and more from the bizarre worlds of marketing and espionage…

10 02 2012

Well, after yesterday’s look at bizarre social media stories, the strangeness continues. Is it a full moon?

1. BMW apologises for weather front deaths. Ad agency Sassenbach apparently advised its client, BMW, to sponsor a weather front crossing Europe. The idea was to promote the wind-and-weather-proof-ness of their Mini Cooper. Hence the Cooper weather system was christened and – well it had already unleashed itself on Europe, but it continued on its merry and somewhat unpredictable way. Apparently the German weather bureau allows brands to sponsor weather systems. Full marks to them for being able to “monetize” weather forecasting.

What’s wrong with this idea? Well, by definition, in order too have a name, the weather front must be (what they call in the business) “significant”. For significant, the lay-reader can substitute any of the following words: dangerous, inconvenient, catastrophic, deadly. You get the idea. So when the Cooper weather system resulted in 100 deaths in Poland and the Ukraine, BMW was put in the bizarre situation of apologising for the deaths associated with their weather front. (And for those that have picked the obvious link, I’m not going there. You’re on your own.)

So here is another interesting question. The weather bureau organises the sponsorship – could they not predict that this was going to be a bad system and might have potential downsides not only for their client, BMW, but also for the whole selling-off weather systems industry generally?

The story is here.

2. Gamification meets espionage. OK, so this is a pretty interesting concept, and I am sure there will be a movie made about this soon, if there hasn’t already been. Now I’m pretty keen on the concept of gamification – application of gaming principles (and often the gamers themselves) into solving real-world problems. In a previous posting I looked at how gamers had solved a biological puzzle about the shape of a protein that scientists had been unable to solve.

The US State Department and the US Embassy in Prague are sponsoring a social media game where gamers can win money by tracking down five people whose mugshots are shown on the game-site. Each of these people (who, in this instance, are paid actors and not real-life terrorists) is wearing a t-shirt saying that they are indeed the target, so there should be no difficulty differentiating them from other look-alikes. To win, you need to photograph all five and upload their images to the website.

So here’s where I went with this one.

1. This game, while harnessing the gaming-populace to achieve an aim, doesn’t really harness the cooperative effort that the previous gamification example did, where individuals worked together and worked off each other’s work to develop a result that was better than the efforts of any one individual (see definitions of “synergy” and “leverage”).

2. While this example has people wearing t-shirts to identify for the gamers that they have indeed identified and photographed the correct person, in real life there is considerable possibility of identity mix-ups. For instance, I am a dead-ringer for Angelina Jolie……(OK, I know that’s not relevant, I just dropped it in there as an example, and to implant this concept in your mind).

3. In real life we are talking about dangerous people being identified through this means. While harnessing the community to look out for each other is a good thing, I suspect any terrorist suddenly being followed by gamers and photographed is going to get a little (more) paranoid. And possibly aggressive. This could result in a lot of danger and possibly death for amateur detectives competing for $5k.

4. The other application mentioned in the article is tracking down missing children. Is gaming going to be more effective than saturation coverage of the child’s picture? Are we assuming that people are only going to be motivated by the possibility of winning a game worth $5k, and that it will be more effective than the current strategies of saturation coverage of photographs to the entire population, appeals about the safety of young innocents and often much larger financial rewards? What is this saying about us as a society? (And keep in mind that we already have instances of children and families being inadvertently identified as “missing children” – a very similar looking girl was photographed and tracked down in the very sad Madeleine McCann case. Imagine having random people taking photographs of your children when you were out in public – talk about paranoid.)

Now maybe this is a fabulous idea…..I don’t say yay or nay, I simply ask the questions and hope that the people doing these things are thinking very carefully about the ethics and implications of what they are setting up.

3. What the Steve Jobs file shows us about FBI investigative methodology. Gotta love this one. The recently released FBI file on Steve Jobs relates to a time during the Bush era when he was being considered for a US Federal advisory position. Much of the standard stuff is covered – they looked at his employment and family history, his political affiliations, interviewed colleagues etc. But the really interesting thing is the questionnaire that Jobs filled out for them. It contains such gems as…

24b. “Do you now use or supply, or with in the last five years have you used or supplied marijuana, cocaine, narcotics, hallucinogenics or other dangerous or illegal drugs?”

Seriously? Does anyone ever answer “yes” to that question, particularly when a government agency is asking the question? Is there any value in actually asking this question? Even if it was to cover the employer in case he is found out to be dealing drugs later – he’s dealing drugs, you can sack him on those grounds. You don’t need to also say he lied on his application.

And then, the 1950s throw-back gem… “Have you ever been a member, officer or employee of The Communist Party?” (Jobs answered no.) I am fascinated that they considered this to still be relevant in 1991 – or was Bush Snr planning to bring back reds-under-the-beds mentality? Perhaps this was plan A prior to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, which gave him his “us and them” target in the Persian Gulf War. It would be interesting to know if this question is still on the application form.

But let’s finish on a positive note – a couple of positive stories, one on social media and one on the application of technology to remote medicine.

4. American Airlines and agency Weber Shandwick have released a case study on how they managed social media during a 2010 hijacking threat. After receiving an anonymous threat about a plane about to take off at JFK International Airport in New York, the plane was sequestered on a remote side of the airport and the passengers were kept on-board.

Of course in this day and age, “everyone” is connected to social media, and rumours rapidly swirled in the twitter-sphere. Two passengers in particular became identified as authorities on the unfolding events and were being contacted by news media for information. American Airlines monitors their social media mentions and hence was quickly aware of what was happening and how incorrect rumours were being repeated in social media and fed back to the passengers on-board. In a case-study of “how-to” they were quick and responsive, dealing in real-time with both the social media mentions, and also keeping their passengers informed about what was really happening. They recognised that their passengers were in fact de-facto reporters. And overall, they managed to contain any panic that escalating and unfounded rumours can cause.

American Airlines creative manager for social media, (the appropriately named) Jonathon Bird says: “The experience opened our eyes to the fact that we need to be able to respond immediately and accurately every time. And we are getting faster, better integrated and far less siloed.”

The case study is here.

The other thing I really like about this case study is how it demonstrates that social media is increasingly driving “old media” – newspaper and television journalists were using Twitter to source information.

I have added a couple of links about social media in emergency management to the bottom of this posting.

5. Mobile tablet technology saves lives. A 24-year-old Camerooni engineer, Arthur Zang, has invented a Cardiopad , which allows ECGs and other cardio-diagnostic tests to be done remotely and the results wirelessly sent to city-based specialists. Cameroon is a central-African country of 20 million, with only 30 cardiac specialists all concentrated in the two major cities. Remote area medicine is a major problem for many countries – including first world countries such as Australia and this invention has the potential to provide cutting-edge diagnostics in remote areas, cutting the costs of providing health care in remote areas, and also the travel and inconvenience experienced by patients residing in remote areas.

He is currently looking for venture capital to commercially produce the Cardiopad. So let’s harness the power of social media and pass this on – see if we can find the Venture Capitalist willing to back it. If ever an internationally worthwhile invention deserved funding on commercial and humanitarian grounds, this is surely it.

Interested in Social Media? here are a few more you might be interested in…
Social Media in Emergency Management
Social Media in Emergency Situations
And today’s bizarre social media news…

The saga of #qantasluxury

23 11 2011

photo credit Simon sees

I am always fascinated by how new media (Facebook, Twitter etc) is driving old media (newspapers, television and radio news) these days. And none has been as entertaining as the saga of the Qantas Luxury hashtag. This has been a massive PR fail for Qantas. And I love a good PR Fail. No-one does a PR fail on the same scale as Qantas.

A quick recap for those who may have been living under a rock over the past few months.

Qantas is in dispute with a number of unions over wage and job security negotiations. Basically the Qantas CEO Alan Joyce says that for Qantas to be competitive in the international marketplace they need to take jobs off-shore and they need wage rates that are more like those in other countries (specifically Asian countries) rather than the Australian wage rates currently enjoyed by staff. He may be right, but awarding himself a 71% pay rise (no that is not a typo) to a package of around $5million whilst crying poor for the airline was not a great PR move.

A quote from Twitter:
Captain PIREP: #qantasluxury @QantasAirways – the 5 Million Dollar Man is the luxury QANTAS can not afford.

However, a few days after receiving the pay rise he then unexpectedly grounded the entire airline citing “safety reasons”. National bad press aimed at the annoyance caused by staff and unions became instead worldwide condemnation in international media aimed at Qantas. Hard to see a win here. Rumours circulated that Qantas’ cheaper sister airline, Jetstar, had received a memo three days earlier informing them that this was going to happen. This did not improve the press.

As a result of the shut-down, the Australian Government decided to step in and refer the industrial dispute to the Industrial Relations Commission for resolution, demanding that Qantas get its planes back in the air. After seeking clearance from the Civil Aviation Authority (which wanted assurances that the airline which formerly cited safety concerns, was now miraculously OK to fly), they were back in business – CEO Alan Joyce blamed the unions for the inconvenience, an excuse which seemed like avoiding an apology. The Industrial Relations Commission gave the parties 21 days to find a resolution and outlawed any further strikes and industrial action by the staff and unions. Presumably that was the outcome Alan Joyce had been seeking in his high-price game of brinkmanship. (Meanwhile in the US, a Harvard University student called Alan Joyce was inundated by tweets from irate Qantas passengers, and dealt with them with humour and patience. Qantas could learn something here.)

My previous posting on this saga is here.

So now for the update. Unsurprisingly, they did not manage to come to an agreement within 21 days, and the dispute is back in front of the Industrial Relations Commission who will make a decision. Potentially not a win for either party.

However, Qantas, realising it has created its own massively negative PR campaign, has taken steps to improve its image in Twitter-land. It launched a competition using the hashtag “Qantasluxury””

QantasAirways: To enter tell us ‘What is your dream luxury inflight experience? (Be creative!) Answer must include #QantasLuxury. TCs

Prizes were Qantas PJs and a toothbrush. (Note to Qantas – Singapore Airlines give away toothbrushes and bedsocks with every flight) This less than a month after they inconvenienced passengers all over the world.

Hmmmm…..well, tweeters didn’t really need to be encouraged to be creative! This is now the number one trending hashtag in Australia, and not in the way Qantas had hoped. Tweeters have used their creativity and come up with a remarkably wide range of mocking tweets, videos, articles and other ephemera, as well as airing every gripe, complaint and annoyance they may have ever had about Qantas.

John Dean : I want some tips from the social media coordinator of Qantas because that #QantasLuxury tag is booming.

Tommy__MTommy :RT @prebenvision: #QantasLuxury using a platform they have absolutely no knowledge of for promotional purposes and have it blow up in…

One of the most amusing (and popular) is this one:

And of course, the massive FAIL of the #Qantasluxury campaign has reached mainstream media. Part of the issue (apart from the pathetic prizes, lack of acknowledgement about recent issues and the impact they have had on their customers) is the timing. Again, this was pulled out within days of the Qantas pay dispute being referred back to the Industrial Relations tribunal, just over three weeks after they decided to ground the airline worldwide without giving passengers any notice. Someone at Qantas has a seriously poor sense of timing.

Danae Sinclair :#qantasluxury doesn’t look like a hash tag #fail to me – too much amusement & discussion to be considered anything but a #win – for us.

71% payrise for CEO = entire airline grounded worldwide inconveniencing millions of passengers
failure to reach agreement with unions and referred back to Industrial Relations Tribunal = competition talking about the “luxury” of Qantas with (trivial) PJs as a prize.

Is there any way to pull this one back from the brink? Is there some way for Qantas to fix this? The hashtag is out there now and can’t be retrieved. It has a life of its own, being shared among Tweeters who are keeping it going. Would having a decent prize help? Would some sort of apology help? Would the resolution of the pay dispute (without screwing the Australian workers) help?

Maybe something like Air New Zealand’s flashmob safety demonstration could help:

Note to Qantas – Air New Zealand were CREATIVE, AMUSING, SELF-MOCKING……and they gave away FLIGHTS! There are a whole series of these videos on their Youtube channel.

So, back to Qantas. Maybe only time will help. But they need some better PR advice.

Newsflash: maybe this is the solution Qantas are looking for – a new scandal not involving them:
klixplus (Adam McKinnon) : Did Allan Joyce pay Kyle Sandilands to take some twitter heat off #QantasLuxury ? If he did it maybe his first smart move for Qantas!

UPDATE: 23/11/11 1751: Police have suspended investigations into alleged death threats against Qantas Management. Alan Joyce and other senior Qantas management claimed that they had death threats made against them in May this year, and again in October. Mr Joyce alleged this was related to the wage dispute, saying, “Those who are in the business of using threats, violence and intimidation to obtain their industrial ends should know this: these tactics are cowardly and deplorable. They will not work. Anyone who is caught will face the full consequences.”

Transport Workers Union national secretary Tony Sheldon said the union had believed the decision was a stunt from the beginning and claimed the police decision confirmed this. “It is a disgraceful diversion of police resources,” he said. “The truth is now out. The next issue is for the truth to come out on the dodgy claim that Alan Joyce only decided to shut down the aviation industry on October 29. That’s where the real investigation is needed.”

For the full story, click here.


26 10 2011

Queen and Prince Phillip, 1954 visit to Australia photo credit: State Records NSW

I am a bit of a news junky. I think it makes me feel up to date.

On top of that, having studied communications at university, I tend to have opinions on what constitutes “news” and how it is presented. Yes, Media Watch, a program that critiques news presentations, is aimed at people like me.

Watching more than one news bulletin a day means my “compare and contrast” function is on full. I know when one station reports different statistics to another. I know who is focussing on what I call “real news” (what is going on in the world that has major implications either here or abroad) and who is focusssed on “soft news”. While the old saying “if it bleeds, it leads” still holds true, it is now supplemented by “if we have decent footage, it’s in”. And hence a run-of-the-mill car crash in Sydney will be played in news broadcasts across the country, because they have good footage of it. Never mind that it has little relevance in any other city, nor that there may be other more catastrophic car crashes have happened locally.

My other pet hate is media releases that make it as news. Now while this is particularly prevalent in newspapers, it happens on TV news as well. Somebody’s medical research that may lead to a cure for something – media release. They aren’t saying it will or can cure the disease. They are promotion the research laboratory. And often it isn’t new research anyway. Fundraising efforts for worthy causes – no matter how worthy the cause – are not news.

Which brings me to the Queen. I will declare my prejudices up front:
1. I fail to see the relevance of the royal family to Australia today. Get over it people, it is time to fly the parental nest. We should be a republic by now – our historic connection to the UK is not relevant to our existenace today. I say this as a former ten pound Pom.

2. I have no problem with the Queen, Prince Phillip and assorted hangers-on touring the country. I don’t even mind having expensive receptions for them as visiting heads of state. I fail to see, however, why we should be paying for their tour. They are very wealthy people.

However, back to the news. I can just about tolerate the blow by blow coverage of the Queen touring the country. After all, if it were Obama touring, we would expect to see it as well. However, keep it brief.

My big issue though, is the amount of “news” time given over to watching the Queen accept bouquets from 8 year old girls, and discussions about whether a bow, a bob, a nod or a curtsey is the appropriate greeting for someone who has educated themselves and worked hard to get where they are, to greet someone was lucky enough to be born into the right family. And secondly, why do we then compare this tour to footage of her previous visits? Why is this news? Why is it news about what she did in 1954 when she visited?

If the networks want to compare this royal tour with other royal tours, then make a documentary and show it separately. Don’t cut into my news time with this irrelevant drivel.


4 10 2011

photo credit: scripting news scriptingnews/632951121/

Heard a great term tonight – first time I have heard it – click-bait!

The reference was to how online news had changed journalism, requiring faster and faster deadlines, and click-bait in each story.

So what is click-bait? It is links written into stories to keep the punters on the website. So instead of clicking into a story, reading it and going away, you follow the links and read another story, and then another, and then another. Bait to keep you clicking. And reading their ads.

So the question then is, how has this affected the quality of journalism? Just as some time ago I wrote about how the like button had turned facebook posts and associated blogs into popularity contests, is that what has also happened to newscasts? Is the quality of the news that we are reading dictated by what sensationalist aspects can be linked into the story, and how it can be moulded into funnels to keep people circling and cycling through the news website?

Maybe the effect of sensationalism has already corrupted newscasts for a while now – think the 6pm newsgrabs and two-inch high headlines. Perhaps this is just its latest incarnation.

Is that a problem? Maybe not if you view news as a form of entertainment, or a way to pass time. But if the decision criteria for what gets reported is based on popularism, maybe we aren’t hearing what we need to hear.

What do you think? And what bait keeps you clicking?

UPDATE 5/11/11: another new term – for me at least: Clickjacking! Click here for the link.

Update: Social Media in Emergency Situations

24 09 2011

A little while ago I blogged about some of the benefits of social media in emergency management.

Since then, a few more have been pointed out to me….

1. Timetable and responsiveness. Newspapers usually come out once a day, TV has news broadcasts about three times a day (with the occasional update), radio has news broadcasts every half hour. In an emergency situation they may increase frequency, but social media is more immediate, and its users already expect to find news instantly – and look to it as their first option.

2. The IT literate generations (and remember over 10,000 people in Australia are on Facebook, so if we exclude the under 13s and the over 70s, that is most – but not all – of the population) are used to having news instantly at their fingertips, and to having to search for exactly the infromation they want through google, facebook, twitter feeds etc. The seek information in the social media sphere.

3. “Old media” relies on the audience having access to a radio or television set and a power supply. Hand-held smart phones and the like are usually on the person, and have long battery life.

4. “New media” can also be uploaded and broadcast from any hand-held device. So if your TV studio is underwater, the power supply is cut and your generator has run out of fuel….your iphone is probably still working and can upload videos and photos as well.

5. Crowd-sourcing of information allows for a much more in-depth, broader and personalised news broadcast. Old media only has so many camera crews and journalists, and even with the addition of helicopters and information sources, there are only a certain number of places where in-depth coverage is going to occur. Crowd-sourcing enables people from all over the affected area to record and upload information. This can be useful for emergency services to know, but also for other members of the community to have information about their immediate area and surroundings, where their friends and relatives might be, and any route they may be planning to travel on.

I am guessing that now I have published this, a few more will be pointed out to me….so stay tuned for the update. And please keep the ideas coming!

the world according to Cleese

17 09 2011

I was going to post about why the Advertiser Newspaper had put a large article on John Cleese’s gluten intolerance – hardly news, would have thought. But since reading the article in the magazine section, instead I will quote him:

When people are anxious they tend to do more stereotypical things. They tend to be much more exploratory and more creative when they are relaxed.

Thoughts from a man whose career has been marked by creativity.