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Friday, September 28, 2012

How much is too much information?

When you're going through a tough time, it can be very, very hard not to bare it all on social media.

We've all seen it happen - a friend goes through a breakup, and suddenly every Facebook update, blog post, and tweet goes waaayyy too much in detail about how broken-hearted they are.

It's uncomfortable to read, and it makes you feel sorry for them. And probably not in the way they'd hoped.

Roy Lichtenstein's Crying Girl. From

But, can such moves be helpful?

Last week, Susan Hurrell of Winnipeg web design company Modern Earth Designs gave an interesting presentation on search engine optimization to my marketing class. She mentioned the importance of keeping connected with your clients and building relationships.

She told us the story of a social media manager for an organization who was perusing her Twitter feed one Saturday evening. She read a tweet from the personal account from one of her company's major clients. The tweet said something like this, "Stood up again. Alone on Saturday night."

She quickly sent him a sympathetic tweet, and then on Monday morning had a bouquet of flowers and box of chocolates delivered to his office, with a note that said something like, "You're a great guy and deserve to feel special!" The whole stunt went viral, and garnered unprecedented coverage for her organization.

I Googled "sad tweet" and this came up. From

Now, the cynic in me wants to think this was a move that took advantage of an individual's vulnerability in order to gain attention for a corporation.

But on other hand, the guy did post it on Twitter. Obviously he wanted some attention.

Posting such personal messages on Facebook and Twitter can also let your followers know why you haven't been performing up to par lately. Posting a sad tweet or status update informs your friends, instructors, and possibly employers on what's going on in your life, without having to have an awkward face-to-face talk about it.

In an age where it's becoming more and more socially acceptable to let it all hang out online, such moves are almost expected.

In my opinion, it's okay to post a couple cryptic updates here and there, but discretion is still key. As tempting as it may be, try not to rely too much on Facebook in times of trouble. There's nothing wrong with the old-fashioned way of dealing with pain - blasting Adele as you lie in bed with a tub of raw cookie dough (hey, if it ain't broke, don't fix it).

What do you think? Has the Internet desensitized us to human emotion? Should we just keep our problems to ourselves, or is it okay to post them online? Let me know!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Winnipeg Free Press fires its best and brightest

Earlier this week, my local newspaper the Winnipeg Free Press laid off seven of its employees. Five reporters, an online editor, and a copy editor all got the ol' heave-ho from the paper, which is arguably the city's most-trusted and most-read print news source.

A Free Press cover from 1941. Photo from

The cuts were based on seniority. The people fired were the ones who'd worked there the shortest time. They were also some of the youngest staffers, and the most well-versed and active on social media.

Truthfully, they were the only reporters I read, and could relate to.

In an industry that's constantly changing and trying desperately to remain relevant and attract a younger audience, you would think these reporters would be the paper's most valuable assets. But no. Alas.

It's funny how things work out sometimes.

While the Freep's layoffs surprised and disappointed me, I think what shocked me the most was the paper's own silence on the subject. Many other local media outlets covered it. It was all over Twitter. It was certainly not a secret, and yet there was nothing reported in the Free Press.

I understand this can be a conflict of interest, but I was expecting at least an official statement posted on the website. Something sincere and regretful from a senior editor, expressing disappointment in the reality that this is the way the business rolls, and wishing the best of luck to those let go. But not a word.

As a long-time Free Press reader and fan of the reporters who were let go, I would have appreciated some communication from those in charge.

Luckily a couple of the reporters who were let go let us in on the secret. Melissa Martin wrote a stunning blog post on the subject, as did Adam Wazny.

What do you think, readers? Did I miss something - did the Free Press comment on this after all, and I didn't see it? Was this a smart move by Free Press management, or just the way the cookie crumbles in this industry? Let me know!

EDIT: Long-time Free Press columnist Gordon Sinclair Jr. addressed the situation today in this piece. It appeared on the front page of the City & Business section.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Lance Armstrong and the ethics of PR

Lately I've been spending more time than usual thinking about Lance Armstrong.

Picture from

I'm sure we all know the story by now - Armstrong was diagnosed with cancer, beat it, won seven Tour de Frances, started an insansly successful cancer charity, and was constantly accused of doping. He recently surrendered to the doping charges - without admitting he was guilty. He said he was tired of fighting and wanted to focus more on his family and his work with the Lance Armstrong Foundation.

A couple days ago in school, I did a presentation on Lance Armstrong from a public relations perspective. As a class, we discussed how well Armstrong had dealt with the controversies surrounding him. Under great pressure and with much evidence against him, he always came across as the bigger person. And with such a strong brand under his belt, it's not hard to see why.

The discussion veered towards ethics in PR. We wondered how we would act, if we were Lance's PR reps, if he were to admit to doping. Would our morals allow us to continue to represent a fraud? Or would we just keep doing it, because, well, that's our job?

It's a tough question. I'd like to think my morals would stand in the way of representing someone I disagree with, but it's hard to say. I've never been in that situation, and hopefully I never will.

I brought up the point that defense lawyers defend criminals everyday as part of their job. My instructor pointed out that lawyers are an entirely different profession - they have to take an oath before they can start practicing law. Public relations professionals strive to uphold a code of ethics, but really, you can practice PR if you want to.

There is currently no licensing in place for public relations pros. But should there be?

Edit: Ha! I just realised my PR instructor Melanie Lee Lockhart recently blogged about the same thing.

Friday, September 7, 2012

True Crime on Twitter

Earlier this week, the Quebec provincial election was soured by a tragic shooting. While Parti Quebecois leader Pauline Marois was in the middle of her victory speech, a man dressed in a bathrobe and ski mask opened fire, killing one man and injuring another.

Pauline Marois is escorted from the stage during her speech. Picture from

I'm not here to lament the tragedy of what happened. It was unarguably sad, senseless, and shameful.

I'm here to talk about the response to what went on. Like most currents events, I first learned of this shooting on Twitter. As I scrolled through my feed throughout the election, the tweets ranged from the skeptical and jubilant ("Quebec's first female premier!" "The PQ won?! What does that mean for Canada?") to gradual horror and shock, as the first tweets reporting on the shooting started to roll in.

What caught my attention were the tweets from the official Twitter account of the Montreal police (or Police Montréal), retweeted by some Winnipeg journalists I follow. As Tuesday evening's events were unfolding, the Montreal police sent out a steady stream of tweets informing their followers of what was going on.

Display picture for Police Montreal (@SVPM).

I didn't follow the Montreal police on Twitter before Tuesday evening. I didn't know they had a Twitter account. I didn't even know police forces were allowed to have Twitter accounts, given the tight-lipped nature of the force in my own city, Winnipeg.

I can't pretend I understand the laws that state what the police and cannot say during times of crisis. But I remember this past June when a young woman was stabbed to death outside her apartment, the official statement from the police was that she died under suspicious circumstances. Witnesses said she was stabbed. The media said she was stabbed. But the police kept mum. Why? When everyone already knows what's going on, why did it take them so long to say anything?

A quick search on Twitter reveals that there are two Twitter accounts for the Winnipeg police, but neither of them are official, and one of them hasn't been updated in over two years. For a city that's repeatedly cited as the most dangerous in Canada, isn't it about time our law enforcers start communicating with us?

Please, if I'm totally ignorant about this, let me know. This is something I'm trying to understand, and I am in no way trying to slam or put down our police officers.

Thanks for reading!