Trolls & Other Scary Creatures

Trolls and goblins abound this Halloween!

As Halloween approaches, preparations are underway at the Luymes household. Costumes have been assembled and a pre-Halloween event — Sunshine Church’s “Trunk or Treat” — has already tested the kids’ door-to-door panhandling skills. Or, in that case, car-to-car.  It was a fun event and a good way for Sunshine to reach out to its community.

Pumpkins have been carved into scary visages that, apparently, do little to ward off squirrels that seem to love the rind of a semi-rotting gourd.  One little creature whom we’ve named Chunky, for obvious reasons, will run away when I charge him with menacing snarls, but returns moments later when I’ve turned my back on him.

In similar ways, another little hobgoblin comes back to “my house” to nibble in uninvited ways. Amway’s Opportunity Zone has or had its own troll, so called because he lingers under the bridge to pounce upon any unwitting passersby. When a “troll” invades your social media space, how best should you handle the situation?

My tendency has been more liberal than some others who would simply block negative posters at a site. I tend to be a little forgiving and allow posters to push boundaries a little. I believe a good dialog needs to have two strong viewpoints, well supported and shared in a respectful manner. In the social media world, however, there are some who too easily whip out their steely knives and look to inflict flesh wounds on anyone with an opposing opinion. When that happens, and others are scared away or just fed up with the type of conversations trolls like to ignite (the type that provokes an emotional response), the balanced blogger needs to step in and moderate.

Simple rules of engagement should be one of the first things a blogger establishes for his or her space. Here are a few of mine: stay on topic, respect others, avoid profanity, and know when to not have the last word.  Over the years, at The SuperDu Blog and in the Opportunity Zone in general, there were only a few commenters who abused these guidelines.  In most cases, even these individuals weren’t entirely banned although some of their posts were held back by moderators when they overstepped.

I think that will be the case here as well. After being a voice that advocated certain positions for Amway over the years, I cannot expect that those who disagreed will stay away from this space. That said, I’ve moved on to my own practice which, at this point, doesn’t include Amway among its clients. I’d like to encourage those who want to have the Amway “systems” debate to seek other playgrounds. You have an issue with Amway?  Tell the good people in The Opportunity Zone who will, if you’re on topic and respectful, lend a patient and responsive ear.

As for me, I need to finalize my Halloween preparations, including the purchase of candy to hand out to all the little monsters who drop by my house tomorrow evening. I gladly will give them access to my porch so I can drop goodies in their bags and buckets. Now, if they come back for seconds or thirds … that’s another story!

Journalists & Social Media

Much has been made within public relations circles about using social media to bypass traditional media to reach their target audiences.  There’s much to be said for this, as the web provides ways to interact with audiences that just aren’t possible through “earned media placements” within newspapers, magazines, TV news media and radio.

Even for PR professionals focusing on traditional media, however, social media cannot be overlooked. Too many of the journalists they work with are now seeking story ideas, interview sources and supporting facts from blogs, news sites and social media platforms like Twitter and YouTube.

According to a new study conducted by Bulldog Reporter and TEKgroup International, Inc., usage of social media by journalists continues to increase. According to the 2009 Journalist Survey on Media Relations Practices, nearly half of all journalists report visiting a corporate website or newsroom more often than once a week. Some 23% of journalists use RSS feeds to monitor five or more blogs on topics relevant to their news coverage.  Also, more than 82% of journalists use social media sites like Facebook and YouTube, up from 75% last year. About 25% of journalists are now using Twitter, using the site once a week or more.

The survey of 2,354 respondents, of which about 46% were editors and 35% were reporters or writers, isn’t entirely surprising. As an active Twitter and Facebook user with ever-broadening circles of “friends” and “followers,” local and national journalists are surfacing with increasing regularity. And some of them are doing a good job being part of a community and using it as a means to obtain story ideas or find sources. Like the rest of America, the numbers will only go up. It’s like years ago, when the question was “should we send that in the mail or should we send it to you via email?”  OR, better yet, “Do you have email?”  Today, those answers are obvious.

Some West Michigan journalists of note who are tweeting are @Kcorner, @GRgonzo and @jbauer5800 (Chris Knape, John Gonzalez and Julia Bauer of GR Press), @emilyrichett (Emily Richett of Fox 17), @PeterRoss13 (Peter Ross of WZZM 13), and numerous others. Some do a good job of blending personal and professional and keeping promos of the stories they’re about to air to a minimum.  I am always amazed at Emily’s online efforts.  That girl is always tweeting, facebooking, youtubing, and twitpic’ing.  I don’t know how she has time to do her job!  OR, is this all part of her job now?  Because, if people just *love* Emily Richett because they’re following her online, maybe that’s part of the new deal for journalists.  Creating a following beyond the confines of their particular media outlet.

A few weeks ago, several independent PR practitioners, myself included, had lunch at the Press Club with Paul Keep, Editor of the Grand Rapids Press. One of the discussions was the future of newspapers with the rise of online news. Finding the perfect blend of the traditional news media approach leveraged by new media’s reach and capabilities appears to be the solution, but creating a business model for that is going to be tricky.  But not impossible.  The Wall Street Journal seems to be doing a good job offering creative ad packages for its off- and online editions.  And, apparently, it’s leading to a potential tussle with USA Today regarding bragging rights for #1 circulation.  WSJ is counting online subscribers in addition to print, while USA Today only declares its print results.  Who will win that battle? Better yet, who will win the longer term battle of profitability.

In any case, social media is a great tool to talk directly to your target audiences. It also is an increasingly important tool to reach your target editors. No matter how you slice it, PR professionals have to master the art of social media.

Web Reputation

Web’s increasing role in an organization’s reputation.

Back in the mid-’90s, I was fortunate to be at the right place at the right time. As a PR Administrator at Amway, I was given an assignment to check out this “World Wide Web” thing and find out more about this guy who was saying bad things about our company.

Other than an account in Legal, nobody among Amway’s 10,000 U.S. employees had company-provided web access at that point. I recall the web being very slow on my big bulky desktop computer. But I also remember being thrilled that I had access to a universe of information, even though I hardly knew where to go or what to look for. Search wasn’t quite developed yet, so you really had to know where you wanted to go.

My main assignment was to check out the website of a guy who had collected every negative thing about Amway that was publicly available. It was like an attic full of forgotten or unwanted items … stored away from the sunlight and from most viewers’ eyes. But once you discovered this secret room, there was a treasure trove of information. Well, one man’s trash is another’s treasure. The site shared just about every lawsuit ever brought against the company (but typically not the pro-Amway rulings in the cases). Every negative review a product had ever received was there (but not the positive ones). Some negative articles had been scanned in.  Some opinion pieces created by the site author.  And lots of emails he’d received from site visitors (before comment sections had evolved) sharing their support for his negative views of the company and its business. Plus a few that countered his position in support of their Amway businesses.

I had to print out the entire web site so others could see what was being shared. It took three volumes and resulted in a stack of bound pages about six inches tall. My analysis of the site — back in Januray of 1995, I think — was that what those pages contained would seriously harm the company’s reputation, if they were seen by enough people. I said that, at that time, few people were online so it did not pose a huge issue immediately. But, based on trending, it soon would.

Within a few years, that prediction proved true. In the following years, Amway created its billboard-style website sharing all the positives the business had to offer.  Soon after that, Quixtar was launched to bring e-commerce to the direct selling giant’s North American business. Despite considerable online efforts, however, the company’s Independent Business Owners cited web-based criticisms as the #1 issue they faced.  It required drastic action.

Some advocated extensive optimization efforts that would simply push criticism off the main search pages. Certainly it was important to ensure the company’s own sites appeared high (if not highest) on search engines like Yahoo, MSN and Google. But SEO was not the sole solution. The issues at the heart of online critiques also needed to be addressed, and the company needed to do a better job communicating what it was doing to resolve those issues to a general public that had grown increasingly wary of its business offerings.

Informational sites helped. So did properties like www.thisbiznow.com, which provided third-party and IBO testimonials. But more was required to address the free-for-all commentary that continued on critic websites. When www.OpportunityZone.com launched, it provided a place where an honest, open and transparent dialog about the business could occur. Some basic rules were put in place to ensure decency and respect for opposing opinions were safeguarded.  The O’Zone was quite successful in helping increase the company’s share of voice in the online dialog about its business, reducing the amount of dialog in horribly slanted forums, and putting human faces on the business.

Through Real Quixtar Blog and, later, The SuperDu Blog, I became the first corporate blogger for Amway. It was a great experience to serve as a spokesperson for the business and to serve as an ombudsman of sorts. That is one aspect of the PR role that often is minimized or overlooked. True public relations is about creating a “mutually beneficial” relationship between an organization and its key publics. That’s hard to do when your communications are all one-way and don’t provide enough opportunities to listen to the questions or concerns of your targeted audiences. A wise person told me recently that you need to listen twice as much as you talk.

Whether it be site creation (www.Amway.com, www.amwayglobalnews.com, www.QuixtarResponse.com, www.ThisBizNow.com, www.InspireWellness.com), SEO/SEM program strategies and execution, or social media program strategies and execution (www.OpportunityZone.com and various Facebook, YouTube and Twitter programs for Amway product and business brands), I’ve had the great privilege to lead or contribute to programs to manage Amway’s web reputation. The company still has its challenges, but I am confident it is doing its best to resolve the issues that contribute to negative perceptions.

I’m proud of the body of work that I’ve contributed to over the past 10-15 years, and hope to look back on Luymes PR’s accomplishments in a decade or so with the same degree of pride. For me, the work will always come back to reputation. That continues to include tradtional media and other types of public outreach, but there is no denying that the web is garnering more and more of the PR professional’s attention. Because, in the end, you need to talk to people where they’re at.  These days, that’s online. After all, it’s where YOU are at this moment, right?

Entrepreneurship

Entrepreneurship and the lessons I’ve learned

For nearly 20 years, I’ve observed and chronicled the art of entrepreneurship. As a business reporter, I interviewed men and women who had a great idea and started their own business as a result. I interviewed Dorothy Zimdar, the founder of Frames Unlimited, to find out what made her business tick.  For her, it was about outstanding customer service, product quality and selection, value, and integrity.

For Hendrik Meijer, who founded the chain of mega stores that have made Meijer Inc. one of the largest private companies in the U.S.,  founded his first store on the idea that “customers don’t need us, we need them.” A brilliant philosophy, ins’t it? One that led to brilliant success for the Meijer family, and innumerable benefits to the West Michigan community that embraced the company and its stores in their earliest years.

I remember strolling through the garage and pole barn of a west sider’s home. He was starting his own tool and die business with machinery bought from larger companies that had upgraded. I don’t know if his business survived the past few decades of manufacturing turmoil in Michigan, but his excitement to begin on his entrepreneurial journey was very real.

For a special section on entrepreneurialism for the Grand Rapids Business Journal, I was assigned to interview Rich DeVos. I called Amway’s public relations department to set up the interview and they said they’d see what they could do.  I hadn’t even properly prepared my questions when I received a call, not from the PR contact, but from Rich himself.  I began asking questions about a topic I’m sure Rich had discussed countless times.  He probably answered many questions I didn’t even ask.

Within months, I was working for that same Amway PR department. It had nothing to do with the Rich interview, or the other stories I’d written about Amway as the reporter assigned to the manufacturing beat. It was a matter of being in the right place at the right time, I guess. In any case, over the next 18 years I learned hundreds of ways to share the Amway story.  Hundreds of products.  Millions of distributors or, as they’ve been referred to in recent years, Independent Business Owners.  The story of the partnership between Rich and Jay Van Andel.  The story of the partnership between Amway and its IBOs.  The power of the business plan Amway created. The all-natural Nutrilite products, the organic cleaners. There were SO many stories to tell, and so great a need to tell them. The business model is often misunderstood and, because there are so many people involved, there are bound to be disagreements and abuses. It was a great place to practice public relations in all its forms — from product publicity and media relations to crisis communications and community relations.

Now I move on and become the entrepreneur, taking what I know best — public relations, communications, social media — and turning it into a product I offer to clients. Like Dorothy, I hope to offer outstanding customer service, value and integrity. Like the young man with his tool and die shop, I am excited to get on with this business (but there are no guarantees!). Like Hendrik, I need customers!  The lessons from Amway I’ve already learned and now I hope to apply that expertise to help clients of Luymes PR.  The first few have already signed on … who will be next?!

Small Beginnings

First clients in the house. Lot of work to find new work!

This week has been all about hustle.  Lots of work goes into getting work.  Getting the site done (and tweaked) and sending lots of emails and making LinkedIn connections … all work.  Going to the Grand Rapids Social Media event and listening to speakers share how the ArtPrize event here in GR utilized social media to garner attention and participation was fun, but still a part of my new job: learn new skills, find new clients.

The good thing is that, last Friday I landed my first official PR client. That work is done now (for now, anyway) but today I landed my second client (I think) and have a lead on my third.  Plus, yesterday I landed my second writing job and got a lead on a third.  The “Indie PR” community in Grand Rapids has been very encouraging. I have not yet had an Indie PR person who hasn’t had time to talk … and to all of them I am a potential competitive threat!  Instead, I’ve received advice, encouragement, and two referrals.

When launching Luymes PR LLC, I wasn’t sure what I should focus on. At this point, I’m willing to allow the market to dictate that a little for me, but the crisis comms work I did this week certainly was right in my “wheelhouse.”  It was a little bit about reputation, a little about media relations, and a little about social media. Of course, writing was involved.  With those ingredients, all that’s needed is a little garnish and you’re all set!

A New Start at Luymes PR

Going it on your own, at Luymes Public Relations

After nearly 18 years, it’s quite daunting to start your own business. Especially if you worked at a large, multinational corporation with many resources at your disposal, as I did when at Amway.  Starting a website?  I used to be able to call Amway IT and be assigned resources to help me build a custom website like The SuperDu Blog, provided it was warranted. Now? I am IT and need to figure it out on my own. 

Well, with a little help from my friends.  Thanks Doug!  Douglas Kelly of Evolve Solutions was a contractor at Amway until recently, but his contract ran out and now he’s looking for new clients as well.  He comes with my highest recommendation.  Today he helped me get the redirect from Luymes.com to where the content is developed in a sub-folder. This enabled me to actively start directing people to the site!

Billing?  That’s all on me too, now.  So is fixing the printer and getting my new business cards. I even have to make my own coffee.  Oh wait. I always did that!  (And anyone who knows me knows that I was very proficient, and prolific, at making my own coffee.)

This blog is going to be about how Luymes Public Relations LLC gets off the ground.  It will be about my experiences counseling clients on crisis communications, web reputation, social media, and general communications (to the extent that I am permitted). I began working with my first client this past week and the experience has energized me to sign up some more!  Who’s next!  I am ready to get to work for additional organizations that need to tap into my nearly 20 years’ of experience in communications!

Welcome to Luymes PR

Welcome to Luymes Public Relations! What will this blog be about and what are some expectations.

This week, I suppose, is “Independence Week” for me.  I formally registered Luymes Public Relations LLC last week and then purchased Luymes.com and then created this site using “easy” tools provided by my web host. I’ve blogged before, as SuperDu at Amway’s OpportunityZone.com, but I’ve never actually had to create the blog itself — just the content! So, bear with me as I learn the best practices of setting up the actual blog site.

In this blog I expect to share about my views and experiences as a PR professional.  That will include my opinions on best practices for the public relations profession, including use of social media by organizations. I likely will talk about my personal life as well, especially how that relates to my profession and my business. Many of my posts will draw upon past experiences, including those with Amway Corp., my employer for nearly 18 years, and as a reporter for the Grand Rapids  Business Journal before that.

To the extent that I can, I also will share experiences with new clients of Luymes Public Relations, understanding there will be times I cannot due to client expectations and desires. Please drop me a line and tell me your experiences and whether or not you agree with what I’m saying here. I am sure that active dialog will better inform my understanding and likely anyone else’s who reads this!