a week in wireless

Calamitous corporate communications

The corporate blog is a strange beast. Some time ago the business world apparently decided it wasn’t enough to just produce press releases, white papers, etc, it needed to blog too. In principal a corporate blog should be a much more informal form of external communication.

This piece would ideally be written by some relatively junior dilettante writer reflecting on their day job in the lab, post room or wherever. By not merely regurgitating the corporate line and by flagging up an aspect of the company that would otherwise go unnoticed, the blog would humanise the otherwise pitiless corporate megalith.

In practice, however, corporate blogs tend to be thinly disguised pieces of self-promotion, made all the more toe-curling by their forced, matey, jovial tone, apparently designed to create the impression of informality but ending up more like a self-parody.

“The crazy gang at Megacorp had a great time at the launch of the ABC123-456(d) widget this week, and here’s a group shot to prove it,” would be a not untypical blog, or “Megacorp CEO reveals it’s not all hard work at the helm of the greatest company in the world.” You know the sort of thing.

And, presumably because nobody was reading their jaunty propaganda when it resided in some uncharted backwater of the corporate site, companies are increasingly merging their blogging operations with their press sites, making it even more complicated for journalists to find any genuine news they might have.

Of course corporate blogs are just the start. It’s now corporate convention to have at least one Facebook page and Twitter account too. Again these seem designed to make the company appear more human, but without the flaws and public embarrassments the rest of us mere mortals are prone to. The funniest thing about corporate social media gaffes is never the mistake itself, but the blind panic we can gleefully imagine happening at head office.

Some are just simple human error, like the BlackBerry corporate tweeter who earlier this week tried to encourage people to “Keep up with the conversation on @twitter” via a new BlackBerry Classic smartphone. The only problem was that tweet had been sent from an iPhone, implying less than total faith in the product being promoted.

The real schadenfreude, however, is derived from flagrant attempts to pursue a corporate agenda through social media, which backfire. Often these involve hashtags such as #whymegacorpisgreat that run the risk of being hijacked by people unsympathetic to the initial aims of the social media campaign.

A famous example was #AskJPM, in which Twitter was invited to submit questions to one executive at JP Morgan. The bank was apparently hoping to engage with potential graduate recruits, but ended up being asked rather more barbed questions such as: “What section of the poor & disenfranchised have you yet to exploit for profit, & how are you working to address that? #AskJPM”.

Similarly a few years ago McDonalds for some reason thought it would be a good idea to promote the hashtag #McDStories, through which happy punters could share their favourite burger anecdotes. Inevitably this turned into a ‘bashtag’, featuring complaints and satire on the nutritional merits of McDonald’s food.

The Informer’s favourite, however, has to be the PR company representing MasterCard at a time when it was sponsoring the Brit Awards. Apparently it made press attendance conditional on the hacks issuing favourable tweets about MasterCard using the hashtag #PricelessSurprises. Of course the press were having none of that and the request backfired via tweets such as: “Good press coverage is hard to bribe. For everything else there’s Mastercard. #PricelessSurprises”.

Worthy of honourable mention this week was the Vodafone corporate blog featuring an interview with UK CEO Jeroen Hoencamp. There was no gaffe along the lines of those detailed above, but he did make the bold claim that 4G is not all about speed. “…it’s not a race to have the highest speeds because when it comes to mobile, speed only gets you so far,” he said, while insisting they could provide faster speeds but they just don’t fancy it. Hoencamp even when so far as to “Many customers don’t know what 4G is, many customers don’t care what 4G is,” which may well be true, but still surprising to hear from the CEO of a 4G network provider.

Lastly the Informer is incredibly excited to congratulate the amazing Telecoms.com team on a great-looking new site. It just goes to show what a great company Informa is and how lucky we all are to be part of the best corporate family in the world #hownauseating.

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