Archive | December, 2009

Happy New Years Ago

31 Dec

Let us leave 2009 with the wisdom of some folks steeped in the new media of their own times.

On the need for great writing:

“The newest computer can merely compound, at speed, the oldest problem in the relations between human beings, and in the end the communicator will be confronted with the old problem, of what to say and how to say it.”

– Edward R. Murrow, in 1964

On the need to invest in ‘how to say it’:

If I am to speak ten minutes, I need a week for preparation; if fifteen minutes, three days; if half an hour, two days; if an hour, I am ready now.

– Woodrow Wilson, 1856-1924

On the need for measurement…and listening:

The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has been accomplished.

George Bernard Shaw, 1856-1950

Looking forward to accomplishing communications with you next year!

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Social Media Certification – Who’s In, Who’s Out?

30 Dec

A client sent me this link:  a checklist to determine if someone who has hung out a shingle as a “social media expert” is indeed worthy of the title. I thought it  was kind of funny and interesting and infuriating at the same time. It’s not that I don’t qualify … I do, despite (or because of) the fact that I see myself more as a public relations and marketing professional who gets how social media is a part of the communications and social landscape that clients need to influence and engage to reach their  objectives.

Ian of Conversation Marketing appears to agree, but the frustration running through his post seems to be the reaction of someone who has had one too many lost new business opportunities end with an exasperated cry of, “they hired that guy?

There’s this undercurrent of “who’s legit, who’s not” running through a lot of social media commentary these days. Check out the gargantuan debate that ensued when Olivier Blanchard tossed a laser-targeted stink bomb at the International Social Media Association for daring to claim the legitimacy to offer a social media certification. Blanchard, to his credit, turned the kerfuffle into something constructive – and his post lays out the issues brilliantly.  It has already become a great starting point for anyone who wants to further the discussion.

In the post’s video, Blanchard talks about how he feels that real, legitimate certifications are vital to help corporations separate the wheat from the chaff in a world where there is plenty of “chaff” calling themselves “social media experts”.  But, he notes, the certifications have to be real and come from respected organizations that have been around for years and are specific to the kinds of professionals who will be doing social media related activities as part of their jobs in, say, public relations or customer service.  Fair enough, but I’d hate to see good people allowed in or out of social media experts club based on even an excellent certification authority.

That’s why I’m going to disagree respectfully with Blanchard that even good certification is necessary to help clients separate who is a legitimate social media expert from who is not. If a company is going to be fooled by snake oil, they’re just as likely to be fooled by someone who has earned a certification. I’ll go out on a limb and say that there are plenty of terrific public relations people in my neck of the woods who have earned their APR credential – which I understand is a very thorough and well-run process – and there are others who have earned APR who are nice enough, but couldn’t strategize or write their way out of a paper bag (nor should they, I suppose, but I digress). Likewise, there are plenty of brilliant public relations practitioners who have never shown interest in APR and most likely never will.

Some might say that APR is a bad process — I wouldn’t.  I would say that this kind of certification is only a guarantee that the practitioner cared enough about their own (choose one of the following) professional development/personal marketing to earn it – but provides little certification that the individual has the talent, passion, creativity, judgment, experience and “chops” that you need for your company.  You have the meet the person, learn how they think, what they do, what they’ve done, who they’ve helped, and judge for yourself.

The same would be true of a social media certification – done well, it would be at best a sign that the individual was interested in this kind of training; at worst, it becomes a way for the “ins” to decide who’s in and who’s out.

I love this week

29 Dec

I love working between Christmas and New Years. Things slow down a little bit, people don’t expect you to be around, and the people who are around tend to be happier and friendlier.

For the past two years, we took big trips over this week, so this is the first year I’ve worked from home over the holidays.  So today, here’s a cup of coffee for you and me and everyone else trying not to waste the opportunity of a quieter day or two…here’s what I’m up to this week:

  • The Annual Desk Purge:  There is very little paper that is required for me to serve clients and run the business.  And yet, my desk is piled high with printouts, junk mail, receipts, pens, wires and dust. Gone, gone, filed, dropped in a coffee mug and cleaned.  Whew.
  • The Annual Reader Purge: I follow a good deal of news through RSS subscriptions in Google Reader. But too often, I skim past the same stories from the same blogs and news sites every day.  Gone!  More importantly, I’m finding that I’m seeing fewer articles that strike my fancy.  So I’m mining Alltop to bring new voices and ideas into my daily reading.
  • Beefing up the Blog: A few weeks ago, I refreshed the blog template and copy.  I’m still not sure the website does what I want it to, but it is better. So I’m trying to lay out some topics I’d like to address in the coming weeks and months and get ahead of the game a bit.
  • Writing for fun: I’ve had this idea for a novel that has been percolating in various forms since the 8th grade.  A few hours to push it forward would be OK, wouldn’t it?
  • Socializing: While many people are on vacation this week, many more aren’t.  It’s a great week to reconnect with clients, former clients, friends and colleagues…whether by phone, Facebook or Twitter.
  • Doing PR stuff:  Everyone says it’s a terrible week to do media relations. Bosh on that, I say! If I can reach a professional media person this week, I bet I can have a better conversation than I will next week.
  • Resetting priorities: How do you do more of what makes you professionally successful and personally fulfilled and less of what doesn’t?  How can I do a better job of being myself, and do so in ways that do more for others?
  • Connecting: I’d like to get more business this year. Why? Well to make more money, of course.  More importantly for the opportunity to share my expertise in communications strategy and writing, and to meet new people and challenges that will help me continue to stretch and grow as a professional.

So, who wants to talk?  What are you up to this week?

An Avatar for Real Marketing

21 Dec

The reviews of James Cameron’s Avatar were written before the movie premiered:  Visually stunning, weak/derivative/borderline offensive story. I saw it over the weekend; my Twitter-friendly review:  “Dances With Wolves meets The Lion King.” Maybe throw in a little Lord of the Rings. Is it a good movie? Sure. And if I were 13, I’d have been blown away.

But the more I think about it, the less impressed I am. When you’re making and selling a movie, that’s OK. Strip away the art (you can’t, I know, but stay with me for a minute), and you’re selling a 1.5-3-hour experience.  If you can get people to the door, it needs to impress folks enough to get them to tell their friends so that they walk through that door or buy that DVD.

As a communicator and marketer, “looks pretty but dumb story” is just wrong. It doesn’t work for brands and it doesn’t work for reputations.  What works?  Smart stories about what you do to make yourselves valued.  Real stories about the good you do, told by the people and businesses who benefited.  Long-term commitment to your customer’s cause.

“Looks pretty” is just a short-cut unless the organization has a strong brand story to tell at its core.  If you have that story, and know how to tell it…well, then you can move people.

Great Writing Isn’t Always Less Writing

8 Dec

Even in our do-more-with-less, 24-hour business life, that there are some stories need space to be told, and some audiences that seek more depth than a headline. And when stories are well told, they’ll find one another.

This month, I’m curling up with the kids many evenings to read Kenneth Grahame’s classic The Wind in the Willows.  The story opens with the Mole in his dark hole thinking that it’s about time he ventures out into the wide world. So he digs his way to the surface, rubs his eyes, and sets off for adventure, soon meeting a true friend in the Water Rat and becoming our window to seeing the beauty of nature and friendship and, well, life with new eyes.

We’re just three chapters in and it’s clear that this is not a book for those whose attention span lives in 140 character bursts.  Here, a passage from chapter three, about the stories of spring and summer the animals told each other to forget, for a while, winter’s chill:

“Such a rich chapter it had been, when one came to look back on it all! With illustrations so numerous and so very highly coloured! The pageant of the river bank had marched steadily along, unfolding itself in scene-pictures that succeeded each other in stately procession. Purple loosestrife arrived early, shaking luxuriant tangled locks along the edge of the mirror whence its own face laughed back at it. Willow-herb, tender and wistful, like a pink sunset cloud, was not slow to follow. Comfrey, the purple hand-in-hand with the white, crept forth to take its place in the line; and at last one morning the diffident and delaying dog-rose stepped delicately on the stage, and one knew, as if string-music had announced it in stately chords that strayed into a gavotte, that June at last was here. One member of the company was still awaited; the shepherd-boy for the nymphs to woo, the knight for whom the ladies waited at the window, the prince that was to kiss the sleeping summer back to life and love. But when meadow-sweet, debonair and odorous in amber jerkin, moved graciously to his place in the group, then the play was ready to begin.”

I don’t know these flowers and trees and herbs, but I can’t help but to be moved by the pictures Grahame paints of each blossom marking days of spring and summer like acts in a play or floats in a parade.  That’s what I love about this book – it takes the time we need to be transported into this lovely world in the English countryside.

We all know that business writing doesn’t have this kind of time.  But reading Grahame reminds me that even in our do-more-with-less, 24-hour business life, that there are some stories need space to be told, and some audiences that seek more depth than a headline.

And when stories are well told, they’ll find one another.

Shift Your Communications Focus

3 Dec

I was chatting this morning with the head of a private school about its struggles with when and how to use social media, both in how it communicates with families and how it markets itself to new potential families.

The stakes are high.  Families sending their kids to a private school have a powerful sense of ownership over what happens, and a huge expectations for the school’s success at delivering education to their kids.  But if I recall my own education, not every interaction with the education “product” is perfect and smooth — these are kids growing up after all, and parents are always learning to be parents (and some of us never learn, really).  More, from what I’ve seen, there’s always have a segment of their stakeholders demanding that the school push into new media, and an even bigger segment that squawks at every change.

The head of the school noted that most ‘school blogs’ he’s seen are statements from the head of the school, which just doesn’t seem right.  Video seems like a huge opportunity, but what level of quality will be required–and how much will that cost? And he’s seen school Facebook pages that turn into quasi-public forums for parents to air grievances.  The pall hanging over it all:  we already have too much to do and no budget  to put into it — how do we add social media?

His concerns are shared by businesses: They always seem to come down to the question of “How do I add social media when I don’t have the staff and I don’t have the budget.”

My answer is to shift perspective: You’re not adding — you’re changing focus.  The communications environment requires a new way of looking at how you reach and influence the people you want to reach, and every tool you use or consider has to be evaluated against this backdrop.  

Herewith, my view of the communications backdrop, and its implications for organizations seeking to recast how they engage with their stakeholders.

1.  People want what they want, when they want it. You’re website must serve the core information needs of a wide range of constituents, 24-hours a day.  Most organizations have handled this one. But it also means that people want your online presence to feel dynamic and meaningful — always up-to-date, up-to-the-minute.

Implications: Make sure your site is meeting core stakeholder interests. Add features that increase your site’s relevance and immediacy, including homepage news updates and a blog.

2. People want you to reach them any way they want. They want print, they want email, they want RSS, they want mobile alerts, they want Twitter, they want Facebook. They want alerts one way, and perspectives another way.  They want pictures and videos. Moreover, they want you to do it smart — and “smart” means different things to different people.

Implications: Understand and segment your stakeholders.  What are you goals for them? How do you communicate with them today? Is it working? How are they interacting with you and your communications?  Are you meeting their expectations? Exceeding them?  From a media standpoint, emphasize flexibility — can your newsletter be formatted for ease of use via email, web and print? Can you automate alerts? Would print on demand meet needs and save cost?

3. People like to share. It happens by phone, email, social networks and even (gasp!) in person.  Electronic communication speeds messages and encourages sharing. Sometimes it’s conversation; sometimes it’s just spreading news.

Implications:  Make your messages easy to share.  Consider posting to networks like YouTube and Flickr.  Implement blogs that include sharing and RSS feeds. Most of all — encourage people to share with “share this” links and remind them that the more people who know about this, the better.

4. People want to be a part of something. Ease of access by email, web and social network has broken down organizational barriers, creating a population that wants a more intimate,  knowing relationship with organizations and brands.  Before, you’d gain that by meeting people in person; now there’s a population wants to get that feeling online, too.

Implications: Create opportunities for people to be part of a conversation.  Open doors through blogs, video, audio and pictures that give people an ‘inside view’ of what you do as an organization.  Give up a little control to gain an active role in guiding conversations that bring people closer to your organization. Most of all, use tools like blogs and social networks to give other people a chance to make your story their story… to create, in their own words, in their own way.

And if you’re still trying to figure all of this out for your organization, get help!

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