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Marketing, community, support or all of the above?

Something has been gnawing at me for a while, and after a great conversation over brunch with Ferg Devins today I’m feeling inspired to throw this out there.

“When I was your age…”

Source: halfpastawesome.com

Source: halfpastawesome.com

I first got into “social media” somewhere around eight years ago – first for my own interest and then – soon after – as part of my job. Like many other people at the time, I was interested in the humanizing effect that social media could have for companies. While companies were previously faceless, anonymous entities, suddenly they could have a face, and interact with the people who cared about them.

Over the last few years, social media has evolved away from this – away from personal interaction, and towards what is increasingly push marketing.

Is this a good thing? Let’s take a quick look at the differences before making that call… (warning: hyper-generalized summaries ahead)

As I mentioned earlier, many of those of us who got into the social media space early did so because we appreciated the opportunity to help companies connect with people in a meaningful way. Sometimes that meant interesting conversations; sometimes it meant helping them with a problem; either way it meant interactions with substance. This early focus on relationships, reputation and engagement led social media to naturally lean towards driving loyalty and affinity with brands over time.

Marketing Funnel

Source: adamhcohen.com

While public relations practitioners were early out of the blocks on social, the last few years have seen a shift of budgets towards marketing organizations, and money talks – their role has become increasingly prevalent in social for many companies. That’s not surprising, nor is it an inherently bad thing.

Marketing objectives generally focus on sales – demand gen, acquisition, etc. For consumer-focused companies, many of whom are the heaviest investors in social media, that means reaching people at scale and driving them towards purchase.

The easiest way to visualize this shift is to look at the traditional marketing funnel.

Early social media activities focused more on two areas of the funnel – consideration and – critically – loyalty/advocacy. Communities in particular were by their nature filled with people who already have an affinity or interest in your product, right?

Over time I’ve seen more and more organizations shift the focus from the latter to further up the funnel, primarily on consideration (still) but also awareness and conversion, as companies began to treat social networks as another sales and acquisition channel.

At the same time, the community-building interactions that drove many of us to this space have dwindled with a lot of companies.

Marketing, community or both?

I’m not sure that we should choose between the two, or that one is ‘better’ than the other. In fact, I would argue that organizations really CAN’T choose to only focus on one point in the funnel – and this is where a lot of teams fall down.

People don’t care what department runs social media. I couldn’t care less if you’re in PR, social, digital or anywhere else in the company. You know what I care about as a customer? I care about whether you can meet whatever need I have at that moment in time. In particular, if I need help, I want you to help me. I don’t give a damn about the fact that you’re in marketing – you’ve set up a presence in a two-way channel, and if you don’t use it as a two-way channel then I’m going to judge you accordingly.

I’ve argued many times over the years that customer service IS marketing in today’s environment. I even did an interview on City TV arguing as much back in 2010. If you do well, more people than ever will see it and give you credit for it. If you screw up, more people than ever will see it (just ask British Airways). This is leading more and more organizations to shift customer support into the marketing function.  

So, the problem comes when organizations decide to ONLY focus on content, and to avoid investing in/committing to community management. This happens a lot, as community management tends to get lumped in with content marketing when it comes to measuring social. The reality, though, is that “social media” encompasses multiple functions and while they need to integrate, we need to measure them against the objectives of each of those functions – sales, loyalty and advocacy alike. 

So, this shift towards marketing isn’t a bad thing – it can be a very good thing… unless it comes at the expense of everything else.

Only by recognizing the differences between the different aspects of social, and that we have no option but to embrace them, can we hope to get back to what got many of us into social media in the first place – meaningful, substantial connections with the people who care about the company, and who the company cares about in return.

What say you?

How Lean In got me thinking

If you haven’t read Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In, you probably should. It’s an entertaining and insightful read that raises as many questions as it answers about the challenges women face in the workplace. It mixes research with anecdotes, and does so in an easy-to-read style that is self-deprecating and insecure enough to avoid crossing the line into preachy.

I’m fortunate to work at Edelman, a company that pays close attention to gender issues. We’ve made a commitment at the very highest levels to increasing the proportion of women in leadership roles to 50% by 2017, and backed that up by establishing the Global Women’s Executive Network (GWEN). We’ve also been recognized as one of the best workplaces in Canada for women (happily also one of the best workplaces in general).

I’ve just finished the book, I’ve already found that I’ve begun consciously thinking differently about numerous situations.

A few insights that I’m paying close attention to:

1. Assertiveness is not a weakness

Sandberg argues that women are held to a different standard to men when it comes to assertiveness. Among men, assertiveness is often seen as a desirable attribute. In contrast, among women it is often seen as a weakness. I’ve begun paying close attention to any discussion around assertiveness in the workplace, and as a result have been able to push back on or re-examine situations where people have cited assertiveness as a challenge. Interestingly, and consistent with Sandberg’s observations, these observations come just as frequently from other women as they do from men in the workplace.

2. Encourage inclusivity

Sandberg cites incidents that led her to think differently about “sitting at the table” – situations where she literally sat at the back of the room versus at the meeting room table, and how she’s been fortunate to work with people who pushed her out of her comfort zone and encouraged her to participate. She also notes that some apparently equitable approaches to encouraging participation can unintentionally reinforce exclusion for people (as an introvert, I can empathize with the challenges of participating in group environments as she describes).

This has led me to pay more attention to encouraging people to “lean in” to situations (and to prod them in that direction at times). It has also led me to consider additional techniques for encouraging contributions from team members who might not be comfortable in a group context.

3. People without families deserve their own time, too

Sandberg points out that a woman not having a partner or children does nothing to diminish the value of their time outside work. This is something that I’ve been conscious of for a while after a team member made the point very well to me early in my time at Edelman, but Lean In put it back in focus for me. We need both to stop judging people who are in this situation, whether by choice or circumstance, and to avoid placing a different value on their time.

Sandberg notes that while it is important that women feel able to leave the office in time to have dinner with their children; at the same time, she also notes that it is important that women without families feel able to leave work to participate in their own commitments without a feeling of guilt.

Happily we have some great role models for the former in our workplace, with senior women who place great importance on spending time with their children while also succeeding in their roles, including several members of our office’s leadership team who really exemplify this approach to me. I’m hoping to do more to encourage the latter among my team too.

4. Mentors are important

I’ve been privileged to act as a mentor for a number of young professionals in the last few years. Lean In reinforced the importance of this for me, with an interesting (and surprising, to me) assertion that it can be beneficial for a woman’s mentor to be a man. I’m not entirely sure about that last part, but either way it’s reinforced my commitment to investing my time to mentor others. It’s also led me to think proactively about encouraging managers and team members to find a mentor to support them in their careers.

5. People can sometimes self-sabotage

While I’m happy to work at a company that is putting a sustained effort behind addressing gender inequality, institutional challenges for women continue to abound in society. The majority of the things I’ve taken away from Lean In pertain to how I can become more self-aware about my own behaviour or unconscious biases. However, Sandberg’s observations on the way that women can also actually sometimes sabotage their own careers were fascinating to me too.

Sandberg ovserved that women who are looking ahead to having children in the near term sometimes avoid taking on challenging assignments in the year or two before that time comes – they’ll “take their foot off the gas”. That can unnecessarily hinder their advancement – not just over that time but as a consequence over the longer duration of their careers.

I haven’t yet knowingly encountered this situation, but I do work with a number of young, successful women who likely have these choices ahead of them. I intend to keep an eye open for this kind of situation and to help those around me to know that they don’t have to take their foot off the gas and that either choice is okay, and to work to ensure that we have a workplace that freely enables these choices .

Keeping my mind open

I was fortunate to attend the annual gala for the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression last night, which had the tagline “what you don’t know CAN hurt you.” I think that rings very true here. There are plenty of other points in Lean In that I’m sure people will think are more central to its concept than the ones above. I’m also conscious that Sandberg’s book has been quite contentious among some groups, and I’ve read some scathing reviews from those who think it oversimplifies things. However, these ideas have so far stuck in my head and I think that’s a positive thing.

For these points alone, reading Lean In has already been time well spent for me.

If you’ve read Lean In, what stood out in the book for you?

Content Calendars Aren’t Evil – They’re Just Abused

My friend Jeremy thinks content calendars are evil. I disagree: I think content calendars are useful tools, but they’re consistently and brutally abused to the point where they can seem evil.

Content calendars are here to stay

Like it or not, content calendars aren’t going anywhere any time soon:

Most companies are still trying to break outside the mold of corporate approvals. Legal and compliance loom large and it can take a long time to develop the trust needed for them to step back. Clients’ need to micro-manage content for fear of inappropriate content making its way online is another significant factor. Frankly, as an agency guy the risk of bypassing those approvals  is too high to be worthwhile anyway.

It’s important to keep one eye on the big picture. Avoiding planning and taking a day-to-day approach runs the risk of veering away from a strategic approach to content and towards a purely tactical, reactive approach. It’s all too easy to find yourself responding to day-to-day business demands (promote this or that sales message; promote this campaign, etc.) and lose track of the big-picture approach which is rarely so sales-driven.

Content calendars enable consistency across channels. Not that companies should ignore the differences between audiences on their different social channels (you’ve done that research on your communities, right?), but consistency can be helpful when coordinating programs.

So, the key is learning how to use them effectively, rather than become slaves to them. With that said, many people right now are either beholden to their calendars, or mistreat them to the point of abuse.

The Three Abuses of Content Calendars

1. Setting it and forgetting it

Too many people think that once they have a content calendar developed and approved, then they’re all set. However, a content calendar is really just a framework for the time period. Every piece of content should be re-evaluated at the beginning of the day when it due to go live, and again immediately beforehand.

Not every company has the resources to adopt a full always-on Creative Newsroom approach; but if you’re going to invest time and money in social media then you should take the time to ensure that what you’re posting is appropriate at the time and not just when you’re planning it.

2. Content calendar as a crutch

Real-Time Content

A content calendar isn’t the full extent of the content that you post. As I noted in a presentation at Social Media Week Toronto this year, companies should aim to leave room for 10-20% of their content to capitalize on relevant news, events and audience-relevant topics alongside their planned content.

3. Using the calendar as a hammer when you really need a screwdriver

Your content calendar is a specific tool for a specific purpose. It’s great for reviewing content schedules over time, and for seeing that bigger picture. Sadly, though, it’s also (as Jeremy notes) often used for copywriting, content editing and many other tasks. This can get messy and complicated, especially if you’re trying to coordinate multiple simultaneous calendars for multiple programs. Your content calendar shouldn’t be a one-stop shop for every content need – other tools make better sense and will drive you less batty in doing so.

This abuse extends to the software itself too. Excel is great for checking post lengths or combining copy with links, but if you’re trying to write content in excel or you’re trying to review creative assets through it, you’re in for a world of hurt. I’m yet to find an off-the-shelf solution that works for everything (although I do like Divvy HQ), so unless you can build your own tool then you’re likely to end up with a mash-up of various others.

Content calendars aren’t evil

All in all, Content calendars aren’t evil; they can serve a valuable purpose. The problem comes when people use the calendar for the wrong ends.

It’s like Carrie (pop culture reference, ahoy) – the poor innocent calendar gets pushed to the point where it breaks, and everyone thinks it’s evil.

Stop blaming the tool; start blaming the abusers.

Where were you when the power went out?

Ten years ago today, the power went out across the Northeast and Midwest US and across Ontario, Canada. Wikipedia tells me it was the second most widespread blackout in history at the time. It took two days for many people to get their power back.

Licks Hamburgers in Barrie

Licks Hamburgers in Barrie

I remember exactly where I was ten years ago when this happened. I’ll always remember, as it’s a reminder to me of where I’ve been in life and how much things have changed since then.

I was sitting in Licks Hamburgers in Barrie, Ontario. I had just moved permanently (I hoped) to Canada after graduating University, had zero money in the bank and was working a door-to-door sales job to pay the rent of my windowless basement apartment in Thornhill. 14 hours a day, often 7 days a week – rain or shine. 100% commission – if I didn’t sell anything, I made nothing. That day I was selling Domino’s Pizza coupons in Barrie. It was steaming hot outside, and I was wearing a full suit and tie.

To be completely honest, it was right in the middle of one of the worst periods of my life.

I remember that as soon as the power went out, the restaurant manager kicked everyone out of the store for health and safety reasons. I spent the afternoon trying to sell pizza coupons to people who would ask me, “don’t you realize there’s a power outage?” My response would be, “well then you’re not missing anything on TV while you’re talking to me, are you?” As I remember, I made about $60 that day.

Two months later, I quit that job. Five months later, I got a temp gig in the Ontario Government – days before I was due to fly back to the UK because I was about to run out of money. I postponed my flight, and never took that return leg. I haven’t looked back since that day.

Feels like a lifetime ago. How things have changed. I guess I can feel pretty good about the last ten years.

Where were you when the power went out? What has changed for you since then?

Should “they” be allowed to use social media? Who are “they”?

So Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad is using Instagram to paint a more rosy picture of his presidency than the civil war-torn images we see every day in the news. Images of Al-Assad at official meetings, visiting school kids and at a wounded person’s hospital bedside are clearly intended to humanize the president, as are the numerous images of Al-Assad’s wife in a photo op at a community group.

Image from SyrianPresidency Instagram account

Image from SyrianPresidency Instagram account

Kate Knibbs at Digital Trends takes a cynical view, noting, “Looking at Assad’s Instagram account, you’d think he was third cousins with Mother Theresa instead of the son of a dictator, leading one side of an intensely bloody conflict.”

Shel Holtz and Neville Hobson, on the For Immediate Release podcast, are a little more practical, noting that while people like Al-Assad and Chechnyan president Ramzan Kadyrov (also mentioned in the Digital Trends post) may be widely regarded negatively, they employ people who are just as digitally-savvy as many of us.

While I sat with a look of distaste on my face at the clear propaganda as I browsed the account (which has about 32,000 followers at time of writing), it occurred to me:

How is this any more wrong than any government using social media?

Sometimes it’s easy to forget that there are two sides to any story.

Crawling through the Cu Chi Tunnels

Crawling through the Cu Chi Tunnels. People used to live in here. Terrifying.

I just returned from vacation in Vietnam, where the “American War” is still fresh in many memories. While there, we visited the War Remnants Museum and the Reunification Palace in Ho Chi Minh City, the Viet Cong tunnels at Cu Chi, the War Museum in Hue and the Hoa Lo Prison in Hanoi. The picture of the war I got through these sites was starkly different to that we see in North America.

Which of these sides of the story is right? While I was conscious that much of what I saw was very one-sided, it also made me wonder how one-sided the picture that we have of other events is.

In this case, how is Al-Assad using social media wrong while Barack Obama, Stephen Harper and David Cameron can use it?

I’m certainly not comparing these people to Al-Assad – and in no way am I making any argument about his offline actions. The reaction to his Instagram account certainly got me thinking, though – who gets to determine who the “bad guys” are, and what they can or can’t do online?

How should we feel about it when the “bad guys” do what our own leaders do every day?

Thoughts on Boston

I don’t know what I’m going to write here today; I just know that I need to write something – to get it out of my head – after the horror of yesterday.

Close to home

Explosion at the Boston Marathon

Explosion at the Boston Marathon

Like many people around the world, I stood glued to reports of the terrible bombings in Boston yesterday. I saw the early reports emerge on Twitter, and soon enough there was almost nothing else in my feeds. I went for a run after work, and kept thinking about the horrible scene in Massachusetts. I went home, and sat staring at the TV for hours, watching the reports come in. I spent half the night reading Reddit threads outlining the heroism of people on the scene.

Five years ago I ran the Boston Marathon. It was one of the happiest days of my life. The feeling of warmth, welcoming and acceptance from the start to the finish was something I haven’t witnessed anywhere else, and certainly not in any Toronto races. People lined the streets for the full 26.2 miles, handing out refreshments and encouragement to runners. My (now) wife met me at the top of Heartbreak Hill. It was a wonderful, wonderful day and the city and people of Boston will forever hold a place dear in my heart as a result.

Perhaps because of this, yesterday’s terror struck home a little too close for me. I was, and still am, surprised by how much it affected me. Perhaps it was because of the my experience in 2008; perhaps because so many people I know were on the course yesterday. It probably sounds silly, but it felt like an attack on a little piece of me.

Happily all of my friends were safe and unharmed. My heart goes out to the victims and families of those who were killed or injured.

Questioning

Beyond the worry for the people involved and the anger at those responsible, I worry about what this means for future events. Will the Boston Marathon bounce back? What does this mean for future sporting events? It’s pretty much impossible to secure a 26-mile stretch of road; what does that mean for other races?

I also began to feel conflicted. Three people died and over 130 were injured. That’s horrible… but why was I feeling so affected by this and less by the hundreds of people killed in other incidents around the world every day? The shooting at Sandy Hook killed 26 people. Again, I was mortified about that but given that 8 times as many people died there, should I care 8 times as much about that? What if I didn’t – what does that say about me? Am I right to feel more affected by this? I don’t know.

The best and the worst

Police officers reacting to the Boston Marathon bomb attack

Police officers reacting to the Boston Marathon bombs

Yesterday brought out the best in our society. The number of heroes who ran towards the blasts to help people was astonishing and heart-warming. There are images – too graphic to show here (here’s a link – be warned) – of a guy literally holding someone’s artery to stop them bleeding out as they wheeled him to… I’m not sure where. A medical tent or an ambulance, I guess. Apparently the guy made it – given the extent of his injuries, that’s wonderful. Moments like that really show the good in our world.

Sadly, yesterday brought out some scary parts of our society too. I was happy to see that news outlets held back from labeling it a certain way until the authorities began to do so. Yet before long, I started to see the assumptions being thrown around. I saw a CBC interview with an FBI agent who said it was too early to say who was responsible but it could be Muslim extremists, or Al Qaeda. While saying we shouldn’t jump to conclusions, he re-raised that possibility twice more in the interview.

I posted a message of tolerance on Facebook; one commenter responded that “it is always the same religion that perpetrates these atrocities” – something that just isn’t true (think Oklahoma, or Atlanta, or even Sandy Hook).

A Muslim friend of mine – who I won’t name – told me yesterday that he has been called a terrorist twice in his life. The first time was in 2001; the second time was yesterday. That horrifies me.

I don’t know who did this. Maybe it was a religious group. Either way, it won’t change how I feel towards other people of that religion — regardless of which one it is — because I know the vast majority of people, regardless of religion, are kind, gentle and well-meaning.

Hope

I don’t know the answers to the questions I posed earlier. Perhaps I’ll have thoughts in the days ahead. I do know, however:

  1. I hope the people injured in yesterday’s attacks recover, and that no-one else loses their life.
  2. I hope the authorities catch the person or people responsible for this and that they are brought to justice.
  3. I hope that our society can refrain from allowing the people involved — Christian, Muslim, or any other religion; political or apolitical — to tar entire social groups or religions with the same brush. I hope we can recognize that the acts of a few don’t represent the beliefs of many.
  4. I hope we don’t let this put a chill on large public events. If the people responsible succeed in striking terror into our hearts and in making us reconsider these most positive of ways of coming together then they’ve won.
  5. I hope the Boston Marathon goes on. It’s a wonderful event that brings thousands of people together each year in a very, very positive way.

 

 

15 top tips for a successful PR career

One of the things I enjoy most nowadays is having the opportunity to speak to the future leaders of the PR profession when they’re starting out. One of the questions I often get asked is “what tips would you offer to get ahead in this field?”

Now that spring has sprung (at least, it’s trying to) and students are turning their minds to life after school, I thought it might be timely to offer some of that advice up here.

Here are 15 top tips for success in a public relations career. Funnily enough, I’d give the same advice to someone 10 years into their career, like me, too:

Keen student

Never stop learning.

1. Be a sponge

Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it made the PR pro. Whether you’re just starting out or if you’ve been in the business for years, it’s incumbent upon you to constantly learn in order to stay on top of our industry. Never stop being curious.

2. Stay on top of the news

Make time to stay on top of current events. Read a newspaper (online or offline). Set up news alerts for your company and/or your clients. Listen to the radio or to podcasts about industry news. Watch the news in the morning. Whatever approach you choose, it will make you more interesting and it will make you better at your job. Consider it an investment.

3. Focus on details

Nothing hurts the credibility of a pitch, a proposal or a program like sloppy mistakes. Meanwhile, people who become known for outrageous attention to detail become go-to people in a team. Be that person. Read and re-read your work. Be your own devil’s advocate in order to think things through and make sure you’ve covered all of the angles. Double-check your calculations. Question your assumptions.

4. Learn to juggle

This one applies especially to agency folks, but it goes across the board. Learn how to prioritize, how to focus when you need to and how to manage your time. Life in PR is a juggling act, and you need to know how to manage your workload and the expectations of your clients – however you define them.

5. Learn to write

Zombies have crappy grammar.

Zombies have crappy grammar.

Take the time to learn how to write well. Practice. Learn from others. Take a course if you need to (I recommend the eight-step editing course by the Editors’ Association of Canada, but there are many others).

Critically for many new graduates, you may need to unlearn what your professors taught you in university. Short paragraphs, short sentences and clear language help you to convey your point much more easily than the reverse.

Oh, and if you could put “by zombies” at the end of a phrase, it’s passive. Make it active.

6. Embrace numbers

Measurement has been a weak point in the PR profession for a long time. Nowadays, companies demand more. This is especially the case for social and paid media programs. The days of output-focused measurement are numbered, and outcome-focused measurement is on the rise. You don’t need to be an expert in dissecting website traffic (especially if you have a measurement team supporting you), but you should know the basics and know how to coach clients and people within your organization on how to approach measurement effectively.

7. Measure through the lifecycle

Measure throughout the program lifecycle.

Measure throughout the program lifecycle.

Measurement is so much more than reporting, and companies are demanding more from PR measurement nowadays. Know how to take full advantage of the potential that measurement holds throughout a program:

  • Inform your objectives (setting realistic goals, fueled by insights from past programs)
  • Fuel your planning (again, with insights from past work)
  • Identify and help to address issues mid-flight
  • Measure results and generate new insights to fuel future work

(more on this in my  recent presentation on Social Media at Scale that I gave at PodCamp Toronto)

8. Provide solutions

Tough challenges are a fact of life in the PR industry, where the role of communications is often to help to change behaviour or perception. That’s difficult. Few things will endear you to your boss more than this: become the person who comes forward with solutions alongside their problems. It doesn’t have to be the solution they choose (that helps, though), but the fact that you’re thinking it through and considering solutions demonstrates the kind of mindset that managers adore.

9. Learn to stay level-headed

PR pros have to deal with difficult situations come up all the time, many of which can’t be predicted. These are moments where you can distinguish yourself and improve your reputation, or the reverse. Be the person who doesn’t lose their head. Stay calm and focus on solutions (per the earlier point). Remember: frantic doesn’t mean effective.

10. Know what you don’t know

Self-awareness is a valuable trait, regardless of where you are in your career. Be humble enough to know when you’re out of your depth, and to learn from those who have experience in areas you don’t. Whatever you do, make sure that when when you find yourself in that situation you don’t sit, paralyzed, until it’s too late for anyone to help you.

Bonus points for thinking things through ahead of time and coming prepared with a suggestion: “I’m not sure of the best approach here… here’s what I’m thinking… what do you think?”

11. Learn the difference between objectives, strategy and tactics

Nothing makes me cringe more than seeing people confuse objectives, strategy and tactics with each other.

Simply put:

  • Objectives are what you need to accomplish. They should relate to business goals.
  • Strategies are how you plan to accomplish them. They should drive toward the objectives.
  • Tactics are the actions you take. They should funnel up to the strategy.

Learn it. Preach it.

(Read more on how to set better objectives or download my ebook on communications planning for more pointers)

12. Become a trusted advisor

Whether you’re dealing with executives in your company, or with clients at other firms, strive to become a trusted advisor to them. Go beyond what you “have” to do and become a partner. Flag opportunities and threats. Offer strategic opinions. Learn to empathize with them. Have difficult conversations when you need to. Push them to take the right approach (but know when to accept their decision).

Don’t just take orders.

13. Learn from your mistakes

Accept that you’ll make mistakes. We all make them, and they’re a key piece of how we learn and improve.If you don’t make mistakes then you’re not trying hard enough or not trying enough things. The key is to make them at the right time, in the right setting, and to learn from them. Conversely, people who constantly shirk responsibility for mistakes, or make excuses, will never learn.

Some of my most valuable lessons, and most beneficial experiences, have come from making mistakes. They weren’t pleasant at the time, but I learned from them and I’m better for it. What’s important is owning them and figuring out what to do differently next time.

14. Think outside your bubble

It’s easy to get caught-up in your day-to-day routine. Instead, look around and proactively identify ways to expand your expertise. That could be by finding new ways to get better at tasks, or by getting involved in a project that stretches you, or by learning more about a relevant field.

15. Understand converged media

This point began life as “understand social media” but nowadays it’s broader than that. Start with understanding social media – monitor and participate in relevant conversations; think about how your programs might play out in social channels and so on. Social is just the beginning now, though. The key nowadays is understanding how earned, owned and paid media play together. You don’t need to be an expert in all of them, but you do need to understand how to leverage them.

There you have it – 15 tips for success in PR. What would you add to the list?

Choices and Lessons

Chris Brogan‘s latest weekly newsletter was around the subject of choice. You can read it over on his site, too, if you like. In it, he talks about the importance of remembering that you have a choice, and that a negative impulse ‘in the moment’ can lead you away from the path you want to be on.

Choices

I wholeheartedly agree with Chris’ sentiment. I also think we can go a step further and apply this beyond a single moment. We can ask, “What choices did we make that led us here, now?” because the most powerful thing you can do when something goes wrong is to look back and ask yourself what choices you made that led things to go wrong.

“I was late because the bus was really slow today.” Well, did you leave enough time in case the bus was slow?

I remember, whenever I was a child and my mum took me to the train station for an important trip, we’d always leave about 40 mins before the train was due to arrive. I never liked it it was a 10 minute drive so this it meant I had to stop whatever I was doing earlier than I needed to. Still, we’d leave early every time. She explained to me that she was leaving enough time to walk there if our aging and somewhat unreliable car wouldn’t start. This is one of those silly little things that stuck with throughout the years. I apply that lesson all the time nowadays… and I’m rarely late.

Your project is behind schedule because approvals took a long time? OK, were we realistic about those timelines? Did we brief the client properly so they knew how long bit might take? Did we make sure we let them know how long they had? What could we choose to do differently next time?

So when someone points the finger at things out of their control, I think back to that lesson. “Did you do everything in your control to prevent that from happening?” I ask the question of myself and I ask it of my team at work, all the time. Not because we need to assign blame, but so we can get better an improve next time. Another important lesson: blame takes us backward; lessons take us forward.

Asking the question about our choices lets us learn those lessons.

(Side note: I receive a lot of emails — somewhere in the region of 200-300 on an average day. Chris’ newsletter is one that I find time to read – every week. You should too. It’s interesting, friendly, easy to read and it makes me think. Plus, Chris is a nice guy and I want to know what he’s up to.)

(Image: Flickr, via CrazyFast)

From One to a Million: Managing Social Media at Scale

What if you had to re-examine your assumptions around social media? What if, instead of thinking about conversations in ones and twos, you had to think about them in thousands and tens of thousands? What if you had to manage dozens or hundreds of properties, and millions of fans? What would change?

Last weekend I presented a session at PodCamp Toronto entitled “From One to a Million: Managing Social Media at Scale.” The goal of the session was to prompt people to question some of the norms espoused by many ‘experts’, who have never had to manage social media programs at anything beyond a small scale. Norms such as the idea that you “need” to talk to every person who engages with you – something that is feasible at small scale, but infeasible when you get into the tens of thousands of replies weekly.

This is not to say that those norms are completely incorrect, but that there is a practical reality for brands operating at scale – structure changes, processes change and the norms have to change.

Key points from the presentation:

1. Structure: How do you structure to handle social media at scale?

Brands need to grapple with structural decisions at a global scale:

  • How much do you centralize vs decentralize control?
  • Do you house social within the corporate HQ or at the business unit level?
  • Do you aim for consistency and economies of scale or responsiveness at a local market level?
  • Do you impose social media on the enterprise or allow it to grow organically?

There’s no right or wrong answer; the decision depends on objectives, on your broader business structure, on the scale of your social media activities, on your business’ culture and on the resources you have to hand, among other things.

2. Community Management: How do you go from 1:1 to 1:1,000,000?

Community management at scale requires brands to reassess the norms they hear espoused daily. I offered seven pointers for scaling community management practices:

  1. Moderate to deal with trolls (with an affectionate prod in the slide at Scott Stratten) – if you operate a social media program at scale without moderation, you’ll spend your life dealing with trolls and spammers
  2. Embrace proactiveness – don’t wait for people to come to you; use analytics and insights to drive proactive content to answer questions ahead of time
  3. Recognize you can’t talk to everyone – at some point you need to prioritize or you will drown
  4. Respond publicly when possible (and when appropriate) – answering publicly lets other people (a) see you being responsive and (b) see your answers and possibly answer their own questions
  5. Help customers to help customers – successful companies in the social support space leverage customer forums to help customers answer each others’ questions, and step in when questions go unanswered at first
  6. Build an army of advocates – educate, empower and reward your biggest fans for engaging for you
  7. Know your customer – know who they are, what they want and how they want it to serve information most appropriately for them

(Check out my related post on tips for scaling customer service)

3. Content Strategy: How do you stay engaging while driving business results at scale?

Content strategy is a shiny object right now (in a stroke of amazing timing, Edelman appointed Steve Rubel to the new post of Chief Content Strategist yesterday – congrats Steve). I offered three broad categories of ways to resist the myriad pressures that face social media teams within corporations, and to stay on strategy:

  1. Know your objectives, and use them as a decision making framework.
  2. Know your channels, your audiences and the difference between them.
  3. Execute with rigor and optimize relentlessly.

4. Measurement: Turning a challenge to a competitive advantage

Measurement has historically been a pain point for many PR practitioners, but it’s a point of passion for me – I truly believe that effective measurement can be a differentiator for companies’ social media programs. When you begin to activate social at large scale, statistical analysis of content and program performance can yield invaluable insights.

I’ve in the past on ways companies can improve their social media measurement; this time around I offered another five tips:

  1. Focus on the right things – measure the right things for the right audience to meet their objectives.
  2. Connect your metrics with your objectives – don’t measure share of voice if you’re looking to improve the responsiveness of your customer support, for example.
  3. Know what the numbers mean – do your research and don’t let companies lead you down the garden path with made-up numbers and meaningless multipliers.
  4. Generate and drive insights throughout your program – look at your foundational always-on activities (your program is always-on, right?), at point-in-time campaigns and at the broader conversation ecosystem for insights.
  5. Use full-program measurement – set measurable objectives, use insights from past programs to fuel program development, course-correct throughout and measure results to drive insights for future work.

This was the first time I had presented this deck. I would have loved to have another 15 minutes longer to incorporate more practical pointers, but this provides a solid high-level overview of how to leverage these four elements of a program both at scale and more broadly. I’d love to know what you think, though – let me know in the comments below.

Burger King Twitter Hacking: Take A Chill Pill

Burger King Twitter account hacked

Burger King’s Twitter account was hacked today, with the hacker turning the company’s Twitter page into an offensive mock-up of a McDonalds Twitter channel. An hour and fifteen minutes later, the account was suspended, but not before the news spread across the social media fishbowl at lightning speed.

As often happens, a huge amount of basement punditry has already begun. I’ve already had to call BS when I saw someone asserting that it took Burger King “too long” to address the situation.

Here’s what we do know:

  • The Burger King account was hacked.
  • The hacking occurred on a public holiday in the US and most of Canada.
  • It took just over an hour to pull the account down.

Here’s what we do not know:

  • If the hacker changed the password to prevent Burger King accessing the page.
  • How robust Burger King’s security processes for their social media channels are.
  • When Burger King’s team spotted the hack.
  • Whether their community manager was anywhere near a computer when this happened - who knows if their community manager was out for a hike when this happened?
  • Whether Burger King had a crisis plan for this kind of situation.
  • How long it took for Burger King to take action on their end.
  • If Burger King needed to go through Twitter to to pull the account down, how long it took them to respond.
  • When this is all over, if this will have any impact on the brand whatsoever.

What I know from my experience in these kinds of situations with large brands:

  • Situations like this are chaotic at the best of times. As Ed Truitt pointed out in a nice analogy, battle plans rarely survive the first encounter with the enemy.
  • Holidays are prime time for hackers, as response times from companies tend to be longer. It can take time to reach people who aren’t officially working.
  • The person manning one social channel may not be the same as the person manning another, meaning you may need to reach several people in order to respond.
  • An hour is not a long timeframe in which to have a channel pulled down.

The only real gap I see at this point, as pointed out to me by Kami Huyse and Sara Patterson, is the lack of any public response so far. Social media crisis plans should include pre-approved boilerplate language for social media channels and other communications channels for situations like this. With that said, we’re talking a hacking of a relatively small account here – not a major crisis like a food safety recall or a company-caused fatality. Given the frequent separation of audiences between Facebook and Twitter, the company may have considered the option of posting elsewhere, and decided against it (again, we don’t know).

My point: Let’s hold off on the basement punditry. There’s a whole lot that we do not know, and very few things that we do know. Without someone with that knowledge filling in the blanks, all we can do is speculate.

(Image: Kami Huyse)