A Panther Traveled the World

This is no ordinary Florida panther. It traveled the world in less than a week, but how? It has a limited home range (South/Central Florida), can’t swim across the world’s major oceans and could never accomplish such a feat. What’s the catch? Well, its journey began on social media. For being such an elusive animal, it could not escape the spotlight when it visited 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 at 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 the 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 special 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, and I knew I had an obligation to share his “once in a lifetime” encounter with the world. Little did I know, this porch panther from Southwest Florida would make it halfway across the globe in a matter of hours.

Stories like this only come around so often, but I couldn’t let my excitement cloud my judgment. 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 about moving forward with the story, but the pros outweighed the cons in my eyes. It brought national attention to an endangered species that desperately needed it. It also sparked an important discussion about habitat loss, which caused 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 had an impact that was hard to even measure. Thousands of users made jokes and responded to the photo in a humorous manner, but many others realized the severity of the situation and felt compelled to share this story.

As with any trending or viral story on social media, it left quicker than it arrived. Local, state and national news outlets covered the story when it broke. It was an eye-catching image which immediately grabbed your attention. 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 and mind are fully behind it, take a chance and see what happens.

Arby’s No Longer Serves Police Officers

Arby’s made national headlines this week, and it was not for their delicious curly fries. A Pembroke Pines restaurant employee refused to serve a police officer at a drive-thru, and the city’s police chief did not take kindly to the 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. It’s clear their public relations team was not prepared to handle a situation of this magnitude. 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.

The story has spread like wildfire on social media. 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 they failed to issue a statement on social media explaining the situation, apologizing and offering ways to right their wrongs. Was the employee fired? What is being done about it? Why should we trust Arby’s and their employees? It’s important to take responsibility, not ignore the problem and wait until it blows over.

The company is keeping the public in the dark when they should be acting as transparent and honest as possible. More proactive steps are needed to educate and inform the public. Instead, they’ve allowed the media and their own customer base to dominate the discussions that are happening across social media. Arby’s is more interested in promoting their new sliders instead of doing some much-needed damage control and building goodwill with their audience.

Corporations are not invincible. There comes a time when a brand will come under fire when they least expect it. A crisis communications plan needs to be in place. In less than 24 hours the entire nation caught wind of this story. An interaction between a fast food worker and a police officer is now threatening a well-established brand, and their comms. team has essentially lost control of the situation.

“All Cops Eat Free for a Day” would be a simple campaign Arby’s could start to earn back the trust of the public and police departments across the nation. It may have been an isolated incident, but the brand is still affected wherever it operates. 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 direction.

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

The social media landscape is saturated, and communications professionals are struggling to keep up with new platforms popping up every day. Facebook held the throne for quite some time, Twitter experienced rapid growth and life was cozy for the few major players enjoying the quietness of the social landscape during the mid-2000s.

Fast forward to 2015, I have coworkers asking what a “snapchat” is and how the “vine” works. 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 overall dominance it’s hard to imagine any other video platform competing with YouTube in the foreseeable future.

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’m amazed at the creative process behind the amazing Vines being shared on a daily basis. Pinterest is a great outlet for brands to get creative and share fun DIY projects, recipes, products and more on their pages and pin boards.

Brands are getting help from influencers who dominate these popular social channels. Companies are leveraging the clout these influencers have to reach larger audiences looking for content that is genuine, authentic and relevant.

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. It’s a live video streaming service, and as a newer platform it appears to have some staying power. Journalists are using it to cover live events and breaking news. Politicians and other organizations are live streaming speeches and other notable talks. The general public is live streaming pay-per-view boxing matches and Game of Thrones episodes. The app has many applications for both brands and personal users.

LinkedIn is a platform for professionals, but brands are doing a great job of sharing content that is relevant to job seekers and working professionals. It’s great to build your own professional network, but there is value for companies using LinkedIn to hire and inspire.

Flickr is a hub for photographers and enthusiasts who don’t need the social aspect of a photo sharing site like Instagram. It’s an image hosting site owned by Yahoo, so it’s easy to see why it’s not as popular as some of the more prominent photo apps.

At the end of the day it comes down to content and community. Satisfy a need, always ask what purpose your content is serving and why people should care about it.

Obama Embraced Social Media. It Won Him Two Presidencies.

My relationship with Obama can be described as a honeymoon period that never ended. I admired this man since my freshman year of college in 2008. I didn’t follow politics or listen to NPR. I didn’t know who he was until his presidential run. But when I first heard him speak, he had that swagger that was hard to ignore.

His communications campaign and use of social media captivated me beyond belief and motivated me to pursue a career in public relations. It had a profound impact on my life and career. It also forever changed politics in the digital age.

It wasn’t just a political campaign, but a well-calculated and strategic communications strategy targeting young, educated students on the platforms they used most. It ultimately won him the 2008 election and helped build a larger online community that helped him win a second election in 2012. Social media outreach also allowed the Obama campaign to collect important data on his audience and use that data to create content and strengthen the campaign as it gained momentum. Volunteers signed up to help with campaigning, followers gave up their personal information for tickets to rallies and other events. Politicians worked hard to get this kind of information from voters. Obama got it with little to no effort, but his supporters didn’t care. They were a part of something big, a blue wave that reached every corner of the internet.

It helped that Obama was the first presidential candidate who was not a baby boomer. He was young, charismatic and open to new technologies and ways to bolster his support online and in-person. Social media offered everything Obama and his team needed to reach constituents and engage with voters.

It also allowed him to speak to his followers directly without the need for traditional outlets like TV, radio and newspapers. He set the foundation for government communications campaigns and ushered in a new approach to campaigning online in the 21st century.

That 2008 campaign broke a lot of new ground on platforms that were not widely used when he ran his first presidential campaign. That’s what makes this accomplishment even more special. With very little experience and knowledge of social media and how it could be used, Obama still realized its potential and poured a lot of time and resources into it. It’s what made Obama such a great leader as our president and a visionary in the social space.

 

 

 

Weiner’s Reputation is Worse Than His Chance to Become NYC Mayor

After months of ridicule spawning from leaked photos of Anthony Weiner exposing himself to multiple women via Twitter, he’s recently made the decision to continue his New York City mayoral campaign. The man’s got more balls than I do, but I can’t say mine have been on Twitter. His choice to stay in the race is unwise on many fronts. He has no business running for mayor with all of this negative publicity affecting his public image and personal life.

His situation is dire. At this point he should be more concerned about repairing his damaged reputation. That can’t be achieved when he’s also trying to win a mayoral race that has no business being in. His dilemma can be compared to a PR firm working with a client in a time of crisis. The client may think they know what’s best as far as goals, strategies and tactics to implement, but a forward-thinking client will take a PR consultant’s advice to eventually agree on a plan that is best for everyone involved.

In that plan, sometimes you need to accept responsibility and do things that aren’t always easy. His problems were happening well before his mayoral campaign even started. He was sexting women of all ages while in Congress, and these actions came back to haunt him when he decided to run for NYC mayor in 2013. He never stopped but still tried to salvage his political career.

Weiner acted like a client who is disillusioned, stubborn and petty. Dropping out of this race would be a blow to his pride and ego. He just couldn’t let it go and acted selfishly and embarrassed himself, his wife and family. He didn’t listen to his counsel and became blinded by his own arrogance.

If I worked on his PR team, I would strongly urge him to put the mayoral campaign on hold and focus on stabilizing areas of his life outside of politics. The countless hours he’s spent on the campaign trail could be better spent improving relations with his wife Huma or attending sessions with a therapist to address issues that really matter.

By staying in this race, he’s digging himself into a deeper hole by choosing short-term goals over long-term happiness. Weiner must take care of personal matters to show his family, friends, supporters and the voting public that he’s ready to be a faithful public servant again.

The NFL and its Lingering PR Problem

The National Football League is arguably the most popular sporting league in the world. It won’t remain that way unless there’s a better effort to discipline players who consistently damage its reputation. Roger Goodell & Co. conduct business as usual with a “too big to fail” mentality, but if they don’t address this pressing issue soon it could lead to harsh consequences for the league and each of its 32 NFL franchises.

Since the Super Bowl in February, 27 active NFL players have been arrested for a number of different crimes. Former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez is one of those 27, pinned with murder and five related gun charges just two short weeks ago. I thought the Plaxico Burress and Michael Vick incidents would be enough to push the NFL to make drastic changes to its player misconduct policies, but apparently not.

The league’s public relations crisis should be broken down, analyzed and mitigated with a strategic plan. The NFL has the reputation as the most competitive football league in the world, but off-field issues involving players continue to damage that reputation. Decision makers have been reactive instead of proactive in combating player misconduct. To salvage the league’s image and restore credibility with the fans, media, and other stakeholders, these steps should be taken by the NFL:

  1. Set a long-term goal that will be the main focus of your efforts. In this case, “Decrease the number of off-field player incidents.”
  2. Establish strategies, which are the broad approaches you’ll take to achieve the goal. Revising player misconduct policies and enforcing stricter penalties and repercussions are a few good examples.
  3. Identify measurable objectives that will be used to see if the strategies are being met. Banning or suspending players who act out could be an objective that’s easily measured to see if player misconduct decreases due to increased player bans and indefinite suspensions.
  4. Tactics need to be implemented to achieve the already set strategies and objectives on a day-to-day basis. Working with the press to get the message out about revised policies and forcing players to seek professional help to fix behavioral issues are a few useful tactics that will aid in achieving long-term goals.

This problem is not going away anytime soon. It’s imperative for the NFL to take action and not just expect the problem to fix itself. Like any successful PR campaign, a lot of planning, research and good execution will lead to better results for the league.

Yahoo Can Keep Buying, But It Won’t Fix Their Dying Brand

Yahoo is trying to stay relevant, and the company’s recent Tumblr acquisition is proof of their desperate efforts to keep up with the likes of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. So desperate in fact that since Marissa Mayer’s takeover as Yahoo CEO in July 2012, she’s acquired 11 companies including the $1 billion Tumblr.

While Marissa hopes that Yahoo will get her groove back, she’s neglecting how far behind Yahoo is in every aspect of web culture today. Yahoo was a powerhouse in the early days of the internet, but they failed to adapt and were left behind. It has the resources to make a resurgence, but they missed the window of opportunity to innovate in the social space while the iron was still hot. They still offer decent products like Yahoo Finance and Sports, but overall the company is struggling to remain relevant in a digital world they don’t recognize anymore.

The Tumblr takeover was counterproductive at best. It may appeal to advertisers in the short term as far as reaching younger demographics, but it won’t change the perceptions these generations have about the company. Brands like Facebook, Twitter, Google, Apple, Pinterest, Instagram and Reddit have found their niche and are successfully building their respective user bases. Yahoo’s complacency during this time of rapid change is one of many reasons why they lost their competitive edge. It’s very congested now and it’s safe to say Yahoo missed the boat.

Samuel L. Jackson Uses Reddit as an Effective Public Relations Tool

The legend himself, Samuel L. Jackson, made a visit to Reddit this week in an effort to raise money and awareness for the non-profit Alzheimer’s Association. Jackson encouraged redditors to submit 300-word scripts on his r/movies subreddit post. At the end of the contest, Jackson promised to read the highest upvoted script as a monologue, which can be viewed below.

From a public relations perspective this idea is gold. It’s fun, engaging and gives anyone who wants to participate a chance to hear Samuel L’s iconic voice read their written, stolen or borrowed script. Mashable explained that Jackson also teamed up with Prizeo, an organization that works with celebrities and charities to award donors with the chance to win big prizes. Those who donate as little as $3 to his Prizeo page have a chance to sit down with Jackson in the UK for a muthaphukkin’ all expenses paid lunch!

He could’ve just went on Reddit to do the typical promotional run like every other celebrity, but he branched out in an effort to connect with the movie nerds on Reddit and the community as a whole. It’s a case study we can all appreciate as public relations practitioners. He identified his target audience, engaged them actively with a well-executed campaign and made a call to action asking interested users to donate.

I’ve respected this man as an actor for many years, but this effective PR effort is why he will go down as one of the all-time greats.

Gordon Ramsay Gave Up on This Bakery. So Did the Internet.

A company’s online reputation is crucial toward building goodwill, trust and loyalty among consumers. This week one particular restaurant discovered how easy it is to destroy a brand overnight.

Amy’s Baking Company Bakery Boutique & Bistro took it to a whole new level of crazy earlier this week. The internet had the pleasure of following this embarrassing social media meltdown since it first erupted Monday night. To provide a bit of background, the restaurant is located in Scotsdale, Arizona and was recently featured on an episode of Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares.

Ramsay tried to salvage this lost cause of an establishment, but even he wasn’t able to tame these the crazies. The episode of Kitchen Nightmares aired in Dec. 2012, and five months later they’ve made national headlines spurring from multiple social media blunders on Facebook, Reddit and Yelp.

Online users flooded these sites with negative comments about the restaurant’s unstable owners, sub-par food and questionable business practices. The owners, Samy and Amy, were responding to users who were only fueling the fire at this point. It got ugly when the two started sending out threatening Facebook posts with expletives.

When shit hit the fan, they tried to backtrack by saying their social media accounts were hacked. You really can’t make this stuff up. They were swallowed up and spit out by the internet and it was all their own doing.

Any social media coordinator knows that when negative comments are flooding in, it’s sometimes best to just leave them be. Some may need to be addressed, but sometimes people just need to vent and that’s okay too. Every comment doesn’t require a response. Moderation takes practice, patience and thick skin, but the owners of this bakery clearly didn’t get that memo.

In light of the recent act of social media suicide, Forbes compiled a list of six key things you should never do on social media. If we can take away any piece of advice from this story, I think it would be to never fight the internet. You will never win.