Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Social Media Boiling Over Red Lobster

Since the beginning of this blog 13+ years ago, I have hammered on one thing consistently: as professionals in public relations and communications, the collective group has to go above and beyond the conventional blogging or social media norms to act above reproach and set standards.

This call to establish better standards never really caught on, as the desire to be the first to publish was – and still is – more important than the whole truth. I argued with others in this industry that as professionals in public relations, we have an obligation to allow our fellow industry colleagues to get facts on the record before making claims or debating issues in public forums.

The fact that I wrote about this 11 years ago and things still have not changed is just sad. Back then, FedEx Furniture was all the rage and FedEx was vilified in social media dialogue. I called up, and interviewed the communications person at FedEx and got the full story from both FedEx and the furniture builder. Plus, I was the only person – blogger or reporter – who called FedEx. Everyone else, including morning television shows, just went with what was being said online.

It was not hard to do; after one quick email to FedEx, I got a response and an interview. And I think – no, I know – we have a responsibility as contributors to this industry to always strive to get the full story.

Now, there isn’t one week that goes by without a declaration of a social media fail. Whether it’s the “digerati” making statements on social or blogs, or reporters from marketing and advertising news sites, everyone is quick to proclaim that Brand X totally fucked up.

This weekend was no exception. People got their knives out for Red Lobster (full disclosure: I did email them with a question but have not heard back).

The quick story: BeyoncĂ© dropped her new song, Formation, on Saturday with a line about going to Red Lobster (in a not family-friendly line). Red Lobster didn’t immediately respond on social, and then when they did respond 8 hours later, it still wasn’t good enough for the crowds. The company was in a no-win situation, because no matter what they did or did not do, the “wisdom” of the crowd would say they did wrong.
I mean, we must know better than Red Lobster’s own corporate marketing or social media team because we’re so much smarter sitting in our coffee shops and not actually in the trenches. And that is the issue with these posts and declarations: it is 100 percent conjecture. Armchair QB’ing is fun, it is way too easy, and it is usually wrong.

Think about your work at the start-up, consultancy, agency or wherever you are. How would you feel or react if someone came out to attack your work, usually commenting little more than “FAIL,” and then say how they could do it so much better than you? It’s easy to INTERNET RAGE, and give your two cents without full knowledge or a backstory.
And there’s the issue. Amongst all the hoopla around Red Lobster screwing up, I have yet to read anywhere a statement or comment from Red Lobster about the situation. All these people writing articles and social posts have no inside knowledge of how Red Lobster handled this internally. One post, which I will not link to for traffic, made conjectures about the agency (who may or may not have been involved) and the corporation.

The reality of it is that Red Lobster is a corporation that is owned by a private equity group. In corporations, there are processes in place for these types of things – and social media, along with the mass public that uses it, tends to lead to short-term issues and “crises”. When you work with large brands – either internally or through an agency – things take time. Issues are looked at from all sides. All the pro’s and the con’s are weighed before decisions are made – which is never fast enough for the demands of the “digerati”. When you work for large corporations or clients, things are different. When you are just a someone blogging or commenting on Twitter or Facebook, you are really just showing that you aren’t in the game.

Now, I do not want to ignore the elephant in the room that people have been dancing around. And it is a big elephant, as this is a great example of the lack of diversity in public relations, marketing and social media.

The BeyoncĂ© song touches on many issues in the POC community, and #BlackTwitter is a huge and strong movement on Twitter (one that Twitter still does not seem to embrace, and one I said they should in AdWeek). Was the response delay a cultural issue? Maybe. Is there a need for more diversity in social media, marketing, public relations and the like? Absolutely. It’s a need that exists now, and it’s a need that existed since even before I started in the industry.

Do I think a lot of the complaints about Red Lobster on both sides were not fully addressed as it was broken down by color lines? Very much so – and it was an issue that most people seemed to dance around.

I have no answers nor solutions for that. I want to look at this whole thing from one lens: people condemning Red Lobster have no idea what goes on inside the corporate office, or in the thought processes of a corporate team. It is easy to scream FAIL, but without being in the Red Lobster offices, you have no idea what went on. All the rest is pure conjecture.

Next time you get ready to attack a corporation or brand for its processes, realize you just do not know what goes into them. If you want to attack for a lack of cultural awareness, that is a different issue that the whole industry needs to address.

Saturday, July 04, 2015

Old Tricks Just Don't Do It

On Thursday, right before the start of the Fourth of July weekend, Reddit let go of its communications person, Victoria Taylor. Beyond running communications - or as part of running communications - Taylor appeared to run point on the iAmA (Ask Me Anything) subreddit.

In such a tight-knit community as Reddit is, there's no surprise it turned into a shitshow with various subreddits going dark in support of Taylor. And not surprisingly, it also turned into blaming Interim CEO Ellen Pao for Taylor being let go, although there's no proof it was Pao or someone else who made the call.

Gawker has a good run-down with time-stamps of the whole debacle, including a statement from Pao sent by a PR executive, Heather Wilson. Who happens to be an executive vice president at Abernathy McGregor, a crisis communications specialty firm. And the firm has been working for Pao since her sexual harassment lawsuit against Kleiner Perkins.

So let's put that all together: traditional crisis communications firm is working with the interim CEO for a large, vocal, often controversial / free-speech debating community and lets go a well-liked communications employee hoping that the Fourth of July long weekend will hide the news.

Because that IS a traditional public relations trick. Got bad news or bad earnings? Release on a Friday! It's such a well-known trick that even The Atlantic wrote up a story on how ... it doesn't work anymore. That old PR trick just doesn't do it for clients anymore.

Should this be surprising? No, not at all.

The news media moved into a 24-hour cycle years ago with the Internet and social media. With social media and the Internet, communities popped up and cover everything and anything, and with the ease of publishing there are tons of niche news sites and news can be broken anywhere.

The PR industry is a bit slow to follow, but with its current love affair for all social things, it realized that the cycle isn't what it was, but nonstop. Being in-house PR counsel means always being on, always have the phone available. Doing crisis communications means always having that phone on, and email ready for situations that pop-up. This isn't new but for some reason it seems like it is.

With Reddit, there was no reason for its executives to think that the news of a well-liked executive and community member who handled one of its most popular and mainstream subreddits could be hidden. And, it's beyond obvious that neither Reddit nor the PR crisis firm had no plan in place for when it all did blow up. Come on, that's Crisis Communications 101, and for Reddit to ignore it is quite amazing - plus, for Reddit not to have its finger on the pulse of its own community is quite mind-boggling too.

Are there exceptions to the rule that you can't hide the news anymore? Of course, there are. In tech? Release bad news the same day Apple makes a product announcement. I've seen that done a few times recently, and while the news doesn't disappear it is overshadowed. But news isn't going away, and bad stuff bubbles up.

For the ironically challenged, I purposely published on Fourth of July (Happy Fourth all!!). And yes, I chose a dog giving that look because it seemed fitting.

Photo by Henry Faber.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

The Silence of McCann

As we all get settled into watching the series finale of Mad Men, let's take a look back at the half-season: the good guys of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce (SCDP) have been bought by the evil machine of McCann Erickson.

And once they get fully swallowed up and SCDP gets put out to pasture, the pure lechery of the firm comes to the forefront. They only care about the big accounts, they don't respect women in the workplace or treat them as sex objects / weekenders, it's a man's world, it's life as a cog at a large agency, etc. You're likely watching the show, you know what's being shown.

Now, the first time that McCann showed up on MadMen, the New York office decided to respond after the principals refuse to become part of the agency and start their own agency (the above-noted SCDP) - with some choice quotes about McCann

The McCann response was clever - if not typical advertising heavy-handedness - with ads taken out in the trade press, as well as a video on the NY website with clips of each time McCann was mentioned (just the name, not the comments about the agency). 

The time around, the agency and/or the New York office have been silent. I'm sure that the agency and parent company (IPG, woohoo, I'm a #shareholder!) took a minute to discuss the best way to respond the way the agency has been portrayed (yes, a different agency from the early 70's but still the agency).

But it's been silent. Or crickets. Or I've missed a response (but that'd be surprising since I read the trades too). EDIT: I did miss the one article on how McCann has been posting [specious] tweets to MadMen. But specious is the best way to put it, typical advertising one-way messaging that ignores the elephant but jokes about it and dances around it.

And that's sad. And a bit of a bad public relations strategy. When the industry (PR, which is part of the industry as we're all owned by a handful of holding companies) gets called out for a lack of diversity - did PR Week purposely only interview CEO's to showcase it, or was that just irony? - and a lack of female leadership, you'd think that the holding companies would want to respond to a top and pretty well-watched show's characterization of the agency.

Or the agency could have done a video with leadership dressed in the same 70's style noting that they're not the same agency, and it's a different world. Have a bit of fun, but still address the issue. And while the leadership of the agency and the leadership of the NY office do seem a bit homogenous, it's not as bad as it was. Okay, it's a little bad but not as bad.

In an industry that is about perception versus reality, and all about appearance, the silence is deafening. And for an industry that's about creativity, there could have been so much more done. Even the first response wasn't that creative, but this could have been so much more - and a call to continued diversity and more in the industry.

But instead, silence speaks volumes. 

Monday, September 29, 2014

The Need for Middle Ground and Skepticism - Not Hype, Not Contrarianism - On Social Networks (eg, Ello)

Ello launched - to a lot of hype - the past week. It's the Facebook killer, the latest and greatest in that category (pulse check on Facebook ... yep, still alive and pretty strong) and done with a great (albeit not that true) backstory that should make any public relations person proud: we're ad-free, we're not taking funding (oops, turns out to be a lie), we're community friendly!

And almost immediately, I started to see marketing and communications professionals on Twitter and Facebook adamantly scream their need to be contrarian (read as slow and followers, those late to everything and never on top of things) and claim that they'll never join Ello.

Which is great. We need more followers in the public relations, social media and overall marcom industries. We don't have enough original thinkers, and it's better to have followers that will not bring counsel, strategy, original thought to clients but rehash old and tired ideas or just knee-jerk follow directions from clients even if they know they're the wrong directions.

If you can't tell, that's sarcasm. To proudly proclaim that you're not going to join a new communications/social network platform to be contrarian shows an inability to jump into new ideas, or try out new things. As marketing communications professionals, you want to be one of the first on a platform to see if it will do anything (most of the time, no) or if it's something that you need to get clients onto, or at least start to monitor.

Are these the same people that said Twitter was stupid (probably) or that Snapchat was just for sexting (um, projecting much?) or that Facebook is dying (always, it's dying - it's almost as bad as the annual PR is dead meme) or that PR should never pay bloggers (how'd that work out for the firms?). Are these the people that are going to miss out and be late to the next platform, or aren't really grokking that privacy is the next hot thing, eg, Snapchat, Secret, Whisper .... (yes, they are.)

There is a middle-ground that seems to be missing in marcom, and a healthy skepticism. Too often, the industry is all or nothing (remember the hype that oversold SecondLife internally at agencies, and the firms/people too weak to push back on the ideas?) and not enough middle ground. So this anti-Ello stream is just pig-headed and wrong without actually being on the platform and playing around.

Now, there are tons of issues about Ello that make it seem like a really fast to burn-out star: nothing mobile (yet), less a Facebook killer and more like the bastard child of Instagram plus Tumblr, the adamant claim of no advertising (remind anyone else of Tumblr?)

On that last point, Greg Brooks has a great point (posted on Facebook):
Positioned as the anti-Facebook, their manifesto reads as a thing born in the fever-swamp mind of an untalented freshman Lit major. So very, very many Big Ideas(tm)(r)(c).
I'd like to say back to Ello:
I don't mind my social network being funded by advertisers. I understand their motives, they understand my browsing habits. It works. Commerce isn't evil -- it's the most effective force ever devised for pulling people out of poverty. 
You claim audacity, beauty, simplicity and transparency. But what's transparent about allowing fake identities? What's beautiful in asking users to pour personal information and relationships into a site with no long-term plan other than "trust us"? 
Simple, I'll give you -- the whole thing does seem simple. 
Ello aspires to be a place to "connect, create and celebrate life." But if that's all it is, then the party won't last long. People -- and companies -- that only focus on the lofty often end up sleeping in bus shelters when things go south. 
I may or may not be a product. But I'm certainly not gullible.
Yes, Ello has been greatly hyped with a great launch (almost seems, well, calculated to take advantage of anti-FB sentiment, like it was done by professionals...) but that doesn't mean it is or isn't worth the time to at least check it out, just don't immediately buy the hype (another issue in PR/SM).

It's a new shiny toy, and to ignore it in the PR/SM space shows a lack of understanding basic tenets in the industry and for your clients. Ignoring it is almost as bad as the "I'm dropping Facebook for Ello!" crowd. It's not an all-or-nothing thing, it's about testing out new platforms and having informed opinions.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

My Farewell To A Movement: Eight Years of BlogHer

Melancholy. That's probably the best word to describe BlogHer 14; it wasn't just me, but in talking to the women I've become friends with (around the world) at BlogHer, many of the veterans came to say goodbye to what has been an amazing 10 year ride.†

My first BlogHer was the second year. I could't convince work to pay for it, or to allow me to skip work on Friday (amazing how the agencies wouldn't really grok it for a while - or still, for some struggling with social media and paid/earned media) but I went down to San Jose on Saturday and was allowed in (thanks Jory, I never forgot that). I came with a bit of a chip on my shoulder - check out the snarky T-shirt on (thanks Irina for the photo!) - but lost that pretty fast.

But what was more important was that I sat down and talked, and discussed and met with a group of women (and very few men) and had no problem listening and talking. And engaging. And finding out what people were thinking and doing in this new blogging space that could change things.

Interestingly enough, many of the other man at the conference that year couldn't do that without being condescending and holier than thou, or without just being awkward around women. They couldn't just be there and talk.

Through the years, I've had fun adventures at BlogHer.

I got to be on the yelling end of a discussion in Chicago where another PR person made really stupid comments about his favorite Mom bloggers - who all happened to be white - so the woman next to me turns and yells at me about PR being blindly white. And she's right (not me, of course) and it's still that bag. But if it weren't for that woman and panel, I wouldn't have met Mocha Momma or KimchiMamas/CityMama.

Another fun time was when a social media person - who played it as if she'd always been at BlogHer, even if it was her first one - got so annoyed with me that she called me an outlier. Not to cast aspersions to her intellect, but she probably was trying to use Malcolm Gladwell theories on someone that might be an outlier, but in a more positive way ... as someone who had been involved and saw what was really going on in social media that was more than just public relations, digital marketing or affiliate marketing.

I guess what I'm saying is that I thank the BlogHer community and all the women I've met there through the years for accepting me as part of the community (the brands, well, they're still confused by my attendance). I've met so many people from around the world, seen the good and the bad of the mom blogging movement - hearing chants of "fuck you, pay me" in response to PR pitches, and them just not getting the relationships between PR/journalism and blogging is sad - and seen things change to where blogging is just a small subset of what is really being done by the community, by everyday people who have grown powerful in this new media world. 

And, while there have been other conferences that have come in and made a dent - EVO was an amazing one, and Mom 2.0 is incomparable for creme de la creme feel of the conference - BlogHer always felt like coming home: seeing friends, having women run up to me (scaring me) that they were told they had to meet me (um, okay), making new friends - if I listed all the women whom I've met over the years, it'd be a lot of name dropping but the post would be really, really long and I'd forget people and accidentally insult them. But they know who they are, or they should.

The bonus of eight years is I got a lot of blog posts out of BlogHer.

So whatever happens next to BlogHer and the conferences - if they go smaller, a la BlogHer Pro, BlogHer Food, BlogHer DIY (I pitched that one years ago) - BlogHer will still have the first mover advantage of putting together an amazing conference to help women grow, learn, network. The fact that the number of first-timers grew year-over-year is a testament in itself.

After my 8 years of attendance, BlogHer10 might just be my coda on the conference. But going out on a high-note as "I Am BlogHer" (thanks Jessi!) and acknowledging that my blog has always been tilting against windmills in PR and SM (and usually losing) was a nice gift to me.


† NB: there's been no announcement of this being the last BlogHer full conference - it was just a feeling many had on 10 years and something next is coming.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The absolutely positively only PR lesson you need to learn from Bridgegate to be a better PR person

Pick up the fucking phone.

NB: I'm testing out Upworthy-style headlines for my posts. You like? 
NB: There's likely going to be an uproar about ethics and such from organizations that purport to represent PR. Ignore them. Those groups don't do PR in a real world, but in their own little fantasy worlds. The sky is probably pink there and there's only black and white, no grays.
NB: If you don't know what Bridgegate is, and you're in PR, you're really depressing and should learn to read all news. Here's a link.
NB: FUD always works. Always.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Nine Years of Blogging - And The Voice Doesn't Change

Image credit: <a href=''>jojojojo / 123RF Stock Photo</a>My blog-iversary was July 2.

Nine years of semi-blogging on this Blogger platform that I pretty much refuse to leave, even though I have to do something with (the eventual idea was to aggregate everything on one page but my page does that well enough anyway). Plus, hard to replace SEO for 9 years.

In the 9 years - yes, 9 years, longer than most other people besides a handful of others - I have seen people come and go. I've seen the "popular" bloggers in public relations turn to social media advocates, and then fall to the side of less importance because they, well, never stuck out their necks on issues or just followed trends. I see the new group of SM bloggers that have risen to the top - some are cream, some are artificial, powdered cream - and while the cream is imparting wisdom, the powdered kind is glomming onto hot topics and rehashing others' posts, with no original content or thinking.

I've also seen the original group of PR bloggers just say fuck-it-all and give up on PR and SM blogging, and start following their other passions. And, well, most of the time I don't blame them. That small group was relatively close, meaning we'd talk and share ideas and information and while somewhat competitive, were a community. Yah, that's pretty much gone nowadays except with a few good people. But that is how media works, and at the end of the day, blogging and social media are ... just media.

So with the past 9 years, what has stayed consistent has been voice. While the focus and topics have varied a bit, the voice has always been the same: saying things that others want to say, but don't. For better or worse - and I'm at least cognizant that it has helped and hurt my career - it's who I am, and pretty much what you see online on Twitter or on the blog is who I am in the real world.

And if you have met me at one of the many Mom conferences I've attended, you've seen that in person. I'll say what I'm thinking, somewhat filtered, but still saying what needs to be said. As one long-time BlogHer and real friend notes, the people that don't like it are the ones that just aren't comfortable with themselves, and that's their problem.

At least that straight-forwardness has lead to a speaking situation. I'll be in Atlanta in October for the Aiming Low Non-Conference, talking about what it's like being straight-forward. It's something that more people should probably do in the space.

So what's next for the blog? It's not like I write that much here, but I do get yelled at by people to write more (yes, I could name drop, but it's not my style) and that what I have to say needs to be said. And, I do want to keep pushing the envelope in PR and social media so need to finish and write more. That's pretty much my promise to the possible audience I have here (although I still write just for a handful of friends).

And there are a lot of posts that will be the usual things that no one is really saying. So what's in the queue and just need to be finished? Things mocking the #PRDefined as an exercise in why PRSA is irrelevant; how community has become a nonsensical term, and abused by people; the battle between "fuck you, pay me" and "hell no, we won't pay" and; how PR has lost its way.

And of course other things that pop up, and need to be addressed.

Will I write these things? I'm going to try, but with all the other things out there - like work - and wanting to blog more on my food blog, it is a challenge to find time for a life/work balance, that includes blogging.

But, well, shit needs to be said - and very few people are saying it publicly, and that's part of the problem. I'll stir it up again.

Hopefully for another 9 years - and maybe on an updated look.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Monday Morning QBing: Missoni for Target

So this weekend, I went to Target to buy some stuff - you know, essentials like orange juice and Pop-Tarts - and pick up some Missoni for Target socks.

Yes, I knew there was a run on the Missoni products, but I figured I was safe with socks ... but nope for both Targets (they're 1 mile away from each other, don't ask).

Credit to Target - they did an amazing job with the pre-launch; they were in men's and women's fashion magazines, there was a great buzz built up for the launch.

PR issues for Target - they were wiped out of products almost immediately, and the website was unable to sustain the traffic. And there are close to 35,000 Missoni for Target products on eBay ... and reports of 44,000 at the beginning so people were just buying to sell, and not buying to wear or use. And that's not even taking into consideration the possibility of products hoarded by employees ... .

Questions that this leads to - is it really just a one-time event, and there are no more Missoni for Target products to be sold? According to the stores, that was it. And the website was totally wiped out too. Why weren't there limits placed at the stores for what people would buy, how many they could buy, and, well, the sizes? It's obvious that people were grabbing and buying, especially with all the XL sizes on eBay. And will other top-tier designers avoid Target because they will wonder if their products will be pushed to eBay almost immediately (likely no, because it's about money paid out).

So the reality is that while the public might be upset and annoyed that they didn't get what they might have wanted (I wanted socks, even though I don't wear shoes), Target made money and the stock did rise. For shareholders, and communications employees, that's key. The crisis with the run on goods to re-sell on eBay and the crashing of the site are just blips.

But it's going to take time to repair some of those relationships ... and yet, at the same time, create more demand for the next big designer (so expect a bigger run for the goods). You would expect the company to address the issues on Facebook - actually, there are a lot of issues it seems like they need to address - but it's just a bit of answers and probably not as much as they could/should be. Of course, with a large company like them, it's hard to address every issue. But the anger and disappointment on the page is quite palpable.

All in all, though, it's a push on whether Target will have any long-term issues. People forget, profits went up, and life goes on.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Fools Rush In ... to new Social Media Sites

Google+: it's the hottest thing in social media since, well, the last hottest thing (is that Empire Avenue or Quora or something else I'm missing?) But like all hot things, you get burnt if you jump in to fast.

Now, we already had the Google+ social media posts - to the point that most of them are just drafting on a hot news item. Are most of them newsworthy or, well, necessary? No. Hell, some of them have just been based on the announcement.

Okay, here's the skinny: Google+ has launched, and a land rush of social media and PR people - and technology pundits - got access. And they're claiming that Facebook or Twitter or the both are dead. And then we see a commotion about brands, and what are brands going to do and when are brands going to get on Google+, blah blah. And that's the thing - while there might be some value for businesses and Google+, thus far it's too early to tell what it might be, although a good explanation of what brands might be able to do is from Forbes.

But let's take a ride back to yesteryear and look at a little site called ... Second Life. Back then, the PR people (and digital, since we weren't calling it social media yet) were pretty hot for SL and getting brands there. Unfortunately, there was little thought put into it and it was a huge hype machine. Now while I did recommend SL for certain projects - for a large furniture chain, I recommended putting one location in SL and be able to buy virtual furniture for your home, as well the real furniture for your real home - it made sense as it fit into the community. Brands jumped in, and got burnt, because they didn't get that SL was (and still is) a community and you can't force your way in. That seems to happen to much of social media, nowadays: no understanding of the community aspects.

With Google+, as Lauren Gray noted on Facebook, are the brands that are jumping onto Google+ those that are ahead of the curve in social media, or ones that want to appear that they are? I think most of us would say latter, especially those of us that have a view of the past. 

I like Google+ so far, but haven't delved too deeply into all that it offers. Why? Well, I haven't taken the time to just sit down and dig in. But right now, I'm taking that walk down the hill approach.

If you look at how brands adopted Twitter and Facebook, it was a more natural process, more organically done. The push by SM/PR people onto Google+ is too forced, a bit too hysterical. Too many people are running down the hill.

When you run down the hill - and yes, this is totally a Colors reference - you lose focus and can only get the one. When you walk, take the time to really get a good view of the landscape, you can get them all.

Take the time to actually play around with Google+ and then wait to see what Google does with it - and if it sticks around, or goes out like so much Buzz or crashes into the surface like a Wave

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Death of Transparency

Looking back at the 8 years of blogging (and now social media - well, take that back 15 years to Usenet and enthusiast site days), there are a few things that become evident: nothing really changes, but everything changes.

One of the things that's become very obvious recently, though, is the death of transparency. Well, maybe dying or dead is a bit hyperbolic, but transparency is fast becoming a thing of the past as more and more people push their own agenda and conveniently ignore transparency for their own goals. You can see it on Twitter, on Facebook - especially Facebook groups - on Quora, and naturally on blog posts. It's a not-so-hidden agenda that comes out after 2 or 3 tweets, or an "innocent" question in a Facebook group or Quora that leads to a "miraculous" answer that is the person's own company or client.

Transparency used to be a big issue for bloggers. Well, at least for the public relations bloggers. One of the first bigger discussions of it came about because of character blogs. Many people, including Steve Rubel (whom I argued with about the issue) and Robert Scoble (who used to be a Moose) felt that character blogs were bad things. Character blogs weren't fully disclosed, they weren't honest or transparent. This mainly came about because of the launch of the Captain Morgan blog and the "controversy" it created.

(As a side-note, I would have linked to the discussion on Steve's blog ... but he's killed his original blogs. Beyond raising questions on the issues of dead links across the web, does the full deletion of a blog and its archives smack of the dismissal of transparency? Does it fit into my whole view of the death of transparency?)

As the years passed, it seems amusing that this would be an issue. We have characters on Twitter and Facebook and while we know that they are not real, we accept them as the entertainment they are and applaud brands for engaging their audiences - the right audiences - in any way you can reach them. Nobody would attack Jack In the Box as lacking transparency because it's understood that it's a brand talking to its fans, engaging on Facebook or Twitter.

Me? I looked at the situation with meh, and that we (the PR bloggers and other early bloggers) weren't the audience, but it was for college students (of legal drinking age, naturally). And did they care about transparency when it came to a character? Not really, it was just something fun.

I was - and still am - hyper about transparency. Call it the egalitarian in me, or the Libra. Back in the day, too often I would see people tout articles on their blogs as "amazing" or "great insight" and then click through to see ... it was self promotion. My point-of-view then, and now, is that it's not hard to tag a blog post as self-promotion, or even a Tweet with #me or some hashtag. The question on transparency there then and now is if it's a great article because the person is in it, or would be a great article that they would have posted or Tweeted without the quote. My guess is the former ... hence my calls for transparency or honesty.

But this all seems quaint - as transparency disappears. I'm not talking about disclosure - the FTC holy grail - but transparency. Dare I say it, but does transparency not matter anymore? Is it - gasp - dead?! And while I think many people do care about transparency (well for others, not themselves), is it a low priority issue for us as we have, well, real life things to worry about (work, personal, love, etc). Transparency, in the scheme of things, is a small issue many of us don't have the time to process.

The world was much easier when it was just PR people that were concerned with this (it's not ironic that the Morgan blog was done by an ad firm - if memory serves). We could debate the issues in our academic way, and come to an agreement that while transparency is important, we all can do it in our own way (which never really works anyway).

And because we all had the background in PR, the transparency issue wasn't an issue that we took lightly - now we would accuse one another of not being transparent or disclosing things, but it was still pretty much above the board. As an aside, I know someone is going to comment that my view on transparency is in contradiction to my view on whisper campaigns - which isn't true. You don't need to be nontransparent to whisper - in fact, it's better to be upfront that this is for company X.

But yes, that is where public relations has always been above the board: we tend to be transparent with the public and press for our clients. We share news and information, and tell the story. As opposed to other marketing practices.

Lately, though, I am starting to see too many PR and SM people trying to be clever or subtle while fishing for information ... and doing it just to get a client mention or have others do work for them. Not very transparent. Or posting tweets about a client article ... with no disclosure it's about a client. Public relations is losing its center, forgetting it's the storyteller in the marketing mix - but with transparency - and is just becoming bullhorn with no thoughts in social media.

But this is also not surprising. With the flattening of social media - the barrier to entry is pretty much non-existent - we see many practitioners come from a background of anything (real estate, retail, unemployed with no discernible skills), and not really grasp the basics of marketing or public relations. Not fully understand the need for a fully transparent conversation but the view that "engaging" is all it is, no matter what tactics need to be taken. And with that, we get a lack of transparency but hits and mentions coming to the forefront in social media.

The death of transparency is one of the downsides of social media; it happens because no one speaks up anymore about the issues and the need for transparency, and happens because the general public might care, but doesn't have the time to obsess over the issues. But for too many in social media, it's about getting paid and that's it. No thought on transparency or anything else, just the ego.