Strategic Communication is an elegant combination of art and science. It’s making sure that the ways you communicate are aligned with your overall business objectives. At Step In … Learn More...
Communications professionals are geared to be planners. We do research, create plans, make road maps, all in the name of being thorough. Certainly our timelines are more condensed than they’ve ever been before. But what if we should be doing the opposite of planning? The nature of today’s communication environment makes planning more difficult, maybe even obsolete.
In a recent interview for The Strategist, editor John Elsasser interviewed Fred Cook of Golin, the recipient of PRSA’s Gold Anvil last fall. He believes that improvisation is the key to success. His comments about improvisation made me pause.
“Because things are happening so fast in all parts of our lives, we don’t have time to research and do focus groups and message testing on every single thing that a company says or does. You have to be much more improvisational in how you operate. You have to play it by ear, and be willing to say and do things when you don’t have all of the information at your fingertips.”
This is a huge challenge for uber-planners. What if you get it wrong? How fast can you recover? Or can you even recover? And while communications professionals have always espoused the need to be responsive – especially with the pace at which messages move through social channels — Cook’s thoughts are scary for the communications planner.
“It’s a much more instinctual kind of communication, and you have to be able to move quickly in order to be relevant to the conversation. The research that we’ve done shows that a company has about four hours to participate in a conversation and still be relevant.”
Later in the interview, he likens this preparation to that of stand-up comedians as opposed to the uber-preparation of movie actors.
It turns out that improvisation is being used in some business schools and companies. In 2010, CNN focused on how improvisation was being used in several business schools.
Slate Magazine subsequently covered how corporations were beginning to use improv groups and comedy troupes to improve internal dynamics, customer engagement and even energize new business pitches.
“At first glance, zany improv and the straight-laced corporate world might seem to be unlikely bedfellows. But the cross-pollination between comedy and business has led both to fruitful managerial skills development for executives and to fruitful employment for funny folks. Comedians have not only led training workshops, but have begun to infiltrate marketing departments and advertising agencies,”according to Seth Stevenson in the article.
As communicators, we want to stay on top of the story and we want to stay relevant. And we might actually be more prepared for this constant state of readiness than other professions because we’ve always been “think on your feet” kind of people. For others, though, using improvisation in a business setting will be a challenge. Think you’re ready for this trend? Wait, let me go get my joke book and costume box.
Most companies planning for their crisis communications focus on physical types of crises like natural disasters and crime. Increasingly, however, it’s just as likely that an organization will face a crisis of reputation and the crisis will happen on social networks. This is a shocker to many traditional companies. You can just imagine the CEO saying: “Why should we put time and resources toward something that does not represent loss of life and limb?”
In short, if you don’t, you’ll be toast.
Online conflicts can be brutal as anyone who has weathered one will tell you, but you CAN survive one. The key is to be aware of what’s going on in the virtual world and to prepare for the next conflict.
“Your online privacy—the combination of what you and other share about you online and what you manage to keep off the Web – and reputation are inextricably intertwined,” says Andrea Weckerle, author of Civility in the Digital Age.
An online conflict can be completely manufactured. It can spring from erroneous information, a misunderstanding, or the widespread opinion of a key influencer. This is completely counterintuitive to how most companies prepare for real crisis communications. It is just as likely to spring from a genuine customer service issue or human resource matter which is advanced by a loud and influential person in your networks.
A traditional crisis usually has a beginning, middle and end, allowing the team to return to a normal state of affairs. This is not always true for an online conflict, which keeps coming back because of the social network convention of sharing and passing along links (false though they may be!) as well as the likely results from search engine queries.
There are things you can do to prepare for this type of crisis, but it does take a time commitment. First step: find out your current online reputation. Do this when things are normal, not when something’s brewing. One thing you can do is Google your company name once a week and see what you find. Then Google your company name with “stinks” or another bad word and now see what happens. Once you do that, it opens up additional opportunities to search networks like LinkedIn, Glass Door, Yelp and Trip Advisor to see results there, too. Second step: start fixing anything you find which is inaccurate or incomplete.
This only scratches the surface of monitoring your online reputation. Among the many gems in Weckerle’s book is a complete chapter on monitoring your online reputation with detailed instructions on how to do it. This book is a blueprint for managing all types of online disputes, based on Weckerle’s experience as an attorney and as the founder of CiviliNation, an organization dedicated to making the internet a more civil place. It is full of relevant case studies and numerous strategies for resolving every type of online conflict imaginable.
Even if your company is not in an all-out crisis of reputation online, learning to navigate negative reviews is part of managing civility online. The Journal of Consumer Research reported that negative reviews which were polite actually helped to sell the merchandise which was reviewed.
Our research raises the intriguing possibility that brands might benefit when polite customers write reviews of their products — even when those reviews include negative opinions.
The authors — researchers Ryan Hamilton, Kathleen D. Vohs, and Ann L. McGill — found that cultivating civility might make consumers feel better about a product.
So, why should you put time and resources toward something that does not represent loss of life and limb? Your reputation depends on it.
Traveling this time of year is stressful. More than 46 million Americans traveled for the Thanksgiving holiday this year according to AAA. Based on statistics from last year’s Christmas season, double that amount will be “en route” for December and January. With fuel prices way down, it just might be a record year for travel. There are bound to be weather issues, crowds and unexpected surprises during the journey, but it don’t let that ruin the trip. Here’s real advice from some seasoned travelers, including me.
Tips for the Plane Ride
Take zippered plastic bags–fill them with a change of clothes for you or your kids and later, they can transition to laundry bags or to contain wet things or trash.
Carry on your essentials—your toothbrush, one or two days’ worth of medications and a change of clothes will hold you over if your checked baggage is lost.
Travel Wipes – Lots of them. For you, for your kids, for dubious-looking surfaces along the way.
Tips for the Car Trip
Window clings are great for the car (or plane) window and kids can color the surface safely.
Stickers to Count down the Time—this is brilliant! My friend Christie puts stickers on the visor, one for every 30 minutes their family will travel, then removes them as the time passes. Great visual for kids to manage the “are we there yet?” syndrome.
Always have an Activity Bag. I have seen numerous parents traveling by car and plane who may have remembered diapers and the pacifier but expect their kids to sit quietly for hours! The Huyse family has a “go bag” with activities, books and toys that the kids have never seen before. The Pfitzenmaier family wraps them in foil, so the unwrapping becomes part of the fun. These don’t have to be expensive, just new to “them.” This is true for adults too. Don’t forget books, crossword and Sudoku books to keep your brain engaged.
Tips for the REALLY LONG Plane Ride
My family has a ton of personal experience with this phenomenon. With half of our family in Australia, we’ve made the trip from the US to Australia (and the reverse) more than a dozen times. It usually involves 3 or more airplanes and 14-24 hours of travel (the beaches are WORTH it!). This involves a different set of coping skills entirely.
Quick Change Artist — My husband takes a full change of clothes plus a wash cloth, towel and soap in his carry-on. At the halfway point of the longest flight, he takes a “bush shower” (washed up in the sink). The timing of this activity is essential. If you wait until the flight attendants are serving breakfast, it’s too late because the line for the restrooms is LONG.
Books for Gifts – On one trip, I got a bunch of paperbacks from a used bookstore, read them on the plane, and then left them with people who hosted us during our trip. That was before e-readers, of course.
More Carry-on Essentials – For longer flights, you need more stuff. Ear plugs, eye mask, neck pillow, especially if you are traveling coach.
Take off your shoes – On really long flights at higher altitudes, your body actually swells. Taking off shoes and wearing slipper socks is far more comfortable.
Strike a pose – Check out the stretching exercises in the flight magazine and make sure you get up and move throughout the flight.
Packing and Organizing Before You Leave
There are plenty of resources for better packing and organizing, including a lot of video demonstrations which you can see at this link. But some of the best advice is always from friends. Here’s what mine had to say:
Learn to Chant – Lisa Lauf says every time you get to a checkpoint, a plane, etc., say to yourself “phone, computer, wallet, passport” so you don’t forget something (there’s probably a story there).
Clothes Make the Trip – Beth Graham packs “from the floor up”—shoes, socks, pants, underwear, shirt, etc. Also rolling is the universal anti-wrinkle treatment for clothes. Wear your bulkiest shoes so you can get more into your suitcase.
Travel Documents – lots of people recommend travel wallets which can be very useful. For a family, a snap shut plastic file folder will work too. Print out your maps and other confirmation numbers in case your cell service or wifi is spotty.
It’s about those Bags – Make sure they have wheels and if you can bring two, do it in case you take a side trip!
Don’t Forget – an extension cord, umbrella, scarf, coat. Oh and where you parked at the airport – write that down or take a picture with your phone so you can find your car when you return.
Pack Your Smile – If you do a little bit of planning, you’ll be able to relax and enjoy the experience. Merry Christmas and happy travels this season.
Many thanks to friends and colleagues who contributed ideas for this story, including: Kami Watson Huyse, Jennifer Duplantis, Julie Pippert, Alysia Cook, Katie Hornstrom, Debi Aronson Pfitzenmaier, Jennifer Hatton, Christie Goodman, Patty Constantin, Lisa Lauf Rooper, Jennifer Navarrete, Sheila Payson, Kristie Guthrie, Beth Graham, Taylor Williams and Melody Campbell Goeken.
Photo of Christmas and the Alamo by Nan Palmero. See more of his work on Flickr.
Here are 5 Resources for packing for your next trip. Check them out!
This video from Real Simple is focused on packing womens’ clothes.
This packing video from Holiday Inn Express is perfect for business travelers — with a really unusual way of folding shirts with collars.
This is not really a video, but it’s a compilation of photos with 20 tips for packing your suitcase. If you take lots of beauty products and jewelry, there are some great ideas here too.
Of course, there’s a video of Martha Stewart and Matt Lauer in a packing throwdown of sorts.
Leave it to our friends at Travel and Leisure for a great video demo on packing a woman’s suit in a carry-on. You have to see the video to figure out the tip.
I pride myself on being a pretty good planner, especially when it comes to trips. I also think I’m pretty good at online research, but a recent getaway with my family in Tennessee showed me (and now my clients!) just how important the little details are to travelers who are putting their faith into what is online about your destination. Here’s what I found.
We were planning a four day weekend in Tennessee in early October. This was the second year in a row we had planned to explore the area’s beautiful parks and lakes. We were hoping to do some hiking, kayaking and maybe rent a fishing boat for one day.
Things I booked very early– airfare, the cabin at the state park, rental car. Nothing unusual there. After that was finalized about 8 weeks out, I turned my attention to the activities.
Here was my search process to find rental canoes or kayaks.
- Go back to the state park website. It mentions a marina but no further information except it is run separately. NO hyperlink.
- I do a web search for “canoeing near ABC state park” and “rent canoes near ABC state park” and “rent canoes in Tennessee” and get results on the third try, but none were anywhere near where we were staying.
- By now I am toggling between an online map of the area, my results, and several other websites, but nothing is taking me to where I want to go.
- I reach a dead end.
Next I try to find out about renting a fishing boat for a day during our stay. Here’s what I did:
- I go to the state park website and look for the information about the marina. One or two sentences about where it’s located within the state park, but no detailed information.
- I do a web search for “marina located at ABC state park” and an entire website for this marina and its rentals is there.
- The website says they don’t rent fishing boats. But if I want a houseboat to rent, they got ‘em!
- I reach a dead end.
I decide, due to other pressing deadlines, that we would wing it, that I would make phone calls when we got to Tennessee because we were going to spend a day in Nashville first and deal with it later.
Once we are in Nashville, I am planning to purchase food for the weekend. since we are in a rental unit, I am stocking in groceries, but it’s my vacation, so I don’t want to cook the whole time. So I Google “restaurant at ABC state park” and an entirely different website comes up. With a catering form, messages about booking early on the weekends, etc. I think “perfect” we will have dinner here one night during our stay.
We head out the next day. As we are driving in – you already know how this ends — we drive right past a ginormous canoe-shaped sign in front of a ginormous business advertising canoe rentals and guided trips. And, look! – there’s a vinyl banner hanging off the welcome sign of the park saying “ABC restaurant is closed for the season. See you next year.”
I could not believe it! The Internet failed me.
Thank goodness for the free magazine published by the local tourist association which I found in the rack at the local gas station on my way to the ladies room. It had better maps of the waterways than I had seen anywhere and put items of interest into categories which finally gave context to the possibilities around us.
Don’t get me wrong. Our October getaway was wonderful. There was fishing, hiking, beautiful leaves and a surprise trip to a beautiful Appalachian Craft Center run by Tennessee Tech University. It could have been even better, if all the little pieces of information were stitched together.
Here’s what could have improved our experience:
- Liberal hyperlinks to nearby businesses on the state parks website instead of vague references in copy.
- An active website which is updated to immediately mark changes in hours/season. A big “Closed for the Season” banner along the front of the restaurant website should have been added on the last day of operation.
- Destination context. Have you ever noticed how the little town that is listed as the address of a state park is never anywhere on any map or navigation? How about telling me what county you’re in or that everyone refers to this area as the Upper this or the Lower that.
- Better SEO keywords/ tags/categories to give context to the person searching on the Internet. If the canoe outfitter had done that, I would have found it and rented a canoe, too!
It doesn’t really matter the size or seasonality of your destination, stitching together information will help future travelers find you and spend more money while they are visiting, too.
This time of year is considered off-season by the travel industry, and for many, the lure of lighter crowds makes a fall getaway very appealing. But if you’re thinking about taking a vacation in fall or spring, the travel industry’s “shoulder periods,” you should be prepared for a different experience. Here’s what I found on two recent fall getaway trips.
Crowds were lighter, but so were available services. Many destinations power down toward the end of the season (or are gearing up before summer). You might also find some experiences which happen only in this time frame, which make the trip very desirable.
Rate changes abound. Sure, you’re not paying the same rate as July or August. You might even find a bargain or two. But hundreds of destinations have fall or spring festivals of some kind. Art, craft, music, heritage, are all celebrated in these shoulder periods. These events tend to have loyal followings and nearby accommodations fill fast. Shop ahead and book ahead, unless you like sleeping in your car.
Still, there can be cost savings in an off-season vacation, according to a story in last week’s US News and World Report.
“It is important to remember that sometimes a destination’s peak season is not the best time to be there; rather, it’s the time when school is out in locations nearby and that’s why crowds arrive and prices go up.” Said Wendy Perrin in the story, which you can read here.
Whatever the weather! Forget the lovely postcards of trees turning orange or beautiful cherry blossoms emerging after a long sleep, the weather is a crap shoot. When you’re from Texas (like I am), it doesn’t matter where you travel, you are just never prepared for rain. Be prepared for rain – or any weather, for that matter. This fall, a huge storm system caused a power outage at our rental unit which lasted several hours.
Bring stuff with you. Take the time to print out a map or two. During our recent getaway to the Tennessee Hills, our cell service was sporadic and we relied way too much on our mapping applications, which was a mistake.
Surrender to the middle seat or “friendship seat” as one airline calls it. There are still no empty seats on the plane. Summer season or shoulder season, it really doesn’t matter. the airlines are running at full capacity. Be prepared to be cozy during your flight.
In a recent story from Travel Leaders Group, it appears that travelers are embracing the off-season. 90% of the travel agencies polled said fall bookings are the same or better than 2013. Their top 5 destinations for fall – Orlando, Las Vegas, Maui, New York City and Honolulu – means that less known destinations have room for more travelers! You can read the results of that study here.
We loved our fall vacation, despite its quirks and crazy weather. My advice: It’s worth considering — just take an umbrella and have a Plan B!
Two weeks ago, I was fortunate to be invited to speak at Social Media Breakfast in Houston, organized by my friend and colleague, Kami Watson Huyse. The topic: “Crisis at the Speed of a Tweet” was a lively discussion, talk-show style, with more than 75 interested participants. The event is live-streamed and you can watch it here. (Warning: the video is one hour long!)
During the question and answer session, I jokingly said that I had 400 ways to say I’m sorry. This was in response to questions about being timely in a crisis.
Upon further reflection, I realized that I had grossly exaggerated the number of ways you could apologize in a crisis – unless of course, you add in foreign languages, which is far from fair. What did seem fair was to take pen to paper and actually write down all the ways to apologize in a crisis. It amounted to the 33 “sentence starters” you see below.
If you find yourself representing a company in a crisis, you will no doubt need to apologize before the crisis is over. And, the rapid turnaround of events might find you a bit tongue-tied or bereft of ideas to convey the right amount of regret to the right audience. This list is designed to help you make the right choice during your next crisis.
- There are no words…
- We are filled with sadness today…
- We were deeply moved by…
- We regret to announce that…
- I (We) got it wrong and we are sorry…
- It distresses us to share this news today…
- It is with a sense of loss that we….
- We deeply regret that…
- We collectively grieve today as…
- We were horrified to learn…
- Like you, our hearts are heavy…
- Words do not adequately express…
- We join with the community …
- We are anguished to hear….
- We sincerely apologize…
- We had no idea …
- We are deeply troubled…
- There is nothing we can say to make up for this mistake…
- We completely sympathize with the current situation…
- We apologize for the error…
- We ask for your understanding at this time…
- Please forgive the….
- Nothing can excuse….
- Please pardon our…..
- We do not condone…
- We screwed up and we take full responsibility…
- Our actions were inexcusable….
- What we did was careless….
- Please allow us the opportunity to…
- We regret any part of our actions which may have played in this situation…
- We are disappointed and will take immediate action…
- We have learned a lot from this and we are taking actions to ensure this never happens again.
- You are right to be frustrated.
What creative ways have you used to apologize in a crisis?
Every day, a company somewhere finds itself in crisis. Some will handle it expertly but others will completely bomb out. Here are seven epic mistakes or “sins” that will lead an organization in crisis down a path of fractured reputation and poor crisis response.
1. Unprepared — the unprepared organization has no plan, wallows in confusion, looks like a deer in headlights.
2. Arrogant — this company or its leadership loses sight of the big picture. It’s all about them and their reputation and not about those affected by the crisis.
3. Reactive –the reactive organization is too close to the situation, takes the social media chatter too personally, gets defensive.
4. Indecisive — an indecisive company is having a crisis of leadership, has lost trust with its stakeholders.
5. Insensitive — the insensitive company is robotic, lacks emotion, tries too hard to dispense with the problem.
6. Distant — the organization is out of touch with its audiences. They might appear lost.
7. Evasive — this company is sneaky, has something to hide, or is not ready to admit fault.
How can you avoid being on the 7 deadly sins list? If you feel your organization might be in danger of being indecisive, distant or evasive, it’s time to look carefully at how your organization can become honest, thoughtful and considerate — before your next crisis.
Small businesses are getting extra attention from Facebook these days. As the social network moves its users to a new blend of organic and paid content, Facebook users are becoming exposed to higher levels of paid advertising.
Individual users are unsure about how much advertising they want to see in the network. Businesses want to know more about using Facebook for advertising, but they have tons of questions. How does it work? How much should I spend? How do I measure success? Where do I get help?
The challenge for small businesses is that they already feel like they are wearing so many hats they do not feel capable of exploring or learning about one more thing.
Facebook is making an attempt to change that with its Facebook Fit program. This is a “road show” of seminars by Facebook itself. Earlier this summer, I attended a seminar in Austin that was geared to helping small businesses navigate advertising options and hear from similarly sized businesses on how they are using Facebook advertising.
The afternoon included a panel of small businesses who have successfully used Facebook advertising. The panel included the owner of a local restaurant and food truck; a local retail store with a robust e-commerce platform; a national jewelry brand; and a company with niche products for outdoors.
The method by which each of these businesses got involved in Facebook advertising ran the gamut. The restaurant owner started with a budget of 5 cents per day. Yes, cents. The national jewelry brand and the local retail store, on the other hand, had an integrated marketing budget and they slowly carved out dollars for Facebook advertising, based on their success with organic content, fan contributions and other factors.
They all seemed genuine. They all were realizing success with their marketing campaigns. They all believed in the benefits of Facebook advertising. Sure, Facebook invited them to the party and (by now) has a vested interest in their success.
As a group, though, their message was very clear.
Everyone on the business panel started out small. They tested. They learned from the tests. Then tried something new. They carved out budget for the ads. While the restaurant owner was spending $15 per month on ads, the retail store with the e-commerce platform was spending $500 a month once they integrated Facebook into their marketing campaign. It’s a smart approach.
Facebook claims that online ads have a 38% success rate, while ads on Facebook reach 89% success rate. This is not verified information, but is the benchmark they offered at the seminar.
How can you take advantage of this information so your business can begin exploring advertising on Facebook? There are a LOT of new features available to advertisers, some of which I have not yet tried, but will be testing in the coming weeks and months. Here is a rundown of some things available to small businesses.
This is where you take organic content and apply advertising dollars to it. You can target demographic and psychographic information, and the ad returns some good data when the “boost” money runs out.
Page Like Ads
Usually shows in the newsfeed, and users can rotate images seen and use same targeting as the boosted post. Also returns some good data.
Runs in the right-hand column and NOT in the newsfeed. Don’t have to have a Facebook page to link to it. You do have to be on Facebook to do Page Like Ads and Boosted Posts.
This is newer than the ad types listed above, but allows you to track conversions (based on YOUR choices) after people view your ad. You set up the conversion pixel when you create the ad and it follows the visitor on the Web.
Exactly as it sounds. You target your advertising based on page fans, website visitors or a database (see next section). Haven’t tried this yet, so I can’t offer any results.
This option (in my mind) is troublesome. Here’s why. You take an existing list, like your email newsletter list, and upload it Facebook’s Power Editor feature. You can exclude current customers, target those “like” your current customers and other features. Facebook claims that it can’t actually see or reuse the lists you upload, but data security is a hot topic these days so I would have a lot of questions before I tried to use this feature.
There are many more features in the pipeline, including better mobile choices and better interface with applications.With Facebook Fit, the network is trying to be more responsive to small businesses. By their own admission, there are more than 30 million small businesses on their network, so it’s about time. They’ve even located their Small Business Division in Austin, which might mean more outreach opportunities.
I plan to test a new series of Page Like Ads and maybe even a lookalike audience and track conversions this fall. I would love to hear what you are trying on this network.
I’ve been using LinkedIn for more than 5 years and like many social networks, I have a love/hate relationship with it. When I love it, I am able to pass leads or professional information onto colleagues quickly and see what interesting blog posts are appearing around the Internet. When I hate it, I am being spammed by salespeople or being endorsed for skills that maybe I once had, but are not necessarily promoting at this stage of my career.
Good news. LinkedIn made a few tweaks in the last two weeks that will allow you to continue to target what you want to see and who you want to see on their network. I took a few of the new changes for a test drive over the weekend and here’s what I found.
Use LinkedIn as a Blog
If you have been hesitating about starting your own blog and loathe the idea of developing all that architecture, LinkedIn will be offering users the option to use their platform to publish. It’s being rolled out in phases, so if you itching to get started, you can request permission. I’ll point you in the right direction at the end of this post.
Prioritize Your Skills and Endorsements
This was the one feature on LinkedIn which I was beginning to HATE. While we all know how it works. The mysterious algorithm suggests to one of your connections some skill which a keyword says you might have in common. The suggestion appears when you log in and you say “yeah, Mary rocks at that.” And check the endorsement box. Many are accurate – in my skills and endorsements section, the majority are things I do and things I do WELL. However, I have never done fundraising, a skill for which I have been endorsed and saying I do “new media” well, that’s kind of old terminology, right?
Fortunately, you can now go in and tailor this section as well. First, you can re-order your skills, so even if you don’t have the most endorsements for a skill that you are focusing on, you can put it upfront. You can push down, hide or even delete skills you aren’t interesting in listing.
But here’s the best part of all! You can turn off the requests for endorsements. While I am grateful for the many connections who believed in my talent in one tactical area or another, I am weary of all the random requests for endorsements I get when I log in. As you can see from the graphic below, you have several other choices too.
List Your Volunteer Work
My favorite new thing (and something I’ve been asking for whenever LinkedIn sent me one of those surveys) is a section for Volunteering and Causes. Now future clients or employers get an immediate sense of your work in the community. And they’ve taken it one step further. You can check a box to say you’re LOOKING for a cause or a board appointment.
You can find these and more ideas for beefing up your LinkedIn profile on this post from the LinkedIn Blog.