Archives for posts with tag: Social Media

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThroughout the second half of the 20th century, the “Mushroom Strategy” characterized employee communications in most of Corporate America: “Treat employees like mushrooms… Keep ‘em in the dark and feed ‘em guano.”

Back when the Mad Men personified the advertising business, the concept of mass communications embedded itself into many business practices. With the advent of mass media – network television in the mid-1950s – companies could succeed simply by buying large amounts of airtime and shouting over the din. Business followed the mantra: “We talk. You listen. You buy.”

People – consumers, stockholders and employees alike – were talked at… not talked with. And it worked.

But starting in the mid-1990s (the Stone Age in internet time) with e-mail and chat rooms, the rise and mass adoption of web-based interactive communications technologies fundamentally changed the dynamics, to the point of consigning one-way communication methods to an increasingly unwelcome role.

Two-way communications define the new normal. People blogging and posting comments, stories, advice, opinions, images and homemade video via all forms of social media in breathtaking numbers expect and often demand companies and organizations to interact the same way.

Nearly all your employees live in this world every day, which explains why the Mushroom Strategy no longer works.

I still see too many companies and organizations that regard employee communications as the proverbial ugly stepchild or crazy cousin. Instead, I argue, there are enormous business opportunities and advantages just waiting to be unlocked by doing things differently.

So over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing some new approaches and new strategies intended to encourage you to reevaluate the way you create, manage and deploy internal communications.

Greg Loh is the managing partner of public relations and public affairs at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s leading independent marketing communications agencies. Views expressed here are his own and do not reflect the opinions of EMA.

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Recovery reports from Superstorm Sandy are heartbreaking. On Friday, as neighbors cleared properties that were battered by flooding on Staten Island, the bodies of two more storm victims were recovered in a home nearby. Like most who were spared the ravages of Sandy, my thoughts and prayers continue to be drawn to the thousands of people still suffering along the Atlantic Coast.

The recovery is revealing important learnings about emergency communications in the digital age. Major shifts in how people are accessing news and information means crisis plans need to be rethought.

Most public safety agencies and emergency planners have long advised citizens to tune to radio and television for the most current advisories before, during and after the storm. As with so many other things in the digital age, fewer and fewer people are turning there for news and information. An Adweek Data Points last month showed that while television is still the leading source of news for Americans, 39% of the people who were asked, “Where did you get the news yesterday?,” responded  desktop and mobile devices versus 33% for radio.

At Eric Mower + Associates, preparations for Sandy gave us the opportunity to test our new emergency communications system. During the past year, the agency completed a comprehensive update of the our emergency plan, including the creation of a new employee notification system called EMAlert.  We could no longer accept the risk that an emergency situation that cripples our information technology system could also cut off communications to our staff. We worked with a world-leading provider of interactive and mass notification systems to ensure that the agency can now quickly and easily reach EMA people wherever they are with email, text and traditional phone messages. With a secure, offsite technology partner, we have greater assurance that we can help ensure the safety of our people and continue business operations in almost any type of emergency. EMAlert worked exactly as intended in our tests on the day Sandy arrived in the Northeast.

As the recovery from Sandy continues, I see three major lessons for communications professionals who have responsibility for emergency planning:

  1. Update crisis plans to address the reliance on mobile communications. Based on the size and scope of your organization, establish the right approaches (with built-in redundancies) to get messages to key stakeholders on mobile devices. For EMA, it’s a third-party mass notification system.  For your organization, it may be a simple “text-tree” supported by Twitter and Facebook messages.
  2. Maintain procedures that rely on traditional media outlets as a hedge against disruptions to mobile communications. Difficulties in restoring power and cell phone service quickly in hard hit areas can’t be ignored. A Saturday New York Times story, “Fractured Recovery Divides the Region,” carries a poignant reminder of that fact from a desperate Long Islander whose home was flooded. “I just keep waiting for someone with a megaphone and a car to just tell us what to do…I’m lost.”
  3. Closely monitor social media to debunk rumors and false information. Sandy brought many despicable examples of bad actors carelessly or deliberately sharing falsehoods during and after the storm. As exemplified by the good work of BuzzFeed’s Jack Steuf, though, it does appear that the social world can successfully “out” falsehoods and their perpetrators fairly quickly.

Superstorm Sandy shows us emergency plans that advise having battery operated radios and extra batteries on hand aren’t ready for the digital age. And with the near certainty that virtually every business will someday face a major disruption, now is the time to upgrade your preparedness.

WARNING: This blog post includes vulgar language. Somebody else’s. Not mine. Avert your eyes from the image below if you are easily offended.

Slip ups in social media that create embarrassing – and sometimes damaging – consequences are all too common. Another one occurred last Friday affecting StubHub, eBay’s online marketplace for tickets to sporting events, concerts and shows. I read about it in Adweek, thanks to my colleague, Chuck Beeler, one of the leaders of EMA’s Social Media Advisory Group.

I’ll summarize the story, although it’s a bit like watching a rerun of one of your favorite old TV shows. You know how its going to end, but you love seeing it anyway.

At the conclusion of what must have been a very long week, a StubHub employee with clearance to manage the company’s Twitter feed, posted an exultant — but offensive — TGIF message:

“Thank fu_ _ it’s Friday! Can’t wait to get out of this stubsucking hell hole.”

Of course, this employee intended the declaration for a personal handle, but mistakenly released it on the official @StubHub Twitter feed reaching its 19,000 or so followers. Oops.

In his timely story the morning after, Adweek reporter Tim Nudd rightly noted that brand social managers must carefully switch between their personal and professional feeds: “Let’s all say it together: If you have access to a brand’s Twitter account, make sure you log out before posting an offensive personal tweet.”

Tim’s advice is sound, but I think it misses the bigger mistake that was made. What made the StubHub Tweeter think for one second that this disparaging post was a good idea even from a personal social media profile?

The critical message for public relations counselors is this: nothing is personal in social media.

This is especially true for front line social media managers, but I believe this reality goes well beyond that. If you have a career you care about or a company you are accountable to, forget any notion that what you do in social can be personal.

Accept this truth, and you’ll never need to worry if you picked the right profile in your HootSuite account when you upload a post. And you’ll surely avoid throwing a social hand grenade that bounces back at your company and you.

P.S. If you’re wondering how StubHub extracted itself from this social fiasco, they deleted the Tweet and acknowledged it in a follow up Tweet shown below. Good recovery. More posts like the first one, though, and StubHub might be able to start selling tickets to follow them on Twitter.

Greg Loh is the managing partner of public relations and public affairs at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s leading independent marketing communications agencies. Views expressed here are his own and do not reflect the opinions of EMA.

When I blogged on July 18 about questions regarding the future of the printed newspaper, I hoped that my daily paper would have a print edition around long enough to carry my obituary. Well, it looks like I better die on the right day of the week.

The Syracuse Post Standard, an Advance Publications newspaper, announced yesterday that it would limit home delivery of the printed paper to Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. While it will continue a slimmed down print version the other days of the week, Advance said that edition will be reviewed before the end of 2013. The future for those days of the week looks bleak.

Advance’s decision regarding the Post Standard and a sister publication in Pennsylvania, which announced a similar plan on the same day, is not a surprise. Advance implemented similar models in Louisiana, Alabama and Michigan. As Lorraine Branham, dean of Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, put it in the Post’s coverage of its own news: “This is going to accelerate. They’re ahead of the game, and in some ways it’s really smart on their part.”

For public relations professionals who see the Post Standard as a vehicle for publicity, you can be sure that placements in the print edition will be particularly prized – especially in the Sunday edition, which is bound to maintain the greatest readership.  I believe the Opinion page on these dates will wield even greater authority and influence.

Advance Newspapers’ approach is another indicator, though, of what I called the Post-Publicity Era in my July 26 post. Media relations will continue to be important, but it will no longer be the defining capability of the effective public relations professional.  Communicators need to build the four corners of effective digitally powered public relations:

Community – Cultivate a network of connections with the broadest collection of people and institutions that represent your stakeholders. Databases and social media are critical digital tools.

Content – Build a system to generate news and information yourself in all formats – text, pictures, video and graphics. Your content must be honest and meaningful — not self-promotional fluff.

Channels – Maintain multiple distribution vehicles so you can self-publish and self-broadcast to your community. Use your channels first to talk to your community.

Metrics – Develop measurement standards and tools that align with your objectives and goals. Clips represent only one dimension of digitally powered PR.

Whenever any landscape changes, new growth emerges. No one can predict what’s in the future for the printed newspaper, but I am hopeful that Advance’s print-digital hybrid is a model that works. Print has an important role, even if it only gets delivered three days a week. And society needs the robust news gathering organizations that newspapers represent.

Greg Loh is the managing partner of public relations and public affairs at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s leading independent marketing communications agencies. Views expressed here are his own and do not reflect the opinions of EMA.

It had all the makings of a social media disaster. NBC invested nearly $1.2 billion for broadcast rights for the 2012 London Olympics, but before the first competitive event began an #NBCfail hashtag movement was underway.

It started on July 26 with a single post by a web developer from Peoria who was frustrated that NBC limited online streaming of coverage to cable subscribers. The next day, 215 others used the #NBCfail hashtag. As the network delayed airing some events to primetime, 6,000 #NBCfails popped up July

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I don’t like infographics. There. I said it. In writing for the whole world to see. Given the explosion of the infographic in communications today, it feels like heresy. So let me qualify that broad statement by telling you why.

The majority of infographics just don’t work well at communicating information. They’re cluttered, confusing and hard to work with. They look like someone created them because it is the cool thing to do not because they provide a better way of sharing knowledge.

Infographic done right by Paychex

It doesn’t have to be that way. Here are four ways to make infographics better — even for someone like me:

1. Save the Cartoons for the Comic Section

The category is not, “graphicinfo.” That’s because the information is more important than the graphic elements. Don’t let artists over illustrate with cartoons and colors that don’t improve understanding or readability. The best design uses “white space” to make the information and graphic elements that matter stand out. That should be true for infographics, too.  EMA client, Paychex, gets it right in this infographic from the Huffington Post on small business use of mobile technology.

2. Offer a Second Format

Not everybody wants to view an infographic, and not all information you need to share presents well graphically or can be covered in an infographic. So it’s a good idea to offer a second format along with your infographic. A simple, “Click here for a 300 word summary of this infographic,” will ensure more users get your information. If a live link won’t work, include a URL that tells the reader where to find it on your site.

3. Keep it Short

Infographics that scroll on for what feels like a yardstick of space simply aren’t user friendly in any format – desktop, tablet or mobile. Users often want to reference back to something earlier in the graphic. Try doing that on your smartphone with a graphic that goes on multiple screens. Think of an infographic as a poster. Done right, your reader might even print it out and pin it in their workspace for future reference. Radian6 recently did that with information on social media metrics.

4. It’s the Information…

Infographics aren’t about putting lipstick on a pig. If your information isn’t new or relevant, then dressing it up with graphics isn’t going to make it any more meaningful.  Infographics should take complex information – most often data – and make it easier and faster to understand.

OK, so I don’t dislike all infographics, just the ones that are using graphics like a Halloween costume – to be something they are not. Don’t fall in to that trap. Follow my four tips and your hard work will stand a better chance of getting picked up by news media and bloggers.  And better yet, more users will engage with and share your information within their social circles.  More on that in a future post.

Greg Loh is the managing partner of public relations and public affairs at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s leading independent marketing communications agencies. Views expressed here are his own and do not reflect the opinions of EMA.

In my last post, I wrote about the clouds of doubt hanging over the newspaper business. Those same questions hover over the other traditional mainstream news outlets — magazines, radio and broadcast television. Even social media can’t escape uncertainty. Look at the recent sale of Digg for what amounts to practically pennies.

In a news and information landscape that changes as quickly as the tides, there is one fundamental truth for public relations people:

It’s the news that matters – not the medium.

People can and do get their information from many sources. Much of what they get originates from PR people.  I don’t see that changing. In fact, I think it will grow, so PR people need to be able to create and deliver news themselves.To prosper in this digitally powered reality, every business needs to have a communications foundation with four strong corners:

1. Open Community

Maintain a living network of connections with the broadest collection of the people and institutions that represent your stakeholders. Create your own community that incudes those who support you and those who don’t. It must be both an analog community that includes direct physical contact and a digital one, with feedback and transparency enabled by social media.

2. Honest Content

Have a robust, cost-efficient system in place to generate news and information yourself – in text, pictures, video and graphics. Content should be persuasive, but it also must be must be “meaningful.”  That means solid, useful, relevant information that has value to the user.  People are smart, and they are getting smarter. The more they use search, the better they get at choosing between reliable sources of information and promotional junk. Expect the technology behind search to get even better at helping people make good choices.

3. Many Channels

Create multiple distribution vehicles so you can reach your community directly. Email. Social media. Direct mail. Live events. Publicity is important, too, but you need to give your organization the flexibility to make media coverage in whatever form it takes a bonus. Always use your channels first to talk to your community.

4. Strong Metrics

Know what you need to measure and create the most customized measurement tools your organization can afford. Digital tools make collecting quantitative and qualitative data more achievable than ever. Metrics are essential because they ensure what you’re doing is working, but they’re also needed because the highly visible and tangible proof once documented in clip reports is no longer as relevant or as thick.

Like media relationships that lead to great news coverage, the four corners can’t be built overnight. They take hard work and investment over a long period of time. If you’re organization wants to thrive in whatever the news media world becomes, make sure you’ve got the building blocks of your communications foundation in place.

The Post Publicity Era is coming. Are you ready?

Greg Loh is the managing partner of public relations and public affairs at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s leading independent marketing communications agencies. Views expressed here are his own and do not reflect the opinions of EMA.

Freedigitalphotos.net

The Technology page in the New York Times lamented Saturday that tech companies aren’t using phones for user support. According to reporter Amy O’Leary in Tech Companies Leave Phones Behind, internet companies like Quora, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn either don’t offer numbers for phone support or end up only playing a recording that drives callers back to their online customer support system.   The story suggests there is something wrong with this model or that it signals a fundamental culture shift in a digital world.

Not so.

Tech companies don’t leave phones behind. They’re an essential part of doing business, even in today’s online world. Having successfully reached Google and LinkedIn representives by telephone, I can assure you tech companies have phones for dealing with paying customers, in my case, an agency that wants to buy advertising. But internet and social media companies that offer a free service to users simply don’t have an obligation or revenue stream to support a costly telephone customer service system. A relatively small number of these companies have successful revenue streams, but virtually all would be driven under by labor intensive phone interactions with users trying to collect lost passwords or account for people who were mean to them on line.

You could argue that other “free” services offer users the ability to talk by phone. I could call my local television station and eventually find someone who would hear my complaint about commercials playing too loud or the sports action I missed due to a technical problem. But I wouldn’t find that after 5 p.m. or on weekends. Why? Because the phones at a TV station are there to serve advertisers not viewers. From my days in radio broadcasting, I can tell you that calls from the public with gripes about programming were an unfortunate side affect of needing phones to make and receive sales calls.

Online search services and social media sites are free to users. By maintaining that status, they already defy the conventional wisdom of, “You get what you pay for.” They deliver information, entertainment, communication and even commerce for free. There is no business rationale to set up call centers for users who pay nothing for their service.

The real travesty of this story will be when some opportunistic elected leader somewhere decides to grandstand by proposing a law that requires online companies to provide customer service support. When that happens, I hope legions of social media users get on their smartphones to call that lawmaker’s office and say, “No way.” Only I bet they won’t find more than an answering machine for most hours of the day.

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