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Don’t underestimate the importance of Research in your brand journalism strategy

Communication Planning

If you researched Cincinnati, you would learn about landmarks such as Fountain Square, the Carew Tower and Roebling Suspension Bridge. Research is the first step in the strategic planning process, as important in developing an effective communication plan as it is in deciding what to see on a trip to a new destination.

Imagine going on a trip to a new city. You might Google the city’s name, look on Wikipedia, browse through travel guides, talk to friends who had been there before… You might find out about the cool restaurants, landmarks and aspects that align with your interests. You might do some homework, some research before planning what you could want to do.

Or, let’s say you were the coach of a football team getting ready for your next game. You would probably watch video of your opponent from the matchup a year earlier and in games this season leading up to the contest. You would confer with scouts who had seen the competition. You would view media coverage. Etc. You would do your homework, your research, while developing a game plan.

It’s no different with planning a strategic brand journalism program!

If you are Accredited in Public Relations (APR), you know well that Research is the first step in the strategic process: Research, Planning, Implementation and Evaluation. And that there is Primary and Secondary Research.

Primary Research involves one-on-one interviews, surveys, focus groups and the like.

Secondary Research includes a review of articles and video about a topic, studying what others have done to solve the problem under consideration, conferring with professions in your networks, etc.

Both are very important, as you move on to the Planning phase.

Example — I feel extremely fortunate to have been involved in a foster parent recruitment campaign that was deeply researched. My role involved researching portions of the campaign that would help build buy-in from internal audiences. You would think that social workers would be very enthusiastic about a $1 million campaign designed to attract 200 badly needed foster parents. My research showed the opposite. Many of the workers expressed cynicism about the planned campaign. They didn’t support the strategy. They feared it would bring in “wide-eyed suburban do-gooders” not suited for the demanding (yet rewarding) role of foster parenting. They were bad-mouthing it!

So, we came up with a multi-faceted campaign that included a brief weekly e-mail with four key points for frontline managers to share with their teams. We asked frontline managers to address concerns and share them with us. We identified who the go-to team leaders and caseworkers were — those that most social workers trusted and admired, not necessarily those with high ranking on the org chart. We took the time to educate them and listened to their concerns, so they could serve as positive ambassadors for the campaign. We held an event, with food and a “sneak preview” of the TV commercials and print ads. When caseworkers complained that they wanted Whitney Houston music instead of Sarah McLachlan, we did focus groups with the target audience — which loved the music — and shared the findings with the social workers. We did surveys to see if social workers grasped key messages and were supportive. As the campaign generated results, we took environmental portraits of new foster parents for spotlighting in our newsletter, on our intranet and in a gallery in the cafeteria.

This was a campaign where we had the time and money to do it right. It went to the top of our priority list, and leadership supported us in putting secondary priorities on temporary hold. It won some awards… and, most importantly, met the goal of attracting 200 foster parents.

But, my point is, it all started with Research. Just like when you’re researching a trip to a cool place like Cincinnati!

 

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Informative book — Socialized! How the Most Successful Businesses Harness the Power of Social

Learn how leading companies are using social and mobile technologies, the cloud and data analytics to become “highly competitive growth machines.”

Learn how leading companies are using social and mobile technologies, the cloud and data analytics to become “highly competitive growth machines.”

“A social business, properly led, creates an environment where people learn from others’ ideas, mistakes, and successes. It’s a learning venue for teachers and students where observation, participation, and sharing become the norm.” – Page 76

“For an organization to be competitive in today’s social age, every knowledge worker will need to play an active, intelligent, and independent part in the decision-making process.” –Page 21

Socialized! How the Most Successful Businesses Harness the Power of Social
(2013, 269 pages)

Author
Mark Fidelman works companies ranging from IBM and Microsoft to A.T Kearney and Autodesk. He is a thought leader on social business, mobile business and mobile social networks.

Summary
Fidelman describes how leading companies are using social and mobile technologies, the cloud and data analytics to become “highly competitive growth machines.” He provides a “game plan” and “plays from the playbooks” highly adaptive organizations are using. He speaks about a “new kind of business that’s agile enough to capture new opportunities, can change shape when confronted with threats, and can call on vibrant communities to support its initiatives.”

“One of the primary benefits of social business is real-time, dynamic feedback from employees, customers, and partners,” he writes.

He notes that people are more loyal to socially engaged businesses… and mobile engagement increases customer loyalty.

Fidelman gives a step-by-step process showing how organizations become “social businesses” by building:

  • Internal Digital Villages — mostly via robust intranets, and
  • External Digital Networks — mainly through digital strategies that integrate social media, customer portals and other Internet tools.

Early in the book, in a chapter titled “Adapt or Die” he shows how business has evolved to a “fifth age” where leaders “welcome feedback, leverage the wisdom of crowds, create pull and foster workplace environments that promote innovation.”

It’s an era where people are “overwhelmed with content and turn to their social networks to prioritize and make sense of relevant information.”

“Businesses learned that in order to get their message across they needed to integrate and work within these social networks to remain competitive,” he writes. “Few understood that these same social network concepts could be applied within their organizations to increase employee productivity, spur innovation, improve customer service and company morale, streamline project management, and offer hundreds of other benefits.”

Important stats – 56 percent of employees prefer companies that use social platforms effectively. 60 percent of employees believe social platforms enhance innovation and 61 percent believe they improve collaboration. 56 percent of college students who encounter a company that bans access to social media will either not accept a job offer there or will find a way to circumvent the restriction.

Process for building a case – Fidelman walks readers through a six-step process for building the case for a social business – ( 1) The seven people you need to help build a social business: champion, executive sponsor, devil’s advocate, executor, social butterfly and community manager. (2) define the vision, (3) diagnose and assess the gaps, (4) set clear and reasonable social business goals, (5) create a purpose for your organization to rally around, (6) build the business case plan and present it.

Culture – The author talks about why culture is important to building a social business. He includes a series of questions to help assess a company’s culture.

The New Social Business Playbook – A significant portion of the book is devoted to a strategic guide to starting, launching and executing on plays that will help make organizations more effective. This includes team composition, metrics, and more.

 

The NOW Revolution — 7 Shifts to Make Your Business Faster, Smarter and More Social

November 18, 2011 7 comments

Last month, Jay Baer — co-author of The NOW Revolution — 7 Shifts to Make Your Business Faster, Smarter and More Social — shared some great insights at a jam-packed coffee house. Cincinnati Social Media sponsored the event, which attracted a number of PR, marketing, IT and social media enthusiasts. 

Fortunately, I had read his book before the talk — and liked it. (And so had the person next to me on my flight back from the Health Care Social Media Summit in October, at the direction of her boss, who owns an East Coast PR shop!) Jay underscored all of the key points in the book in an engaging talk given from the top of the steps overlooking the group. Here’s his PowerPoint, which he wasn’t able to use due to technical issues.

Here are some highlights:

* We are living in a real-time world, where every customer is a reporter. If you have a negative experience now, you let the world know on Fourquare, Yelp, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, blogs… Complaint letters are quaint practices of the past.

* Companies have got to become faster, smarter and more social. You don’t have much time to verify and contemplate. You’ve got to be quick on your feet.

*  Organizations need to empower their employees to make the right decisions. That’s about culture, not about training.

* Businesses must hire for passion, train for skills.

* If your company sucks, Twitter is not your problem. Social media does not create negativity. It puts a magnifying glass on it.

* Social media is measurable. The last quarter of the book is about metrics. There is no linear relationship between Facebook Likes and business success. 84% of Facebook followers are current customers. As a general rule, you want to measure behaviors.

* How do we as companies get more social? Thank You and I’m Sorry. If you do that, you’ll be in really good shape. 70 % of customer complaints on social media go unanswered. Name the people who tweet on behalf of companies.

* Sales, marketing, customer relations and operations know what is going on. It never gets to PR and Marketing. Use Yammer and e-mail to harvest.

* In social media, you earn the right to promote by being helpful first. The more you sell, the less you sell, in social media.

* Capitalize on real-time opportunities. This requires more people in your organization in social media. Decentralization. It’s OK that every employee is potentially in marketing. The people will make you successful, not your official Facebook page.

* Every company is going to have to be social. Customers will demand that you interact with them in new ways. They’ve got to be faster, smarter and more social to win.

* We will see much more data segmentation. What do our best customers say about us? Etc. Drill down.

I highly recommend that you read the book for more details. Exciting stuff, as we move ahead in this new world of real-time communication.

 

 

 

Book Review…Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose

I’ll have to admit it: I’ve never ordered anything from Zappos, the online shoe business that achieved $1 billion in sales in less than a decade. (Yet.) But I kept hearing about Zappos while following Lance Armstrong and the president of his Livestrong Foundation, Doug Ulman, in social media.

Ulman’s story appears as the forward to my wife Tami Boehmer’s  From Incurable to Incredible: Cancer Survivors Who Beat the Odds, due out this week. See www.miraclesurvivors.com.

Doug recently appeared on a livestream hosted by Zappos employees. A promo for the stream led me to a website describing the coming launch of Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose by Tony Hsieh, CEO, Zappos.

There was an offer for bloggers to review an advance copy of the book, so I put in a request. Luckily, I got a free copy — with instructions to give my honest opinion.

Well… here it is:

I couldn’t put Delivering Happiness down. I devoured the 258 pages in two days.

Hsieh, 36, took me on a compelling journey from his adolescence to Amazon’s 2009 purchase of Zappos for $1.2 billion. By the way, the words were his — not those of a ghost writer.

It was fascinating reading about Hsieh’s businesses of youth — both ununsuccessful (worm farm, magic trick) and successful (buttons with pictures). I loved the story about playing recorded music of himself practicing musical instruments to fool his demanding parents. His tales about setting up a pizza operation on campus and compiling a money-making study guide so he could pass a class at Harvard were delightful. (He was more interested in TV, friends and making money than classes.)

The story about his $40,000 job at Oracle right out of college — work that consisted of showing up at 10, setting up an automated test, e-mailing friends, going to lunch, then checking test results — shattered my image of the software giant. I have to give Hsieh credit for not staying in the boring  job, or a website design business he and a buddy started.

He went on to co-found a software company called LinkedExchange that sold to Microsoft in 1999 for $250 million!!! He was only 24.

Easily bored, Hsieh was back in the business world with Zappos, a startup just before the dot.com bust. The ensuing story about the financial twists and turns of Zappos kept me glued to the text. I couldn’t wait to see what adventure awaited on the next page.

The description of Zappos culture and customer-service focus kept me eagerly reading, although it seemed anti-climactic after Hsieh’s portrait of the early days.

I’m glad he shared some of his research about what makes people happy to conclude the book. It made me excited enough to pass on my copy to my boss this morning and another that I was supposed to offer as a give-away to a close friend starting a business.

I highly recommend that you read this book. It offers hope in a time of so much negativity about the economy. It shows how a smart, hard-working individual can use his (or her) creativity to build a business that goes beyond making money. It provides a vision of how an accessible, transparent businesses in this era of social media will succeed.

Today, the hardcover version of “Delivering Happiness” launches in bookstores across the country. Here are some links for you:

http://www.deliveringhappinessbook.com

http://www.amazon.com/deliveringhappiness

Face-to-face not preferred, after all (for certain info)

March 20, 2010 2 comments
Employees prefer electronic sources over face-to-face.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For more than a decade (until 2007), I was responsible for internal communication strategy at an 1,800-employee government social service agency.

 
I felt extremely fortunate to have attended workshops by employee communication leaders such as Pat Jackson, Roger D’Aprix, Angela Sinickas and others. I learned a great deal from them about the importance of listening to employees — through surveys, focus groups, one-on-one interviews,  town hall meetings, discussion boards, informal observation and more.
 
After all, communication is about more than telling. It’s vitally important to listen, respond and take action.

Employees really appreciate a chance to be heard. Executives like the opportunity to harvest helpful ideas from the frontline, dispel rumors, and explain actions. They can manage expectations and possibly share updates on initiatives (perhaps forgotten) in place to address concerns of staff.

 
Despite my recent focus on external PR, I try to keep abreast of the latest in internal through membership in the Public Relations Society of America’s Employee Communications Section.
 
This week, for example, Sinickas shared an excellent article on the PRSA Employee Communication LinkedIn group.
 
The piece on Reasearch and Measurement was titled Why face to face isn’t the preferred information source after all: Employees prefer Intranets to supervisors 2 to 1.
 
It was an update to a 2004 report by Sinickas that had a great influence on how I worded survey and focus group questions — and adapted methodologies by D’Aprix and Jackson.
 
As Sinickas writes: “Supervisors really are not employees’ preferred information source on most business topics. Even in the ‘glory days’ of face-to-face communication, before widespread availability of email and intranets, supervisors were among the top two preferred sources on only about 40 percent of typical topics communicated in organizations.”
 
Her research showed that “all face-to-face is losing ground” and “supervisors trail publications and intranets.”
 
Sinickas concludes: “I absolutely believe that supervisors and other managers can and should play a critical role in employee communication. What the data show, however, is that supervisors should generally not be used as the broadcasters of new information.
 
“…as soon as the first supervisor tells staff something new, most other employees will hear the news first from colleagues who attended a meeting before they did. In other words, using a cascade is what actually creates rumors.”
 
Supervisors, however, can provide context after big announcements made via e-mail and Intranet. They call tell individuals in their units how the news impacts them directly.
Something to keep in mind the next time you’re planning announcement of changes at your organization to the most important audience — in my opinion — the internal one.
 
For the full article, please click here.
 
I would be interested in hearing your thoughts about employee communication.
 
 

Segmenting audiences

MPj04393430000[1]Please excuse me if this post is too elementary for you PR veterans, but — based on the comments of a media-turned-PR person the other day — I thought I’d briefly touch on one of the basics: Audience segmentation.

Here’s an example of how we segmented the internal audience at the Hamilton County Department of Job and Family Services a few years back:

1. Executive Team

2. Middle managers

3. Supervisors

4. Frontline staff

Then, we developed research, planning, implementation and evaluation methods for each audience.For example, research with the Executive Team consisted of one-on-one interviews about communication, asking for their views on what worked and what didn’t. We surveyed middle managers. And we did separate focus groups with supervisors and frontline staff.

As time went on, we developed strategies for communicating within each segment. In one of three major programs areas, for instance, we identified “opinion leaders” and worked directly with them. In another, we pulled together a list of unit meetings and supplied talking points for supervisors to use in those meetings.

We continued to evaluate through surveys, focus groups and informal observation. We reported our findings and made adjustments  over time.

The same practice can be used to make your social media strategy more effective. The more you break down your audience into subgroups, the more effective you’ll be in achieving your goals and objectives. You’ll create strategies that deliver results as you implement them. And you’ll make adjustments based on what you learn as you evaluate. It’s a continuous improvement loop.

Hope this was helpful to you newbies. It was a good refresher for me as I continue to write a social media strategy for my employer.