Thursday, October 25

Mixing Nuts: Ragan Communications


If you ever want to see an organization that inspires admiration and loathing at the same time, look no further than Ragan Communications. If you don’t know, it is a publisher of information about corporate communication and internal communication. It also hosts a social network called myRagan, which is both useful and clunky at the same time (but better than when I first reviewed it).

Admiration

On one hand, Ragan Communications gave Michael Klein a great platform to discuss the merits and shortfalls of the International Association of Business Communicators’ new staff-driven strategic plan. David Murray also has a fine sum-up about the communication backlash.

If you don’t know, IABC is a professional network of more than 15,000 business communication professionals in over 70 countries. One of the cornerstone principles for IABC is that it is a member-driven organization, which pinpoints why a staff-written strategic plan (that few have seen) may not be palatable for many members, especially because it was set in motion before it was released for review. Yikes! Time to brush up on those “communicating change” skill sets.

I haven’t had the opportunity to fully immerse myself in the real issues, but I’ll poke around next week. One thing I do know, having been around IABC for quite some time, members sometime feel that they do not have enough input into shaping the organization. When members do mention that, it’s usually defined as lambasting the organization.

For the moment, I will mention if Klein is right and “increasing mainstream media mentions by 20 percent” is part of the plan, IABC might have a rocky road ahead. Counting media mentions is not a suitable measure, which, ironically, is something I learned from IABC. More importantly, Julie Freeman (IABC president) and Todd Hattori (IABC chair) must demonstrate due diligence so this does not turn into an “us vs. them” communication challenge. More next week.

Loathing

Sometimes Ragan Communications buzz e-mails are so silly it’s hard to take Ragan seriously. For example, in marketing its upcoming 90-minute webinar with Southwest Airlines next Tuesday, the e-mail headline reads:

Q: How many customer comments are there on Southwest’s blog this month? A: 209. The time is now to start a dialogue with your customers.

The irony here is that I can almost guarantee Southwest Airlines does not include blog comment counts as part of their organization’s business objectives. (I won’t bother mentioning the clunky headline structure.)

Fortunately, Southwest Airlines’ Brian Lusk, manager of customer communication and corporate editor, and Paula Berg, public relations manager, are including: how to align a corporate blog with your organization's business objectives. So, the whole comment count thing is mute as a selling point. There is little doubt that Southwest Airlines seems to know the difference between outcomes and blog buzz even if Ragan Communications likes to mix them up.

In fact, Southwest Airlines has one of the better customer-focused blogs around. More importantly, this foray into social media is partly responsible for the best opening three quarters in the airline's history. Right on. Southwest Airlines also attributes $150 million in ticket sales to its "Ding!" widget.

So let’s see … if you are in the target audience, what might resonate: $150 million or 209 comments? Sure, the comments are cool in that they demonstrate some customer engagement. The more I think about them, the more I see comments might even be worth adding to the qualitative research column (if you employ comments).

However, my main point here is that Ragan Communications irritates me because they dumb down communication value. Yes, it’s great fun for a select audience who understands something about social media, but it also drives away those who need to understand social media the most. More to the point: if you don’t have a blog, you certainly don’t care about comment counts.

Digg!

7 comments:

Rich on 10/25/07, 4:34 PM said...

More Words:

"More importantly, Julie Freeman (IABC president) and Todd Hattori (IABC chair) must demonstrate due diligence so this does not turn into an “us vs. them” communication challenge. More next week." — Richard Becker, ABC

***

"IABC leaders Julie Freeman and Todd Hattori said they were puzzled by our interest in exploring what they see as the relative minutiae of their recently announced (but not yet published) three-year strategic plan.

And perhaps we are making a mountain out of a molehill—the alleged molehill being the recent shift from having the volunteer board (led by chairman Hattori) write the strategic plan to having the paid staff (led by president Freeman) write the plan." — David Murray

***

Darn. Too late.

Julie Freeman said...

Why would the strategic plan generate an "us vs. them communication challenge?" My job is to serve members by providing services, products and connections that help them do their jobs better and advance in their careers. That is why the strategic plan was based on member research and focuses on serving members.

IABC has a diverse membership with diverse expections about what the association should do for them. But as far as the strategic plan, I hope that the only disagreement is about the words that we chose to describe what we intend to do in the coming year, not our basic mission.

Julie Freeman, ABC, APR

Rich on 10/26/07, 3:50 PM said...

Hey Julie,

Thanks so much for coming by and asking a great question.

A strategic plan does not generate an "us vs. them communication challenge." It's the conversation about the strategic plan that leads to such a possibility.

More specifically, if some members (regardless of how many, or whom, or even if their arguments are unfounded) question the validity of a process ... and the organization's subsequent response to such criticism appears defensive ... that could generate an "us vs. them communication challenge."

The reason: because that is how conversations shift from things like strategic plans and into why are they being defensive in the face of criticism. So, I was merely suggesting that Todd and yourself tread lightly before one side mentions being "lambasted" (which you really weren't lambasted) and the other "puzzled by our interest" since he was making the case that he cares. Nothing more than that.

Personally, I agree with Shel Holtz that this appears to be much ado about nothing. You can find my response to his well written post, here:

http://blog.holtz.com/index.php/weblog/comments/tempest_in_a_teacup_iabcs_strategic_plan/

Or, on myRagan, where I stress that this has no impact to the value of membership.

In sum, the vast majority of communication challenges are the result of the reaction, and seldom the action. I didn't want to see that happen.

All my best,
Rich

Anonymous said...

Hey Rich! I encourage you to look at the strategic plan (which we will post as soon as we can incorporate recommendations from the Accreditation Council).

As you may know Rich -- having been a chapter and district leader, and advising complex organizations on their strategic communication plans -- IABC's strategic plan sets broad organizational framework within which the executive board and senior staff will make decisions and take action that supports our Region and Chapter leaders, and deliver service to our global membership.

We also acknowledge that a significant connection for our members is their local chapter. So, we've started communicating the strategic plan to the Region leaders so that their strategic plans include consistency as they support Chapter leaders. Then, the Region leaders will share their plans with Chapter leaders so that their plans include consistency in delivering the day-to-day member experience.

At least in my experience as an international volunteer leader, the IABC strategic plan hasn't ever been a stand-alone document that is forgotten or fails to connect with members -- as some of the very active dialogue implies.

I hope you do take the time to look at the plan Rich. I appreciate your constructive thoughts and questions. You'll see or hear progress reports against the plan, and your thoughts and questions may also influence tactical adjustments to the plan as we proceed.

-- Todd Hattori, ABC

Rich on 10/27/07, 9:42 AM said...

Hey Todd!

Congrats again the position. I will certainly be looking at the strategic plan and am glad to hear you are receiving recommendations from the Accreditation Council. (Accreditation is something I will be writing about soon, prompted by one of the online associates who mistook mine as an APR; the ABC is near and dear to my heart).

I am also glad to hear that the roll out moves from international to regional to local, recognizing that some changes have been made since I served when the organizational makeup was districts (led by yourself, in fact, during one fulfilling year). Communication across such a structure is never easy, especially since the touch points from the member perspective tend to be local then international and the regional. Sometimes, there are breaks in communication along the way.

As much as IABC has changed somewhat (and improved), the environment in which it operates has changed dramatically, increasing international and member-to-member touch points. Years ago, the communication best worked by rolling out communication much like the plan as you describe. When it worked, it worked (I even advocated for this approach back then). Now it seems that the speed of communication from international to members and member to member sometimes outpaces the roll down stream, leaving local leaders unable to answer questions by the time some members learn about it from international or elsewhere.

(Case in point: any knowledge I have about the strategic plan changes came by way of Ragan writing about an advocacy-focused member with an apparent agenda on the front end.) This in and of itself suggests the communication methods might be revisited because, imo, members are best served learning about IABC through IABC and not Ragan. It's an interesting communication stream, though perhaps limited in any real impact across 15,000 members as Shel Holtz pointed out.

It's interesting because it represents a challenge being faced by organizations and companies everywhere as it become increasingly difficult to manage communication. Yahoo, for example, missed the mark on their MyBlogLog changes. Google met less than enthusiastic members when they acquired Jaiku. While different, all of them can be tied to communicating change and that makes us reconsider old models.

This is where I'll likely focus on Monday. And sure, I'll take a look at the strategic plan because I am interested (though I am sure it is largely fine). In all honestly, I'm certainly not inclined to believe that having the staff write the plan was a governance issue as suggested. After years of watching non IABC boards invest all their time into strategic planning with no time left for execution ... efficiency, given the board has oversight anyway, makes more sense.

I think what Klein and Murray might have neglected in the argument is that if you are a farmer, and the emperor sets a revised course for the country, the cows still have to taken out to the fields. Much ado about nothing other than how does the emperor manage its communication so the farmers know the sky isn't falling despite what one might say.

All my best,
Rich

jtormey3 on 3/7/08, 4:43 PM said...

The first page of Google results about Southwest Airlines flack Paula Berg tells us this:

http://www.blogsouthwest.com/2007/06/15/behind-the-scenes-blog-queen/

Now, never mind "wacky", and "off-the-wall" - "behind-the-scenes Blog Queen" and "Nuts about Southwest" say it all for me.

So, to Paula Berg of Southwest Airlines, the airline company’s "behind-the-scenes Blog Queen", who says, regarding the events of March 6-7, 2008, and the now-record US$10,200,000 in fines racked up by Southwest:

"...this situation was never and is not now a safety of flight issue".
Nonsense, Paula. Cracks in airplanes? Nonsense, Paula.

I've been around publicists and other entertainment folk for over 20 years, and I have heard better publicity emanating from self-plugging screenwriters on acid.

And, Paula, as for:

"[t]he FAA approved our actions and considered the matter closed as of April 2007".

Nonsense, Paula.

It's not "closed", until WE the PUBLIC say it is closed! Take that back to your superiors for me - and tell them that we are just getting started.

Oh – and, congratulations on staying behind the scenes.

John J. Tormey III, Esq.
Quiet Rockland

jtormey3 on 3/22/08, 12:07 AM said...

A ST. PATRICK’S DAY CELEBRATORY MESSAGE FROM PEARL RIVER, NY

Quiet Rockland today makes this statement in support of the pending investigation of Southwest Airlines and FAA actions, conducted by the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI):

As in the film ‘Moonstruck’, it is as if Cher just slapped FAA Acting Administrator ‘Bobby’ Sturgell in the face twice, hard, and said ‘Snap Out Of It!’. The arrogance and lawlessness of the current FAA regime is now coming to an end. The FAA house of cards is collapsing. On Sunday night March 9, Quiet Rockland called for a criminal investigation of Southwest Airlines and the FAA, as well as a nationwide boycott of Southwest. One night later (please see below), the media reported that the FBI has commenced a criminal investigation of retaliation and threats made by aeromercantile thugs against airplane safety inspector whistleblowers. Quiet Rockland thanks the FBI for commencing the investigation, and will give the FBI every bit of assistance, support, and cooperation if and as ever asked.

Quiet Rockland notes that this criminal investigation’s trail may not only lead to the senior-most levels of FAA management but perhaps also point to FAA Acting Administrator Robert A. “Bobby” Sturgell himself. Even if not, the FBI-investigated FAA and Southwest misconduct occurred under Sturgell’s watch. “Bobby” Sturgell is the DelMarVa son of the late J. Edgar Hoover’s former personal secretary Barbara Sturgell. See:
http://www.bayweekly.com/year99/issue7_22/lead7_22.html
http://www.TheHappyHarbor.com

If ANY American ever suggests that FBI’s or USDOJ’s actions are politically-initiated, or anything less than objective and protective of the welfare of American citizens, one need only cite the Southwest-FAA-Sturgell-Hoover pathway to prove how wrong any such skeptic would be. On this St. Patrick’s Day, every American, Irish-American or otherwise, owes a debt of gratitude to the FBI for taking a dramatic further step to keep our skies safe and protect the well-being of those of us on the ground. We look forward to the results of the FBI investigation and the related scheduled April 3, 2008 Congressional hearing at which we expect the aero-perps to be taken down.

Finally, Quiet Rockland also takes this opportunity to ask that all Americans who have ANY further information implicating FAA, Southwest, or any other aeromercantalist in any threats or retaliation against whistleblowers, or in any other unlawful activity, please come forward now to your most-proximate FBI or other law enforcement office. The text of the CBS 11 News (Dallas) March 10, 2008 article appears below.
http://themainbang.typepad.com/blog/2008/03/repeat-after-me.html
http://www.confidentialinformant.org/2008/03/16/fbi-investigates-threat-on-faa-swa-whistleblower/
http://cbs11tv.com/local/Southwest.Airlines.FAA.2.674307.html


Let us begin.


Mar 10, 2008 8:59 pm US/
FBI Investigates Threat On FAA & SWA Whistleblower
Reporting
Jack Fink DALLAS (CBS 11 News) ―

CBS 11 News has learned the FBI is conducting a criminal investigation into possible threats, made against a local FAA inspector who blew the whistle on his agency and Southwest Airlines. Whistleblowers complained FAA managers and Southwest had a cozy relationship, which allowed planes to fly without required safety inspections.

In a newly released federal report, two DFW-based FAA inspectors, who became whistleblowers, said they believe safety at Southwest Airlines, “Took a back seat to personal friendships and favors... “

The Office of Special Counsel investigated the whistleblowers’ complaints that their superiors allowed Southwest Airlines to continue flying 46 of its Boeing 737 jets, even after the airline disclosed it failed to inspect them for cracks in the fuselage as required.

The FAA’s rules show that the administration and the airline should have grounded the planes until they were inspected.

Friday, Southwest’s CEO insisted safety was never compromised. “Airplanes were flown with the FAA’s knowledge before we completed all of the inspections eight days later,” he told CBS 11 News.
The newly released documents show in January 2006, one of the whistleblowers, Bobby Boutris, complained that Southwest was “hand-selecting the inspector...”

The report says, “When Southwest officials... learned that Mr. Boutris was to lead the inspection of the airline, they met with his FAA superior, Douglas Gawadzinski, and actively sought his removal.”

While Boutris was allowed to do the inspection, the report says Gawadzinski, “instructed him to delay the review until he gave the green light.”

The report also shows that on March 28th of last year, after Southwest disclosed it missed important safety checks, the whistleblower, Boutris, documented 21 negative findings. When the information was reported to Gawadzinski, Boutris claims he was instructed not enter them into the FAA database.

On April 9, 2007, the report says, “Boutris was informed he was being removed from his position because an anonymous complaint had been filed against him.”

CBS 11 News was unsuccessful in contacting Boutris, the other whistleblower, and Douglas Gawadzinski, who the FAA removed from overseeing Southwest Airlines last May.

On Monday, Southwest Airlines wasn’t commenting. The FAA has begun a major review of Southwest’s safety and maintenance procedures.
(© MMVIII, CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved.)
See also:
http://themainbang.typepad.com/blog/2008/03/repeat-after-me.html
http://www.confidentialinformant.org/2008/03/16/fbi-investigates-threat-on-faa-swa-whistleblower/
http://cbs11tv.com/local/Southwest.Airlines.FAA.2.674307.html

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