Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Synchroblogging 4: If I Had a Superpower

My blogger buddy Kelvin over at Moments in Time hosts a synchroblogging event from time to time, where bloggers from around the blogosphere gather to publish a post on the same day about a previously agreed upon topic. (Relatively Journalizing's past synchroblogging.) Be sure to click the above link to Kelvin's site find out what approach other bloggers took to today's topic. I hear that he will compile the posts and put up a list over the next day or so.

This time around, the topic to blog about is what superpower I would want if I could have one. I should note, I've previously written about superheroes. The catch to this post is choosing only one special ability because the topic specifically says a superpower.

I'm going to perhaps be a little boring and cliché here, but I absolutely have to say that my first choice in a superpower would be highspeed flight. I think, primarily, that this power would be very helpful because I could travel from one place to another very quickly, and I could reach almost anything.

However, if you think about popular superheroes in pop culture who can fly, you'd be hard-pressed to come up with one that didn't have some combination of powers to go with flight. And that is where I think the problems with being a superhero graced with only one power inherently lie. Wouldn't it be interesting if the comic book companies created a hero whose story we see as a series of unfortunate vulnerabilities instead of a hero whose powers are complemented by other powers either of his or her own or by those of teammates?

So what if I can fly from the Rocky Mountains to Washington, D.C., in a matter of seconds? How fast would I really be able to go? Could I maximize the full potential of my supersonic flying abilities? Likely not. Let's face it, one large bird at a high enough speed, and my lack of an invincibility power or mutant-like strength means I'm dead.

After further consideration, perhaps invincibility would be a better power. But I would still choose to fly any day and just take my chances, being extra careful of course. Invincible characters are so boring anyway, and they really aren't allowed in the superhero realm. If there's no question about the outcome of an adventure, then why would we care? That's why even the Man of Steel can be brought to his knees by a little green pebble.

This all leads me to think that it's the vulnerabilities in our heroes that we really like to see play out. So a hero in a world without heroes with only one superpower would be unique, but just imagine how long that person might survive. What would the expectations of society be for that person?

I never thought that this is where this post would go when I started, and that's sort of what the synchroblogging exercise does. You take a topic and run with it, and you let your mind wander a bit without really having an outline of where you want to go. Definitely some things to think about though.

What do you think? What would your power be?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Ultimate Bubba Files: Does Walmart Have a People Problem?

If you haven't seen People of Walmart yet, it is possible that you've been living in a cave since it debuted in August of this year. But as the meme catches on within more and more circles, advertising and public relations professionals are taking notice. Is the site detrimental to Walmart's already tainted image? What should the folks in charge of strategic communication at the big-box giant do, if anything?

If you're unfamiliar with People of Walmart, you should go check it out before reading the rest of this post. The owners of the site don't have anything against Walmart, they just like to poke fun at the ridiculous people who shop there, most of which are reminiscent of our Bubba Files. The concept is simple: regular Walmart shoppers capture those other shoppers on camera who are oblivious to social norms, anything resembling class or fashion, and who might actually think that they are sexy while we find them repulsive.

So what is a little bit of poking fun going to hurt? It is, after all, likely that the people featured on the site will never figure out how to use a computer (or figure out that Walmart has only one L, even if they do get the Web browser opened), so their feelings probably aren't going to be hurt. In fact, if they grow a three-foot-long mullet and wear a mustard-stained wife beater out in public, it's safe to say they don't care what anyone thinks about how they look anyway. Fair enough. But what about Walmart's reputation as a company?

Let's face it, Walmart is similar to Microsoft in that it's no one's favorite corporation — it's just a necessity for some people that they probably wouldn't mind avoiding if they could get the same services and products elsewhere for less cost and more convenience. The arguments about why Walmart practices unfair employment and business tactics abound, so the Mecca for Beccas from 'Bama doesn't really need another PR headache.

Writer B.L. Ochman over at AdAge writes that Walmart can't stop the site, but he also says the company shouldn't try to do anything special about it either.
If Walmart tries to squash the site, they'll quickly become the laughing stock of social media. If they laugh with the site, they'll be accused of laughing at their own customers. They're better off to stay quiet and let the hoopla die down. Which it will, eventually, if Walmart doesn't get heavy-handed. It's not a site that's likely to do lasting damage to the brand, or help it. It's a joke that's gone viral. But my bet is that Walmart won't suck it up and be a good sport. Time will tell.
Walmart's spokesperson, David Tovar, said to ABC News, "It doesn't seem like it's news that there's a Web site that allows people to post photos on it.

Well, OK, Mr. Humorist. I think a better statement might have at least attempted to say something nice about Walmart's customers.

But is ignoring the site really the best strategy? Some in the media community have suggested that Walmart should flip the script by creating its own Web site with flattering pictures of its more photogenic customers. I could see this working out well (once they find the customers, which will likely be a daunting task), especially if the photos are accompanied with short blurbs about why the shoppers love Walmart instead of snarky captions about self-defecation. However, while it would look good for Walmart, I'm not sure it would be a viral success because it wouldn't be funny. And the media might turn the story about Walmart's counter site into an investigation to see if the customers are cherry-picked, considering the company doesn't have the best track record with trying to implement social media (just Google "Wal-Mart blog scandal" or click here).

I am rarely one who thinks that companies should ignore potential image damagers. I think trying to just let things blow over is generally a very poor PR strategy that often results in disaster. However, in this case, I'm not so sure. Almost any action taken by Walmart would be like them saying, "Those aren't typical customers, our customers are usually very well-dressed and well-groomed." Oops, you just called a third of your shoppers rednecks.

My thinking is that, as a discount warehouse, Walmart isn't expected to be classiest place on Earth. People shop there to get anything they need in one convenient place and to get it at a price that is less than they would pay elsewhere. I don't think People of Walmart is going to stop anyone from shopping there (aside from those who already refuse to shop there) or hurt the company's bottom line. Will People of Walmart taint the company's image? No, I don't think so, because it's not telling anyone anything that they don't already know — it just gives us a chance to relive those special Walmart moments in our own homes where we can actually laugh out loud instead of having to restrain ourselves.

Even though People of Walmart has gone viral, it's not likely to cause widespread tremors in the media now that the launch has come and gone. Similar sites have gone viral on a much larger scale, especially those affiliated with social media mogul Ben Huh, such as I Can Has Cheezburger? and FAIL Blog. Still yet, I'd guess that the general population (and an even higher percentage of those in a Walmart store at any given time) have even heard of these sites. Sure, you think for a second that I'm crazy because everyone knows about those cute kittens with their misspelled phrases, but you're reading a blog right now. You're not exactly at the bottom of the food chain in that whole diffusion of innovations theory.

All I know is I can't wait for a Women of Target site to launch.


So, what do you think Walmart should do? Leave your thoughts in the comments!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Toad-a Pop or Toad-al Scam? The PR Case Study Continues

Surely you've heard about the recent Diet Pepsi scandal involving a "frog or toad" found in Florida in a can of the popular soda. Found... or strategically placed?

What you might not remember are the massive hoaxes of the early 1990s involving Pepsi, when a couple in Washington state claimed to have found a syringe in their can of soda, sparking widespread claims of similar tampering elsewhere in the country. Unfounded accusations of tampering, that is. While a few cases were never fully resolved, Pepsi was never found to have done anything wrong, nor was there ever any proof of tampering at its manufacturing facilities. In fact, virtually all of the cases were found to be hoaxes.

Why this matters in terms of public relations is how Pepsi handled the whole syringe situation in 1993. While the liars looking to make some quick bucks off Pepsi were taking the trial to the media, Pepsi had to find a way to do the same thing without making the ultimate PR mistake of all — accusing the consumer. And thus the reason this became one of the greatest PR case studies ever.

Pepsi's statement then was a mirror image of its statement in light of the frog-in-the-can accusations. Paraphrased, they said that the speed at which cans move on the lines at Pepsi factories is too fast for tampering to have taken place. In order to help change the minds of the American public (while losing tons of money on lower products being sold and the marketing campaigns necessary to combat the hoaxes), Pepsi took to the media as well. Before long, the negative coverage about claims of syringes turned into broadcasts of Pepsi's video news releases and video taken by reporters invited into Pepsi plants around the country. The images of the fast-moving conveyor belts looked pretty convincing.

But perhaps the most genius part of Pepsi's PR plans involved the FDA. The company pressured the FDA to make a statement that the cases were apparently hoaxes, which they eventually did. This allowed official word to come out that it was some consumers who were at fault and not Pepsi, without Pepsi actually having to do the deed.

Fifty-three people in 20 states were arrested for filing false claims back then, and that's not even close to the number of people who actually made claims. Remember the finger in the Wendy's chili back in 2005? Think about it for a second. Can you remember how that was resolved? If you did, you're probably more media-savvy than the average consumer. Just to clarify, the woman making those claims was arrested too, and it all turned out to be a hoax. The problem organizations face in terms of PR is that the media heavily report the sensationalized stories of dangerous and exotic items being found in our favorite products, but the subsequent resolutions of these matters (almost always hoaxes) end up as briefs in the back of the newspaper or buried at the bottom of your favorite news station's links of the day on their Web site.

So am I saying that Fred DeNegri of Ormond Beach, Fla., is a liar? Well, in all likeliness, yes. Now, I'll admit it's possible that Kermit left Jim Henson's closet and trekked from L.A. to Texas before swimming across the Gulf of Mexico to Florida and making his way to Pepsi's Orlando plant. Yes, anything is possible. Oh, but wait, then Kermie freaking sneaked inside the plant, avoiding all of the workers, before finding a frog-sized ladder to climb up to the conveyor belt with the soda cans on it. Kermit had been taking notes from his buddy Frogger, you see, and he knew that he had to time his greatest scheme ever just right or he would end up splattered from Orlando to Tampa Bay. So he waited, and he waited, and then he jumped with the precisive accuracy that only an overweight, 35-year-old gamer in his mother's basement on an Atari 2600 guiding a pixelated amphibian could achieve. And, splash! Kermit had made it in the can, somehow losing his "internal organs normally found" in a frog. Orrrrr, DeNegri could be making it up. But who are we to pass judgment?

Oh, and DeNegri's original guess as to what was in the can? A mouse. Later in 1993 (after the syringe panic), a Mexican woman visiting the U.S. did indeed find a small rat in her Pepsi can, which federal investigators confirmed but did not initially release findings about for fear of creating another scare. However, Pepsi denied any responsibility in this matter. It is convenient, however, that with a little bit of Googling, DeNegri could have also learned this. I'm not saying he did it, and I'm not saying it's all a hoax. But it's almost always a hoax when something such as this has happened in the past.

In its most recent PR efforts, Pepsi's spokespersons have used the rhetoric surrounding all the previous hoaxes to their advantage, stating that "there never has been even a single instance" where these types of claims have been traced back to manufacturing issues. Other than that statement, Pepsi seems to be keeping mum on the incident, but it's likely there won't be enough idiots out there who think they can get away with fake claims to cause any sort of panic like the one that occurred in 1993. And that's the reason why the DeNegri's are either very unlucky Pepsi drinkers or very stupid people. Only time will tell, but I'd expect Pepsi to let the whole ordeal run its course, probably ending with an FDA statement if a hoax is confirmed. After all, they've been through this before.

Don't expect Pepsi's sales or reputation to suffer as much this time around as they did in 1993, either. After all, syringes brought up thoughts about AIDS and drugs, topics that were quite a bit higher in the media's priorities and in the daily repertoire of politicians at the time. We can handle swallowing frog parts as long as we don't get a disease, right? In addition, there have been a lot of these I-found-something-in-my-something-else stories and false stories via e-mail chain letters since 1993 as well. In a way, the American public is more desensitized to this than they were 16 years ago.

Feel free to discuss Pepsi's PR strategies and anything else you please in the comments section below. What theoretical applications do you see here, and would you do anything different then or now? What are your thoughts regarding the brand of Pepsi? Keep the comments and questions coming!

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to grab a Diet Coke.


Sources/Additional Reading:

FDA says residue is frog or toad
Wendy's hopes arrest will bring back customers
Hoaxes are found in the Pepsi case
The Pepsi Product Tampering Scandal of 1993
Needle in Pepsi

Friday, September 4, 2009

Time Keeps on Ticking

Wow, can you believe it has already been more than a year since I started this blog? If you haven't followed since the beginning, then you might not know that I originally created ReJo (as I'll now refer to the site, and as it is referenced in the new logo in the new title banner above, featuring a quill pen and a sword) as a way to keep track of thoughts during my graduate internship during grad school. This will be the 285th post on the site in just a little more than one year. Not too shabby, I'd say. I know the posts probably started out a little scattered and long-winded, but I hope that I've gradually narrowed my posts (a process I'll admit I'm still working on) into shorter, more-interesting musings.

Since I started the blog, I've finished my Master's degree and am very close to landing a job in public relations, or at least a related field (that is yet to be determined). I also created my online portfolio, a tool that has been very helpful in the job-searching process, as employers in my field constantly want to see work samples. Not only do I have tons posted on there, but the site itself is a work sample! I also recently started Relatively Reviewing (likely to be shortened in most references to ReRev), and I hope that it gets off the ground and that I can get some good volunteers to take over most of the work on that as I transition into the workforce.

I thought it might be fun to take a look back at the various evolutions of ReJo thus far. Check it out below.

Stage One
The original title banner was as eclectic, messy and varied (featuring the Memorial Fountain at Marshall University, the New River Gorge Bridge, Virginia Tech's signature building, the Cascades and the Mill Mountain Star) as the first few months of the blog itself were.

Stage Two
The fall brought with it a great banner featuring fall colors (and Hokie colors), along with a classy maple leaf and me looking at myself. Why? I don't know either. But with less internship stuff to talk about came more PR and journalism topics discussed in my grad school classes and in the news. I also wrote some about fall sports and my thoughts on the historic 2008 election.

Stage Three
This spring-time adjustment brought a new banner (featuring a way-too-close awkward angle of my headshot) and a green theme. (Go Herd!) It also meant more fewer, shorter posts. I still hadn't quite found the perfect niche for the blog, but it was closer.

Stage Four
I had wanted to do a winter theme on the blog, but the fall-to-spring academic semester thinking I suppose stopped me from doing that. However, I went ahead and used a blue-and-white theme because of its visually calming appeal and created a banner that went along with it. Yeah, so the end of spring and most of the summer of 2009, this is what you've seen — my winter theme and a banner where I'm wearing a sweater. Heh. Oops. I did include keywords on the banner though that really highlighted where I want to take the blog in terms of niche. It looks like a lot, but so many of those things could be grouped together. Media encompasses journalism, PR, the Web and many other things to me. I will no longer likely write too much about education because I'm not currently in school (don't worry, I'll get that Ph.D. someday). You get the idea. Things are getting better. I might post a photo or video from time to time, or maybe I'll write a short post on a fun subject, but the blog definitely has more focus and has since I started using this theme. I'm pretty happy with where things are headed.

Stage Five — The Present
Annnd heeeree we areee. This is the new title banner you see above, and while I have only changed some minor things about the design of the site, it's simpler, cleaner and easier on the eyes now, I think. The wintry blue text is now the Web standard of black, but there are still shades of my favorite, calming color present. I decided to try a bit of branding with the ReJo, as I realize Relatively Journalizing might be a bit of a mouthful at times. I also placed some focus on those two words though by showing that the blog's title came out the words for my two areas of expertise. The logo I designed myself, with the sword beneath the quill pen, but present. I wouldn't expect a whole lot of changes from what you've seen posted on the blog since Stage Four, but I do hope that once I get a job (which I'm thinking and hoping will be very, very soon) I'll have some additional insights on strategic communication to add regularly.

Thanks for reading, and spread the word about ReJo. Send the link out on Twitter or Facebook for me, OK? Let me know as well if you'd like to guest post here or on ReRev, or if you'd like to try to take on some other role. I'm certainly open to collaboration and taking opportunities as they arise. Technorati appraises this blog's worth at about $3,000, so I likely will look to monetize soon with some Google AdSense or something. We shall see what happens. Until next time!

Wipe 'Em Clean!

Virginia Tech vs. Alabama, Saturday, Sept. 5, 2009 in Atlanta, Ga.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Kawasaki Kolor

My parents recently completed an 800-mile motorcycle ride through various parkways and backroads of the two Virginias. My dad took this great photo, and I decided to do a little Photoshop magic with it.

Gmail Fail!

Original post: 4:41 p.m. EST, Sept. 1, 2009
First Update: 4:53 p.m. EST, Sept. 1, 2009
Second Update: 5:16 p.m. EST, Sept. 1, 2009

Not long after Google takes the BETA tag off its popular Gmail, the service goes down. The Twitterverse and blogosphere immediately surged with thousands of posts and hashtags. Facebook friends began asking each other, "Did your Gmail fail also?"

I suppose this quick blog post will just become one of the many in the chatter that is likely to follow in the next hour. Google says it is working on the problem, and it's possible that some users have had their Gmail restored already. In fact, Google hopes to have the problem resolved within the next hour or so, unless something changes.

This quick work is great Google, but with all the money you make and talented people you employ, couldn't you have prevented the crash in the first place? I suppose this just goes to show that nothing that involves computers is every really infallible. Crashes happen, and we just have to live with them from time to time (though, as a Mac user, I'm not really accustomed to doing that).

In the tradition of Relatively Journalizing, let's get this conversation directed toward public relations though. Will this minor crash have any implications on the giant of the Web in terms of its users and their expectations and loyalties? What can we learn from the virtually instant social media impact? All these questions and more await, so hit the comments, communicators.

Update: I should note that one crash might not matter all that much, but this crash is in addition to notable failures by the service in May and February of this year, in addition to crashes in April, August and October in 2008. (Information Week has more on this and on the official times when this problem started today.)

Update: My Gmail is now working. Total outage time was about an hour for me.