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

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

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.

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.