Showing posts with label message management. Show all posts
Showing posts with label message management. Show all posts

Friday, March 2

Improving Criticisms: How To Be A Critic Without Being A Cynic

"What is a cynic? A man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing." — Oscar Wilde from Lady Windermere's Fan (often paraphrased) 

Every year when I return the first graded writing assignments to public relations students, many of them feel trepidation. They have every right to feel it. I tell them in advance that I'm critical about the work.

Some of them don't need me to tell them. Several students have told me that I have a reputation for not being easy, maybe even hard. The words "necessarily evil" are sometimes attached to the unwritten course description.

I don't mind the monikers, but most students would never guess that I feel trepidation when I hand the first assignments back too. The profession requires that instructors be critics. But not every student appreciates the difference between the critic and cynic. (And some instructors forget it too.)

Instructors are not the only ones who have to walk what is sometimes is fine line. Scores of professionals do: reviewers, journalists, bloggers, politicians, business people, etc. And some do it better than others.

How To Be A Critic Without Being A Cynic.

1. Be selfless instead of selfish. Critics lend their experience, expertise, and opinions to help improve the performance or material for the practitioner or for the benefit of others interested in the work. Cynics draw attention to their experience, expertise, and opinions, and often make fault-finding their mission in order to elevate themselves if not in the public eye than to appease their own flailing self-esteem.

2. Be humble instead of egotistical. Critics do not see themselves as the final authority, but rather challenge themselves and others to continually raise the bar and find solutions. Cynics believe they have already obtained the high water mark in observation if not performance, and expect no one else ever will.

3. Be direct instead of directed. Critics keep their judgements focused on the performance or material rather than the performer or author, allowing them to be direct in their assessment. Cynics believe that finding fault in individuals reaffirms their own virtue, and frequently attempt to pin any failings on someone or something. 

4. Be empathetic instead of aggravated. Critics are interested in the effort and the thought process that led to the performance or material because it may influence their overall opinion. Cynics are interested in comparing the performance or material to whatever template of perfection they have constructed, and are easily annoyed when others don't see it as they do.

5. Be democratic instead of dogmatic. Critics see the good with the bad, recognizing that one point of weakness doesn't necessarily invalidate the whole of the performance or material. Cynics are dogmatic, focusing in on any irrelevant imperfection in order to obscure any other merit and invalidate the whole.

You see the differences play out daily. Cynics dismiss good ideas based on nothing other than labels, whether party affiliation and family history or philosophical and ideological differences. Cynics employ diatribe to drown out differing ideas and opinions because other views are automatically invalid. Cynics work hard to make small things look big and big things look small, distorting the truth or initial intent. 

You can see it in politics, public activism, and corporate policy. The lines are usually specific and rigid. 

Critics, on the other hand, tend to be more amiable and lighthearted. And while that sometimes makes them easier to dismiss against the diatribe that surrounds them, they usually benefit over the long term — continually working toward a vision that is further ahead or attempting to pull people forward along with them.

All of it is something to think about, especially if you review the performance of others in a classroom or column, office or blog. Everything has value, and failing to recognize that usually comes with a cost far greater than any perceived price. Now go do the right thing.

Friday, May 21

Exploring Leadership: How To Re-Energize Teams

Despite everyone hoping the economy will overcome five economic fault lines, the task of recovery will ultimately fall to the leadership of individual companies and nonprofits. The deciding factor for many organizations will be whether they will re-energize their teams or demoralize them.

Generally, immediately after an organization faces an extended period of uncertainty or adversity, team members are likely to exhibit some fatigue. It makes sense. It's not all that different from running a marathon, where a struggling runner works harder and harder to either retain their position or even advance one or two positions around the final lap.

When the race ends, marathon runners tend to take a breath, place their hands on their hips or head, and walk off some of the stress. Imagine your team members much like that. It's natural. The last thing they want to think about is the next marathon.

However, smart marathon runners and their coaches also know it isn't that simple. For example, in 2003, marathon runner Lisa Golaszewski discovered first hand that runners suffer from symptoms equivalent of postpartum depression. If the post-marathon plan was too big, she felt ill-prepared and overwhelmed. If the post-marathon plan was too lax, she felt drained of energy and inspiration.

Team members respond much in the same way. Recovery plans that are too big cause burnout. Recovery plans too small are a disincentive. And no plan whatsoever, well, that is a recipe for disaster.

Where Some Will Fail.

Over the next year, some organizations that seem like they've weathered the storm will fail to meet less visible challenges. The most likely candidates will be those with leadership that will present a plan too big for team members to immediately embrace or those who attempt to motivate with negativity but no plan.

The latter occurred at one organization were I once served. Immediately after recovering from a near financial collapse that had team members fighting for the organization's survival, leadership decided to send communication to guilt members into new action with an ultimatum. While the communication was meant to target members that leadership felt were underperforming, it only served to demoralized the entire team and earned early resignations from under and over performers alike.

What went wrong? It morphed what ought to have been an opportunity to re-energize on a win into a rehash of bitterness that they did not take action on during the crisis because they were too afraid such action would have consequences. In all my years of service, the incident ranks second among the worst leadership decisions ever made. I had advised against it.

"The last thing you want to do is force racing again if your body isn't ready," Jason Lehmkuhle, another marathon runner, said in the Runner's World article.

Where Some Will Win.

The companies mostly likely to win can easily be divided into two types. The first, my favorites, will be those that never ran a marathon during the recession. They consist of companies that decided the recession was optional.

Relatively rested, these companies are among the most likely to see continued growth built on a foundation of success established during the recession. In essence, they have been running shorter races that were stressful all along.

The second type of organization that will excel will be those firms that invested equal time into recovery as they had preparing for the worst. They already have a course of action, many of them are ready to capitalize on shorter term goals through a recovery process that will position their organizations in a positive place.

The general feeling among those organization is significantly different. They knew all along that surviving the economic crisis wasn't an "end goal," but rather an opportunity to reposition. As a result, their leadership likely has a series of short-term goals that will rebuild confidence as each one is reached in record time.

"A great benefit of planning ahead is that you're not setting yourself up for the idea that this marathon is the culminating event," Sonja Friend-Uhl, a running coach, said in the Runner's World article.

Leadership Sets The Direction.

For marathon runners, the best course of action is to provide a breath for recovery and then gradually add quality and volume so that you emerge injury-free, mentally fresh, and able to capitalize on the fitness you built during marathon training. For organizations, provide team members with a breath and then focus on short-term, less stressful goals that the team can rally around. Doing so can only energize everyone.

If there were under performers, give them an opportunity to excel in the renewed positive environment or address those concerns on an individual, private basis. The last thing you want are over performers throwing their hands up in disgust over another crisis created by people who ought to know better.

Bookmark and Share

Friday, January 29

Absorbing Attitudes: Environmental Influences

At the end of World War II and again in the 1960s, environmental psychology became an increasingly popular field of study as shifts in society seemed to suggest that "nearby nature" affects people's mental and physical health. There are several reoccurring themes in the research (De Young, R., 1999, Encyclopedia of Environmental Science).

Common areas of interest within environmental psychology.

• Attention. How voluntary (things we want to notice) and involuntary (things that distract us) stimuli affect people.
• Perception. How cognitive maps recall past experiences associated with present events, ideas, and emotions.
• Environments. How people seek out and interact with places where they feel comfortable and confident.
• Environmental stress. How prolonged uncertainty, lack of predictability, and stimulus overload impact people.
• Participation. How involving people in design processes can contribute to feeling comfortable and confident.
• Conservation. How attitudes, perceptions, and values influence people toward an ecologically sustainable society.

My interest in the area of psychology was a result of working with my son on his science project. He placed two white carnations in each of three vases, and then added food coloring to two of them (leaving the third untouched as a control). The experiment was to test his hypothesis that the white carnations would adopt the color of the dyed water. They did, which opened an analogy that some people are familiar with (even when they are called by other names).

Tony Robbins includes it as his first of five keys to thrive in 2010, saying how important it is to feed your mind with positive messages and influences.

Harvard Business Review promoted the concept today by reintroducing emotional intelligence, a topic field I enjoy writing about under social intelligence.

There are countless studies that suggest children are prone to adopt parental behaviors, e.g., children of fit parents tend to exercise; children of parents who read tend to read; children who are abused have a greater tendency to become abusive; and so on and so forth. (However, the impact of nurturing depends greatly upon how individual children develop cognitive maps).

Unless we are vigilant in preserving self-awareness, we tend to adopt what we're exposed to.

In general, much like the carnations, we tend to be influenced by the information we absorb. In some cases, much like the carnations, we might not even notice those subtle veins of green or red. We're influenced (unless purposely uninfluenced) nonetheless.

In fact, it probably underpins another new study released a few weeks ago. Right now, only 45 percent of Americans are satisfied with their jobs. Fewer workers say they like their co-workers. And fewer workers like their bosses.

The lesson might be three-fold for anyone who wants to pursue it.

As individuals, we might pay attention to media we consume or groups we associate with as it can make a difference (which might be why the iPad speech seemed more palatable than the President's). As leaders, we might be especially cognitive as influencers over the teams we manage. And as organizational communicators, we might consider whether those messages help people become more confident as it could have a dramatic impact on the effectiveness of the communication.

Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, August 19

Confusing Companies: Social Media

Perhaps it's because social media "feels" so old that it's easy to forget it is in a state of infancy. It's new enough that even the people who are still attempting to shape it accidently drive it in two different directions at the same time.

The conversations creep into play often enough, and sometimes lead to some healthy debates and disagreements. They are almost always the result of someone asking the wrong question.

Five Favorite Social Media Contradictions

1. Who Should Own Social Media: PR or Advertising?

This was one of my favorite debates. It's still fresh and a few social media proponents are trying to flush it out. What makes it amusing is that the question is loaded. It dares communicators to pick one or the other. And yet, I keep asking myself how anyone can make a case for ownership while telling companies to give up control.

Nobody can own it. It requires thinking beyond silos.

2. Should employees promote the company online?

While the concept is well intended, it creates a contradiction. Considering most employees join social networks for personal reasons, they don't want to promote their employers (unless they feel like it). I don't blame them. Not everyone signed on to work as a public relations specialist or, worse, a message broadcaster despite the fact that their individual online endeavors impact public relations (which is why Dominos fired two employees for a YouTube video).

This debate was settled before social media. Let employees speak for themselves; spokespeople for the company.

3. Dive In or Develop A Plan?

You may as well ask "What came first, the chicken or the egg?" On one hand, less experienced public relations firms are advising their clients to dive in and try it. On the other, those clients are damaging their brands by adopting some very bad habits that tend to push people away. In one extreme case, we've been tracking a public relations firm that is creating accounts for its clients, connecting them all together, and then having their clients push market to each other. (No, I'm not making this up.)

Individual participation does not equal a community development experience. Find a guide.

4. Be Yourself or Be Edited?

In all honesty, this discussion is nothing more than the repackaged "Should a CEO blog? question" In sum, the question is whether or not executives need editing and vetting before someone pushes "post." And, if that answer is "yes, they do," then how much is too much before someone might classify it as ghostwriting?

Like so much of social media, most answers without specifics can be summed up in two words: "It depends."

5. Outsource or In-house?

All too often, companies are placing inexperienced communicators in charge of their social media programs. Considering social media requires more engagement and leaves a longer lasting imprint on the consumers they touch, it might not be a very good idea. So the bottom line becomes more the same — there are too many variables to hazard a guess. Not every company will come up with the same conclusion. And most companies don't even know how to arrive at an answer.

Case in point: I know several companies that are attempting to go the in-house route. Some are doing an excellent job. Some are doing okay, but could use some out-of-house boosts. And some are damaging their reputations. The difference between the degrees is not always apparent, except for the analogy I'm leaving with clients after any social media presentation.

You can buy a violin almost anywhere. It doesn't mean people will want to hear you, even if you practice every day.

"I really did play the violin when I was 13," Antony Berkman, president of BlogCatalog, told me recently. "You're right. Nobody wanted to hear me."

Five Fun Posts About Social Media Experts

8 Questions to Ask Your "Social Media Expert" by Dave Fleet

What I Want a Social Media Expert to Know by Chris Brogan

10 Questions to Evaluate a Social Media 'Expert' by Ian Lurie

Is Your Social Media Really An Expert? by Peter Shankman

You're Not A Social Media Expert, You Idiot by Joel Mackey

Friday, August 7

Fearing Social Media: Executives

According to a new survey by Minneapolis-based Russell Herder and Ethos Business Law, fear continues to underpin companies considering social media.

• 51 percent percent of executives fear it will be detrimental to employee productivity.
• 49 percent fear that participation will likely damage company reputation.

Among companies that have not considered social media as part of their communication plan, it's much the same.

• 51 percent said they did not know enough.
• 40 percent said they are concerned with confidentiality or security.
• 37 percent said they worry it will be detrimental to employee productivity.

The reality of misplaced fear in the modern workplace.

As the adoption rate of social media as a critical component of any communication plan increases, all the attention seems to have catapulted social media to the top of many corporate fear factor lists. And, with the recent ban by the U.S. Marines, considering it the number one concern for decision makers certainly feels justified. Or is it?

While our company has long maintained fear itself is the underlying cause of most corporate meltdowns and lackluster results, placing social media at the top of the corporate fear list is preposterous. Here are the leading causes for lost employee productivity, reputation damage, and security threats:

• According to the Annals of the American Psychotherapy Association, low employee morale and depression are the leading cause of lost employee productivity.
• According to an abstract by Elsevier Ltd. and several other studies, management credibility is the leading cause of reputation damage among companies.
• According to several studies by Deloitte, human error remains the leading cause of security threats over technology, with employee misconduct being the number one concern.

Are any social media fears justified on any level?

Not knowing enough about social media may be temporarily justifiable for slow moving companies (as too many jump in without any semblance of a plan), but the root cause for all other fears — productivity issues, reputation damage, and security threats — are almost always symptoms of internal communication problems and/or bad management.

In other words, the reason for not engaging in social media might even communicate more about a company or organization than had they ever engaged in the first place. How about your organization?

Monday, July 13

Speaking SyFy: The Bobblehead Equation

Last week, the Sci Fi Channel became SyFy in what is being called by some "the most ill-advised branding move since New Coke." (It's actually much worse than New Coke because there won't be a black market for the old product.)

The name change was originally floated to disbelieving Sci Fi fans as early as March. But even so, four months must not have been enough time for the future SyFy marketing and public relations team to get on the same page. It must not have been enough time because the excuses behind the rebranding effort are all over the place, enough so that SyFy deserves a Letterman-styled top ten list...

The Top Ten Stupid Excuses "Uttered" For Renaming The Sci Fi Channel

10. Although we love the name Sci Fi, because it's a generic term, we can never own it.

9. It positions the brand for future growth by creating an ownable trademark.

8. Syfy ushers in a new era of unlimited imagination and new dimensions.

7. It will pave the way for us to truly become a global lifestyle brand.

6. Syfy allows us to build on our 16-year heritage of success with a new brand built on the power that fuels our genre.

5. Michael Engleman asked "what if we could change the name without ever changing the name?"

4. It's much more hip and fits better with the new slogan "Imagine Greater."

3. SyFy is how our 18-to-34 techno-savvy crowd texts the name.

2. We want to appeal to more women and young people.

1. The name Sci Fi was associated with geeks and dysfunctional, antisocial boys in their basements.

So What Is The Real Reason Sci Fi Channel Had To Become SyFy?

The bobblehead equation.

That's right. The only legitimate reason for a successful 16-year-old brand to become something else is an entire room full of bobbleheads.

It starts innocently enough. Someone had nothing better to do. Or maybe they do, but don't want to do it. Or maybe they do, but want to feel like they own something. So they start pointing out problems: the name is too long, the name is limiting, the name doesn't appeal to enough people, especially women.

And then, maybe because people are afraid to lose their jobs in a recession, the entire room of creative guys and corporate shirts start bobbing their little heads up and down, down and up, up and down. Done. The Sci Fi Channel becomes SyFy.

Seriously. I've seen it happen in person several times over the last 20 years. And, I expect I will with even more frequency, in the next 20 years. It happens all the time and the consequences are usually much, much worse than the damage done by some committee on a nonprofit organization.

In this case, even the myth that Michael Engleman asked the question (contradicting other stories shared by the press) and inked out the new name five minutes later is baloney. Some of us already know where SyFy originated, and for a much better reason.

But no matter. Despite all the speculation, most people know the truth now. The only reason we have to endure the name SyFy is because of bobbleheads, with David Howe, according to some, being the biggest bobbler of all after he said no one would remember this in a few years' time. Um, okay. You just keep bobbling, David, and everything will be fine.

The Case For Message Management During Change.

The whole SyFy snafu actually makes an excellent case for message management. Although it often gets a bad rap, being likened to corporate speak and political spin, sometimes it's a good thing.

You see, sometimes message management simply ensures that twenty-some spokespeople don't go around the press circuit with a different excuse. When they do, it makes it look less like you had a bobblehead moment and much more like you're lying because there is no good reason at all.

Thursday, July 2

Messaging: What Is It Anyway?

Any time Geoff Livingston writes anything about "messaging," I had a tendency to put my cup of coffee down. I'm likely to burn my lip or stain my shirt.

So back on June 16, coffee in hand, I started to put it down shakily as I read the headline of a Livingston post. "Conversation Starters: A Modern View of Messaging." Oh boy, I thought, it's still early here on the West Coast.

But as I read on, I stopped short of the coaster. His post wasn't to point out the evils of message control (as some people use interchangeably with message management), but rather the prompts for companies to reevaluate their messages. It wasn't too early after all.

A Modern View Of Message Management

I'm not really sure where message management became entwined with guarding company secrets or spinning away questions to avoid pertinent answers, but what Livingston describes as the modern view of message management is what I always believed it to be. Externally, it's fluid and responsive to the public. Internally, it's just a way for everyone to be on the same page.

After all, it takes 80 impressions (some say as many as 240 impressions) before a message begins to stick. So, simply put, if Bob says the best feature is price, and Sally says the best feature is quality, and Fred says the best feature is delivery, then the consumer — much like reading 20 bullet points in a newspaper ad — won't remember any of it. And frankly, chances are that two of the three are wrong anyway. Who knows? Maybe they are all wrong.

So what Livingston proposes in his post is quite simple. What do the customers say it is? Unless they are factually wrong, that is probably what the message ought to be.

Of course, that's not to say that companies can't start somewhere. Propose any authentic message you want. The lesson here is just don't marry it. Hmmm ... I'll drink to that. Next cup is on me, Mr. Livingston.

Wednesday, July 1

Bullying Employees: Organizational Risk

According to Gary Namie, director of the Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI) and author of the new book "The Bully At Work," published in 2000, workers are feeling the heat, as the bulk of workplace harassment cases involve superiors taunting employees. Although the survey sampling is small, some of the findings are interesting.

WBI Survey: Economic Crisis and Bullying

• 75.4% of perpetrators have higher a position than the target
• 65.9% of perpetrators are female; 81% of targets are female
• 27.5% said the bullying has become worse since the recession

"People are more stressed because there's no escape," Namie told The Miami Herald, saying that recessions trap employees to suffer from verbal abuse, humiliation, career sabotage, or intimidation.

For organizations, higher management might sometimes miss the warning signs and symptoms of bad leadership. As a result, the bullying continues with employees too afraid to report the infractions. But according to the International Institute of Management, there are several warning signs that top management and boards ought to consider.

Ten Signs That A Bully Is Leading The Team

• Management that does not allow disagreements and expects agreement in any public setting.
• There is limited or no leadership performance review for employees to provide feedback.
• Recruitment, selections and promotions are based on internal political agenda and personal loyalty.
• Some departments are underutilized while other departments are overloaded to make up the difference.
• Plans are heavy on talk but light on action; management tends to end programs and talk about programs that never develop.
• There is frequent and heated division, with language more focused on point scoring and buck-passing than sharing responsibility.
• Management wastes more time and energy on internal attack and defense strategies instead of executing the work.
• Leaders spend most of their time on fire fighting instead of proactive planning for next-generation products and services.
• Morale deteriorates and employees suffer muted commitment and enthusiasm compared to other teams.
• There is a high rate of absenteeism and a high employee turnover rate, with past employees spoken about poorly.

Sooner or later, key decision makers have to make the argument that the bully's too expensive to keep. In today's communication environment, it is only a matter of time before employees begin to publicly undermine the organization out of frustration because bad leadership tends to stick to the organization as a whole rather than the individual perpetrator.

A Bright Contrast To Bad Leadership

Years ago, when I first began studying leadership, Johnson Controls Inc. (JCI), a global leader in automotive, building efficiency, and power solutions, became a source of fascination for me after I was introduced to it by the book "In Search of Excellence: Lessons from America's Best Run Companies." I was interested enough that I purchased some stock at the right time.

However, over the years, it seemed to me that some of the qualities cited in the 1988 book (especially employee relations) were beginning to erode. So I sold most of the stock, but continued to keep tabs on the company. Last Tuesday, the company reported a second quarter loss of $193 million, or 33 cents a share. It doesn't expect positive earnings until the fourth quarter of this year.

Where's the bright light? Forbes reports that 140,000 employees of Johnson Controls took part in week-long series of discussions at more than 1,000 company locations around the globe one month ago. They were learning and exchanging ideas about how to sharpen the value they bring to their customers.

"Only 10 to 15 percent of our employees are customer-facing," said CEO Stephen Roell. "But our customer focus means examining all the interactions and hand-offs that take place inside and across the company. It's important that each employee see the connection between what they do and the customer experience, that they see that each of them has a vital role in that relationship and the satisfaction of our customers."

Aha. See the difference? Leadership.

Friday, May 22

Misunderstanding Intent: Communication Today

There is a fascinating post over at The Notorious R.O.B. that discusses some initial reservations with Todd Carpenter becoming the social media manager for the National Association of REALTORS. In the post, Rob Hahn describes those early reservations as associated with what he believed would be an impending shift from open communication to message control.

For the controversy over the MLS data and Google, I highly recommend the read. It's one of the most pressing issues in real estate today. However, this time around, I was reading the post for another reason all together. Hahn goes into some detail regarding message control and openness that seems to be a reoccurring conversation in social media.

"The overwhelming temptation for any company or organization that suddenly finds itself in the middle of a brewing (or full-blown) controversy is to lockdown message control. One person, typically the person in charge of Corporate Communication, speaks for the organization, and all inquiries are referred to that person. Behind the scenes, PR consultants, staff, lawyers, and other executives get into meeting after meeting to work out what will be said, how it will be said, and by whom. Once the message has been polished to a high gloss, it is put out to the world with extreme care."

Message control? Not really.

One of stories I like to share in my public relations class recounts how a local homebuilder initially reacted when a news station called after a handicapped woman complained that the homebuilder had violated the American Disabilities Act (ADA) after removing a ramp near a community mailbox near her home. The owners, who were on vacation, gave very clear instructions to their marketing manager.

"If the media calls, say no comment. If they come by, lock the doors."

Fortunately, the manager asked for support instead. Within a few minutes, all the details of what seemed like a pending news story were laid out on the table. The homebuilder hadn't done anything more than temporarily remove the makeshift ramp at the request of the city to meet municipal codes. The builder had notified the homeowner on three occasions. The homeowner would still be able to get her mail, with an access point just a little further away.

When the marketing manager followed up with the reporter, they agreed there wasn't a story.

"We ran an ADA story the other day, which typically invites call-ins. Most them aren't stories," said the reporter.

There seems to be a lot of confusion these days about what constitutes message control and message management and open communication. The reality is that open communication can be managed. It's just the simple matter of everyone having access to the facts, as they eventually did in the story above. And yes, that did require various professionals to lend their insight.

The point being that open communication can often be successfully managed without control or spin. It doesn't require manipulation as much as it requires all communicating parties have the same facts. In fact, if they did, I doubt management would be so worried about employee communication online.

The reality is that there is no message control and there never really was. Lately, it seems, social media is frequently blamed when otherwise good brands get put in a negative light. But brands were being put in a negative light long before social media. The only difference was that the writers were journalists (and sometimes they still are).

If there is any takeaway today, it's simply that message control almost always consists of hiding the truth or deflecting from the facts. Message management, on the other hand, is a form of open communication that works to ensure the facts are considered in lieu of erroneous opinions. In other words, intent helps sort out the difference between authenticity (which Seth Godin mistakes as consistency) and transparency.

In fact, if more people understood the basic tenets of public relations and communication, there would probably be far fewer social media fails. Well, maybe.

Thursday, April 23

Considering Content: Two Top Ten Tip Lists

There are plenty of people who might argue the point, but content is still king on the Internet. Readers, friends, associates, colleagues, etc. are all looking for the most useful information about someone, something, some service, or skill set.

After all, content searching and sourcing is the primary reason Google exists, isn't it? How about Amazon? How about Flickr? How about Etsy? Most people go to these places to look for specific content. And once they find you, the question is "did you deliver?"

I know two people who delivered this week on the topic of content management. First, Valeria Maltoni on Conversation Agent and then Kat French on the Social Media Explorer.

Something I always tell students when taking in information from different sources on how to be a better writer is to look for similarities and underlying themes. If diverse parties like Ogilvy (advertising), Princeton (academic), and KSL (journalism), and Copywrite, Ink. (communication) all say similar things, albeit differently, there might be something to it. With that in mind, this is where Maltoni and French seem to intersect:

Ten Tips For Content Management

1. Operate from a strategy and plan.
2. Provide value with the right content mix.
3. Choose the right messenger.
4. Participate with your community.
5. Recognize their participation.
6. Make good on your promises.
7. Keep it fresh by meeting their needs.
8. Consider legal and public interest.
9. Never force the sales message.
10. Know your objectives/expected outcomes.

Add the five steps most publics take to move from being aware to taking action, and you'll find all three models blend together rather nicely. So maybe there is something to it, whether you're talking about social media or communication in general.

Thursday, April 2

Leaking Wolverine: How Much Is Too Much?

"If it's a good movie, it won't f*cking matter. People will go see it. But if it's a bad movie, it could have consequences." — Geoff Ammer, recently departed worldwide head of marketing and distribution for Marvel Studios

At least that is the theory Ammer told AdAge about the an early print of "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" being leaked via file-sharing technology such as BitTorrent. But is it true?

According to sources, News Corp.’s Twentieth Century Fox initially pointed out that the film had been leaked in an e-mail statement, drawing even more attention to the leak before it was removed by a site they did not identify. (It was BitTorrent). Along with the announcement, News Corp. rose 34 cents, or 5.1 percent, to $6.96 today in Nasdaq Stock Market trading.

The buzz up more than quadrupled interest in the film yesterday as more than 75,000 downloads took place in a few hours. Prior, mentions of the film were steady but otherwise uneventful.

The studio also said the F.B.I. and the Motion Picture Association of America were both investigating the film’s premature distribution. The real concern, according to the studio, is that the leak was only 90 percent complete and has since received some negative buzz on blogs such as In Gob We Trust, which said "The entire film just felt cheesy, more in the vein of Batman Forever than anything else."

“We’ve never seen a high-profile film—a film of this budget, a tentpole movie with this box office potential—leak in any form this early,” said Eric Garland of file-sharing monitor BigChampagne told The New York Times.

In early 2008, a three-episode leak of Jericho Season Two (almost half of the truncated second season) quelled the excitement of the series return to television after a hard fought campaign by fans. CBS later told us it did not intentionally leak three episodes, but did release three episodes to reviewers.

That leak provided a interesting look at how fans view online leaks. Half were appalled by it; half speculated that the studio wanted the series leaked. Indeed, sometimes they do. The entertainment business is relying more and more on buzz to make major decisions. And a well-timed leak of information, clips, etc. can help drive it.

Both Jericho fans and Veronica Mars fans have kept a close eye on speculation that their series might find a new home on the silver screen. For Jericho fans, they've been receiving some mixed, although positive messages, about a Jericho movie. Veronica Mars fans have had a harder time hearing what many considered a green light only to have it turn red.

We disagree with the "leak to win" theories that seem to play on the emotions of fans or run too deep of a risk to derail momentum upon bad reviews by people predisposed to dislike them. In my opinion, fan groups, many of which are immersed in social media and vested in the creations, deserve authenticity from studios over roller coaster rides that only hope to measure prevailing interest. It's not that difficult to talk about the project over leaking the product, and provide movies a chance to thrive on their own merit.

All too often, leaks, intentional or not, are reviewed and commented on by the wrong people — people with little interest in the material — and then are panned. X-Men Origins: Wolverine could become a poster child example. In this case, the leak has resulted in a split decision among people who have seen the semi-complete film, thereby hindering early momentum that might have been driven by pockets of X-Men fans like those at X-Men Fan Site or groups within sites like

Wednesday, February 25

Planning Breakthroughs: Mike Ferrell

"Success is simple. Do what's right, the right way, at the right time." — Arnold H. Glasow

Simple becomes the operative word in describing Mike Ferrell's new book, Ultimate Breakthrough Planning, from Scarletta Press. It's simple enough that it risks being overlooked by varied best seller lists, but important enough that small business owners and managers would benefit to see it there.

Ferrell, president of The Pinecrest Group, has been involved with eight different start-ups, with considerable time working in the financial services arena. He has also presented to thousands of people at workshops and seminars. But that's not why management could benefit from the little red book that could.

"In 2005, 544,800 small businesses closed for a variety of reasons: lack of capital, lack of customers, poor location, bad service, or the wrong product," writes Ferrell. "How many of these could have avoided this fate if they had an easy-to-follow plan, or blueprint, that would help them succeed?"

Ultimate Breakthrough Planning defines itself as the blueprint that can help small businesses move away from thinking in terms of a traditional business plan and into an actionable business funnel approach. While I found the funnel to be similar to other models we've helped businesses adapt in the past, Ferrell puts down his approach in a much more comprehensible format and then goes a step further. He starts with the six key elements of success ...

Vision and Branding. How to determine what your business will look like and how it will function.
Leadership and Team. How to clearly communicate vision with your team to make it more effective.
Marketing Systems. How to create marketing that is done consistently across a variety of mediums.
Sales Process. How to understand your customers and develop stronger relationships with them.
• Exceptional Service. How to take good service to a higher level, and engaging your team to do it.
Strategic Alliances. How to determine what you do well and find people to do what you don't do so well.

... and then, he drives each of these critical areas through his funnel process. It seems to me that it is this process where Ferrell's ideas for an executable business process take hold. He does not force businesses into a cookie cutter model, but rather guides his readers through a process, from the macroscopic concept to the microscopic action.

What's the difference? Most business advisers define vision and branding in typical terms and then produce various statements that are sometimes mocked until they are long forgotten. Contrary, Ferrell suggests all six elements are all executable by identifying priorities, setting goals and objectives, defining strategies, determining tools, communicating and training, creating tasks and timelines, tracking results, and rewarding success. While the outcome of this process for each company would produce very different conclusions, each would benefit with an equal propensity for results.

That is the point isn't it? Personally, I have yet to find any two companies that are the same. And yet, every day, marketers and business consultants insist that all companies adopt the same models, marketing, or priorities. Why? Because that is what most businesses want to hear. Never mind what works for our employees and customers, they say, I want to do what works for someone else's customers because we want their outcomes. Ferrell spells out the problem with a sports analogy.

"When a football coach designs a game plan, he doesn't focus on the eventual outcome of the game; he focuses on the specific offense, defensive and special teams plays that need to happen to affect the eventual outcome in his favor," writes Ferrell. "Too many business owners focus on their plan and skip specific steps needed to achieve those results.

He's right. The reality of any game is this: we do not know the outcome. So while setting goals is useful, the focus needs to remain on the strategies and tactics that are required in order to achieve those goals. It's not all that different from what I've been suggesting with the ROC abstract.

It's also this kind of thinking that makes Ferrell's work immediately applicable. Every business has strengths and weaknesses, and there is ample material to help determine which areas — offense, defense, or special teams — could be brushed up for better results. More importantly, Ultimate Breakthrough Planning helps business owners think about and evaluate their businesses as if it was the first time, which far too many forget to do.

With the exception of a few minor blemishes throughout, the only soft spot in the book can be found in the Question and Exercises chapter where Ferrell suggests a self-analysis for Vision and Branding that is a bit too introspective for my taste. I believe even the smallest businesses can benefit by involving key members of the team to answer the questions he proposed. There is no need to wait until the second element before you bring them into the process. Engage them at the beginning.

Otherwise, it's easy for me to recommend this book. It's straightforward and clearly articulates what businesses ought to do if they want to make success simple. That is what we want to do, isn't it? After all, if a business isn't focused on success but only "survival" in a down economy, then it's already operating at a deficiency and heading for a loss.

Wednesday, February 11

Looking For Leadership: Engage Employees

As the economic downturn continues, employee engagement remains the critical component for companies to weather the worst and remain on track. It is not enough to simply demand more from top performers or expect employees to hang on with with the hope that job security seems safer than facing unemployment. Leaders need to energize the base.

Watson Wyatt, a global consulting firm, recently released a report that shows highly engaged employees are twice as likely to become top performers. They also miss 20 percent fewer days of work. And, three-quarters of them exceed or far exceed performance review expectations.

The benefits for highly engaged employees benefit the organization as a whole. Organizations with clear leadership and internal communication enjoy 26 percent higher employee productivity, have lower turnover risk, and have earned 13 percent greater total returns to shareholders over the last five years. They are also more supportive of organizational change initiatives, willing to get behind near-term plans even when they ask for sacrifice.

There are two catches. Executives need to be leaders more than managers. And, each organization requires its own plan.

“There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to employee engagement," said Ilene Gochman, global practice leader for organization effectiveness at Watson Wyatt. "Segmenting the workforce and tailoring communication, performance management programs and other resources to specific employee groups is the most effective way to engage workers.”

• Capitalize on “engageable moments.” In the best of times, companies can most easily energize new employees. Currently, most companies do not. Even after six months, employees tend to be less motivated to do their best every day. Instead, especially at organizations with hiring freezes, challenging economic times can become the catalyst, assuming management hasn't settled into complacency.

• Demonstrate strong leadership and clear direction. As we recently mentioned, employees want to know about their organization’s specific plans and progress. "What plan" matters less than the fact there is a plan.

• Manage organizational change with effective communication. Especially in an economic crisis, employees are anxious to learn the rationale behind decisions. Authentic communication from senior management will give employees a sense of purpose.

• Emphasize customer focus. Employees are already aware that job security is strengthened by satisfied customers. The two challenges most leaders face is if employees are too focused on internal rumors (will there be more layoffs) or if employers are not providing employees enough support to satisfy customers.

• Invest in the core. One of the most interesting aspects of the study was the emphasis placed on energizing the base. Highly engaged employees that are already top performers can be limited by their less engaged co-workers. Companies need to establish engagement with more than 60 percent of the workforce before productivity shifts.

From our own research, the majority of organizations have settled into a "holding" pattern, attempting to wait out the economic crisis. This presents a tangible opportunity for companies that energized to turn the economic situation into a clear advantage. As simple as it might sound, the decision can be articulated in a few lines from Robert Frost.

"Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference."

The only question that remains is which road will your organization take? Without question, the choice will make all the difference. Our company, fortunately, has already decided to take the one less traveled by. And, we recently were engaged by an organization to help them do the same. What about your organization? Wait and hold or engage and grow?

Related reading:

City of Collinsville: We work to bring the employees into the decision making.

Edleman: One in four employees will consider switching jobs when the economy picks up.

The Employee Factor: Employee engagement levels erode over time.

Compensation Force: Recession-driven sense of shared destiny - are we missing an opportunity?

Friday, January 23

Moving Forward: How To Manage Criticism

Lauren Vargas, principal of 12Comm Public Relations, calls them killer bees or "jackals feeding off the blood and weakness of others." Valeria Maltoni, who writes the Conversation Agent (among other things), calls them seagulls — those who fly in, make a mess, and fly out again. And Umesh Sharma, clinical psychologist, includes not being a critic among his secrets for a stress-free life. Critics are like needles in a balloon factory, he said.

There is certainly some wisdom in their words. Seagulls and bees or needles and jackals don't make the most pleasant company. However, as Vargas points out and Maltoni has too, constructive criticism is not only welcomed, it's needed.

That leaves some communicators in a quandary. How do you tell the bees from butterflies and seagulls from eagles?

After all, very few people really like criticism, but everyone offers it from time to time. In fact, our aversion to it tends to be a prominent social media discussion point any time I speak with business people. "What if someone says something bad about us?" they ask.

I generally muse that people probably are already saying something bad about them, they just don't know it.

After all, the most common question after a dinner, show, movie, book, product, new car, etc. is "How did (or do) you like it?" or "What did you think?" One of the benefits — or setbacks — of social media is that it amplifies these criticisms from private conversations to public discourse. In some cases, it can even cause a crisis.

Personally, I consider it a benefit, but not all people do. So regardless of how you feel, what's a communicator to do?

1. Recognize the difference between critics and cynics. Critics strive to be open, objective, and offer suggestions for improvement or make an effort to understand various points of view. Cynics generally are closed, biased, and reject that any merit exists or tend to promote their point of view while dismissing the validity of any other. They deserve different approaches.

2. Distinguish criticism about something and criticism about someone. Valid criticism, even if you do not agree with it, tends to focus on the situation, work, or action. The worst criticism presents judgements about specific people. Care what people think, but don't care so much about what they think about you.

3. Consider the intent of constructive criticism and negative feedback. The intent of negative feedback, even if it appears offensive, or constructive criticism, which is generally non-confrontational, is to provide guidance. Even when comments seem inappropriate, focus more on the message and not the delivery.

4. Distinguish the difference between communication and diatribe. Someone opening up a conversation that makes us feel uncomfortable might even be an asset. Diatribe, on the other hand, does not promote conversation or communication. It aims to shout the other person down (sometimes by encouraging others to do it).

5. Recognize that cynicism communicates more about them than you. While criticism can sting if it is well presented, cynicism says more about them than it does you. Even when real time situations seem to favor emotional aggressors, post- event analysis tends to favor a steady hand. How you respond will always overshadow what is being critiqued.

If you don't manage the message, the message will manage you.

Communicators have to accept that we cannot control what other people say or do. We can only manage what we say or do, even when we are responding to what others have said. Planned action is always better than unplanned reaction. In fact, in preparing for such instances, the first person we need to consider is ourself. Are we oversensitive to criticism?

While I'm not a fan of psychological self-tests, I did vet one at Psychology Today for this post. It asks: Are you sensitive to criticism? Can you handle negative feedback or do you find you have to resist the urge to bite your critic's head off? Try it out. (The summary is free; the full analysis, which didn't seem necessary, carries a fee.) The exercise itself might be eye-opening.

Once you do, then consider the closing quote from author William Arthur Ward. Because if he were alive today, he might artfully remind people that how one receives and interprets criticism or cynicism is the key to being an effective communicator. He might also note that even the most practiced communicators, when confronted with criticism, tend to respond (or encourage others to respond on their behalf) much like the critics they profess to dislike.

"In the face of unjust criticism, we can become bitter or better; upset or understanding; hostile or humble; furious or forgiving." — William Arthur Ward

Thursday, January 15

Saying Nothing: Why Leadership Needs To Engage

Although a recent survey from Weber Shandwick has a small sampling with only 514 respondents, it mirrors several other studies that suggest the same — company leadership is still too quiet about the current economic crisis.

More than half (54 percent) of those surveyed said their employers are not talking about how the financial crisis is impacting the company and the majority (71 percent) said their company's leadership should be communicating about it more. The study also pinpoints that while company leadership is perceived to be not talking about the recession, 74 percent of their colleagues and co-workers are talking about it, with 26 percent expecting layoffs.

Last December, Watson Wyatt released a study that conveys the opposite. Overall, it found 77 percent of employers have already sent out or are planning communication on the impact of the financial crisis. More than two-thirds (69 percent) of these employers cited easing employee anxiety as one of the top two goals of their crisis-related internal communication, while nearly one-third (32 percent) cited earning employees’ trust.

Are more employers talking, but fewer employees hearing?

When the intent of communication no longer produces the desired outcomes (such as alleviating employee anxiety), it's time to reevaluate the communication.

In this case, communication managers and executives might consider that addressing the financial crisis is not the same as typical or motivational internal communication — it's crisis communication, even if the company is not directly impacted by the crisis occurring around it. And while not every crisis communication step needs to be followed, there are several very important questions that leadership needs to ask:

Are we acknowledging something is wrong? While instilling internal confidence is critical, employers cannot outright dismiss the recession. It has to be acknowledged, even if the company is unique, or the message may not be believed.

Are we satisfying employee interest? Employees are talking about the financial crisis. Government is talking about the financial crisis. The media is talking about the financial crisis. The sheer frequency of all this communication suggests company leadership needs to consistently communicate its position and direction. For companies wondering how many times they might reinforce job security to their employees, there is one answer: as many times as employees need to hear it.

Are we communicating empathy? Internal communication is not exclusively internal. Internal communication influences front-line communication and is influenced by outside factors. Even if company is one of several viewing the recession as an opportunity as opposed to a setback, the communication needs to express empathy. Employee spouses, colleagues, and point-of-contact customers may have very different experiences.

Have we included positive steps being taken to address the situation? During a crisis, even if the crisis is external, every message needs to be reinforced by provable data and a positive direction, regardless of what that data might communicate. People are always more receptive to a clear direction, even if it includes some bad news.

If these questions remain unanswered, any communication may be rendered ineffective. Ineffective communication is non-communication and may not even register with employees. Given that internal communication is permeable, non-communication can contribute to external public sentiment. It may even be why the RBC CASH (Consumer Attitudes and Spending by Household) Index reported consumer sentiment is at a six-year low.

"At a time when working Americans are concerned about their personal finances, their jobs and the overall economy, employees are looking for credible, candid information, and right now too few business leaders are filling the information void that exists,” said Harris Diamond, CEO of Weber Shandwick. “Employers have a great opportunity to communicate with their workforce about the impact of the economic situation on their companies as well as on employees."

Isn't it obvious? Employees are not just employees. They are also consumers and shareholders. And right now, they are looking to the private sector, as much as government, to stabilize the economy. At minimum, they need reassurance that their company isn't waiting for someone else to come up with a solution.

Related posts:

Ragan: Survey: Leaders Fail To Communicate With Employees

British Association Of Communicators In Business: Recession Demands More Emphasis On Internal Communication Not Less

Jenna Boiler: The Importance Of Internal Marketing

Geneva Communicators Network: Employee Communication Spending To Rise In 2009

Copywrite, Ink: Thinking Internal: Watson Wyatt Study

Friday, January 9

Defining Communication: Real-Time Over Social

If anyone needs more evidence that 2009 will be the Year of Communication, consider the upcoming 'Real-Time Communications Conference' will lead with a keynote presentation about embracing social media and online community building by Pfizer Vice President Ray Kerins.

Following Kerins will be a panel discussion moderated by Sarah Milstein, author, Twitter and the Micro-Messaging Revolution. The panel will include: Paul Gennaro, senior vice president & chief communications officer, AECOM Technology Corp and David Sacks, founder and CEO, Yammer, Dave Armon, president, PR Newswire, and Morgan Johnston, Corporate Communications manager, JetBlue. There are also two roundtable sessions.

The conference will be held on Jan. 14 at the Graduate Center of The City University of New York, but portions of it will be broadcast live via a PR Newswire/MultiVu Webcast. So what's on the agenda for business besides positioning "social media" as a subset of real-time communications?

• Case studies of leading organizations that embrace real-time communications.
• Real-time communications to build communities with customers and prospects.
• Analysis of leading organizations on how they can manage and defend brand reputation.
• Maintaining core values and principles while maximizing flexibility for unforeseen events.
• Integrating crisis communication when challenged by real-time events online.
• An overview of the tools and technologies that today's communicators need to know.

Lewis Green, L and G Business Solutions; Francois Gossieaux, Emergence Marketing; and Valeria Maltoni, Conversation Agent (to some extent); have all expressed concerns that the social media expert crowd might be disconnecting themselves from business.

We also mentioned the trend several times last year, first following up on some comments made by Ted McConnell, general manager-interactive marketing and innovation at Procter & Gamble Co., and again in response to the overemphasis of conversations even knowing that neither might be popular. Right. For all the fun of following what is hot and what is not, businesses are moving right along without those who profess to know.

Does that mean businesses will make mistakes? You bet they will. But even if the tone of the new Wells Fargo-Wachovia blog (hat tip: Shel Holtz) seems a bit off, the social media crowd might have to accept that most customers don't care what comes first or last as long as companies move in the right direction.

Thursday, January 8

Accepting Temporary: Complacency Is Circular

Last night, I noticed something unusual at my gym. Typically, Gold's Gym is packed with "resolution members," people who made fitness resolutions for the New Year. After two weeks, most of them conclude that it isn't working and slowly fade away into whatever daily routines seem more comfortable. Not this year.

When I shared the observation that my gym was void of resolution members this year, PJ Perez suggested "overweight Americans have accepted their designations."

He's right, but I'm not so sure we're talking about fitness. Eighty-five percent of people voting on a news poll believe that the economy will get worse before it gets better, and only 33 percent have faith that President-elect Barack Obama's administration will be able to turn the economy around.

When the question had been asked during the election cycle, those numbers were considerably higher. It's one of the reasons he won. So what changed? People aren't certain the Obama administration can turn the economy around because Obama has yet to change campaign criticism into a confident challenge. Consider the following …

"I don't believe it's too late to change course, but it will be if we don't take dramatic action as soon as possible," Obama said in a speech set to be delivered at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., outside Washington.

Most speechwriters know that "but" cancels out everything that precedes it. Then again, I'm not talking about politics. I'm talking about the acceptance of what seems to be and complacency as opposed to acknowledging what is and moving forward.

You see, complacency is circular in that it occurs in companies, countries, and people at two ends of the spectrum — when things are too good or when things are too bad. In either case, complacency is the general acceptance of a temporary situation or state of being as if it is permanent (or who we are). So if you haven't already, right now might be a good time to kick around the concept of complacency as a conversation in your office.

Are you making decisions based on (or complaining about) temporary situations? And if so, what happens if and when those temporary situations change? Will those decisions put you in a position to win or ensure you remain in the same place — at the bottom of the complacency circle (which might be where your company started anyway)?

Or in other words, if your company is waiting it out, you might rethink that. After all, times will change. They always do. It's the only certainty.

Wednesday, October 22

Branding Inside Out: Ketchum's Global Food & Nutrition

"A brand isn't what you say about it, it's what other people say about it." — Linda Eatherton, partner and director of Ketchum's Global Food & Nutrition Practice.

At least that is what Eatherton told Marketing Daily on the heels of a study that reveals: branding lags well behind taste, quality, and price when consumers choose food. While there is no doubt that Eatherton's statement might be music to some people's ears — as it is what many social media experts have been saying for some time — it's also misleading.

Brands are not only built by what others say about them.

Brands are built by many factors, including what the company says about itself and others, what the competition says about themselves and others, and what other stakeholders, including consumers, say about all of them.

In the food industry, branding tends to play last for several reasons. First, many companies invest in product branding over company branding. Second, food branding tends to include the qualities and properties of the product, such as taste, quality, and price. Third, grocery store branding, locality, and stock also plays a fundamental role, at least in the United States.

In other words, people tend to think they need "bread crumbs," drive to their preferred grocer, and choose from the available selection based on those qualities mentioned. There are some exceptions. Rather than think "cereal," someone might think "Cheerios" because they already associate some qualities with that brand (enough to pass on any imitations, anyway). But "General Mills," the company that makes Cheerios, may never even enter their mind.

Highlights from the Ketchum's Global Food & Nutrition Practice survey.

• 74 percent cited taste as a key consideration, except China, where 78 said health benefits were more important.
• 66 percent said that where the food comes from is important, but 60 percent said taste still always trumps food sourcing.
• 63 percent said they want to recognize all of the ingredients on a food label, with Argentina being the most concerned.
• Only 33 percent said that “brand name” is among the most important factors when buying food, with brand slightly more important in China and Argentina at 45 percent.

The survey polled 1,000 consumers in the U.S., the U.K., Germany, Argentina and China. It included 200 respondents from each country. For additional details, you can find the release here.

The Global Food & Nutrition Practice survey reminds companies to think.

In my opinion, the survey is interesting and useful in that it reminds companies to think in terms of the obvious. If the food does not taste good, people won't buy it. If too many foods from the same manufacturer do not taste good, or if a crisis occurs, then consumers might avoid it. In extreme cases, the entire product line, regardless of manufacturer, might also be avoided (think bagged spinach last year).

So the bottom line is that if manufacturers hope to build a brand that people remember, then the branding is best built from those qualities that consumers are looking for. And once a brand is established, then the brand needs to vigilantly demonstrate that the qualities associated with it are true.

Hmmm ... isn't this the very lesson we recently learned in the soup war between Campbell and General Mills? They both concluded that the back of the can has become more important than the front of the can. And, in a classic case of how brands are shaped by what companies say about their competition, Campbell learned it's never a good idea to throw stones at MSG-laced soups if consumers might discover that the pot was calling the kettle black.


Friday, October 17

Allowing Anonymous: Communicators Divided

Ragan recently released the results of a poll that asked a series of questions regarding anonymous comments. More than 1,000 communicators responded.

Highlights: How Organizations View Anonymous Comments

• 46 percent of their organizations do not allow anonymous comments.
• 46 percent of their organizations do not allow comments of any kind.
• 14 percent of their organizations do allow anonymous comments.

Highlights: How Communicators See Anonymous Comments

• 37 percent were undecided whether anonymous comments should be allowed.
• 31 percent said anonymous comments on blogs and article should not be allowed.
• 32 percent believe anon anonymous comments on blogs and articles should be allowed.

“Our company does not appreciate feedback of any kind from employees, not even on a person-to-person basis. Management is averse to following anything to be made publicly available without executive review.” — Anonymous

How Companies Might Come To Cope With Anonymous Comments

Social media — blogs, forums, Internets — is not a cookie cutter operation, internally or externally. And the decision to allow or disallow anonymous comments might be made with that in mind. Take a look around the Internet and you'll see a great variety of conclusions on the subject to guide you.

This blog, for example, allows anonymous comments. The only comments that are ever deleted are spam ads. We made this decision because we wanted a place where people could engage in open, candid discussions about communication.

However, I also believe that there are only two ways that anonymous posters demonstrate credibility: the quality of the comment, which means whether the post provides insights over insults. And, how or if we respond to the comment.

Why Companies Might Consider Moderated Comments

We manage several other blogs that are much more heavily moderated. The National Business Community Blog is not well-suited for unmoderated comments.

It only has one purpose: to share stories about companies that do good. Every now and again, one example or best practice comes from a company with known dissenters and we become privileged to receive a deluge of negative comments about it.

None of these comments are ever published because we feel strongly that it distracts from our intent. Every now and again, people like to visit a blog void of discussion or drama. We do read the comments though, and on one occasion removed the post.

Why Companies Might Consider No Comments At All

The intent is myopic, like using a blog to publish new releases, white papers, and feature stories about the company. Many social media experts disagree with me on this point, but my feeling is that the long tail of social media need not wag the company dog. If a company doesn't want to benefit from any dialogue from employees, customers, and any other stakeholders, then there is no need for us to force them to.

The only other reason I can think of is that the company representatives, whether a CEO or communicator, are not well skilled in dealing with the occasional criticism, call out, or attack. It takes a balanced hand to respond, which is important to consider since most crisis communication situations have very little to do with what happens and everything to do with how we respond.

What I Teach Students About Being Anonymous

There is no black or white and yes or no answer. Each company, hopefully with input from their communication team, can make the right choice.

However, and I cannot stress this enough, I do advise communicators and public relations professionals to never make anonymous comments or, if they do, they need to be prepared to answer for such posts in a world where no communication is really private. Not anymore.


Thursday, October 16

Advertising Negatives: From Soup To Nuts

Almost every editorial on the final debate between U.S. Sen. Barack Obama and U.S. Sen. John McCain leads the same way. It only took 20 minutes before both candidates forgot about the issues and shifted toward political campaign ads.

They were kidding, right?

No, no, I suppose not. While the last reason I would elect a president is based on the prowess of their television production teams, most political talk seems to be all about the ads.

Some are even arguing over which side has more negative advertisements than the other. The University of Wisconsin Advertising Project says Obama airs the larger percentage of negative ads. The Nation says that is not true and McCain ads are much more negative. Has everyone forgotten grade school?

When Billy lies about Sally twice and Sally lies about Billy once … Ms. Clark made them both clean erasers after class.

So let's talk soup.

When it comes to negative advertising, there is no clear winner in another brand battle taking place across America. There are only losers.

For several weeks, Campbell and General Mills have been in engaged in an ongoing soup battle. Cambpell launched the first attack ad in The New York Times, claiming General Mills' Progresso soups are made with MSG. They are. General Mills fired back, saying some Campbell soups have MSG. They do.

So Campbell counted all of its soups to conclude that 124 soups have no MSG.

"The pot can't be calling the kettle black if it has the same problem itself," Laura Ries, president of Ries & Ries, told Brandweek.

So let's talk nuts.

One would think that after noted author Geoff Livingston wrote that astroturf comes in a variety of colors, including blue, someone might get the hint. Not so with Allison Copening and crew. They are dead set to stay the course with a $1 million smear campaign against State Senator Bob Beers — a campaign that almost everyone calls pathetic.

Their solution? Allison Copening's backers, who admit that the negative advertising has backfired because some residents "have stopped opening election mail” are now moving their lies onto television. Some estimate they will spend up to $500,000 on television, splitting the figure between attacking State Sen. Bob Beers and State Sen. Joe Heck, who is another elected official targeted this campaign cycle.

Given the size of the media market in Las Vegas, the television buy is equivalent to tossing a glass of water into a swimming pool and hoping to splash a few people. If it does splash some people, one can only hope that those splashed will know that most messages move beyond distortion and are of the plain old-fashioned lie variety.

As it turns out, it would not be the first time Copening has played a PR spin game. She was once a marketing director at PurchasePro, a company charged with stock fraud. She also worked as a public relations specialist for a homebuilder when it dealt with rat infestations and home fire sales that left new residents with mortgages higher than their assessed value.

She claimed that the rats were part of the allure of the desert. She rebuffed reporters when the homebuilder cut home values by simply saying they were too busy with other things.

Ironically, she claims it is Sen. Bob Beers who makes up stories. For his part, Sen. Beers has remained focused on campaign issues. In one case, he criticized a third party mailer that attacked his opponent's math skills and called them below a fourth grade level. As it turns out, he is not the only one tired of campaign ads that deviate from the truth.

Several states away in Minnesota, U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman recently said his campaign would halt negative advertising in a race recently dominated by it. "I want folks to vote for me, and not against the other folks," he said.


Blog Archive

by Richard R Becker Copyright and Trademark, Copywrite, Ink. © 2021; Theme designed by Bie Blogger Template