What a year 2009 has been for the Communications/Social Media industry, and we're only just ended Q1. Here's a quick recap of my list of the best of the hits, misses, stumbles, and blunders thus far:
A whopping stimulus package; more bailout money for banks and the auto industry; homeowner bailout money, the AIG bonus debacle, and several botched attempts to fill vacant positions. It hasn't exactly been a smooth start to President Obama's first term, and his approval numbers seem to reflect the overall mood and discontent of the country. According to recent Rasmussen poll , Pres. Obama is at 56%-43% approval, with a third strongly disapproving of the president's performance. This is a substantial degree of polarization so early in the administration. Pres. Obama has lost virtually all of his Republican support and a good part of his Independent support. Be that as it may, the President continues to wield the power of both traditional PR and digital communications/social media to spread his message, shore-up consumer confidence, and continue his policy of transparency in Washington, DC. From several news conferences to small town gatherings to hitting the talk show circuits, Obama understands that unlike his predecessor, his greatest asset is actually himself.
Aggregate Communications Grade: Politics and policy aside, we give the President an A+
Michael Phelps went from America's "gold" standard for hard work, dedication, focus and everything great about the US, to irresponsible slacker, derelict and marketing leper in the swoop of one bong hit. Phelps bypassed the traditional media route and instead in true Gen Y fashion, posted his message of contrition on Facebook:
Sunday, February 1, 2009 at 2:20pm
I engaged in behavior which was regrettable and demonstrated bad judgment. I’m 23-years-old, and despite the successes I have had in the pool, I acted in a youthful and inappropriate way, not in a manner that people have come to expect from me. For this, I am sorry. I promise my fans and the public – it will not happen again.
Updated about 2 months ago
The two notes he posted on his profile generated over 6,500 fan generated comments, most of them positive messages of support. He has since maintained a low profile focused on training and his more recent posts have generated mere human levels of fan comments (175).
The NY Yankees
How does the most storied, accomplished franchise in all sports history manage to soil its image and possibly wreck its' brand? Hmmm...it started with Jason Giambi, then Roger Clemens, Andy Petite, and has all culminated with the highest paid player and the man who had been tapped as "the savior" of baseball, Alex Rodriguez. What do these (former and current) Yankee players have in common? Their collective admitted and/or suspected use of steroids. And if it wasn't bad enough that A-Rod admitted to using steroids (albeit, after lying to Katie Couric on 60 Minutes months earlier), he then called a press conference where he went on to lie about NY Times reporter Selena Roberts "stalking" him and breaking into his place, lied about his age when using the steroids, and lied about just about everything else that he talked about. Is this who the NY Yankees want as the face of their organization? They have a new stadium that will open this season, and if they make it to the playoffs as most expect them to it may help, but to have the caliber of Yankee players associated with "the steroid era" is a stain that may prove too deep to effectively expunge.
2008 was a banner year for Yelp, the popular local consumer review site. After securing a new $15 million dollar round of financing - its' fourth round of funding since their founding in 2004 - and boasting some impressive stats to the tune of 22 million uniques and over 5 million reviews, it seemed as though Yelp was poised for even greater things this year; but alas, 2009 has seen the company embroiled in a massive PR controversy that undermines the very nature of what they do: fake reviews, strong-arm tactics, threats, and possible extortion.
Jeremy Stoppelman, Yelp’s co-founder and chief executive,responded to these allegations via a few posts on the Yelp blog then basically went dark, only casually mentioning the crisis on his Twitter account. His lack of transparency, proactive communication and shady business practices has not set well with consumers, and while it has yet to be determined whether or not this will affect "business as usual" - in the court of public opinion that is social media, he may already be guilty.
It's been an interesting, if not bumpy start to the year for Facebook. Aside from surpassing the 200 Million user mark and founder Mark Zuckerberg joining Twitter, the highlight thus far was when Facebook subtly changed the terms of service (TOS). After an article in the Consumerist highlighting the new terms,which essentially stated that anything you upload to Facebook can be used by Facebook in any way they deem fit, forever- a PR nightmare ensued with the works: consumer backlash, Facebook protest groups, media coverage, etc. End result: Facebook reverts back to the original TOS, and a democratic "for the people, by the people" attitude way of running the business. We'll see how much longer that lasts.
Microsoft Layoffs Refund Debacle
Back in February, Microsoft made headlines when they laid off 1,500 employees. Adding insult to injury, news hit the web that Microsoft had "inadvertently" overpaid severance to some of these laid off employees, and was asking for some of the money back. TechCrunch broke the story, and posted the following incriminating letters from Microsoft to the employees:
Microsoft Severance Repayment Letter
How did this end? With the following formal statement from Microsoft:
Last week, 25 former Microsoft employees were informed that they were overpaid as a part of their severance payments from the company. This was a mistake on our part. We should have handled this situation in a more thoughtful manner. We are reaching out to those impacted to relay that we will not seek any payment from those individuals.