staggering 2500%. No wonder then, that the function of social media in the Arab Spring has been such a hot topic.

Some commentators have gone as far as to describe the uprisings as ‘social media revolutions.’ It is certainly true that social media helped to spread news and messages. The week before Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak’s resignation, for example,  the total rate of tweets about political change in Egypt increased tenfold. However not everyone agrees. Egyptian activist, and The Independent’s international tweeter of the year 2011, Hossam El- Hamalawy,  argues that the term ‘social media revolution,’ downplays the role played by ordinary women and men in the streets. Many of these people have never used the internet.

Regardless of the extent to which social media has played a role in the Arab Spring, everyone is agreed that it has created important new spaces for discussion, dissemination, and mobilisation.

In an increasingly interconnected world, the implications of this for Public Relations are profound. From actors trying to influence the new debates in the Middle East, to companies seeking to carve out a space in emerging markets, relevant, and accessible communication is key. Relevant linguistically, as well as demographically and psychographically.

And for social media platforms too, becoming multi lingual is crucial. With the startling growth of Arabic as an online language, and with Persian being the second most used language in the bloggosphere, twitter and others can’t afford not to relate to these emerging audiences. The success of Chinese language micro-blogging site Weibo demonstrates nicely that, in the world of social media, ‘if you don’t do it, somebody else will!’

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Youtube: The Power to Change Lives

Two days ago this video was posted on Youtube showing a man coming out as gay to his mum. He had hidden a camera in his kitchen, and waited for her to return home. Once the conversation was finished, he uploaded the video. 

It reminded me of another video posted by an American soldier, who came out to his father over the phone. It is hard not to be moved by such a public display of a very private moment. Sharing something so intimate is a brave thing to do.

But social media makes sharing such private events easier. No need to see the people you are communicating with, no need to even talk to them. Yet despite the remote nature of this communication, its power is clear. In just 5 months, the video has been viewed more than 5.5 million times. That works out as one view every two seconds. How many TV shows, with their large budgets, and intense advertising campaigns would be happy with ratings like that? Quite a few I would say.

It is not an exaggeration to say that stories of hope and empowerment like this one can save lives. The spate of suicides amongst LGBT teens in North America recently is a tragic reminder of the torment many youngsters face. Social media has already been used by young people to cry for help. Jamie Hubley, a 15 year old from Ottawa, took his own life after posting a farewell message his tumblr page.

But how many young people, struggling with the burden of concealing similar secrets, took comfort, and confidence from the video of the American soldier? Just five or six years ago, such a video would not have been possible. To enter the homes of strangers from around the world, from the comfort of your own bedroom, would not have been possible in the way it is today. To give hope to, and share empathy with, countless individuals who you will never meet, yet influence so profoundly, just was not possible.

This is the power of social media.

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Social Media: Presence is not Enough

Social media has transformed how we communicate. From multi national corporations, right through to pressure groups, social media platforms have become increasingly key to integrated communications systems. However, as this blog shall explore, simply having a social media presence is not enough.

While the social media revolution has spread like wildfire in the last half decade, not all organisations have been quick on the up-take. According to a 2011 report by Professor Michael Wade 88% of 425 European firms surveyed agreed that social media was important to their business. However just 37% of them had any social media presence. This highlights a surprisingly unsavvy culture in sections of business.

If so many businesses are not using social media at all, it is not unfair to suggest that many of those that do, are not utilising platforms to their full potential. Simply having a facebook page, or a twitter account is not enough.  Without segmenting your audience, a relevant and efficient communications strategy just isn’t possible. In terms of demographics, psychographics, and online behaviour, you need to know about the people you interact with. Professional communicators would not approach any other comms medium without this at the forefront of their mind. Why not with social media?

Demographic segmentation is perhaps the most obvious. Twitter tends to be used by younger people for example, and has a mixed personal and professional tone. Whereas facebook is used by a broader spectrum of age groups, and tends to be more personal than twitter. Getting the tone right is important. What you post on one platform isn’t always appropriate on another. Get it wrong, and you risk coming across as too stuffy or too laid back. Perhaps even both at once to different stakeholders.

Social media platforms generally lack bespoke segmentation functions. Google+ has made what seem to be the most significant strides into allowing for user segmentation of their audience. By allowing users to put their contacts into different ‘circles’, an organisation can more easily manage stakeholder relations. This function is limited however, in that it is a manual process. A large organisation, or an organisation dealing with an unexpected rise in contacts (e.g. during a crisis situation) may find it difficult to keep current what are, in effect, several micro databases. And as with any database, keeping it accurate is key to efficient targeted communications strategies.

Analytics tools, independent of social media platforms, have developed over the last few years. They can help organisations analyse their social media contacts, allowing for a clearer picture of how, and when, to communicate. Crowd Booster is particularly impressive, delivering bespoke mini comms plans. It includes analysis of the best time to tweet for maximum reach, and the ability to programme your account to tweet pre written messages at that time. This means that the hectic schedule of a comms professional, need not get in the way of tweeting at the times most key to getting your message across. This function is also useful if you have a global audience. If you have important stakeholders in North America, or East Asia, it is important to make sure key messages are accessible to them in terms of time zones.

It is also important to be able to segment your audience by how they interact with you. The Forrester Technographics tool is very useful for this, segmenting audiences into six categories as shown below. By gaining an understanding of not only who is in your network, and what they think, but also how they interact with social media, can give an organisation the edge when it comes to mapping a social media strategy relevant for its stakeholders. For example if your stakeholders turn out to be largely collectors, and critics, spending money developing a forum may be more successful at stakeholder engagement than relying on podcasts or blogs.

In short, a social media presence is a lot more than having a facebook page or twitter account. You need to know who you are talking to, where they are, what they think, and how they interact.

At the moment, google+ is leading the way on enabling user segmentation. But since facebook and twitter are used far more widely, utilising the third party tools, that provide more robust segmentation features, can be a great way of ensuring your social media objectives are as likely to be achieved as other elements of an integrated comms strategy.

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Welcome!

Hello everyone and welcome to my new blog. I’ll be blogging about Public Relations with an emphasis on social media and being a PR student. Occasional musings on food related marketing and maybe the odd recipe if you’re lucky. Enjoy!

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