PR can also mean “protecting reputation”

More than once when I was heading PR at construction software developer BIW Technologies, I had to assert the company’s position in the face of misleading claims by competitors, but the process was sometimes very slow. We were reacting to printed claims in trade magazines, and had to react by writing letters to the publications’ editors (perhaps repeating our view via a news release on the BIW website) and then waiting for the correction to appear, sometimes weeks later.

Today, particularly as construction IT often struggles to claim any column inches in our main UK industry journals, vendors are increasingly reliant upon their own websites and on social media channels to project their messages. But the need to protect one’s online reputation remains, and the process can now deliver quicker results. For example, I noticed this Twitter exchange between two UK construction collaboration technology vendors recently.

On 13 January 2011, 4Projects, through its @TheSaaSHandbook Twitter account, announced:

“Kier Selects 4Projects in competitive pitch for an exclusive 3 year deal. Check out the news story at

Following the link, I read a 4Projects news release which included the following paragraph:

“After assessing the core functionality of each contender, 4Projects won a competitive pitch and is now providing services to Kier across the whole of the UK.”

4Projects repeated the claim five days later, but rival vendor Asite disputed the detail. On 24 January, CTO Nathan Doughty (@NRDoughty) twittered once, twice then thrice:

“In a press release @TheSaaSHandbook says they won a deal with Kier in “competitive pitch” with @Asite – not true – we weren’t involved.”

“I spoke to Clare Watson @TheSaaSHandbook (4Projects) about an hour ago – she’s agreed to retract statement in press release re @Asite

“For the record – Kier is a long-standing @Asite customer – to me Stuart calls @Asite the “platinum option” and “the others” bronze…”

@TheSaaSHandbook responded:

“@nrdoughty @Asite. Kier had approved the release, but have removed mention of competative pitch, if you were not involved at that stage.”

“Kier selects 4Projects as exclusive long term provider of collaboration software”

The news release paragraph (with the changes in bold) now reads:

“After assessing the core functionality of a number of providers, 4Projects was selected and is now providing services to Kier across the whole of the UK.”

Of course, the original news release was widely disseminated and some websites are still displaying the old version (it’s on the NOF Energy site, for example), and not everybody who saw that initial wording will be aware that it was later altered.

When I talk about social media to clients and at industry events, I stress:

  • it’s now impossible to have complete control over your company “message”
  • every online contribution will leave an indelible electronic fingerprint somewhere on the web, and
  • above all, businesses need to be vigilant and react promptly and professionally if they feel their online reputation might be compromised.

Of course, this 4Projects/Asite exchange was something of a ‘storm in a tea-cup’, but bearing in mind that there are people (like me!) monitoring their online activities (and potentially blogging about them!) and that the conversation was in public through social media, both sides seem to have come up with an admirably amicable resolution.

[This is a slightly edited version of a blog post originally published on my collaboration technology blog:]

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