• Apple Apologizes for Maps App

    To address a barrage of criticism about the maps application installed with the new iPhone 5, Apple CEO Tim Cook has written a letter of apology.

    The Financial Times reported that the weak maps app soured the iPhone 5 launch. Complaints were about misnamed areas, missing information, and poor search capabilities. Jokes and parodies plagued the company for a week. In one video, the narrator says, "Many people say that our new maps are inaccurate, and that's not true. It's just that with Apple's new Q6 Quantum Processor, they may occasionally show features from other, parallel universes."

    Last week, Apple responded to the criticism:

    "We launched this new map service knowing that it is a major initiative and we are just getting started with it," Apple's Trudy Muller said in a statement. "We are continuously improving it, and as Maps is a cloud-based solution, the more people use it, the better it will get."

    Today, Apple CEO Tim Cook issued a formal letter to customers. 

    Apple Apology
    Although Cook takes responsibility in the letter ("...we fell short"), he seems to place responsibility on users for improving the app. Also, inviting customers to visit other maps programs seems a sad admission for the company to make.

    Discussion Starters:

    • What's your reaction to Cook's letter? What are the most and least effective parts?
    • Google CEO Eric Schmidt said that Apple should have used Google Maps for the new operating system. If you represented Apple, how would you respond?
  • RIM Struggles to Gain Enthusiasm for BlackBerry 10

    With decreasing market share, Research in Motion (RIM) is plugging its latest BlackBerry. Through a spoof music video, a CEO video, and other communications, the company is declaring a comeback of the souring brand.

    The music video, targeted to developers, didn't go over too well. With the article subtitle, "Not even dad rock can save RIM," a writer for BuzzFeed said, "I mean.... Someone, probably a millionaire with a VP title, had to sign off on this."

     Feedback on Twitter wasn't too positive either:

    RIM video 1
    CEO Thorsten Heins spoke as the BlackBerry Jam Americas Keynote. Do you find the first nine seconds "exhilarating"?

    One blogger wrote a disappointing review for BlackBerry 10, summarized in this way:

    "The general theme of Heins’ keynote was that the company is trying hard to come back from the brink. In fact, at several points, Heins talked about fighting back. And while it’s good to see that BlackBerry 10 has seen some significant advances in the past four months, the fact that we still haven’t seen any final pieces of hardware beyond the Dev Alpha Developer Kit, is somewhat disheartening."

  • Nasty Email Exchange Between Clinton Aide and Reporter

    An email exchange between Hillary Clinton's aide and a reporter quickly turned nasty. Philippe Reines, Clinton's aide and spokesperson, had accused CNN of mishandling the diary of Ambassador Christopher Stevens in Benghazi, Libya. The diary seemed to reveal discrepancies between the Ambassador's security concerns and The State Department's message.

    On BuzzFeed, emails between Reines and the reporter, Michael Hastings, were published in full. I've omitted the expletives here. This is yet another example of why people shouldn't send angry emails: the result doesn't reflect well on either party.

    From: Michael Hastings
Sent: Sunday, September 23, 2012 10:32 AM

    To: Reines, Philippe I 

    Subject: Request for comment


Hey Philippe:

    A few quick questions for you. Why didn't the State Department search the consulate and find AMB Steven's diary first? What other potential valuable intelligence was left behind that could have been picked up by apparently anyone searching the grounds? Was any classified or top secret material also left? Do you still feel that there was adequate security at the compound, considering it was not only overrun but sensitive personal effects and possibly other intelligence remained out for anyone passing through to pick up? Your statement on CNN sounded pretty defensive--do you think it's the media's responsibility to help secure State Department assets overseas after they've been attacked?

    Let me know if you have a second.Michael

    On Sun, Sep 23, 2012 at 11:28 AM, Reines, Philippe I wrote:

    Good morning Michael

    I'm adding my colleague Toria Nuland who I believe you know. She has addressed much of your questions below during her daily press briefings, so I'll let her weigh in to remind you of what's already been thoroughly answered. As far as the tone of my email, I think you're misreading mine as much as I'm misreading yours as being needlessly antagonistic.

    But on your questions pertaining to CNN's handling of the diary:

    • You know that all USG personnel were evacuated from Benghazi after the attack. So I'm not sure why you're asking why State didn't find the diary first.

    • On material, I'll let Toria reiterate, but the answer is no. Though you might want to ask CNN if they took anything else from the crime scene that they haven't yet told anyone about.

    • In terms of the media's responsibility, I'll start with the outlandish statement that I believe the media does have responsibilities. Your question seems to imply they have none and any expectation of responsible behavior is too much to ask. To be specific:I believe CNN had the responsibility to act as human beings and be sensitive to their loss when they first approached the family.

    I believe CNN had a responsibility to not make promises to the family it would not keep.

    If that's too much to ask, I believe CNN had at the very least a responsibility to make their intentions on the use of Chris's diary clear to the family from the outset.

    I believe CNN had a responsibility to not deceive its own viewers for more than 48 hours on the source of their reporting, using convoluted attribution they themselves had to clarify, before admitting it was the diary they were relying on.

    I believe that when they finally did admit to using Chris's diary, they had a responsibility to their viewers and to the family to explain why they broke their pledge.

    I believe that many within CNN agree with everything I'm saying.

    More than anything else, I believe that CNN - since they had already read every word of the diary before calling the family on Friday the 14th, the day Chris's remains were returned home - had all the information they needed at that point to make an editorial decision on whether the contents of the diary compelled them to report on it. I believe the time to invoke their standards to justify using the diary came six days late. I believe that CNN, if they felt strongly that they had an obligation to use the diary should never have presented the family with a choice in the first place that they'd later disregard.

    I don't believe that CNN should get credit for issuing a flimsy confession only when caught with their hands in the cookie jar. I believe the statement CNN issued late last night, 24 hours after Anderson Cooper's ill-conceived statement on air, basically says they agreed not to use it until they didn't feel like it anymore, and only admitted to it when they were about to be caught. I don't believe that's much of a profile in courage.

    Lastly, I believe that you of all people, after famously being accused of violating agreed upon ground rules and questionable sourcing, would agree that it's important for a news organization to maintain its own integrity if it is to be trusted. That begins with keeping its word. If you can't manage that, then don't give it.

I realize that the way this works is that you only you get to ask me questions, but I have one for you: if you were in Benghazi, went to the scene of the attack, found the ambassador's diary, read every word of it, would you have called them and asked their permission to use it, then when you weren't granted that permission agree that you wouldn't use it in any way, and then a few days later just change your mind?

    If the answer is yes, then you obviously agree that CNN handled this perfectly fine.

    If the answer is no, if you would have decided its contents demanded reporting immediately, how would you have handled this differently then CNN?

    And you should feel free to use every word above, in its entirety. Though I suspect you won't.


    From: Michael Hastings
    Sent: Sunday, September 23, 2012 12:04 PM

    To: Reines, Philippe I 
Cc: Nuland, Victoria J
Subject: Re: Request for comment


    Thanks for getting back to me. No, you read my email correctly--I found your statement to CNN offensive.

    From my perspective, the scandal here is that the State Department had such inadequate security procedures in place that four Americans were killed. And then the Ambassador's diary--and who knows what else--was left behind for anyone to pick up. Thankfully, it was CNN--and not Al Qaeda or some other militia--that found it and was able to return it to the family. That CNN used portions of the material in the diary they found at the scene--material that appears to contradict the official version of events that State/WH has been putting out--is completely in line with practices of good journalism.

    I don't know how involved Arwa Damon has been in this. But for what it's worth, Arwa is one of the best war correspondents working today. She's consistently risked her life to get these stories, and to find out what actually happens in these conflict zones.I do agree that the media has lots of responsibilities, and CNN fulfilled its responsibility by returning the diary while still managing to inform the American public of newsworthy information. So it's unfortunate that you are trying to make a scapegoat out of CNN. That State was forced to flee Benghazi--again, because of such inadequate security, leaving behind all sorts of sensitive information--tells us more about DoS than CNN.

    The misinformation here seems largely to be coming from State and the administration. The defense that the administration has offered that there was no intelligence warning of an attack is weak. If there was no intel, then clearly the CIA and other intel agents stationed in Benghazi weren't doing their jobs well. If there was intel, then we have some kind of cover-up--whether out of incompetence or ass covering before the election or just the trauma of losing four good men, it's hard for me to say at this point.

    All the best,


    On Sun, Sep 23, 2012 at 12:45 PM, Reines, Philippe I wrote:

Why do you bother to ask questions you've already decided you know the answers to?

    From: Michael Hastings
    Sent: Sunday, September 23, 2012 12:50 PM

    To: Reines, Philippe I 
Cc: Nuland, Victoria J
Subject: Re: Request for comment 

    Why don't you give answers that aren't bull**** for a change?

    On Sun, Sep 23, 2012 at 1:38 PM, Reines, Philippe I wrote:
    I now understand why the official investigation by the Department of the Defense as reported by The Army Times The Washington Post concluded beyond a doubt that you're an unmitigated a******.

    How's that for a non-bull**** response?

    Now that we've gotten that out of our systems, have a good day.

    And by good day, I mean F*** Off

    From: Michael Hastings
    Sent: Sunday, September 23, 2012 01:40 PM

    To: Reines, Philippe I 
Cc: Nuland, Victoria J
Subject: Re: Request for comment

    Hah--I now understand what women say about you, too! Any new complaints against you lately?

    On Sun, Sep 23, 2012 at 1:48 PM, Reines, Philippe I wrote:

Talk about bull**** - answer me this: Do you only traffic in lies, or are you on the ground floor of creating them?

    And since F*** Off wasn't clear enough, I'm done with you. Inside of 5 minutes when I can log into my desktop, you'll be designated as Junk Mail.

    Have a good life Michael.

    From: Michael Hastings 

    Date: Sun, Sep 23, 2012 at 1:50 PM

    Subject: Re: Request for comment
To: "Reines, Philippe I" 
Cc: "Nuland, Victoria J"

    I'll take that as a non-denial denial.

    All the best,



    Discussion Starters:

    • Now that this exchange is public, if you were Philippe Reines, would you make any kind of statement about the situation?
    • Have you sent emails that you regret? Looking back on the situation, what could you have done differently?
  • Today Is the Day We Wait for All Year

    It's National Punctuation Day! This one is for grammar geeks only. In honor of this year's celebration, The New Yorker magazine is sponsoring a contest

    "The rules: Write one paragraph with a maximum of three sentences using the following 13 punctuation marks to explain which should be 'presidential,' and why: apostrophe, brackets, colon, comma, dash, ellipsis, exclamation point, hyphen, parentheses, period, question mark, quotation mark, and semicolon. You may use a punctuation mark more than once, and there is no word limit. Multiple entries are permitted.

    "In short, persuade us that your favorite punctuation mark should be the official punctuation mark of the President of the United States."

    Submissions are due by September 30, 2012. Read the rules here.

    This website features several photos of incorrectly punctuated signs, include a few submitted by me.  Below is one gem, selected by the website owner as "The Dumbest Sign of the Year."


    Image source.

  • Rick Perry's Debate Gaffes Blamed on Lack of Sleep

    With the upcoming presidential debates, we're reminded of Rick Perry's trouble during the Republican primary. At his worst, he couldn't remember the third government agency he would eliminate if he became president. (It was the Department of Energy.)

    A new book, "Oops," blames Perry's failings on his insomnia for weeks during the campaign. Author Jay Root, who covered the  campaign, says that Perry was finally diagnosed with sleep apnea, for which he was given a machine to help regulate breathing.

    In his book, "Sleep for Success!," Dr. James Maas, professor at Cornell University, warns that lack of sleep "significantly affects mood, performance, relationships, health, and even longevity."

    Discussion Starters:

    • Do you believe that lack of sleep caused Perry's debate problems? Here's an embarrassing sequence of his failings during the campaign.
    • Other than getting more sleep, how could Perry have improved his debate performance?
  • McDonald's Posts Calories: What's the Reaction?

    This week, McDonald's will post calories on all menus nationwide. The company is acting ahead of the federal requirement, which is part of the health care bill upheld by the Supreme Court. No definitive direction or timeline has been established, so McDonald's is taking the initiative and possibly leading the way for other large chains.

    In an interview with NPR, McDonald's President Jan Fields explains the decision: "We're voluntarily taking a lead in this area because we feel it's important to do this for our customers." However, critics say that this is more of a PR move for the company than a focus on public health. A representative for a food watchdog group, Sara Deon, said of McDonald's food choices, "Offering a healthier option in the Happy Meal doesn’t put an end to the marketing that’s directed at children. The healthier options overall are little more than a vehicle for selling more of McDonald’s bread and butter — burgers, fries, and soda."

    The Wall Street Journal tallied people's reactions online in this infographic:

    McDonald's Calories

    Research about the whether posting calories affects people's choices seems to be mixed. In a Stanford University study, people reduced their calorie orders by only 6% at Starbucks after the company posted the information on its menu (although people who ordered 250 calories of food or more reduced their orders by 26%). Jan Fields admits that the effect may be minimal, but she told The New York Times that people liked having the information and that "This is all still very new."

    Discussion Starters:

    • What's your view of posting calories on menus. Do you think this will affect consumers' choices?
    • Based on the reactions so far, is this a smart decision for McDonald's?
  • Walmart's Local Facebook Pages Lag Behind Small Businesses'

    Recommend.ly, a firm that helps companies optimize their Facebook pages, found that Walmart's local pages haven't fared well compared to small businesses' pages. "My Local Walmart," a program started in October 2011, aimed to connect customers to a store near them.

    My Local Walmart

    According to Advertising Age, Recommend.ly's research shows that the local Walmart pages haven't garnered the fan base that "mom-and-pop" stores have achieved. Although an impressive 2800 stores have their own fan pages (of Walmart's approximate 3500 stores), the fan activity isn't very high:

    "But only 100, or fewer than 4%, have more than 1,000 fans. And 85% of Walmart's local-store pages didn't respond to any fan comments during the study.

    "By contrast, in a sample of just under 1,900 local-business pages on Facebook, 22% had more than 1,000 fans. The Walmart local-store pages had an average of 563 fans, 5.2% of them active in some way during the 30 days of the study. Local businesses had an average of 4,207 fans, 12.2% of them active."

    Further, the study found that customer engagement on these pages was lacking compared to local businesses' pages:

    "But 99.5% of Walmart's local stores scored under 40 on a 100-point CScore scale used by Recommend.ly, which is based on how often a page starts conversations, how many posts the page participates in, how viral the page's content is based on the level of fan response and sharing, and how popular the page is based on fan count and active fan ratio.

    "By comparison, only 60% of local business pages scored below 40 on that scale, and Walmart's main page scored what Recommend.ly deemed a 'respectable' 66."

    Recommend.ly suggests that Walmart's failings are caused by the corporate-controlled content, while small businesses tend to provide more useful information, such as comments about local events and store promotions, to locals.

    Discussion Starters:

    • How could local Walmart Facebook pages provide more value to customers? What are other examples of ways to connect to people within a community?
    • The Advertising Age article discusses Barnes & Noble's local Facebook attempts, particularly to reach college students. What are your ideas for making these pages more relevant to you? 
  • More Hijacked Twitter Campaigns

    This week, two more attempts to engage people on Twitter have backfired. Following McDonald's and RIM's recent failures, Newsweek and Waitrose, a British supermarket, join the list of tweets gone awry. 

    Newsweek tried to generate conversation about its front-page story, "Muslim Rage," a provocative piece in itself. With the hastag, #MuslimRage, Newsweek's online site, Daily Beast, invited people to tweet about the cover story.

    Newsweek 1
    The result was not what Newsweek hoped for. Although the hashtag was trending, people made a joke of the it.

    Newsweek 3
    Newsweek has been criticized as a "troll"—intentionally started a heated debate for the sake of publicity. One critic tweeted, "Best way to deal with trolls: Silence. Second-best: mockery, e.g., #muslimrage." The Associated Press reported this response from the magazine: 

    "Newsweek spokesman Andrew Kirk said the magazine's covers and hashtags 'bring attention and spark debate around topics of major global importance. The Internet is an open forum for people to continue their own discussion.'"

    Upscale supermarket Waitrose tried a similar tactic to engage conversation about the brand, using the hashtag #Waitrosereasons.


    Again, some tweets supported the brand, but most were sarcastic.

    Waitrose 2
    Waitrose responded with several gracious, good-natured tweets.

    Waitrose 3
    Analysis of the campaign is mixed: the hashtag certainly promoted Waitrose's name and got people talking, so in this case, was it a failure?

    Discussion Starters:

    • Where's the line between generating discussion and inciting controversy for the sole objective of sales? Did Newsweek cross this line?
    • Read more of the #Waitrosereasons tweets. Would you characterize the campaign as a failure?
  • Romney Criticized for "47%" Comment

    Mitt Romney was caught off guard when Mother Jones leaked a video of him responding to a question about his strategy to win the election:

    "There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That, that's an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what…These are people who pay no income tax."

    To explain his comments, Romney positioned them in terms of his campaign strategy:

    "This is a campaign, fundamentally, about how to help the middle-class in America, and how to help people in poverty get into the middle class."

    VP candidate Paul Ryan also tried to position the comment into the larger perspective of the Republican campaign:

    "Oh I think he would have said it differently, that's for sure," Ryan said. "But the point still stands, we have too many people becoming too dependent on government because of the poor economic policies of the Obama administration."

    But Ryan didn't mince words when criticizing Romney's phrasing: 

      "He was obviously inarticulate in making this point. And the point we're trying to make here is, under the Obama economy government dependency is up and economic stagnation is up. And what we're trying to achieve is getting people off of government dependency and back to a job that pays well and gets them on the path to prosperity."

    Discussion Starters:

    • What's your view of Romney's initial comments? How could he have phrased his perspective instead?
    • In the second video here, is Romney effective in repositioning his 47% comment?
  • Beware of "Exploding" Studies

    Information Overload
    Twice in two weeks I've read a similar headline about a Northwestern University study: "Study Explodes the Myth of Internet-Based Information Overload." Authors of these articles should be mindful of the implications of research—and look more carefully at the methodology.

    The study, involving a mere seven focus groups of 77 participants on vacation in Las Vegas, asked people about information they receive through the web and other media sources and how they feel about it. A relatively small study that doesn't look at behavior should be considered cautiously. Eszter Hargittai, lead author of the study, drew this conclusion:

    "There’s definitely some frustration with the quality of some of the information available. But these frustrations were accompanied by enthusiasm and excitement on a more general level about overall media choices."

    Fair enough. But articles such as Social Media Today's is not exactly in line with the study's reach and impact. Northwestern University's own descriptions seem more appropriate:

    "'Information overload' may be an exaggerated way to describe today’s always-on media environment. Actually, very few Americans seem to feel bogged down or overwhelmed by the volume of news and information at their fingertips and on their screens, according to a new Northwestern University study."

    "Most of the participants said television was their most used form of media, followed closely by websites. When asked how they felt about the amount of information available to them, few mentioned feeling overwhelmed or that they suffered from 'information overload.'"

    On the other hand, the Social Media Today article raises a good point about exaggeration on the other side of the argument:

    "Listen to enough hysterical warnings and dire forecasts and you’d think that information overload is leading us to some kind of bleak, post-apocalyptic future. In an Advertising Age column he wrote back in 2007, Edelman Senior VP Steve Rubel said, 'A crash is coming, folks. But this time it’s not financial—it’s personal.' The attention crisis, he said, is an epidemic. “There’s no more room at the inn. People will cut back."

    Perhaps we can learn lessons about both sides of the debate.

    Image source.

    Discussion Starters:

    • What's your own view about "information overload"?
    • What could have been a better headline for the story in Social Media Today?
  • Talk but No Deal in Chicago Teachers' Strike

    After a week of no school for 350,000 students in Chicago public schools, the Chicago Teachers Union and the Chicago School Board could not agree on a contract. Talks continue today with hopes of children returning to school on Monday.

    In the past week, both sides have been honing their messages to garner support. Rahm Emanuel called the strike "unnecessary" and "a strike by choice." In his press statement, he says that two issues remain: teacher evaluation and principal accountability. He also emphasizes the importance of getting "...kids back in the classroom. Our kids, the kids of Chicago, belong in the classroom."


    On the other side of the table, Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union, leads the conversation. Lewis, described by The New York Times as a "fiery former high school chemistry teacher," spoke to a reported 18,000 supporters on Labor Day. She riled the crowd: "We know there's a finite amount of resources, but we also know we didn't create that problem. Our children are not a campaign promise. Our children are not numbers on a spreadsheet. When you come after our children, you come after us."

    The Chicago Teachers Union has an active Facebook page, with almost 35,000 "likes." Although the page is often updated and shows strike-related activity, more content about the Union's position is available on its website. Here, we see a flyer targeted to parents that outlines the following demands: 

    • Reduce class size
    • Provide social services children need
    • Invest in all schools
    • Support teachers as professionals
    • Stop charter expansions

    However, in the lastest "Bargaining Update" posted, from August 22, the Union highlights these "three priorities":

    1.  A “Better” Day—with Art, Music, World Language, Physical Education and other services like counseling anchored by contract language that assures prep and break time, limits on teaching load, and limits on duties.
    2.  Job Security—in the form of guarantees that the Board will conduct future hiring from a pool of displaced members before making new hires, as well as an appeal process and other protections against unfair evaluation.
    3.  Fair Compensation—we deserve a fair raise for work that will be more stressful and challenging. In addition, we seek to protect our salary schedule (steps) and keep out merit pay, insurance premium hikes, and changes to our accumulation of sick days that undercut our benefits.

    Discussion Starters:

    • Read more about the contract negotiations online. Which side do you favor? What issues do you consider most important for each side?
    • Watch Rahm Emanuel's and Karen Lewis's videos. What do you consider to be the most and leaving convincing arguments in each?
    • In the Bargaining Update document, is this use of "assures" correct: "contract language that assures prep and break time"? What should be in its place?
  • Hollister Models Insult Asian Customers

    HollisterRetailer Hollister has apologized for their models' offensive behavior during a store opening in South Korea.

    The company brought in four foreign models to take pictures with customers. But the associates embarrassed the company by "making squinty eyes," "flipping their middle finger to photographers, and mocking Asian pronunciation of English appeared on their Twitter accounts," according to KoreaBANG.  

    On its Facebook page, Hollister apologized for the incident:

    Hollister response

    On its website, in a section on careers, the company does have an extensive page about "Diversity and Inclusion."

    Discussion Starters:

    • How do you assess Hollister's response? Do you find it effective, empty, or something else?
    • Some people have theorized that this incident could actually help the company's image, reinforcing the brand as edgy. What do you think?
    • What about the company's Diversity and Inclusion webpage do you find most and least convincing?
  • Go Daddy Responds to Outage

    What brought down Go Daddy's websites? Although a hacker claimed responsibility, the domain registrar and web hosting company says it was an internal issue.

    The outage lasted from 10 a.m. until about 4 p.m., affecting an unknown number of websites hosted by Go Daddy. On Twitter,@AnonymousOwn3r, a member of the Anonymous hackivist group, took responsibility:

    Anonymous and Go Daddy 1
     However, Go Daddy's CEO told a different story:

    Go Daddy Response
    Still, the Anonymous member maintained responsibility:

    Anonymous and Go Daddy

    Discussion Starters:

    • While we waited to hear Go Daddy's response, small business owners blamed the hacker. Why would Go Daddy take responsibility rather than let customers think it was an external issue?
    • The CEO's response is rather technical. Do you think this is appropriate for the audience and situation? Why or why not?
    • Rewrite the CEO's message for the average business owner who has a website hosted by the company. How can you reduce the technical jargon?
  • Ryanair CEO Says People Who Don't Print Boarding Passes Are "Stupid"

    Suzy McLeod was charged €300 because she didn't print five boarding passes for a Ryanair flight. McLeod complained about the charge and received lots of support on Facebook but not from Ryanair. CEO Michael O'Leary responded to her complaint by saying that the woman should pay, "...for being an idiot and failing to comply with her agreement at the time of booking. We think Mrs. McLeod should pay 60 euros for being so stupid."


    McLeod said that she didn't print the boarding passes for her family because her trip was too long: they were away for 15 days, and the return passes had to be printed within two weeks. O'Leary had little sympathy for her dilemma: "She wasn’t able to print her boarding card because, as you know, there are no internet cafes in Alicante, no hotels where they could print them out for you, and you couldn’t get to a fax machine so some friend at home can print them and fax them to you."

    O'Leary also said, "She wrote to me last week asking for compensation and a gesture of goodwill. To which we have replied, politely but firmly, thank you, Mrs. McLeod, but it was your ****-up."

    A spokesperson for Ryanair simply relayed the airline's policy:

    "As is clearly outlined in the terms and conditions for every Ryanair passenger, Mrs McLeod agreed at the time of booking that she and her fellow passengers would check in online and print their boarding cards before arriving at their departure airport, and she also accepted and agreed that if she failed to do so then she would pay our boarding card re-issue penalty of £60 per passenger."

    On Facebook, McLeod's post received more than 500,00 "likes," but so far, the airline is unrelenting.

    O'Leary has a reputation for making inflammatory comments, such as these:

    "You're not getting a refund so **** off. We don't want to hear your sob stories. What part of 'no refund' don't you understand?"

    "People say the customer is always right, but you know what - they're not. Sometimes they are wrong and they need to be told so."

    "Nobody wants to sit beside a really fat ****** on board. We have been frankly astonished at the number of customers who don't only want to tax fat people but torture them."

    Discussion Starters:

    • Should the company have responded differently to the complaint, or does the policy speak for itself?
    • How does this situation fit with Ryanair's status as a discount airline? Are customers justified in being upset, or should they simply comply with the policy?
  • McDonald's Slips on Communicating with the Hmong

    Known for adapting its marketing campaigns to different cultures and countries, McDonald's has missed on at least one advertisement to the Hmong people in St. Paul, Minnesota.


    Although the billboard translates roughly to "Coffee gets you up. Breakfast gets you going," locals say the grammar is incorrect, and "It sounds weird in Hmong because we don't really talk like that." A doctor at a St. Paul hospital said, "The text is also wrong, missing key breaks in the language" and "As it stands right now, it doesn't make sense at all."

    The doctor also expressed concerns about McDonald's food:

    "I think it's great that more mainstream businesses are realizing the buying (and) consumer power of the Hmong community. [But] chronic diseases like diabetes, hypertension and obesity are already a major health concern in the Hmong community. Most of this is attributed to the changing westernized eating behaviors that Hmong people have adapted to. McDonald's should instead focus more on healthy eating."

    A representative from Arnold Advertising, which works with McDonald's restaurants in the area, said, "This is the first time that McDonald's anywhere in the country has advertised in Hmong." McDonald's targeted the Hmong people as one consumer group and "wanted to make sure we were communicating effectively with them." With tens of thousands of Hmong living in St. Paul, the area has more Hmong people than any other U.S. city.

    In a statement by McDonald's regional marketing director, the company acknowledged that it fell short:

    "We strive to reach our guests in relevant ways including the use of in-language messaging. While it was our intention to create a special message for our Hmong population in Minnesota, we now realize that an error was made in the translation of 'Coffee Gets You Up, Breakfast Gets You Going.' It was not our intention to offend anyone, and we apologize for the error. We are working with our local advertising agency to correct these billboards and will re-post next week."

    Image source.

    Discussion Starters:

    • How could McDonald's have avoided this embarrassing situation?
    • The company chose not to respond to the doctor's point about health concerns within the Hmong community. Should McDonald's have included a statement regarding this issue? Why or why not?
  • Mars: Deep-Fried Bars Are Not "Healthy"

    When a Scottish restaurant promoted deep-fried Mars bars, the chocolate maker took issue. The company sent a letter requesting that Carron Fish Bar post a disclaimer about the fried chocolate on its menu: "not authorised or endorsed by Mars Incorporated."

    Deep-Fried Mars

    A Mars spokesperson explained the company's position:

    "We are really flattered that customers of Carron Fish Bar like our product so much that it has now become a flagship product for the store.

    "No application for a protected geographical indication has been filed to date.

    "Should an application be filed, unfortunately, we wouldn't be able to support it as deep-frying one of our products would go against our commitment to promoting healthy, active lifestyles."

    "Healthy, active lifestyles"? Indeed, in a list of "Marketing Commitments" posted on its website, the company boasts these principles:

    • We believe in healthy eating and pride ourselves on the high quality of our products. Based on sound scientific knowledge, we know that they can form part of a healthy and enjoyable diet for consumers of all ages.
    • Our communications will not undermine the pursuit of a healthy, balanced diet and active lifestyle.
    • Our communications will not encourage or condone excessive consumption of any food or drink.
    • Our communications will not promote compulsive snacking.
    • We will not associate our products with people who are excessively underweight or overweight.
    • We will not use a celebrity in a way that might mislead consumers about the benefits of our brands.
    • We endorse initiatives to encourage active lifestyles including the sponsoring of sports events.
    • We will direct our marketing communications in all media to adults who make household purchasing decisions (gatekeepers) and young people 12 and over, both in terms of ad content and media purchasing.
    • We will continue to offer responsible and creative advertising featuring our products, trademarks, brands and spokescharacters suitable for our intended audiences.

    One of the Carron managers responded: 

    "We have been selling this deep-fried Mars product for 20 years and this is the first time we have heard from Mars.

    "But we are quite happy to put a disclaimer on the main menu for the shop because I don't want any reason for them to come back and try some sort of court action against me."

    Image source.

    Discussion Starters:

    • Do you think that Mars's request is reasonable? Why or why not?
    • What stronger argument could Mars have included argument in its letter?
  • Fortune 500 Step Up Social Media Use in 2012

    Fortune 500 with FBA study by the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Center for Marketing Research shows Fortune 500 companies increasing their social media use. With annual data from 2008, the report highlights growth in companies' use of blogs, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Pinterest: 

    "...there has been a surge forward in the adoption and use of social media and new communications tools among this year’s Fortune 500.  For years, this group has lagged behind other sectors and at times appeared to shun social media.  These latest numbers show a renewed interest that includes using these tools for engagement, hiring and fundraising as well as for corporate advancement.  It is exciting to watch as these corporate giants embrace social media in a way they have not in the past.  It will be interesting to see if their enthusiasm for social media continues."

    The Center published a report with its findings and created an infographic.

    The number of Facebook "likes" of the ten biggest players have increased between 18% (Kohl's) and 78% (Walt Disney and Intel). The number of Twitter followers have also increased for the ten biggest Twitter players between 12% (Southwest) and 84% (Walt Disney); however, after reading the recent report of fake followers, I'm not impressed by these numbers.

    The Center conducted a similar study of Inc 500 companies (designated by Inc. Magazine as the fastest growing companies). Blogging among this company group declined dramatically in 2011, while Fortune 500 blogging held steady.


    Discussion Starters:

    • One of the two charts shown here has a typographical error. Can you find it?*
    • What do you think explains the differences between Inc. and Fortune 500 companies' use of corporate blogs?
    • What do you think explains the industry differences in how many companies have a Facebook page?

    *Under "Corporate Facebook Pages," text in the yellow triangle in the first column mistakenly refers to "Twitter Accounts"; this should read "Facebook Pages."

  • Analysis of Michelle Obama's Speech

    Elaine Brye, mother of four servicemen, introduced Michelle Obama at the Democratic National Convention. Using alliteration, Brye said, "I'm not even a political person, but what I am is a military mom." Unfortunately, Brye's speech wasn't properly reviewed; two grammatical errors slipped by: "...she invited my husband and I to the White House" and "...like I said..."

    After the introduction, the First Lady spoke to an enthusiastic crowd.

    Reporters for The New York Times added commentary throughout Michelle Obama's speech. The article shows the speech transcript and includes selected video clips with annotations. Jodi Kanter notes Michelle Obama's use of emotional appeal and her attempt to relate to the American People:

    "This speech could be called 'The Obamas Next Door.' It’s all about how they are regular folks who have experienced economic struggle."

    Another reporter notes contrasts between this speech and Ann Romney's: 

    "In contrast to the speech that Ann Romney, Mitt Romney’s wife, gave at the Republican convention last week, Mrs. Obama avoids any kind of political confrontation: No talk of Republicans or Romney or even the other side.

    "There is much talk of the Obama family, and the experience of raising two daughters in the White House -- something that concerned her, she said, when Mr. Obama first began running for president. But the political discussion is limited mostly to discussing Mr. Obama’s record: in pushing health care legislation, in supporting abortion rights. The attacks, by design, have been left to the other speakers."

    Discussion Starters:

    • Watch Michelle Obama's entire speech. What is your impression? What does she do well, and what suggestions would you offer?
    • Now watch Ann Romey's speech, and answer the same questions.
    • Which speech do you believe is most effective and why?

  • More Fake Twitter Followers Than You May Think

    I'm so naive. Turns out, about 30% of ESPN's, CNN's, and Lady Gaga's Twitter followers are fake. Of Twitter's own followers, only 23% are considered "good": neither fake nor inactive. An infographic compiled by Social Selling University gives us a few examples.

    Fake Followers

    According to Status People, a social media management company, "at least 11,283 Twitter users have purchased more than 72,000 fake followers." Followers are easy to buy: a Google search reveals many companies willing to sell you fake followers at the bargain price of $2 and $55 per 1,000. However, The New York Times reported one example of a marketing company buying 250,000 for just a penny each.

    The pricier options look more authentic than the cheaper versions. To make Twitter profiles appear real, sellers follow real and random people and post tweets.

    With its "Fake Follower Check," Status People will tell you how many fake and real followers you and others have on Twitter. Both President Obama and Mitt Romney have bought their share of followers, according to Social Selling University.

    Twitter is cracking down on fake followers, but at least for now, the practice persists.

    Discussion Starters:

    • If you wanted to garner support for your Twitter feed, would you consider buying followers? Why or why not?
    • What does having fake followers do to the credibility of Twitter? Do you think this practice is a serious threat, no big deal, or something else?
    • Do you consider the practice ethical? Why or why not?
  • Harvard Responds to Cheating Scandal

    Harvard University is investigating whether students wrongly collaborated and plagiarized each other's work on a take-home exam in a Government class last spring. Almost half of the 279 students' exams in "Government 1310: Introduction to Congress" are under further review. The course faculty member, Professor Matthew B. Platt, noticed similar responses and drew attention to the possibility of widespread cheating. 

    The Harvard Crimson posted an image of the exam instructions:

      Harvard exam policy

    The Crimson quoted students who were frustrated by the lack of support in preparing for the exam:

    "'Almost all of [the students at office hours] had been awake the entire night, and none of us could figure out what an entire question (worth 20% of the grade) was asking,' the student wrote. 'On top of this, one of the questions asked us about a term that had never been defined in any of our readings and had not been properly defined in class, so the TF [teaching fellow] had to give us a definition to use for the question.'

    "That same student also expressed frustration that Platt had canceled his office hours the morning before the exam was due. In a brief email to the class just after 10 a.m. on May 3, Platt apologized for having to cancel his office hours on short notice that day due to an appointment."

    An article in the Harvard Gazette included a response by the school dean: 

    Harvard statement

    The article also quoted university President Drew Faust:

    "These allegations, if proven, represent totally unacceptable behavior that betrays the trust upon which intellectual inquiry at Harvard depends. We must deal with this fairly and through a deliberative process. At the same time, the scope of the allegations suggests that there is work to be done to ensure that every student at Harvard understands and embraces the values that are fundamental to its community of scholars."

    While the investigation is under way, Harvard is stepping up communications around academic integrity. The College Committee on Academic Integrity also will make recommendations to the faculty to reinforce school policies, and the committee may propose new policies or an honor code.

    Discussion Starters:

    • With the information you have, what's your view of the situation? For example, are the instructions clear? Do you understand why students could have shared answers during the take-home exam?
    • What is the definition of plagiarism? How might that apply in this case?