More PR’s exposed as fakers on the web: the lastest astroturfing scandal

When will the PR profession learn that ethics matter more than ever on the web?

And we’re not talking Kantian ideals here, just plain old honesty and transparency. Since I started studying PR last september, I’ve consistently heard how we are moving away from the nefarious practices of spin and outright lying that have put the profession to shame in the past, towards a new era of honest and open communication.

That’s the promise of social media, or so we’re told.

I say the PR profession, but we’d all like to think it’s only a small assortment of crooked individuals (and in this case an army of eager-to-please interns) that operate on, or over, this ethical borderline. But unfortunatlely those are the cases that often stick in the minds of the public.

The lastest case concerns a PR agency that has been having an unprecidented amount of success on behalf of its iPhone App clients.  Evidently the agency has been using a dedicated team of impressionable interns to parade as legitimate reviewers, posting positive reviews on iTunes and community forums (see the full report on mobile crunch here)

This is the interesting  part – effectively a confession – that was forwarded to Mobile Crunch by an insider informer. It’s from a Reverb company document:

Reverb employs a small team of interns who are focused on managing online message boards, writing influential game reviews, and keeping a gauge on the online communities. Reverb uses the interns as a sounding board to understand the new mediums where consumers are learning about products, hearing about hot new games and listen to the thoughts of our targeted audience. Reverb will use these interns on Developer Y products to post game reviews (written by Reverb staff members) ensuring the majority of the reviews will have the key messaging and talking points developed by the Reverb PR/marketing team.

Of course the company attempts to rebut the the claims in a statement, claiming that their interns often purchase the apps and review them based on their own merrits.

I’ll say no more, since I’m not an investigative journalist and my views are based on another article, but I’ll suffice to say than even if their claims were the case, the employees posting reviews should at the very least be fully transparent about their affiliation with the apps.

It makes me wonder how common this practice is. As a number of commenters on the Mobile Crunch article note, this sort of thing is old news; It’s been going on for some time and will continue to do so in the future as long as it’s successful.

In the meantime I hope the online community continues to be vigilant in identifying such unsavoury tactics that  continue to tar the profession with a filthy brush. It’s not PR, it’s not Marketing… it’s just cheating.

Posted in Ethics, PR and Web 2.0/Social Media, public relations, reputation, social media, Word Of Mouth | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Social media and the youth of today: my two cents

I’ve been following the recent web discussion over teenagers’ consumption of media over the last however many weeks with interest, and with some amusement. There’s something rather curious about middle aged media types and city analysts foaming at the mouth over scientific (or otherwise) reports on youth behavior, in anticipation of their future commercial endevours.

It started with Morgan Stanley’s overly excited research report written by 15 year old intern Matthew Robson, which was based on his own personal observations rather than any statistically relevant data. The report was lapped up by a the largely uncritical media and interest spiralled from there.

At first glance much of the report seems intuitive, for example:

  • Teenagers don’t want to pay for music
  • The aren’t regular listeners of radio, but prefer streaming services like
  • They eschew advertising (doesn’t everybodythese days?)
  • They generally don’t read newspapers, they prefer it summarised on television.

As a case study of the habits and opnions of a teenage boy and his friends, the report is insightful and provides ample food for thought, but to take it as anything more than the subjective opinion of an individual, albeit an insider, is ridiculous.

My view is that young Matthew never intended it to be paraded as a statistically relevant research report, and neither did the Morgan Stanley executives. “No one I know reads a newspaper” he says; It’s a self consciously personal perspective.

Irrespective, it was a powerful piece of PR and that was quite possibly the motivation behind it. It gained exposure in the Telegraph, Guardian and Financial Times among others, and created some a wealth of discussion in the social media sphere.

Outside the world of investment banking and the mainstream press, the report has attracted criticism from those decrying its limited worth.

The social media community has rightly picked up on the apparently empty conviction that teenagers don’t use twitter because 1) they have to pay to text the service, money which they would rather spend on texting friends and 2) once they realsise no one is viewing their tweets, the service is rendered pointless.

The first point is pretty ignorant, as most tweets are posted on the web or third party applications, but the second point makes more sense. I suspect the picture is a more complex one however.

One of the most enjoyable posts I read was ironically by another teenage intern, Adam Bernstein, over at social media consultancy We Are Social‘s blog (find it here). He systematically picks apart the the inconsistancies in the report and provides some interesting counter arguments. Essentially though, they are the isolated views of yet another teenager.

Recently, statistical analysis by Neilson has confirmed that yes, young people generally don’t tweet, and not just teens. Only 16% of twitter users are under 25. Now that’s more suprising. But the question posed by Mashable today, is why?

I would suggest the reasons are manifold:

  • Twitter is an open network and many people are attracted to it in order to widen their personal networks, promote something, share resources or at least connect with people they don’t know in the real world.
  • Use is often connected to a profession, a hobby or a cause. Those that don’t have these are more suited to general chatter on other networks, which are at first glance more dynamic social environments.
  • Like Adam writes in his post, young people already populate Facebook, Myspace and Bebo, which are much more suited to connecting with existing social groups.

Anyway, I’m just adding further speculation. Ill let you make your own mind up…

Posted in News, online communities, public relations, social media | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Research Log 1: Is PR the word-of-mouth discipline?

As the concluding part of my masters degree, I’m undertaking research about ‘the use of social media in aiding the spread of word of mouth communication in the public relations industry’, and, to get this blog firing on all cylinders again (I’ve neglected it of late), I am going to document some of the process over the coming weeks.

My interest in word-of-mouth arose  before I decided to embark on the PR career path, through reading ‘the tipping point’, Gladwell‘s insightful treatise on social epidemics and, through Richard Darwkins and Dan Dennett, learning about ‘memes’, units of human cultural transmission.

After studying PR for a year, I have come to believe that it should be the discipline for word-of-mouth generation, due to its focus on influencers and personal relationships. Social media has provided new platforms for word-of-mouth to spread more quickly and widely, albeit often without the validity afforded by ‘real-world’ conversations with peers.

Despite this, there seems to be very little discussion in the industry and virtually none in the PR academic world. It is most commonly described as a marketing discipline which, to me, implies consumer-to-consumer (transactional) relationships, but shouldn’t word-of-mouth be encouraged between different stakeholders at the organisational level as well?

Anyway, my aim is to find out where online word of outh fit’s in with the public relations agenda, and I’m in the process of interviewing practitioners about it at the moment. I’ll make sure to post some of my, and their, thoughts in the next week.

Posted in PR and Web 2.0/Social Media, public relations, social media, Word Of Mouth | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

My Wordle

I came across a website that allows you to generate a wordle image from your recent listening history.

For those of you who don’t know what wordle is, (to paraphrase the site blurb) it’s a tool that generates ‘word clouds’ based on inputted text, giving more prominence to those which occur more frequently.

So here’s my wordle cloud, based on my most listened to artists. There’s no real point to it; it’s just for fun.


Posted in About me, just for fun, Music, social media | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Why Freelancing can be useful for the aspiring PR practitioner…

While the most auspicious (read: proactive / darn right talented) among the recent crop of aspiring PR professionals are sitting comfortably in jobs and looking optimistically to the future, the majority are on the look out for vacancies, taking whatever experience they can get on route.

I’ve managed to get involved with a couple of projects (one is in the pipeline) recently where I can lend my, albeit limited, PR and marketing expertise.

Today, I had a two hour chat with people from the Leeds Society for Deaf and Blind People (mouthful I know!) about implementing a new brand identity, a new website and an online strategy, in the wider context of giving the business a complete overhaul.

Without doubt, I can’t do this all myself and I wouldn’t want to try, but what I can do is contribute ideas and give a fresh perspective.

I find this kind of experience challenges me in a completely different way to traditional work experience and here’s why:

Good work experience in a PR agency or in-house allows you to develop the technical skills that are essential at the start of your career (e.g. writing good copy / communicating effectively with the media), but working as an external consultant requires strategic thinking – linking communications tactics to strategy and business objectives.

I believe the majority of skills I have gained studying public relations at postgraduate level have been strategic (e.g. planning campaigns, writing reports and conducting research) rather than tactical and will be more useful in years to come rather than at the start of my career.

My advice would be that developing creative thinking skills at an early stage will allow junior practitioners to progress more quickly and successfully from a technician role to a management role. Of course writing skills are of primary importance in the industry and that’s what may land you a job, but that alone won’t get you far.

Posted in About me, branding, careers/ employment, work experience | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Work experience placement at Leeds City Council


As I have recently finished a brief period of work experience at Leeds City Council, I thought it would be useful to share a few parting reflections about my time there.

After spending time in an agency environment , I wanted to experience life on the in-house side. The agency route has become pretty standard for PR graduates these days, many being drawn by the the thought of working with a wide range of clients and the possibility of rapid career progression. I’ll admit, that is my preferred route too, at least initially, but I want a range of experience to allow me to see the bigger picture so to speak.

I was able to get stuck into a variety of activities, including attending meeting and workshops, writing releases, reactive media statements, filming and photography for the website, and preperations for the Local and European Elections.

The highlight for me had to be helping film climate change superhero “thermo” communicate the benefits of energy saving to local school children. After scoffing at the idea initially (the image of unimpressed kids participating in the filming of Pants Man on the apprentice is imbedded in my consciousness), I found the children really warmed to the character and seemed to take in the message.


Source: Leeds City Council

As you would expect, there is considerable media interest, positive and negative, in the councils activities and a close relationship between the press office and the local media outlets. In contrast to working with commerical brands in an agency, I found there was less need to “sell in” stories to journalists as they would be actively seeking information from the organisation.

The council is enjoying the sucess of their vitual news feed and has all but abandoned emailing press releases in the majority of cases. I was also informed that, although it was set up as a resource for journalists, members of the public are starting to subscribe to the feed as well – even better. The only suggestion I would have is that, if it is to be a resource for communicating with the public, shouldn’t comments and trackbacks be enabled to facilitate discussion?

It was nice to see social media was high on the agenda at meetings (the communications department have embraced it to a certain extent), but also that people were questioning its relevance to the organisations goals at a strategic level. A lot of people want to embrace web 2.0 because its now the “done thing” in PR and Marketing circles, but less understand the significance behind it and what it can achieve for them.

In conclusion, another enjoyable and enlightening placement.

It’s a shame I couldn’t spend more time there, but the world of academic research beckons and a summer of analysing interview transcripts awaits.

Posted in careers/ employment, Politics, public relations, work experience | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

PR needs to provide results more than ever in this years’ busy news climate

A big theme in last weeks PR week was how the expenses row subjugating the media agenda is affecting the way media relations is conducted (see here and here) – it seems many agencies have found the need to hold back their stories for quieter times and in general have had to work much harder getting coverage.

Although this makes sense strategically, it doesn’t look good for the industry. Since the credit crunch and subsequent recession there has been a perpetual battery of  fincancial, and now political, stories that the national papers have devoted much of their column inches to, and my guess is that it won’t relent any time soon.

Although the news agenda is tighter in 2008-9 than it was in 2006 or 2007, PR bosses cannot use this as an excuse. Clients still need to get their story out, whatever the climate, and if PR cannot achieve that then they will spend their money elsewhere. A big ad spend will get the message out consistently and regularly; it might not be as credible, but at least it can be guaranteed

PR cannot be a discipline that relies on a slow news day to tell stories. Journalists,  under pressure to put out increasing volumes of news in recent years, are often forced to rely on  lazy PR stories to fill their quota. However, the recent batch of big news is making it more of a chellenge to get heard.

Agencies should be advising clients on  ways in which to stand out and be relevant in the current media climate (apart from communications) and working harder than ever to provide an angle to their stories.

Perhaps more importantly, agencies need to be less reliant on traditional media relations and have a larger number of potential tactics in their armoury. Those well versed in social media have an immediate advantage as they can bypass the media to reach consumers and stakeholders directly. This is a testing time for the industry, but it also maybe the shake-up it needs to bring out some real creativity.

Posted in financial, PR and Web 2.0/Social Media, public relations | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment