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Siri, What’s “sustainability”?

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“Man is the creator of change in this world.” — Steve Jobs

How will Apple speak to its growing audiences, sustainability issues and public perception?

Just sustain it

Define “change”.

Admit it.

Sometimes, you just scan the headlines, right? And they impact on you, right?

Take a look at this one:

Siri, Do You Use Slaves?

Would you want this headline related to your product? Even if you are the biggest company in the world by market cap — or maybe, especially because you are.

Heinrich’s headline (it’s a link) made very clever use of John Stewart and The Daily Show. As Apple’s market cap has grown, so has the target placed on its brand.

And why not? Didn’t Apple make its marketing focus Microsoft (the market cap leader at the time) for years? When you become the biggest company by market cap in history right now (see below article), you have to expect this.

(By the way, The Daily Show’s taken on Apple before.)

Heinrich understood how to reframe Apple advertising well. She used a guerrilla headline to attract attention to her cause.

Expanding. Digital. Universe. There are a lot of target audiences out there.

Apple’s stepped away from greening its brand. It’s supply chain has been held up as wanting.

It doesn’t matter if Apple’s competitors are using the same supply chain (some aren’t and others are paying a lot more attention to sustainability issues.) As concerns over its closed system, sustainability, patents, etc., increase regarding the Apple brand, it’s likely we’ll see more media stories, more anti-Apple posts, challenging, satirizing or taking a negative position on Apple.

Right now, it’s hype season. The iPhone 5’s coming out. Biggest market cap in history a few days ago — ok, so that wasn’t correct, but …

When you become the biggest corporation, you’d better consider the competitive threats. Big market cap means big target audiences. Audiences have opinions.

Remember BP? Remember “Beyond Petroleum”?

When BP CEO Tony Hayward began massive cost-cutting at BP, it’s focus on sustainability went out the window. What happened in 2010 with the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill will go down in history as one of the greatest of environmental disasters.

The disaster is now synonymous with the BP brand and a 50 per cent drop in stock price. It could have been avoided with proper risk mitigation. Sustainability leads to risk mitigation.

While Apple doesn’t face the same obvious dangers to its business that the oil industry does, it’s decision-making processes regarding sustainability may be moving in the same direction as BP. They’ve both spent a lot of time and resources in court.

Is innovation better done in the lab or in court?

Above image sent out on Twitter in response to Apple v. Samsung

iPhones have supply chain and waste issues, don’t they?

The big time: Siri, What’s “market cap”?

Audiences have opinions. Apple worked a philosophy that countered Microsoft’s, but Apple’s history isn’t going to fade away. It’s going to be subverted and used against the Apple brand. Apple doesn’t exist in a vacuum.

It’s made the big time.

Apple is awash in cash. It’s sheer size makes the company’s margins and business seem unsustainable. Doesn’t it make sense that Apple would move more toward sustainability? That it would want to improve its image from a sustainability/CSR perspective?

Isn’t that what leaders do?

Or do they litigate endlessly?

Sent by user on Twitter under #boycottApple

How does such litigation reflect on brand?

Apple has almost $117 billion in cash. Exactly the reason why people like John Stewart are taking on Apple. It’s not the “little guy”.

It’s a behemoth.

Like it or not, when you’re the biggest company in the world, stakeholders expect accountability. They expect a leader. Not just in innovation. Not just the “cool” of the product you’re creating.

But a leader in best practices, too. Across the board.

And “browning” your brand isn’t that cool. Especially when you spend cash litigating aggressively.

Stakeholders want what’s open and honest.

While Apple v. Samsung wasn’t related to Apple’s de-greening, it shows how aggressive audiences embrace issues and attack a brand accusing it of “brandwashing”.

What of a company’s own employees?

… organizations should maintain their commitments to
customers, the environment, human rights and
communities or risk significant decreases in
employees’ perceptions of their organization’s CSR
commitment …

Leaders?

Business leaders ranked the top three benefits of investing in or pursuing socially and environmentally responsible
practices as follows:

  • Positive organizational reputation;
  • Higher or sustained employee engagement; and
  • Eliminate/reduce impact on the environment.

Does momentum last forever for the largest company by market cap? Not usually.

Global research conducted by Hewitt revealed that organizations with high engagement generated total shareholder returns that were 29% above average.

Above quotations from:

CSR as a Driver of Employee Engagement — Hewitt

As Costco CFO Richard Galanti has said about CSR:

It’s not about applying to the ‘beauty contest’.

Sure it’s about great products and profits, but it’s also about a corporate vision of a sustainable future — a sticky, feel-good sensation that stands for something beyond profit. It’s about who you are as a corporate citizen. About what your vision is for humankind.

After all, isn’t “man the creator of change in this world”?

With great power comes great responsibility.

— Stan Lee (creator of Spiderman)

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Facebook and the Frankenstein monster: It’s hard to control the lightning in hype (but best practices help)

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It’s alive!

After all the Facebook IPO hype, how could reality measure up?

As Dr. Frankenstein learned, tapping lightning to create life is full of peril. Creations can take on a life of their own.

Is buzz any different?

Creating life in the context of reality

From an investors point of view, how could a company at various times valued at 80 to 100 times earnings, valued in the stratosphere above companies with years of history and profits, not disappoint? The more sober reaction to the IPO, showed investors were paying attention to value.

While Facebook and engagement should prove valuable over time, investors were saying, hold on a minute, what’s your strategy for increasing earnings? The thing about Facebook is:

Right now, what is most valuable for brands on Facebook is free.

Why would investors speculate on the future of what Facebook might do? In the current climate, post-financial crisis, companies that pay dividends, handsome dividends of three to five per cent have a value that IPOs like Facebook just can’t match.

The modern Prometheus

Hype has a dangerous flipside.

Sure, there’s potential, but potential for what?

While most management teams want buzz for their brand, they might not necessarily want the Frankenstein monster version of it. Remember, the monster spent much of its “life” trying to kill its creator. In the aftermath of the Facebook IPO, lawsuits, finger-pointing, back-stabbing, technical failures, and other endless melodramas splayed across the media, it reminds of the classic Kubrick/Sellers line: “Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here! This is the War Room!”

How long before a satirical film’s made out of this story? Think Dr. Strangelove meets Frankenstein.

Dr. Strangebook or Frankenface

It’s obvious that Facebook, Morgan Stanley and the Nasdaq are all suffering reputational body blows. While some private investors made a lot of money on the IPO, does any management team, board, shareholder, or even casual user want to be associated with such a media horrorshow post-IPO? Monstrous hype only amplifies the “is that all there is?” feeling when it goes wrong.

The monster, stitched together and ashen, stumbled into the light of day.

When the hype machine overloads, marketers and public relations professionals have to remember that there’s no such thing as lightning in a bottle. Buzz, at its most extreme, has the potential to lash out in every direction.

When the hype machine creates a monster, it can become the destroyer of brands.

Social media seems like it’s been here forever but is still new. The buzz became a monster. Was there any longer the ability to manage the hype as the Facebook IPO drew near?

The blowback says no.

Fiascos have the potential to incubate revenge. Social media users will engage, but not in the way the brand wants them to. And like the Frankenstein monster, social media users who feel betrayed have a tendency toward revenge.

Brands are sure there’s a way to profit from engagement. It’s this belief that drives Facebook earnings. When GM came out and said that they’d lost faith in Facebook ads, despite criticism of GM’s social strategy, there was a revaluation of Facebook in the marketplace.

Doubtless, there are marketers and public relations professionals that do engagement very well. Social media, is, and will continue to be a tool of engagement where the permutations of dialogue are still being explored and improved.

But it should be part of a well thought out integrated marketing/public relations strategy.

Facebook had been grabbing headlines for a long time. Hype over Facebook crackled with the energy and unpredictability of lightning.

Now, Facebook’s grabbing headlines for all the wrong reasons. Yet again. How does this reflect on the Facebook management team? Marketers are going to re-evaluate the brand and social engagement through it.

It’s value, after a brief pop, has dropped 25 per cent since the IPO despite the underwriters’ propping the stock price up. Argue with that metric.

Facebook has emerged from the laboratory a case study.

One thing is sure: Silly season is over for now.

Luke … I am your father

A characteristic of hype is that it is a lense that distorts. Those who work at brand, engagement, reputation and other features of the marketing and public relations matrix try to tell the story of organizations for the benefit of stakeholders. But practitioners have to remember how many audiences there are these days.

Hype is a bit like Luke and his dad, Darth: There is a light side and a dark side.

Practitioners have to remember that less than best practices have a short shelf life and lead to case study after case study of failures.

Facebook promised the opportunity of the century. It failed to deliver.

This is the chemistry for a backlash.

From a marketing and communications point of view, professionals will get more creative.  But they’ll also get more analytical.

Lurching out of the laboratory: The aftermath

The nightmare of creating a monster like the one that lurched out of the Facebook laboratory reinforces the idea that best practices have to align with business objectives — and they do have to be best practices.

If Facebook’s strategy was simply to make a ton of money for its private investors then it succeeded. But as far as the long-term viability of a brand, of its sustainability, Facebook leaves a lot to be desired at the moment. Is this the image companies want to leave ricocheting around on Twitter or elsewhere?

Facebook will have to spend substantial resources trying to restore its brand and reputation. Future growth depends on earnings, and future capital depends on investors. Reputation either feeds itself or devours itself.

Alienating marketers, investors and users and being held up as a flop by the media, aren’t the kind of brand associations any organization wants. Of course, this leads to many more challenging Facebook’s business strategy.

It’s safe to say that Facebook failed at engaging with its users in the short-term. Facebook has added to retail investors suspicion of markets and valuations. Investors and the general public have tired of creature features. In the U.S., 46 per cent of people surveyed said their trust in the financial services sector had decreased.

Since stakeholders already had many questions to ask of Facebook and user privacy, you’d think that someone involved with the IPO would have been more careful before tapping the lightning that created this latest beast.

The problem with the Facebook parade’s short-term thinking is that stakeholders have long-term memories when it comes to monsters (or buzz on crank). They don’t like the feeling of being had.

Remember, the Frankenstein monster hunted down its creator across continents until it found him dead.

Related:

Social media for dummies: The Twitterforce

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Still in doubt about the nascent power of social media?

I don’t think Chris Dodd is.

After the firestorm unleashed when Dodd made his MPAA statement, after Twitter’s tweet reckoning, it’s hard to ignore the explosive immediacy of social tools. This digital wave moves like a tsunami.

Woe unto he (or she) who doesn’t understand its potential.

Behold the social media army at work

You can watch it come at you, too late. Dodd and the MPAA did. Helpless, MPAA brass could only blink as Twitter users reloaded and fired off salvo after salvo, millions of tweets into a universe that decided Dodd’s language ignored too much, and that the freedoms associated with the Internet were sacred cows worth fighting for.

If you’ve followed this story, does any of the MPAA’s messaging resonate with you? Where’s the conversation demonstrating the validity of the MPAA’s opinion?

If good research defending the MPAA’s cause exists, why don’t we know about it? The anti-SOPA forces got their message out in a timely, effective way, and the conversation they initiated was believable and became important to stakeholders within minutes.

The MPAA’s press is more about its “blunderstatement” in a very new year than it is about persuading, informing or influencing.

And what of some of the important stakeholders that were ignored?

SOPA is dead. Long live SOPA.

SOPA may have expired through the ire of digital revolutionaries who know how to get their message heard, but there’s sure to be a Son of SOPA. Dear MPAA: Take greater stock of all stakeholders and address audiences in their own language instead of insulting stakeholders with a confused, paternal rant.

I mean, “corporate pawns”? Really?

Who came out looking unfocused and ill-prepared, hanging on a pseudo-“fight the power” statement? The MPAA was playing in the court of the digitized, where “alternate” and “alternative” are fairly normal lifestyles.

Did the MPAA consider the different levels of its audience at all? Did it forget about secondary or tertiary audiences?

It was the old world meeting the new world. No contest. The MPAA scolded everyone. It looked like the representative of a defunct business model. Not good.

Was Dodd trying to prove critics of the entertainment industry correct?

Writers have been criticizing entertainment industry decisions since Napster rose like Godzilla from the sea. Did no one at the MPAA consider that their statement might blast through cyberspace reinforcing what critics have been saying about the old business model?

The MPAA obviously didn’t know the extent of or the attitudes of a large segment of its audience. That audience just reacted with one, big techno-slap.

2.4 million tweets in a day. That’s a big chunk of your target audience to miss.

As they used to say in the Batman episodes:

Zowie!

TwitterForce: The ability to send a salvo of millions of messages in the space of a day. Quite a message.

We live in interesting times.

Don’t touch that dial!

When reality becomes perception

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Reputation and brand: Facebook strikes a blow — against itself

I blogged about social media and a potential backlash to use of private information in “Three digital considerations for the year(s) to come”.  In an interesting twist, “Facebookgate” is a signpost of what not to do on the road to establishing great reputational capital for companies. Not only is use of private information important but immoral tactics employed to “go negative” against competitors reveal the emperor as naked and scared.

Facebook was trying to expose Google for privacy issues through public relations firm Burson-Marsteller. Considering Facebook’s own past issues regarding users’ privacy concerns, the hypocrisy of this tactic is thick and hard to digest. Equally hard to digest is Burson-Marsteller’s use of tactics that have been described as “shadowy”. Burson-Marsteller’s former UK chairman says executives involved in the escapade acted like “backstreet spin merchants”.

Terence Fane-Saunders, ex of Burson-Marsteller UK, soundly criticised his old employer on his company blog, aptly titled:  “What on earth has happened to Burson-Marsteller?”

Obviously, grubby tactics  like those displayed in the Facebookgate case have done a lot of damage to the public relations industry in the past. Such tactics as those employed by Burson-Marsteller have led to the portrayal of public relations practitioners as hacks.

Amazing that such tactics still see the light of day. Facebook is now left with its brand highlighted in the media beside such less-than-brand-enhancing labels as “furtive”, “smear campaign” and “creepy” to list but a few. Not exactly words that most companies would revel in being associated with.

And, of course, every mention of Facebook adds mention of Burson-Marsteller’s involvement and bad public relations practices.

Companies would do well to pay attention to the fallout from such tactics. Perception may be more important than reality, but, in the case of Facebookgate, reality has had an enormous impact on perception. The problem is, in the Facebook case, reality was far worse than almost anybody perceived.

Video:

Blogger Soghoian speaks about Facebookgate

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