Archive for May, 2007

Give stakeholders insights into your company personality through corporate blogging

Even though Richard Edelman’s blog entries can be verbose, 6 A.M. is a blog I enjoy.  Other than insights into the public relations profession, the blogs offers a peek into the thinking and personality that founded one of the world’s leading PR firms. 

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In his recent May entries, Richard Edelman reflected on the proceedings of a breakfast meeting of the C40 group of large city majors and the bridging role of PR in private-public partnerships; his take on smoking prevention and cessation programs–where he announced that he is offering to any Edelman staff who quits smoking in the next few months US$500 if they stayed smoke-free six months later; and shared his sense of loss and grief at the passing of a colleague whom he also considered a dear friend.

Edelman’s 6 A.M. blogs offers several lessons, but I will just discuss one here, and that is a corporate blog can be a powerful way of giving stakeholders intimate insights into your company personality that is beneath the varnished corporate website, media releases, and collaterals.  But this also means that any company that is not willing to offer a personal glimpse into its thinking and workings should probably not blog.

Can Singaporean companies do well in this area?  My observation is that for psychosocial reasons that are to lengthy to delve into here, Singaporeans by-and-large are reticent about being the public face of the organizations they work for.  It wasn’t so long ago that even sign-offs to letters responding to public queries in the newspapers made it clear that the spokesperson was speaking on behalf of yet another person (usually a higher-up).  This practice was especially prevalent among government organizations. 

A successful corporate blog is seldom run by a team of anonymous employees churning out prosaic postings on a clockwork schedule.  Rather, it is about building relationships and enaging in an ongoing, multilateral conversation.  It can only work if a company truly cares about offering a personal facet to its public face and can find ardent champions who are empowered to pry aside the corporate veils even if ever so slightly.

Social media phenomenon in Asia?

Neville Hobson highlighted a Universal MaCann study that is the latest in a series reporting pretty phenomenal growth in the use of social media across Asia.  One earlier pan Asian study was by Windows Live Spaces .  Some salient numbers:

  • Nearly half of those online in Asia have a blog
  • 74% find blogs by friends and family to be most interesting
  • Young people and women dominate (except India where it is overwhelmingly a male domain and Korea where blogging is a part of everyday life for all)
  • 50% believe blog content to be as trustworthy as traditional media
  • 41% spend more than three hours a week blogging
  • More than 40% have less than 10 visitors per week

Beneath the headline numbers, however, more than 40 percent of bloggers polled in the study have less than 10 visitors per week, except in South Korea, with 11 percent having more than 50, and 12 percent with over 250 visitors per week.

For what it’s worth, it must be noted that the survey was conducted entirely online via the various Asian MSN portals.   Some 25,000 people reportedly took part in the survey between August and September 2006.  Is this methodology rigorous enough, since its draws solely from a participant pool of people who are already online?

No doubt, the use of social media is on the rise, and this impacts the field of media and communication, from journalists to PR practitioners.  However, I can’t help wonder if the numbers are as stratospheric as they are made out to be.  Afterall, the likes of Universal McCann have vested interest in pushing this new source of revenue growth even as advertising in traditional media platforms (especially newspapers) decline (see here, here, here, here, and here).

Click here for the press relase “Blogging in Asia: A Windows Live Report.” 

Click here for a CNET Asia report filed by Jeff Ooi.  Incidentally, this is the same Jeff Ooi (of the Screenshots fame) who is facing a defamation suit from the pro-establishment New Straits Times.  Jeff Ooi and fellow blogger Ahirudin Attan are being sued by NST for posts criticizing the daily and the government in what is seen as a politically-motivated tactic to put the lid on criticisms of the Badawi administration.  Read about it here here, and here.

Brave new world full of opinions – editorial from Bangkok’s The Nation

bridge.jpgI am really interested in how the advent of new media–or more precisely perhaps, social media as a more accurate referent to the evolution of new media whose early emphasis was on technology–is impacting traditional media’s historical role as the gatekeeper of information.  Indeed, if social media continues to take off, the public relations industry risks being obsolete if it does not adapt and realize that we need to go beyond issuing the standard press releases and refuse to extend our stakeholder relations program beyond key editors and journalists of traditional media and corporate analyst types, to citizen journalists and opinion leaders.

Indeed, traditional media is already wide awake to the ongoing redefinition of its role, caught in the crosscurrents of a public increasingly angling for a greater role in shaping the news and information that they consume.  I thought that Bangkok’s The Nation wrote a rather searching editorial in its May 3 edition on this issue. 

“The media as we know it is coming to an end,” it declared. 

“Bloggers, citizen reporters or simply general users have been contributing to media content in ever-increasing quantity and quality. The information flow has for some time ceased to be one-way, and it’s only a matter of time before what initially was called ‘feedback’ matches or overtakes the ‘output’ in terms of reliability and credibility,” the op-ed continued.

Of course, this editorial (click here for the full op-ed or here for print-ready text) comes at a rather urgent moment in Thailand’s history, where press freedom has been even more curtailed under the military junta (in a recent report by New York-based Freedom House, Thailand’s press freedom ranking slipped to 127 out of 194 countries from its placement at 29 in 2000 and 107 in 2006).  See report by The Nation here.  Yet, the military government is starting to see that despite media control, its citizens are able to continue expressing their opinions in various online platforms, which presents a much greater regulatory challenge than traditional media. 

Thailand receives reputation boost on health front

Clinton and Thai Health Minister (picture credit: Bangkok Post)I know that my past two posts on Thailand expressed serious concerns regarding the country’s reputation both in the region and around the world.  Its desultory progress toward restoring democracy and the retrogressive tactic to ban YouTube did it no favor.  However, there is one area where I think the country is bold and progressive, and that is its decision to break the patents of some prohibitively expensive HIV medications so that its HIV-positive citizens can have affordable access to medications that could save their lives.  Earlier this year, Thailand issued licenses for affordable generic versions of Abbott’s Kaletra for HIV (while Brazildid likewise with Merck’s Efavirenz).

In response, the U.S. pharmaceutical industry galvanized against Thailand, engaging lobbyist groups such as USA for Innovation to put pressure on the American government to take punitive measures against Bangkok.  In late-March,  the U.S. Office of Trade Representative in Washington downgraded the country to the Priority Watch List for its IP trangressions, according to Bangkok’s The Nation.

Thailand’s case received a significant boost yesterday when former U.S. President Bill Clinton standing side-by-side Thailand’s Public Health Minister Mongkol Na Songkhla, gave his backing to both countries’ decision to break the patents.  Unequivocal, Clinton averred, “I strongly support the position of the governments of Thailand and Brazil and their decision after futile negotiations to break these patents.”  See a Bangkok Post report here and a Reuters story here.

Thailand right now suffers a credibility issue.  In areas where the government is doing the right and just things, I think this is just what it needs to do in terms of public relations to get the message out, i.e. locate and nurture well-respected leaders to lend their weight to the given cause or issue.

Another point here…yes, the pharmaceutical giants may have the budget to retain public relations titans and sophisticated lobbying interests to push their causes, but on the ground, there is a grassroots movement to protest what is seen as naked avarice on the part of some of these drug companies.  In April, a group of students from Harvard University staged a protest outside Abbott’s facility in Wocester against its decision not to allow Thailand to produce generics of Kaletra and its pulling out of other vital AIDS medications from the Thai market.  After speeches were made, the students staged a “die-in,” where the “denied prescription” was carried past the protestors, who then fell to the groundin mock death.  Similar protests took place in Chicago, New York, Washington, D.C., Austin, and other key American cities.  Read an article from The Harvard Crimson here.

Oh, and on the YouTube ban, well, here’s the latest…Google has blinked, apparently.  The Bangkok Post has reported that the company has written to Thailand’s information minister pledging to remove all “anti-monarchy” video clips from its video-sharing subsidiary.  Read the Bangkok Post story here.

Avoiding the MySpace mistake – 8 dos and don’ts for social media marketing

BusinessWeek is one of the most prolific general business periodical I know of when it comes to articles on social media marketing.  While the latest May 8 piece shared some quick tips on helpful (and unhelpful) behavior when trying to market a small business using social networking sites such as MySpace, the principles are applicable across other social media platforms such as blogs and podcasts.

Most useful is the reminder to avoid hard sell.  Nobody wants to surf on to a blog overtly hawking the supposedly latest-and-greatest ware, nor are people interested in tuning in to a podcast droning endlessly about the matchless virtue of a product. 

 This is linked to what I think is the next most important point, i.e. participating in social media is about giving, not taking.  Of course, marketers and public relations professionals in a business environment have bottomline imperatives and are not expected to be doling out advice and tips with no clear objective.  But part of being in a conversation means listening, acknowledging, and contributing.  And when you establish yourself as a credible, constructive voice, your messages will be received with greater receptivity and you’ll find that the community is more reciprocal when you have a conundrum that could benefit from more brain waves. 

And of course, along the way, you establish valuable contacts and grow a community that is actively paying heed to what you have to say about trends and developments in your industry, adding to your brand value and reputation. 

Click here for the BusinessWeek article (or here for the print-ready version).

More reputational turbulence ahead for Thailand?

A view of the Bangkok skylineAs expected, the Thai government continues to ratchet up its rhetoric. On May 7, the military-backed government announced that it plans to sue YouTube for allowing clips it deems to infringe its lese majeste law. In fact, I was just in Bangkok over the weekend when a friend sent me a YouTube link to a music video. Unthinkingly, I clicked on the link, only to be informed via a pop-up that the site has been blocked. Meanwhile, the website was kindly directed to what appeared to be the information ministry’s portal. Even if there were domestic Thais who wanted to access YouTube for innocuous purposes (or to post opposing video clips that supported their king), they couldn’t. Such a blunt tool suggests either a lack of PR savvy or perhaps a total disregard. See here for an AFP report.

Meanwhile, on Saturday evening, a small bomb exploded in a telephone booth near the Chitrala Palace in Bangkok. The palace is largely ceremonial now, with the King having moved to the seaside resort town of Hua Hin many years ago and his family spread out over several residences around Bangkok. There are skeptics who say that the military may in fact “allow” (or even engineer?) periodic disorder or instability to justify its continued hold on the government. In an earlier Bangkok bombing that took place on New Year’s Eve (for which until now no arrests have been made), the police incredulously suggested that Thaksin or his proxies were the masterminds, which damaged its credibility. See here for a Reuters report.

Finally, even as the military junta announced that it would put an American PR agency on a 3-month remit to burnish its tainted image, deposed prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra said that he would end his relationship with Edelman to quell talk that the agency had orchestrated negative publicity against Thailand at his behest. See here for an article by Bangkok’s The Nation.

What will all these mean for Thailand? What, if anything, can a purportedly 3-month PR campaign do to salvage the reputation of a country so deeply mired in trouble that seems so much more fundamental than a case of a bad PR? Check out Michael Netzley’s thoughts if he were to be handed that brief.

A couple of interesting views on social media marketing

If you’ve read my May 3 post on why Singaporean companies should tap into social media marketing, you might want to check out these two articles:

 Social Media Marketing, eh? Let’s See What’s in Our Bag o’ Goodies — This article talks about what companies can do with social media marketing, and broadly discusses some strategies and pitfalls.

How to Leverage Web 2.0 & Social Media Sites to Market Your Brand & Control Your Message — Presents an overview of some of the top social media websites and how to use them.


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