Wednesday, February 4

Tracking Topics: Tweetfeed Adds Value To Twitter


Twitter, the real-time short messaging service that works over multiple networks and devices, continues to grow exponentially, increasing its membership from 500,000 in Dec. 2007 to 4.43 million in Dec. 2008. Membership is not the only area Twitter has grown. So has the number of tools.

There were approximately 60 tools noted by Mashable's Palin Ningthoujam in Sept. 2007. He added 140 in May 2008. One of my favorite Twitter term and tool lists was compiled by Shannon Yelland at SiteMasher.

While it's not complete, the color coding and short definitions make for an easy novice scan. (She includes Celebrity Tweet, which helps people stalk celebrities, presumably those verified as real.) Webdisortion also sports a good list too, and includes Tweetfeed.

What is Tweetfeed and why does it add value to Twitter?

Tweetfeed is one of the newer applications that allows people to create customized search term feeds, and track those topics in real time. What makes it stand out from Twitter's native topic search engine, in addition to presentation options, are the search operators.

Feeds can be generated based on exact phrases, either or phrases, from specific dates, by attitude, sent to or from specific people, and within a certain proximity, among others. There are sixteen operators, assuming you count some basics such as hashtags (#) or attitudes (which is basically a smile or frown search).

We used it a few days ago to help capture a conversation between Shel Israel and Scott Monty. It proved more useful than toggling back and forth between the two in order to find the start of their conversation on Twitter's native search engine. It also made it easier to capture portions of the conversation that occurred hours apart.

Tweetfeed is also "Share This" enabled, allows for custom CSS presentation, and Web analytics. (The combination of features, along with larger type, makes it ideal for "Twitter walls" that are becoming more common at conferences.) The customization features add flexibility.

What are some potential applications for Tweetfeed?

1. Social Media Monitoring. You create a custom search on your name and/or your company and add it to your bookmark service. Like every other tracking application, this is probably the most common usage.

2. Information Sourcing. You can track topics to help you identify people with similar interests or stay up-to-date on content being sourced and linked to by people on Twitter. It could also be used to help determine what is the most popular discussion point around a certain topic.

3. Presentation Augmentation. "Twitter walls," which have become especially common at social media conferences, can be customized with conference colors and brands. The feeds can be customized beyond hashtags and include the presenters or topics relevant to the presentation.

4. Comparative Models. As illustrated by one of the examples, Tweetfeed tracked McCain and Obama in single feed, which could have been later analyzed for compare frequency, attitude, tone, or even topical content between them.

5. Sharing Content. Since it's "Share This" enabled, sharing a link is easy. The "Share This" feature publishes the feed link with your account name and the name of the feed (you can edit it before posting as long as you save as a draft).

There are several more possibilities, but these five capture enough for an introduction. Of course, this is not to say Tweetfeed is perfect. Like most beta services, Tweetfeed has some setbacks, including: frequent login prompts, a missing feed delete option (you can edit a feed), and the lack of RSS. However, these issues might be corrected in the near future.

What else is there to know about Tweetfeed?

Although still in beta, Tweetfeed was recently acquired by our friends at BlogCatalog. BlogCalalog has a solid track record as a member-driven social network for bloggers. It's safe to assume that public feedback will be read. Some requests have already been met.

"I looked at it as a tool that bloggers could use to help them track hot topics," Antony Berkman, president of BlogCatalog, told me. "Twitter is great in that tends to capture the pulse of the Internet. Tweetfeed makes it easier to manage that information around topics, people, and companies."

The acquisition may bring new life to Tweetfeed. Given its potential uses, it may have never received the attention it deserved.

Simple tips for success: follow your fans on Twitter
• TweetFeed - customizable page that displays Twitter activity
Taking the time to turn out tweets using Twitter

Tuesday, February 3

Bracing For Aftershocks: Peanuts Cause Reactionary Communication


The epicenter of the salmonella epidemic may have originated at a Georgia processing plant owned by Peanut Corporation of America (PCA), but continuing aftershocks will be felt by everyone. To date, it is linked to as many as 529 sicknesses, eight deaths, and 430 product recalls.

While new salmonella cases seem to be subsiding, public outcry continues to be on the rise. With each new aftershock, an exponentially increasing segment of the agricultural industry may be impacted. It's true. What started out as one bad processor practice is quickly escalating to encompass everything as reactionary communication becomes the new normal.

Peanut Corporation of America

After several weeks of mishandling a non-existent crisis communication plan, PCA seems to be working toward ending a self-imposed communication blackout imposed after the criminal investigation began. The Web site now offers a media inquiry number. The decision to provide a number comes after the PCA was likely prompted by what happens when reporters are provided no contact. They start speaking to everyone else.

Yesterday, the Associated Press ran a story with several quotes from former employees. One account describes managers as so concerned with the bottom line that they would allow soggy peanuts and five- or six-year-old peanuts onto the production line. Today, the Associated Press learned that the PCA processing plant in Plainview, Texas, has operated uninspected and unlicensed for years. The plant manager pushed off the communication on the corporation, where he said he sent the paperwork more than a year ago.

Lesson: Once you commit to communicate as the PCA had done, albeit unprepared, you have to remain committed.

King Nut Companies

A few weeks prior to the crisis, Kanan Enterprises, which owns King Nut and Peterson Nut Companies, was celebrating that Matthew Kanan, executive vice president of sales and marketing, was awarded one of the top 40 executives under the age of 40 in Cleveland by Crain’s Business Magazine. Today, it's fighting for its life with increasingly aggressive messages.

King Nut was originally cited as the possible source of the epidemic by the Minnesota Department of Health before the company revealed it did not manufacture its own label. On Jan. 29, the company sent a release expressing "shock and dismay at findings that report the Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) knowingly released a product with potential salmonella contamination into the food supply, as released by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)."

While the company distributed products under the assumption that the required safety certification was accurate and cooperated with authorities to locate the source, the message of being "only a distributor" is likely to deliver mixed results because at least some of the products carried the King Nut label. Unlike companies that received peanut ingredients or distributors who solely distribute, King Nut took on the appearance of a manufacturer by offering its own label.

Lesson: Never put your name to another person's work until you have verified the quality.

U.S. Food And Drug Administration

The U.S. Food And Drug Administration has released a recall widget to help all interested parties keep the public ahead of the curve. Since the beginning of the epidemic, it has taken a no nonsense approach in its investigation into one of the largest food recalls in history.

However, it seems investigators are not exempt from contempt. U.S. President Barack Obama said this morning he is ordering a “complete review” of the Food and Drug Administration after it failed to detect shipments of salmonella-contaminated peanut products. The Consumers Union shares the President's view.

Lesson: Don't bark too loud at the fox who ate the chicken if you were the dog responsible for the hen house.

Kellogg's And Those With Recalls

Given how many companies facing recalls made missteps (with Jenny Craig among the worst), we decided to focus on one company that is providing a near perfect model. Kellogg's was among the first to place a hold on its products and first to issue a recall.

It immediately built a recall page that addresses the situation in a non-accusatory manner, preferring to focus on providing customers the information they need, including an FAQ that covers what to do, where to seek more information, and who to contact at the company. All of the information provided is right to the point, with an emphasis on proving facts and information on consumer safety. On the rare occasion the company did offer a quote, it was were clear, empathetic, customer focused, and direct from the company president.

Lesson for everyone else: If your communication team doesn't know what it is doing, consider what the best did.

The J. M. Smucker Company And Those Without Recalls

Never underestimate the impact of a crisis. After the FDA issued a video statement that correctly stated to err on the side of caution and not eat peanut products unless you know the source, many consumers stopped buying peanut products all together, dragging companies that were not affected into the crisis.

The J. M. Smucker Company is one of several that immediately took action to ensure customers that its products are safe because it does not purchase any ingredients from Peanut Corporation of America. In addition to pop-up announcement, J. M. Smucker Company provides a link that includes all of its brands as well as a customer service number. In addition to being smart, the announcement remains balanced, devoid of any marketing messages.

Ironically, we visited several company Web sites with recalls and, unless you look in the press section, you'd never know it.

Lesson for everyone else: You don't have to be part of a crisis to be part of a crisis. Manage only what impacts you.

American Peanut Council

Ever since the American Peanut Council issued the harshest albeit correct language in a statement released on Jan. 29, it continues to draw attention. Some companies are even including Archer's quotes in their own news releases.

“This is a clear and unconscionable act by one manufacturer,” said said Patrick Archer, president of the American Peanut Council. “This act is not by any means representative of the excellent food safety practices and procedures of the U.S. peanut
industry.”

The Peanut Council may not be at the heart of the crisis, but it knows it will be charged with helping clean up the mess. In addition to attempting to help association members by publishing a list of brands NOT impacted by the recall, The Peanut Council will likely face an uphill battle fending off reactionary legislation. Ironically, its communication added even more fuel to the blaze.

Lesson: Never add fuel to a fire that your industry will eventually expect you to put out.

Reactionary Communication is Not Communication.

As these aftershocks continue to rattle the nation, it might be time for someone to lend a voice of reason. If someone does not, reactionary legislation and regulations will likely impact the entire agricultural industry, all for the actions of one irresponsible company. And that could bad for all of us.

Monday, February 2

Measuring Communication: Intent, Part 2 (ROC)


Last week, we presented Measuring Communication: Intent, Part 1 as part of the exploration of the ROC abstract. While that post focused on the mission statement, it takes much more than a mission statement and its various counterparts (purpose, vision, core values) to establish clear communication objectives and define communication intent.

The reason is simple. While mission statements often present the qualities or characteristics of organizations, they do not necessarily define how that organization interacts with the world around it and tend to change at much slower pace than the needs of organization and the needs of communication. They are generally not the best verbatim message for an organization.

In other words, stating a mission statement might even be likened to saying one expresses empathy. It's not meant to be said. It's meant to be demonstrated. For this reason, other strategic planning processes must also be considered to effectively establish the objectives of communication. These methods help move beyond having a foundation and toward establishing guidelines for how this foundation wants to interact with the world around it.

SWOT

SWOT Analysis is a strategic planning method used to evaluate the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats involved in a project or in a business venture.

• Strengths Defines the attributes of an organization that are helpful.
• Weaknesses Defines the attributes of the organization that are harmful.
• Opportunities Considers external conditions where objectives can be expanded.
• Threats Considers external conditions that could damage the business.

SWOT Benefits: Introspective Analysis, Set Organizational Goals, Unique Selling Points, Short Term

While many references claim there is no point of origin, SWOT was primarily developed by Albert Humphrey, a business and management consultant who specialized in organizational management and cultural change, as part of a research project at Stanford University. It was originally referred to as SOFT.

At Procter & Gamble (P&G), for example, the organization had become complacent after a long period of market dominance. In fact, in the 1980s, it almost lost market dominance. Recognizing this, management realized that in order to retain market dominance, it needed to create a more "nimble organization and to increase the speed and quality of innovation. (Davila, Epstein, & Shelton, 2006)."

The result was the development of an aggressive play-to-win strategy that was encapsulated in its corporate moto “Touching Lives, Improving Life.” However, when you look at the full product line at P&G, you might notice there are many other product- and market-centric messages that reinforce its communication.

CORE

Core message systems, which we will refer to as CORE, is a message development process used to evaluate existing and potential internal and external communication in order to identify, determine, and develop specific key messages that will resonate in the marketplace. It has also proven useful in developing core values.

The core messaging process was originally developed by the Leadership Institute, a training organization for public policy leaders founded in 1979 by Morton C. Blackwell. We employ an evolved model at our company, and this only includes the initial evaluation portion of the process.

• Internal Sources. Captures organization stakeholder messages to internal and external publics.
• External Messages. Captures what other industry organizations are saying to external publics.
• Public Feedback. Captures communication from competitors, detractors, and customers about the organization.
• Stakeholder Response. Captures what the organizations stakeholders might say about competitors and detractors.

CORE Benefits: External Awareness, Consensus Building, Contrast Points, Consistent Messaging, Short to Mid Term

We've been involved in dozens of CORE sessions that range from candidates and small start-ups to major corporations and international organizations. Without revealing specific clients, some examples include: helping a national pool builder break away from price point modeling typical in the industry and shifting to a message of reliability; breaking a technology service provider away from industry stereotypes and establishing a culture of friendly professional service; assisting a nonprofit organization transform its "feel good" messaging into a return on investment message for the state it served.

Simply put, the CORE message analysis process rediscovers assets that already exist within the company and then prioritizes those assets based on the environment in which it operates. Done properly, the resulting messages communicate tangible contrasts (beyond unique selling points) between the company and various competitors.

Real Time Communication

While there are many methods, real time (RT) messaging, in this instance, pertains to messages that fall outside of normal communication parameters. With the possible exception of SWOT on occasion, short- and long-term communication do not generally include for specific situational events.

Since this section on real time communication (or immediate response) is a compilation of communication processes such as crisis communication, disaster response, social media, or other immediate conflicts as they occur, the following is only meant to provide a baseline evaluation.

• Situation Analysis. Evaluate the situation or event, with an emphasis on collecting all known facts.
• Determine Impacts. Determine the potential impact of these facts, including public perception.
• Synchronize Messages. Define and synchronize messages specific to the crisis or event taking place.
• Designate Spokespeople. Designate a spokesperson, recognizing that the messenger is part of the message.
• Collect Feedback And Adjust. Provide for mechanisms that collect immediate feedback and adjust communication.

RT Benefits: Event Specific, Consistent Message, Crisis Sensitive, Flexible, Immediate

There are dozens of examples that show how better real time communication could have benefited companies and organizations on this blog. In almost every case, the proper implementation of situational communication demonstrates why crisis outcomes and communication breakdown are seldom related to what organizations do, but rather how they respond to what occurred.

RT communication is also becoming more pervasive as companies adopt social media as a communication tool. Daily success often relies on how well the communicators can make minute-by-minute situational assessments.

Tying the mission statement to strategic planning methods.

Any or all of these strategic methods are influenced and can influence the ever-present communication offered by a mission statement. In some cases, depending on the outcome of these evaluations, they may even indicate when a mission statement has become outdated and requires refinement. However, in defining communication intent, what is most important to consider is that these strategic methods, together with the mission statement, define the objectives of the communication.

Next Monday, we will present how to define the tactical portion of intent, which begins by understanding the specific purpose of an individual communication component or campaign.

Download The Abstract: Measure: I | O = ROC

The ROC is an abstract method of measuring the value of business communication by recognizing that the return on communication — advertising, marketing, public relations, internal communication, and social media — is related to the intent of the communication and the outcome it produces. Every Monday, the ROC series explores portions of the abstract.

Saturday, January 31

Breaking Pride: Peanut Corporation Of America


The day before federal health officials began a criminal investigation into the actions of the Peanut Corporation of America (PCA), Beth Falwell, daughter of PCA founder Hugh Parnell, in an ill-advised exclusive interview spoke to a local station, asking for understanding and the benefit of the doubt.

Federal investigators says PCA shipped out peanut products that had tested positive for salmonella at least 12 times during the past two years. The FDA says PCA shipped each out after retesting with a different laboratory. The interview reveals two messages from Falwell. One is a distraught family member, obviously concerned for the family company that is not likely to survive the crisis. The other is more defiant, claiming that the FDA investigation is exaggerated.

“Right now it’s not a law, maybe it should be. But he didn’t break any laws,“ Falwell said.

On Thursday, we revealed how the PCA had emphasized safety, quality, and freshness of product. However, even Falwell could not deny any allegation of cockroaches in the plant, a leaky roof, or the presence of mold. "I'm not saying there weren't," she said.

Based on the interview alone, it's extremely clear that the Peanut Corporation of America doesn't have a crisis communication team in place. While we pointed to a breakdown of the first step — situation analysis — in the crisis communication process, it seems the communication matches the operations, with extreme negligence. Not once, that we are aware of, had the company expressed any empathy or remorse for those afflicted until the criminal investigation was launched (see the newest statement).

In addition, we recently stumbled onto evidence that this is not the first time the plant has had to recall product due to improper and unsafe operations at its plant in Gorman, Texas, which is now closed. Although the report dates back to the 1990s, the Peanut Corporation of America recalled thousands of pounds of product because they exceeded the FDA's established tolerance level for aflatoxin. Aflatoxins, a fungus, are toxic and among the most carcinogenic substances known.

While manufacturers and processors have recalls from time to time for any number of reasons, the report stands out because mold was one of the many problems that the FDA noted during this inspection and, for years, the company has claimed "providing a quality product at a fair cost has been the credence our business has grown up with for the past 28 years." Incidentally, the family did not own the company between 1995 and 2000 (they sold the company, and bought it back).

Friday, January 30

Developing Networks: The Hierarchy Of Need

For as long as there have been social networks, there have been tip sheets on why you need them and how to make them. But do social networks really work this way? Are there tips, tactics, techniques, and secrets to Digg, Linkedin, Twitter, Facebook, BlogCatalog, and countless others? Enough so that you need an entrance strategy? Maybe.

Or maybe it's much simpler than that. Abraham Maslow, who published A Theory of Human Motivation and the hierarchy of human needs, suggested that people tend to prioritize basic needs before personal growth before achieving self-actualization. Maybe they do online too.

Scaling The Maslow Slope In Social Networks

• The Need for Hope. When people first join a social network, most of them are looking to fulfill a hope: personal interaction, professional development, community involvement, or some combination of the three. Their initial focus tends to be concentrated on learning the culture of the social network. (Equivalent to physiological needs.) "Maybe this is the next big thing!?"

•Security. As they begin to engage individuals and develop relationships, they start to feel more secure within the network. Their focus shifts to engaging others in conversation, especially people they have met in person or people who support them. (Safety and security.) "Everyone is so nice!"

• Acceptance. As their confidence grows, they begin to feel accepted as part of the group and stand on their own. They are more likely to initiate conversations, even among strangers, because they belong. (Belongingness.) "We belong here!"

• Achievement. As their network grows around them, they receive more recognition and respect. They are more likely to set topic agendas, lead conversations, and earn the respect of others. (Self-esteem.) "Wow! They think I'm brilliant!"

• Change The World. As their perceived influence reaches a peak, they feel empowered to problem solve and perceive social networks as a means to change the world. They take more chances. They originate more ideas. (Self-actualization.) "We can change the world!"

Reversing The Curve In Social Networks

• Insecurity. If self-actualizers distance themselves from people or promote ideas that do not resonate, they become more likely to seek out support from their friends. They are also more likely to leverage relationships for validation. (Self-esteem.) "Maybe I need to look at other people's ideas."

• Reputation. As they leverage relationships, they become more concerned about their reputation and image. They look for ways to recapture their sense of belongingness instead of indebtedness. (Belongingness.) "I was here first."

• Fear. As their individual networks shrink, they become less focused on presenting ideas and more focused on why they are losing followers. Their focus shifts toward attempting to please others. (Safety and security.) "Why am I losing followers?"

• Despair. As the content they share diminishes, they eventually claim network fatigue and abandon the network or reduce their presence. Some will look for other networks; others will claim social media failed to meet their expectations. (Equivalent to physiological needs.) "This network isn't what it used to be."

Staying In A Place Of Self-Actualization.

This might even be why so many people advise that you be yourself. That you don't confuse yourself with a product. And you never mistake authority for popularity. People are people. Maybe you can be too.

"What a man can be, he must be. This need we call self-actualization." — Abraham Maslow

Thursday, January 29

Clashing Communication: Peanut Corporation of America


The Web site of the Peanut Corporation of America (PCA), which the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has named the source of the salmonella typhimurium epidemic, is radically changed.

A few weeks ago, the PCA site read much like any site. Although dated, top news items included the opening of a new peanut blanching and granulating facility in Plainview, Texas; a message from Stewart Parnell, president, who expressed that quality and freshness of product are what bring our customers back; and a 2004 “Superior” rating from the A.I.B. (American Institute of Baking) audit at a balancing facility that praised the quality control manager for taking food safety seriously.

At Peanut Corporation of America, we know we need to shine so that you and your customers can be assured of consistent quality, safety, and dependability when you allow us to process your peanuts.

Unfortunately, just as the site experienced its largest and only traffic spike for the wrong reasons, all of that information has been replaced by the Peanut Corporation of America Media Page (illustrated above). The oldest item, entitled "Peanut Corporation of America Announces Voluntary Nationwide Recall of Peanut Butter," ends with: The company prides itself on the quality and freshness of its products and strives constantly to maintain an environment in compliance with federal, state and local regulations and guidelines to provide a clean, safe product.

The newest item, as of Jan. 28, includes a "Statement by the Parnell Family and Peanut Corporation of America (PCA)." The heavy-handed response "categorically denies any allegations that the Company sought favorable results from any lab in order to ship its products."

The statement comes after a flurry of condemning news stories based on the release of a document that lists observations made by FDA representatives. The report details that some lots of peanut butter had tested positive for various salmonella strains. The firm then retested the lots and received a negative status. This occurred several times since as far back as June 2007.

According to the FDA report, the possible cause is that the company had "not established the effectiveness temperature, volume, or belt speed specific to this roster to assure it is adequate as a kill step for pathogenic bacteria." Additional observations included: failure to maintain equipment to protect against contamination, failure to store food under conditions to protect against contamination, and environmental swabs at the facility revealed several areas tested positive for salmonella strains.

Why The Crisis Communication Process Of The PCA Places The Company In Jeopardy.

Since the beginning, the PCA has embraced the classic step-by-step response to the crisis when a step-by-step crisis communication plan did not meet the situation. The result is that the PCA is in a much more critical position that may not be recoverable even upon the insistence that the FD-483 documents “… do not represent a final Agency determination regarding [your] compliance." As soon as that statement was posted, the only analogy that fit was "runaway train."

While the PCA branding efforts had already placed it at considerable risk under the rules of our fragile brand theory, the real breakdown seems to have occurred at the very beginning, during the situation analysis portion of the crisis communication process. Situation analysis requires an unsympathetic internal review of the facts to determine the communication.

A seasoned crisis communicator might have asked the right questions. In this case, they seem all too apparent.

• What happened? A quick assessment of what seems to be occurring on the forefront establishes the context of the communication. At the PCA, the context, simply put, is that they seemed to be the source of salmonella typhimurium epidemic.

• What is the truth? Asking what happened is not enough. Having been part of several crisis communication situations, the very next question is "what is the truth?" Or, in the case of the PCA, it might have been asked differently. Someone needed to ask "were we negligent in our operations and did we do everything we could do to avoid this as we have continually pledged to our customers?"

• What evidence will support or distract from this truth? While it seems unlikely the PCA could have beat the FDA inspectors in discovering every observation, several items in the report could have been discovered first. While the crisis communication team was drafting non-committed but empathetic recall statement, an investigation could have already been underway.

• Despite personal feelings, what do these findings mean? Often times in crisis communication, perception will overshadow any facts. Simply put, it doesn't matter what the FDA concludes. Observations made by the FDA have concluded a severe breach of safety standards that the company had committed to and reinforced in virtually every piece of communication, including the first recall statement. The perception of evidence needed to be determined, and perhaps isolated to specific events, in the situation analysis phase.

• Never hazard a guess. Considering most crisis communication processes have to be executed within hours if not minutes, it is not feasible to assume that all the facts will be gathered. Under any circumstances, do not guess. When Parnell included that the safety of consumers is a priority in his first statement, it was possibly a guess. While it does not excuse the plant from wrongdoing, the question he needed to ask was "were my people ensuring safety as a priority?" And if not, why not?

It is never easy to see companies self-destruct under the weight of a crisis. But as communicators, whether internal or external, it is our job to be even tougher on our clients or customers during a crisis. Had the PCA crisis team been tough on the onset, it may not have saved the company, but it would have made the crisis much more manageable.

More on this crisis next Tuesday or possibly as events occur, including highlights on how other companies handled a crisis that may not have originated with them, but impacted them and their customers nonetheless. It's important because most people have never heard of the PCA. Customers only know products.
 

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