Archive for March, 2010
Should Failure Be An Option for Communicators?
In mid-April, IT and mobile developers will gather in New York City to celebrate their failures. FAILfaire will feature an interactive discussion of #FAILed projects to help promote shared lessons and greater understanding of the challenges inherent in innovating. In an industry where the failure rate is estimated at 70 percent, it’s essential to learn from mistakes.
We’ve seen incredible advances in the communications profession over the past two decades, but are we sharing enough about what we’ve done wrong? When we see a story about a PR failure, do we applaud the risk-taker, or are we simply grateful that we were spared the same fate? Sure, we learn from each other’s mistakes, but do we also live in fear of making our own? Would our profession survive with a 70 percent fail rate? How many of us would lose our credibility or our jobs?
“If you’re not failing every now and again, it’s a sign you’re not doing anything very innovative.” – Woody Allen
If you’re ready to risk failure for a greater reward, consider these principles of innovation from The Center for Creative Leadership:
- Pay attention to the whole picture. Look deeply into a situation for new patterns and new opportunities. How can you add to an existing PR idea to make it more effective or unique?
- Value personal experience as much you’ve been taught to embrace research and best practices. Consider ideas, patterns or strands of insight from your whole life. Your experience as a guitar player could lead you to create a musical approach to a communications challenge.
- Use your imagination to answer the question “what if …” Get comfortable asking that question of your PR team.
- Spend some time in serious play. Business thinking and routine work can become a rigid process. Innovation requires bending some rules, branching out and having some fun.
- Collaborate. Innovations are rarely made by a “lone genius.” Insights come through thoughtful, non-judgmental sharing of ideas. Give up time-wasting procedural meetings for idea-generating, productive gatherings.
- Discourage “high-stakes” decision making. Innovation requires us to abandon either-or thinking and be open to a third or fourth, or currently non-existent solution.
Finally, don’t be afraid to do your profession a favor by sharing your communications mistakes. I, for one, look forward to learning from them…and sharing a few of my own.
Using Social Media as a Listening Post During Brand Crises
Even for those who don’t own a Toyota vehicle, car drivers (and passengers) have been fascinated by Prius’ brake failure problems and resulting recall and federal investigation. Product recalls pose enormous PR and reputation management challenges for communicators. History gives us great examples of crisis communication successes, such as Tylenol recall in 1982, as well as great failures, such as the Enron bankruptcy and scandal in 2001.
Like Rachael mentioned in her recent blog post, social media has changed the way we communicate crises information and resources. However, social media can also effectively manage brand crises for organizations too.
Take Toyota, for example. They turned to social media tools to navigate the hostile waters of frustrated car owners and a concerned public. As highlighted recently in Social Media Insider, Toyota launched Toyota Conversations to aggregate all recall news (internal and external) and the company’s communication channels on to one Web site. The site is powered by TweetMeme, and it’s designed to collect news, videos and images posted on Twitter about Toyota, the company’s official Twitter feed and other important news updates for Toyota car owners.
It is important to note that posts on Toyota Conversations are not moderated by Toyota. Instead, they allow positive and less flattering posts from Twitter recall conversations to be shared and public. In essence, this Web site serves as a “listening post” for Toyota communicators, helping them stay informed and in tune with what is being said and shared during the crisis.
Transparency is important for successful crisis communication efforts, and using social media tools to aggregate honest conversations (and frustrations) can help organizations recover from crises and allow brands to recover faster over time.
In response to the Social Media Insider post, Denise Morrissey of the Toyota Social Media Team commented:
We consider Toyota Conversations to be a natural extension of our efforts to not only provide information about the recalls but to also listen. The recall page at toyota.com is designed to provide information for consumers. Our newsroom is set up to provide information for both consumers and media. On Facebook, we are hosting a vibrant conversation with over 81,000 folks who’ve taken the time to join our page. We reach out to folks on a daily basis via Twitter regarding their concerns in the hopes we can provide additional information for their use. And we’ve used our YouTube account to post informational videos that have been viewed by tens of thousands of people.
Now we’ve launched Toyota Conversations as both a listening post and an opportunity for interested consumers to continue those conversations. Far from being “noise”, we believe this is a great opportunity for folks to read stories about the recall in one place – at this point, it’s probably the best compendium of recall-related news stories available. And, in addition, there are a multitude of links which point readers to more information in case they have further questions.
Like Denise reiterates, Toyota Conversations is only one part of Toyota’s overall social media strategy. She makes it clear that their social media team’s overall objective is to use these tools to listen to their customers and let their concerns and questions be heard.
Sometimes in crises, just being heard can soothe outrage. Once a crisis has passed, it can foster positive feelings about an organization. Social media can help organizations listen more closely to their audiences inner thoughts and feelings and take the temperature for how best to respond and move forward. We should all pay attention and take notes.
Social Media to the Rescue
More than ever, the world is turning to social media in times of crisis to share and find information. The devastating earthquake in Chile and subsequent tsunami warnings are perfect examples of social media’s power during a disaster. The world turned to Twitter and Facebook for real-time information about the earthquake and tsunami warnings that followed.
I was glued to Twitter after I heard about the earthquake – in fact, it is where I first learned that it happened – to gather information as it became available. Recently, it seems I find myself learning of news, both good and bad, via Twitter.
Twitter, Facebook, and several of Google’s properties aren’t trivial, now. They’re life-saving, informational tools…and now, news about those in Chile is traveling over the same digital pathways, with the same speed, reaching the same vast amount of people.
One of the most interesting tools in the article is Google Person Finder, which was also used after the earthquake in Haiti. It provides a central place for information about individuals that may be at risk during the earthquake or other disaster. People use Google Person Finder to either provide information about themselves or those they know, or to search for information about a party they’re concerned about.
It’s a very simple, bi-lingual tool, with two buttons: “I’m looking for someone” and “I have information about someone.” All information is entered into a central database, now consisting of over 22,000 records, that’s searched by name.
While the information on the app is unverified, it is current – and when information is constantly changing, any tool that can provide updated information is valuable.
Twitter was a valuable tool for Chilean earthquake survivors to let people know what is going on and that they are okay. Hashtags dedicated to the earthquake helped interested parties track updates from a wide variety of sources by setting up simple search filters to be notified when any updates occurred. Twitter’s real-time updates also prompted powerful organizations, like the Chilean Red Cross and Google, to use it to disseminate information.
Several different hashtags are being used as repositories of information, including #chile, #chilequake, and #terremotochile, and organizations like the Chilean Red Cross are issuing news updates via Twitter. Interestingly, Google Person Finder creates a link to a specific person’s entry, and Twitter seems to be one of the main ways those links are getting disseminated.
The recent earthquakes in Haiti and Chile demonstrate how social media users provide the world with up to the minute information from ground zero. They are extraordinary tools for crisis communications. It makes me wonder whether if, in a time of crisis, I would be tweeting and updating my Facebook status to let my family, friends and the world know that I am okay.
Google Buzz: Communication Strategies and Applications
In my last post on Google Buzz, I promised to provide some applications for organizations seeking to take advantage of this new social network. As the service expands, people will undoubtedly find ways to use Buzz that we can hardly imagine right now. But as promised, here are four easy steps you can take right now to start using Google Buzz to advance your communications objectives:
- Create a Google Account for your organization. Google Accounts have always given you access to a huge range of beneficial communications tools, such as Docs, Gmail, YouTube, and more. But Buzz gives you something new – it allows your account to broadcast your issues and priorities to a public audience. Think Twitter, but without the 140 character limit and with the ability to add photos, videos, audio, links and more. Create a Google Account for your organization, link your social media feeds and Google Reader to it, and begin sharing your message with the Google community. As with any social network, it may take awhile to build up your followers – but if you include links to your account on your other platforms and update with good content, they will come.
- Monitor clients and issues. The public forum is one of the most powerful features of Google Buzz. Not only does it allow you to broadcast, it allows you to monitor other users’ broadcasts. At the top of your Google Buzz window, there is a search field that allows you to comb through every Buzz post that has been made public. As users can sync multiple platforms to their Buzz account – such as Twitter, FriendFeed, Flickr, Google Reader, and others – this search is a powerful way of checking in to see what Google users are sharing with one another. A query on the “National Rifle Association” or “SEIU” yields countless public posts from across all of these social networks. Communicators can use this search to investigate how and why their clients are being mentioned or to better understand how an issue is being discussed.
- Identify network influentials. This is the next logical step from step two. Not only does the public search forum allow you to monitor issues or organizations, it also shows you the individuals that are generating conversations about those issues. Take prominent social media enthusiast Robert Scoble – each of his Buzz updates are generating comment threads that are longer than the original post. Using Buzz to keep close tabs on your issues or organization will show you which Google users care about your causes and which of them are generating conversation among their friends and followers. What’s more, for the most active users, you’ll be able to see each of their social media feeds in one place, allowing you to monitor their activity on multiple platforms.
- Engage the public. There are many ways that you can engage Buzz users. Follow users that share items on your issues. Then follow their Twitter feeds, Flickr albums, or anything else they’ve linked to Buzz. Some users tie Buzz directly to their email accounts, giving you the opportunity to reach out directly to those individuals you identify as valuable to your cause. If you’ve created a Google Account for your organization, you can make direct comments on relevant issues, clarify information, or provide greater resources for individuals that are already interested in what you have to say.
These are just a few ways you can get started with Buzz. Have other ideas that aren’t mentioned here? I’d love to hear them in the comments.
Using Online News Alerts and RSS Feed Readers to Track Legislation
This month, Senators Kerry, Lieberman and Graham will be releasing a new version of the climate change bill. This will be the third iteration of the climate change legislation – the most reviewed version being the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act (CEJAPA) – to enter committee review in the U.S. Senate in the past six months. The U.S. House of Representatives has already passed its version of the carbon cap-and-trade bill last year – the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES) – which also had several drafts before the final, approved version.
Thus, it is clear: before a climate bill reaches the President’s desk for signature, there have been multiple additions, deletions or complete rewrites of the legislation, as well as changes in policymakers’ positions and stakes on the proposed legislation.
With so many game changes and changers, how does an organization keep up? While companies like CapitolAdvantage provide software platforms to follow developments on the Hill, these options may be too pricey for non-profits. However, there are inexpensive ways to use existing Internet tools to help follow the action (or lack there of) in Congress on your target issues.
Organizations may already be using Internet news alerts, such as Google Alerts or Yahoo! Alerts, to follow media coverage of areas of interest, and utilizing RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feed readers, like Google Reader, to organize and track news alerts and updates from key outlets, blogs and Web sites. You can use these same tools to track federal and state legislation.
Creating news alerts with search terms related to a specific bill – such as the bill number, title, acronym, or even names of key legislators involved in the bill – will help organizations follow any updates about the legislation. Registering for RSS news feeds from Congressional or state committee Web sites and key policymakers publicly connected to the bill will keep organizations informed of developments prior to resulting media reports. Ultimately, you’re using these tools to track legislation online the same way you would track a news story online.
THOMAS - the Library of Congress legislation database – is a great resource for identifying search terms to use to track a specific federal bill. There are also wiki databases maintained by non-profit government watchdog groups, like OpenCongress, which can provide similar information, but may be less authoritative and should be used with caution.
Using alerts and RSS feed readers to keep your organization abreast of the ebbs and flows of policy issues or bills will make it easier to determine your positions, calls to action and when and how to best communicate them to key audiences.
Despite the myths, 501(c)3 organizations can lobby without losing their tax-exempt status. Visit the Center for Lobbying in the Public Interest for more information about IRS lobbying rules for non-profit organizations. You’ll be surprised at how much your organization is allowed to do to impact policy.
In the meantime – while you wait for your bill updates to arrive – here’s a refresher course on how bills become laws and the role we can play, with policymakers, to make them happen.
Ghostwriting for Social Media
I recently came across this article about the ethics of ghostwriting for a client on Twitter (UPDATE: the previous link is no longer active – you can view the Google cache of the article here). The client is an executive who wanted several staff members to tweet from his personal Twitter account during a conference because he was concerned that he would be unable to keep up with all of the tweets that should be sent out throughout the day. The executive instructed his staff to provide disclaimers noting that some of the tweets were not his own; they did so, providing a reminder once in every ten updates. From the article:
“The executive wants his tweet stream to reflect his activity at the show, and to highlight other happenings at the conference, as well. He’s concerned that he won’t be able to support this many obligations.”
While I fully understand the importance of a consistent stream of tweets with information that is important and relevant to followers, it may be confusing to have multiple people tweeting from one individual’s personal Twitter account. A strong alternative solution would be to create a separate Twitter account specifically for the conference or for the issue. An account that is not associated with one person can be updated by a team because the account’s “followers” do not expect to see the thoughts and opinions of one person.
“For the record, there was no pushback from the executive’s followers. Anyone who took the time to react to our approach seemed to appreciate the fact that, for a short time, his tweet stream became a mix of on-the-floor reporting by the exec, supplemented by dispatches from a third-party response team in marketing.”
The disclaimer helps – but if I am following an individual on Twitter that is an executive of a company, I expect to see that executive’s thoughts and not the thoughts of their PR team. This raises the question – if a person doesn’t have time to tweet, is it misleading for that individual to have a team updating their personal Twitter account, even if they are telling that team what to tweet?
An executive that is telling their team what to update on their behalf still represents the thoughts of that executive. In this instance, the argument can be made that the person who is physically typing and sending the tweet is unimportant because their followers are still seeing the thoughts of the person associated with the account. It would be naïve to think that every personal account on Twitter is updated solely by that individual – but is it the hope of all their followers that it is that individual typing and sending the tweets? And with reporters and media outlets paying greater attention to Twitter, what are the ethical concerns regarding updates attributed to individuals that come from a team of professional communicators?
Marian Anderson: Barrier-Breaking Contralto
“When I sing, I don’t want them to see that my face is black. I don’t want them to see that my face is white. I want them to see my soul. And that is colorless.” – Marian Anderson
Born in the heart of Philadelphia, Marian Anderson rose from humble beginnings to become recognized as one of America’s premier vocalists – and used her stunning contralto to promote racial harmony. When prevented from performing at Constitution Hall by the Daughters of the American Revolution in 1939, the resulting support of President and Eleanor Roosevelt led to an open-air performance at the Lincoln Memorial. The legendary concert attracted an integrated audience of 75,000 in still segregated Washington, D.C. Anderson continued to use her vocal talent to break racial barriers throughout her life, becoming the first African-American to perform with the New York Metropolitan Opera, serving as a singing cultural ambassadress for the U.S. Department of State, and appointed a representative to the Human Rights Committee of the United Nations by President Eisenhower. Anderson remained active in the Civil Rights Movement, giving benefit concerts and performing at the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Shortly thereafter, she became one of the 31 original recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Winning countless awards, Anderson enjoyed critical and cultural successes throughout her career, until her death in 1993. The “Marian Anderson Award,” originally established in 1943 by Anderson herself as a singing competition, was re-established in 1990. After her passing, the award was reformed to recognize “Artists Whose Leadership On Behalf Of A Humanitarian Cause or Issue Benefits Society.”