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.

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!

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?

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!