The call to boycott Traveloka

I posted this in the Maverick blog today:

 

A snarky comment on the eagerness of the mob to boycott brands at every slight whiff of suspicion

 

Deliberate misunderstandings and righteous piety seems to be the order of the day in Indonesia’s poisoned and acrimonious political settingThe latest flap involves a call to boycott travel site Traveloka and uninstall their mobile app following a walkout by detractors when newly installed Governor Anies Baswedan delivered the keynote speech at Canisius College’s 90th anniversary on November 11.

The walkout was led by well-known composer Ananda Sukarlan who objected Anies’s politicking methods to win the gubernatorial election.  The walkout generated lots of publicity and social media chatter and somewhere out of this mess t someone somewhere gan to spread information that one of Traveloka’s founders, Derianto Kusuma, had walked out on Anies together with Sukarlan. Derianto had been slotted to receive a recognition award from the College.

From there things snowballed an soon a “movement” was formed where its supporters asked other netizens to uninstall the Traveloka app on their mobile phones as a sign of protest against Derianto’s action.

The fact of the matter, however, was that Derianto, as explained by Traveloka in a press release, was unable to attend the event as he was traveling overseas. So he couldn’t have joined the walkout.

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Adding a role at The Palm Scribe

Recently I added another role to my LinkedIn account and have since been getting lots of well wishes but also a number of concerned questions on whether I had stopped working at Maverick to become advisor at The Palm Scribe.

So here’s a note of explanation to the concerned and the curious.

Palm Scribe Logo

The first thing to point out is that the new title does not change anything at Maverick.

I continue to work there but because I’ve been fortunate to have found a very capable team who are able to take over much of what I do, I have decided to take Fridays off to reflect and have some me time; as well as to take on more of a mentor and advisory rather than operational role.

At the end of the day, however, this is a people and relationship business and if the clients need me I’m always there for them.

In the meantime, however, I’ve taken on the role as advisor in a platform run under the auspices of Maverick, The Palm Scribe.

What is The Palm Scribe?

In short The Palm Scribe is a platform that supports the development of the Indonesian palm oil industry through constructive journalism.

Like all elevator pitches, that description is meant to pique rather than provide a comprehensive explanation.

So if you’re piqued here’s the reasoning behind The Palm Scribe.

To start with, consider the palm oil industry.

It is complex and controversial because it is the frontline of many opposing issues: Sustainability vs environmental destruction, conversation vs deforestation, development vs conservation, East versus West, developed vs developing countries, palm oil vs soy, people vs big business, NGOs vs planters…

Strong opinions are expressed on all sides but the playing field is a bit uneven as its tilted in favor of the Western/Green advocates. There are several reasons why this is so.

  1. The Western players are more sophisticated in lobbying and communication techniques. They take their communications seriously and are more able to put their side of the story across. Their Asian/African counterparts do not take communications seriously and are usually outflanked.
  2. NGOs are social media savvy. They are hungrier because they have to earn their funding and as a result they are more innovative and creative in using paid, earned, shared and owned media to make themselves known. Many of them also realize that to persuade is to appeal to the emotions first and foremost an they succeed admirably.
  3. The mainstream media is devastated by falling readership and revenue. As a result they have few journalists and resources left to raise the right questions and issues and to ask the right questions of and hold accountable the policymakers, players and NGOs. Reactive journalism, click baiting stories and cut and paste reporting happens more often than we would want them to be.
  4. Most journalists think that palm oil players are slimeballs because they often do not act like they are open, accessible or accountable. Combined with #3, they are disposed to carry any attacks on the palm oil players prominently and tag on their responses (if they get around to issuing one at all in a timely manner) later in the story. By then the damage is done.
  5. The palm oil players themselves are bad communicators. Many of them are owned and run by business people more accustomed to deal making in backrooms than realizing that public opinion can affect their businesses. Others are run by families where bloodlines rather than competencies determine who is the decision maker. The result is that there are almost no oil palm player that can communicate in a persuasive, authentic and credible manner.
  6. Ineffective committees and trade associations. Apart from Malaysia that has quite an active lobbying and communications effort, their Indonesian counterparts are more mired in bureaucracy and pleasing all stakeholders rather than projecting a favorable image for the industry.
  7. Most importantly, however, because of all the elements mentioned above the public discourse on palm oil has gone askew. There is a world shortage of food and in edible oil that will be more acute with time. Of all the oil crops, palm oil is the most efficient oil to help address this shortage. As such you would think that the discourse on palm oil should be on how to make the industry strong, viable and sustainable. Unfortunately, however, most of the conversation and discourse on palm oil is about violations to conservation and sustainability standards (some arbitrarily advanced by this body or that) and the wrongdoings of the players. Something needs to be done about this if palm oil is indeed the crop for the future.

Having helped some palm oil companies manage attacks agains them as well as helping to tell their side of the story when it coms to sustainability issues, one of the things I realized is that many of the palm players are so traumatized by what they perceive is an antagonistic media/NGO environment that they do not know what to do. So many of them opt to keep their heads below the parapet instead. This does not serve them well because every negative story or article gets accumulated in Google and when investors and others want to find out about you, guess where they go to first?

Out of all this the idea of The Palm Scribe was born. Instead of fault-finding journalism we would adopt the principles of Constructive Journalism (a concept I personally poo pooed until I started to research more about it).

We would cover the palm oil industry, raise the issues that ned to be raised, ask the right questions. We would focus on the solutions the companies adopt or put in place in response to allegations of wrong doing. And we would also provide them a “non-editorial” space on our website to showcase their CSR, sustainability and community engagement efforts as well as space of their announcements and press releases.

In going into this we were aware that the success of such a platform rests on its credibility, judged by the quality of it content. As such, we scouted around and was fortunate to be able to enlist the talents of Bhimanto Suwasteyo, a veteran Indonesian journalist who has worked for AFP for years and one of the founding editors of The Jakarta Globe to generate our content. He works with Wicaksono, better known as Ndoro Kakung, who is a very respected name in social media circles, as well as a team that supports the content generation in the platform.

On the question of credibility, some might question whether a platform run by a PR consultancy can be trusted not to spin things. To them I can only say that if they understand what PR truly does they would understand that it is about getting companies and clients to communicate authentically and credibly. You cannot do that if your words are not matched with your actions.

Will The Palm Scribe work? Who knows. We live in an age of disruption where old ways of doing things no longer work and nobody can say with great certainty what does and what does not. We at Maverick think that this is worth a try because if we succeed we could potentially change how companies in controversial industries can communicate.

If you are still interested in The Palm Scribe, write to me at ong[at]maverick.co.id or check out its website.

Some questions about #SayaPancasila

The hallmark of a good campaign is that it spurs public discourse on a particular subject. In this sense, the #SayaPancasila campaign can be said to be successful, if the preponderance of the hashtag and profile pictures bering the message on social media are concerned.

Effective public discourse, however, exists when there are differences of opinion and when the participants abide by rules of rhetorical fair play. So here goes Unspun‘s contribution to the public discourse on the#SayaPancasila campaign.

Three questions spring to mind from all the #SayaIndonesia and #SayaPancasila profile photos being used on Facebook Instagram and other social media channels:

  1. Are atheists allowed to proclaim #SayaPancasila? Pancasila requires the belief God, in whatever form she exists. Arising from this should there be a discussion on which is more appropriate for Indonesia today – a concept from 1945 repurposed to knit together Indonesia in 2017; or would Embracing Diversity be a more appropriate idea to campaign on?
  2. When people these days declare #SayaPancasila can it be taken as their full subscription to the five principles formulated by Sukarno in 1945 as an instrument to rally people round Indonesian Nationalism? Or is it more a talisman to signal their rejection of the more extreme and intolerant elements of Indonesia today, i.e. Rizieq and the FPI as well as other assorted hardliners? There is a difference here: one is an embrace of something, another is a rejection of another thing.
  3. Are all these declarations of #SayaPancasila on the internet missing the target? One of the things the internet is notorious for is to create bubbles where like-minded people reinforce their own ideas and convictions. How many of these #SayaPancila proclamations are actually seen by the real targets? These are the 50+ percent who voted for Anies, the thousands of easter-clad protesters who came out on 212 and other demonstrations, that part of Indonesia who get their information more from mosques and grassroots institutions than the social media. There is also the question of whether seeing such #SayaPancasila declarations would persuade them to change their minds or reinforce their believes so that they dig down even deeper in the embrace of hardline attitudes and beliefs.

Don’t get me wrong. I think that any effort to claw Indonesia back from the clutches of the hardliners is something good for this country and society. But will it be effective? Or wilt be a distraction when resources could have been channeled elsewhere for greater effect?

So where do people stand on these three questions?

 

 

 

Making war with unreason

This is something I wrote for the Maverick blog. I hope PR professionals will find it useful.

How to Battle the Forces of Unreason

How many of you PR consultants, facing a client in a crisis-like situation, are asked to highlight he good deeds they have done, their CSR commitments, the amount of taxes they’ve paid and the rightness of their cause?

These requests come as if some good news about the company can mitigate or balance out the negative stories that are being written about the client.

How many you have succumbed to such requests and have therefore done an injustice to the client?

Read more here

 

 

Breaking potential crisis: Telkomsel and its hacked website

Crisis Management Students: Fire up your twitter apps and browsers and train them on Telkomsel’s website and their Twitter responses.

Someone has hacked into Telkomsel’s website and filled it with vitriol and animal references –  and being generally lauded by netizens for doing so.

Although hacking is a crime and should be condemned. The hackers are instead getting plaudits because for years Telkomsel has been perceived to be arrogant, expensive and treating its customers with contempt.

There is a marketing and customer service lesson here somewhere that tells the story of how you may be dominant in a market but not loved. If only a competitor could get its act together and run a disruptive campaign enlisting Freedom Fighters against obscurantism, bad service and expensive service, you’d be toast.

In the meanwhile Telkomsel’s Twitter handle is telling all and sundry that they are restoring the website so people can use them again, as if nothing untoward has happened.

More: something’s very wrong or it’s just absolutely bad timing when your agency peeps posts this just as the issue is escalating. 


 

 

 

Breaking Bread with Sari Roti

Here’s what I posted on the Maverick blog today about the brouhaha over Sari Roti:

What corporations can learn from the Sari Roti incident

Out of the blue, the bread manufacterer Sari Roti came under attack by unverified news postings on social media in the past week.

The attacks came in the form of postings claiming that Sari Roti was supporting the 212 demonstrations by giving out free bread to the demonstrators. Photos were posted of Sari Roti tricycles with a handwritten sign “Free for the mujahids”.

sari1

Similar posting kept cropping up and the usual supporters and critics weighed in. By Saturday, the noise had grown so much that Sari Roti’s management felt compelled to make their stand clear.

The issued a press release on their website, ostensibly saying some PR-ese about appreciating how the Super Peaceful 212 rally went on peacefully, how they were committed to uphold the values of democracy, diversity and national integrity of the country and how the incident involving the signs on the tricycles were not officially approved by Sari Roti because they were politically neutral.

It also said that the signs appeared because an unidentified customer bought the bread from the tricycle hawkers, asked them to go to the Monas entrance and put the signs on to feed the demonstrators – all without the knowledge or approval from the Sari Roti management.

 

sariroti

Read more…

So who’s behind #NoWitchHuntKarHut?

Update August 28: One of the buzzers involved in the campaign has admitted to being asked to Tweet, the client remains a mystery, and he has apologised for taking on the assignment here.  Unspun thinks it takes a big man to admit that they were wrong and to ask for forgiveness. Perhaps the Netizens should cut him some slack from now on.

Since my post some netizens have named the alleged digital agency and one of them have come up with a shitlist of all the buzzers involved. The company or alliance financing the campaign remains a mystery (at least to Unspun).

The original post:

The hashtag #NoWitchHuntKarHut (KarHut stands for Kebakaran Hutan or Forest Fire) began life on Twitter ostensibly on August 20, three days ago, by a buzzer. It sat there innocuously until this morning, when it seemingly caused a civil war among the Twitterati of Indonesia.

What was it about and why did it cause such a furore?

burning-13As far as can be pieced together the hashtag was a campaign initiated by a digital agency based in Jakarta. It gathered and paid some buzzers to use the hastag and get through the message that large corporations have been unfairly singled out when apportioning blame for forest fires. The unfairness resulted from the fact that smaller corporations were just as guilty for starting forest fires.

All sorts of buzzers were recruited, even those who normally would be more comfortable with lifestyle and consumer consumption than environment and public affairs. They were apparently told by the digital agency that the campaign was also an Indonesian reaction against Singapore that has been trying to assert pressure on Indonesia. Naively some of the buzzers swallowed that story, hook, line and sinker.

So when the buzzers got to work, a civil war, not unlike that in  Marvel comic that many of them are fond of,  broke out between them and the other buzzers who smelt something fishy about their fellow-buzzers suddenly taking up the cause of Big Palm Oil. Not being wall flowers, they spoke, or rather tweeted their minds, and soon there seemed to be a groundswell of sentiment against their fellow buzzers that had apparently sold out to land grubbing, environment-destroying, cynical large corporations.

The war  got so bad that one prominent buzzer was reported to have closed his account because of all the criticisms he was receiving.

Being curious about such things and having a suspicious mind Unspun thought that the usual large corporation suspects were behind the move so he checked with friends he had in their woodwork. They told him that they were flummoxed as anyone as to who was behind the campaign as they weren’t. These are friends, not the organisations, talking so Unspun tended to give them the benefit of the doubt.

So if it is not the usual suspects who could it be? Who was sophisticated enough to engineer a campaign ostensibly on behalf of the large corporations but in reality aimed to discredit them? And who else would have the kind of money to pay the digital agency to run the campaign and pay the buzzers? And why that peculiar hashtag #NoWitchHuntKarHut? It is a clumsily long hashtag. The use of the “no withch hunt” idiom suggests a Western mind or one brought up on western education (or an agency whose strategy is led by a Westerner).

One source, who corroborated on the identity of the agency, said he heard that an alliance of companies (that was not part of the usual suspects) was behind the funding of the campaign. But there was no more information. This deepens the mystery. Are there other players out there out there trying to discredit the established Big Boys? Who would gain from such a move, if true? Are we about to see a round of musical chairs in the Palm Oil industry? What is going on?