Crisis response = minutes, not hours

Crisis communication response times are now measured in minutes, not hours (certainly not weeks)

In the media training I helped lead last week we discussed the slow response of certain business leaders in the wake of crises affecting their brands. With social media, what once was just a little slow would today be considered glacial. 

One case study we discussed was the emergency landing by Captain “Sully” of US Airways Flight 1549 on the Hudson River a little more than a year ago.  The successful emergency landing on the river, famously captured on a cell phone camera, occurred at 3:30 p.m.  The evacuation onto the wings of the Airbus A320 happened quickly, and within minutes nearby commercial ferries were taking on the passengers. Capt. Sully, who first walked through the plane twice to ensure all passengers had been evacuated, emerged as America’s newest hero.

At 4:55 p.m., fire crews began to stand down.  All the cable news channels had extensively covered the situation. Many interviews of experts and witnesses and analysts had been conducted. By that time, there was little that the American public didn’t know about what had happened. A jet airliner landing on the river in NYC?! Post 9/11, the media are super-prepared to be all over a situation like this.

At 5:07 p.m., US Airways CEO Doug Parker issued a statement during a news conference at the airline’s headquarters in Tempe, Arizona, confirmed that there had been an accident. He didn’t really say much more than that.  He didn’t use the opportunity to praise Captain Sully, with whom he had already spoken on the phone.  He didn’t say, “We’re thrilled that the expertise of our flight staff prevented this from being a much more dire situation.”  After all, all 155 occupants of the ditched jet survived!  By the time he stood at the podium, he knew his airline had just been presented the biggest gift ever — an accident that couldn’t be avoided, but only minor injuries and some property loss.

Now, 90 minutes isn’t that much time, especially if a number of meetings and discussions had to occur before the hastily assembled news conference.  That said, more information needed to come from Mr. Parker and, more important, some emotion. People know that some accidents are going to happen and are unavoidable. But, people want to see a human reaction to crises … not some “don’t-say-too-much-for-fear-of-lawsuit” statement.

For weeks, the crisis at Toyota has been building.  A little less sensational, but affecting many more people. Quality issues have now resulted in the recall of 9 million cars worldwide. Again, people don’t expect mechanical things to be perfect, but they do expect the manufacturers of mechanical things to not only fix the problem, but to publicly acknowledge the errors and demonstrate some *human* remorse.  Not just a statement. Not just a policy. Not just a fix.  They want to see real people saying real things about real situations.

Toyota’s president, Akio Toyoda (grandson of company founder), was part of a hastily arranged news conference Friday night (earlier today) and apologized, taking personal responsibility for the problems. “I deeply regret that I caused concern among so many people,” he said. “We will do our utmost to regain the trust of our customers.”  He acknowledged this is a crisis (Really? You didn’t know that earlier?) and he also apologized to shareholders for the 20% drop in company stock.

That he is apologizing and taking this seriously is great.  That it’s happening a few weeks after the news first broke is not so great.  And while I believe shareholders are indeed an important audience, an apology to them should be done through a shareholder-only communication. Doing so in the news conference only indicates that the only reason Mr. Toyoda is up there is because the crisis is affecting financials, rather than the fact that his faulty cars are affecting people.

I appreciate good brakes. This morning, while I was taking a left out of a parking lot, some oncoming cars were stopped to allow me through.  Little did I know, however, that another car was barreling down the left turn lane.  The driver/cell phone talker, however, did have good enough sense and brakes to come to a skidding stop as I inched across the lane. Thank you for good brakes to unknown car maker (I don’t remember what make of car it was … it could have been a Toyota!).  

I want Toyota to say, “We’re sorry that a faulty process has led to this. We will do our utmost to ensure this doesn’t happen again and to make sure every Toyota owner has complete confidence in their car’s mechanical abilities!” I don’t own a Toyota personally, but I believe I drive next to many of them every day. 

And I want them to say these things early in the game and not weeks later when their stock is crashing. That’s all I want.

Getting Naked for (Long-Term) Success

Honest, Open and Transparent Communications (HOTcomms) are fundamental to long-term success.

As I entered my office (aka The Sparrows) today, I noticed a cooler right next to the Jones Soda cooler labeled Naked, a brand of fruit juices. It reminded me of a blog post I wrote a few years ago on Getting Naked.  I thought I’d revisit that topic here.

At the time, I was preparing for a WOMMA conference at which I was speaking on managing online corporate reputations. It’s a theme I’ve tried to carry through on my site and business cards and in my practice of public relations: Honest, Open, Transparent communications (HOTcomms). 

If HOTcomms were practiced by all companies and organizations, the public relations profession itself wouldn’t have its own reputation issues.  When organizations use their “PR” function to obfuscate or “spin” or perform some other sleight of hand to distract their audiences from the plain, bare truth, the public simply loses trust in the organizations AND anything labeled “PR.”

When will CEOs, political candidates and others realize that eventually their disingenuous communications will come back to bite them in the butt?  There may have been a time in the past when you could get away with tricking your audiences, but today there are millions of people online ready to correct the record or shed light on a topic they feel is being “spun.”  Candidates espousing a particular position are reminded of previous statements or actions indicating a different viewpoint in the past. Companies hiding information related to their financials are usually discovered these days. Ask Enron or any of the hundreds of companies listed online that have tried to get away with unethical practices.

Social media — a vast online conversation surrounding just about every topic — has nearly ensured that the truth will eventually come out on just about any topic.  If more than one person knows a secret, eventually they’ll talk.  And that secret will quickly spread throughout the online universe, because that’s what happens with secrets. The more you try to hide something, the bigger the “aha” moment when it’s discovered.

Robert Scoble and Shel Israel wrote about being open in Naked Conversations, and Don Tapscott and David Ticoll covered similar territory in The Naked Corporation.  In April 2007, Wired Magazine had a series of articles themed “Get Naked and Rule the World.” All of them pointed out that, increasingly, there are no secrets. Information “wants to be free” and quickly becomes so online.

With this new reality, businesses and organizations that will advance to the next level are those committed to transparency, adapting to consumer needs as expressed by the consumers themselves, and providing a level of unprecedented participation. There are many examples of brands that have succeeded in creating productive, engaged conversations around their brands. Those conversations are not always positive, but the willingness to allow critique results in a “double positive.” The honest, open and transparent brands get good marks for what is already positive about their brands, and they get good marks for openly discussing what’s not completely positive (provided that consumers see movement in the right direction on those negatives).

People don’t always expect perfection. But they expect not to be lied to. They can forgive a company when things don’t always go right. But they don’t forgive attempts to spin or cover up or outright lie about what hasn’t gone right.  My advice always is to “out yourself before you’re outed by others.” If you allow someone else to tell your bad news before you, you’re already digging yourself out of a hole. By presenting the not-s0-great information yourself, you’re able to also tell your key audiences what you’re doing about the situation.

So, my advice back in 2007 and for 2010 is to “get naked.”  While HOTcomms may not always be the way to quick success, it is fundamental to long-term success.

Brave New World

When it comes to social media, PR is in charge. Now let’s get to work.

I was reading a Miami Herald article about the Ad and PR industries both scrambling to master social media. As budgets shrink, both the ad men and their PR cousins are scrambling to master social media. At Amway I oversaw advertising, sponsorships and public relations.

Advertising has a big role to play in the online space. Indeed, advertising online provides many benefits, including lower costs and  higher measurability than traditional media outlets. Not as broad a reach, but not all campaigns require that.  Meanwhile, search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM) efforts ensure what you’re saying online will be seen by those interested in what you have to say, whether they know who you are or not.   

But when it comes to the dialog fostered by platforms like Facebook, Twitter and even YouTube, there is no profession equipped to represent clients effectively other than Public Relations. PR always has been the function that handles dialog for a company, whether that be through speeches, media interviews, press materials, or FAQs.  Advertising has mastered the art of telling a story in a way that elicits a response, but has not traditionally been there to answer the follow-up questions.

Social media, meanwhile, is about the entire dialog, not just the 30-second ad or the 10-word tagline. It’s about listening as much as it is about talking.  In fact, it’s about listening far more than you talk.  It’s about sharing the messages from your organization to your key audiences, but it’s also about taking their responses back to the organization and recommending responses.  Not just spoken or written responses … but responses in the form of actions. 

An example? Your product has been tampered with and people are getting sick.  At this point, it’s not just what you say that matters.  It’s what you do.  A recall is a start.  An investigation and sharing the results of that with the public is another.  Providing your customers with some incentive to stick with you even though they may have lost some trust in you is another.  These are not just words.  They’re actions and they might cost the company in the short run (but in the long run it might not only save their business, but earn them even greater support).

Integrated marketing, by the way, is more necessary than ever. What you say in advertising needs to be reflected in the dialog your public relations group is supporting.  It should be reflected in the types of sponsorships in which you engage. All of these marketing services are more effective for the company when they work together.

As long as there are internal battles and squabbles about who does what, however, there is little chance for integrated messages. The silos need to come down inside large organizations.  Strategies need to be shared.  Broader plans need to be fleshed out together and not in separate conference rooms. 

That’s my vision for what integrated marketing should involve.  I don’t think many marketers are well-equipped yet to work across all the media, and as long as they continue to favor one discipline over another, they will not achieve the full benefits of a truly integrated marketing plan that involves advertising, sponsorships, public relations AND the correspondingly appropriate uses of the digital space.

January Series at Calvin College

Calvin College’s “January Series” is bringing an eclectic mix of excellent speakers to the West Michigan community.

As a Calvin College graduate, I’ve always been proud of the school’s wonderful January Series of lectures. Now in its 23rd year, the award-winning lecture series always brings an eclectic mix of incredible speakers to the campus with one lecture per day, free to the public. This year’s lineup once again promises to inspire and educate.

Opening speaker T.R. Reid, global affairs correspondent for The Washington Post and NPR, will talk abut the “Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper and Fairer Health Care.”  The closing speaker, Archbishop Elias Chacour of Galilee, will talk about “Unity Within Diversity: Myth or Reality.”  In between, there are 13 other speakers addressing topics ranging from the theological to cultural to political.

Of particular interest to me are three of those speakers. The topic for CBS News Correspondent and best-selling author Kimberly Dozier is “Breathing the Fire: Reflections of a Foreign News Correspondent.” You’ll remember that, while covering a story in Baghdad in 2006, Dozier was seriously injured in a car bombing that killed her camera crew, an army captain and their Iraqi translator. And now Dozier reports from the White House on President Obama’s administration and new foreign policy developments. To me, that sounds like a strong basis for many intriguing stories.

Next on my list of top three is Rich DeVos, co-founder of Amway and a former Calvin student. He will speak on the “ten phrases” that were the basis for his most recent book encouraging others to live with a positive attitude that can change lives, communities, and the world. I’ve heard Rich speak numerous times and have read his books, of course, and I always appreciate his grasp of basic human nature and how what we say and do affects those around us. He’s a master salesman and, when you hear him speak, you begin to understand why.

Finally, Wikipedia-founder Jimmy Wales will speak about “Democracy and the Internet.”  I use Wikipedia all the time as a quick research tool.  It embodies the idea that, through the inputs of many, we will arrive at the truth. It’s not always completely accurate, because it truly requires inputs from all sides of an issue or idea, and there are times that some parties won’t or can’t participate. But it is fascinating all the same and is probably the one session I’d go to — if I only went to one! 

If you’re interested in going, check out www.Calvin.edu/January for more information about speakers and dates. The Fine Arts Center at Calvin is going through an expansion/renovation, so they’re conducting the series out of the Calvin College Chapel. The talks begin at 12:30 p.m. on weekdays from Wednesday, Jan. 6 through Tuesday, Jan. 26.  But you better get there early, especially for the more noted speakers, because it’s usually a full house.

Fortunately, Calvin has created remote web cast sites so that more people can benefit from these lectures, including several around West Michigan.  Included among the 28 webcast sites across the country are the Ladies Literary Club in downtown Grand Rapids, Western Michigan Christian High School in Muskegon, Christ Memorial Church in Holland, Second Christian Reformed Church in Grand Haven, and the Dogwood Center for the Performing Arts in Fremont.

Work and personal schedules allowing, I hope to hit my top three and perhaps a few more!

From 8 to 81

The changes in technology over the lifespan of one man are incredible. What will happen in the next 80 years?

Yesterday we celebrated my son’s 8th birthday and my dad’s 81st.  That it also was Thanksgiving Day was appropriate, since we’re so thankful for both! Jack and dad represent the opposite ends of the spectrum in many ways, one growing up in the middle of the last century, the other a product of the 2000’s. 

Jack
Jack

The way Jack learns and plays and sees the world is vastly different than my dad, who grew up in the Netherlands during the Great Depression and WWII.  Jack got a Nintendo DS Lite for his birthday and travelled more than 250 miles to visit relatives in Wisconsin. My dad’s birthday gifts were quite simple, I”m sure, and I am guessing he never traveled a hundred miles from his home until he joined the army after the war in the late ’40s.  Jack’s a bright kid who will likely finish college 15 years from now, while my dad basically finished elementary school.

It’s hard to imagine what challenges Jack will need to overcome in his lifetime, or how well prepared he will be for those tests. My dad, meanwhile, made it through a depression where his dad put food on the table that he grew himself or earned by making wooden shoes. Yes, really.  He made it through a great war that literally rolled over his family’s farm — the Germans chopped down their young orchard to camouflage the guns trying to hold back allied advances.  He and his brothers and sister sold the farm and everything on it to fund their ocean voyage to Canada.  He became a carpenter by learning the craft on his own, often through trial and error.

What will Jack do with his life? With the best education and technology, with a “recession” that hasn’t really made him feel hungry or deprived in any way.  With no great conflict rolling over his dad’s backyard. With the ability to connect to people and cultures across the world from a laptop on the dining room table. With the ability to have a dialog that creates understanding and maybe even prevent wars like the one my dad saw as an adolescent from ground zero.

Dad and Frances
Dad and Frances

Last year my dad remarried. My mom passed away five years ago and, after receiving a heart valve transplant and a new lease on life, my dad was looking for someone to share his life with.  So was Frances.  In years past, they never would have connected, since he lives in Ontario, Canada, and she was living in Washington State. Techonology didn’t leave my dad behind because he learned to use it. Despite limited keyboard skills, he was able to communicate via social media with a woman a couple thousand miles away and, eventually, meet and get married.

So, my dad didn’t entirely miss out on the wonders of the connected age.  Today, he and Frances can check up on their children and grandchildren hundreds of miles away. What will Jack be able to do when he is 81? What kind of technology will exist to allow him to be connected and engaged in the lives of others?

aimWest, young man

aimWest ConFab was chocolaty social media goodness through and through.

Yesterday was the 1st Annual aimWest Social Media ConFab, featuring keynote Laura Fitton, aka @Pistachio in Twitter, who co-authored Twitter for Dummies. Like many, Laura thought Twitter was kind of dumb when it first came out.  I know I also blogged about it a few years ago, questioning its value. Laura gave it a chance (as did I, eventually) and immediately saw her leads increase.

There’s a great Grand Rapids Press story about the conference today, and #aimWest was a top-1o trending topic yesterday as conference attendees twitted their thumbs away. Congratulations to aimWest for pulling together such a great event!

I was a panelist for a morning session on social media boosting productivity and collaboration in the workplace.  With me on the panel were Melissa Chiaramonti of Meijer (@mgenta on twitter) and Harrison Withers of Media 1. 

I talked a little about my experience within Amway and use of sharepoint sites and the like.  For teams, sharepoints and wikis can be great, but it requires full participation in order to be truly successful.  Key voices missing from the conversation might result in a flawed collaboration.  My “Beatles Social Media” example was that, if that four-person team had made collaborative decisions via social media, the outcomes resulting from dialog that only involved George and Ringo probably wouldn’t have made the band the success it became.  John and Paul’s inputs were necessary for the true success they eventually achieved, not to mention the voices of others such as their manager and their producer.

My main point, I think, was that organizations need to get intentional about their use of social media internally, just as many already are for external audiences. Within the company, people already are using social media tools but there’s little measurement occurring to determine if it’s effective — largely because most companies don’t even know it’s happening to the extent that it is.  Rather than having social media “just happen,” I think an organization will reap more benefits by planning and supporting the social media tools internally.

Melissa and Harrison — both of whom are true experts on this topic — really brought great ideas of what to do and how to do it to the audience.  While they were talking, I was scanning the #aimWest tweets on my laptop. It was almost like I could see thought bubbles rising above the heads of people in the audience, and it led to some of the questions we addressed as a panel.

I went to the social media “slam” session after that, where attendees shared experiences and questions “open mic” style. I’d been to a Social Media Slam conducted in a similar way this summer, which led to a YouTube video about my experience at Amway and how my 80-year-old dad met his wife online.  This one was much bigger and people did their little talks from where they sat, which gave it a different feel, in my opinion.

There was a great panel on Power Networking, but most of that session really focused on Facebook, since one of the panelists was Tom Chisholm, a Director at Facebook. The most excitement was generated over the question from the audience about when Facebook would add a “dislike” feature to go along with its “like” button. Tom started to say the “hide” feature was sort of the same thing, which aroused a Joe Wilson-like response from the audience (thanks @Maniactive).

Late in the afternoon, I was very proud of the great presentation by Cindy Droog of Amway, who was part of the panel discussing social media measurement.  She did a great job and received a lot of twitter love from the live tweeters. 

Between the Wednesday evening Tweet Up and the all-Thursday conference and the necessary follow up on emails and tweets today, the ConFab really chewed a big hole into this week. BUT, that hole was filled with gooey, chocolaty social media goodness, and area companies that didn’t send their PR/Social Media/Marketing staff to participate and learn really missed out!

Social Media for Internal Collaboration

This Thursday is aimWest’s first annual Social Media ConFab at the JW Marriott, at which I will be a panel moderator.  According to my source, the numbers of attendees were still creeping up this week (she’s still hoping for 300) and yesterday’s GR Press story might help reach that goal!

The panel I’m moderating is about how social media is helping (or can help) internal collaboration within companies and organizations. The panelists will be Melissa Chiaramonti of Meijer and Harrison Withers of Media 1.  Most often in the past I’ve spoken on web reputation, with social media being an important aspect that companies and organizations need to monitor and manage.  Too many people don’t actively monitor what people are saying about their companies and brands online and, as a result, suffer reputational damage that could have been neutralized earlier just by becoming part of the conversation.

I am less of an “expert” on social media as a collaboration tool.  Or am I?  I used and participated in sharepoint sites while at Amway, which is the first thing that came to my mind on this topic.  Thinking more broadly, with Independent Business Owners (IBOs) an extended part of Amway’s “internal” communications, I blogged for five or six years in ways to educate and seek the support and engagement of that key audience.  I created content for the Web, including leading the “Interns Expose Amway” project that got our younger staff involved.  Even the way we obtained approvals for communications was a form of social media.  I was even part of the first (and probably last) virtual meeting held by Amway employees in Second Life.

I spent some time the past few days researching the topic of “internal collaboration” and, amazingly, I didn’t find a lot that really excited me.

To me, the biggest barrier to the success of social media as an internal collaborative tool for a working team is the weakest link.  The one who just doesn’t get how to use social media tools or the one who needs to see the actual facial expression accompanying the real-time feedback they get from a peer. 

I’m not one that would like to see an end to meetings because I do think they can contribute to quick collaboration and ensure the entire group is clear on direction or certain agreements.  But these days, with far-flung teams, business travel and so many other meetings competing for everyone’s time, the use of social media can keep collaborative conversations alive that might have been stymied otherwise.  And, after awhile,  you get to know others’ writing styles and understand their tone of voice and those “facial expressions” aren’t even necessary anymore.

Share stories, earn support

People share their personal stories and become respected and supported. Those who just sell meet resistance.

Like many others, I’m a social being. I like people and I like their stories. For instance, last week I sat down with a 99-year-old gentleman for a story I wrote for Grand Rapids Magazine.  If I had just been doing my job, the interview could have lasted a couple hours at most. Instead, I spent four hours with Bill wandering through the past century from his perspective. He told me about growing up in southeastern Ohio, about launching a career in the middle of the Great Depression (of great interest to me, given that I’m starting a business in the middle of a great recession), about achieving business success by dealing with basic human nature.

You’ll have to read the magazine to get Bill’s story, although I have to say that I could have shared so much more than what space allowed.  Perhaps, after the story is published, I will share more about Bill.  By the way, Bill also had a program he was promoting, something he hopes others support.  But it’s an outgrowth of who he is. Sharing 99 years’ worth of experience earns you the right to share a position.

Social media allows people to share their stories — bit by bit or in larger chunks, depending on the person and their ability — or desire — to share.  By its very nature, social media allows ideas to spread from person-to-person and, in many cases, from one to many, which is why everyone with something to sell is looking to tap into social media. It’s also why social media is so important to public relations — it has so much potential to get your message out to your key audience. 

What often bothers me, however, are the blatant attempts to force a sales message into a conversation where it does not naturally belong.  You know the ones I’m talking about.  The conversation is about XYZ, and suddenly Joe Shmoe who you barely know is trying to sell you something totally unrelated.

Nothing wrong with Joe trying to sell his stuff, by the way.  He just needs to do it in conversations geared to that or start his own conversation and invite others to find out more.  It would also help if Joe earned the right to pitch his wares by first being an active and engaged member of a community.  When Joe is a respected member of that community, he might be surprised when others ask him what it is he has to sell.  Because they like and respect him, they want to support him. He was inviting without having to overtly and frequently state his invitation.

I am a consumer and have invited people who have excellent products to sell me into my home to show me. Typically it’s someone I already know and respect. I want to support them!  But I really don’t like it when someone I don’t know as well sticks his foot in the door and then attempts to shoulder his way through when I’ve clearly stated that I’m not interested. In some cases, I could be interested in what they have to sell, but they have to give me a little time to get to know them.

So, to those who are applying shoulder pressure through people’s social media experiences, please stop!  It wrecks the experience for everyone and it’s just not that effective.  Start with being social and friendly and inviting. Then you sill earn the right to eventually show me what you got to sell!

Crescenzo says Creativity over Crap

Corporate Communications needs to change its name to Creative Communications, according to WMPRSA speaker Steve Crescenzo

I have to admit to a bit of a man crush developed over lunch today.  Our speaker at the monthly lunch meeting of the West Michigan chapter of Public Relations Society of America was Steve Crescenzo, a large, bald, hilarious consultant who shared brilliant insights into the state of corporate communications today. For starters, he thinks “corporate” should be yanked from the title and replaced with “creative.”

After he was done speaking, I professed publicly that he had earned a little piece of my heart.  Literally.  I had to close the meeting with some WMPRSA info and, in thanking him, I let it slip. I’m sure he hears it all the time.

First of all, Steve introduced his company to us — himself, his wife, his son and two cats.  His cats, he said, are his IT department.  Why not, he explained, they don’t come right when you call them, they’re moody, they’re self-absorbed, and they like to lick themselves.  There was more, I’m sure, but that was the gist of it.  Within the first minute of his presentation he had the attention of the University Club crowd.

His main message to corporate communicators, and employee communications specialists in particular, was to stop putting crap out there and expecting audiences to actually read it.  It takes a lot to cut through the clutter these days, and formulaic, cliched newsletters are not going to get readers’ attention. He sympathized, however, acknowledging that corporate cultures today call for review of communications pieces by committee, with CEOs, Legal, Finance, and numerous middle management layers all weighing in with opinions and edits.

When’s the last time a PR person went down to Finance and asked to take a crack at the books this month?  How about we write up the next set of vendor contracts?  And while we’re at it, we’ll whip together the 2010 Strategic Plan for the whole company.  Why should non-communications experts attempt to do the jobs of the true experts they’ve hired to do the job?  Partially, Crescenzo asserts, it’s because we let them.  No longer should it be referred to as “approvals'” he said. Rather, routing of communications should be viewed as “fact checking” where accuracy is ensured but the tone and style is determined by the comms experts.

Crescenzo talked about just how busy everyone is nowadays.  When it comes to the communications pieces coming at them, their order of prioritization is 1) what they’re personally passionate about, 2) what they absolutely need to know to do their job, 3) what is done so well that it pulls them in, and 4) all the other stuff being asked of corporate communicators.  You’re lucky if your intended audience has the time to reach #3, so if you’re communicating changes to the benefits policy or recognition of a long-term employee, it had better be pretty darned creative.

From headline to graphics to the lead paragraph, communicators need to push the boundaries of “how we’ve always done it” or “what legal will approve.”  (My heart was really warming up to Crescenzo at this point!)   And with Facebook and the New York Times online and so much rich content competing for attention, it’s still hard to get audiences to read your nicely presented, well-written copy.

That’s when Steve showed some creative ways corp comm’ers are reaching their audiences these days.  Rather than the “lady with a stethoscope” billboard ad approach used so frequently to promote healthcare services, he shared an online campaign for a hospital that utilizes a mix of blogs, podcasts and videos — with healthcare staff sharing their compelling stories in their own words in ways a single billboard or flyer never could. He showed just a video of a nurse sharing a story about her work in a neonatal intensive care unit that, frankly, very nearly brought tears to my eyes.

OK, as my wife and kids will tell you, I have been known to tear up at the movies. They won’t let me forget that one time watching Bridge to Terabithia or that final goodbye scene from Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.  Yes, that one is embarassing. The point is, a billboard will not get that kind of reaction. A video might. My wife works at the NICU at Spectrum’s DeVos Women and Children’s Hospital, so I know the commitment they demonstrate each and every day. That doesn’t translate well to copy or an image. Crescenzo said that social media is a powerful tool that corporate communicators need to use to allow people to share their own stories in compelling ways.

So, as I said earlier, Mr. Crescenzo was earning little pieces of my heart with each passing minute.  He spoke frankly.  He was super funny.  He showed great examples of good and bad communications.  And then he started talking about using Facebook as your employee communications site because IT will roll their collective set of eyes at you when you ask them for a highly interactive employee communications intranet site.  “It’ll take nine months and half a million dollars,” they’ll say (based on experience, that would be a conservative estimate for time and budget).  And then Crescenzo started talking about how easy it is to use Flip Cams, and how communicators need to carry them around at all times “just in case.” Now he had my undying affection.

So much of what he said is exactly what I’ve experienced and come to believe about communications over the years. I’m proud to say that at Amway we did fight the internal battles to trim down approval routes and we did use creative new approaches to better share our stories with various audiences. Not always successfully, but we won some of the fights. That’s how Opportunity Zone came into existence.  That’s why I traveled to Baltimore and Seattle this summer to conduct interviews of Amway Independent Business Owners with an easy-to-use Flip Cam (although I don’t think IT has yet launched the site where those videos were to be used). That’s also why today there are Facebook pages for various Amway brands, sharing video content and photos.

I’m excited to take that experience, empowered with the affirmations of experts like Steve Crescenzo, and apply it to the communication needs of Luymes PR clients!  Who’s next!?

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.