Social media. The potential for digital quicksand

I am reliably informed, by my 14 year old daughter, that “you’re too old for social media. Who would want to see what you’re doing?”

Who indeed? Heaven knows half the time even I don’t.

Never-the-less social media is here to stay and anyone in a position of authority and power, be that in a business or in government, needs to understand a few rules about how and when to engage and, perhaps even more importantly, when to stay clear.

Let’s start with the obvious. Ashley Madison.

Surely the rule around that particular site should have been obvious. If you want to conduct a clandestine affair it is probably not wise to advertise your desire to do so in the digital equivalent of the town square.

Yes, the site administrators will assure you that confidentiality is their guiding principle but you are on a public communication platform. It is most likely that the aforementioned 14 year old possesses the skills to ensure that your confidential information is shared with the rest of the English speaking world.

So the rule is: Private is not on the net.

Now for something a little trickier. Personal social media presence impacting on professional lives.

 An example:

You have recently started a new relationship with someone from your office. The two of you decide on a romantic getaway in scenic Tasmania, no doubt to study the plight of the Tassie Devil. Your new squeeze posts lovely images of your trip on her Facebook page. All her mates are chuffed for her.

Trouble is you are a federal government minister and one of those images turns up on the front page of The Australian, years later, to highlight the hypocrisy of your indignation at another parliamentarian’s profligacy with the public purse in taking unnecessary helicopter rides. Come on down Tony Burke.

The rule here is just as important for business leaders as it is for politicians: If you are in a position of power and in the public eye (even if it is a limited industry specific public) you need to carefully consider your need for a Facebook or Twitter, or other social media presence, and what you post.

We have lost count of the number of careers ruined by an undisciplined Tweet or Facebook faux pas.

If you are a captain of industry, a community leader, politician or media personality or even if you’re just in a career that requires a degree of social sensitivity, not only should your social media presence be very circumspect but those of your significant others should be as well.

I’m looking at you Eddie McGuire, Mark Latham, Anthony Wiener, PR exec who tweeted that she hoped she did not get AIDS in Africa, “…no wait… I’m white”

In today’s world the personal can also rapidly impact on the collective and corporate. Think of the young KFC staff who thought it would be funny to post pictures of themselves bathing in the chicken fryers they were cleaning out. If the CEO needs to be social media savvy then most certainly there is a need for a staff social media policy in any organisation with a public interface.

Now we come to brands, corporations and government bodies on social media.

Even trickier.

A recent episode of the ABC satire Utopia featured an exchange that holds more truth than most would credit.

When talking about launching a major new road tunnel project the group discussed choosing a name for the tunnel-boring machine. When asked why a tunnel-boring machine needed a name the straight-faced answer was “for its Facebook page”. One can only imagine the value of such a Facebook page and the fans that ‘Churro’ (that’s the name they chose, because the machine came from Spain) would attract.

While the Utopia gag illustrates a comical waste of time and effort on social media. There are myriad examples where unnecessary, inappropriate and/or poorly timed and ill-thought-through social media presence has backfired, spectacularly.


Here are some examples:

Qantas brilliantly timed a participatory twitter campaign #QantasLuxury with the grounding of their fleet due to an industrial dispute. Result;

#QantasLuxury Flights that leave on schedule because Management doesn’t arbitrarily shut down the airline


#qantasluxury is the dream world Alan Joyce lives in where all the feedback to the Qantas action has been positive.

Thousands of tweets on everything from late flights to poor inflight food continued for the four days of the campaign.


LG tried to make fun of Apple’s perceived issue with early iPhone 6 units allegedly bending at #bendgate by tweeting from the LG France account that “Our smartphones don’t bend, they are naturally curved ;).The only problem, the Tweet was sent from an iPhone.

To celebrate July 4, USA cotton clothing purveyor American Apparel used its tumblr page to post a picture of what they thought was a firework, that was actually space shuttle Challenger exploding. After receiving lots of negative feedback the company apologised, saying that the social media manager was born after the Challenger disaster and didn’t realize what the picture was.


All of the above could have been easily avoided by ensuing appropriate disciplines were in place to check and double check social media interactions. Not to mention to interrogate what value the proposed engagement against the possible risk. In other words; what could possibly go wrong?

Now back to the 14 year old.

She and her fellow digital natives may feel that social media is only for them but the fact is everyone had bought-in, if only in a small way. The lesson her school, not to mention her parents, keep reinforcing is that once it’s out there it’s out there, forever! And forever is not just the next 6 months.

If you need guidance through the social media maze, a corporate social media policy or just a fresh set of external eyes ICG has built a thorough understanding of social media value, opportunity and risk and can advise on appropriate strategies.

Social Media – To be, or not to be? A case study.

By Angus Nicholls

The reports that were published last week regarding a social media attack by anti-Halal groups on the Fleurieu Milk and Yoghurt Company (FMYC) started me thinking. Do all companies need a social media presence? The next thought was what other actions, rather than dropping Halal certification (and, as a consequence, a $50,000 contract with Emirates), could have been pursued?

With regard to a social media presence, my opinion is that not every company needs to be there. I accept that this is probably an unpopular stance amongst most communication practitioners on the basis of being “left-behind.” However, my position is informed by the simple proposition of whether social media is tangibly contributing to your business, rather than just following the herd.

Given that forward planning is an essential element of business, the key questions that I would use to assess whether to establish and/or maintain a presence on social media are:

  • Does the business require social media to engage and interact with our customer base (understanding your customer demographics is essential to accurately answering this question)?
  • Is our presence generating and/or underpinning sales?
  • Is social media contributing to the development of our brand?
  • Do we have the resources to keep our presence up-to-date, monitored, and interactive?

In short: Is social media directly relevant to our activities?

I would further argue that unless there is a specific strategy in place for the use of social media that there are two particular categories that it does not sit comfortably with: Small businesses with a tight resource base (human and financial), and perishable products. That is not to say that businesses in these spheres should not have an online presence.

From my reading of the reporting on FMYC it looks as if they suffered the perfect storm: Some unreasonable online zealots attacking their business pursuing an unrelated agenda; the company adopting a course of action to placate their detractors (it would seem as a symptom of not having the resources available to comfortably manage the issue); losing a contract for a product that generally does not require Halal certification by most Muslims; and suffering yet more opprobrium for backing down in the face of the attack that the business had endured.

In line with our philosophical position that if you are going to commentate, it is always important to make practical and constructive contributions in parallel. So what would have we recommended to a client in this situation.

  1. Do not panic.
  2. Decide a course of action. We would have recommended holding the business’ position, and explaining why that was the right thing to do based on facts and the values of the business.
  3. Develop a standard online response (for use across all online platforms).
  4. Establish a set of talking points for telephone enquiries, importantly including a polite way to exit the conversation so as not to waste excessive time.
  5. Alerting key customers (i.e. Emirates) to the situation and explaining the course of action that had been decided upon, and seeking their support and third party endorsement.
  6. Develop and release a statement to the media outlining the issue and FMYC response, as well as the rationale justifying the response.
  7. Establishing a monitoring regime, escalation/de-escalation triggers, as well as defined escalation/de-escalation actions.

I am the first to admit that it is always much easier to have an opinion in retrospect, however the core element to any form of great communication is exceptional planning. That is what we here at ICG/RMA do.

Furthermore, I hope that other Australian businesses either do not have to endure the online thuggery that FMYC have recently had to (sadly I suspect that this is a forlorn hope given how courageous anonymous online operators seem to be); or that they are at least prepared to protect their values and operations in the face of any unreasonable attack that may be launched against them.

ICG Auto

RMKA Auto tailors solutions for the vehicle industry

Automotive Public Relations by RMKA

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Add to this the tough and competitive nature of the Australian market and it is easy to see why many companies in the automotive sector carry limited specialist resources.

RMKA has identified a need for highly experienced key support services, both strategic and operational, to assist companies operating at all levels of the automotive industry.

The result is the creation of a suite of services that harnesses RMKA’s indepth history and extensive knowledge in automotive communication, and focuses these skills with the benefit of an equally comprehensive experience-base in the automotive business.

RMKA has identified key areas of support where the consultancy can add value by addressing specific communication, marketing and research needs.

RMKA Auto has been created to make it easier for executives in the automotive industry to match their needs to the skills and services that RMKA can bring in helping to meet business objectives.

Social media heading up

Maximising launch events – a change in thinking required

For PR managers aiming for maximum launch event activity impact, a change in thinking is now required.

Previously, print coverage delivered big time for all layers of the company hierarchy. Online media has changed that forever.

A full-page story reporting on launch activity in a tabloid newspaper used to please the CEO, who coveted the brand exposure, and possibly a quote or two under his name.

The Marketing Director quite liked the (‘free’) exposure for the new jigger, complementing the brilliant new ad campaign messaging, while the PR manager quietly ticked off another of the KPIs, and waited excitedly for the monthly share-of-voice figures to quantify his or her genius.

Meanwhile, at street level, the retailer of the new device gazed lovingly at the coverage, eagerly anticipating the impending stampede of floor traffic through the sliding glass doors in the wake of the coverage, perhaps even enhanced by the urgings of an artfully-placed local advertising campaign, thought up in-house.

But the new paradigm is a lot more complex.

Print is scaling back. We are well past the beginning of the end of newsprint as a daily information staple. The rise of the tablet is the bitter pill on which print is slowly choking.

We are moving towards the ultimate end of the primacy of print. Editorial departments are shrinking fast. Increased ‘content sharing’ and cost-reduction is the new game.

The disease is not restricted to newspapers. Magazines too are showing stress cracks.

The winners are web site proprietors, who not only offer instantaneous information, but can display their previously crafted critiques indefinitely.

The downside of this is that a hastily-penned new product review in all its un-subbed glory can damn or delight forever, putting even more pressure on the launch event to be right first time and show off the product perfectly. Today’s hasty thought bubble is no longer tomorrow’s fish wrapping.

The aphorism ‘You never get a second change to make a first impression’ has never been truer.

But for the street level retailer, with less local newsprint exposure, greater reliance on the amorphous internet means a loosening of the community relationship between the retailer and the local customer base.

The marketing and PR campaign now takes on a national, borderless, one-size-fits-all approach.

For the PR professional, the task is to engage more thoroughly with the purveyors of on-line content; to win them over and treat them like the coming kings they will be.


Alexander Corne