Generations of social scientists have measured “social influence”—often in connection with studies of public health and education in underserved communities.  Now this term is being bandied about by social media mavens.  With new sites like Klout and Peerindex, along with the older Twitalyzer and a host of other metrics measurement tools, we’re told that each of us can be represented by a number. That number supposedly tells just how many people we reach and whose decisions we influence.  Online, that is.

I’m sure these tools are useful for those who embrace social media as a full-time pursuit, whether as part of their jobs or for personal connectivity, or both.  But I’m a skeptic.  What kind of scores are you going to get for Barack Obama, who’s not even allowed to use a Blackberry? What about Warren Buffet? Recently International Business Times came up with  its list of the Most Influential Women in the world. There are some influencers on the list whom I’m sure have high scores—Lady Gaga and Oprah being two of them (although how much of their own typing on social media they actually do is arguable). But topping the list is Michelle Obama, who presumably is under the same Secret Service orders as her husband to stay off the internet. Also on there: German Chancellor Angela Merkel, CEO of Pepsico Indra Nooyi, and Burmese Democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi.  These women are changing the world, but probably score pretty low as influencers on social media.

To argue with myself a moment–blogger’s perogative!–major pro-democracy movements such as the one Suu Kyi has led have taken to social media as an agent of change.  Arguably even if she doesn’t register a number on social media (she’s spent a large part of her life imprisoned), her followers may be there. Arguing back to myself, no they aren’t. Burma’s population isn’t as well-educated as their pro-democracy counterparts in Egypt.  Out 60 million citizens, only about 400,000 use the internet (Foreign Policy Association).  So they’re being influenced in other ways not measurable through social media metrics.

My point is these personal metrics numbers are just getting started.  I’m not saying in certain instances they aren’t useful as part of a larger scheme of metrics. But right now I think they’re a long way from measuring true influence.  So, for those who remember The Prisoner TV series (oldsters, you know who you are), I feel confident in shouting “I am not a number!”

It’s easy to forget that your Employment Brand matters. But it affects your overall brand perception significantly. How people perceive your organization as an employer affects staff morale, customer service, and your ability to achieve results. Companies like Walmart learned quickly back in 2005, when their poor healthcare coverage was revealed, that they ignored employee needs at the peril of their brand. In addition to health coverage, your employment brand includes policies like flex-time and maternity/paternity/parental care leave.

And the impact of the choices you make towards employees extends beyond them to their family members–your company’s extended family.  I worked with a 50-year-old corporation on a branding and marketing project, and as part of the process polled and interviewed many of the staff. One of the founders shared his concern that the company was losing its reputation as family-friendly. He recalled how they used to invite families to an annual picnic, go to ballgames together, and invite the wives (back then!) to special company dinners and recognition events.  He acknowledged the firm needed to find new ways to involve families. I pointed out the firm could become more family-friendly by also acknowledging its people needed time away from the company.

With a Blackberry in every pocket, setting boundaries that allow employees to have “off limits” time is difficult, but in my view essential to creating a positive employment brand. But let’s face it: when you burn people out, they don’t perform at their best for you or your customers.  Calvert Investments has repeatedly won awards as a great place to work largely because it supports work-life balance and good health for its team. Some of their non-traditional benefits include paying 100% towards health club membership, paying 100% towards public transportation, helping employees pay for a bike or walking shoes if they use them to get to work, paid parental leave—to see school plays, chaperone a field trip, etc.

So what can you do to ensure that you create a culture of a great employer?

  • Focus on your mission and let staff do the same. Empl0yees get very frustrated when they are side-tracked from job goals by things like excessive meetings or unproductive reviews.
  • Offer routes to advancement and professional development. People need to feel they can improve and learn.
  • Offer feedback loops. If staff get additional training or educational experiences, give them the opportunity to share back to the group.
  • Consider non-traditional benefits that don’t cost a lot but encourage good behaviors–time to work out, time to volunteer in the community.
  • Consider how much time “on” you are really expecting from employees and assess staffing. If you’re expecting one person to respond to customers 16 hours a day, that job probably needs to be split up among more people.
  • Assess what flex-time and telecommuting options you can offer that reduce employee stress and time on crowded roads.
  • Look at the companies that repeatedly win top employer awards and see how they have developed a positive employment culture

An often overlooked component of employment brand is the perception of your company from the outside–from those applying for jobs. A job applicant today could be a staff leader tomorrow. Or a customer.  Or a donor or volunteer. Except when that person is completely turned off by your job application process. Today, job applicants are faced with a “buyer’s market.”  So employers may think it’s acceptable to not be responsive to applicants. I have a friend who’s an executive and has been in the job market for many months and it’s shocking how many corporations have had high level managers interview her face to face as a finalist for a job, but then not made the effort to even send an email if she is not selected.  Don’t think that I’m not influenced by this treatment when I consider doing business with these entities.

What should you consider about  your job application process as it relates to your brand?

  • Who is receiving applications and responding to applicants? This person is now the “face” of your organization. Make it clear they should be courteous and prompt in their responses.
  • What is the process by which you notify applicants you have received their application? At a minimum, send applicants a brief, polite email acknowledging the application. This will save time and frustration handling phone calls.
  • What is the timeline for your process? Let applicants know what to expect.
  • If an applicant doesn’t succeed, you should notify them–again a brief email will do.

These aren’t difficult steps, but they can make a difference in how well your company competes in the marketplace–both for excellent employees and for satisfied customers.

Periodically, I offer guest posts by colleagues.  Here’s one on crisis communications by Evan Nierman, founder of Red Banyan Group, a public relations and crisis management firm that provides integrated strategic communications counsel to organizations and individuals across a variety of industries.

The famous motto of the Boy Scouts is “be prepared.”  It’s good advice for everyone, but especially for companies looking to avoid dealing with a crisis that could damage their reputation and impact the bottom line.

In this day and age, thanks in part to a 24-hour news cycle and the way social media enables stories (especially negative ones) to spread like wildfire, it is more important than ever that organizations be prepared to face the inevitable crisis which could be just around the corner.  There is no reason to wait for a full-blown crisis to erupt–by the time trouble strikes it is almost too late.

Clearly, some crises are impossible to forecast.  I can recall one past client where the company’s senior executives were blindsided by very naughty personal behavior by the CEO which became instantly public thanks to a spurned wife who was tired of his philandering and drug abuse.  In that case, the company was forced to undertake a strategy emphasizing how capable senior managers would shoulder the workload while the CEO was away addressing his personal issues, and assuring shareholders that the impact on the company would be minimal.

Most companies can predict with some degree of accuracy what kind of challenges they might face in the future.  Government agencies charged with oversight will inevitably make a mistake somewhere along the line, and most nonprofit organizations will at some point face heavy scrutiny and perhaps strident criticism for how they spend their budgets.

Having a good crisis communications plan in place means that the organization can invest time during a calm period where cooler heads prevail to make well-reasoned, strategic decisions without the intense pressure and time constraints for decision-making that are brought on by a crisis.

Who Should Review Your Crisis PR Plan?

  • The person who oversees communications for the organization
  • The organization’s top executive
  • Legal counsel
  • Someone outside the organization with an expertise in crisis PR

For those companies who have not yet developed a crisis plan, having one in place is money well-spent.  It can help provide peace of mind to the organization while eliminating the ramp-up time required by crisis PR experts brought in to fight the fire once it is underway.

Companies which already have a plan in place should update it periodically and may want to have it reviewed by experts in order to ensure that it’s as effective and comprehensive as possible.  At the end of the day, a crisis communications plan is like a strong insurance policy: you never want to be without it when the day comes that you need it. The bottom line: be prepared.

–Evan Nierman

It’s a little disconcerting to find Steve Jobs behind the curve. But that’s what Apple’s announcement of its cloud computing services yesterday seemed to be. In case you missed it: cloud computing is the ability to store your data on someone else’s larger digital storage units, instead of inside your own PC or other mobile device, thus allowing you to access it as you need it, to/from multiple devices.

What’s so useful about cloud computing?

Whether we know it or not, we’ve all been in the cloud for some time.  The books on the Kindle are housed in the cloud.  Your Gmail account is on the cloud.  Facebook and Twitter? Yep, the cloud.  I wouldn’t consider myself in the avante-guarde of technology, but I’ve been using the cloud for a long time. Since I work in multimedia, email is not a good way to send around cumbersome photo and video files.  So my clients, vendors and I use YouSendIt, DropBox, and Basecamp to share files and messages housed on the cloud.  I’ve also stored music on my Amazon cloud account, which preceded Apple’s newly announced music-sharing option.

What concerns should we have about relying on the cloud?

Recently I was cleaning up my DropBox folder in between projects and noticed that in my upgraded account I can now delete files and later restore them.  So even when they appear to be gone from the cloud, they’re not.  Comforting. Or disturbing. And this is the essence of the dilemma posed by the cloud for both individual or corporate users.  On the cloud, our file-accessing habits, keystrokes, time spent reading a particular page, membership in groups, and uploaded photos are all living outside of our own devices, making them easy targets for those culling marketing data or having more nefarious intentions (as Congressman Weiner recently learned). Earlier this year, the federal government released a cloud computing strategy and The Washington Post today published that the Office of Management and Budget reports 25 federal agencies have listed 78 applications to move to the cloud this year.  With that quantity of data moving to cloud storage, it’s pretty easy to fathom the national security impact.  And the personal impact. Whether we have moved there ourselves or not, every American–in one way or another–will be in the cloud.