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Sunrise over an oil-soaked beach on Grand Isle, Louisiana. (John Moore/Getty Images)

It’s been 45 days since the Gulf Coast oil spill, and I think it is safe to say things have gone from bad to worse. We’ve seen the failure of top hat, junk shot and top kill, and we are waiting, fingers crossed, to learn the outcome of saw and cap.  With each passing day and fix failure, I keep going back to the words in a post I wrote three weeks ago: Words have weight and the wrong ones can bring quick and easy ruin.

On Sunday, BP CEO Tony Hayward issued an apology that went awry:

“I’m sorry. We’re sorry for the massive disruption it’s caused their lives. There’s no one who wants this over more than I do. I’d like my life back.”

I imagine that Mr. Hayward is very tired and under tremendous stress; however, his personal circumstances do not excuse that remark, especially not for the families of the 11 men who died in the Deepwater Horizon explosion.  The following day, Hayward issued an apology for his apology on Facebook:

I made a hurtful and thoughtless comment on Sunday when I said that ‘I wanted my life back.’  When I read that recently, I was appalled. I apologize, especially to the families of the 11 men who lost their lives in this tragic accident. Those words don’t represent how I feel about this tragedy, and certainly don’t represent the hearts of the people of BP – many of whom live and work in the Gulf – who are doing everything they can to make things right. My first priority is doing all we can to restore the lives of the people of the Gulf region and their families – to restore their lives, not mine.”

Saying nothing about the time that lapsed before this statement was issued and its glaringly obvious observations, I have one real question.  Is Facebook the appropriate outlet for an apology?

In the case of Hayward, I would say absolutely not.  His initial comments were run on major news outlets like the Today Show and CNN; responding on Facebook comparatively trivializes his apology.

I’m not discounting the power of Facebook and its 400 million users, and if Hayward had initially said he wanted his life back on Facebook, then it might be the appropriate place for his apology.  But that isn’t the case.

I spent the last five days on the Gulf Coast wondering not if but when the oil would reach Florida’s shores.  This morning I woke up to the news that the oil’s spread to Pensacola is “imminent.”  The ill-advised sound bites and verbal blunders I’ve written about don’t matter when compared to cleaning up this mess.  I sincerely hope it’s soon.

Posted by Katie Denis, Account Executive (@katiefoxdenis)

The views expressed in this post are mine alone and do not reflect the views of Vehr Communications, LLC.

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It’s February … the month of love!  So, we thought we’d share some thoughts on “link love” for those still in the hunt.

If SEO (search engine optimization) is important to your Web site’s success – AND IT IS! – then falling in “link love” is why you need to get all prettied-up for the party.

Of course, to fall in “link love” you need a little “link bait.”  What’s a player to do? 

Well, here’s a few ideas:

  • Pick a killer title: Like that little black dress on Saturday night, a good title will lure “link lovers” as Google crawls through and ranks your Web site.  Watch out, though, you can’t be disingenuous.  Make sure your killer title is relevant to your content or you’ll be cast-aside.
  • Develop good content:  Make sure that you provide interesting and relevant content.  You may set the hook with a killer title, but to reel them in you need serious game.
  • Looks really do matter:  Hard to read fonts, spelling errors, overly-digitized photos, and more, can turn suitors away.
  • Leverage social networks:  Curling up at home on Saturday with a book or a movie is no way to make new friends … you have to be out there.  Post to sites like Digg and StumbleUpon and share with your Facebook, Twitter and YouTube networks.
  • “Link Love” is a two-way street: You have to give in order to get.  So, make sure you give a nod to the sites you find interesting and resourceful.

Remember, February is for lovers.  Apply a little of that passion to your online presence and maybe you’ll find true happiness.

Post by Nick Vehr – 2.1.10

The front page of this morning’s Wall Street Journal (11.23.09) shares an article titled, “Volunteers Log Off As Wikipedia Ages.”

Is it, perhaps, really an article about the settling, or maturation, of new media? 

For cave dwellers, Wikipedia began as an, “online free encyclopedia that anyone can edit.”  It began nine years ago and now has about 325 million monthly visitors, according to the article.  I use it regularly for this blog and as a general resource.

The focus of the article is the fact that Wikipedia, in the first three months of 2009, experienced a loss of 49,000 online volunteer editors.  During the same period the previous year, the comparable number was 4,900.

To me, the article represents what I and others think is occuring with new media in general … a settling or maturation.  Here’s what I mean.

We all know the pendulum for hot new products swings way wide before it settles back in.  So, too, for social media. We are witnessing it with Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube and countless others.  How long ago was it that MySpace was going to take over the world?  Who do you know that is actively using it now?

Does that mean social media – or Wikipedia – is dying?  Of course not.  I think it does mean that it is finding its place, it is settling in, it is maturing as most products and services always do.

There is little question that social media (new media, the internet, Web 2.0 – whatever you want to call it)  has forever changed the way many people communicate.  At some level, it may have even profoundly influenced the way many people manage their personal and professional relationships. 

There is little question that it has forever changed our professional – strategic communications or, what many call, public relations.

But, the pendulum is swinging back towards a point of equilibrium, or at least to a more measureable , natural and sustainable sway.

That’s what I thought when I read this a.m.’s article about Wikipedia?  What did you think?

Post by Nick Vehr – 11.23.09

William Faulkner (picture from reverendross)

William Faulkner (picture from reverendross)

This one got my attention right away. 

First, it was forwarded by Pete Blackshaw (thanks, Pete). 

Second, in the first sentence if referenced William Faulkner, one of my favorite authors.  In college, I once took a course where we read 13 Faulkner novels in one semester.  Phew!  But, it was one of my favorite courses.

Anyway, the post by Andy Dunn,CEO and Co-Founder of Bonobos, offers some very seasoned and rational suggestions for making social media work for you. 

I’ll summarize his four main points, but encourage you to read them for yourself:

  1. Ask provocative questions. If you want to have an impact in these channels, you have to be relevant. Do this by asking provocative questions.
  2. Spend as much time listening and responding as you do talking. Be a good date! Show your appreciation for your customers by listening to what they tell you through social media and then by responding to their comments.
  3. Complement self-promoting with promoting others. Re-tweet from your corporate Twitter page. It will help propagate an interesting idea, and you’ll pop up on the original tweeter’s radar. Same goes for blogs.
  4. Blend the personal and the professional. Consumers are savvy; they want a well-balanced mix of salesmanship and personality. Find a happy medium between promoting your product and bringing variety to your social media efforts. The more interesting it is for you, the more likely it will be interesting to your customers.

As professional communicators, we must understand that social media is “social” first and “media” second.  That certainly doesn’t make it any easier, just as it doesn’t make it the right for all clients.  But, it is what it is!

facebook-logoIt is not too often that you read social media experts drawing attention to some drawbacks of one of the most popular social media applications – Facebook. 

Professional communicators, pay attention to this one.

Rather than comment myself, I encourge you to link over and read Todd Defren’s latest “PR-Squared” blog post on some of the shortcomings for Facebook for business applications. 

He is by no means condemning Facebook.  He is, though, drawing attention to some ways in which it comes up short for business purposes.

Take a moment to read this.  It’s worth it.

Post by Nick Vehr – 9.22.09

twitter iconThe 2009 Comfort Food Tour is over.  Phew!

Just to recap, my 23-year old son, his buddy and I covered 1,800 miles, 7 cities, 18 restaurants in six days.  From Cincinnati to Pittsburgh, DC, Baltimore, Philadelphia, NYC, Albany, Buffalo and back to Cincinnati, we experienced food and togetherness.  It was a blast.

Besides the obvious quality time with my son, and giving him and his friend the experience of seeing cities they had never visited, I decided to tweet (www.twitter.com/nickv) the entire trip as a Twitter immersion experience. 

So, how’d that go and what did I learn?  

I tweeted about 60 times over the the course of the trip.  From restaurant updates and ratings to sightseeing pictures (twitpic) and smart-aleck remarks, I kept busy.  I viewed it all as keeping a new media journal. 

Halfway through our trip, tech support (23-year old son) connected my Twitter account to my Facebook account so my tweets posted automatically.  The increase in online chatter happened immediately.

Tweeting enabled Mom and other famly and friends to follow the trip.  I think they enjoyed the updates but, like me, became a bit tired of the volume.

As a professional communicator, I entered the experience with a clear bias.  I felt that Twitter was mostly a consumer-focused social media tool with limited applications for b2b companies. I clearly understood the value of Twitter for crisis communications (reputation management), especially for consumer brands.

The trip and the Twitter experience left me a bit more open to broader applications of Twitter, but I still feel it is primarily a “social” tool rather than a “business” tool (of course, I know Twitter is developing a business application for Twitter and I look forward to learning more about it).

We all have friends whose excessive use of social media becomes sadly anti-social.  Rather than interacting and enjoying the moment, they have their head down typing away on their hand-held.  I found myself doing this periodically.

Regardless, for me it was a learning and growing experience in the use social media.  The 23-year olds were much more comfortable than me.  I had fun.  I got some nice suggestions and comments. 

The trip was a success, as was my own immersion experience with Twitter.  I’ll continue to look for, and feel I am now better able to spot, business applications for the benefit of our clients.

Post by Nick Vehr – 8.24.09

buffalo wingsI am breaking my rule about only using this blog for posts of interest to professional communicators, kind of.

I am leaving tomorrow on what I am naming (at least so far) the “2009 Comfort Food Tour”.  I, my 23-year old son and his buddy are heading out for 7-day roadtrip with one rule: no chain restaurants.

Dining choices will be heavily influenced by the Travel Channel’s “Man v. Food” picks and the Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Throughs and Dives” stops.

Cities?  We’ll see, but the plan for now is Pittsburgh, DC, Baltimore, Philadelphia, NYC, Boston (maybe), Buffalo, Cleveland and back home to Cincinnati. 

From Primanti Brothers in Pittsburgh to the Anchor Bar in Buffalo (original buffalo wings, duh!), our cultural eating tour should be an absolute blast.  Robert Pirsig (Zen) would be proud because it will be very spontaneous, by design.

I plan to tweet and facebook (maybe) my way through.  I will not be posting to this blog – wouldn’t want to miss a meal.  In addition to learning what makes 23-year old young men tick (kinda scarey) and having some great food experiences, this trip will give me a chance to really experiement with Twitter and Twitpics.

So, follow me (@nickv) and have some fun with us.  If you do, the big difference between you and us on this trip – we’ll be gaining all the weight!

Post by Nick Vehr – 8.15.09

If you’re the CEO of a B2B company, does all this social media stuff matter to you?  Or, is it just some trend for young social-media-22consumers and the companies that sell directly to them.

It’s a fair question.  The answer, from the perspective of a strategic communications professional is – ABSOLUTELY!

Look at this way, how many functions within your company have moved online?  Do you think any of your employees are involved in online communities?  Do you marvel at how comfortably and seemingly innately the younger employees embrace, attach and understand new technology applications in the work place?  Don’t your new hires seem to get younger each year?

Here’s the point, your business is probably moving online, your suppliers and vendors businesses are probably moving online, your customers are probably moving online, and your new employes are definitely already online.

Read this link to a great blog post by Todd Defren, one of the early pioneers in the blogosphere and CEO of a PR firm with consumer and B2B clients.  He nails it:

“The world of business is increasingly moving online.  And businesses are comprised of people.”

Two terms I love: “digital immigrants” and “digital natives.”  If you’re wondering about or confused by the social media stuff, you’re a digital immigrant – you’re new to this world and you want to fit in but you’ll probably always speak with an accent.  If it all comes natural to you, if you are perfectly comfortable with all things online, you’re a digital native – it’s innate, part or your life.

Read this interesting post by Jeremiah Owyanga, Sr. Analyst in Social Computing at Forrester Research in San Francisco.  It will help B2B CEOs understand all this from a real geeks (affectionately intended) perspective.

Don’t panic.  You don’t have to start blogging tomorrow.  No one expects you to “tweet” by Wednesday (if you ever do).  When you post your profile on Facebook, your kids won’t get creeped out (well, maybe!).  Getting linked on LinkedIn can happen in time.

However, you do need to explore (or at least empower an exploration by others) the potential impact of social media on your business.  You should want to demonstrate to your existing employees and to all potential future employees, that your company, “gets it.”

Any good B2B social media stories out there?  Please share.

Happy Valentines Day

Post by Nick Vehr – 2.14.09

A colleague inspired this post. 

You might ask, why would a decidedly unhip, middle-aged guy insert Beyonce’s latest video “Single Ladies (put a ring on it)” into a blog about professional communications.  Connect on the link above, watch it and then read on.

beyonceAround the office, we were talking about how many new media applications there are to support client programs and help them to better engage, manage and strengthen important relationships.  Better to tweet on Twitter, google on Google, link on LinkedIn, face-up on FaceBook, digg, bookmark on de.li.cious, dish on YouTube, blog or vlog … who knows how to decide?!?

A mentor once shared that when it’s all moving too fast, when you find yourself confused and your head is spinning, simplify … go back to the basics.

Well, that’s precisely what Beyonce did and it’s the latest, greatest, hottest new video (according to my daughters and co-workers).  A catchy phrase, good rythym, and minimalist B/W video of three women dancing who are clearly having fun doing it.

There are few, if any, complex camera movements.  There are even fewer fades and dissolves.  The location is not a beach, a mountaintop, or even the lunar surface.  They’re in a studio … dancing … in B/W … really, really dancing.  And, they’re having fun. 

Pretty basic stuff.  And, boy, does it work!

When my colleague mentioned this and suggested I post about it, I couldn’t pass it up.  It will help us to realize that our clients don’t need all the latest applications.  They need the ones that will help them to succeed.

Oh yeah, if you didn’t watch the video earlier, go back.  You really want to see it.

Post by Nick Vehr – 12.4.08

PR is all about developing, building and strengthening the relationship between the product/service and its consumer, whether a person, a business or a community.

Social networks and their pervasiveness, speed and ability to personalize, are like performance-enhancing drugs for the practice of PR. 

In today’s NYT, an article by Brian Stelter explores how media companies are trying to make it easier to share links with friends, add comments to articles and extend users’ online identities.

Media companies are clearly figuring out how to develop deeper relationships with readers, listeners and viewers.  It reports how CNN will be connecting “The Forum,” its site for political expression, to Facebook enabling users to talk about the presidential debates and see what their friends are writing.

Fascinating stuff.  I’m happy to pass it on and encourage you to dig deeper and learn more about how social networks enable PR practitioners to enhance client relationships with people, businesses or communities. 

That’s precisely what we are doing.