Category Archives: two-way communications

Employees Using Social Media Can Give Companies a Nasty Virus

virus

A couple weeks ago, a virus had its way with my family. Within a four-day span, all four of us were incredibly sick for 24 hours at a time and it seemed there was nothing we could do to stop the next person from getting it.

That’s because despite how careful we were – quarantining the sick one to a bedroom, dispensing large bottles of hand sanitizer, etc. – it’s impossible to be fully conscious of every single time your hand touches something else in the house. For example, we each hold the handrail when coming down the stairs by habit without even giving it a thought.

It’s not much different for companies that have employees who are active in the social media space. And, honestly, what company doesn’t have at least one employee with a Facebook page or Twitter account?

Social media is like a rabbit hole and it’s easy for employees to either not be fully conscious of all the places they touch or forget that Google can find just about anything. A rude comment on a blog post here. A disparaging Tweet about a client’s home city there. Posting unapproved client work to her online portfolio because she really liked the concept, even though the client picked a different direction.

They can seem harmless enough at the time, but each of these can have a negative impact on your business and strain client relationships. That’s why all companies should have guidelines for employees that outlines what’s acceptable in social media participation and what’s not.

This isn’t to keep them out of social media networks because these tools can bring a lot of good to your organization. But the guidelines remind employees that their online actions can have consequences for both the company and them, and it gives them guardrails to help keep them from mistakenly going off track.

Does your company have these guidelines in place? If so, do you feel they’ve been helpful in better protecting the brand? Should companies have any “say” in what employees do online with personal accounts?

(Image by Fred Armitage.)

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10 Tips to Build a Solid Online Presence

connections

Are you using social media to expand your network and connect with new people? Maybe you’d like to increase the opportunities for your company to interact with customers. If you’re looking for ways to build your presence or your company’s presence online, keep reading.

The idea for this post came from my new friend Arik Hanson, who I’ve been getting to know recently. Arik asked me what I’ve done to start building a broader network of contacts and relationships with some incredibly smart, amazingly talented marketing/PR/social media folks.

So here’s what I did to get immersed in social media tools and build what Arik at least thinks is the start of a decent online presence. These tips can be used for individuals like yourself or for brands like your employer. I’m not claiming they are groundbreaking, but this is what I’ve found helpful.

1. Be Human – For the love of all that’s good, be yourself. People don’t want to engage with robots. They want to connect with other humans. Toss some [appropriate] personal stuff in your interactions to complement all the professional talk. On one of my first blog posts, Chris Brogan wisely commented, “I’m still a person when I’m at work.” In other words, don’t check your personality at the door.

2. Add Value – There are lots of ways to provide value to your online connections. Share great industry news stories and funny videos. Point them to other smart people with whom you think they should connect. Have a point of view on issues or trends and let them know about it. If you work for Kraft, share a great recipe daily or links to nutrition news.

3. It’s Not About You. Seriously, it’s not about you or your personal brand. It’s about everyone else. Shine the spotlight on others. Celebrate their successes. Brag about them to your connections. Use social media networks to engage your customers in ways that make them feel like the most important people on the planet. When you are a champion for others, an interesting thing happens. Others become a champion for you.

4. Engage and Interact. If you write a blog, follow up with readers by commenting on their comments. Email those who comment and thank them for their time and insights. If you’re on a social media platform, reach out and strike up conversations with people. If you’re a business, start conversations with your customers. Ask them what you could do better. Thank them for their business.

5. Don’t Broadcast. Shannon Paul would say “don’t be THAT guy.” If you or your company sets up social media outposts to broadcast messages, you won’t have much success. Your corporate blog should NOT be chock full of posts about new products and company news. You shouldn’t set up automatic direct messages on Twitter that basically say, “hey! click my junk and subscribe to everything I’m doing!” That turns people off immediately.

6. Participate Consistently. I believe consistency is key. Let’s take Arik for example. While we started chatting through Twitter only about a month ago, I not only know his name, but I also can spell it despite its unique spelling. That’s because he takes time to participate consistently and engage me regularly. The result is that he was top-of-mind for me when I wanted to point my Twitter connections to a great new person to follow. The same holds true for employees who participate in social media for their brands. Participating consistently builds a stronger online reputation for your company and boosts your presence within social media circles.

7. Don’t Focus on A-Listers. You should learn from the A-Listers by reading their blogs and following them on Twitter or YouTube. But I didn’t and still don’t spend a lot of time or effort trying to engage them online. If we’re ever in the same room, you can bet I will introduce myself. But these folks have so many people vying for their attention that they can be spread a bit too thin. I focused on creating relationships with people who were up-and-comers. Your company may want to target the biggest mom blogs on the Web. That’s fine. But I’d recommend also targeting middle-of-the-pack and new bloggers who are creating great content. It’s easier to engage them and there’s a good chance their readership will grow if they’re producing good stuff.

8. Don’t Sweat the Numbers. Spend your time focused on the content you’re producing, not the number of blog visitors or Twitter followers you have today. By participating consistently and adding value, more people will find you and begin connecting with you. The numbers will come if you’re doing the other stuff well.

9. It’s a Small World. Remember that when you’re about to write a nasty comment or blog post or Tweet or Facebook status update. Your reputation on your blog will follow you to Twitter and wherever else you hang your online hat. Not to mention the fact that Google’s spiders will index that moment of rudeness and, with your luck, it will probably be on the first page of results from a Google search of your name. As my three-year-old daughter would say, “that’s nawt good!”

10. Experiment. When you do share links to your latest blog posts on Twitter, alternate the times of day you tweet it and note which times you received the most traffic. That may give you some insight into when the majority of your followers are online and shape what time you send future tweets on behalf of yourself or your company. Use the Questions & Answers section of LinkedIn to extend the conversation of your latest blog post and see if it drives any traffic to your blog. I love experimenting in these ways and I use what I learn for both myself and my clients.

What is missing? What have you done that’s really helped build your online presence or that of your clients? Please share them with the rest of us in the comments.

*Image by Noah Sussman.

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Want Consumer Loyalty? Use These Magic Words.

magic-hat

Here’s the no-crap headline of the year: The economy sucks. That’s caused most brands to re-evaluate their marketing mix, re-allocate spending and re-prioritize initiatives. Sometimes the marketing strategy or tactic that makes you stand out, though, can be something incredibly small.

I’ve always heard that you shouldn’t sweat the small stuff. There are times, though, that I disagree. Depending on the context, sweating the small stuff can mean the difference between success and failure. The details matter and paying attention to them can set your brand apart from the competition.

Case in point…

I bought my wife a sweater from jcrew.com a few weeks before Christmas. It wasn’t a large order for the retailer – about $50 total. My wife opened the box when it arrived, pulled out a note card-sized piece of paper, read it, smiled and said “this is nice.” Then she handed it over to me.

The note was “from” J.Crew chairman and CEO Millard “Mickey” Drexler. Here’s what it said:

“We’ve all read the news, and I think it’s safe to say, we’ve seen better times. We understand that now more than ever, where you shop is an important decision… so we just want to say thank you for your continued loyalty to J. Crew. – Mickey”

jcrew-note-2

Of course he didn’t hand write the note, though the font chosen gives you that impression. He most likely didn’t write the copy. He may not have even read it. As a marketer, I know these things. But the note and the sentiment behind it left us with a very good feeling about our purchase and about J.Crew generally. Apparently, the brand has given a few other folks the same feeling.

That’s because the note shows that J.Crew recognizes an important truth. Consumers are making more calculated purchase decisions now, but getting what we pay for is never the only value we want from those purchases, regardless of whether we’re in an up economy or a down economy. We also want to feel that our business is genuinely appreciated.

Often we brainstorm elaborate marketing tactics in hopes they will make a big splash with consumers. That’s not a bad thing, but we shouldn’t overlook the small stuff that can make a meaningful impact. Want to build consumer loyalty for your brand? Let them know you’re thankful for their business. The easiest way to do that, ironically, is to simply say “thank you.”

Turns out our moms were right. Good manners like saying “please” and “thank you” can take us far in life – and our brands, too.

  • Have you been impressed by a company – small or large, local or national – that won you over by paying attention to the details that too often get overlooked?
  • What did they do?
  • What are other small things brands can do to win consumers in this down economy?

*Image of Magic Toy by Georgios Karamanis. *Image of J.Crew note card by David Mullen.

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Five PR Trend Predictions for 2009

the-crystal-ball

Predictions are always dangerous. People way ahead of the curve throw jabs about how such and such changed a long time ago. People way behind the curve yell “hypocrisy!” Of course, you always stand to be wrong at the end of the year. But why should that stop us?

These predictions are for the industry as a whole. Since you are a marketing rock star, you may think one or two of them are old news. Trust me, they aren’t. For example, a friend in the industry was asked the following question by an executive vice president who oversees the internal and external communications of his Fortune 500 company.

“What exactly is a blog?”

That wasn’t in 2004. It was eight months ago.

On with the show. Here are five trends to watch in 2009. They aren’t the only changes that will happen this year. But I believe each will change how we look at and practice PR, both strategically and in the day-to-day execution.

People RelationsI’ve said it before. I think the P in PR is changing from “Public” to “People.” We’ve always targeted publics by pitching media outlets based on the demographics and interests of their readers/viewers/listeners. Thanks to social media tools, we can target people based on their interests. The difference – and it’s a big one – is that now we can have actual conversations with consumers more easily than ever before. That puts the focus on people as individuals instead of simply the larger group they may belong to based on their household income or gender or hobbies.

This year, we’ll see more PR folks wrap their arms around that reality and understand the power of helping brands connect and build relationships with people in ways that are even more compelling and meaningful than a USA Today story on page D13.

Measuring People – This won’t be new for some. Katie Payne and others have been preaching this stuff for years. But I think the way we look at measurement will continue to shift at a much greater pace in 2009. More agencies will challenge their clients to see the value of measuring more than just impressions and advertising value equivalency. More clients will push their agencies to do the same. Both will begin to understand that having 65,000 people read their online news release is as or more valuable than 15 million impressions that may be buried deep in an online news site or at the back of section F.

I think that more clients will get comfortable with these types of results even though they are seemingly smaller because of the great work being done on the digital advertising side. Marketing clients know the value of a page view and a click-through. Communications departments will begin catching up with that mindset.

The Death of “Viral” – Every client wants its agency to produce a viral whatchamacallit these days. And, of course, agencies are happy to chase after it. The truth is, though, that you can’t predict – and therefore, create – “viral” campaigns. You can create online campaigns that you hope will go viral. But we know that most don’t. As more clients experience the letdown of that and better understand the difficulty of achieving success at it, I think we’ll see more of them get over the “let’s do something viral” knee-jerk reaction and concentrate instead on creating smart integrated campaigns that include compelling digital work.

More Story Opportunities – With the seismic changes going on daily – even hourly – in the traditional media realm, it may seem that news coverage opportunities for brands are dwindling. I think that’s the wrong way to look at it. Actually, we’ll have more opportunities for coverage than ever in 2009.

More media outlets are expanding their online presence, which means more opportunities for coverage. Web editors don’t have the same page space limitations as their newsprint counterparts. That doesn’t mean they take crappy pitches and turn them into stories. It means you have a better chance of not having a good story get left on the editing room floor.

Also, more journalists are using social media tools as part of their jobs, which provide more outlets for stories – especially by those who blog. Your story may interest a particular BusinessWeek reporter who also blogs on businessweek.com. While the story may not make the cut for the print edition, said reporter can still write a blog post about it.

PR pros who look beyond traditional media outlets – even beyond general online coverage on a news Web site – will land more stories and help their clients look like superstars.

The People’s Choice – This is where you share what you think will change about PR and communications in 2009. What will be new and different this year? What will cease to exist?

*Image by Mark Norman Francis.

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Do We Talk Too Much?

listen

For those of us active in the social media space, I’m not talking about listening to what your customers say about your brand by monitoring “listening tools” like Twitter Search and Google Alerts. I’m talking about actually listening to people sitting across the table from you.

A fellow PR pro I’ve know for a few years called me to say that she was helping develop a new business presentation for a potential client. They were using a PowerPoint deck that was typically used by the agency for its credibility discussions with potential clients. She was struggling with the fact that it was more than 80 slides and all 80 were about her agency. She felt like it was a bit over the top and wanted my opinion.

For the record, she didn’t divulge the potential client or any information from, on or about the PowerPoint deck other than what I’ve just told you.

Here’s my opinion. Too many times we marketing types talk way too much and don’t listen nearly enough. We spend the entire hour or two in that first meeting with a potential client talking about what makes us great, what makes us different and what previous work sets us apart.

The first problem, in my humble opinion, is that we don’t actually sound that different from each other. I’ve seen credibility documents from other agencies and you’re fooling yourself if you don’t think that a lot of the time agencies sound the same. I’ve even heard some folks on the corporate side say as much after a glass of wine or two.

Of course some of us work hard to truly differentiate ourselves from the pack and actually be different. But even then we can fall into the trap of talking too much. So here’s what I said to my friend.

  • What if you spent as much time in that first meeting talking about them as you do talking about you?
  • What if you spent half the time (or less) sharing your agency’s background, two or three relevant case studies and a couple tidbits that show how smart you’ve gotten about their category in a short amount of time?
  • What if you asked what keeps them up at night?
  • For that matter, what if you asked more questions altogether?

The truth is that people can tell how smart you are as much by the questions you ask as by the things you say. So what if we asked more questions and engaged potential clients in conversations, instead of leaving five minutes at the end for Q&A?

This doesn’t only apply to potential clients, by the way. We should be listening – really listening – to all our clients. As I’ve said before, your clients are someone else’s potential clients. As my friend Leo Bottary says, client service isn’t always about doing what no one else can do; it’s about doing what anyone can do, but just doesn’t.

I challenged my friend to nicely push back a bit with her supervisors if she felt strongly enough that the presentation was too long and too focused on the agency. In the end, though, it won’t surprise me if that presentation doesn’t change much. After all, we’re human. And humans like to talk about themselves.

Do you think we listen enough? What practices do you incorporate to help you talk less and listen more?

*Image by Striatic.

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Why Both Obama and McCain Failed to Woo Me

election-pumpkin

According to everything I’ve heard and read for the past two months, myself and people like me are the Holy Grail for both presidential candidate’s campaign – the independent swing voter. So if that’s the case, I’m wondering why neither Barack Obama nor John McCain did anything to woo me leading up to today.

The swing voter should be getting barraged with information based on this general PR truth:

  • Don’t spend much time or energy trying to convert those strongly opposed to your brand.
  • Spend good time and energy keeping your brand’s evangelists loyal.
  • Spend most of your time and energy trying to convert those in the middle who can be swayed to your brand.

My wife is registered with a particular party, while I’m a registered independent. She’s been getting direct mail from that candidate’s campaign regularly for the past month. A colleague has been getting phone calls from her party daily for weeks now. One friend even got a recorded call from Stevie Wonder. Stevie “I just called to say I love you” Wonder!

Me? I got a postcard-sized mailer from the McCain camp on Friday and three Obama supporters canvassing our neighborhood stopped by my house Saturday as I played with my oldest daughter in our front yard.

I’m not being presumptuous. I don’t think either should have reached out to me because it’s me. But I am wondering how either could overlook ANY registered independent this election, especially one who’s still going back and forth between both candidates – even this morning as I get ready to head out to the polls.

What has been your experience with direct communications this election cycle? Has either candidate’s campaign purposefully reached out to you?

*Image by Brandi Tressler.

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Social Media Isn’t the Second Coming…

I’ve seen some suggestion recently that “traditional” PR tactics are being put to death by social media. That news releases and social media releases have no use. That pitching story ideas by Twitter will soon be the norm. I hate to burst the bubble, but social media isn’t the second coming of…well, you know who.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe social media has amazing possibilities for many brands. But social media alone won’t help most brands get the full potential of what great PR can offer. There always can be a few exceptions to a rule, of course, but for most brands, you’d be doing it a great disservice to shift all your communications outreach to social media.

If I’m trying to reach a mass audience of people over the age of, say, 55, social media won’t get me there. It might be a great way to connect with a small percentage who are tech savvy, but I need to put the brunt of my efforts behind media outreach to radio news programs, TV news, national and local newspapers and specific magazines, to name a few.

If I want to get my product in the hands of large numbers of 20-somethings because product research has shown that consumers are more likely to buy X after interacting with it, social media falls short. I need street teams or experiential events or hosted group gatherings or something else that allows people to interact with it.

A lot of other examples come to mind, but I’ll get back to the point.

For the majority of brands, social media efforts are a great strategic complement to a robust PR plan or as part of a larger integrated communications plan. But it doesn’t replace “traditional” PR. Let’s not get so captured by shiny-object syndrome that we take our eyes off the bigger picture, myself included.

Or do I have it all wrong? Did I miss the boat on this one?

*Image by Melanie B.

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In Plain English, Please

I’m tired. And the sense I’m getting from others is that they’re tired, too. It becomes more exhausting every day to decipher what most of our fellow marketers are trying to actually say or recommend and I think I know why.

We want to make sure other people know we’re smart. So we overpopulate whatever we’re writing – emails, presentations, etc. – with as many big words, buzz words and “ize” words as possible. The problem is that most people don’t have time these days to peel apart unnecessary layers of hype and jargon to get to the meat of what you’re really saying. If a client or colleague has to re-read your recommendation three times to understand the essence of what you’re actually recommending, that’s a problem. It doesn’t show how smart you are. It shows you don’t respect their time.

The truth is that we’re all pretty smart. Well, most of us. We know a smart strategy, idea or insight when we see it, hear it or read it. Wrapping up a bad recommendation in elegant wrapping with a beautiful bow on top doesn’t make it a better recommendation. Likewise, great thinking is great on its own. Don’t muddy a great idea by bogging it down just to show how many words you have in the arsenal.

This is also a big problem when social media types try to explain what they do. Tossing around things like “emerging media,” “social capital,” “open source” and the names of every social media platform on the Interweb as fast as you can just makes most people feel lost. I believe one reason more brands aren’t using social media initiatives is because we don’t talk about them in ways that are inviting. Instead we overwhelm them with a whirlwind of jargon.

To be clear, I’m not saying words aren’t important. I’m saying the opposite. Words ARE important. Be clear. I believe we’ll get more done that way.

Let’s start a movement on this one. Who’s with me? Maybe we can get the LeFevers of Common Craft fame to do a video on Speaking in Plain English.

*Image by Chris.

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