The day after Labor Day I begin the next chapter in my professional career when I report to Davenport University as the newly appointed Executive Director of Communications. I’m excited to be joining a university that is “on the grow.” With a brand new campus near the junction of M-6 and M-37 just south of Gerald R. Ford International Airport, there’s a new excitement surrounding Davenport and the programs it operates statewide.
The position will provide a wonderful opportunity to contribute strategically to the university, and I look forward to sharing more about what I’ll be working on after I start! Meanwhile, I’m working on finishing up assignments for some of my Luymes PR LLC clients, including LEAD Marketing Agency, Brann’s Steakhouse & Sports Grille, the Alliance For Health, IMN Inc., RapidGrowthMedia.com, and more. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to work with so many great companies this past year. From Adoption Associates to Zondervan, West Michigan is blessed with quality organizations.
My Davenport start date is just two days shy of the one-year anniversary of my last day at Amway Corp. It’s been a great year learning what it means to be an independent consultant, to be an entrepreneur, to service clients even as you seek new ones. This past year was marked by the generosity of so many others who gave of their time and counsel to me, referring business, and offering unlimited encouragement. While starting a new business is always difficult and typically not so profitable in the beginning, I am happy that I was able to come out on the plus side and have such a rich experience as well!
This story, I am certain, is to be continued!
According to a BusinessWeek article, companies are scrambling to hire “social media managers.” Moreover, they’re doing so with little understanding of what that means, and creating new job titles to describe these new positions.
I’d like to contend, again, that these organizations probably already have social media managers on staff. They’re called “public relations professionals.” I do understand that social media isn’t just another media channel. I also understand that you can’t take PR people who have primarily done media relations all their life and magically make them social media savvy. But I don’t think we need to create a whole new silo within organizations; we need to effectively use the disciplines we have in place! Marketers can be engaged in the conversation online about their brands. And if they want to create new conversations with key publics (i.e., social media users) about their products or their businesses, they should turn to their PR staff because that’s what they already do!
When I left my last job and started positioning myself for clients, I was told I should market myself as “social media.” To me, that’s like marketing myself as “television” or “talking.” Social media is one way to talk to your key audiences, but not the only way (and not always the right way). That said, I believe it’s vital for PR practitioners to know how to create social media programs to leverage their brands’ assets. PR is about influencing and the game of influence is definitely gaining a social media flavor.
I’ve been involved in creating social media programs for a billion-dollar sales company and for smaller organizations. It requires 1) approval from top execs and legal, with understandings in place about what will and will not be discussed, 2) a commitment to be honest, open and transparent in all communications (HOT comms) with your audiences, and 3) resources equipped, capable, and empowered to communicate on behalf of the organization/brand.
This is not a time to place the brand conversation in the tweeting hands of an intern. They can help, for sure, but a community isn’t going to magically develop around an anemic effort by the company. Consumers want to talk to representatives who are truly knowledgeable AND who also have the ability to carry messages back to decision-makers within the organization. Otherwise, what’s the point? People won’t sign up just to hear your messages; they also want to be heard!
PR is the discipline trained and paid to engage publics in a dialog. Let them do it! That dialog leads to support for your organization/brand. Some execs want the social media “managers” to go out and create Burmese tiger pits, where unsuspecting passersby fall into a trap and are then expected to make a purchase. Creating tweet “teasers” and Facebook contests might generate traffic and maybe a very small percentage will make a purchase, thereby justifying the expense. There’s room for this kind of activity, but that’s not community. Once the giveaways go away, so do the followers. Community involves creating something better, together.
SO, I hope the “social media managers” being hired turn out to be PR people with a different title rather than Burmese tiger pit diggers. Otherwise companies are just wasting their money (again).
Yesterday I sat down at a coffee shop on Grand Rapids’ west side (The Bitter End) to kill a few hours while Conner took his class in Mackinaw Harvest’s sound studios. A copy of USA Today was lying on a table next to me, so I checked it out and found an interesting Forum piece by Tom Krattenmaker titled “How to sell Christianity? Ask an atheist.” Krattenmaker writes about “recovering evangelist” Jim Henderson, who learned from atheists all of the common practices of evangelicals that turn non-Christians off.
I don’t think that Henderson is less of an evangelical today. He just approaches evangelism differently. He allows *who* he his and *how* he is in relationship to *you* to be the message. He doesn’t come at you with a sales pitch. He comes to you with his hands open, palms up, being who he is and demonstrating a true interest in you, REGARDLESS of your response to him. It doesn’t matter if you become a Christian or not, he will still be interested in you because, after all, that’s what God has called for Christians to do. Love others as you love yourself.
After intentionally talking with atheists, Henderson discovered all the things that Christians do that turn people off. Things like “I’m right, you’re wrong” and referring to non-believers as “lost.” I also loved Krattenmaker’s assertion that “if you want to have influence … you have to be willing to be influenced. … If not, would anyone want a conversation with you?” It’s true in religion, politics, and just about every sphere of life: Don’t discount my thoughts, my ideas, my experience. I want to hear about yours, but you need to listen to mine, too. That’s really important in Social Media, by the way. It’s OK to want your ideas to be heard, but to get there you’re going to need to listen and respond to the ideas and expriences of others, too.
Good public relations involves research and understanding your target audience, so it’s not much of a surprise to me that evangelicals, when considering a PR approach, need to do a better job of understanding their audiences and refining messages and approach. Too often organizations turn off their target audiences because their messages sounds too much like a sales job. This is true for Christians on a “mission” to convert non-believers and it’s true for sales companies looking to convert the general public into buying consumers.
I think the best sales approaches are the ones that don’t have to try to hard to get people to nod their assent. Instead, people are attracted to the organization or the product because it solves a need in their life. The person or program representing that entity has made themselves available and open to the target audience. In the process, you might tell your story or you might create a lasting impression, but you do not hit them over the head with it in a way that makes their eyes glaze over.
The most effective examples of evangelization to me are those who strive to “be” the message. Here I am, an (oh so) imperfect man, saved by the grace of God alone, because he loves me and all of mankind. I fail Him all the time in my response to circumstances around me and the choices I make, but He does not fail me. This gives me peace. Now, tell me about you. What do you want to talk about? I want to know you better and find out how I can help you! No strings attached.
Mother Teresa was a good example. I have no doubt that her mission also was to expand God’s kingdom and to witness unto others. But her approach was to minister to the needs of those in Calcutta. Of course, the needs there were so extreme and obvious, it was perhaps a more obvious approach than here in North America, where the needs of an otherwise healthy, well-off non-believer may lie below the surface.
Opinions about what public relations is will vary depending on who you talk to. For some, it’s the function that tries to get media mentions for brands or organizations. For others, its the party-planning function. Some think it’s speechwriting. Others think it’s “spinning” a bad situation good…convincing you the “rightness” of my point of view. For me, what PR does is in the name. PR relates to publics. That means we know the publics and they know us. We can empathize with those publics and understand their needs. We have an open, two-way communication based on mutual respect. I want to introduce myself, get to know you, understand how I can help you, and let you know when I need your help.
Sounds like common sense, doesn’t it?
I’ve had many conversations about PR and its use of social media. It’s been discussed in various chats on Twitter as well as at conferences. On a few occasions now I’ve heard people talk about the PR work that they do managing a client’s social media account. I do believe wholeheartedly that managing a social media account for an organization should be under the direction of the public relations discipline.
The social media engagement, however, should not constitute an organization’s complete PR program. Perhaps there are a few organizations out there that can get away with that, but to create a mutually beneficial experience for an organization and its target publics, more than tweeting will be necessary. Meanwhile, people who haven’t been trained in public relations and really don’t fully comprehend what PR is shouldn’t claim to fulfill an organization’s PR needs simply because they track friends and fans and followers in Facebook and Twitter.
Some of this was part of what Jenny Luth and I talked about at the Grand Rapids Social Media (GRSM) lunch event yesterday. A good group joined us for the excellent dialog about roles and responsibilities in social media and what constitutes effective PR for an organization.
People are not made to be alone. They are inherently social beings. That is my belief, anyway. I know there are loners and hermits. Often, however, they are that way because their earlier attempts at being social went awry or, in the case of religious loners, it is to enhance their relationship with God. The Unabomber was alone, and look how that turned out! Tom Hanks was alone in Castaway. But it wasn’t right! He made friends with a volleyball and then risked it all just to be reunited with others.
Being cast away, alone, separate from others. It’s not right. God made us with the ability to communicate so that we could, well, communicate! He gave us ears to listen to what others have to say. He gave us a mouth with vocal chords so that we could share. He gave us tears to sympathize. He gave us hands to hold. Wow, I could keep going on forever with that sappiness, couldn’t I?
Social media has obviously had a huge impact on how people communicate. People who were otherwise social now are more social or perhaps social in different ways and with more people. I think the bigger change, however, is that some people who were otherwise reclusive, or at least less social, now have the ability to communicate with others in low-risk ways. I think there are some people active in social media who would not have thrived as well in the pre-Web 2.0 world.
I think of the guys at one party I went to in college who were watching Monty Python’s Holy Grail in the living room, reciting each line, singing each song. When the movie was shut off halfway through, they looked up, blinking, not quite sure how to interact with others in the room. I think in today’s Web 2.0 world they’d be chatting it up with like-minded Holy Grailians, making plans for a tweetup in NYC to watch Spamalot on Broadway.
More importantly, there are people who really have led miserable lives who can now find others who will talk to them and help. People who don’t know where else to go with their problems now find listening ears (provided they search … some on Twitter won’t follow you back unless you have a blue-and-white ‘verified’ mark on your profile pic). People who might find it hard to converse face-t0-face might actually experience what social interaction is all about and, perhaps, find ways of translating that into their real lives.
I think there are fascinating studies to be conducted, if they’ve not already been done, to see what social media’s affect on rates of reclusivity. There are many human conditions that impact quality of life, and I think that social media can help with one of them: being alone. We were not meant to be alone, and now there are more ways to ensure that we can move out of that condition and into a full life complete with social interaction.
I had to write a speech for a Memorial Day event tomorrow. The process of researching and writing made me think a little more about what Memorial Day means here in the U.S.
Growing up in Canada, we didn’t have Memorial Day. In fact, in Canada, last weekend was the holiday and it was Victoria Day. Growing up, however, we always called it the May Two-Four Weekend. Usually it was around May 24, and usually it was camping with a “two-four” (aka, a 24-pack of beer). Canada’s memorial for soldiers and the price they paid is called Remembrance Day, and it falls on November 11, commemorating the German signing of the Armistice ending WWI at 11 a.m. on 11/11/1918. King George V declared it a holiday thereafter, and throughout the Commenwealth it was called various things, including Poppy Day.
Why Poppy Day? Well, that goes back to the poem written by a Canadian, John McCrae, called In Flanders Fields. It’s a classic poem, written by a medic who served in WWI. It goes like this:
In Flanders Fields
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
In Canada, we wore poppies to remember those who had died in wars defending Canada (and, presumably, the rest of the British Commonwealth). They placed poppies upon the grave of the unknown soldier on Remembrance Day.
Here in the U.S., Memorial Day really began after the Civil War, with various communities claiming to have begun its practice. Originally called Decoration Day, it was a time to decorate the graves of those slain in the Civil War. Today, Memorial Day is one in which Americans remember those who paid the ultimate price for the freedoms we enjoy today.
The ultimate way to demonstrate respect for the price others paid is to be *engaged.* To utilize the freedoms that were won for us. That includes voting in elections … a freedom many around the world seek but Americans take for granted. That includes freedom of speech … saying what you think and being respectful of the fact that others have that same right. That includes freedom to worship … how and Who you want. So … Vote! Speak! Worship!
At 3 p.m., people are asked to provide a moment of silence for those who died in the uniform. After that moment of reflection and/or prayer, there’s a whole year in which you can remember those who paid the ultimate price for freedom by embracing and utilizing your freedoms, by volunteering and being an engaged member of your community, by respecting and celebrating others. By “community,” I also mean your Social Media community. It’s a great place to use your freedoms to speak and to engage with others. The price that was paid and continues to be paid is too great not to extract full value!
One of the pieces of advice I always give to clients is that if they start a blog, they regularly need to attend to it, keeping content fresh. There are a few reasons for that. For starters, it keeps people coming back to hear what you have to say next. It also provides greater SEO value — the Google spiders like to see new content! If your page gets stale, the Google believes it is less relevant for your key words.
So, it is with great remorse that I find myself violating one of my own rules! There are, however, good reasons for my lapse! Chief amongst them: clients.
In the past month I’ve landed as clients a leading Congressional candidate (Steve Heacock), a leading Christian publisher (Zondervan), a new furniture company to be launched (announcement coming soon!) and, very likely, a leading health policy non-profit in West Michigan (also to be announced, if it happens!). I’ve still been writing about The Rapid for RapidGrowthMedia.com, and writing profiles for Grand Rapids Magazine. There are a couple other proposals out there that look promising, too!
At the same time, I know that with each of my clients there are end goals in sight, even if they are a few months off, so I cannot stop reaching out to potential new clients. As President of the West Michigan chapter of PRSA, I have a number of built-in networking opportunities per month. I also have been quite active in going to events sponsored by organizations like the Econ Club of GR, aimWest, RapidGrowthMedia, and more. It is my sincerest hope that anybody looking for quality representation by an independent PR practitioner will consider me. If they’re not considering me because they don’t know about me, I need to network even harder!
So, because of all that, I’ve been a little lax on the blogging front. But, here I am. I promise to do better! Meanwhile, are you looking for PR help? If not me, call me anyway because I also know lots of other great pros who can help you out!
I blogged about the need for companies and brands to check out what’s being said about them over at Jen Fong’s blog. Essentially, the point I’m making is that companies and other organizations would make a special effort to prepare for and attend town hall meetings where they were being discussed. The same needs to be true and, unbelievably, there are still company executives holding back from diving into the dialog about their brands.
Jen is a great social media resource, especially to the direct selling industry. Last year I was on a panel with her at the Direct Selling Association’s national conference. She also was super active in round table sessions about web reputation that I led at the conference. When I first left Amway last September, she was one of the first to talk to me about being in business for myself, and I am very grateful for the advice and help she’s provided since then!
Check out my post at Jen’s blog and, while you’re there, check out the rest of the great content she and guest bloggers have created!
When surveying the social media scene, it’s disheartening to see so many “experts” preaching ways to get more followers (with the end goal, I presume, of increasing the value of each individual’s “brand” and “reach”). Marketers are looking for ways to “use” social media to get their messages out and the easiest way for them to do that is to simply have a lot of followers.
What I don’t see a lot of them doing, however, is providing added value that would make them worth following. Sure, they promise a few lucky winners a free iPod or iTouch or iPad or iTunes gift card (why not a free Blackberry?), but the result of that is a lot of dropped followers once the contest is over. I would love to see a good campaign where people follow a brand because of the value of their content alone.
I know that there are many local examples, such as the famed “cookies are out of the oven” or “here’s our special brew of the day” tweets, but I’m not sure a BIG brand has yet found a way to be a “must-follow” tweeter because of their “must-have” content. Sure, that’s more expensive then a free iPod every month.
But maybe it’s OK to not have 10,000 followers. Maybe it’s alright to just have a couple hundred key followers who will spread your content far and wide when you do have something sensational to share. It is social *networking* after all. I appreciate viral campaigns that people spread because they’re just so cool or because the informations is just so vital. There are benefits to the brand marketer when their message spreads through the network rather than having the message arrive on the audiences’ virtual doorstep via their own direct tweets.
People listen to other people they know and trust and respect. They do not value as much the marketing messages that come directly from the brands themselves. It’s advertising, after all, and Yankelovich studies have shown that 60% of American consumers don’t believe companies tell the truth in advertising. On the other hand, Nielsen reports that 78% of social media users find consumer recommendations credible, and MarketingSherpa says 84% trust user reviews more than “expert” reviews.
When something arrives in my Twitter stream or Facebook homepage or via another social media platform from someone I know saying “this is cool,” I check it out. When it comes from a brand I am likely to skip over it, knowing that the brand itself is not an unbiased party when talking about its own products.
When a brand selling coffee, provides lots of useful information about brewing and beans and baristas to coffee aficionados, they are providing a service. When said aficionados ask questions and the coffee brand responds with useful answers, they’re being good social media citizens. This earns them the right with their audience to slip in a marketing message now and again. This strategy might not get them ALL coffee drinkers as a direct audience (i.e., they won’t have a million coffee drinkers as “followers,” although they might have 1,000 aficionados). However, when the aficionados re-tweet or forward information from the brand to *their* followers, the brand now has earned the benefits that come with third party endorsements, which are much more powerful.
That said, I do enter some of the contests now and again. I doubt I’ll win an iPad as a result. But maybe. I do know that the brand that made me follow them in order to be eligible to win is unlikely to get a long-term follower out of me as a result. I haven’t seen one of the contest tweeters yet provide enough content to keep me interested.
I’m much more interested in the real people having a real dialog about what they (and I) love (even if that means I have to follow some of their silly foursquare meanderings). So, I follow people who love GR (because I do). I follow people who love PR (because I do). I might even follow some people who love hockey (because I do). I don’t follow people who cram the same message into my feed day after day, because they’re not honoring the social agreement — this is a two-way dialog, after all!
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.