Ban Social Media from the Workplace?

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3 Glass Bottles-1b sI recently read an article in a business magazine that blew me away. It outlined a case in which an employee of a trade association and lobbying organization made unflattering and unprofessional comments about her boss and employer on her Facebook page, and was subsequently fired for doing so. It concluded with this recommendation:

“Every single employer on the face of the planet ought to prohibit their employees from: 1) accessing social networking sites while at work or from a company computer; 2) publishing any comments or statements about the company, including identifying themselves as company employees, absent advance written consent, which should be conditioned upon employee permission to monitor online profiles. This should be an express, written workplace policy, signed by all employees, as well as a term of all independent contractor agreements.” – www.smartceo.com, September issue, “See Jane Play: Is an employee’s online image trashing yours?” (I don’t see an online version yet)

Wow.  I hardly know where to start.  But I’m going to try.

1. Social Media Has No Place in the Workplace. Or does it? Neilsen recently showed that more people are using social media than email (The Nielsen Company, March 9, 2009. Social networks & blogs now 4th most popular online activity, ahead of personal email). And corporations are taking notice. Forrester Research projects that companies will spend $3.1 billion on social media by 2014. Why? Because this new genre of communication allows for interactive conversations with customers, users, donors, policymakers and supporters. It engages in new ways, with immediate outcomes. It can launch a major viral campaign in minutes that would have taken months or years (and plenty of dollars) to succeed through traditional media or behind-the-scenes lobbying. That is, if you know how to use it. Which you won’t if you ban it from your workplace. Instead, you will have fewer tools than your competitors do for managing your brand and your message. As an executive, your job is to be what CEO and marketing guru Yuri Radziesvksy of GlobalWorks Group LLC calls “the lead brand custodian.” Whether you love it or not, leadership means embracing new technologies, and guiding your team to leverage them fully to achieve stated goals. Rather than banning these new tools, consider a role in which you embrace innovation.

2.  Employees Will Bad-Mouth You Through Social Media. Yes, they will. Just as they have at the water cooler, on the golf course, in their living rooms…you get the idea. Unhappy employees will always vent. And occasionally even the happy employees will slip-up and post something you both wish could now be deleted. But the new landscape of social media won’t disappear just because you ban it.  (One of the things I always surprise clients with is a summary of the number of mentions they get on other people’s blogs, etc.–and the posters aren’t employees.) Instead, create a policy for social media use. Better yet, get your stakeholders–board members, employees, donors, etc.–to weigh in. Take stock again in 3-6 months. Of course, there are brave and highly successful companies like Zappos who have purposely avoided having an official policy (and hey, they just got bought by Amazon so they must be doing something right!). Says Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh, who’s got 300 of his customer service reps using Twitter, “People don’t relate to companies, they relate to people.” (For inspiration, read Tony’s always enlightening blog.)

3. Social Media Isn’t for Serious Professionals. The article described the employer organization as a trade organization that lobbies on behalf of its “high-powered members.”  It refers to employees who use social media as those who “play on these Web sites” and “the lad who updates your profile.”  No serious social media users here, right?   I’m going to guess that there’s some discomfort with the democratizing effect of social media–that it puts the voice of a junior employee on equal footing with that of the CEO. Well, um, yes. Exactly. And ditto with members of the general public.  Who can either be your friends or your foes if you happen to be, say, a trade organization that lobbies on issues before Congress. Case in point: I have a client who is considered one of the most powerful advocacy voices in Washington and guess what? They have a Facebook page! They have employees who, yes, are paid to “play” on this site and promote their organization’s perspective and encourage members to engage on their issues, especially when they have an important advocacy event or vote coming up in Congress.  My guess is that the “influential members” the author describes may not be well-versed in social media. Like any foreign language, it requires time and assistance to learn. The association could do a great service for its members by hosting a webinar or teleconference on how to incorporate social media into a strategic communications strategy, how to effectively engage social networks for political advocacy, how to build a network of influentials, and new tools for measuring ROI. As George Colony, CEO of Forrester Research, says on his blog for CEO’s “Social marketing is here to stay. It’s time for you to understand it.”

4. Monitor Employee and Contractor Use of Social Media. Yes, definitely.  If you are opening an office in Communist China. And if you have all the time in the world. But if you’re here and don’t, then this kind of policy means you will lose out on some of the most well-networked and effective people and companies you can employ. And I don’t just mean the current digital-native generation. I include those of us boomers who have learned our way around the social mediasphere and use it not just to promote our own work but to monitor the work of thought leaders in our fields and develop networks of highly qualified people on whom we can count for advice and referrals.  (Did you know women over 55 are the fastest growing groups on Facebook? And that Pew research has found the media age of a LinkedIn user is 40?).  You need these folks to propel your mission and brand in the 21st century.

5. Ban Employees From Mentioning Where They Work. One of the most useful parts of the fastest-growing social media network, LinkedIn, is its virtual rolodex aspect. Obviously this won’t work for you and your contacts don’t know each other’s places of employment.   Part of what makes LinkedIn work is the credibility of its members. Once you have a solid base of contacts, you can reach out to their contacts for advice, when filling positions, etc.  As a board member, for example, I was recently able to find highly valued contractors for a bid we were issuing by querying my Linked In contacts and some of their contacts for their recommendations. Why would you want to exclude yourself from this resource?  And why would you be so concerned about your own vendors and employees bad-mouthing you that you would ban them from naming their employer, and thereby preventing you from connecting your brand with their prestige (in other words, employees aren’t always jerks–most of the time they reflect well on you). This policy might speak to internal issues around employee engagement and team-building?  Without a real inside look at the organization, I can’t tell, but it’s worth considering.

So for my money, I wouldn’t recommend items 1-5 above. But hey, I’m self-employed so we already know my boss is hell to work for!

Lowering the Cost of Brand Promotion

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Columns and Arches sPromoting a brand in a recession is a challenge. Budgets are slimmed. Staff are trimmed. And you don’t have much time to pull campaigns together.  But consider trying what wardrobe stylists have recommended for years before spending a lot on new services—“shop in your own closet”!

What do I mean by this? Well, you may already own the best tools to promote your brand:  pre-existing photo and video content. This archival content is a gold mine that can be re-purposed to promote your organization and your brand in advertising campaigns, newsletters, YouTube and website videos.

Finding Your Content

You’re not alone if you are having trouble locating your existing content.  This summer, NASA released its “restoration” of the 1969 moonwalk video–restored because they actually lost or destroyed the original footage of the most important event in the agency’s history.  You probably have video or photographs of important achievements by your organization. But do you know where they are? And are they in a format you can now use?  Here are some ways you can improve this resource so it is just a click away from helping you be cost-efficient in your brand marketing.

Tips to Make Access Easy

  1. Identify key people and events that are essential to your product, service or mission.
  2. Locate photographs of these items.
  3. Scan stills that are not digital. Be sure to scan at high enough resolution (at least 300dpi for video, even higher for print) to use for print and video projects.
  4. Organize photos into folders on your server that are easily accessible to others throughout the organization and share a list of what you have available.
  5. Be sure you own the copyrights to these images, and have the permission of people featured and indicate in the file any photo credits required.
  6. If you want to be able to share photos with outside consultants, ad agencies or press, consider a software package such as Portfolio by Extensis or Cumulus from Canto.
  7. Create an index of your videotapes. Archiving video for in-house editing departments could fill another blog post, so I won’t get into those details here. But even if you don’t edit in house, you may have boxes of tapes you don’t know what to do with. You may only have consumer copies of videos you hired others to produce (i.e. DVDs or VHS). Or you may have some Betacam-SP tapes—a professional format that is just beginning to phase out–hanging around the office.  It’s best to organize these according to Source Footage (the original tapes shot in the field) versus Final Masters (or copies). It’s easier to use source footage to create new products, but sometimes masters or even consumer copies can be used.  At the very least, create a spreadsheet that lists each of your tapes, the date they were made, and a rough idea of the content (i.e. who was interviewed). Even a basic Excel spreadsheet will be searchable. Or you can get more sophisticated with various video archiving software tools, especially if you have an in-house editing system.
  8. If you have the capability, digitize mini-clips of the video footage you are most likely to need, such as an important CEO speech, highlights of a recent event, etc., so folks who might need to access them have a sense of what’s available.

Future-Proofing

  1. Moving forward, make sure you acquire video and photos in the highest possible quality, so they can be multi-purposed easily. Save video masters in digital codecs that are not going to change with the latest technologies (such as loss-less animation codec or MPEG-4) as opposed to tape formats.
  2. Have a process in place so that anyone who acquires video or photos for your organization sends originals or copies to your communications/marketing department so that they can be catalogued and archived for future use.

Your archival media is connected to your brand marketing, and can save you money and help you tell your story.  It’s a resource that sometimes gets overlooked, but is actually worth thousands of dollars that you won’t have to spend again if you keep it up to date and organized.

Is It Time to Change Your Name or Tag Line?

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Tulip Bud s.cThe simplest way to tell the story of who you are to everyone you contact is through your organization’s name.  A second opportunity to communicate your mission is through your tag line. It is amazing how many groups have names and/or taglines that, at best, don’t tell people what they do, and at worst, confuse them about the organization’s mission.

What’s in a Name?

If you are just starting an organization or are very new, it’s critical that you take a look at your name and see if it conveys your story, or at least some critical parts of your mission.  Miriam’s Kitchen is one such nonprofit, a soup kitchen and social services organization in Washington, D.C. that addresses the root causes of homelessness (watch Michelle Obama’s visit there earlier this year on You Tube ).

The word kitchen of course conveys that Miriam’s serves food.   Using the possessive of the name connotes a homey and welcoming place.  People from a Judeo-Christian background may also recognize Miriam as a biblical name.  Since the nonprofit was created by a church (Western Presbyterian) as part of its urban ministry, that is an important connection.  Miriam was the older sister of Moses, a woman of faith who helped to serve her people and supported their release from bondage and, in effect, homelessness.  So the name Miriam’s Kitchen conveys a message about why the group does the work it does (because it feels God calls it to do so) and how it operates (by helping people be fed and find a home).  All of these elements make Miriam’s Kitchen a great name for a nonprofit that feeds and supports the homeless.

We’re Too Old to Change Our Name

If you’re an older organization, you may think a name change is too difficult and expensive.  You may be right. Both goodwill and community connections are associated with your name.   But there also may be missed opportunities for immediate brand connections during email and direct mail campaigns.   And with the increase in on-demand printing and online communications, the cost of reprinting costly brochures is less of a consideration. Take the Sitar Arts Center in Washington, D.C.   Originally named the Patricia M. Sitar Center for the Arts in honor of an arts education advocate for the children of the Adams Morgan neighborhood where the Center is located, the name also evokes the historical Indian instrument.  But the Sitar Arts Center is a vibrant urban arts center providing visual, literary and performing arts experiences for economically disadvantaged children in the District of Columbia.  To ensure it communicated its mission more clearly, a recent re-branding campaign shortened the center name to Sitar Arts Center with the tag line “celebrating kids, arts and community.”  This is a good compromise for an organization wanting to keep its original name but better convey mission.

Given the importance of electronic communications today, your name and tag line will appear literally hundreds if not thousands of times every day as members of your staff and volunteers are emailing people about your work.  And that goes a long way towards detracting from or supporting your brand. Every institution should re-examine its name and tag line at least every 5 years, or when you are conducting your regular strategic planning. A good match can help with donor and marketing campaigns. And a mismatch is not something you can afford.

Are you considering a name or tag line change? What are your biggest obstacles? What are the opportunities? Please share…

Creating an Effective Brand Emergency Plan

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Red Berries - IMG_4552 sSeptember is coming and it’s time to dust off those emergency plans.  Schools have just mailed out their reminders of what to do during “code red.”  But does your organization have a brand emergency plan? Years of good work with customers and your community can be eclipsed very quickly by a few misspoken words by a board member, or a complaint floating around in social media.

Why Plan?

The simple answer is that you’ve spent years, perhaps decades or even centuries, building up your brand. And yet in an instant it can be destroyed. So when complicated issues arise, such as an unexpected firing, natural or man-made disasters, public health concerns, etc., it’s important to have a plan for how you will brief all staff, board members and volunteers on how to handle potential questions from customers, supporters, the community and the press. That might just mean responding with a very brief factual answer and then providing contact information to the questioner so they can refer additional questions to the communications liaison, CEO’s office, or the Chair of the Board.

What’s in the Plan?

It’s not a question of hiding information, but rather of giving it out in a way that is unified and easy to understand. Most importantly, the way information is communicated, as well as the content of that information, contributes to how your brand is perceived. “No comment” is a deadly answer. And blogs and the 24-hour news cycle can make other voices louder than perhaps their numbers truly reflect. Your Brand Emergency Communications Plan should include how to respond to:

-traditional print media

-cable news and radio

-bloggers

You should also be able to proactively post information to your:

-website

-Twitter account

-Facebook or MySpace pages

And be prepared to send email announcements or texts to update your community of supporters.

Who Executes the Plan?

The days of the communications office controlling the message are over. The message is already out there, especially if it involves some catastrophe related to your brand. So you need to have well-briefed team to help you engage in the conversation and include your information and perspective. For a nonprofit, this team can include not just executive level and communications staff, but also board leadership and key volunteers. In for-profit organizations, important customers may be recruited to assist in disseminating the message. Government agencies need to engage their counterparts in the private sector, depending on the issue at hand, to ensure effective response to an emergency.

So just like your home or school, this fall your place of business should practice its emergency communications procedures on a regular basis, so that when the time comes, you are able to quickly implement your plan.

Have a recent brand crisis that put your plan into action? Please share!

Does Your Board Support Your Brand?

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This past week I spoke on a teleconference workshop about tools to engage boards to supporBarn in the Palouse- s.ct fundraising auctions. Many of the 50+ organizations who signed up indicated that their board members are not fully engaged in outreach events and fundraising. Does this mean they have the wrong board members? Do they need to define roles and expectations?  Or do board members actually need some training? I find it’s a bit of each. Whether you are a for-profit or nonprofit, your Board of Directors is a critical component of how you connect to the communities and constituencies you serve. They need to be supporting your brand in multiple ways. How can you help them do this?

Board members need to know their financial role.

As we all know from the recent financial meltdown, governing boards were blamed for taking their eye off the ball. What are you doing to be sure your board knows its role and its responsibilities when it comes to fundraising and financial oversight?  Prospective board members should be clear on the requirements of their role. They need to know the hours of the commitment, the dollars they will be expected to give or raise, and how they can help you propel the mission.  They also need to feel comfortable with nonprofit financial statements, which can look very different than corporate ones.  New board members should have an orientation to remind them of their roles and help them with tools in the areas where they are the least comfortable (i.e. making an “ask” for your organization). Even experienced board members need refreshers, especially if you have an important event coming up or a major campaign.

Board members need to see the goalposts.

Board members need more than the annual report. They need specifics.  If you’re holding an auction, what is your fundraising goal? What happens if you don’t meet it?  What are your most important programs? What outcomes will determine your success?

Board members need to learn about your brand.

Board members are obviously committed volunteers, but sometimes they are connected to your organization through only one pathway (i.e. a child with a disease that you are trying to cure, a son at your school, as a professional member of your association, etc.)   They need to be briefed on the big picture about your brand promise to all of your “customers,” including the experience you promote for your donors, your staff and your other volunteers.  They need to be able to easily talk about your “elevator pitch” and connect it to their own experience with your organization.   Give them talking points. Let them practice on one another.  This way, your board members can be better—and more comfortable—cheerleaders.

Board members need recognition.

Board members need more than their names on the masthead. They need to be publicly thanked when they do a good job of supporting your mission. When involved board members receive thanks and recognition—whether it’s for a report well-researched or getting out more volunteers for your walkathon—then other volunteers are more inclined to give you their time, talents and money.

Engaging boards can be a challenge, but it’s one worth the effort. When they are part of a team with staff, the winner is your mission.  Do you have a good story to share about supporting boards? Please share it!

Brand Mergers: What Nonprofits Can Learn from the Amazon-Zappos Deal

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Red Gerbera Daisy IMG_0149 s.cAmazon is known for efficiency. Zappos has built a customer-centered company. The marriage announced last week merges a $1 billion-a-year shoe-selling enterprise with a $20 billion behemoth online seller. Many industry watchers have been boo-hooing the deal, assuming that Amazon’s culture will subsume Zappos and, frankly, ruin it.

But I have another take. When one enterprise knows how to deliver What the Customer Wants, When She Wants it while the other one Builds Community and Brand Loyalty with customers, then it can be a match made in heaven.  That’s because we are in a world moving away from “hard brands”—i.e. what the PR and marketing people traditionally pushed towards the customer/media and towards “brands-in-conversation”—entities that evolve in a dialogue with their customers. The same goes for nonprofits struggling in this downturn.  Many of them are facing going out of business because they are just not making ends meet, even though they do great work.

Where do nonprofits stand?

At last count, we had more than 1.5 million nonprofits in the United States (that’s according to The Urban Institute, National Center for Charitable Statistics, based on organizations that filed form 990’s with the IRS within the last 24 months). Thats a lot of brands competing for dollars and volunteers.  And unfortunately, many of these organizations have mission overlap.  In addition, some are better at delivering results, some are better at outreach and organizing, and some are better at promoting a great donor or volunteer or member experience. But few are good at all of these tasks.

So what can a nonprofit do? Consider a partnership or merger.

Considering a merger with another entity can be scary, as nonprofits are fiercely independent. But a merger/partnership can really strengthen your brand. That’s because your brand is all about delivering on mission.  When you share responsibilities with another entity, you can increase your “ROI” with the people you serve, while decreasing costs, overhead and inefficiencies.

A joint effort doesn’t have to happen overnight.  Here are some baby steps to creating a productive brand merger.

  • Introduce your boards to each other at a social, not business-oriented, “mixer.”
  • Engage staff of each organization in a brainstorming session—the goal is better meeting the mission.
  • Try a joint venture—a project with a measurable outcome consistent with both organizations’ goals.
  • Host an event together so you can share ideas, showcase strengths, and get feedback from attendees on how your two organizations worked together.
  • Share each other’s content—through your web and social media venues; Tweet about each other’s successes and events, for example.
  • Consider the donor’s point of view. What additional services or geographic reach would enable each organization to give a lead donor more bang for their buck?

These are just some of the ways you can increase brand impact and build trust between two enterprises. Remember that the goal is always delivering on the mission. If you can keep your staff and board mission-focused, then the ROI of a partnership or merger can bring great benefits to the people who need them most: those you serve.

Join Amy this Wednesday on a free teleconference about Engaging Boards for a More Successful Fundraising Auction. To register, click here.

The Good the Bad and the Ugly: Social Media Successes and Nightmares

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By now you have probably heard some of the more infamous stories of the brave new woRed Wheel s.c.rld of social media. From Jeff Jarvis’s famous “Dell Sucks” blog post in 2005 to the Motrin-Mommy-Blogger fiasco of late 2008.  But what results—good and bad—can inform your own personal or corporate social media strategy? Here are some I thought worth a look.

The Good

Have you checked out Bill Marriott’s Blog “Marriott on the Move”?  http://www.blogs.marriott.com/ Of course his most recent postings have been about the Jakarta suicide bombings that took place at a Marriott hotel there. Communicating with customers in times of crisis is a crucial part of communicating your brand identity—in this case, that Marriott management is caring and on top of the situation as much as can be expected. Bill  also reads the blog aloud in an audio file beneath each post, which makes for a much more personal experience of the story. According to Kathleen Matthews, former news anchor-turned-Marriott marketing executive, $3 million in reservations have come in through his blog. How’s that for an ROI?

Charity: Water is a non-profit organization bringing clean and safe drinking water to people in developing nations. 100% of public donations directly fund water projects.  On 12 February 2009, 200+ international cities hosted a Twestival (Twitter + festival) to bring Twitter communities together to raise money for charity: water. The Twestival raised $250,000+ and brought worldwide public awareness to the global water crisis. They also provided a live feed of a well drilling project in Ethiopia paid for by the funds, so donors felt instantly connected to an outcome of their donations. Charity: Water also cleverly provides “Tweet the Facts” resource so folks on Twitter can easily publish content relevant to the charity (“Women in Africa spend 15-17 hrs/week collecting water”).  Charities have been among the first to realize the power of social media, so why not retrace their steps and raise awareness for charities and causes you support?

Zappos, the internet shoe emporium just purchased by Amazon, has 436 employees on Twitter.  (Full disclosure: I love shoes.) In a recent interview for the Progressive Women’s Leadership Blog in a post called “All atwitter,” CEO Tony Hsieh said “For Twitter, we don’t really view it as a marketing channel so much as a way to connect on a more personal level — whether it’s with our employees or our existing customers.” Zappos has always stood out for its unique company culture, with a high level of customer service and a personalized, informal style. The company offers Twitter classes for employees to learn how to Tweet, but it does not have any restrictive requirements. Again, CEO Hsieh told interviewer Stephen Spencer “We’re not really looking at short-term ROI in terms of sales,” Hsieh says. “We’re looking to form lifelong relationships with our customers, and we think Twitter helps us do this.”  The company has also used Twitter as a recruiting tool, because it helps prospective employees see what it’s like to work there.

The Bad

The Washington Post today carried a story (“Online — and in the Loop — With D.C. Police “ washingtonpost.com http://bit.ly/y8rlP ) about how police are using email listserves to connect to community, inform the public about crimes, and help solve them.  The U.S. Park Police are blogging at http://uspppressroom.blogspot.com/ . Meanwhile, on the west coast, Los Angeles police Lt. Rick Banks is quoted saying his unit is looking at Twitter as a new opportunity.  What does it all mean? Federal and state agencies are embracing social media as a tool for connecting with the communities they serve.  Some of these postings function more as press release outlets than places for real conversations to emerge (see http://www.usda.gov/blog/usda/ ).  At least it’s a start for more transparency and faster communication in government.

The Ugly

As great as social media is, there is a dark side. Consider this story from the Better Business Bureau about major job scams on Twitter.  The BBB wants job hunters to be aware of the following red flags when searching for a work-at-home job online:

  • The “job” is actually a money-making scheme and doesn’t provide actual employment.
  • The work-at-home scheme claims that you can make lots of money with little effort and no experience.
  • You have to pay money up front in order to be considered for the job or receive more information.
  • The exact same tweet touting the program is posted by many different Twitterers. The links in such tweets could lead you to scam sites or install malware onto your computer.

These are just a few tales to help you consider the good, the bad and the ugly ways that social media is changing our communications landscape.  Do you have a social media success story or nightmare? Please share!

I Hate Website Contact Forms: A Dent in Your Brand

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I know, I’ve really avoided launching any blog posts with the words “I hate.”  But GF3, s.c.2this one really gets me, for some reason. In our brave new age of social media, increased transparency, and communications efficiency, those little forms that you get when you click “Contact Us” really bug me.

I recently went on a nonprofit website to find someone in the communications department I’d met at a party. I thought I’d do a simple click and send her a quick note. Instead, I got The Form of Doom.  This is a great nonprofit, doing great work, helping needy children all over the world. And I was stopped in my tracks. Suddenly their brand didn’t seem as good. I know, it’s not fair, but it didn’t.  Suddenly they seemed possibly elitist, or at least not friendly and not reachable.  If I were a donor, would I be thinking “hey, maybe there’s another nonprofit I can contact more easily”?  I don’t know, but I might.

Contact Us forms are the last vestige of Web .5 in a Web 2.0 world.  Originally, they were designed to “capture user information” and help protect executives new to email.  But now, they just seem like speed bumps—annoying and messing up my car.  It’s not like people can’t find you these days. I located the nonprofit communications executive I’d met through Linked In, where we happily connected, conversed and exchanged email addresses. But that was, like, six steps from how I should have found her with a simple link on her organization’s website.

Brands are affected by many customer experiences.  We build up our expectations of a brand, and then we expect all interactions with the brand to deliver on the “brand promise.”  When a communications transaction between entity and user does not meet the brand promise expectations, we are at a fork in the road and we may choose another brand instead.  Websites are no longer sign posts.  They are interactive communications tools with your current or prospective donors, customers or volunteers.  Check around and see if yours is welcoming them to your brand on every page, or if you still have a few of the old barriers around.

Know any other Brand Barriers or have a different view of Contact forms? Please share them!

Choosing the Wrong Communications Tool Can Really Screw Up Your Brand

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Yellow Hibiscus, Red Center 7_IGP0786 s.cI was recently reminded of how important it is to choose the right communications medium when I opened my office email after the July 4th holiday weekend. To my surprise, my in-box was chock full of emails—more than 200 of them. This seemed odd. Could there have been some massive event I wasn’t aware of?  Then the culprit emerged. The university orchestra of my alma mater had sent out an email encouraging people to “chat” about their experiences in the group.  Hmmm. A group chat through email? Not an invitation to join a list-serve or a fan group on Facebook?

I trolled through the first handful of emails and realized that not only had the organization chosen a poor format for this lovely outreach idea, but that almost everyone contacted had responded “reply all” when asking to be removed from the list. Voila! 200 increasingly nasty emails were created, and were still replicating as I watched.  And one of the last ones I read reminded me of how badly your brand can be damaged by such a seemingly innocent mistake. An alumn said they couldn’t believe the university had sent such a missive and they wanted to be removed from all future lists and never hear from the place again.  Ouch!

I quickly sent off an email to the VP of Public Affairs saying, essentially, “your brand is on fire.”

Brand wound self-infliction isn’t as uncommon as you would think. The Washington Post recently produced marketing fliers promoting a series of private, sponsored off-the-record dinners between policymakers and journalists that set off a firestorm of controversy about whether or not the Post could maintain its brand of journalistic impartiality.

So, how to choose the correct medium for your message?

1. Know Your Audience. It’s important to know how your audience prefers to be communicated with.  I recently sat on a marketing panel at an independent schools conference and one audience member asked whether they should be sending out emails or Facebook invitations to their alumns. I responded with another question “have you ever asked them?”  It’s really important to periodically query your target audience(s) about how they like to be reached.  A quick email survey using a tool such as Survey Monkey can suffice.

2. Know Your Options. Trying to jump-start a conversation that goes on beyond your initial contact? A Facebook page or Linked In group might work best.  Trying to get customers to respond to something new? Offer a clickable coupon link that also takes them to other content you want viewed. Want to reach potential donors? Send them a link to a You-Tube video that tells a short but compelling story about real people benefiting from your organization’s work.  And be wary of e-newsletters. If you must send them, make sure they have easy navigation and clickable links to full articles (one group I support still sends a PDF–yuck!).

3. Know Your Limitations. Donors and customers don’t want to hear from you every day. Prospective donors and customers want to hear from you even less. So be thoughtful about your communications tool, and then the content you deliver with it.  Offer information and connectivity that is truly useful to them.

4. Know Your Internal Content Generators. Yes you have standards and best practices. Surely my alma mater does. But clearly not everyone knows them. That’s because users/content generators are everywhere, not just in the PR office. Educate early and often. Rinse and repeat.

5. Know Your Power. Electronic and social media, when used correctly, can greatly magnify and support your brand.  Use them well…or else.

COMING THIS MONTH (Wed, July 29th, 1PM EDT): Free Teleconference on Helping Your Board Support Your Auction Success. For more information/to register, click here.

Can Twitter Help Offset the Negative Brand Impact of Downsized Marketing?

In the last two weeks I’ve spoken with one VP of marketing whose job was completely eliminated at a major national nonprofit, and one marketing director at a mid-sized for-profit who confessed she had no time to do long-term strategic work since she was really functioning as communications director, and without any support staff.

Who hasn’t felt the pinch on long-term strategic thinking when short-term tactical communications work needs to get done? And why should we care?

I think we should care because organizations are likely to find that while they net some short-term savings with cuts to personnel and marketing budgets, their brand may take a bigger hit than they think in the long-term.  If all you’re doing is getting out your weekly customer e-newsletters and press releases, you may actually be suffering from internal bleeding without knowing it.  With tactics focused on short-term “get the word out” communications, organizations can be missing out on three key marketing strategies: attracting new customers/donors, retaining existing ones, and constantly establishing your brand as the best in class.

So, how to maintain a brand focus without all the people and budget to help?

Consider what some of the biggest firms are now doing: using Twitter as a tool to provide customer service.  USA Today reported this week that companies like Comcast, Pepsico and Whole Foods are using Twitter to provide customer service more quickly and successfully than 800 numbers and websites once did.  Pepsico went so far as to change its top customer service employee’s title to “Global Director of Digital and Social Media.”

Title changes aside, how can mid-sized for-profits and nonprofits use this technology to do more than put out 140-character press releases?

  1. If you are a school or university, consider tweeting to keep in touch with alumni on issues they care about.  But also tweet parents about important news–changes to the soccer game schedule, deadlines for scholarship apps, etc.  Letting them opt-in will make them feel they aren’t going to miss important news.
  2. If you are in the business of social change, keep donors up to date on the impact of their funding.
  3. If you are a government agency, keep stakeholders apprised of policy issues and where they stand, and any new information you have posted elsewhere about it to save them time fishing for it.
  4. If you are a for-profit, keep customers apprised of issues and information that could negatively or positively affect their business outcomes, so you can demonstrate your depth of knowledge in your field and your value.
  5. If you are a thought leader in your area of expertise, consider sharing what you know, what you are reading, and people worth watching. (For some reason, nonprofit leaders are particularly late adopters of this technology, and yet they have the most to benefit from one another and the least staff resources to pull in the information in other ways.)

Nothing replaces people and budget, but it looks like Twitter can offer some interesting opportunities to maintain a good brand presence in this downturn.