I write about digital strategies and communications — and their intersection with culture, politics, journalism and social activism.


Attack your Critics: Good Reputation Rebuilding Strategy?

(Photo credit . . . Wong/Getty; Ngan/Getty)

Public relations academics will be analyzing for years BP's handling of communications during the Deepwater Horizon leak.

While many thought Tony Hayward (". . . Everything we can see at the moment suggest that the overall environmental impact of this will be very, very modest.") was not stellar in the role of chief public spokesperson, the jury remains out about whether his successor Bob Dudley will manage BP's reputation rebuilding strategy any better.

He's not off to a textbook start: In a speech to the Confederation of British Industry, Dudley claimed:

A great rush to judgment by a fair number of observers before the full facts could possibly be known, even from some in our industry. I watched graphic projections of oil swirling around the gulf, around Florida, across and around Bermuda to England -- these appeared authoritative and inevitable. The public fear was everywhere.

So much for taking on the burden of responsiblity as the starting point for a reputation overhaul.


Engagement (The Word) Sucks

(Photo by jscreationzs)

Many of us dislike -- or claim to -- the word 'engagement' almost as much as 'conversation' when used by business and/or social media experts to describe what social web interaction can accomplish. (I am guilty of its overuse, but committed to etymological rehabilitation and word exchange therapy.)

I have an idea about why the word grates, other than it having become jargon. Engagement is a construct of engage meaning a formal promise (English 1630s) and the suffix - ment "originally from French. and representing Latin -mentum , which was added to verb stems sometimes to represent the result or product of the action."

In discussions about social media in its marketing uses, engagement has come to mean getting people to 'talk' to your product or service offer, political idea or cultural object. (In the most egregious of uses, marketers talk about 'engaging with a brand' which, now that I think about it, is close to that definition of a 'formal promise leading to action'.)

Among marketers, what is hoped for with 'engagement' is in fact occupying the attention of someone important to your business or cause -- a customer or constituent for example -- so that a sale can be made or a constituent converted.

But it is far removed from the intent of being IN the social web which Tamara Weinberg (who unfortunately does use the word) describes as people "flocking to sites like Twitter and Facebook and other communities because they are online communities where they can learn from and hang out with their peers." (Not brands.)

'Engagement' is a misleading word to describe participation in the 'social' aspects of the social web, which are about the personal and the relationship, not a 'promise leading to action'.