Category Archives: Online Business

Google’s Friend Connect Arrives (Tonight)

Must admit, I’m intrigued by Google Friend Connect (Note: Not up yet. Later tonight.)

The details are here: Google Press Center: News Announcement.

Lots of other people are, of course, buzzing about it. See Techmeme: Previewing Google Friend Connect: Website owners can make any site social (Sean Carlson/Google).

Now, since it is just launching, I’m not too sure we can take advantage of it in this semester’s classes, but I’ll hope. I’d like for all students to be able to get an account. But, Google is rolling it out piece meal, like they usually do with Beta releases.

What’s The Benefit?

What might it do? offer to our student projects? Well, it can make a digital resume a social site, for instance. Would we want to do that? I don’t know, but some aspects seem compelling. The simplest explanation comes from the release above, “any website owner can add a snippet of code to his or her site and get social features up and running immediately without programming — picking and choosing from built-in functionality like user registration, invitations, members gallery, message posting, and reviews, as well as third-party applications built by the OpenSocial developer community.”

Websites that are not social networks may still want to be social — and now they can be, easily. With Google Friend Connect, any website owner can add a snippet of code to his or her site and get social features up and running immediately without programming — picking and choosing from built-in functionality like user registration, invitations, members gallery, message posting, and reviews, as well as third-party applications built by the OpenSocial developer community.

Visitors to any site using Google Friend Connect will be able to see, invite, and interact with new friends, or, using secure authorization APIs, with existing friends from social sites on the web, including Facebook, Google Talk, hi5, orkut, Plaxo, and more.

So, although we wouldn’t want to necessarily add that info to the resume, we can put it on a sub-page. The student uses that to build their own network over time. Also, what about potential employers and internship providers that are digital adopters and want to connect with the student in their social networks? Well, now you can do it on your own domain.

Does it change the rules?

No, but it can change the opportunities.

Best practices will still rule. In fact, they are going to become even more important. This is, after all, as much an opportunity to screw up your online reputation as it is to enhance it. ;o) Translation: Don’t post anything you wouldn’t show Grandma and Grandpa.

I’ll be watching and signing up. Hope for a quick invite for me. No. I’m not holding my breath. ;o)

This could turn out to be a really good, easy way to explore socializing a site, while not spending too much time on coding and more. After all, we’re developing PR practitoners, not creating developers and coders.

Update: Well, I have (of course) not yet been graced with an invite to Google’s Friend Connect. Big shock. But, I have seen more talk about it out on the Web. Something I have since learned is the possibility that all of these new tools will be in an iframe. What’s that? Well, let’s call it a page within a page, or a frame (featuring content from other sites) inside an HTML page. Um, that’s not really “integrated” now is it. Hmm? See Google Friend Connect Tries to Strangle the Social – ReadWriteWeb (Hat tip: Google Friend Connect – Error 404 – Your Friends Not Found | My Blog Posts)

Well, this makes me a bit less energetic about the whole project. I’d still like to see it and try it for classes, but I was really hoping for something a bit more truly integrated. Still, I have yet to see the service, so I’m reserving my final opinion until later.

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Crowdsourcing II :: DOs and DONTs of Online Reputation Managment

Christi Eubanks, of my PRception, asks me and dozens of PR educators and practitioners to share our “top 3 DOs and DON’Ts for personal online reputation management.”

That’s a good question. We talk about it in class from time to time.  Jeremy Pepper just wrote an interesting post on this very topic – Reputation – Both Corporate and Personal –  at Pop PR!

That’s also a tough question. Only three? I’m going for three of each. 🙂 I’ve seen some of the other answers, so I’ll try to hit some areas maybe not covered there, yet key beginner first steps to online reputation management. You may post your comments here, but really … the best thing (I believe) would be to post in your blog and ping Christi of my PRception.

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The Agony, Comeupance, and Learning Experience of Social Media Rage

Note: To outside visitors. This is long. Way too long. What you will find below are essentially thoughts I have jotted down each day since learning of the story. I’m putting it here for my students. Tired of sitting on it, I’m just going to post as is. If you read it, pack a lunch.
Danger, Will Robinson.


This post began the day I learned of the Edelman blog controversy. My thought, after I added each paragraph, was to discuss this in class and then post about it only when there was more information available. Certainly, there were impulses to hit “Publish” and I fought against them.

Why? There is so much pettiness and piling on in the world of blogs. So often we hear “Kill the umpire!” or “Throw the bum out!” I just sit back with a perplexed feeling. I feel like I’m often watching children fighting. I prefer to learn from mistakes… mine, and the mistakes of others. And, most important, I did not know the details. I still don’t know all of them, but I sure know more than I would have a week ago.Also, social media is so new. I’m not surprised that something like this happened. In fact, I believe it is happening elsewhere – in many other firms and via independent practitioners and consultants. Anyone that doesn’t think that’s happening is, I believe, fooling themselves.

Besides, I have already posted my suggestions as to what Edelman should do given their controversy re: blogs, Wal-Mart and transparency. Thing is, I posted that on March 13th, 2006. That was the first Edelman / Wal-Mart snafu. I didn’t expect them to do all of those things, way back when. I still don’t expect them to do all of them today.

Today, I choose to address the recent posts of Richard Edelman.
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Robert Scoble Interviews Australian Wiki Providers

We have discussed wikis in class. The most recent example, aside from our own exercises, relates to a former student that pitched wikis to her new bosses – Wall Street lawyer-types doing mergers and acquisitions.

…wikis are powerful tools and this video will provide you with a few new ways to think about using them…

Her bosses took her suggestion to heart and, as she recently reported to me, they have the IT department working on implementing them for their business practices.

Pod Tech LogoRobert Scoble’s ScobleShow offers an interesting interview with Mike Cannon-Brookes, CEO of Atlassian and Jonathan Nolan, director of Atlassian’s developer relations. Their firm is offering “Enterprise Wikis, Project Management, Bug Tracking … (or) enterprise software solutions to the world’s leading organisations.”

Cannon-Brookes made one remarkable statement. He revealed that among Atlassian’s customers “pretty much every major American investment bank is a customer.” He also noted that SAP and Oracle are customers of his company.

So, students may gain a little insight into who and why companies are using wikis from this interesting interview. Go watch it, please.

Update: Speaking of wikis, here are two Peanut Butter wikis from UK educators Richard Bailey and Philip Young. These are fine growing resources. The mediations – Resources for students of PR, Journalism, Social Software, Media Ethics and the PR BOOKS – Recommended sources for public relations wiki. And, as always, we can not forget the NewPR/Wiki from Constantin Basturea.

Kayak Satirical Ads :: CGM and Ads May Sting

When I first saw the new Kayak.com TV ads, my first thought was how different they were from other launch ads. They were intended, I believe, to be funny – sort of like the “Roaming Gnome” ads from Travelocity. However, as I saw more and more of them, it became apparent that these are more edgy than anything anyone has done recenlty.

The Kayak site introduces the ads with this: “We hope you’ll agree that we are equal opportunity satirists and will enjoy the ads in the humorous tone in which they were created.” Well, it hasn’t quite gone that way – for everyone.

…risky business, launching your new site and business with satire that may inflame your potential customer base, but interesting to watch unfold…

Paul English, a co-founder of the site/company, has posted some of the more angry anti-Kayak.com emails they’ve received about the ads. (Danger, Will Robinson! Some pretty vulgar angry stuff in there.) The Alaska / Big Oil ad seems to have touched a nerve. OK, more like jumped up and down on it – with an ice pick.

Another aspect that interested me, even more, is how Kayak is incorporating consumer generated ads / media (CGM) in the mix via YouTube. David Weinberger, one of the authors of the Cluetrain Manifesto, has even joined in the fray with a Joho post about the ads and developing his own Joho Kayak ad.

You may see all of the Kayak produced ads here and all of the consumer generated Kayak ads here. As of this post, there are 132 CGM ads in there. That’s impressive. The viewing numbers are impressive, too. Many ads have more than 100 views.

My thoughts? It is a crap shoot. Be edgy, but risk hacking off a lot of people. So, contingency planning is key if this plan is going to be implemented. This is a perfect example of how a company might want to involve PR in their advertising campaign planning. Hey, if you’re going to run ads that will inevitably make people mad, then be ready with a planned response strategy and implement it real-time.

I searched Technorati for posts about the ads, but didn’t find any – other than Joho. The rest were about – gee, kayaking. There are not any posts tagged kayak.com. So, I don’t know if Kayak has such a planned response in action. The meme hasn’t developed (and may not), but better to be prepared than caught flat-footed.

Paul English’s transparent post of the email flames is a refreshing touch, in a way. He writes, “Our goal was to be funny, and controversial. We wanted to take some risks, we knew some people would be offended. The response has been huge with overall positive comments.” Well, where are the positive ones, Paul. I don’t doubt you have them – and some are available in YouTube – but how about sharing those, too. Some are posted to the CGM ads available in YouTube.

One of the comments on the YouTube Kayak Alaska / Big Oil ad actually claims that the Kayak site and ads are part of an astroturfing campaign. (That will fit nicely into my next post.) The comment, from TheOrioleGuy, claims:

Desire: I want to promote my liberal agenda about the environment, plus vilify the Bush administration and oil companies. Problem: I need to bypass the laws and limits that restrain political action committees. Solution: set up a simplistic “travel search site” as a front business, and use the television advertising for it to accomplish my goals… thus bypassing PAC guidelines. Pathetic.

So, do we really want our new company / site to be dragged into some wild “George Soros / Al Gore (kind of) conspiracy theory” meme online? Hey, stranger things have happened. And, TheOrioleGuy has just started it for Kayak.

This will be interesting to watch. I’ve written to Paul English to ask about the campaign. Something tells me the guy is getting tons of email, so I won’t hold my breath for a reply.

PayForPlay, PayPerPost … The Bane of Online PR and Marketing – Link Fraud

Pay for play isn’t new. Think Armstrong Williams, VNR scandals, CEO vanity magazines, advertorials and more. Now, there is shock and horror about PayPerPost.com (PPP). It is a bane. It is a poison. But, it is as old as hemlock in digital years.

…as the web grows, more mature or less mature, aren’t these attempts to monetize blogs (for good or bad) inevitable?…

I’ve been waiting for some enterprising federal prosecutor to pump out a string of indictments for link fraud online. Is this the perfect opportunity? I’m not a lawyer, so maybe one will jump in here and help out with a definition.

Payola online? Hey, I imagine it has already happened too many times to count. Will Google and Yahoo! and others join with prosecutors to help keep their link rank / page rank algorithms free (or, as free as possible) of taint? Why not. They have a lot of advertising dollars at stake here. Link ads have been propping up Google from the beginning, haven’t they?

In a conspiracy charge, “a group of conspirators (have) banded together to achieve some harmful or illegal purpose” and if that purpose is fraud – well, do we have the open door to a trial? I imagine that intent plays a role here. If the company seeking the links can be proven to use blog posts knowing that the testimonial is insincere and the blogger can be shown to have made the post solely to make money, well we have a beginning. However, that’s not likely to be easy to determine from the willing participants – after the fact. So, what we can expect is a sting operation. Yes, just like the guy on NBC that has been phishing for perverts, some industrious blogger or reporter (TV or print) can at least make a pretty good expose out of all this. How long do you think it will take for that to happen?

as seen on tvPayPerPost.com has a pretty funny tagline on its header – “As seen in BusinessWeek.” That brings back some scary memories. Just check the logo to the right. Now, most people that see that logo, I believe, think of the product as schlock.

as seen on tvThe funny thing about the tagline at PayPerPost.com? Jon Fine decries it – and the ensuing online meme about it – in BusinessWeek as “a rhetorical race to the bottom.” He’s probably right.

Wonder if PPP will be asked to take that tagline down. And, what hubris does it take to use a negative article to help promote your own product? You’ll notice that there is no link to the BW column so people can see what it is about. Makes sense from a company willing to foresake transparency in their own business model.

It isn’t as if this hasn’t been happening all along, is it? My feeling is that anyone believing that these types of scams haven’t been occuring – under the table – for a long time in blogs is quite naive. And, it is a scam if the intention is stated that disclosure may not occur. That’s fraud, no matter how you spin it.

Think about it. The link loving bloggers – linking in faux adoration circles – are just one such example. How so? Think of the many feigned adoration posts by bloggers about some a-lister (just praying for a link back) and think of the lil’ chunk of their soul given up for that link. Don’t think it happens? Wanna buy a bridge?

If that doesn’t do it for you, then think of all the splogs out there. They are playing the links, too. But this one (PPP), using blogs with heretofore legitimage page ranks, is particularly sleazy. I think the hubris of admitting that disclosure won’t necessarily happen is the sleaziest part of all. No, it isn’t transparency to admit you are not practicing transparency. OK, if you mean the people behind the endeavor are being transparently sleazy. Yep, that’s transparent – in so many meanings.

A poster in Adrants Soflow Network says it (PPP) “is going to destroy the credibility of all bloggers even the ethical ones like myself that have even forgone monetizing my traffic via advertising so as to maintain an independent perspective on the industry that I choose to cover.” Funny thing is, on his mobile blog (not his personal one) I found this ad among a plethora of ads.

FAKE Testimonials?
That’s what Your Visitors Think. Get the Seal and ProveThey’re REAL! (Ad by TrustedTestimonials.com)

You will note, I hope, that the Trusted Testimonials site and the Pay Per Post site both have the same “Secured by GeoTrust” logo on them. Wonder if that Adrants poster knows he is running an ad for what may be the same type of site he abhors?

That company – GeoTrust, like those blogger associations (honesty police), will no doubt fail in securing trust among readers of blogs. And, of course, given the relationship noted above I am curious as to whether any of them are legitimate.

Let’s face it. Blogs are a combination of facts (as they are interpreted by the author) and opinions of the blog’s author that you cannot – with any hope of universal accuracy – trust to be truthful. At least you cannot trust them until you have done a lot of your own research and fisking. And, who’s going to do that – really?

Take a lesson from journalism. Approach everything with a healthy dose of skepticism – even traditional mainstream media. I trust blogs, in general, much less than I trust traditional media. The blogs I do trust are always as upfront as possible. They also only gain that trust after a great deal of time spent reading them and following links – researching what they write – to see if I agree. And then, even if I do agree, that’s just my own infopinion, too … isn’t it?

Gee, just look what social media has wrought. Anyone ready for another update to EPIC?

Disclaimer Longer Than Blog Post … Bait for Satire, or Reality Setting In?

So funny, yet so sad. The legalese is longer than the content.

Starwood Hotels is attempting something that is sort of like, well … it is trying to be like … well, it started as faux blogging and now it is …. well, just corporate blogging. In fact, it is corporate blogging that fits many stereotypes of legal and management “interference” – some PR practitioners like to call it.

Starwood launched The Lobby.

The blog states their focus and purpose:

To help keep Starwood Preferred Guests on top of the latest travel trends, Starwood and ElectricArtists have assembled a team of travel writers to contribute to this site. Every weekday this site will be covering the latest and greatest in worldwide travel.

…there needs to be a balance between form and functionality … legal considerations are important … but, when legal concerns interfere with the message, you may fall flat…

A legitimate idea. However, the authors in the blog seem more like jingle writers than travel writers. Each post is a commercial for some Starwood hotel or amenity.

Still, that’s not too bad of an idea. It is just the way they do it that seems contrived. Too planned. Too dry. Too predictable. The posts range from 100 to 200 words, with a few exceptions – the average is about 150. (This will be important later.) All of the posts are the equivilant to sidebar contextual ads with nice photos. It is one long list of short advertisements.

Starwood is using MovableType (MT). Many sites do. That isn’t uncommon. MT makes a fine CMS, aside from just a blog. But, The Lobby’s posts have links for tagging and bookmarking the site which many/most associate with blogs more than a dynamic site.

At first Starwood’s “The Lobby” did not have comments turned on.

Some people criticized them for that. B. L. Ochman called it a “dud” for more reasons than just the absence of comments. The Inside PR podcast also felt that the absence of comments did not help the blog’s legitimacy with audiences. There was no opportunity for a conversation.

So, Starwood turned comments on for some/most of the posts. However, in this instance they only made things worse.

If one is seeking to lay blame for this, I imagine the place to point is to upper management and the legal team. I doubt it is what the creative people wanted.

…if the disclaimer is your most dominant message, what are you saying to your customers?

When Starwood did turn on comments, they couldn’t help but turn it over to the legal department, first. So, now you have one of the most ridiculous comment sections, on every post offering comments, that you will see on a blog – in blogging’s brief history. The legal disclaimer is actually longer than the posts. Seriously, the post at that link is 194 words, whereas there are 282 words in the disclaimer before you may comment. And, most of the other posts are like this, too.

Need more irony? The title of one post is: Head and Shoulders Above the Rest. Um, no Starwood. This this is more like what happens when you don’t use Head and ShouldersTM … you appear flakey (or legally anal) – people notice, and you are embarrassed.

Sigh. So, bless their hearts, at least they are trying. How they could not see that their practice will bring snickers is kind of scary, but why am I not surprised?

Admittedly, there is legitimate concern for companies and individuals regarding the comments some people may leave in your blog.

Jeremy Pepper wrote:

Is it worth pushing the boundaries in a blog to get traffic, then end up in a libel suit? Are certain blogs that we all have seen – making fun of ugly people on the Web, making fun of Star Wars fans – worth the potential for a libel lawsuit?

Corporations have traditional boundaries and standards of practice. They are loathe to change them when the fear of legal entanglement may be the result. So, what you sometimes see is this kind of silliness.
I don’t know. Starwood can defend their tactic, of course. But, isn’t it kind of funny? Their fear is worth more text than their travel related content? B. L. was right. The Lobby is a dud.

Honestly, it reminded me of contract management. The rule-of-thumb was always – CYA or CYB. Here is the complete disclaimer you must wade through before getting to the comment forms:

BY CLICKING “I AGREE” AND SUBMITTING A COMMENT YOU AGREE TO THE FOLLOWING TERMS & CONDITIONS:

You agree not to submit any comment that contains unlawful, threatening, libelous, defamatory, obscene, pornographic or other material that would violate the law.

You agree that all comments submitted by you should be relevant to the article and remain respectful of other authors and commenters.

You authorize Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Inc., its affiliates, properties within the Starwood system and third party service providers (collectively, “Starwood”) to collect, process, use and display the information provided by you (including personally identifiable information) for any lawful, Starwood business related purpose, to store the information at and transmit the information to various locations, either directly or through its third party vendors, throughout the world, whether within your country of residence, the United States, or elsewhere; and to contact you regarding the information you provide.

You assign to Starwood the right, but not the obligation to edit, remove, modify, publish, license, print, transmit, display or otherwise use any comments you submit to Starwood and all accompanying personally identifiable information via all forms of media now known or hereafter devised, worldwide, in perpetuity, without notice to you and without compensation, and you waive any moral rights you may have in having the material altered or changed in a manner not agreeable to you.

You agree to indemnify and hold Starwood and its subsidiaries, affiliates, officers, directors, agents and employees harmless from any claim or demand, including reasonable attorney’s fees, made by any third party due to or arising out of Your breach of these terms and conditions or Your violation of any law or the rights of a third party.

That is on every post where you may leave a comment. Can you believe that? I find it amazing.

Um, and you don’t click on “I AGREE” … you click on Preview or Post.

Do you really want to see and read that every time you want to post a comment?

Perhaps the better path to follow (aside from the obvious “Drop the facade.  Don’t blog.  Make it a static site.”) would be requiring all who wish to comment to simply register for your site. Then, they see the disclaimer once and are bound by the rules. As Starwood is doing it now, the blog is a chuckle on every post, at first. After a few times, it will become – simply – a pain. Are they really going to turn these posts into purchases of services at their hotels? I don’t know, but I doubt it.

Here is an idea. Take the reigns off of the writers. Be bold. Take a chance. Let them write critically about your hotels and services. (I know. I’m dreaming.)

I don’t think Starwood Hotels did any reading or research into the mindset of most bloggers and blog readers. If they get laughed at online, it is their own fault. Of course, their target audience is probably not bloggers. It is business travelers. But, they are online and therefore open to these types of critiques.

What do you think? Is this a good practice by Starwood? Will they succeed? How would you suggest they blog?

Thanks to B. L. Ochman and Inside PR’s David Jones and Terry Fallis for the link.