Don’t Make These Social Media Mistakes

Here are some worthy reminders from Digital Relevance regarding mistakes you should avoid when using social media for your business.

Your tweets or Facebook posts are solely promotional.

Social media can be a good venue to share special sales and promotions, but don’t post these activities too often or your “fans” will drop you. People want to follow your company because you are helpful, informative and have something to offer.

You don’t interact with anyone.

It is called social media for a reason. It seems like a no-brainer, but a big no-no many companies make is not interacting with its followers. You should promptly respond to mentions, replies and retweets and continually check your Twitter feed to respond and reply to your followers. Be sure to answer comments or questions on Facebook as well.

You tweet too much or share too often.

Twitter is a much more continuous, open platform for sharing multiple times each day. You should tweet at least three to five times a day, but what’s more important is the quality and value of your tweets. Low-quality sharing won’t lead to much interaction. On average, top brands posted once per day on Facebook. If you post more than twice per day, you will typically lose engagement.

You only tweet or share posts about your business.

It’s not all about YOU. Your followers want you to be a resource for industry information, trending topics and every now and then they like to know what’s going on in your company, but they don’t always want to know about every single webinar, article or event. It’s good to show you are a real, successful business, but also illustrate your value as a resource that continually interacts with its followers.

You’re commonplace and uninteresting.

Just as writers have a unique style and voice, brands should have a unique voice that their audience understands and relates to. Form your unique voice based on your culture, community and conversation.

You repeat yourself, you’re totally automated and you repeat yourself.

Automation can help productivity and efficiency, but when it comes to social media, it can seem spammy, impersonal and excessive. Don’t tweet or share the same article multiple times a day or even multiple times a week. A helpful article can be shared multiple times for larger exposure, but spread out your coverage dates.

Avoiding these mistakes will help you build a strong online community that believes in your brand, considers you an essential resource and enjoys interacting with you.

Chamber Communications Team Earns APEX Award

The Indiana Chamber of Commerce communications team earned an APEX (Awards for Publication Excellence) Award of Excellence in a 2013 national competition conducted by Virginia-based Communications Concepts.

The winning entry was a membership advocacy video that has been used in demonstrating the Chamber’s impact on public policy and the return on investment for its members. Eight members of the Chamber board of directors from throughout the state were interviewed regarding the organization and its efforts to help produce the best possible business climate. The Chamber partnered with WFYI Productions in compiling the video.

More than 2,400 entries in a broad variety of categories were evaluated in the APEX competition. Approximately one-third earned some type of recognition.

The Chamber’s BizVoice magazine has received 63 national and state awards over the past 14 years, including the prestigious APEX Grand Award in 2012. 

Watch the Language!

From the "sad but true" category, PR Daily reports on the trend of texting language now appearing in places it shouldn’t, like business writing and e-mails, or students’ schoolwork — or pretty much anywhere else that’s not a phone. This is one of those things that probably won’t change any time soon, so we should all probably get used to it and find something else to get irritated about. (If you want it, I’ve started a list.) PR Daily reports:

Sadly, it doesn’t seem to be a passing fad. According to a recent poll of high school educators, 54 percent claim the “mobile phone text message language” is now creeping into teenagers’ schoolwork.

Even worse, a few years ago New Zealand officials allegedly began allowing high school students to use “text speak” in their written national exams. A local newspaper provided some tongue-in-cheek (I think) examples: “We shal fite dem on d beaches” (Sir Winston Churchill) and “2b or nt 2b” (Shakespeare’s Hamlet). Yikes!

Look, I get it. We live in an increasingly online world that’s populated with buzzwords, acronyms, and slang. But as someone who specializes in communications, I can’t stress how important it is to act like a professional, regardless of your chosen field. And that goes for your writing.

Experts warn that “casual communication” such as text message lingo, instant message abbreviations, emoticons, or even a quickly dashed off (and often misspelled) message from your iPhone or BlackBerry can shatter your chances of landing a new customer, making a potential sale, or winning a certain position.

While clients may forgive the occasional typo, frequent mistakes and ongoing casual communication could give them the idea that you’re sloppy and not to be taken seriously. Those types of misunderstandings can be costly when it comes to business. As one of my colleagues recently pointed out, people should try being more direct, use plain language, and be clear when communicating.

Remember, there is a time and place for casual chatter. After the close of business, customers are not your friends, so save the LOLs for a non-work acquaintance. You don’t know what might annoy someone, so the best plan is to keep it formal and professional. Craft thoughtful sentences and support your written communications with a polished verbal or personal presentation.

U can thnk me 4 this advice l8tr.

Here are a few more examples of the most hated “text talk” lingo, courtesy of a lunchtime poll of my colleagues.

• “Perf” instead of perfect. I don’t know why, but it bothers me.
• In emails, anything that has a hashtag annoys me. #lame
• LOL. Also: vacay and ROFL.
• Please spell out “pls” and “thx.” Thanks.
• In speech, I think “B.T. dubs” drives me slightly insane.

Noticed any text lingo creeping into business communications where you work?

Social Media and Politics: Nebraska Awkwardness Edition

PR Daily has this troubling Twitter anecdote from the Nebraska Senate Primary. The details follow, but one candidate is basically accused of trying to "follow" his opponent’s daughter on Twitter. Sounds creepy at first, but in his defense, he delegates Twitter management to an aide. But it makes for an interesting exchange:

Talk about an awkward debate moment.

During a debate in Nebraska last week, one Republican Senate candidate, Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning, accused his opponent, state Treasurer Don Stenberg, of being “creepy” for following his 14-year-old daughter on Twitter.

Bruning unleashed this salvo:

“Let me ask you this, Don. This Sunday, my daughter walks in, and says, ‘Don Stenberg’s trying to follow me on Twitter.’ My daughter’s 14-years-old. Now you tell me: I’d like to know, why does a 62-year-old man want to follow a 14-year-old girl on Twitter? I’d really like to know. She said, ‘Dad, that’s kind of creepy.’"

In return, Mr. Stenberg said the following:

“Quite honestly, I don’t do my own Twitter. Dan Parsons does it for me. We’ve got thousands and thousands of folks, and as soon as we get done here, I’ll call Dan and make sure that’s taken off. I don’t think it’s appropriate.”

That’s not a bad verbal response, but note his body language. His vocal delivery is much less sure than it was in his previous answer, and his post-answer body language reveals obvious anger. It’s hard to tell whether his ire is directed at his opponent or at his aide who requested to follow Bruning’s daughter; either way, his annoyance is obvious.

He lost control of the moment—and as a result, he lost the exchange

In these situations, maintaining control is critical. Stenberg’s approach of running toward the charge (“I don’t think it’s appropriate”) was a good one. But he should have delivered that line (or my suggested lines below) with full confidence:

“Jon, I agree with you. Children should not be fodder in political campaigns, and this is the first I’m hearing that one of my campaign aides tried to follow your daughter on Twitter. As soon as this debate ends, I’m going to have a conversation with my staff and make sure nothing like that ever happens again.”

Once he successfully finished running toward the charge, he could have taken the opportunity to counter-attack:

“But you know, Jon, I’m disappointed in you. Instead of speaking to me privately about this, one father to another, you opted to use this situation as an opportunity to score cheap political points. That’s exactly the kind of political stunt voters are sick of, and as far as I’m concerned, you ought to be ashamed of yourself.”
 

How to Respond if Media Asks You Something Outside Your Comfort Zone

Good advice here from PR Daily about how to respond to a tough question about your business or organization:

Recently, I received an email from Nicole, a reader who works for a local Chamber of Commerce. Her boss was on the radio expecting to face questions about one topic—but the host had a different idea. She writes:

“We had a recent experience where our Chamber president was asked to participate in a live radio interview about our economic development program. Instead, he was asked numerous questions about a proposed rate hike by our city-owned utility—an issue which we are not the appropriate spokesperson for. Ultimately, our president did a good job not speaking on behalf of the utility and there was no fallout, but it was an uncomfortable situation that was particularly difficult since it was happening live. I was just curious as to how you would handle that type of situation?”

It sounds like Nicole’s president handled it perfectly. But to elaborate on her question a bit more, spokespersons generally have three options when a reporter asks a question that falls outside of their realm of expertise.

Option No. 1: Answer the question

The most straightforward option is to answer the question, even if it’s outside of the spokesperson’s expertise. This approach is fraught with danger, since the spokesperson is now on the record speaking on behalf of a different agency.

Even if the spokesperson handles the question well, what good will it do if the headline of the interview becomes about that other topic? It means that your main messages—the things you most wanted the public to know about you—got lost in the shuffle.

Option No. 2: Answer the question, but within your own context

Occasionally, you might choose to answer questions about unrelated topics, but only within the specific context of how that topic affects you or your work. This approach allows you to “stay in your lane” while offering the audience (and reporter) something of value.

For example, the Chamber president might have said:

“I can’t comment on the rate increase broadly, but let me tell you what our members have said. They’ve said that increases in energy costs will lead to either laying people off or freezing hiring. We all understand that energy prices have to go up on occasion, but local businesses have told me they believe this is a bad time to do it.”

This option isn’t fraught with as much danger as the first one, and it may occasionally be the right approach. But it also increases your odds that the quote the audience remembers from your interview will be about a utility increase—which may or may not be the headline you wanted.

Option No. 3: Deflect and refuse the question

This one is pretty straightforward. You can just tell the reporter:

“You know, that’s really a question that’s more appropriate for the utility company to answer. I haven’t had the opportunity to study their full proposal yet, and would be uncomfortable commenting on the rate increase. What I can discuss today is rising costs for local businesses in general, and how it’s affecting their hiring practices. Those rising costs may include energy prices, but they also include tax increases, increasing fuel costs, and many other items businesses need to purchase to succeed…”

This option is often the safest, but the audience may hold your president’s refusal to answer basic questions against him. Ultimately, options two or three are the best bets, depending on the question and its relevance to the Chamber’s work.

Listen to The Boss: What Your Brand Can Learn From Springsteen

I’m known amongst my friends and loved ones as a Bruce Springsteen enthusiast. I remember the first time I heard "Thunder Road." I was in my dorm room at Indiana University and popped his greatest hits CD into my stereo (until then I’d just thought of him as the "Born in the U.S.A." guy). I think I uttered two words; the first one was "Holy."

So when I saw this Ragan.com article about how brands can benefit from being more like Springsteen, it was a no-brainer that I had to blog about it. There are some solid points here about staying current and relevant, and transcending your industry.

1. He’s a thought leader. Read the cover story from the recent Rolling Stone magazine to discover a man who’s well connected with the world around him and not afraid to express a point of view. He has tackled controversial topics throughout his 40-year career, sometimes stirring negative reactions, but he never backs down. He did it again with "American Skin (41 shots)," a song inspired by the 2000 police shooting death of Amadou Diallo. Speculation suggests Springsteen may have been making a statement about the recent shooting of Trayvon Martin.

Thought leaders shouldn’t be shy to share their opinions on issues that matter to their audience. Your employees and the public will respect you for speaking out on struggles they face, or are top of mind.

2. His values define him. In the "Rolling Stone" interview, Springsteen said, "In my music—if it has a purpose beyond dancing and fun and vacuuming your floor to it—I always try to gauge the distance between American reality and the American dream." He began this journey in 1972 when he signed his first record contract with Columbia; it continues today with "Wrecking Ball," his latest album.

There’s no denying that Springsteen’s message and values have been consistent. Brands should follow suit. Messaging should align with your company’s values. That extends internally. If one of your company’s core values is putting employees/associates first, then shouldn’t they be allowed to use social media at work?

3. He’s social. He’s a social animal who enjoys camaraderie and conversation. In an age of social media where the word "community" is fast becoming cliché, Springsteen has sustained an avidly engaged community that keeps expanding. One measure (besides selling more than 120 million albums) is his social media presence. He has 2,179,654 "likes" on Facebook and 157,843 Twitter followers. He is keeping the conversation alive, staying current in a digital age. He’s no Lady Gaga (with 49 million Facebook likes) but he’s definitely in the game.

There are so many ways to engage with employees, customers, and potential customers today that brands have no excuse for burying their heads in the sand.

4. He’s sensory. He may be a biological 62, but watching him perform, I marvel at his 20-something dexterity, strength and flexibility. Whether it’s sliding across the stage on his knees or bending backwards to the floor while holding a floor stand microphone, this guy logs hours in the gym to remain physically relevant. He’s a best case example of how staying fit keeps us young.

Brands like Target leverage the power of sensory in its store designs, which entice and engage shoppers and create a more fulfilling shopping experience.

5. He’s an innovator. A handful of artists transform their music, take risks, and push in new directions. The Beatles morphed in amazing ways over a too-short nine-year span; "I want to hold your hand" sounded nothing like "Day Tripper" which sounded nothing like "A day in the life."

Springsteen is in this pantheon. The rambling lyrical style of "Greetings from Asbury Park" morphed into the tighter pop structure of "Born to Run," which was re-shaped to "Nebraska" starkness and later to the Americana-influenced "We shall overcome: The Seeger sessions." One of the new songs from Wrecking Ball—"Rocky Ground"—features a hip hop interlude, something Springsteen has never done.

The takeaway is simple: Brands must be innovative if they hope to stay relevant.

6. It’s about us, not him. We brought two friends to the concert who had never seen him. I explained how Springsteen feeds off the audience and exists to give each person a gift. "It’s never about him, it’s about you," I said, explaining how Springsteen is passionate about making sure everyone has a good time, gets their money’s worth and leaves happy. When the show was over I said, "Now you’ve been baptized." They grinned and understood.

This is an important reminder for thought leaders. It’s not about your product per se, but delivering what your audience expects and needs—be it an experience or a service. Steve Jobs, for instance, was a master at creating products his fans didn’t even know they needed.

7. He’s more than music. I’m not hung up on awards, but Springsteen was robbed in 2003 when "The Rising" failed to win the Grammy for Best Album (he lost to Norah Jones). Inspired by the Sept. 11 attacks, the inspirational LP Springsteen created helped us heal. It was musical catharsis; it was more than an album. His giving spirit has impacted a range of organizations, from Amnesty International to the Rainforest Foundation Fund to WhyHunger. He endorses a local charity at every concert.

Go beyond what your company makes or does. Companies like Chipotle and Starbucks have given back to their communities, winning the admiration of many.

8. He’s the best kind of brand. Great brands create a feeling, a meaningful personal connection that sticks. We want to associate with that brand because it’s part of who we are, how we view ourselves. That’s why he’s more relevant than ever.
 

Study: Starbucks is Top (or ‘Trenta’) Dog on Social Engagement

There are many ways to measure brand engagement on social media. But according to a study from PhaseOne Communications, Starbucks has parlayed its approach into becoming the most highly regarded when it comes to engagement with customers. Ragan.com reports on how:

"The very public nature of social media taps into consumers’ public persona—the idealized version of themselves that they want to present to others," the report states. "This can be quite different from their private selves—those aspects of themselves that, while true, are not for public broadcast."

Of more than 20 brands PhaseOne studied, Starbucks ranked highest in social media engagement. "Starbucks becomes the embodiment of their consumers’ idealized selves, seeking experiences uniquely their own," a press release from the firm states.

Social media messages that appeal to the private self tend not to work, the report finds. But those that enable a customer to say something appealing about him- or herself, something that builds the customer’s online image, drive engagement. Brand statements that give customers that opportunity should drive communication strategies, the report’s authors contend.

The ‘me’ statement

Each brand needs something the report’s authors call a "me statement," a way of articulating how the brand and its customers’ public images can become intertwined.

"Brands don’t just happen upon a ‘me statement,’" says Lisa Allard, co-author of the report and PhaseOne’s vice president of special services. "It takes a lot of work."

To arrive at the statement, brands need to identify who their consumers are and what they want, in terms of creating public personae. Then they have to pinpoint the bridge between that desire and how the brand can help them achieve it.

For example, Starbucks has a "me statement" along the lines of giving consumers a way to "pursue experiences that are uniquely me." On Facebook, the company uses that "me statement" to engage customers by asking them to talk about their coffee preferences or personal stories.

McDonald’s, another company ranked highly in the report, has a statement that deals with consumer savvy. Audi’s message focuses on a high-end, modern lifestyle.

Terry Villines, PhaseOne’s senior vice president of analysis and also a co-author, says brands should generally stick to one, broad "me statement" for all its messages.

"When a brand tries to stand for too many things in consumers’ minds, they end up standing for nothing," he says. Brands can have different messages for different products, perhaps, but the core message should remain consistent.

Allard acknowledges audiences aren’t monolithic, however. That’s why brands have to present messages tied to their "me statements" in different ways, "tied in a creative envelope."

Is it Time to Apologize for all the Apologizing?

I realize many readers of our blog may not be card carrying members of the Bill Maher Fan Club, but his recent column in The New York Times is worth considering. Additionally, Ragan.com asked whether the bevy of businesses and brands apologizing lately should also heed Maher’s advice.

Read Maher’s entire piece in the NYT. But here’s a sample:

If it weren’t for throwing conniption fits, we wouldn’t get any exercise at all.

I have a better idea. Let’s have an amnesty — from the left and the right — on every made-up, fake, totally insincere, playacted hurt, insult, slight and affront. Let’s make this Sunday the National Day of No Outrage. One day a year when you will not find some tiny thing someone did or said and pretend you can barely continue functioning until they apologize.

If that doesn’t work, what about this: If you see or hear something you don’t like in the media, just go on with your life. Turn the page or flip the dial or pick up your roll of quarters and leave the booth.

The answer to whenever another human being annoys you is not “make them go away forever.” We need to learn to coexist, and it’s actually pretty easy to do. For example, I find Rush Limbaugh obnoxious, but I’ve been able to coexist comfortably with him for 20 years by using this simple method: I never listen to his program. The only time I hear him is when I’m at a stoplight next to a pickup truck.

When the lady at Costco gives you a free sample of its new ham pudding and you don’t like it, you spit it into a napkin and keep shopping. You don’t declare a holy war on ham.

Business to Customers: “We Messed Up, Please Help!” (And It Worked)

This is a very encouraging article from Ragan.com about an Illinois pizza place, some mistakes, and some very devoted customers.

In general, begging is a tactic that PR folks tend to frown upon.

But when Nick Sarillo, CEO of Nick’s Pizza & Pub, sent an email pleading for customers to help keep the doors open at his two Chicagoland restaurants, customers didn’t just respond. They rallied.

"We doubled our sales in each restaurant for the first week and stayed at a 75 percent increase for a couple of weeks," Sarillo told Crain’s Chicago Business.

So what gives? If begging, or at least pleading, isn’t a worthwhile PR tactic—Sarillo’s publicity staff and his bank tried to talk him out of sending the email—why did this work? Gerald Baron, a blogger and principal at Agincourt Strategies, says it comes down to one word: authenticity.

"It was real," he says. "It was not a ‘strategy’ as we tend to understand it."

A genuine plea

Last fall, Nick’s was in deep trouble. In Sarillo’s email, he says, "we overbuilt and overspent," and he blames himself for "the bad decisions that got us into this mess." He gives percentages for sales drops at his Elgin, Ill., restaurant and states, "We are going to run out of cash to pay our vendors and team members over the next couple of weeks and will have to close."

Tripp Frohlichstein of MediaMasters Training says Sarillo’s direct, honest approach was "classy and smart."

"As a media trainer, it is amazing to see so many clients who realize that being honest about a situation is easier than evasion or deception," he says. "The realization that you can’t always please everyone is very important in sticking to this approach."

Drew Mendelson of Mendelson Communications says being straight with customers is vital to having a profitable business, but he notes that Sarillo’s approach won’t work for everyone.

"What Sarillo did probably works better for a privately held business that doesn’t have to answer to stockholders who might panic at the news and drive stock prices down," he says. "It also would probably have worked better if he made his announcement earlier, before things got so dire."

Mendelson says a message like Sarillo’s has to come from a CEO or, if the CEO isn’t the most personable executive, someone else in upper management. "The message has to be personal," he says.

Likewise, Mendelson says he doesn’t view Sarillo’s approach as begging.

"Sarillo wasn’t asking for charity. He was being honest. His business was beset by today’s mediocre economy and by the unforeseen problems of road construction."

Let’s Hear It for the PR Pro

The public relations profession doesn’t typically rake in a great dual of kudos. Sure, the internal "way to go" feedback takes place occasionally, but when the external spotlight shines it is often negative in nature — as in struggles in dealing with a crisis.

That shouldn’t deter one from the profession, at least according to U.S. News & World Report. In its "Best Jobs of 2012 list," it ranks the public relations specialist position the number one creative services job of the current year.

Thanks to the explosive popularity of social media, companies have entered a new era in the field of reputation monitoring, and social media outreach has largely been assigned to PR departments, and has led to more comprehensive contracts with PR agencies — and will continue to do so. "Whether you’re the press secretary for the President of the United States, a communications director for Google, or a media specialist for a small nonprofit, your main goal is to generate positive publicity for your client and improve their reputation," the article says about the PR profession.

In addition to the high ranking for PR, the article also cites promising job opportunities over the next decade — the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects public relations specialists’ employment growth of 22.5 percent between 2010 and 2020. During that time period, an additional 58,200 jobs will need to be filled, the article reports.

On the topic of landing a PR job, "A public relations specialist job requires writing skills, critical thinking ability, fast turnaround, patience, a thick-skin mentality, and creativity," said Public Relations Society of America chair Gerard Corbett in the article. He also adds that you should be able to demonstrate real accomplishments and have broad networks. And wallflowers need not apply — public relations specialists must have an outgoing, self-confident and friendly personality.