Does Management Care About Our Brand?

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Red Wheel s.c.Sure they do. Management’s focus on the 50,000 foot view of an organization includes issues around brand. But what I’ve found is that they are not always aware of mission-critical elements that contribute to how your brand is perceived–by customers, donors, investors, or other influencers.  Here are two areas where the executive team often falls short, and what you can do about it.

The Virtual. Let’s face it, many in executive leadership are from a generation that’s not entirely comfortable with the virtual world of the internet and social media–even email. A good friend of mine in his 60’s ran a highly successful international foundation without so much as a computer on his desk. His secretary read and responded to all his emails!  Other execs can be suspicious of social media being merely social and not having any business function, so they won’t allow employees to use it.  Or they limit online time to younger subordinates–interns and such–without realizing these have become the face of the organization and their first responders in a crisis. (And they might be perfectly well qualified for this, but that might not really be the communications strategy when the assignment is made.)

So how do you get management to care about the virtual iterations of your brand?

1. Provide real feedback on what others are saying about you and your issue or product or competitors on a regular basis–a quick overview report at least weekly. You likely already know the tools (Google Alerts, Twittalyzer). But also write the report in “real English” so that those of us who aren’t as facile with technology can “get it” and understand strategic implications.

2. Offer a virtual brand game-plan with a specific group of staff and targeted number of hours they will spend listening and responding on Facebook, Twitter, blogs, etc.

3.  Be willing to revise the game plan. Test a variety of strategies and personnel. Some people love to write, for example, and could be great bloggers for your brand. Others might be better suited to the 140-characters-or-less world of Twitter.

The Physical. I recently attended an after work networking event at a company that reminded me how much the physical still matters when it comes to your brand. The party included a number of people I wanted to meet. However, the bar was located right in the entrance area, so everyone was crammed together there and no one could circulate. The food was elsewhere–sitting on small, lonely plastic platters in several conference rooms too far from the main action to attract much attention. But for those who ventured in search of nourishment, the message of the meager fare was either that the company was suffering greatly in the economic downturn, or they didn’t like their customers enough to invest in more than a bowl of peanuts. Probably not the message management intended to send.  My guess is management didn’t even involve itself in the layout or the menu decisions.

By contrast I attended another business event for top-level CEOs where clearly the economic downturn played a role in the decision to change the evening from black-tie to business dress. The food was well laid out and appetizing, but not overly luxurious. The content and networking spaces were well-planned. Result: a good boost for the host company’s brand.

How can you get management to care about the “physical” expressions of your brand?

1. Include them in your decision-making. Even if it’s the tablecloths for an event or the new office chairs, make sure management knows What you’re suggesting/deciding and Why you’re making those recommendations.  What is the impression you are trying to make? What do you want customers or donors or investors to think about you when they leave? (note: “they’re suffering” doesn’t always translate into increased donations on the nonprofit side.)

2. Show them examples (photos) of what your event/office would look like if these decisions get made. I’m sure that if one of the top executives of the firm I mentioned above had seen what a little plastic platter of vegetables looked like sitting alone on a vast polished wood conference table, he might have endorsed a different food budget.

3. Poll your guests and share outcomes with management. Survey Monkey and other online tools make it so easy to find out whether or not your guests liked your event/their meeting at your office/etc. Social media also allows you to hear from important players and share back their comments.

All I can end with is the line from the wonderful Maurice Sendak book for children, about Pierre “who didn’t care” (Spoiler alert: he gets eaten by a lion): Care!

©2009 Amy DeLouise. All Rights Reserved. For reprint permission, please contact amy(at)amydelouise(d0t)com.

Handling Disgruntled Customers

Oakes Red - IMGP1335 s.cThere are three kinds of unhappy customers. The ones who let you know about the problem right away. The ones who tell other people they are unhappy, but avoid telling you directly.  And the ones who are mostly happy customers and have only one issue they are unhappy about, but this is the only thing they communicate about with you, so it seems like a much larger problem.  It’s really important to discern which kind of customer you are dealing with before you can help them.  And especially in these days of social media, when a problem that is small can become exponentially larger due to word of mouth.

Learn About the Problem

If you are hearing about the problem from someone other than the customer, or through a group venue such as social media, seek out the customer to discuss the issue directly and privately. You can still make some kind of public response when all is resolved, but don’t duke things out on your Facebook page.

Really listening is key. This means a willingness to see the issue from their perspective and problem-solve in a way that ensures they will still be your customer. Okay, in fairness there will be rare instances in which you need to “fire” your own customer because, as it turns out, their goals and your mission/brand promise actually just don’t fit. But this is a rare instance. More often than not, a disgruntled customer will become less frustrated just through knowing you understand their pain.  By listening you can also discern if this is a generally happy customer (and not over-react) or if there is a big issue you need to address with a full-court press. And when you listen, be sure to share with colleagues (as appropriate, depending on sensitivity) within your organization so they understand your brand values when it comes to problem-solving.

Find a Solution

The worst thing you can do to a customer is make them find their own solution. This happened to me recently with the Smithsonian Institution, an organization of which I’m highly supportive. My family joined about a year ago because we live in Washington, DC and visit the museums regularly.  We received the magazine immediately but never got the membership card, so we had to sign in at the information desk every time we went to a museum—several times a month–for a “temporary card” in order to enjoy our membership benefits. This got tedious, and yet no one suggested how we could solve our problem and get a permanent card.  Finally, one day I walked to the Smithsonian’s main offices to ask for help. I was sent to another building. Then from that building, back to the first one. And so on. It was starting to look like a Marx brothers movie, but not as funny since I had kids in tow. Finally, a woman at the main office handed me a sticky note and said “call this 800 number and maybe they can help you.”  I recently spoke to a helpful customer service rep there and we’ll wait to see what happens.

Communicating About Problem-Solving

A lot of organizations do a tremendous job of communicating about their mission, their brand values and their goals, but do a terrible job of telling customers about how they solve problems. In the more customer-driven environment of today’s economy, customers and prospective customers want to know that you can solve their problems, even if they don’t have any right now.

You can communicate about your problem-solving in a number of ways. It’s a great blog topic. It’s worthy of a line or two in your monthly e-mail or memo to customers. It’s even worthy of mention to your own staff, so they understand a model of successful problem-solving. Do you have a good example of communicating around problem-solving in your organization? Or a problem-solving disaster? Please share…

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…

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.

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!

Is Social Media Worth My Professional Time?

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AmysLinkedInThis week I’ve had four people ask me this question. Two are lawyers in large, successful practices. One is an executive looking for work. One is a nonprofit professional. All are mid-40’s to early 50’s. My answer is a resounding “yes!” to all of them, with varying reasons why.   If you are already well-versed in social media, feel free to duck out of this post.  But if you or your boss is trying to decide whether it’s worth it, read on.

Some Facts to Consider…

Nielsen recently released these intriguing study results:

1. In February social network usage exceeded Web-based e-mail usage for the first time. Ever.

2. There are 87 percent more online social media users now than in 2003, with 883 percent more time devoted to those sites.

3. In April, Nielson also reported that the number of American users frequenting online video destinations has climbed 339 percent since 2003. Time spent on video sites has shot up almost 2,000 percent over the same period.

4. Unique visitors to Twitter increased 1,382 percent year-over-year, from 475,000 unique visitors in February 2008 to 7 million in February 2009, making it the fastest growing site in the Member Communities category for the month.

5.  And here’s one that might surprise you. The largest age group on Twitter right now is 35-49 year olds. Yep. 41% of Twitter-ers are in this group, representing almost 3 million users.

So …?

This data shows that many of the people you need to connect with aren’t just using social media, they are migrating to it in droves.  And just like you, they only have a limited amount of time, so that means they are using other networking tools less/differently.  For example, we have all heard the reports that many conferences have cancelled this year due to the economy.  But perhaps there’s also less interest in networking in this way when you can have an ongoing conversations with colleagues, fellow activists or customers through Facebook and Twitter? We’re also doing less in print. According to the US Department of Labor wage and salary outlook in the printing and related support activities industry is projected to “decline 22 percent over the 2006-16 period, compared with 11 percent growth projected for the economy as a whole.” This decrease reflects our increased use of computerized documents and sharing information via the internet and social media sources.

I’m Still Unconvinced. My Time is Too Valuable.

In fairness, you’re right. Social media can be a big Time Sucker. So you need a plan to manage that, both personally and organizationally, in much the same way you adjusted your work patterns when email and FedEx came along. And just as those inventions saved time in new ways, you will need to maximize the time you save in these new mediums.  Here are a few tips on incorporating social media into your professional communications strategy.

Five Tools for Getting What You Need From Social Media

1.   First, decide what you’re trying to accomplish. Are you reconnecting with classmates? Trying to reach new customers? Engaging other social activists in your cause? Increasing your visibility as an expert in your field? Promoting your new book or agency report? Trying to find a new job?  Each goal requires a slightly different strategy and time commitment. Having only the goal of finding out what everyone else is talking about is an acceptable starting point, but if you want to prove to yourself/your boss that you’ve gotten ROI, you need a more structured goal.

2.    Decide who you want to converse with. I use the term “converse” because social media is a conversation, not you blasting information to an “audience.” But you need to know who you’re looking for and where they are. For example, women over 55 are the fastest growing demographic on Facebook.  So if that’s who you need to reach, consider spending time there. Facebook is also a good way to cross-promote a book, podcast or blog, so consider it a part of your strategy, not your entire game plan.

3.    Decide what value you can bring to the conversation. Some of the best Twitterers are healthcare organizations, because they have a lot of already well-researched content and their goals are to make us all healthier.  See @childrenshealth and @redcross for good examples. My least favorite Twitterers are those who are too prolific, so that even their good content gets lost in their own clutter. Luckily the trend is moving away from people twittering about every move they make. With the exception of politicians and broadcast anchors.

4.    Figure out how much time you can commit each day/week/month. Start by looking at the time you already spend achieving the same goal through more traditional means. Perhaps you attend several professional networking events a month and four major conferences each year.  Take part of the time you would a lot to those and target the same goal through social media.

5.    Identify useful as well as negative content –that is, for content you value, but also content that might be de-valueing or diluting your brand. Use blog search tools like Technorati to conduct real-time searches for user-generated media (including blogs) by topics of interest to you or use Stumbleupon to both see and offer your own ratings of content you find useful. Remember that some good content tends to pop up in unexpected places, such as federal government blogs.  Here’s a useful one from the Dept. of Energy with tips for energy efficiency .

6.    Consider a Group Blog. If your firm or organization wants to put a toe in the water on blogging, consider identifying 5-20 people who could be regular contributors and rotate the job. Posts can be brief—even as little as a paragraph.  Be sure to post on the same day or days of the week, so that blog search and aggregating tools can find you.

7.    What Can You Bring to You-Tube? If you already have video content (and assuming you can acquire the right permissions), this is a no-brainer. But you may also be giving a workshop that you can have videotaped. Or consider asking your own stakeholders for user-generated content of their own. This works particularly well for nonprofit causes, where real people and real stories are so compelling.

8.    Use social networks to find people who can help you do your job better. Consider incorporating LinkedIn to your organization’s job posting strategy, as well as using it for your own professional networking. Linked In was founded before Facebook, but has taken off more recently due to improvements in its interface, the increased use of its professional forums, and the widgets that can bring additional content to your page (i.e. pull your blog into it, as it does on my page—shameless self-promotion moment here—at http://www.linkedin.com/in/amydelouise . If you are a job-seeker, as so many are in our economy, this is a great tool. Prospective employers can check out your page (which is essentially a resume), download your resume, and see recommendations you’ve received from bosses/clients.  As someone who employes others, I’ve found LinkedIn extremely useful when trying to find a good vendor or consultant for a project. I posted a query to my contacts and within seconds had 6 recommendations with national experience, all of whom I could then look up and contact via LinkedIn.

Okay, Okay, But How Do I Get Started?

Here’s your summer assignment:
Month 1. In the next 30 days, set up a Facebook page and a LinkedIn page.  Do at least a basic Google search for your company’s/organization’s/issue’s/expertise’s name. Index some blogs or websites that seem useful, or are saying hateful or incorrect things about your organization/issue. Use Technorati or Stumbleupon accounts to send you blogs on topics of professional interest to you so you don’t have to go search for them.
Month 2. Sign up for Twitter and follow 10 people you admire.  Could you say it better? Can you add value to this conversation? Could this be valuable to you/your organization/your customers, donors, or volunteers? You make the call.
Month 3. Get at least 5 recommendations for yourself on LinkedIn, and more if you are a job-seeker.  Join one Linked In discussion group. Join some Facebook causes that mean something to you.  Comment on one or two blogs related to your area of expertise.
Month 4. Summer’s over! Spend no more than 30 minutes a day checking your most useful blog and Twitter feeds.  Spend 30 minutes per weekend for the next four weekends cranking out a list of potential blog topics you could generate with help from colleagues (so you can decide if this is a go or no-go for a January launch).

If you have some more ideas to contribute, please do!

Why Brand? The Case for “Selling” Nonprofits

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Nonprofits often resist marketing. Marketing and sales smack of for-profit activities. In the best of cases, marketing dollars are viewed as an expenditure that reduces money for core mission projects. Worst case, branding, marketing and brand management are considered downright inappropriate.

But whether you know it or not, you are already selling your mission. The question is to whom, how, and how effectively?

In today’s highly competitive marketplace of ideas, your non-profit organization has very little emotional space in which to differentiate itself from the pack. When a nonprofit calls or sends us mail, or when a friend discusses volunteering, we look at this request not just against a backdrop of all our nonprofit investments but also against the other competing interests in our lives—our son’s Little League team, our work picnic, the birthday party we are hosting next weekend.

Here’s where a strong brand comes into play.

When a household already contributes to a church and a Little League Team and a PTA, they may feel that their nonprofit “basket” is full. To make an impression on this family, a nonprofit has to make a bold and memorable case for support. Having a strong brand already in place can help open the door or close the sale. For example, when my local volunteer fire department comes knocking at the door for their annual donation drive, I already understand their brand. They volunteer at our schools to explain fire safety to the children. The firehouse hosts kids’ parties and we’ve all taken the tour and tried to lift the 100-plus pounds of gear each firefighter wears in a fire. And a few years ago, they put out a fire on my street. They have a strong brand and they don’t need to tell me what they do. So the conversation is focused on what level of donation I am able and willing to give for the cause.

Not everyone can have as compelling and easy a case to understand as the local volunteer fire department. But if they don’t, they need to work hard to make it easy for people both inside and outside the organization to “get” what change they make in the world. Then, the trick is that once you’ve invested time and dollars making your brand known, you need to manage your brand so that there’s no slippage. Your “brand promise” has to be delivered as expected every time your organization or its name/logo is used. And that means Every Time, or you may have done lasting damage to your mission by reducing your ability to raise funds and attract talented staff and volunteers. (More on how good governance connects to your brand promise in a future posting).

Do you have a brand success story or brand crisis? Please share (names can be changed to protect organizational anonymity)!