Posts Tagged ‘communications’

Going slower faster

Go slow faster!

Yesterday was an anniversary. Eleven years ago, I started this blog. I was working media relations for a university then; both my parents were alive; I had a regular column for a CBC Radio show (in fact, a lot of the early content of the blog was made up of scripts for my CBC column), and I thought there was something to this social media thing, but I wasn’t quite sure what it was. Who knew I’d still be doing this a decade later?

Not that I planned any of this out at all, but my blogiversary coincided with a visit to Ottawa by Gini Dietrich, the CEO of Arment Dietrich and the author of the brand-new book Spin Sucks (also the name of the agency blog). I’m working my way through the book and plan on giving it a fuller review soon. But her appearance at Third Tuesday Ottawa was a convenient marker.

I have a lot of respect for Gini, the business she’s built, and how she’s done it. I also like her a lot. She’s fun and funny to be around, and she falls in that category of people that I take great pleasure in teasing (not growing up with sisters leaves a void in your life you have to fill somehow). And it was unsurprising to me that her presentation to TTO was typical of her: incisive, opinionated, entertaining, and well-reasoned.

Gini summed up one of her central arguments about the suckitude of spin as “It’s a marathon, not a sprint,” referring to the need for PR practitioners and clients to adopt a long-term mentality toward social media and toward brand identity. For example, don’t use black-hat SEO techniques for an immediate boost in search engine results (sprint); build your site and act in a manner so as to build those results over a longer term (marathon). She’s been developing this metaphor for some time.

I like the metaphor (and forgive her for using a running metaphor despite her being a far superior athlete – a cyclist – than just some runner). But here’s the challenge of being a marathoner in this business is trying to convince people to stop running so fast.

The social media tools and the availability of real-time results is a potent drug, and it’s easy to become addicted to instant feedback, instant action, instant reaction. So the challenge for me when I’m working with a client is to simultaneously tell them to be active on social media, to be monitoring feeds and the like, but at the same time to not assume or expect that your video will go viral, that your blog will rocket to the top of the charts, etc. That’s especially true if you have other people in the consulting world who are promising those easy instant results.

In my experience, one of the best things I can do with a client is get them into using an editorial calendar for their social media efforts. Turning the page from month to month – physical or virtual – makes people think longer term. What powerful tools or arguments have you discovered to help your clients or your colleagues get the tricky balance between FASTER and SLOWER! I’d like to hear ‘em.

Why scaling up is as scary as falling apart

Lots of talk recently in my neck of hte woods about the Amnesia Rock Festival. It happened June 14-15, with 90 acts from Anthrax to Alice Cooper to Fucked Up to the Dropkick Murphys filling a field in the small West Quebec town of Montebello.

By all accounts, the music was great. But some are calling the festival an “organizational shitshow“, some bands weren’t happy that they had to pay to play, and a village councillor and others are pointing at an “ocean of pee”, giant unwieldy lineups to get in and out, shuttle buses that stopped running with thousands of people waiting to get back to campsites… And a few days afterward, the site is still quite a mess.

Concert fans at Amnesia Rockfest

It’s easy to go from this…

… to this, when you’re a business trying to scale

Organizer Alex Martel spent several days incognito, then began to speak with reporters yesterday, explaining that people were congratulating him onsite on pulling the festival off.

I know the territory that Martel is on a little bit. Music festivals are giant endeavors. There’s the money side — you contract to spend money that you hop you’ll earn back; there’s the logistics side — thousands of people showing up at an outdoor site expecting to be fed, watered, and go to the bathroom in relative comfort while the sound and lights are tip-top. In this case, there’s the complication of remote campign sites and shuttle buses. So much can go wrong, so quickly.

Since I wasn’t at the festival, I can’t say with any certainty just how gigantic a failure or success it was. But it’s a great demonstration of the difficulties all businesses can experience in scaling up.

When you start a project, it can be easy — you do EVERYTHING, and everything comes back to you. When it grows, you have to start growing with it. Maybe that means staff, or volunteers, or renting an office, or hiring subcontractors… and it gets complex. Sometimes you discover that you’ve gone from someone doing what you’re best at and passionate about to someone doing things that you really don’t enjoy.

There was a time when I was doing media relations, and then I became a manager of media relations.  It was only after I left the job that I realized just how little I had enjoyed managing people who reported to me.

I’ve seen lots of friends join startup companies that are hiring like crazy, growing like mad. And many times, those companies have crashed and burned. If you’re on the upswing as an organization, hooray! But don’t get so enthralled with the venture-capital money, the kudos, the excitement that you forget that you’re always just a few missteps away from total calamity.

And when you are blowing up the world with your products or services, remember that you’re most vulnerable to customer service prolems, communication breakdowns, and the things that can start out small but end up as fully-fledged crises. The solution?

Stay open. Use all the communication channels you’ve established. Meet your audiences where they are — at the checkout, on Twitter, Facebook or whatever other social media tools they use. Acknowledge problems, work to solve them, explain why they’re happening, and try not to make the same mistakes twice. Shutting down the lines of communication, hiding away, and moaning that people “just don’t understand how hard it is.”

If you talk to them about what you’re doing, they WILL understand. If you get defensive, they’ll stop caring and stop listening.

Is your business going out on “dates?” Then why not get dressed up?

Yesterday, I saw a great post called “The First Rule of Branding” from former Algonquin College colleague Lisa Haggis, who’s now on her own as a branding consultant. My two-sentence summary of her post: “Customers want to love you. Don’t turn them off.”

And then this morning, I was meeting with friend and colleague Meredith Luce, a local graphic designer (and, as a side note, one of my favorite performers in all the world), and we were talking about businesses and design, when she said, “Sometimes it’s like hearing a friend is going out on a hot date and you look at her and say, ‘You’re going out dressed like that?? At least invest in a mirror.‘”

I burst out laughing. But what she had said, and what Lisa had written, were stuck in my head enough that I needed to write this.

As a business, the “frilly stuff”, like graphic design or customer experience, might seem unnecessary. As Lisa wrote in her post,

“People will evaluate your brand as a whole, not as individual experiences… exceptions – that one off-topic blog post, cheap marketing collateral, or a contradictory offering – will throw off the whole experience.” 

Whether it’s media relations, sales, graphic design, social media — when you’re in business, you’re always going out on dates. Hopefully,  those dates develop into relationships (I’m not getting into polygamy or polyamory metaphors, please and thank you). You should be thinking:

But if you go out with your metaphorical fly unzipped or your pantyhose tucked into your skirt… you could end up like this:

Don’t leave a glaring hole in your customer experience. For that matter, don’t leave a subtle one either.

If PR isn’t about substance, why bother?

I saw a very disappointing infographic this morning, via Dave Forde’s PR in Canada site. Produced by the Max Borges Agency, it chronicles the history of public relations. I was interested to scan it. And so I did. I invite you to do the same:

 

Okay. Notice something?

We have

  • Ben Franklin.
  • Tom Paine.
  • Ivy Lee advising John D. Rockefeller.
  • Edward Bernays advising Coolidge on foreign affairs.

And what do we have representing the last 13 years, the 2000s?

As entertaining as these entries are, are they telling us something? I think they are. PR practitioners should look at this and ask themselves on what side they fall. Are they contributing substance, or are they simply carrying out stunts? Are they using the tools of communication at their disposal (obviously including the suite of tools that make up “social media”) to make change, to influence people on important issues, or is it about a cookie or a taco?

And if we’re seeking to summarize our contributions to society, are those the best examples we can find?  What about the role of Twitter in the Iranian demonstrations? What about the ability of people to organize using social media to create events like Twestival? What about the Tylenol crisis? I could go on.

If public relations is to be considered a serious discipline, doesn’t it makes sense that we take on serious work, and talk about serious issues? And talk about them in public? Sometimes I think I oughtta find a new career.

Gobbling up social media research? Caveat lector.

Not so long ago, my friend Dennis posted an infographic about the misuse (accidential or wilful) of data in infographics. In a handy infographic format. I’m going to take the opportunity to embed it below. It’s worth keeping.

But Dennis’s nifty graphic only tells us about one place where we can be led into temptation — the infographic.

I happened upon a newsletter today that made me think of how easy it is to make marketing and communication decisions or take action based on information that should be questioned.

Mobile Commerce Daily reported on May 29 that “44pc of shoppers will never return to sites that are not mobile friendly: report.” The story is based entirely on a survey carried out by US software company Kentico, which makes content management systems. Kentico issued a news release about the survey on May 28, but it could be that the newsletter had an embargoed copy of the release.

The information is interesting. For example, it says that nearly 9 in 10 people with smartphones use them to compare products to competitors. And 45% do it right in the store, underlining the practice of “showrooming.”

But… in the newsletter story, there’s no information at all about the survey data. Even more frustrating is the lack of a link to the source data. I tracked down Kentico, then hit their press centre, where the news release about the survey sits. If you go to the Kentico site, you discover that the data-gathering part of this survey consisted of “More than 300 US residents 18 years old and over participated in the Kentico Mobile Experience Survey, conducted online during the month of April, 2013.”

Now, a survey sample is neither good nor bad. The point is to understand that sample. Was it a random sample? Did the participants selfselect? I couldn’t tell anything more than what I just said, because Kentico didn’t link to the survey itself or a more detailed report of its findings.

I contacted Kentico’s PR company, and Chris Blake of MSR Communications was prompt, open and detailed in his responses to my questions. He gave me demographic information that SurveyMonkey, the tool they used to do the research, provided, and a copy of the questionnaire. After a brief perusal of some USA census data, I learned that their sample of 300 people skewed only slightly more male, somewhat older, and way more educated than the US general population, for one thing. And the data provided on their sample gives me a sense of the potential sampling error rate (while Chris Blake suggests a ±5% margin of error, I’m thinking more like ±10%).

I don’t think there’s ANYTHING bogus about the survey results here. But I needed to take a fair amount of time to convince myself of that. And there are many occasions on which I find the data or survey results so problematic that I forget about using them.

There’s a flood of survey results and other materials that get published by the originators of the information, by newsletters, and by people like me every minute of every day. It’s easy to take everything at face value. But think twice. As a teacher of social media, I’m constantly looking for good data to share with students. As a consultant, I’m looking for information that I can use to help clients make sound decisions. But it is dangerous to see a newsletter article and use it to tell students or clients to base their actions on the data it contains.

Back in the days when ink and paper cost money, I understand the need for brevity and concision. But these newsletters are electronic. Pixels don’t cost anything but the time to write. And if you’re not going to disclose proprietary or competitive information, why not make as much information as you can readily available?

The more easily people like me can peruse your research, the more likely we’ll be to accept its conclusions. The more difficulty we have understanding the process behind the numbers, the more skeptical we become (or at least the more skeptical we SHOULD become).

And if you’re in business and trying to grapple with the challenges of communicating using social media, either desktop-style or mobile, make sure to ask questions EVERY time you see statistics and survey results. You don’t want to have to explain to your boss why you made a bad marketing or sales decision based on data you found in a press release and didn’t vet.

It’s too generous to assume that just because someone writes a newsletter, they’re doing your due diligence for you.

Here’s Dennis’s great graphic:

The value of awards programs, punk style

Punk views logoI’m blogging today over at Punk Views on Social Media about the ethics, costs and value for not-for-profits of entering awards programs like this one, from PR News.

Head over there and join the conversation, whyncha?

IABC “Trends 2013″ conference offers real value

I have blogged in the past about the role of professional associations in a world where there are meetups and all sorts of similar professional development opportunities that can be had for free.

I argued, at the time, that the proliferation of low or no-cost PD opportunities was a threat to traditional groups such as IABC or CPRS.

But an event coming up next week is an example of how professional associations can counter that trend.

Trends 2013” is a three-day conference organized by the eastern Canada division of IABC, the International Association of Business Communicators. Three days is a long time for anyone to devote to a conference, and even longer for someone in my self-employed position, where time is quite literally money. That’s why I was pleased to be approached to attend the event in exchange for some help in promoting it to… people like you, who read this blog.

But frankly, I would have considered attending this event even if I was paying for it. Why? Synergy.

I know some of the people presenting at Trends 2013. There’s my friend Danny Brown of Jugnoo and my friend Andrea Tomkins. There’s Michael Geist, who I got to know during my time at uOttawa. There’s Caroline Kealey of Ingenium Communications, creators of the Results Map. Donna Papacosta, who I have long admired from afar. Anick Losier, now of Canada Post and jack of all trades Gord McIntosh. And those are just the people that I really know. Even Industry Minister Tony Clement will be speaking at the conference, and while I think his government has done a poor job with social media, he’s a proficient user. So I want to hear from him about that.

There are a large number of people who have sterling resumes and reputations who I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting yet.

So for my money, what this Trends 2013 conference will offer attendees a chance to meet several dozen incredibly smart and engaging presenters. These people are difficult to get together, all in one place. Sometimes it takes the resources of an organization like this to bring them together and fund a conference like this.

So go. I look forward to bringing the things I learn at the conference back to my clients and to my students at Algonquin College and Eliquo. And to sweeten the deal, you have a chance to go as my guest. I want you to tell me in the comments what you think the most important trend facing communicators in 2013 is and why.

I will choose one of the responses on October 29, and that person will get a complimentary day pass to the conference for either November 2 or 3. Get writing, and I’ll see you there.

And if you’re writing about this conference, why not use the hashtag #Cdniabc12 ?

FIR Book Club with Gini Dietrich TOMORROW

One thing that really gets me going is conversation with smart people. I’m very lucky to know some that I get to see face to face, and then there are the people who I don’t know personally but get to hear speak or converse with.

And tomorrow, I get to speak with Gini Dietrich, co-author with Geoff Livingston of Marketing in the Round as part of the FIR Book Club. If you’re not familiar with FIR, it’s “For Immediate Release.” I do book reviews for that must-listen podcast, and I host these online talks as well.

Gini Dietrich is smart, funny, and prolific. She’s the founding CEO of Arment Dietrich, a Chicago-based communications company that describes itself as a firm that started as “a very traditional public relations firm” and is now “a company that helps clients monitor and measure online efforts against business goals…providing an alternative to their traditional marketing efforts.”

In addition to their many clients, Arment Dietrich is responsible for the cheeky blog Spin Sucks and the PR resource site Spin Sucks Pro. And Gini became a first-time author with the publication of Marketing in the Round, a highly useful book on integrated marketing and communications in a social media age.

I’m excited to have 60 minutes to talk with Gini about her book and the ideas she and Geoff brought to it, and to offer listeners the chance to join that conversation.

If you want a primer on the book, you could listen to my review of the book on the FIR site. Then, join us on Talkshoe as a listener or a caller at 2 Eastern time tomorrow, won’t you?

Nothing is universal

Ryder Hesjedal kisses the Giro trophy (Reuters)

Ryder Hesjedal kisses the Giro trophy (photo: steephill.tv/Reuters)

Yesterday was an uncharacteristically big day for me in terms of keeping an eye on sports.

Here in Ottawa, some friends were running in the Ottawa Marathon, so I wanted to know how they did (PS: WOO Karen!) In Indianapolis, one of my favorite drivers, Dario Franchitti, won a thrilling Indianapolis 500 victory. In Monte Carlo, the classic Monaco Grand Prix was won by Mark Webber.

But most important of all for me: young Ryder Hesjedal of Victoria, BC, won the Giro d’Italia. Ryder is the first Canadian cyclist to win a “Grand Tour”, as races like the Giro are called. Ever. To this cyclist, the accomplishment is superhuman. In three weeks, riders travel the equivalent of Vancouver to Sault Ste. Marie (or, if you’re an American, from the TransAmerica Tower in San Francisco to Harpo Studios in Chicago.) Along the way, they ride some incredibly difficult climbs, with gradients that can average over 10% and peak over 20% (think bicycling up flights of stairs). At the end of each day, the sprinters push their bikes up to over 40 mph and jostle their way to the ribbon.

 

 

 

 

And cyclists do this day after day (in the Giro and the Tour de France, there are two rest days in the three weeks of riding), sometimes after falling. Remember this from last year’s Tour de France?

The second rider falling was named Johnny Hoogeland. He went upside-down into barbed wire. He got 33 stitches. After he finished the day’s race! And then he finished the tour – 12 more days of riding. With 33 stitches.

My point is: cycling is a tough sport, an incredible feat of athleticism. In Europe, it’s also a massive sporting event. The budget for the Tour de France in 2009 was $140M US. 15 million spectators see the Tour pass by them, and it’s estimated that spectators spend more than $50M US. It’s broadcast worldwide, and there are 3.5 BILLION television watchers.

But in North America, it’s an extremely niche sport, even after Lance Armstrong. Most of my friends are casual observers of cycling at best. When I went to my local pasta shop yesterday, I suggested they do a Ryder special to celebrate the victory. I might as well have suggested a “Red Planet” special to celebrate the existence of Mars.

What’s all this cycling crap mean, anyway? What’s my point? Well, I have two.

  1. Context. 
  2. Culture.

When you’re doing social media work for your business, you need to have an intimate knowledge of your context, and your culture. If you’re selling baby clothes online, then don’t talk about Maxim magazine. If your chosen community is marathoners, don’t talk about swimming.

How do you figure out what to talk about? What matters?

Step one: LISTEN. To understand your audience, your community, your market, LISTEN to them before your start talking.

Step two: CONVERSE. Don’t pitch. Don’t sell. CONVERSE. Talk to people about what they do, talk to people about what’s happening in the interest that you share.

Just because you care deeply about something doesn’t mean your friends, your customers, or your community automatically does. Test the waters. Understand the culture of your community. Understand the context of your business. You don’t make the rules. The community does.

Except in this case, where I got to talk about Ryder Hesjedal. :-)

SMB 101 Post #6: Making moving pictures.

It’s not hard to find evidence that video is a huge part of social media life, and that it can have massive impact on businesses. There are tons of case studies, from Caine’s Arcade to “Will it Blend?” to Dynomighty to “The man your man could smell like.”

All this buzz may have you thinking you need to use video for your small business. I don’t want to tell you NOT to, but video is a tough nut to crack at the best of times. So before you go and buy a camera or hire the local Cecil B. deMille, think about the following. First, before you start a video initiative:

  • Where does this fit into your overall marketing and communications strategy? (If you have one. You DO have one, right?)
  • Sure, everything in the world has a camera in it that can be used to shoot video, and computers come with free video editing programs. But that doesn’t mean that your smartphone and off-the-shelf computer will make quality images and videos.
  • Whether you’re hiring someone to do production or going full DIY, ALLOW FOR TIME. Yes, it takes only a few minutes to upload a video to Youtube. But it’s all the steps BEFORE the upload that take time.
  • The tools don’t help you tell stories. Telling stories via video is not always easy, and it takes a particular kind of thinking. If you can’t afford someone to help you with the process of prepping for a video production, then practice on your own time. Turn your vacation videos into development opportunities before you do a business video.

Once you’ve made a video, your work is done? NO WAY. You still have lots of work left to do.

  • Tag and categorize your videos on YouTube or on whatever video host you use.
Screencap of a typical Youtube video
  • Track your stats. See that little icon next to the view count? If you click on that for any Youtube video, you’ll see lots of statistical information. USE IT.
  • Share your videos and integrate them into your other marketing and communications work. See that Share button in the screenshot? USE IT to embed your video on your website, and encourage others to do the same. Have a promotional strategy in place for your video BEFORE you upload it.
Video is great. There’s no doubt it can be a tremendous tool for business. But if you don’t do it with a strategy, a set of foals, er, goals, and a clear understanding of what kind of resources it will take to accomplish, you’re going to end up with a lot of time spent on something that languishes on a dusty server, somewhere in the bowels of the Googleplex.
And finally, why not take a look at my friend Dan Perez’s site? Dan is an awardwinning filmmaker in South Florida, and he’s got tons of great content on his site.

(This is post number six in an ongoing series of posts aimed at providing practical advice for small businesspeople in the areas of public relations, communications and social media. If you ever need help with your small business… why not get in touch?)