A Security Flaw Brought Down Google Plus. That’s Not What People Are Talking About.

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Google Plus was destined to fail from the start. It was late to the game, other platforms had already established their dominance in the social space and it had no competitive edge since the day it launched in 2011. The hype around this new and exciting channel was palpable, but it didn’t take long for users to test the waters and jump ship before the boat even left the harbor.

But I’m not here to discuss the failures of Google Plus. It’s not surprising a tech giant like Google wanted a piece of the social media pie. It had the resources to make it happen, even Zuckerberg saw Google’s foray into social networking as a serious threat to his company, but ultimately the fittest survived.

What I’m interested in is the communications strategy Google and parent company Alphabet devised to let Google+ down easy while staying on good terms with their users and the general public. This week, Google posted on its blog about a security flaw that exposed the private data of hundreds of thousands of users on Google+. They opted not to disclose the issue because of fears that doing so would draw regulatory scrutiny and cause reputational damage. At the time Google discovered and patched the bug, Facebook was having legal and image troubles of its own when Cambridge Analytica illegally purchased tens of millions of users’ FB profile information from a third-party app maker. Google didn’t want to get caught up in Facebook’s legal and PR problems at the time, so they waited.

From an ethical standpoint, Google and Alphabet should have told the public about the Google+ security flaw as soon as they knew about it. Honesty and transparency are the pillars of public relations. Instead, they wanted to stay in control of the narrative surrounding their social network and remain proactive throughout these events.

In the end, it worked in Google’s favor. They released news of the security flaw along with the decision to end Google+ for consumers. Instead of talking about the data breach, the public was eager to discuss the end of the social network and how it should’ve happened sooner. Google knew plus was a lost cause for years, and they used that dumpster fire as a distraction to lessen the blow over the very concerning security issues.

Some tech news outlets and other mainstream media have covered the story, but the buzz online is mainly focused on the death of Google+. When you control the message, you also have some control over public opinion.

People will forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel. Google made a lot of people feel relieved that Plus is gone for good.

 

 

My Career with the FWC

It’s been a busy year at the FWC! Here’s what I’ve been up to. In the latest edition of FWRI’s quarterly newsletter, I was featured in the staff spotlight video series. As a social media coordinator, I’m usually the one behind the camera. This was a perfect opportunity to educate staff throughout the agency about my job and the important role social media plays in our outreach efforts at the institute. I’ve learned so much about Florida’s natural resources over the last four years, and it’s rewarding to be able to share this knowledge with a community of people who are equally passionate about fish and wildlife research and conservation. Thank you to everyone who continues to support our mission.

Brands Need a Plan for Facebook Live

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As any public relations professional will tell you, strategy, calculation and precision are ingredients guiding every decision that is made during a communications campaign. SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound) goals are set, objectives are established and tactics are identified to show how these goals and objectives will be accomplished throughout the duration of the campaign. A well established communications plan will help guide your efforts throughout the campaign, and a similar plan will also help achieve success using Facebook Live, the social media giant’s live streaming video feature. Facebook Live is now available to all Facebook users, pages and brands, and it’s important for social media coordinators and managers to develop a “Standard Operating Procedure” to help your organization remain consistent, efficient and prepared as you begin using Facebook Live to promote your brand.

The FWC Fish and Wildlife Research Institute has been exploring Facebook Live and discussing its potential benefits for promoting fish and wildlife research throughout the state of Florida. As the social media coordinator for the institute, I led efforts to create a framework for Facebook Live as it relates to the overall social media strategy for our brand. Over the past two years we’ve implemented more video into our content plan, and live video offers another exciting avenue to engage our audience in unique and interesting ways. To help other organizations that are making the leap into live video, I’ve included our new communication plan specific to Facebook Live. Instead of going in with guns blazing, we’re building a road map to help us effectively use Facebook Live as a vital brand building tool for years to come.

The Panther That Traveled the World

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This is no ordinary panther. It traveled the world in less than a week, but how did it do it? The Florida panther has a limited home range (South/Central Florida), it can’t swim across the world’s major oceans and it would be physically impossible for this endangered feline to accomplish such a bold feat. It traveled the world alright, and its inspiring journey began on social media. For being such an elusive animal, it could not escape the spotlight any longer when it made a decision to visit the porch of Phil Hendra’s father, who lives in Fort Myers, Florida. This incredible photo was taken, we shared the story on our Facebook page and the rest is internet history.

I first encountered this photo on Facebook in late March, and there was misinformation spreading across social media concerning where the panther was sighted. The story had legs by the time I got to it, and over 2,000 people had already shared a Facebook post with incorrect sighting information. I had to be proactive in this moment or we would quickly lose our ability to control the message and release correct sighting information on behalf of the agency. I contacted Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) panther biologists, who confirmed the sighting location to be in Fort Myers and not in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties as some local news outlets had reported. Our biologists put me in contact with Phil Hendra, the man who saw the panther on his father’s porch and took the candid photo. Mr. Hendra gave me permission to share his image on our Facebook page, and he also provided more details about the sighting and talked about his experience at great length. Everything fell into place that day, and I spent the rest of the afternoon fact checking, gathering additional information and obtaining quotes to include in my draft. I was inspired after hearing about Phil’s experience with our state animal, I knew I had an obligation to share his “once in a lifetime” encounter with the world. Little did I know, this photogenic porch panther from Southwest Florida would make it half way across the globe in a matter of hours.

Stories like this only come around so often, but I could not let my excitement cloud my judgement. There were potential issues that needed to be addressed before deciding to go public. Will there be public safety concerns among local residents once they find out a panther is roaming their neighborhood? Does this photo highlight a failure of the FWC to properly manage this species in the first place? Will this content encourage people to actively seek out the panther and try to harm it?  I had my doubts when deciding to move forward with the story, but in the end I determined the pros outweighed the cons. It brought national attention to an endangered species that desperately needed it. It also sparked an important discussion about habitat loss, which caused a near extinction of the species years ago and continues to be a problem today. At this rate, it’s only a matter of time before we completely wipe out the only remaining habitat the Florida panther has left. Human-panther encounters are a direct result of this habitat loss, and the image spoke louder than anything I could put into words. Thousands of users made “here kitty kitty” jokes and responded to the photo in a playful manner, but many others came to the realization that it could mean life or death for this panther or the species entirely.

As with any trending or viral story on social media, it faded quicker than it arrived. Local, state and national news outlets covered the story for their own editorial reasons. It was a unique picture to most, to others it made for a catchy headline, but it undoubtedly became the symbol of a larger issue that may be too late to fix. It’s any social media manager’s dream to receive as much press and attention as we did during that time, and our brand reaped the benefits as a result. If you have a great story to tell and your heart is fully behind a cause or client, don’t let anything stand in your way. Not even a panther.

Arby’s No Longer Serves Police Officers

arbys_redux_logo_detailArby’s made national headlines this week, and it was not for their delicious curly fries. A Pembroke Pines (Florida) restaurant employee refused to serve a police officer at a drive through, and the Pembroke Pines Police Chief did not take kindly to that news. The chief contacted Arby’s corporate executives directly and demanded an apology. Arby’s issued a public statement and apologized for the employee’s actions, but from a public relations perspective that’s like putting a band-aid on a broken window. Arby’s needs a lesson in crisis communications, and from observing the way they handled this situation it’s clear their public relations team was blindsided by this unexpected event. The online community is threatening to boycott their brand, and the company has done very little to assure customers that the issue is being resolved.

This story has spread like wildfire on social media, and from what I’ve observed the company is being more reactive than proactive with their communications efforts. Arby’s hasn’t made a post on their Facebook page since August 29, and at the very least they could have issued a statement on social media explaining the situation, apologizing and offering ways to alleviate the situation. Was the employee fired? What is being done about it? Why should we ever eat at Arby’s again? The company is keeping the public in the dark when they should be acting as transparent and honest as possible. More proactive steps are necessary to educate and inform the public, but instead they’ve allowed the media and their own customer base to dominate the discussions that are happening across social media. Right now Arby’s is more interested in promoting their new “sliders” on all of their social media channels instead of doing some much needed damage control.

Corporations are not invincible. There comes a time when a brand will come under fire when they least expect it, and a crisis communications plan needs to be in place for trying times like this. The power of the web should not be underestimated. In less than 24 hours the entire nation caught wind of this story. A simple interaction between a fast food worker and a police officer is now threatening to tear apart a well-established brand, and the company expects this to just blow over. The internet never forgets, and with how much cops like fast food Arby’s is also in jeopardy of losing a large percentage of their customers.

“All Cops Eat Free for a Day” would be a simple campaign Arby’s could start to earn back the trust of the public. A simple statement will not cut it. A call to the police chief is not sufficient. This story has legs, and right now it’s outrunning the Arby’s brand in every possible way.

My Encounter With a Bottlenose Dolphin

One of the best perks of my job is working in a location that is teeming with wildlife. The Fish and Wildlife Research Institute is located on Bayboro Harbor in downtown St. Petersburg, and each day we have a unique opportunity to witness something special. On my lunch break a few weeks ago, I was observing schools of tarpon rolling over the calm waters of the harbor when a bottlenose dolphin approached the seawall near our building in search of a quick lunch. The dolphin provided a solid 10 minutes of entertainment while chasing fish and playing hide and seek with its prey. A few of my coworkers were there to see it, and it was certainly a unique experience for all of us. We often find great stories when we least expect it, and having the freedom to grab a camera (or my phone in this case) and escape the confines of my desk is one of the best parts of my job. Seeing a dolphin in the wild is much more rewarding than seeing one behind glass, and I hope everyone has an opportunity to experience what we did that day.

The State of Social Media in 2015

The social media landscape has become so saturated that communications professionals are struggling to keep up with the latest trends. Facebook sat atop the iron throne for quite some time, Twitter experienced rapid growth during its golden years and life was cozy for the few major players enjoying the view from a relatively quiet social media summit during the mid-2000s.

Fast forward to 2015, and now I have coworkers asking what “a snapchat” is and how “the vine” works. If you so much as blink, you will be swept up in this fast paced social media shit storm. In less than five years, Instagram exploded in popularity and is slowly strangling a competitive field once dominated by its owner (Facebook). YouTube is a video behemoth, and there doesn’t seem to be any website that can rival its superiority. Google owns it, and with their money, resources and creative direction it’s hard to imagine Vimeo or Hulu making any push to challenge the tube. Apps like Vine and Snapchat offer short form video storytelling, and a handful of brands have found success using these tools. From how-to videos on Vine (Lowes) to stop motion animation, it will be interesting to see how brands continue to reach younger audiences and create compelling content. Telling a story in six seconds is an art form in and of itself. I continue to be amazed at the creative process behind the amazing Vines being shared on a daily basis.

The best part is, brands will seek out influencers to create content for them! Every social media platform has its poster boys and girls, and brands are leveraging these influencers to reach new audiences looking for content that is genuine and not coming from the mouth of a money-hungry marketer.

Today’s social media lineup is so deep it feels like a new platform is sprouting up every week. Periscope is an app I’ve been keeping a close eye on. Twitter bought it in March for a cool $100 million, just like it bought out Vine in 2012. I don’t mean to stray off topic, but something tells me that Twitter is struggling to remain relevant. It is a social network that is here to stay, but the decline in the number of monthly active users is little concerning. However, no service can match Twitter in the realm of breaking news. The public controls the message, we’re empowered as our own reporters and news breaks on Twitter before traditional media outlets even have a chance to turn their cameras on. Let’s get back to Periscope. It’s a live video streaming service, and in its infancy it appears to have a lot of potential. Journalists are using it to cover live events and breaking news, politicians and other organizations are live streaming speeches and other notable talks and the general public is live streaming pay-per-view boxing matches and Game of Thrones episodes. What a time to be alive.

LinkedIn is a toss up for most brands, but if anything use it to build your personal brand. Employers want to see that you’re active on social media, and LinkedIn provides an outlet to showcase your career history and accomplishments. Flickr will always be a hub for more professional leaning photographers. It lacks in social where Instagram thrives, but Flickr is not trying to be an Instagram. It’s an image hosting site that has a traditional leaning audience, much like it’s parent company Yahoo. Times changed quickly for companies like AOL, Yahoo and Digg. They lost their competitive edge, their products became obsolete and now they’re playing catch up in a race they had no business competing in.

At the end of the day, it comes down to quality content. Satisfy a need, make someone laugh, make someone cry. Be genuine. Remain transparent, and remember that the audience always comes first. Social media is a part of our culture. It’s our generation’s printing press, and it has revolutionized the world we live in. In my own little world, I’m lucky enough to say that it’s my job.