So, we're approaching the end of another eventful - and occasionally scandalous - year.
News headlines have been filled with everything from the leaking of classified intelligence documents and multiple Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong's (partial) admission of drug taking, to New York mayoral hope Anthony Weiner mistakenly sending a lewd text to his Twitter followers and the'fake' sign interpreter at the Nelson Mandela memorial.
Human nature, acts of God or just plain bad luck will mean that, come 2014, there will be a new crop of scandals.
For mere mortals, life continues as usual.
But what - if anything - can be done to prevent or 'manage' a negative story?
Much of the responsibility of pre-empting or handling a crisis falls to public relations and reputation management people (or other related communication consultants) who often have to walk individuals or organisations through how to deal personal attacks, hatred, ridicule and occasional contempt.
It's not a job for the light-hearted.
Once upon a time, it used to be a straightforward process: you'd probably have sent out press releases to 'friendly' journalists, schmooze a few news editors or offer an exclusive interview to the media organisation with the highest audience or circulation.
Of course, I'm simplifying it greatly but, you get the idea!
These days, handling a crisis is like walking a tightrope with a tray of eggs on your heads while dodging bullets.
In essence, it's still 'public' relations, but not as we've known it.
Today's infographic from blogger outreach software provider, Group High illustrates how public relations has evolved with the times and how new methods can be used to communicate messages to the masses.
"The abuse of power, secret dealings and bribery continue to ravage societies around the world."
So says corporate and political corruption watchdog, Transparency International.
Their 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index ranks 177 countries and territories on 'how corrupt their public sector is perceived to be.'
Sentiments cover issues like political finance, money laundering and the transparency of public institutions.
Unsurprisingly, no country had an entirely clean sheet, but Denmark and New Zealand took joint first place, in contrast to Afghanistan, North Korea and Somalia which nestle at the bottom of the table.
Using the map below, hover over your country to see how it ranks against the best - and the worst.
You can check out the full table and rankings on the Transparency International website.
With up to 100,000,000 downloads, Brightest Flashlight Free is one of the most popular apps on Google Play.
The Android app allows a device to be used as a flashlight.
It should have been a modern day technology success story, except for one thing: the app was secretly sharing users' data with advertisers without consent.
Computer security expert Graham Cluely has more background on the story.
Brightest Flashlight Free creator Goldenshores Technologies has agreed to settle US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) charges that 'the app deceived consumers about how their geolocation information would be shared with advertising networks and other third parties'.
In reputation terms, this is a disaster for Goldenshores Technologies and its boss, Erik M. Geidl.
However, despite the outrage and negative coverage, there has been no public statement from them about the deception, nor has the company issued a message on their home page which, at the time of writing, has a news section that hasn't been updated since March 8th, 2011.
Before news of the misleading conduct was made public, reviews of the Brightest Flashlight app were overwhelmingly positive.
They've obviously built up a lot of goodwill. Nearly a million users have rated them 5 stars.
I think the company is missing a trick by seemingly burying its head in the sand.
They've obviously got a fantastic product which they're offering for free, so it's not unreasonable for them to want to make money from it.
If the company had been more transparent about how they generated revenue, they may probably have had fewer installs, but they would definitely have avoided the current massive headache.
Here's my advice:
- Goldenshore Technologies should make a full public apology to users in writing - on their website, on social media sites, on Google Play and through press releases.
- The company should explain exactly what the FTC settlement entails, especially 'when, how, and why their geolocation information is being collected, used and shared'.
- Erik M. Geidl should make a video statement on YouTube explaining what Goldenshores Technologies plans to do to increase transparency and restore trust.
- Keep making great apps!
In the world of online marketing, there are two main options when it comes to getting people to learn about you, your brand or your services on search engines: Pay Per Click (PPC) or Search Engine Optimization (SEO).
The basic differences are obvious when you search, say Google: there's a prominent orange 'Ad' graphic next to results in the shaded areas at the top (and often on the right hand side of the page) - advertisers pay a small fee to Google when visitors click the link and visit their website.
With so-called 'organic' (or natural) results (SEO), the listings which appear underneath.
If you do a Google search for 'tea' (from my part of the UK), you'll see an advert for Whittard at the top of the page under which is the Wikipedia entry.
There's an excellent article by Steve Floyd from AXZM about why and/or when and the pros and cons of PPC vs SEO. It's the simplest explanation I've seen and well worth a read.
When it comes to reputation, my view is that there's a greater benefit for organisations to primarily use natural search techniques rather than 'paid for' search, as it suggests - rightly or wrongly - that they are actively invested in providing useful information about their particular area of activity, rather than going for the 'quick fix' option of buying eyes.
Of course, things are not that simple, especially in highly contested areas like financial services, healthcare or small business. These are multi-billion turnover areas, so competition is tough.
In those areas, it's customary to see companies using a combination of PPC, SEO and other marketing strategies.
On balance, I'm firmly in the SEO camp, as I believe that ultimately, natural search results create more value for both organisations and existing and potential customers by their longevity and relevance.
Take a look at the infographic below which clearly illustrates the benefits of SEO compared to PPC.
"I love me, who do you love?"
Social media has unleashed the personality within, with millions of people blogging, tweeting or posting their every thought, action or observation to visitors, friends or followers on a minute-by-minute basis.
Sorry, Mr Warhol: the days when people aspired to claim their 15 minutes of fame are long gone.
Now, everyone has the chance to become an 'instant celebrity', courtesy of social networking basics like Twitter, Facebook, Youtube and Instagram.
With this 'power' should come responsibility, but what seems to be happening is a trend towards what best-selling Swedish author and technology security expert Anders de la Motte described as 'narcissism and desperation'.
When it comes to reputations, 'oversharing', posting boring content or uploading explicit photos can be a turn off - even for people who like you!
Check out the graphic below from Best Computer Science Schools.
Do you recognize yourself?
(Note: This is an updated article from the one posted on December 2nd.)
I had an interesting conversation about customer service in the last 24 hours.
My sister recently upgraded all of her family's phones with a virtual mobile telephony provider which has won multiple awards for excellent customer service.
She was so angry, I could almost hear her teeth grinding through a clenched jaw.
She was right to be mad at them.
In short, there had been a catalogue of errors from the wrong phone being sent, subsequently returned and sent back again by the company, to a reference made to a separate and phone, text and data plan that she did not request.
I can only imagine where the phone she ordered in the first place is at the moment!
Think: 'Twilight Zone'.
The situation now means that the family is a phone short and fresh out of patience.
All of the goodwill that had built up over two trouble-free years of service has now been lost -
in her words: 'irretrievably'.
If she had her own way, she would cancel all of the contracts her family has with the company.
The provider will have to work their socks off to keep this customer, but I'm confident they'll
be able to keep her.
It's not every company that wins praise year after year for being great at responding to people like my sister who don't shy away from speaking out about poor service, but also giving praise where it's due.
Still, they could have resolved the issue a lot quicker by using the information in today's infographic from Zendesk.
One of my roles is to beat the drum and promote the value of online and offline reputation management.
It's easy to do, as I really believe that anyone with an internet presence needs to take what they say or what's said (or written) about them very seriously.
It's become standard practice when looking for a job or forming a business relationship that you will be checked out on the internet.
If you've been 'good', operating 'under the radar' or just fortunate, you may get a clean bill of health.
If you've been 'bad' or just unfortunate, you may have pages and pages of hostile, distorted or highly inflammatory stuff written about you.
It can be a truly horrible experience for all but the strongest willed. Even they may buckle under the weight of a mountain of negativity - especially if - or when - it affects their family or colleagues.
With the online population set to grow to more than TWO BILLION by 2017, it's not too much of a stretch to imagine that the number of negative comments will increase.
Thoughts on customer service, communication and, of course, reputation management.