Thursday, February 19

Setting Policies: 20 Rules For Social Juice

Whether or not your employees choose to congregate at Starbucks, The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, or Dunkin' Donuts is their own decision. However, meeting with prospects, clients, and the public at places with coffee is fundamentally changing the way we work and engage people.

For this reason, it is imperative that employers explore how talking to people and drinking coffee can empower us all as global professionals, innovators, and citizens. These individual interactions represent a new model: not mass communication, but mass consumption on an individual scale.

Innovative companies believe in the importance of open exchanges and learning — between employees and clients, employees and vendors, employees and employees, employees and their family members, and employees and tasty beans — at various societal ecosystems where you can find them brewing coffee and dunking tea bags.

In fact, many consider it a rapidly growing phenomenon with people who drink coffee, and people who don't drink coffee but hang out with people who drink coffee, emerging as an important arena for engagement and learning. After all, as businesses, innovators, and corporate citizens, all companies make important contributions to the world.

So, as business activities increasingly focus on the provision of transformational insight and high-value innovation, it becomes more important for employees to congregate at coffee houses and donut shops whenever possible. In doing so, they can share all of the exciting things that their companies are doing and learn from one another too. However, there are some guidelines they should all abide by at coffee houses and donut shops. Maybe they need a coffee shop policy. Here's one example:

Employee Coffee Shop Engagement and Donut Dialogue Policy

1. Make it about you, not us. Make it clear that your choice of coffee, whether Caffè Verona or Decaf Sumatra, is yours and not those of your peers or employer.

2. Loose lips, sink ships. Never share company's proprietary information, including what coffees other employees or your employer might enjoy to inspire ideas. Above all, it is not your business whether a double latte has too much caffeine for someone's body size and certainly not the business of others.

3. Follow etiquette guidelines. Ask your manager if you have questions about what might be appropriate to wear at different coffee houses. Different shops and houses have different rules about what is or what is not appropriate. When in doubt or if your manager does not know, drive around the coffee shop the day before and take notes. Wear what other people wear, assuming that you have a similar body type and are of the same gender.

4. Flatter people, don't fault them. When talking about others, be respectful of the company, employees, customers, partners, and competitors (except that one competitor; they really are jerks). When in doubt, ask people if they think they are jerks. If they agree that they are jerks, only then is it permissible to call them such (except that one competitor, as noted, or if you are the CEO and using a fake name).

5. Always consider what is appropriate. Understand that specific topics, such as the economic conditions of coffee growing countries, are taboo. Never ask the employees at the coffee shop how much money they make or why they want tips. Never attempt to bribe coffee shop employees to put salt in someone's coffee for you. It's not funny.

6. Consult attorneys. Some topics are so serious they may breach confidential or legal compliance, especially those that are confidential or require legal compliance. When it doubt, call your supervisor and ask permission. If they are already at the coffee shop, shout the information out to them. They will let you know if it is appropriate.

7. Don't let it interfere with work. Ensure your coffee consumption does not interfere with your work commitments. Too much coffee may make you hyper and could cause a general distraction to others. Some people also experience coffee or sugar crashes in the afternoon, which reduces productivity. Don't overdo it.

8. Take responsibility and be careful. Know that you are personally responsible for the coffee you order, consume, and any other beverage or snack you choose. Always be mindful that coffee can stain! If you drool or are otherwise a sloppy coffee drinker, tuck a napkin in the collar of your shirt or place one on your lap.

9. Identify yourself everywhere. Every time you walk into a coffee shop, shout out your name and what you do for your employer. Even though we require you to identify yourself as an employee, make it clear that you are speaking for yourself and not your employer. Specifically, attribute anything smart to us, and anything stupid to you.

10. Be a real person. Never refer to yourself in the third person. Someone might mistake what you are saying as speaking for the company. Besides, it's weird.

11. Don't speak for the company. If you have any other conversations about any other subject or affirm that you enjoy a particular type of coffee, state a disclaimer, such as: "That conversation was my own and doesn't necessarily represent my employer's positions, strategies or opinions."

12. Ask permission to cite allies. Never talk about, cite, or reference clients, partners or suppliers without their approval. When you do reference them, make sure to provide their cell phone number for attribution and/or affirmation and clarification.

13. Respect unknown boundaries. Don't use ethnic slurs, personal insults, obscenity, or engage in any conduct that would not generally be acceptable. You should also show proper consideration for others' privacy and for topics that may be considered objectionable or inflammatory, such as politics, religion, and the origin of specific beans.

14. Listen in before speaking out. Find out what other people are talking about at the coffee shop. Walk up to a few tables and ask them or listen in to their conversation. Then, announce to the people you are with what the other people are talking about. Point them out so there is no confusion. If they give you an odd look, tell your friends to make fun of them, but you are not allowed to do so.

15. Be aware that you are an employee. When you identify yourself as such, ensure your behaviors are consistent with how you wish to present yourself with colleagues and clients. Never order a cafe mocha when you want to be an espresso.

16. Don't call people names or arbitrarily punch them in the head. Always be the first to admit your mistakes, such as adding two packets of sugar when one would have been enough. Don't ask for a new coffee, however. Once you make a mistake, you have to drink it.

17. Try to add value at the coffee shop. While receiving your coffee, engage the employees with how they could wear their hair better or make a more personable impression with other customers. Tell other people how to drink coffee a little better or reduce the number of crumbs that fall from their scone. They really want to know and it demonstrates we're leaders.

18. It's our brand, respect it. As your employer, we take the position that our brand is best represented by its people and what you do in a coffee shop may reflect on that brand, which is why you are not allowed to represent our brand.

19. Use your best judgment. Sure, all of these rules might suggest that we think you are incapable of using your best judgement, but we care about you. The general rule of thumb should be, if you feel even the slightest bit uncomfortable standing on your head in public or sticking a fork in your eye, pause and analyze your feelings. Maybe it is best that you don't do whatever it is you are thinking to do.

20. Admit your weaknesses. If you don't feel you have good enough judgement to make any of these decisions on your own or are still unsure of what to talk about at coffee shops, feel free to discuss it with your manager. While it might reaffirm that you are a dimwit, he will be able to give you the best advice of all. When in doubt, don't say anything at all . Of course, it is perfectly okay to say anything at all anywhere else, except as it pertains to sandwich shops. Those rules are posted elsewhere.

The Bottom Line On Social Media.

Did you ever wonder if companies are taking social media too seriously? After all, most companies spend tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions, and even billions of dollars trying to find and engage an audience. And while there is ample research that shows that these publics are on the Internet, it remains the only environment where companies are so afraid to engage them that they write social media policies that would be considered laughable if applied to any other setting. Maybe.

What's your policy?

Wednesday, February 18

Shifting Niche: RiseSmart vs. TheLadders

Almost one year ago, two companies set out to differentiate themselves from other job search sites within the same niche: TheLadders and RiseSmart. Each wanted to dominate a subscription-based job site niche that focuses on jobs starting at $100k.

However, with the economic downturn, pursuing qualified employers or qualified candidates in a race toward a shrinking middle seemed increasingly futile. As TheLadders entrenched itself in offering employer-driven job search resources, RiseSmart set out to find a bigger court by adding outplacement to its core services.

Play From A Bigger Court To Win A Niche?

"Traditional outplacement services have simply become too expensive in the minds of many companies," Sanjay Sathe, founder and CEO of RiseSmart, said in a release. "Employers are frustrated with these services, because they cost a lot but typically don't demonstrate measurable results for employees. During a time of financial pressures, they've become a target of budget cuts."

The move makes sense. Whereas outplacement consulting firms represent a $3 billion industry to provide transitioned employees with career counseling, RiseSmart expanded its business model to include outplacement services that directly targets employers without giving up its candidate-focused service. For RiseSmart, it establishes a beachhead in the outplacement industry and nurtures employer relationships when the economy eventually reverses course.

The move benefits employers too. Rather than funneling employees to outsource companies that sometimes emphasize new careers, RiseSmart clients are directing laid off employees to a service that finds them jobs. If job placement can be expedited, former employees who have relationships with coworkers at the their former company boost morale despite layoffs.

Outplacement Services Can Improve Employee Relationships.

"Businesses sometimes forget that employees who are laid off are still part of the internal culture," one human resource executive, who recently managed several hundred layoffs, told me. "Just because they pack up their desks doesn't mean they break off all the relationships they made while working at a company. The morale of former employees and their ability to secure new jobs directly impacts the employees that remain."

While it's not formal communication, the message resonates with internal audiences. It shifts the focus from internal rumors back toward satisfying customers because employees know even if they are laid off, there is a plan to place them. Providing a sense of security may be critical during economic uncertainty.

Companies that do not provide a sense of security may jeopardize their own future. While the recession has temporarily lowered employee turnover, as many as 40 percent of employees at companies mishandling layoffs could seek new employment when the economy improves. High turnover rates typically cost between 150 to 250 percent of an employee's annual salary, with high-performing employees being among the first to go.

Relationships In Bad Times Create Opportunities In Good Times.

RiseSmart might not be the largest subscription-based job site that focuses on jobs starting at $100k, but it is playing smart. If it continues to cater to qualified candidates while developing relationships with employers during an economic downturn, it may overtake some middle ground as the economy improves. The move positions the company as a link.

Contrary, TheLadders added 400 new companies and recruiters in the fourth quarter, reinforcing its employer model. The number of candidates hoping to secure these jobs spiked 63 percent last year. The move positions the company as a middleman.

In reality, both companies are still battling for premium position in a niche market. RiseSmart may have expanded its court, but it still pokes fun at the competition. Recently, RiseSmart pointed out that as clever as the commercials from CareerBuilder, Monster, and TheLadders can be, none of them reinforce human side of job placement.

Other Voices Taking Note Of The Extended Matchup.

Mashable: RiseSmart is Job Hunting for Lazy, Laid-off Execs

Cheesehead: RiseSmart Gets $3 Million In Funding

AlarmClock: High End Job Search Site RiseSmart Raises $3M

Tuesday, February 17

Marketing Mobile: CW Multimedia

Almost two years, Harris Interactive, a full-service market research firm, presented a complimentary webinar that suggested mobile advertising was particularly adept at strengthening the bond between the brand and the consumer, communicating messages, and changing behavior.

It had good reason to. Although not part of the webinar, two days prior, Idol Gives Back had nearly broken records, raising more than $60 million for poor children in Africa and the United States. At $60 million, Idol Gives Back was just $1 million shy of the Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon.

In Louisville, Ky., that same program became a defining moment for the owners and employees of CW Multimedia. Several members of the team were watching American Idol when they recognized a new direction for their multimedia company. Mobile marketing was their future.

"We had already been kicking around the mobile marketing for several months," says Mike Willis, national sales director. "But the volume of text messages that came in that night really put a light under things."

The Kentucky Derby Provides The Test For Text

One year later, the Kentucky Derby Festival allowed festival fans to send text messages from their cell phones at selected events. The initial promotion, a simple Text-2-Win contest, asked fans to text “THUNDER” to a designated number to win VIP seats. More than 2,000 text messages were received in a couple hours.

CW Multimedia quickly modified the next event to include Text-2-Screen, allowing fans during concerts to text messages to a JumboTron screen at the venue. By October, Churchill Downs had teamed with Pepsi, allowing participants to purchase Pepsi products with instructions on how they could win six clubhouse tickets for the 2009 Kentucky Derby using their phones.

Toby Keith Presents Some Of The Possibilities

"One of our newest partners is country singer Toby Keith, whose fans can opt-in to his mobile fan club and receive updates, special offers, pre ticket sales, and all sorts of things," says Willis. "His fans also use Text-2-Screen at his concerts. You know, when we were growing up, we'd hold up lighters at concerts. Kids today are texting messages to the screen, adding themselves into the show."

Since adding the Mobile Fan Club, Keith has had more than 50,000 fans opt in to receive special offers, alerts, wallpapers, ring tones, and exclusive invitations. In addition, CW Multimedia tracks all activity, including text response via its own database software system. It tracks, in real time, information sent from the fan's phone, allowing some offers — such as a private meet and greet — to be sent to a specific area code or designated group within the database.

The benefit to fans? Imagine your favorite singer inviting you back stage after the show. Exactly.

The Future Of the Internet Is Predicted To Be Mobile

Last year, there were more than 250 million cell phone subscribers in the U.S., which represents about 82 percent of the population. By 2020, the Pew Internet & American Life Project projects that mobile devices will be “the primary connection tool to the Internet for most people in the world.”

"Mobile devices already represent more eyeballs than television sets or desktops," says Willis. "What a better way to connect to your audience or community no matter where they are, at any time … the first two things people look for before they head out the door are their wallets and phones."

CW Multimedia isn't the only one who thinks so. As the only company contracted with every carrier in the U.S., it has hosted mobile marketing promotions for Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Unilever, The Walt Disney Co., Universal Studios, TNA Entertainment LLC, and the NCAA. Even more remarkable, most of these promotions have been held in the last six months.

"We used to include several multimedia services, but the demand for mobile in the last six months has convinced us to specialize," says Willis. "Even our Web site services is focused on integrating other promotions or adding sites specifically for mobile phones. We're able to build in almost anything ... streaming video, live events, and database collection."

Highlights Of What Is Possible And On The Horizon

• Employee text message databases to help fill shifts and coordinate
• Pairing club cards with consumer databases to message customers on site
• Mobile coupons with text or bar codes that can be scanned from the phone
• GPS technology to identify and message select consumers based on proximity
• Send friends or customers for customized voice messages from celebrities
• Send friends or customers prepaid ringtones as gifts or for any other reason

Monday, February 16

Measuring Communication, Realization Part 1

Advertising is long overdue for a transition and Anheuser-Busch is one marketer that seems to be on the front end of the change. While a recent article in AdvertisingAge focuses mostly on how Anheuser-Busch is changing its compensation model, there is something else in the air.

"Every time you have another agency work on a brand, the brand gets reinvented a little bit. We want partner agencies really tied to the strategy of a brand." — Keith Levy, vice president of marketing, Anheuser-Busch

He might have used different terms, but what Levy said falls lock step with the need for communication (advertising, marketing, public relations, and social media) to reinforce intent. Contrary to some advertising agencies, it is not enough to differentiate the advertising. It takes hard work.

How do you realize intent in communication?

Once the intent of communication is understood, its ability to be effective is dependent on three critical considerations: the effectiveness of the value proposition (message), the suitability of delivery (suitability), and the ability to reach the intended public (reach).

Let's start with the message.

The concept of a unique selling proposition or unique selling point was first introduced in the early 1940s by Rosser Reeves of Ted Bates & Company. His main concept was simple enough — drive home a central, research-based selling point that was powerful enough to convince customers to switch brands.

For the most part, it works. Head & Shoulders helps you get rid of dandruff. Olay gives you younger-looking skin. Red Bull gives you wings. And in all three cases, these messages come from the mission, market opportunities and product contrasts, and purpose of communication.

What happens when if they don't? They miss their opportunity to define what they do. For example, one of my favorite creative commercials missed communicating intent in 2000. The "Cat Herders" spot was memorable. But Electronic Data Systems (EDS), the client, not so much.

This challenge is not exclusive to advertising. We see it in public relations when people become focused on column inches over their public and publicity stunts go horribly wrong. We see it in social media when casual conversations lead to communication that the participants never intended and then overshadows everything else about them. Indeed, when a message lacks purpose, it's wasted communication.

On average, it takes 80 impressions before a message begins to stick (although I've seen figures that suggest it takes as many as 240 impressions in our communication cluttered world). And it takes 640 impressions to change an impression (given that it takes eight positive impressions that stick to undo one negative impression). Can you afford too many negatives?

Effective communication tends to reinforce the same consistent messages over and over again. That doesn't mean the message has to consist of the same words. But it does mean companies cannot afford to waste messages that do not include a value proposition. In other words, when that little flake is telling you something, an effective message leads you to one conclusion.

That's not to say that the value proposition concept doesn't have detractors. Some might argue that products are not all that unique (including me, unless we work harder to find real contrasts) so the value proposition only sells perception. After all, Head & Shoulders is no longer the only dandruff shampoo. And while that might be true, I might suggest where value propositions only erode over time because they were never meant to be permanent.

How can they? Messages do not just come from us. They are also delivered by what we say about others, what others say about us, and what our competitors or other stakeholders say about themselves in the market. If one message takes hold, then it requires adjustment at the strategic level not just the tactical.

Las Vegas recently provided an excellent example. The city's message conveys a party town atmosphere. It frequently takes an in-your-face attitude, even having a tuff or two with the NFL along the way. Recently, President Obama said Las Vegas is too lavish for business. Chicago immediately pushed the message that Chicago does not have such a stigma.

While I don't agree with the politics that created the situation, Las Vegas will still have to reconsider its message. Effective communication is never about control as much as it's about message management. When your value proposition becomes a negative, it needs to change. Of course, President Obama and Chicago might have to reconsider their messages too.

The bottom line, in terms of measuring communication, it that a strong message — one that breaks through the clutter while delivering a value proposition that reinforces intent — adds weight to the effectiveness of the communication. The right message is much more likely to deliver a better return on investment regardless of how it's delivered across various mediums.

How much better? When you think of Head & Shoulders, you might think of a dandruff solution. And when you think of EDS, you might think of herding cats. The message makes the difference.

Download The Abstract: Measure: I | O = ROC

The ROC is an abstract method of measuring the value of business communication by recognizing that the return on communication — advertising, marketing, public relations, internal communication, and social media — is related to the intent of the communication and the outcome it produces. Every Monday, the ROC series explores portions of the abstract.

Friday, February 13

Unconditioning Fear: Change The Communication

"What Would You Do If You Weren't Afraid?" — Haw

The quote, of course, comes from New York Times business bestseller Who Moved My Cheese? An Amazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and in Your Life by Spencer Johnson. It's a good question to ask nowadays, especially with so many people settling into the notion that there is no more new cheese so we all have to protect the cheese we've got.

In fact, most people, including business managers and government officials, seem to be sitting around waiting for new cheese to magically turn up. Some people, like many economists, are saying we're going to run lower, and perhaps out, of the little cheese we have left. And President Obama seems to think that nobody has any cheese so we all better panic.

“The federal government is the only entity left with the resources to jolt our economy back to life,” he said.

"What Would You Do If You Weren't Afraid?" — Haw

In the parable, Haw realizes that it's better to start looking for new cheese than to worry about the cheese that dwindled away. And eventually, Haw begins to slowly lose his fear as he finds little bits of cheese here and there. The more often he succeeds, the more he learns "when you move beyond your fear, you feel free," until he finds bigger and bigger supplies.

But what if Haw had a strong influencer? What if Hem, who was Haw's friend, did more than stick to his victimized mindset and stay behind? What if every time Haw tried to leave in search of new cheese, Hem shocked him with a cattle prod? ZAP!

We already know what would happen. We know that the fear of a negative reinforcement, such as an electric shock, can condition people like Haw, in order to avoid the electric shock, do whatever Hem wants. And if Hem decides he doesn't want Haw to do anything, then he could simply shock Haw frequently and unpredictably until Haw didn't move at all.

It's called learned helplessness. It comes from constant and unpredictable jolts. It comes in the form of fear communication.

"What Would You Do If You Weren't Afraid?" — Haw

Sure, fear can be a powerful motivator in developing awareness. For example, we used the fear of losing a child to develop awareness about pool safety in 2004.

Two years ago, we reworked a billboard originally developed for the United Way of Southern Nevada as a banner for a Bloggers Unite campaign. It used the fear of child abuse to raise awareness.

However, there is a down side to developing fear-based communication. Much like a cattle prod, too much can convince the public that the problem is TOO BIG to do anything about it. When that happens to a cause, people will stop trying to help. Learned helplessness.

So in 1999, we helped the United Way of Southern Nevada change the communication. Instead of fear, we focused on hope. "Great Results Start With U. United Way." Although it was later changed to simply "Great results start with you", it became the longest running, most successful campaign theme in the history of the organization (about seven years).

It worked because we changed the communication. We presented problems, but we also presented solutions made possible by the generous donations of people who supported the campaign. When we managed the campaign, the content usually presented how many people needed a particular service and how much supporters had already contributed to meet that need. Doing so placed goals within reach, motivating people to dig a little deeper and give a little more. We found the cheese.

"What Would You Do If You Weren't Afraid?" — Haw

If you want real change, you need hope over helplessness. And that begins with changing the communication. Otherwise, worst-case scenarios like the one fictionalized by David Brooks with The New York Times could be proven true. And none of us wants that.

It doesn't really matter how you want to apply the message. As an individual or organization, business or industry, community or county, it all works. If you want better outcomes, change the communication. People want something to believe in, not something that reinforces this ridiculous notion that there is no more cheese.

Of course there is cheese to be found. Ignore the dudes with the cattle prods. And then move forward and find it.

Related reading:

NIH Public Access: Habituation of unconditioned fear can be attenuated by the presence of a safe stimulus

National Geographic News: Brain Region for Overcoming Fear, Anxiety Found

Breakthrough Blog: Overcoming fear in foreign policy

Utne Reader: Overcoming fear culture and fear itself

Thursday, February 12

Blacklisting Vegas: President Obama

According to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA), Las Vegas hosted 22,454 conventions and meetings that attracted more 6 million business people and conventioneers in 2008. It accounted for an economic impact of $8.5 billion, employed more than 46,000 Southern Nevadans (75,000 with indirect employment), and represents close to 15 percent of the city's total visitor volume.

On Monday, President Obama said he wanted to end that.

“We’re going to do something to strengthen the banking system. You are not going to be able to give out these big bonuses until you pay taxpayers back. You can't get corporate jets. You can't go take a trip to Las Vegas or go down to the Super Bowl on the taxpayers' dime. There's got to be some accountability and some responsibility.” — President Obama, Town Hall discussion in Elkhart, Indiana

There does have to be accountability and responsibility.

"Mr. President, I understand the enormous burden you carry in dealing with the worst economy since the Great Depression. I also understand the need for accountability, but your comments are harmful to the meetings and convention industry as a whole and Las Vegas specifically." — Mayor Oscar Goodman, Las Vegas, Letter posted at Las Vegas Now

Careless research and ill-advised words damage lives.

According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, President Obama based his decision on a report that cited "$300 hotel rooms" as an example of extravagance. The Venetian, which is a more upscale property, lists rooms for $189 per night. The LVCVA reports the average room rate was $119.19 in 2008, with a low of $96.39 in December.

Specifically, businesses attend conventions and meetings in Las Vegas because of its room rate discounts, reasonable air fare, diversity of offerings, and the strong local infrastructure to support it. Since 2000, the city has gone to great lengths to carry a dual message that, despite its party town image, it is an extremely smart and cost-effective choice for business.

At least four major companies have already canceled their plans to meet or hold conventions in Las Vegas this year. Some of the cancellations have to do with the perception of Las Vegas, while others might be because of their own financial constraints. State Farm planned to book 11,000 rooms in September, but those rooms will now remain vacant. Wells Fargo, which received some bailout money, also backed out of a 12-day junket in response to cries that the meeting represents wasteful spending.

Unless replaced, the damage caused by these lost bookings could be severe to a local economy already experiencing a 9.1 percent unemployment rate, well ahead of the national average. It is anticipated to hit double digits this year, with the state facing a economic crisis, which began after it was hit especially hard by the subprime mortgage situation.

The campaigning needs to end and bailouts too.

During campaigns, politicians are sometimes quick to call out and vilify opponents, industries, and government. The message becomes simple. Everything is bad, and we need to change it all. While I'm not a fan of peddling fear, many campaign managers understand all too well that these trumped up rally cries can move certain publics to the polls.

However, once elected, most politicians are seasoned enough to understand that the communication needs to shift in order to govern. As elected officials, most know that effective leadership requires the polarization to stop and productivity to begin. They recognize that they no longer represent campaign slogans but rather the Wall Street stock broker in New York and the maid in Las Vegas and the automotive lineman in Detroit. They are no longer entitled to pick and choose which American people they represent. They represent us all.

Regardless of how you feel about Las Vegas, President Obama's message did not communicate anything about this city as much as it communicated something about the recent waves of bailouts and the stimulus package in general. The power of the purse is the ability of one group to manipulate and control the actions of another group by withholding funding, or putting stipulations on the use of funds. This power grab is alive and well in America.

After Monday, it now seems all to clear that President Obama is intending to use this power and perhaps abuse it, under the guise of protecting taxpayer money. However, in delivering this message, he neglects the obvious. The 46,000 Americans directly employed by the convention industry in Las Vegas are taxpayers too. They are owed an apology.

Good night and good luck.

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