Social Media Relations Done Good

I should confess, first, that I've been a little sceptical about this whole "Social Media News Release" thing put together by Todd Defren and is firm, SHIFT Communications. I'm still somewhat sceptical, to be honest, but the problem is that, while I've been thinking this through for a while, I'm having some difficulty defining the shape of my misgivings.

And now I've just read something that has convinced me that my inchoate scepticism may indeed be completely misplaced - or that, at the very least, I need to re-visit the idea and think things through properly. What's changed my mind?

I just came across this post on Todd Defren's blog, wherein he describes, with remarkable candour, an all-too-familiar outbreak of cluelessness on the part of one of his clients, and his agency's response to the same.

In brief: one of Todd's clients was utterly obsessed with getting her startup mentioned on Mike Arrington's TechCrunch blog. Sounds like Todd's team went about things the right way, but still didn't manage to get that elusive TechCrunch mention.

Meanwhile, Mike did post a quick note about a competitive company that had just raised an angel funding round and launched (a company which Mike may or may not have had some kind of tangential connection to. Whatever. He's not trying to be the WSJ here).

In response, outraged by what was perceived as bias, the founder of the not-mentioned startup left a bit of a snotty comment on Mike's blog.  After that, things pretty much went downhill. The accusation of partiality was picked up by Valleywag (or, perhaps, it was strategically leaked - who knows). From there, the story made it to Digg, where an anonymous poster (apparently from the same disgruntled startup) really lost the plot with a singularly ugly ad hominem attack on Mike himself. Ouch. 

In the ensuing flamewar, Todd's agency took some collateral damage, from people suggesting that poor PR counsel was partly at fault in this sorry saga.

Watching the reputation of both his client and his agency getting tossed back and forth in the comments, and conscious of the blogosphere's low tolerance for PR screw ups, Todd did something which was, in my opinion, very smart. He gave his client some very strong, clear advice - and then (the best bit) he took the same counsel himself. 

In short, he said: "Apologize.  Publicly.  Now.  Then, step away from the keyboard.  Throw yourself on the mercy of the blogosphere and cross your fingers."

His client took the advice and apologized in the comments at TechCrunch. Todd also posted his account of how things got screwed up, and has continued to noodle the issue in comment threads and on his blog.

It sounds like Todd still isn't entirely sure whether his action here was the right thing to do. In his most recent post, he's running a quick poll to see whether readers consider his approach was appropriately transparent and blog-friendly, or inappropriately indiscreet (i.e. he should have taken one for the team). 

It's a tough call, for sure. It goes completely against the grain for the typical PR person to say "it wasn't me, it was my client!" We're paid to nurture and protect our clients' reputations. Often, this can mean doing all we can to protect them from themselves. 

Todd had to walk a fine ethical line here. He either had to burn his client - at the risk of losing their business - or watch his firm's own reputation as a smart, social media-savvy agency go up in smoke. From the tenor of his posts, it sounds like Todd was able to have a very frank and candid discussion with his client about this - which speaks well to the nature of his relationship with his clients.

In the end, I think what Todd did showed courage, integrity, and class. There are some bullets even the most dedicated flack shouldn't try to catch.

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