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Measurable Social Strategies for Corporate Communications – Part 1

3 Aug

The question at hand is this:  In corporate environments — primarily B2B — where the only new communications and marketing investments are those that deliver a return, what opportunities are corporate communications departments missing when they don’t engage with online networks?

As I’ve noted in the past, even B2B companies where there is little online conversation about their producuts or issues need to recognize at minimum that the ways people want to interact with businesses are changing.  Which means that “getting the basics done” in corporate communications requires a new look at activities that once seemed like unnecessary distractions — like monitoring and participating in online social networks, managing company blogs and making use of RSS feeds and mobile features — are now part of “the basics” that need day-t0-day consideration by internal resources.

What are some initiatives that deliver a measurable return — either in advancing the corporate reputation or protecting it? I’m going to post some ideas each day this week.  As always, I’m available to meet, discuss and deliver excellent counsel and support to help you make these initiatives happen in your organization.

Today’s idea #1:  Doing a Better Job at PR and Media Relations.

Do the reporters and editors that follow your company post on Twitter? Do they have blogs? Are they using RSS?  Are you outsourcing all of this to the agency?

You may be missing out for a couple reasons. First, reporters and editors appreciate having direct relationships with representatives of the company. Next, tools like Twitter and blogs make it possible to reach certain reporters in ways that you never could through email — commenting on what they do, sharing ideas and more.

But what is more interesting to a reporter — a Tweet or blog comment from the director of marketing at COMPANY, or one from an agency representing…who knows? Use the agency for strategy, ideas and formal pitching…in between, if you’re not connected with them, you may be missing opportunities.

Measure by clicks to your website, search ranking on key topics and sales.

Tomorrow:  Getting in front of…or catching up to…your competitors.

Justifying Social Media — Are We Still Running on Faith?

30 Jul

I’ve been turning over in my mind a social media survey highlighted this week in eMarketer. The study surveyed nearly 2,000 social media marketers on what works and what doesn’t in their world.  For example, social media marketers see these strategies and tactics as an effective way to do things that have typically fallen into the realm of public relations — influence brand reputation and increase brand awareness — as well as digital marketing practices to increase website traffic and search engine rankings.  They report less effectiveness at improving internal communications, generating leads and increasing online sales.

Marketing Sherpa Study, posted by eMarketer

Marketing Sherpa Study, posted by eMarketer

Perhaps more telling are their responses on their ability to measure social media effectiveness.  In a nutshell, that which the marketers feel are the most effective tactics are deemed the least accurately measured.

Over on the ShoppeSimple blog (a client blog), we noted that reports highlight the gap between creating and participating in social conversation, and turning converting that conversation into sales — there is a need for a way to connect consumers to brands and product offers outside of email.   

From a corporate communications standpoint, the study highlights the dilemma of where and how to invest in social media.  The most effective social  tactics appear to be seen by respondents as only marginally more measurable than that traditonal media relations — where you counted clips and assumed they were having an impact on awareness and attitudes (and while the web makes this more cost effective, most businesses do not have or spend the resources to directly measure impact of media relations on customers).

And yet…and yet…

It’s clear that we believe this stuff is working, just like PR has always worked, and maybe even more so.

There is not doubt that corporations ignore the online communications channel at their peril.  If only from a crisis preparedness standpoint, no company should want to risk becoming the next big case study on what happens when blogs and social networks your gaffe goes viral.  That’s a good place to start.

Beyond that, if you don’t look, you won’t see.  In an uncontroversial environment, the issues won’t be obvious.  I have some thoughts on the matter that I’ll save for my next post, but what do you think?

In corporate environments where additional spending is only for initiatives where you can demonstrate a return, what opportunities does corporate communications miss when they don’t engage with social media?

How to Be the Media

22 Jun

“We are the media” is a common Web 2.0 rallying cry. The upshot — every business needs to think about itself as if it were a multimedia producer with a goal of generating attention, awareness, interest and action — or sales for the business.

Adam Singer talks about this on the Top Rank Blog in the context of an organization’s agility.  His point is that it’s vital to find ways to keep contributing fresh content to the web — it impacts search engine results, improves digital PR, meets growing consumer demands and has a host of other benefits.

But what does it mean to think like the media? Or, to put it another way, how do the media think, and how can thinking like the media improve marketing and corporate positioning?

Here’s my list, and I’d welcome input from actual media folks:

1. Find stories and tell stories. The hallmark of journalism is the ability of reporters to observe, ask questions and bring people’s stories to life.  I’ve had the opportunity to play reporter for a client’s internal newsletter, and the results have been rewarding — I talk to their people and let them tell their stories — about successes and challenges and their own interests and concerns. The results are rich stories that inspire other employees to learn, strive, collaborate, innovate and sell.  These stories may well find their well to external audiences and I hope they do — there’s value in these stories — in themselves and in the conversations and ideas they can generate for the company.

2.  They generate attention. Being the media isn’t “art for art’s sake” — tbey want people to read, and view and interact with them.  From a business standpoint, we’re talking about creating content that will interest and excite your constituents — customers, prospects, partners, investors, employees, and community. Perhaps more importantly, it will encourage them to generate conversation…to whit…

3. They spur conversation..and word of mouth…and keep it going. The media want to make a difference in the lives of their audience.  And, besides the satisfaction they get form this, they want more people to consume what it creates, so that they get more subscribers, can charge more for ads and make more money.  So when The Atlantic comes out with a new cover story on “what makes people happy”, they get that story out influencers, they blog about it and they do everything they can to make sure people know that they have something exclusive, unique and special.

4. They plan ahead. The trade media are good at this.  They create ‘editorial calendars’ each year.  They lay out milestones — trade shows, seasonal events, conferences, special issues.  Then they tell people what’s coming, so advertisers can advertise and companies can participate. Can businesses to the same?  Sure — there are a lot of company events you can plan for — product launches, prime selling seasons, key trade shows, quarterly earnings — and have a content strategy for each.

5.  They listen…and react. Or at least they should be.  New media companies do. They are watching web analytics to see what stories are doing well … they’re even promoting stories by showing their site users what articles are most popular and most emailed, and offering them tools for sharing stories. They are opening their content to conversation — sometimes moderating, sometimes not — and participating in ways that keep it going. And they’re scanning the rest of the web to create links and to be sure they know where their story is going, so they can react quickly to changes.

This discipline is particularly critical in a crisis.  The question:  are you listening, and do you have the tools and skills necessary to react…quickly…in a crisis.

6. They meet their customers where they are. You want to roll your eyes when you see your daily newspaper editors talking about Twitter — it sounds like Grandpa talking about “the hippety hop music”.  But the truth is that it’s a sign that they’re paying attention to where their audience is — or is going.  Are you?

7. They think about their audience constantly, and communicate every day. Here’s where daily media and new media are strongest. Every morning, your daily newspaper or TV news organziation holds a meeting. They talk about what they’re seeing out in the world…what’s happening…what’s interesting…what’s news.  Do you do that for your organization?  Every day, every minute your online presence is saying something to your constituents.  Is what you said yesterday relevant today?  Is what you’re saying today moving people?  Are you getting the reaction you want?

The tools are there — from blogs to Twitter to YouTube to Flickr to iTunes your own website and email lists.  What’s on your channel today?

Any media folks want to add a comment…What can we learn from you?

11 Essential PR Skills

25 Mar

I’m preparing a “PR 101” course for a client this week. I’m glad to do it — the client is a non-profit that has never done much in the way of deliberate communications and marketing, and will need to rely on volunteers to keep any kind of communications program moving.

The exercise has me thinking about what it takes to do PR these days. In a lot of ways, PR is easier.  For example, when I started work at a big agency in 1992, typical assistant account executive duties included stuffing press kits, sending out faxes, poring through the Bacon’s directories to build media lists and doing daily newspaper scan-and-clips.  Doing media relations could be expensive.  If you wanted to generate media attention for a national consumer campaign, you’d be prepared to spend thousands of dollars on Nexis or Dialog databases, or you were cold-calling big national media lists (it didn’t make sense, but happened more often than you’d believe today).   Needless to say, every bit of that is now digital, searchable or automated.

As has been noted here and elsewhere, what is essential about public relations has not changed: moving people to action by creating credible, meaningful relationships between an organization, and the people and groups important to its success.

What’s changed?  The media, the available, the audience and their expectations of organizations.  There are more media, they move faster, and expectations are high from organizations, influencers, clients and the audience.  The risks and opportunities are higher than ever.

What are the essential skills for today’s public relations practitioner?  Some are tangible skills you can learn and practice; others are more of a “state of mind”.  I’d start here — I’d welcome your comments — what would you add?

  1. Sweat the small stuff. PR people are problem solvers. We’re i-dotters and t-crossers. We make sure the reporter has the background, and the VP has the right numbers.  If the event requires a microphone, mariachi band or glockenspiel, we find it and get it there.  We listen — and make sure the message comes across, and make sure it isn’t misunderstood. My dad liked to tell us kids, “don’t sweat the small stuff” when we’d get too riled up on the details and lose sight of the big picture.   A core PR skill is to do just that — so others don’t have to sweat it.
  2. Know your audience. Who do you want to hear your story? What do you want them to do?  You’d be surprised at how many communicators and marketers have trouble answering this simple question.
  3. Know the media. PR people need to be experts on who’s wielding influence for that audience.  Otherwise, how do you know what stories will work and won’t?  There are too many PR people read the paper, but they don’t follow news online.  Or, they get their news online, but don’t read the paper.  They don’t read blogs, or they only read blogs. They’ve never set up an RSS feed, tried out Twitter and Facebook — or think they can get all their news that way.  They’ve never seen the evening news or watched Oprah and Ellen, because no one they know is watching.  The point is to get to know the media.  Love the media. Get to know who’s doing what and writing what and saying what. Note bylines and blog profiles, followers, audience measures and ‘authority’.   Know where the conversations are happening.  And where you and your organization can and must get involved.
  4. Be the media. Another “these days” thing. PR needs to think less like a facilitator and more like a producer.  What are we going to communicate today?  How will our audience get our story?   How will we meet them where we are?  How will we “move” them today?
  5. Think outside your organization. Be objective. Sometimes, you have to be the voice of your audience with management.  What stories will fly and what won’t?  AIG needed someone to do this — to tell them how the public would react to their actions and force them to reconsider their decisions.
  6. Research…and synthesize. The ability to gather and synthesize information is vital to just about everything we do — from understanding the audience and market environment to getting background on reporters or bloggers before an interview. The ability to help your organization better understand their environment — and connect that understanding to their ability to achieve objectives — is vital.
  7. Understand measurement. The web promises measurement and analytics never before available to the public relations profession. It is vital for PR people to gain a better understanding of web analytics and to build a greater degree of feedback and measurement into programs.  In my time at big agencies, our measurement offerings were too expensive for most clients. This is unacceptable.  We need to do a better job with understanding and building in measurement and feedback loops into our programs, and that starts with building a basic understanding of how websites work and web analytics.
  8. Understand objectives. This is a simple one:  We don’t do PR to generate clips or website hits or blog posts or links or viral action.  We don’t even do it to raise ‘awareness’ or generate ‘word of mouth’.  We do it to increase sales, maintain and build customer loyalty, muster support, gain votes or influence public opinion.  We do it to change behavior. While  all of the traditional PR measures may well influence behavior, they are not an end in and of themselves.  This is why the Skittles experiment is, in my view, doomed to fail. There is no clear benefit beyond generating marketing buzz, which benefits marketers and agencies far more that it drives sales and brand loyalty.
  9. Write. Storytelling is essential to communications.  Nothing has replaced good writing.  Not 140 character limits. Not video. Not the web. It all starts with good writing.  But it doesn’t end there.
  10. Communicate in multiple media. The big change in the media world is the primacy of multiple media. Get to know them.  Where can podcasts augment press releases?  Where can video be more effective?  Where can a game, animation or image communicate what the written word cannot?    PR people don’t need to be expert in every form of media, but they need to understand the uses and appeal of each.
  11. Be smart. Reporters constantly complain about bad PR pitches. Bloggers do, too.  There’s no excuse for a cold call. It’s too easy to do the research. They know it, and you know it, too.

That’s just my list, and it’s just a start. What’s yours?

Shining Up PR’s Apple

10 Mar

Last  evening, I caught part 2 of Rachel Maddow’s rant on AIG and PR giant Burson-Marsteller.  Have a look for yourself.   The gist: AIG is using taxpayer dollars on PR firms. The news is a PR Week notice that respected investor relations firm Kekst & Company their list of PR representatives, but this is just a jumping off point for a rant on Burson–the agency that ‘evil has on speed-dial.’   (we’ll ignore for now that the otherwise intelligent Maddow expresses confusion on the meaning of the term “M&A”).  

The charge:  AIG is using taxpayer dollars to “shine up their image”…to “spin” us, the very taxpayers who own 80% of AIG.  Most people I talk to agree — this is incontrovertibly a waste of not only taxpayer money, but corporate money.  Why would any company need a PR firm to “communicate”?  My answer: why wouldn’t they?  

My argument is with the premise.  I don’t know what the good folks from Kekst or Burson or any other firm are telling the folks at AIG.  What I do know is that good PR counselors don’t shine up images, particularly in a crisis. We like to say that the best you can do with a bad story is to try and keep it from getting worse.  PR in this situation is a management function.  You hire an agency because you know they have smart people who’ve been there with other comapnies in crisis, who can give you an outside perspective on how to tell your story straight.  To avoid groupthink — the insular thinking that leads to big management mistakes.  

Think about any relationship you have.  How easy is it to tell your wife you received another speeding ticket?  Or that you’ve lost your job? How much easier is it to hide the truth; how much harder is it to own up to it?  Management struggles with the same very human emotions. If I’m management, I’m thinking I need someone with the experience to tell me to stop talking around the uncomfortable truth and say and do the right thing.  Or when I’m saying something stupid or insensitive.  They need someone to help them put what they need to say into words that will make sense to people. To tell their story.   Trust me — clear, honest, open communication is a lot harder than it looks.  

Not saying the agency folks are going to make a difference.  Or that AIG is a good company with management that wants to do right — I have no idea one way or the other.  I’m not even saying that AIG  shouldn’t be able to handle this themselves — in a perfect world, they would.  But in a perfect world, they wouldn’t be in this mess.  

But I can understand why they feel like they need help, and why PR agencies are the right call for them.  They’re not trying to shed light on some “secret awesomeness” of AIG — they’re just in a deep hole, and need someone to hand them a flashlight.

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