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#GiveItBack – When Social Media Campaigns Turn Ugly

3 Mar

Giveitback 1

     It was a great idea, until it wasn’t.

      Minnesota’s Republican legislative leaders have launched a clever, and useful social media effort to rally public support for returning the state’s growing surplus to taxpayers.   Minnesota’s February budget forecast projects that surplus adds up to $1.23 billion and growing.  The surplus is the result of the state’s growing economy and newly enacted tax increases passed by the Democratic controlled legislature and signed by Governor Mark Dayton in 2013.

     “State government does not need this money.  Minnesota families need this money.  So, let’s give it back,” said GOP House minority leader Kurt Daudt.  

House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt launching the #giveitback campaign and his corresponding Tweet.  (insert)

House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt launching the #giveitback campaign and his corresponding Tweet. (insert)

       In that simple declaration, a campaign was born.  Republican leaders raised a poster before TV cameras with the words “Give it Back Act” and instantly encouraged citizens to Tweet their ideas about how the state should return their hard earned money by using the simple hashtag #giveitback.

      On many levels, it’s a smart strategy.  From a pure marketing point of view, by launching a social media campaign based upon the Republican core value of lower taxes, legislative leaders could hope to not only activate its base of brand loyalists, but create a populist buzz and use the groundswell of public opinion to influence the Democratic majority to return some or all of the surplus to taxpayers in the form of tax credits or reductions.

     In a matter of hours, the Tweets started rolling in.  But, the majority of them perhaps were not what the Republicans were expecting.  It turns out, Democratic party supporters and lawmakers hijacked the #giveitback campaign and turned it against them. (Click on Figure 1) 

Figure 1 - #giveitback Tweets.

Figure 1 – #giveitback Tweets.

      Twitter campaigns can be risky at best.  Unless a brand has a substantial base of loyalist or followers, its message can be undercut by critics and cynics alike with just a few clever Tweets that are retweeted among their own followers.  That can add up fast.  Researchers at the Korean Institute of Science and Technology have found that a retweet reaches 1,000 additional viewers on average regardless of how many followers the sender has.  Complicating the strategy is the fact that it’s launched in a hyper-political election year where opponents and detractors have extra incentive to disrupt the message.

     These kind of campaigns require research.  Brand managers need to vet the hashtags which can be easily done with simple tools embedded on Tweetdeck and Hootsuite.   Advertising and PR agencies have more sophisticated tracking tools that can also aid in the research.   A simple search of #giveitback Tweets indicates that it’s a popular hashtag among teens and millennials looking to retrieve stolen items. 

Figure 2 - Justin Bieber's #giveback campaign.

Figure 2 – Justin Bieber’s #giveback campaign.

      Pop superstar Justin Bieber has even used a variation of the hashtag, #giveback, and many of his 50 million followers use it in their own Tweets. (Figure 2)  Therefore the Republicans’ #giveitback campaign is co-mingled with hundreds of non-related Tweets and gets lost in the noise.  In this case a more effective hashtag would have been one that is more specific, such as #returnthesurplus, or #returnmymoneymn. 

     With research in hand, a smart campaign also needs a cross-channel integration plan.  In other words, it needs to be leveraged on a branded website, Youtube, Facebook, earned media, and perhaps even paid media.  An excellent example is how Toyota recently created cross-channel tactical support to drive Twitter conversations during the Super Bowl to create awareness for its new Highlander SUV.   

Figure 3

Figure 3

      Without that kind of cross-channel support, the chances of a social media campaign creating a viral groundswell are not particularly strong.  As evidence, nearly 72 hours after the launch of the #giveitback campaign, it has produced few genuine Tweets from the general public with the exception of several Republican lawmakers. (Figure 3) 

    It’s not that #giveitback was a bad idea.  In this case it made headlines and good news copy in the context of the budget surplus narrative.  And yes, there is exceptional value in that too.  But as a viral social media campaign it so far has been a swing and a miss.

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The Making of a Meme Called “Batkid”

16 Nov

Batkid It's not who I am

     It was a week of tragedy and insecurity.   A typhoon named Haiyan tested our faith in humanity and a fledgling American healthcare law questioned our trust in government.  The world needed a super-hero.  It got one in a five year old masked boy.

     His real name is Miles Scott.  In his short life he’s proven himself brave enough to battle leukemia, so why not battle injustice too.  His request to the Make-A-Wish Foundation of San Francisco was simple: to become a caped crusader. 

Figure 1 - Miles Scott, A.K.A., Batkid.

Figure 1 – Miles Scott, A.K.A. Batkid.

     What happened next is a case study in contagion,  social media memes, and a collective desire for something positive.  All it took was a picture and a narrative.  It was as simple and accessible as a bat symbol in the sky.

     In this narrative, social psychologist Jaap van Genneken, Ph.D., would suggest that young Miles became what he calls a strong replicator.  Such replicators evoke an instant and powerful emotion that causes people to take notice and share.  An image plays an essential role in creating this contagion—the strongest replicators are child-like images.   But in order for the image to have an effect, it must be set in an unexpected way—a surprise.  The image of Miles in his bat costume was precisely the trigger. (Figure 1)  Colliding the image of an innocent child with that of a super-hero gladiator created a powerful set of metaphors that were hard to ignore. 

Figure 2 - #Batkid Tweet on November 15, 2013.

Figure 2 – #Batkid Tweet on November 15, 2013.

     The image serves as a signal to the viewer that there is more to the narrative.  It’s actually the beginning of a critical cognitive cycle that forms a negative association with cancer and positive associations with the child, and the efforts to grant his wish of becoming a super-hero for a day.  When viewers saw the image on social media and hit the send button, a meme was born–Batkid. 

     But when 13,000 people showed up on the streets of San Francisco to participate in the narrative of helping Batkid capture the Riddler and Penguin, the meme spread even faster with the speed of Instagram and Twitter. (Figure 2)   A virtual display by Trendsmap shows how the meme spread world-wide with some of the heaviest Twitter traffic in Europe. (Figure 3) 

Figure 3 - Global Trendsmap of #Batkid.

Figure 3 – Global Trendsmap of #Batkid.

     The meme even reached the pinnacles of power.  The U.S. Department of Justice issued an indictment against the Riddler and Penguin. (See attachment below)  And by the end of the day, Batkid got the world’s ultimate legitimacy in a Vine message from President Obama. 


     In many ways it was the perfect meme at the perfect time.  Like Captain Chesley Sullenberger’s heroic landing of Flight 1549 in the Hudson River at the peak of the Great Recession in 2009, the world needed something to celebrate.   The same is true now.  Thousands of innocent human beings perished this week.  All were innocent souls.   It took another innocent soul to remind us of our frailties—and of our capacity for good. 

     That’s why when the Bat Phone rang, thousands answered.

Coach Jerry Kill’s Seizure and how the Gophers can Correct a Crisis Communication Failure

24 Sep

    

    Football coaches universally are a different breed.  Never ones to look back, they’re always focused on the next game with the zeal of a running back focused on the goal line.     

    However, such laser beam focus cost Minnesota Gophers’ head football coach Jerry Kill a golden opportunity to control and contain a growing contagion of doubt after his latest epileptic seizure on the sidelines at TCF Bank Stadium.      

Minnesota Football Coach Jerry Kill

Minnesota Football Coach Jerry Kill

    The seizure during halftime of the game against Western Illinois was his fourth since becoming the Gophers’ head coach in 2010.  During that time Coach Kill’s struggle with epilepsy has been well documented.  But this latest episode produced a sudden spark of dissent from StarTribune sports columnist Jim Souhan that was fanned into flames by sports talk radio.     

    The silence from the University of Minnesota was deafening.  The 72 hours following the sideline seizure produced a classic case study in crisis communication mismanagement.      

    Among the failures:

  • Athletic Director Norwood Teague waiting two days to make a statement supporting his coach.
  • Jerry Kill refusing to talk about the episode once he returned to work. (see video at the top of this article)
  • The University not publically challenging the dissent against Coach Kill.

     But the biggest failure of all was the complete lack of a coherent communications strategy.  Call it a communications seizure.   Given Coach Kill’s recent medical history, it’s probable he may suffer another attack.  If and when it does happen, the University can ill afford to have another breakdown.    

    The athletic department and the football program have a minimum of four audiences they need to address: The general public, ticket holders and boosters, the news media, and Minnesotans afflicted with epilepsy.

     Here’s what a reasonable and actionable strategic communications plan would like.

    

    This is just a start.  There are other important audiences that need addressing in this crisis including the football players, recruits, and even the entire Athletics Department.      

    For a football program that goes to great lengths to game the competition, it clearly has no game plan for the PR challenge of Coach Kill’s epilepsy.  I encourage them to steal this play book.

Student support for Coach Jerry Kill at the Sept. 21st, 2013 home game. (Courtesy @Gophersports Twitter)

Student support for Coach Jerry Kill at the Sept. 21st, 2013 home game. (Courtesy @Gophersports Twitter)

Justin Morneau’s Farewell—A Crisis Communication Teaching Tool

2 Sep

Justin Morneau 1     In a game of hardball, Justin Morneau was just pulled from the lineup.  After a 14 year career with the Minnesota Twins organization, the former MVP and fan favorite has been traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates.

     It’s a move that reminds fans that baseball is a business. 

     But Morneau is smart enough to realize he is more than a consequence of that business, he is also a brand unto himself.  And any time there is an event that makes a brand’s enthusiasts (fans) question their loyalty and support or threatens the relationship, there is a potential crisis.   Morneau’s response serves as a simple blueprint for executives, brand managers and communicators everywhere in how to respond. 

      In a simple 223 word letter to fans printed in the Minneapolis StarTribune and the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Morneau offers a three-step model:

  1.  Gratitude: Appreciation for the opportunity and loyalty.
  2.  Contrition:  Apology for not achieving more.
  3.  Praise:  Love for the people and the relationships with them.

      Here’s his letter:  Justin Morneau 2

First of all, I would like to say thank you to all of the Twins fans. I would also like to thank the Minnesota Twins organization for giving me a chance to realize my dream of being a Major League baseball player. I was drafted by the Minnesota Twins in 1999. Since that day I have been very proud and fortunate to call myself a Minnesota Twin.

I was a wide-eyed 22 year kid when I made my big league debut in 2003. I received a warm welcome that day and have felt welcomed ever since. I feel like I was a kid when I first got here, but was able to grow up in this organization and become someone my friends and family could be proud of. My wife, kids and family are Minnesotans and this has become my second home. Minnesotans are some of the kindest, most genuine people I have ever met.

I am sorry that during my time here we weren’t able to achieve our ultimate goal of winning the World Series, but I will forever carry many wonderful memories of my time here. I will always cherish every day I was lucky enough to play in front of you fans in a Minnesota uniform.

Thank you for all of your support throughout the years.

Your friend, Justin Morneau

          Classy.   Wouldn’t it be great if athletes and communicators in every league would steal this page from Morneau’s play book?

“I Lost My Best Friend Too.” A Speech Lesson From an Unlikely Source—Gov. Mark Dayton

25 May

 

    Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton put down the script this week.  The words that escaped the bondage of talking points prove the power of discourse that comes not from a page, but from one’s soul.

      On the political stage, even the corporate stage where every word spoken is weighed and measured, parsed and dissected, the governor displayed a moment of rhetorical brilliance—a teaching moment for leaders of all stripes. 

Peter Hobart Elementary School 4th graders Mohammed Fofana and Haysem Sani.  Both boys were killed in a land slide at Lilydale Regional Park in St. Paul, MN on May 23rd, 2013.

Peter Hobart Elementary School 4th graders Mohammed Fofana and Haysem Sani. Both boys were killed in a land slide at Lilydale Regional Park in St. Paul, MN on May 22nd, 2013.

      This was no ordinary audience.  No ordinary setting.   The gilded comforts of the governor’s capitol conference room were gone.   The clicking keyboards of reporters and the silent streaming of Tweets for a headline snacking world living in the moment were all as devoid as the hundreds of eyes staring back at him.

      Those eyes belonged to the classmates of two young boys who just lost their lives.  Mohammed Fofana and Haysem Sani were fourth graders at Peter Hobart Elementary School in St. Louis Park.  Their simple field trip to Lilydale Regional Park in search of fossils ended with a rock slide.  The tragedy didn’t just suffocate two fourth grade boys, if left their entire school gasping for answers. 

       The governor didn’t have any. 

Gov. Mark Dayton talking to students at Peter Hobart Elementary School in St. Louis Park, MN on May 24th, 2013

Gov. Mark Dayton talking to students at Peter Hobart Elementary School in St. Louis Park, MN on May 24th, 2013

       Therein lies part of the simplistic strength of a message that was so powerful.  Before an entire school sitting cross-legged on the playground, the governor, like the school teacher he once was, bent down to talk to some of the kids at eye level.  Then getting up to the podium he did something nearly every executive of his stature never does—he stepped away.   Looking directly at the children he said these words:

       “At a terrible time like this, there’s nothing I can say.  There are no words that can make you feel better.  I know that because I lost my very best friend in an accident not unlike the one that took Mohammed and Haysem away from you.  He was hiking in a canyon in California and a rock slide came tumbling down.  It was raining a couple of days before and he was killed.

        I remember the horror I felt, I remember the shock, the disbelief.  And I remember greeting his wife and his daughter who is my God daughter, who was eleven years old.  And I said why, you know, why?  Why did this happen?  Why did not just a bad thing happen to a good person, but why did a terrible thing happen to a terrific person?  And in your school a terrible thing happened to a few young boys and two more who were injured.  And we pray for their recovery.”          – Mark Dayton

     For exactly three minutes and ten seconds Mark Dayton wasn’t a chief executive, he was a chief grandfather.   His own story of personal loss transcended the moment for those children and their parents.  Like a warm blanket, he covered their frailties by exposing his own.    He didn’t have an answer.  But he had a connection.  He had a narrative.

     What makes this moment especially remarkable is that Dayton, like many executives, is a leader who often struggles to find the right words.  Lofty oratory is not among his chief gifts.  But his brief moment with those Peter Hobart students this week was a masterful example of the power of speech when one searches for a connection and a story to tell. 

     The teaching moment for communicators and leaders alike is the essential need to always consider one’s audience.   In this case they didn’t need words on a page; they needed words from the heart.   Dayton put down the script and let his soul fly free.   

      Speech class is dismissed.

Obama on Gun Control — A Message Management Case Study

30 Mar
President Obama's gun safety push presented as the lede story on the NBC Nightly News on March 28, 2013

President Obama’s gun safety push presented as the lede story on the NBC Nightly News on March 28, 2013

              President Obama’s latest push on gun safety was hardly a shot in the dark.   His call for universal background checks on March 28th was a highly coordinated, multi-event, multi-channel message that offers a strategic communication model on a dynamic public policy issue.

                 With the raw emotions subsiding over the tragic Sandy Hook school shootings and the success of gun rights advocates at thwarting new legislative bans on military-style semiautomatic rifles, the Obama administration clearly needed to re-engage public opinion and build groundswell.    With little political support for banning military-style assault rifles, his new objective is keeping alive the proposal of universal background checks for all gun purchases.  The new strategy involves putting public pressure on congress.  The new tactics involved a national day of action with a highly coordinated series of events and social media engagements that would swamp news coverage and buzz in a 24-hour cycle. 

Figure 1 - Barak Obama Tweet on March 28, 2013

Figure 1 – Barak Obama Tweet on March 28, 2013

                 At the core of the new strategy was a White House press event featuring the victims and survivors of gun violence.  

               “Tears are not enough,” said the President. 

               He urged activists and citizens alike to “turn that heartbreak into something real” by urging their congressmen to pass meaningful gun control legislation.  By using the bully pulpit of the presidency, Obama was able to command the necessary national news coverage and earn the A-1 lede slot on the network evening news. 

Accent Signage shooting survivor John Souter speaking at a Minneapolis news conference.

Accent Signage shooting survivor John Souter speaking at a Minneapolis news conference.

                But just as important to the strategy was sending the same message to communities across the country, especially in blue states such as Minnesota and communities where gun violence is a salient issue.  In that effort the White House coordinated with gun safety organizations to hold more than 100 media events across the country that day featuring local gun violence victims pleading for action.                         

               In Minneapolis, the event featured John Souter, a survivor of the tragic workplace shooting at Accent Signage on September 27th.  Six of his co-workers died.  Souter was shot twice.   It was his first time speaking about the unspeakable.                 

                “How has it changed me?” contemplated Souter.   “I’m not the same person that’s for sure.  I don’t laugh like I used to.  These things are with you every day.”

                He commanded the attention of every news camera, every reporter’s notebook in town.  The local news conferences served as a force multiplier to the president by ensuring that local gun violence victims would be seen and positioned next to the president’s remarks in the evening news coverage.

 

Barak Obama Facebook post on March 28th, 2013

Figure 2 –  Barak Obama Facebook post on March 28, 2013

                It was also no accident that in the middle of Souter’s emotional testimony, the Barack Obama Twitter page posted a simple message:  “Fact:  Since 1968, 1.3 million Americans have died from gun violence.” (Figure 1)                                

               The more than a half a dozen tweets were joined by Obama’s Facebook posting of an infographic showing support for universal background checks seemingly as popular at apple pie. (Figure 2)  The posting received 64,000 likes and more than 10,000 shares. 

               Likewise, the video of the president’s White House speech immediately uploaded to YouTube recieved nearly 13,000 views. (See video below)              

                By the metrics of social media engagements, earned media, and buzz, the strategy was superbly executed.    It shows that strategic engagement is no accident and it offers a modern model in multi-channel communication.   But real success in this case is whether the strategy activates votes in congress.  For the moment that is a much harder task.  The whip counts are still out.

When Holy Smokes Meet Holy Tweets

17 Mar

 

White smoke rising from the Sistine Chapel on March 13, 2013 signifying cardinals have elected a new pope.

White smoke rising from the Sistine Chapel on March 13, 2013 signifying cardinals have elected a new pope.

        In a world that communicates at the speed of light, the most important message in the universe wafted at the speed of smoke. 

         So much for the age of sophistication.

        But in that most ancient of means of communication, the smoke signals drifting from the roof of the Sistine Chapel collided with the ones and zeros that were beamed, typed, and shared around the world.   The strategic message immediately posted on the pontiff’s Twitter account @pontifex simply read, “HABEMUS PAPAM FRANCISCUM.”   The translation:  “We have a Pope Francis.” 

Figure 1

Figure 1

       In an instant, two memes went viral—the smoke and the Tweet.  

      Score one for the Vatican and its integrated cross-platform communications campaign.

      We now know what followed wasn’t just religious history, but also a significant milestone in social media.  Twitter analytics tracked the number of tweets about the new pope running at a frenetic pace of 130,000 a minute.  It now ranks as one of the mot shared moments in the world, second only to this year’s Super Bowl at 150,000, and nearly doubles that of the Oscars at 70,000. (Figure 1)

Figure 2

Figure 2

       As people watched and waited for Pope Francis to appear on the balcony overlooking St. Peter’s Square, they also retweeted  the message from @pontifex to the tune of more than 54,000 times.  That’s an impressive rate of sharing, although it stands in the shadows of President Obama’s election night tweet that was shared  by more than a half a million people. (Figure 2)

       Together they show how an institution steeped in tradition, deftly and strategically used two very divergent platforms to communicate to the world one of its most important messages of the new millennium.   

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