Don’t Call it a Comeback

Technically, I suppose you could call it a comeback.

I’m a little embarrassed that I left my blog to collect dust for the past year-plus.

Since I left you, the world has been filled with a whirlwind of activity. William and Kate married, dictators and terrorists were toppled, Beyonce and Jay-Z  had Blue Ivy, Heidi Klum and Seal divorced, The Dark Knight Rose and the U.S. won 46 gold medals at the Olympics in London.

My life has been a flurry of crazy, as well. I finished grad school, started a new job, got married and bought a house.

The recap alone makes me want to curl up in my Sunggie and take a nap.

I abandoned my blog because, let’s be honest, it was a grad school class requirement and I was soooo over it. I was glad to finally wash my hands of it.  But recently I decided that I should resurrect it. “Why?” you ask. Why not! I’ve decided it’s the perfect place to catalog pressing issues that occupy valuable real estate in my mind. Will Jennifer Aniston and Justin Theroux have a big wedding? How can I add volume to my hair (the higher the hair, the closer to God!)? And why can’t I find jeans that fit comfortably? You know, all of the critical thinking skills I developed in my undergrad journalism classes.

And with that, the blog returns. For now, at least. But I gave it a little makeover and delivered a hearty *face palm* to its original academic purpose. (Sorry, Professor Dittmer!) I promise to come back, and I hope you will too.

Un-regal Conduct

As Prince William and Kate Middleton’s royal wedding approaches, millions of us await with the giddiness of school girls. (Yeah, I said it! I’m giddy!) What will Kate’s dress look like? Will it rival the spectacle of Princess Diana’s gown? Who’s on the guest list? Are Jay-Z and Beyonce really performing at the reception? These are all questions that currently occupy a great deal of space in my brain. (Please stop judging me.) While many around the world wait to celebrate the royal pomp and circumstance, there are others who feel less festive. And according to reports, many in the latter group are expressing their disapproval – where else – on social media.

There are several groups threatening to disrupt the wedding, and they’re already getting the word out on Facebook. As if those in charge of wedding day security don’t have enough to worry about, they now have to keep an eye on Facebook news feeds to see how activists are organizing protests.  When Prince Charles and Lady Diana married back in 1981, Facebook was non-existent and security was much lighter. Politically and socially, it was a different time. Today, protestors can organize and mobilize in seconds with the click of a mouse.

Reportedly, London plans to spend $33 million on security for the big day. Let’s hope that’s enough to keep away anyone with an ax to grind.

Cracking the Code

As I learn more about QR codes, I can’t help but wonder why more communicators and marketers aren’t using them. I can probably count on one hand just how many QR codes I’ve seen around town.  It’s disappointing.

I happen to think that businesses are missing out. QR codes present an opportunity to do something different. How you use them is up to you. Much like a scavenger hunt, they deliver a certain element of surprise. Will the snapped code reveal info on a contest or prize? Will it deliver a fun fact about a specific topic? Or will it offer a special promotional code or discount?

They can be used in so many different ways, and companies that use them thoughtfully can set themselves apart from the competition. Now is the time to integrate QR codes into your social media strategy. Before long, they will catch on and everyone will be doing it. By then it may be too late because if there’s a surge in the use of codes, they may become “just another message” competing for attention among the noise.

Social Media in 2012: I Approve This Message

Social media is already gaining steam in the 2012 presidential campaign. Today, President Barack Obama held a live Facebook town hall meeting. The influence on that stage was immeasurable. The President, one of the most powerful men in the world, sat next to Mark Zuckerberg – the Facebook CEO who connects hundreds of millions of people across the world. That’s powerful.

During the 2008 presidential campaign, then-Senator Obama managed to do what other politicians had not attempted to do. He leveraged social media and raised major campaign dollars and grassroots support. His communication staffers clearly had a strategy, and we had never seen anything like it before in a political race. Facebook helped the Obama campaign to mobilize the masses. And to some degree, it was likely a defining factor in the outcome of the race.

Politics aside, one has to acknowledge the finesse of the Obama campaign’s social media strategy.  Organizers reached millions of people in a simple, direct way. That was years ago. And in all likelihood, the communication’s approach for the current campaign will be even more successful. Obama’s ’08 social media strategy illustrated what’s possible. His challengers have, undoubtedly, taken note and are prepared to launch similar tactics. The question now: will the Obama campaign continue to set the standard and force challengers to keep up? Time will tell.

Wanna Get Away?

Southwest Airlines has experienced turbulence for the past few days. On Friday, one of its Boeing 737s sustained a hole in its roof during a flight from Phoenix to Sacramento. Since then, the airline has grounded dozens of planes and canceled hundreds of flights. Yes, Southwest reps probably wanna get away. But instead, they’ve been front and center on social media.

If you check out the airline’s Facebook and Twitter pages, you’ll see the masses have logged on and chimed in. Some of the discussions are productive and insightful. The rest are uninformed. Much to the credit of Southwest’s social media management, they’ve left all of the messages. Generally, most people instinctively want to get rid of posts they consider to be critical or unfavorable. Yet, Southwest didn’t delete. It let the conversations play out.

The airline has also used social media to get out valuable information. Tweets and Facebook posts offer updates on inspections; they also answer passengers’ questions about rescheduling canceled flights. Southwest has provided regular updates to traditional media outlets as well. In the midst of a crisis, Southwest has made it a priority to communicate well, a critical step in protecting its brand.

Willing to Commit?

Social media is a big commitment, and one should not enter into it lightly. Starting a blog, Facebook or Twitter account and waiting for the clicks to pour in will likely result in heartbreak and disappointment. Like any relationship, you have to invest. Your contribution must be worthwhile or else the relationship will be doomed. Simply put, you need a strategy. After all, everything in life that’s worthwhile requires thought and effort.

First, invite feedback. Social media should be used to engage audiences instead of simply broadcasting messages. A Facebook poll is an easy way to gauge how people feel about a topic. When people sense their opinions matter, they’re more likely to open up. Remember, it’s not all about you.

Second, be yourself. Audiences can’t get to know you if you don’t show personality. Leading with jargon or stats is a drag. You wouldn’t want to be cornered by that guy or gal at a dinner party, and you certainly wouldn’t “friend” or “follow” them on social media. Loosen up, be human and prove your business has personality in addition to a sought after product or service.

Third, evolve. Educate yourself. Stay on top of what’s going on in the world around you. Provide links to articles and information that audiences may find valuable. These links serve a few purposes. They act as citation for the info you’ve just provided. They also increase your audience’s understanding of a topic while inviting conversation. Lastly, they encourage others to link to you. Reciprocity is a key strategy to social media, and reciprocity, after all, is a must in all successful relationships.

You Might As Well Join ‘Em

Social media has created a unique dynamic between organizations and audiences. Twitter, Facebook and other channels have resulted in a power shift. Organizations no longer hold all the cards. They’re now at the mercy of legions of mouse clickers who have social media accounts. And like it or not, these web surfers and their opinions are here to stay. One minute, they’re showering you with kudos. The next, they’re soaking you with criticism.

So what’s a communicator to do? I say since you can’t beat ‘em (and you can’t!), join ‘em.  Strategize. Figure out a way to make social media work for you. It’s impossible to control what people are saying on Facebook, Twitter, You Tube, etc., but you can influence it. Audience comments – snarky and supportive – don’t have to be the final word. This is your chance to engage in conversation. Process feedback and respond appropriately. Effective communication, after all, is about two-way exchange of thoughts and information. Seize the opportunity to spruce up social media accounts with the right content to influence conversation. Think about what your audience values, and produce content to meet their needs. They may even thank you on a post or a Tweet.

The Rules of Engagement

The thought of social media triggers wailing and gnashing of teeth among many in management. Some anxiety is justified. After all, words have power. In a company-setting, a questionable Tweet or post could produce backlash. That’s a problem. So what’s the solution? You could put the screws to employees and forbid them to publish comments on social media — professional or personal. But that’s bad for morale. And when management dampens the spirits of employees, Facebook and Twitter are often the first places workers go to unleash a good old-fashion rant. Now you’ve inadvertently created a new problem. So consider an educational, yet empowering, approach: social media guidelines. Create a policy that lets employees know what is and isn’t appropriate online. This doesn’t mean developing guidelines so strict that even a simple LOL post on a cute kitten photo needs clearance from a minimum of three supervisors. That’s extreme. However, there is room for parameters. Simply, explain the rules of engagement.

There is no such thing as a one-size fits all social media policy. Some companies will craft policies that put a greater focus on legal consequences. Others may emphasize the value of branding or reaching goals. Your social media policy will likely be a reflection of the values your company holds near and dear.

One guideline that fits well in every organization’s policy is full disclosure of identity.  The people you interact with online need to know who you are representing. If you withhold that tidbit and they find out later, they may construe your behavior as shady. A little transparency will go a long way. After all, social media is intended to engage. If you alienate your publics, then you’ve defeated the purpose.

So it’s ok. Take a breath. Set aside your fears and take control of  your messaging.

What’s Your Measuring Stick?

 

These days, social media is a must for all companies. If you don’t have a website, Facebook page, Twitter account, blog, etc., then you’re behind the curve. Way behind it, in fact. But there’s an offense that’s perhaps even worse: having social media accounts but failing to measure them. [Insert audible gasp here!] I suspect this offense happens far more often than it should.

Companies in the know, know that social media strategies, like all other business strategies, must be measured to determine their effectiveness. Otherwise, it’s wasted effort. But remember, the best measuring sticks have very little to do with the number of clicks, eyeballs, fans, followers, etc., that peruse a site. Instead, organizations that want results should measure outcomes or actions. Set realistic, measurable objectives first.  Then you can start to determine whether your goals are being met.

Measurement isn’t as hard as it seems. There are a number of metrics services that will happily crunch the numbers for you. Even a basic blog like this one has measurement capabilities. I’m relatively new to the world of blogging, analytics and so forth, so I had to do a little researching. WordPress provides stats to users who plug into their stat system. Truth be told, readership of my modest, little blog is small. Very small. (Hi, Mom!). I’m hoping to grow it by linking my blog to my Facebook and Twitter accounts. Eventually, as I find my voice and readership increases *fingers crossed*, I will be able to track important data to help me better understand my audience and their preferences. Wish me luck 🙂

The Google Gauge

I’m new to Google Analytics. I can’t lie; at first glance it looked a little overwhelming. Then I took a deep breath and approached it one sentence at a time.  Now I see it has value – a lot of value. For organizations that believe in business strategies with measurable objectives, it’s a no brainer. Google Analytics keeps tabs on several performance indicators like number of visitors, return visitors and the amount of time spent on each page. That’s basic info. Users also have the option to delve deeper. You can even set measurable goals to gauge your company’s success. Measurable objectives, after all, are imperative to every brand’s bottom line. It’s been said that metrics are meaningful when they “help you glean insights, not just data.”

Google Analytics is a solid way to begin tracking stats about the people who visit your organization’s website. Plus, it’s free so there’s no harm done to the budget. Many other sites that track web trends do require a fee which makes Google Analytics worth looking into, especially for organizations that may be new to tracking stats and want to ease into the number-crunching world of metrics.