Origin Energy v Optus: public relations lessons

As regular readers know, I occasionally comment on the efforts of various service providers. Two of my more vehement efforts were Optus and Origin Energy. It moved me to revisit ‘cybersmear’, and online public relations.

First, some reading: I produced this online newsletter for a fictional public relations company a little while back. It doesn’t really deal with the whole ‘web 2.0’ phenomenon, but the principles remain the same.

Origin and Optus – and even where I work for that matter – are struggling to come to terms with the whole interweb thing. Personally I reckon an organisation’s engagement in social media has a lot in common with traditional media channels:

  • you have to be responsive
  • your message will get diluted
  • you won’t ever be able to eliminate all the bad stories – you just have to try and get more good ones

So, where did Optus and Origin go right (or wrong)? Well, Optus never said anything, which doesn’t necessarily mean they didn’t read my post (although they probably didn’t). Any organisation worth its salt has Google Alerts set up as a minimum, and there are a host of free tracking / analysis tools available on the web. But actually responding can do more harm than good. Optus don’t know how many people read my blog. Investing time in addressing my concerns is too labour-intensive for what is a relatively low public relations risk.

Origin Energy win though. They saw the opportunity to turn negative publicity into a positive by leaving a comment on the post offering to send out my free showerhead and energy-efficient lightbulbs. Again, they don’t know whether 10 or 1,000 people visit my blog, but for a relatively small time investment they can eliminate the doubt, and show people they are responsive and listening. Even I found myself going through the following thoughts:

1) Someone actually reads this shit?

2) Origin reads this?

3) Ooh, maybe I was too severe. I was pretty harsh.

4) Nah. 

Traditional media doesn’t usually allow such an immediate right of reply as the social media environment does.

What is obvious in any media is that publicity gets things done. I’m not knocking Origin – I would have done something similar for my mob, and it is good PR – but I wish Origin had shown a similar attentiveness to my earlier phone enquiries. What would PR practitioners do without shoddy call centre service?

So now all I have to do is sit back and wait for my eco-pack. You’re not out of the woods yet Origin, but you’re on your way. Optus, you still suck.

ps. Both posts stay up.

add to del.icio.us :: Add to Blinkslist :: add to furl :: Digg it :: add to ma.gnolia :: Stumble It! :: add to simpy :: seed the vine :: :: :: TailRank

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