Five Reasons to Use Posterous as a Social Media Distribution Point

I’ve been enjoying playing with Posterous for about a year now, and while I don’t recommend it for everyone, it can be a great tool for some people. You should consider using Posterous if you are a:

  • Beginning blogger
  • Social media specialist
  • Mobile blogger
  • Crisis communicator

Posterous is an email submission blog. You send your post as an email to your own Posterous.com address, treat the subject line as the headline, and any attachments you send are incorporated into the post itself. It’s not pretty at times, but if you need something fast, this is it. Plus, you can go in and edit stuff to make it look better later.

Posterous.com Screenshot

My Posterous.com blog

I’ve often said, “Using a blog interface is a lot like sending an email.” Now, thanks to Posterous, it really is sending an email.

Here are five reasons to use Posterous as a blog platform and social media distribution point:

  1. It’s ideal for mobile phone users. If you’re constantly on the go, and want to blog about the things you see, Posterous allows you to upload photos or videos to your site, along with any accompanying text. Posterous takes advantage of the overall computing power of today’s mobile phones. When I need to demonstrate Posterous during a talk, a few minutes before I go on, I’ll snap a picture of the gathering audience on my mobile phone, attach it to an email, and type in a couple of lines. Before my talk begins, I tell the audience, “I’m going to hit send on this email right now. You’ll see why it’s important in 10 minutes.” Then, when I get to that point in my talk, I show them my Posterous page, which has the picture of them. If you’re a crisis communicator or a mobile blogger, this is an ideal tool for communicating with the public on the fly.
  2. Posterous will automatically send videos and photos to other sites. I have tied my Flickr, Picasa, and YouTube accounts to my Posterous account; it also sends videos to Vimeo. Whenever I take photos or videos, and send them to Posterous, they are automatically uploaded to the appropriate networks. I don’t have to upload them first, and then download the embed code. The downside for anyone who is concerned about search engine optimization is that your digital properties are on Posterous, not on YouTube or Flickr, so you lose any search engine juice that would normally come from a well-optimized video or photo that links to your site. There are workarounds for this, but they take some extra time after your post has been uploaded. If you’re a social media specialist, you’ll love this feature.
  3. Posterous will automatically repopulate content to other blog platforms. You can tell Posterous to re-send your content on to your WordPress, Blogger, Drupal, TypePad, LiveJournal, Xanga, or Tumblr site. Publish a post on Posterous, republish it on your “official” blog. Yes, there are plugins and apps that let you email your posts in to these platforms, but they won’t necessarily upload your video and photos to YouTube and Flickr. Again, crisis communicators or mobile bloggers who need to get information out to several networks will love this feature.
  4. Tell Posterous NOT to post to certain networks. The default setting for Posterous is to repost everything to every network you want it to (i.e. email my post to post@posterous.com. But what if you have a photo you don’t want to send to Flickr, or you don’t want a post to show up on your WordPress blog? By using a specific email address — for example facebook+youtube+blog+twitter@posterous.com — I can tell Posterous to post to my different properties, but leave out a specific network. In this example, I’m leaving out Flickr.
  5. Posterous can automatically notify Twitter, Facebook, Google Buzz, etc. about new blog posts. Tie your Posterous blog into your different social networks, and notify your followers when a new post is up.

New ebook Available: Social Media and Crisis Communication for Government Communicators

I just published a new ebook, Social Media and Crisis Communication for Government Communicators. I wrote it after giving a presentation to a public health conference, and realizing that many of them did not even have access to the different social media tools.

So I based it on several blog posts I’ve posted here, as well as some new information. The ebook is free, and there is both a PDF version and a Kindle version available.

Four Ways Government Agencies Should Use Social Media

While I’m a frequent speaker about whether government agencies should use social media for crisis communication (they should), I was recently asked whether agencies should use it for non-crisis communication.

Of course they should.

Having worked in public affairs (that’s government talk for “public relations”), I have seen the frustration many agencies experience in trying to get their messages out to the mainstream media, or media representing their particular niche.

The Indiana Board of Animal Health and the Indiana Department of Agriculture have great relationships with the different farm newspapers and radio stations in the state. The Indiana Arts Commission has a tie-in with many of the arts media in the state. And the Indiana Office of Tourism Development’s Visit Indiana initiative works closely with the travel media in the region. (Full disclosure: I am a blogger for Visit Indiana.)

And many of these agencies are using social media, but they’re using it as a broadcast tool, rather than a communication tool. However, I have to applaud these agencies for using social media at all. There are still several agencies within my own state government that are relying on fax machines and emails to send press releases to mainstream media. I’m not saying they should completely drop that method of communication, but rather, they should add social media to their efforts. Part of the problem is the decision makers within these agencies who don’t understand social media, and therefore assume the public doesn’t use it. The other part of the problem is the IT departments who are worried that allowing people to access YouTube or Twitter will open a huge Pandora’s box of ills. (But will never switch to Firefox to combat this problem…)

So if an agency is on the fence about using social media or not, here are five ways they could use it for great benefit.

  • Use a blog to promote different programs, news releases, announce grants, release official statements, post job openings, and solicit feedback from the public. A blog is the easiest way to communicate with the public, because it’s created specifically for that purpose. No more asking your IT department or web developer to add a new page on your website. Just click the New Post (or New Page button, if you’re lucky enough to have WordPress on your server), add in the appropriate text and photos, click Submit, and voila! you created a new post/page. No programming, no delays, no excuses of “I’ve been backed up with a bunch of requests from other departments.
  • Create videos to educate the public about your different programs. Government agencies are notorious for starting programs, but often have no way to promote them. With a $200 Flip camera, or even someone’s point-and-shoot digital camera, you can create basic videos that can be uploaded to YouTube, Vimeo, and Viddler. You can even embed your videos in new blog posts.
  • Use social media as part of your media relation efforts. Post videos of press conferences to YouTube and your blog. Post press releases to the blog, and then announce them on Twitter. Encourage citizen journalists and bloggers to use your content in their own blogs, which will help promote your media efforts.
  • Maintain a network of professionals or citizens who are associated with your agency. If you’re in public health, maintain a Twitter account of public health professionals. Keep in contact with those professionals and follow what they’re doing. If you’re in agriculture, create a social network of farmers, animal producers, extension agents, and associated vendors. Let them provide support, answer questions, and create new opportunities with each other. If you’re in tourism, create a blog for potential visitors to learn about what your area has to offer.

What are some ways you think government agencies could use social media? How have you seen it done, or how has your agency used it? Leave a comment in the comments section and let us know what you think.

The Growing Need for Bloggers as Citizen Journalists

Two bits of interesting news this past month for bloggers who consider themselves journalists:

I’ve been preaching for a while that bloggers are citizen journalists. And now we get confirmation that 52% of us believe it to be true, and that 61% of Americans are possible readers. Plus — and this is a big one — the last-reported numbers from Technorati are that 77% of all Internet users read a blog of some kind.

The time is ripe for bloggers to begin thinking of themselves as citizen journalists. Social media is making it so much easier for us to not only see the news, but report it as well.

Social media is breaking the news before the news.

We’ve seen several instances where social media broke news stories before mainstream media picked it up. The three most notable examples have been:

  1. The first images coming out of Haiti were on Twitter, because mainstream media couldn’t get on the ground. People with cell phones and spotty wifi were sending photos to Twitter and Facebook, and we were spreading them around like wildfire. My family was particularly interested in one set of missionaries in Port-au-Print, and @TroyLiveSay was providing information that we weren’t getting anywhere else.
  2. Moments after the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India, news was spreading on Twitter before the shots had even stopped.
  3. When the US Airways flight landed in the Hudson last year, news had broken on Twitter 15 minutes before the first news reports hit the airwaves.

While none of these examples show a failing of the mainstream media, they show that in many cases, people reporting on incidents that happened nearby ended up being first just because of the widespread nature of the tools.

I’ve been playing with Posterous as a possible blogging platform for rapid response and crisis communication professionals. You email your blogs to your email address (it’s actually just post@posterous.com), your subject line is your headline, you attach any photos, type and format your content in your text box, and voila! You’ve got a blog post sent from your smart phone.

And I totally geeked out a few days ago, when Chris Brogan showed how you can take photos on your digital camera, and immediately have them uploaded to your favorite file sharing service, with something the size of a quarter and something else the size of a pocket calculator.

My advice? If you have even the slightest inclination of being a citizen journalist, start taking your blogging seriously. You don’t have to change the scope of your blog, your writing style, or even the quality of your writing.

Just do it with intentionality. As hard as it may be to explain (this is the 6th time I’ve written this paragraph), report your news for posterity. Do it with a sense of responsibility and gravitas. When you see something happening, take photos and upload them to Flickr or Picasa. Send tweets. Email news to your blog. Be a source of information to your community. Don’t just repeat what you’ve seen, report on it.

Even something as simple as reporting a small incident you just witnessed can sometimes lead to national or even international stories, or you may be the lone voice that speaks for someone who can’t do it themselves.

While I’m not suggesting we all change our focus and become word slingers, I am suggesting we adopt the mindset that we’re just as good as the professionals who, I’m sorry to say, just aren’t as quick as the “ordinary citizens” armed with nothing more than cell phones and a serious case of Twitter-thumbs.

Related posts:
Rules for Being a Media Blogger
Defining Two Types of Crisis Communication
Five Things Newspapers Can Teach Us About Blogging
What Stylebook Should Bloggers Use?

Image is Everything, Twitter is Forever

It was a disappointing night in Indianapolis tonight (I’m writing this at 12:00 on a Sunday night/Monday morning). Our beloved Indianapolis Colts lost the Super Bowl to the New Orleans Saints, 31 – 17.

I followed the game with many of my Twitter friends, and we had a good time chatting with each other, and some of our Twitter buddies down in New Orleans. When the game was over, we congratulated the Saints fans, and wished them well. Everyone but one person. They tweeted what was one of the most egregious tweets I had seen in, maybe, ever.

Fine New Orleans. Go back to your stupid flooded shit hole of a city with the trophy.

Our collective jaws dropped. People were offended, and the whole thing created quite a firestorm here in Indianapolis among several PR and social media pros. It even got some serious attention in New Orleans.

This hateful tweet was made by a supposed PR professional — we’ll call them X — who didn’t seem to understand that when you’re in PR, you’re on all the time. If you make public statements, you and your organization will be judged by those statements. And when you make a joke about a city that lost over 1800 people to the country’s most devastating hurricane in a century, that reflects poorly on you, on your company, and even on your city.

We’re sorry, New Orleans

First of all, let me apologize on behalf of the entire city. This one person does not speak for the rest of us. For the most part, we were gracious in our loss, and I saw a lot of tweets congratulating the city of New Orleans for an awesome win. You fans have shown real class and pride over the years. You love your team as much as we love ours. And this was a great game. I’m very sorry one person said something that awful. We don’t think like that, act like that, or talk like that in Indiana. This person’s tweet is not indicative of the entire state’s way of thinking.

A Quick Aside

I have since learned, after I wrote the first draft, that X received death threats for their offending tweet. Totally uncool, people. While what this person did was hateful, death threats will land you in all kinds of trouble with the law. Do not make death threats, or violent threats of any kind. Be better than X, rise above it. Let’s keep our heads.

Back to the Story

So someone publicly tweeted X’s boss “Hey, congratulations on the AWESOME hire.” A follow-up tweet called on X’s boss to fire them. X deleted their tweet, and protected their account (because of the death threats), but the damage had been done. Screen shots were already circulating, and many people were discussing it online.

While I’m not calling for anyone’s resignation, I do think the entire incident was handled poorly this evening. As a PR practitioner, I would hope X would recognize that:

  1. there is no compartmentalizing of personal life and private life when you’re on Twitter and social media.
  2. Google lasts forever. Just because you delete something doesn’t mean it’s gone. The screen shots are out there forever.
  3. Anyone with even a basic understanding of crisis communication should understand that you need to react to the situation with remorse and speed, not hiding evidence or closing down. One would hope that a PR professional would understand this.

This is the kind of PR that no public figure — corporate, government, or otherwise — would ever want. And yet, it’s the kind that someone, who truly should have known better, got.

Think beyond the present moment

Whenever I give social media talks, especially to college students, I always say the same thing: If you don’t want skeletons in your closet, don’t stick bodies in there in the first place.

If you don’t want potential employers to find stupid photos of you on Facebook, 1) don’t do stupid stuff, 2) don’t take photographic evidence of your stupidity and 3) don’t associate with people who post photos of your stupidity on Facebook.

The same is true with Twitter. Don’t tweet things that are hurtful, painful, and just plain wrong. Don’t wave it off as sarcasm. And always, always apologize when you screw up. Don’t hide, don’t cower, don’t turn on your protective force field. Admit your mistake like an adult, and then quit acting like a child in the first place.

(X did apologize for their tweet in their blog post.)

This incident is just one more reason why businesses are loathe to let their people get on social media on behalf of the company. They don’t want someone tweeting, Facebooking, or generally communicating with the world when they shouldn’t be.

Actions like this hurt the social media community as a whole, and they makes our job harder when we try to convince C-level executives to trust their employees to do the right thing. If the people who should know better can’t do the right thing, why would the average employee?

Finally, I hope the person in question will apologize to the people of New Orleans, and follow it up with a donation to their rebuilding efforts. I also hope X’s employer will use this as an educational moment. Use it to learn and grow from.

And quit using Twitter after 5:00 if you can’t be trusted.

Defining Two Types of Crisis Communication

Crisis communication has two different, distinct meanings. They require different approaches, different ideas, and completely different types of plans. And not knowing the differences between the two can create some problems if you try to use one approach in the wrong place.

There’s corporate crisis communication (CCC), and there’s CERC.

CERC — Crisis and Emergency Risk Communication — is what the government calls communication during a massive emergency, such as swine flu, a terrorist attack, or large-scale natural disaster. (And you can tell the government came up with it, since it’s so much longer and has more words than are truly necessary.)

Both are often called “oh shit PR,” but the difference is that in a CERC situation, a lot of people could die. With CCC, a lot of money could be lost. One type of emergency gives emergency first responders sharp chest pains and indigestion, the other makes the corporate lawyers pull out their hair. But they both say the same two words when something goes down.

Although these two forms have a lot of similarities, there are some important differences. And if you’re talking about social media for crisis communication, you need to know them, because they affect your strategy.

Corporate crisis communication

I’d like to say that it’s important to always tell the truth and to be as open and honest as possible. But the sad truth is that being completely open and honest can ruin a company. I’ve hassled corporate legal departments over their “wrecking” crisis communications, but they’re a necessary part of any response. They just shouldn’t control it. In CCC:

  • Transparency tends to go out the window. The emergency is usually something that will make the corporation (or individual) look bad, so the first instinct is to hunker down and contain the bad news. This often means trying to keep it under wraps. This hardly ever works.
  • The negative end result of a corporate crisis is a loss of money. It could be a hit to their reputation, credibility, or branding, but those will all effect the bottom line. And since that can be in the millions or billions, crisis communication is not something that should be taken lightly. Entire companies, like Chi-Chi’s restaurants, have been lost to bad communications. But it’s the attempt to avoid losing money that leads to bad communications.
  • Communication is about containment. Many corporate crisis PR professionals are focused on keeping their client from being found guilty or negligent. They’re not worried about whether people like them, they just want to win the pending lawsuits. So they’ll put out information that, while is not a lie,
  • The message is the biggest part of the response. There’s other stuff going on behind the scenes — product recall, legal preparations, brand managment — but the communication is what’s going to affect the public’s perception, and thus, their reaction, lawsuits, vendor relationships, etc. Information may be easy to get if you’re in crisis communication, but it’s not always easy to share.

Social media strategy: Guarded, but present. Correct misinformation, use Tweets and Facebook to communicate with customers in a brand management manner. Put on your best face, but don’t lie. Monitor the gossip sites, but don’t engage.

Crisis and Emergency Risk Communication

This is the area I came from. We wanted as much open communication as we could get. More was better, and there was no such thing as too honest. Our goal was to “prevent panic,” and make sure everyone knew what was going on. With CERC:

  • Transparency is crucial. This is information people need to know. Information about where to go for safety, supplies, or medication.
  • The negative end result of a public crisis is a loss of life. When I was at the Indiana State Department of Health, we trained for things like medication distribution during an anthrax attack. The goal was to tell as many people as possible where medication was available. Information has to be gotten out quickly and to as many people as possible.
  • Communication is widespread. The point of CERC is to get as much information out as possible, and to correct misinformation. There is nothing that should be contained or covered up.
  • The message supports the rest of the response. It’s the other stuff that’s going on — law enforcement, public health response, rescue/recovery, clean-up — that’s going to affect the public, and communication lets the public know what’s going on. If there’s medicine to be distributed, communication will tell the public where to get it, but it’s the Point of Distribution that will give it out. The problem with this approach is that the public information officers (PIOs) are trying to get information from the busiest people, which means it’s not always readily available or being put out as quickly as possible. This is one reason the PIOs have direct access to the Incident Commander, the person in charge.

Social media strategy: Strong social media strategy. More people are getting their news on Twitter and Facebook than they are in their regular media. Put information out on social media at the same time you give it to the mainstream media. Correct misinformation directly, rather than through mainstream media. Monitor the citizen journalists, and engage when it’s appropriate.

Photo: Slworking2

Why Lawyers Shouldn’t Do Crisis Communications

It irritates me to no end when the lawyers and MBAs feel the need to get involved in PR and marketing decisions. You can tell when they’ve had their fingers on a press release or written statement, because they come up with such gems as “We feel terrible for our customer. We are grateful that the customer is now recovering.”

This little beauty came from the owner of a KFC in Canada, after 15-year-old Kendell Lakin — heretofore referred to as “The Customer” — burned herself on a serving of hot poutine, after suffering an epileptic seizure and falling into the dish.

(Poutine is a dish of French fries covered with gravy. Not to be confused with “putain,” which is the French equivalent of the F-word. I’m sure French-Canadians have great poutine-putain jokes.)

The new social media society is all about people and relationships. We don’t refer to 15-year-old girls who burn their faces as “The Customer.” They have names, personalities, and pissed-off fathers. Calling them “The Customer” will piss them off more.

If you want to avoid looking like cold-hearted corporate monsters, stop depersonalizing people and reducing them to a genderless wallet.

(Note: I completely understand the need for attorneys. They keep us communicators out of trouble when we’re about to do or say something stupid. But while they do important work, they shouldn’t be in charge of the actual wordsmithing.)

Crisis communication folks need to seize the messaging away from the Legal Department. CEOs need to remember that hiding behind the stacks of legal books will only anger the public, not placate them. The madder they get, the deeper they’ll cut.

People who remember Chi-Chi’s restaurants will also remember what happened to it. After 4 people died and 650 people fell ill from a hepatitis A outbreak in Pennsylvania, the corporate staff avoided all contact with the news media.

In an article on Levick Strategic Communication’s website, they pointed out where Chi-Chi’s made a huge mistake that ultimately led to their bankruptcy and closure.

Right from the start, Chi-Chi’s made a critical communications mistake common among big corporations facing product liability lawsuits. In an effort to minimize risk, Chi-Chi’s top executives avoided direct contact with the news media. All communications with reporters came through antiseptic one-page statements that had a crisp “just-the-facts, ma’am” feel.

When Chi-Chi’s Chief Operating Officer Bill Zavertnik did finally arrive in Monaca more than two weeks after the outbreak was confirmed last November 3, he read a brief statement to reporters, took no questions, and then returned to corporate headquarters.

From that point forward, communications from Chi-Chi’s and its parent company, Prandium, in Irvine, Calif., came chiefly in the form of news releases and prepared statements written in language designed almost solely to avoid exacerbating the class-action lawsuits against the restaurant chain.

To make a long story short, people got madder and madder, and the class-action lawsuits are what killed the restaurant.

In other words, avoid saying stupid things like “We feel terrible for our customer. We are grateful that the customer is now recovering.”

You’re not going to avoid making people mad. But giving your apologies in some sanitized, half-hearted written statement that sound like they were hatched by some corporate lawyer will only make things worse.

In a lot of instances of corporate crisis communication, you’re going to need the lawyers to keep you out of trouble. But keep the pen out of their hands. They can edit, but they shouldn’t be creating. They need to leave it to the pros.