Wednesday, September 30

Encouraging For Nonprofits: Lee Aase & Mayo Clinic

The Mayo Clinic is a nonprofit organization and internationally renowned group medical practice headquartered in Rochester, Minnesota. And, according to U.S. News & World Report, it is ranked second only to Johns Hopkins.

As a leader in the medical community, it's no surprise that the Mayo Clinic has become a leader in social media. We even used its program as an example for hospitals in southern Nevada to consider, given Las Vegas-area hospitals' lack of presence online.

The Mayo Clinic is a fine example, especially since Lee Aase, manager of syndication and social media for Mayo Clinic, has accepted several interviews to share the benefits of developing social media programs for hospitals and nonprofit organizations. In addition to video, you can learn more about their program here and here.

According to Aase, the comparatively low cost and ease-of-use make social media an important communication component for every nonprofit communication plan. It is a sentiment recently shared by Seth Godin, who noted nonprofit organizations have been too slow to adopt social media and criticized them for placing too much emphasis on the "non" portion of nonprofit.

While Godin raises some good points, his logic is flawed. The lack of being among the top 100 anything online (Twitter or otherwise) is not an indication whether or not nonprofit organizations have effective social media programs. It only means that the potential target audience is less than everyone whereas Ashton Kutcher, Ellen DeGeneres, and Britney Spears have a larger slice of the potential to reach everyone.

Several nonprofit organizations do have fledgling social media programs in the works, including the March of Dimes, which will be partnering with this November for Bloggers Unite: Fight For Preemies. There is also an independent filmmaker that we will be working with over the next three months to support several important causes related to veterans. (Details on both of these efforts will be released next week.) They won't show in the lists, but they will meet objectives.

What I Learned Speaking At NANO

Still, the March of Dimes and the filmmakers seem to be the exception. After taking a cursory look at the online presence of the top 20 nonprofit organizations (by funding) in southern Nevada in preparation for speaking to a handful of nonprofit executives at the Nevada Association Of Nonprofit Organizations (NANO), we discovered that with exception to the Nevada Cancer Institute, most nonprofit organizations here are largely nonexistent online.

They either have no social media program or have what can best be described as small pond social media efforts. A small pond social media effort usually consists of 100 to 200 people on a popular social media platform (regardless of where their supporters are engaged). The organization has a dialogue with its small group. There is nothing wrong with that (although some greatly diminish their ROI).

The United Way of Southern Nevada, for example, has several social media accounts consisting of a relatively small collection of advocates on each. They engage participants on these accounts, but none of these participants seem to have become advocates or evangelists who actively share United Way content beyond the small pond. And, when measuring online presence, it creates the illusion that they have a non-existent program.

In contrast, the Mayo Clinic excels in maximizing the adaptive nature of social media. For example, one of the many proven points that Aase shares in the Ragan video is how the Mayo Clinic employs social media as a media relations outreach tool and/or uses it to refocus media exposure that the clinic receives. The concept is one of several excellent communication tactics that have opened up via social media.

This touches on something else I learned from NANO members. Many nonprofit organizations may not be ready to engage in social media. The reasons may be varied, but the reality is that many do not know how to develop or manage a communication plan let alone a social media program. Most are best served only when they have the help of a communication champion.

Specifically, the communication learning curve for someone like Aase and the learning curve for a nonprofit administrator or executive director are not the same. And what seems easy to me, Aase, or Valeria Maltoni, is a completely new skill set to non-communicators. The same holds true for businesses.

For me, it has changed the way I present social media content threefold. First, social media is best viewed as an environment where people congregate as opposed to a medium unto itself. Second, the experiences people have with individual communication online are significantly different from organizational communication. Third, "dive in" advice tends to leave organizations with the "now what?" dilemma, especially for non-communicators.

Tuesday, September 29

Forgetting A Public: Public Relations

Earlier this year, published the 2008/2009 Employee Satisfaction and Retention Survey that revealed 65 percent of employees were passively or actively looking for new jobs.

What made the survey stand out is that employers only estimated that number at 37 percent. In fact, while employers had a good sense of overall employee satisfaction, they often overestimated the degree of satisfaction by nearly 2 to 1.

Lori Rosenwasser, writing for Forbes, used it to once again remind employers that there may be some fall out for companies that are "not actively recruiting" but are also unconcerned with retention. The most misguided assume employees are holding on to their jobs for dear life.

As evidence, consider The New York Times article that points out employers are too uncertain to hire employees despite an upturn in the economy. With job seekers currently outnumbering openings six to one, the worst ratio since the government began tracking open positions in 2000, continued uncertainty could become self-fulfilling.

While there is some prudence in waiting to fully understand the financial consequences of health care reform, increasing likelihood of potential tax increases and regulations, and rising cost of labor; being overly cautious could further hinder growth, aggravate employee loyalty, and diminish customer service as employees who already feel like they have made sacrifices are asked to do more for less despite signs of a turnaround.

The Public Behind Multiple Publics

Very few employees exist as a singular public anymore. Many of them, especially in larger companies, are also direct or indirect shareholders, customers, industry influencers, regulars, activists, and marketers. Specifically, they don't come to work every day to receive a salary.

They come to work because they might believe in the product or service. They might come to work because they appreciate their 401k may be tied to the company's performance. They may serve on commissions or in associations that either self-police the industry or interconnect with government. They might be fans or friends of the company via an online group. They may vest or fund organizations that lobby government against the industry in which they work. And the list goes on.

Can public relations really afford to consider a news release limited in its scope to the media? Can investor communication claim the economy is the cause when employee-investors might know better? If a company decides to save dollars on the assembly line, do employee-customers decide to purchase another product? Do employees feel forced to join online communities and support the company, granting it even more access to their semi-public communications? Are companies inveterately funding organizations that will press for their next tax increase or sweeping industry changes?

The challenges in meeting the needs of the most neglected public are exponential, well beyond the questions posed by Mary Ellen Slayter at SmartBlog on Workforce. While she rightly suggests that companies operate with integrity, leadership, and responsibility, maybe it's time that public relations professionals consider companies are much more transparent than they ever imagined.

Where Employees Are The Message

To that extent, it may even be the story-beyond-the-story that has Domino's, Ford Motor Co. and Kellogg Co. turning employees into marketing talent. While the story talks about a move to cut marketing costs while creating a bond with audiences, it also creates an opportunity to share multiple messages with multiple publics, especially those that consist of one public with multiple roles.

While not always confined to executives, one of several examples includes GM Chairman Edward Whitacre Jr. attempting to build rapport with viewers before urging them to try GM's vehicles.

"Before I started this job, I admit I had some doubts. Probably a lot like you," Whitacre says as he strides down the halls of GM's Design Center in Warren. "But I like what I've found. I think you will, too."

Is this a message to customers? Or employees? Or investors? Or all of the above? Is it advertising? marketing? public relations? social media (once it is placed on YouTube or a blog)? Or all of the above? Is it a cost-cutting measure? Exercise in transparency? High touch message? Or all of the above?

The move really isn't only about messaging in the current market nor does it necessarily require employees. As advertisers and public relations professionals work toward message integration, it becomes more apparent that communication needs to touch multiple publics for different reasons, especially when those multiple publics can be traced back to the one most responsive to high touch messages.

Right on. It's a bit more complicated than sending a news release, but someone needs to advise executives that the modern employee isn't the same employee that they knew two or three decades ago. Without their support, it's all upstream.

Monday, September 28

Searching Over Socializing: People Online

Chitika, an online ad network, broke down more than 123 million impressions across a 60,000+ publisher network to determine that search engines remain the primary method for people to find information online. The study is signifiant given predictions that social networks — driven by friend referrals — would eventually replace search engines.

Search engines currently provide 97.82 percent of all referrals while social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, and Digg accounted for only .55 percent of all referrals. Of those, StumbleUpon (and not the more commonly talked about sites) captured more than half of those referrals.

Top Search Engine Referrals

Google — 76.13 percent
Yahoo — 7.34 percent
Bing — 5.2 percent
AOL — 1.24 percent
Ask — .84 percent

Top Social Network Referrals

StumbleUpon — (#6) .27 percent
Facebook — (#17) .06 percent
Digg — (#27) .04 percent
Bukisa — (#31) .04 percent
LuyenChong — (#39) .03 percent
Twitter — (#44) .02 percent

What It Means For Communication

Currently, most new entrants, especially public relations professionals, tend to favor recommending social networks for their clients' entrance into social media. Many of them do so because it is relatively easy to build a network of hundreds or thousands on these networks (assuming they know what they are doing).

Unfortunately, for many companies (not all companies), relying on social networks does not help the company increase its reach. Instead, social networks tend to build groups with varied degrees of engagement — weak when managed by anyone and stronger when managed by professionals or personalities that have an affinity for real time communication.

As it turns out, the expense is often at the consideration of a blog, which is much better suited for developing subject matter expertise and search engine dominance (especially over Web sites). Or, as often is the case, public relations professionals may be recommending the wrong social networks, making decisions based on media popularity as opposed to actual customer presence.

Social Media Development Consideration

Companies that are deciding how to develop social media programs are always better advised to be conducting research (quantified and qualified over Google alerts alone), determining what potential communication assets they may have, and setting clearly defined and measurable objectives. Not considering these steps could potentially derail a program or cause a company to invest resources in the wrong areas first.

For example, I have to give the Frontier Girl Scouts in-house marketing team props for discovering their scouts were much more inclined to engage on MySpace before launching any program. Facebook, where many would assume the girls participated, was much more used by volunteer leaders and funders. (Many experts I know would have assumed Facebook and Twitter were the best networks to engage.)

While the organization doesn't benefit from a blog (to capture secondary search terms and establish a better Web presence) that could help increase member recruitment, the objective is confined to sharing news for funders and leadership skills for volunteers. It's a better than average start.

Social Media Program Conclusion

While all social media programs are situational with no single solution being a catch all for all organizations, the Chitika study goes a long way in demonstrating why social media programs can benefit from blogs, which are best suited for search engines.

Social networks, on the other hand, cannot be dismissed. They tend to be best suited for community development driven by willing advocates (assuming the professionals handling the accounts aren't out friending everyone), unless there is another objective all together.

For example, my own purpose for Twitter is simply to stay connected with and communicate with colleagues within the communication field. Facebook is mostly personal. Linkedin is mostly professional. And so on. How about you?

Friday, September 25

Finding Fearlessness: How To Do It

Dr. Stephen Covey calls it the circle of concern: an outer circle that consists of several factors that people cannot influence such as the economy, security, and inconveniences. And yet, with increasing regularity, more people seem fixated on them at the expense of factors they can directly influence.

In September, eMarketer presented a study that shared why executives love or fear social media. Not surprisingly, almost every executive who valued social media listed qualities related to what they could directly influence: customer relationships, brand enhancement, customer service, employee morale.

Those who feared social media listed things they could not directly influence, such as the unknown, confidentiality, security, and employee productivity among those reasons they fear it. Those fears still remain today.

In every occasion, solutions land in the inner circle while fears fall to the outside.

Yesterday, Jeremy Meyers wrote a post asking how do we address fear? His solution was to offer love and compassion.

While there is truth to the concept, the application isn't always welcome. It isn't always welcome because people who are focused on the outer circle are more likely to consider such gestures with reservation and, well, concern. Sometimes those reservations are warranted. Other times they are not.

Although being overly concerned about the weaknesses of others falls well outside an inner circle (until it expands our own), fearless folks can still help others find fearlessness with clear communication, flexibility, and empathy.

For example, at our company, not every social media or communication program begins with the "ideal" program. We find ways to help companies take baby steps toward "ideal" programs. Simply put, we look for a potential win-win or we move on.

There are no hard feelings if we do. If people aren't willing to meet us halfway, then it's very likely their fears of outsourcing, job security, budgets, results, economic conditions, brand control (whatever that is), customers, etc. are too large for them to take control of their own destiny at that time. There is nothing wrong with that. We don't fault them for it.

How about you? How many fears do you focus on that reside outside your direct influence? The economy? Health concerns? Job security? And what would you do if you weren't afraid?

Thursday, September 24

Reaching Customers: How Media Stacks Up

According to a new study from Opinion Research Corporation and sponsored by ARAnet, consumers are turning to online and radio sources for news and information and relying less on daily newspapers and television. This is the second year that Opinion Research Corporation has conducted the study.

Media Rankings by Opinion Research Corporation

• Television: 31.1 percent, down from 34.7 percent
• Daily newspapers: 19.4 percent, down from 23.5 percent
• Radio: 19.4 percent, up from 16.5 percent
• Online: 14.6 percent, up from 12.7 percent
• Weekly community papers: 4.4 percent, down from 5.1 percent
• Free shopper newspapers: 2.9 percent,up from 2.2 percent
• Magazines: 2.1 percent, up from 1.6 percent

Additional Research Highlights

• Respondents with household incomes of $100,000 or more receive considerably more news and information from online sources (23.1 percent versus 14.6 percent for the general population)
• College graduates reported using online sources more frequently (20.0 percent)
• People 18-to-34 reported the highest reliance on online sources (22.2 percent)
• Hispanic respondents were more likely to prefer online sources (21.0 percent)

What The Shift Means

"The survey results — especially that high earners and college graduates are continuing to move toward online sources of news and information and that the credibility of those sources is on the rise — reinforce that Americans are continuing to change the way they consume media," said Dave Fleet, senior consultant for Thornley Fallis Communications, in a release.

Beyond finding new ways to reach consumers, companies and organizations that have virtually no online presence or a Web site only presence may want to rethink their current communication strategy.

With increased frequency, consumers often search for companies and opinions about those companies online after they see news stories or advertisements about that company on radio, television, or in newspapers. So in many cases, paid and earned exposure across traditional media can increase competitor sales when customers follow up online.

Wednesday, September 23

Catering To Labels: PR Executives

Most public relations executives, especially those looking for a position, would be happy being featured as the lead in an interview for a Forbes article. Not Judith Lederman.

The 50-year-old divorcee who lives in Scarsdale, N.Y. who has yet to replace her former $120,000 salary as a publicity manager at Lord & Taylor took exception to the way the article portrayed her. Calling the reporter out on her blog, she wrote "Instead of painting me as someone seeking an appropriate salary so she could support herself, it portrays me as someone who is torn between the prospect of being employed and being eligible for tax breaks, college scholarships and other incentives."

Except, as Steven Spenser, principal of Praxis Communication in Seattle, commented in response to her post: "I must have read a different article, because I didn't find any text that indicated you want entitlements or handouts." Spenser is right. The perception Lederman had about the story is not the perception that most people will draw from the story. And that's too bad.

Given her uncomfortable position, I don't want to berate Lederman. Rather, I want to focus on the lesson to be learned for new public relations practitioners, especially those who are entering an era where publicly responding to the media is all too easy to do. And based on the lead in to the post, Lederman knew it too.

"I'm going to go out on a limb here - because I know that in the business of public relations, which is my business - and has been for many years - calling a journalist on the carpet for misrepresenting your point of view, can cost a PR person valuable contacts," she began before sharing an e-mail to the reporter to express her post-interview, pre-article sentiments.

What Went Wrong?

The e-mail she wrote (and posted) to the reporter seems to provide a glimpse. Lederman finished the interview and concluded that she was pretty far off from her personal message in a story — one that questions a tax structure which provides incentive for underperformance and disincentives for working harder — she would have preferred not to be featured. It happens. At one point, she even says that she told the reporter to find another person to profile.

It doesn't work that way. While reporters sometimes consider post-interview jitters correspondence, especially in feature pieces, there is considerable risk in writing them out of desperation. In this case, if anything, Janet Novack seems to have listened to Lederman's pleas and restructured the story so that it sticks to the facts. And the facts are the facts.

Regardless of how Lederman feels about the conclusions being drawn, Novack is right. Not finding a job or taking a job for half the salary might be the better bet for Lederman and her daughter. That doesn't mean Lederman, who is inclined to work harder for less of everything in order to feel self-sufficient, wants handouts. It only means that the country's current direction caps success because once someone reaches a certain financial step, they may make less than they did at the step before and, sometimes, two or three steps before.

So, unfortunately, in the Forbes piece, Lederman is a champion against a flawed system. In her post, she presents the very image she wanted to avoid. She comes across as a victim.

Perception Is Powerful.

PRNewser framed up the conversation asking whether Lederman made the prudent move to correct the reporter, if her protest will raise doubts about her abilities, and whether she should have accepted the interview given the context. Lederman addresses some of these questions in the comments that follow, but the initial questions seemed like the wrong ones.

Ergo, while there is nothing wrong with correcting a reporter who misrepresents facts, there is something wrong with being overly concerned about how journalists "present" us beyond the facts, especially when the concern seems to be confined to labels. Most people don't read labels — hard-working professionals looking for comparable work even if it means sacrificing benefits for her daughter's education vs. a whiney 50-year-old single mom looking to cheat the system (as Lederman framed it up) — as much as they saw Lederman, or in this case, a metaphor for dozens of middle-class families.

Sure, there were some commenters who scoffed at her former salary, but most of those could be dismissed for ignorance. When you consider the cost of living is significantly higher in New York compared to other areas, $120,000 suddenly becomes a low-to-mid middle income with a position that probably meant long hours and family sacrifice. Besides, she doesn't make that now and her home is a risk so what does it matter?

Aside from the mistaken follow-ups with the reporter, the real miss here wasn't the story as much as it was a post-story opportunity. Lederman could be grateful for being included because it might had led to job offers. She could have pointed to the article, which sums her resume up nicely enough. And, she could have expounded on her personal views about this subject in a positive manner, picking up on any details that she felt were important but left out. All of this could have been done for a net gain.

Instead, the lessons to be learned here are threefold: manage the message or the message will manage you; measure the facts and not necessarily mistaken inferences made by anonymous commenters; never place too much emphasis on labels, especially those that no one will remember.

Had she left it alone or expounded with the positive, all anyone would remember is that she was featured in Forbes. Instead, all they will remember is ... well ... ho hum.

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