Dog Days of Social Media: How to Survive a Summer Slump

A dog laying on his side Summer is in full swing and chances are, your fans and followers are not as engaged as they were a month or so ago. What’s a social media manager to do? In the midst of the dog days of summer, keep your channels humming by trying these 4 ideas.

Lighten Up

Change up the types of stories you are sharing in your channels. Think of it like you’re giving your content a mental vacation too. Link the season to your content and hold off on things like research or weightier stories until it’s time for “back to school.”

Time-Shift

Think about how YOUR summer schedule changes and now envision how it might change for your social network. Maybe it’s time to experiment with frequency and timing of your posts and stories. For one of my pages, all posts are scheduled in the evenings this time of year. For another, we consciously schedule timely posts on weekend mornings, when people are waking up, drinking coffee and planning their activities.

Try Something New

Since fewer fans are on your channels in the summer, now might be the time to experiment with something new or test a new approach that you can spend more time developing in the fall.

Plan Ahead

If you’re not already using an editorial calendar, now is a great time to start. Think ahead to September and start planning and entire 3 months’ worth of stories and posts now.

Trying at least one of these approaches will keep your social channels from a summer slump and ease you right into a productive September. Got any ideas on what you can try on your channels? Share them in the comments.

Do Your Social Media Housekeeping

Dustpan ready to clean up your social channels The year is half over and as I approach the end of the second quarter,  I look at all the social media channels I’m managing for a variety of brands and take a moment to do some housekeeping on each one.

It’s an easy step to forget. If you focus on developing content for your clients, like I do, housekeeping for your social channels never gets priority. Here is a checklist of 12 things I’ll be doing this month in my networks that you can use, too.

1. Update cover photos
2. Check and update all profile photos
3. Update lists, categories and groups
4. Answer/resolve any pending private messages
5. Update all descriptions
6. Check that all links in descriptions are working
7. Add new followers into relevant lists
8. Create or retire lists
9. Do follow-backs on Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram
10. Organize and file content and assets you need to find later
11. Add or remove page administrators
12. Check and update settings

There are probably more that you’ve already thought of doing on your channels. What are your necessary housekeeping tasks for social media channels? Comments welcome.

How to Tame that Arrogant Spokesperson

A Sign Of ConflictThere’s nothing more challenging for a crisis management team than an inflexible spokesperson. You can picture it in your mind instantly. This person knows everything, will not take direction, cannot take constructive criticism.

In a crisis, the person who becomes the face of your organization should ooze humility. He or she should represent, with extreme grace and style, your organizational point of view and cultural footprint.

Yesterday the students of Travel and Tourism College, an annual event coordinated by the Texas Travel Industry Association, voiced this challenge in our sessions on crisis management. It seems that many organizations have been faced with an arrogant spokesperson and they were looking for strategies.

How do you tame that arrogance into something workable before your next crisis? This is a tricky problem because if one person is your stumbling block, chances are your team dynamics already has some issues. But there are a few workarounds which might help smooth out the kinks. Here are 6 ideas for crisis managers to try.

Do Group Media Training

Raise the quality of everyone’s interview potential with a group media training session.

Use Mock Interviews to Improve Performance

After that media training session, put your newfound skills to the test and have each member of the group do a mock interview. Record them and do group critiques. It’s the best way to highlight good interviewees and those who need improvement.

Cultivate Multiple Spokespersons

Should the same person ALWAYS represent your organization? That’s a hefty burden and a liability in many cases. By cultivating multiple spokespersons, you spread the burden – and the liability – and eliminate the power structure of a single mouthpiece.

Use Three Key Messages

Maybe you are asking too much of your spokesperson and they have information overload. Limit what they need to transmit to a handful of key messages – no more than three – to keep the interview sharp.

Critique Every Interview

Every interview can be improved. Every spokesperson can learn new things. Critique every interview starting with what went well followed by what could be improved.

Partner Up

Sometimes partnering the arrogant spokesperson with a kinder, gentler person in a two-person interview can help deliver the message. This is a strategy which Kellye Crane of SoloPRPro has used successfully with clients who need softening around the edges.

If you’re having trouble with a spokesperson who is inflexible and can’t take direction, try one of these 6 ideas and see if it makes a difference.

Essential Elements of a Crisis Communications Plan

Formulating a crisis response and communications plan is an important first step in preparing for your next crisis. Some of the best crisis plans are simple. Rather than envisioning every “if this, then that” circumstance, a robust crisis plan which is somewhat vague might be the perfect framework for your organization.

Every crisis plan contains similar components. However, each component should be relevant to your organization and its structure as well as peculiarities of your geographic location (coastal travel organizations will face annual hurricane preparedness whereas others face tornado season). A good plan should also have power – the power for the team to follow its steps in a crisis without stopping to seek permission or get approvals. It should empower a team to work a crisis in the first few hours without sanctions or interruptions.

Does your organization have a crisis plan? If not, you can get started today with these essential elements.

Goal or Objective

This brief introductory section should outline what this plan is designed to go, with words of encouragement for the team who may turn to it suddenly for help. It will help set the tone for the team in crisis.

Purpose

Clearly and plainly stated in a few bullet points.

Definition of Crisis

A general definition may give clarity as a crisis emerges and should include a bulleted list of examples specific to your business or organization.

Statement of Organization’s Crisis Policy

If you already have one in an employee handbook or business operations guide, it should be repeated here.

Crisis Preparation

What has your organization done in advance to prepare the team to manage a crisis? Where do you keep the plan? Do you have a conference calling number reserved? How is the team alerted? Do you have outside counsel on standby? Their information should go here. Are there reporting forms which will be used later? They should also go here. Some organizations have designated muster areas if their physical plant needs to be evacuated. What about designated areas for news media to gather? Where are the emergency supplies located?

While some of these questions seem obvious, it’s important to have it all in one place. Why? What if the one person who stocked the emergency supply cabinet or the one person who has the evacuation plan memorized is on vacation, or worse, is involved in the emergency itself?

Crisis Management Team

This section should state the titles and areas of responsibility for each member of your team. It might be useful to include a chart of the team members.

Command Center

Information about how and where you will establish a command center go here. Also, an alternate location should be named.

Crisis Management Timeline

This is the blueprint for how your team will identify the problem, begin to solve it and communicate what they are doing to the stakeholder base. There will be 4-6 steps to managing your crisis, although depending on its complexity and severity, you may follow the steps more than once.

Pre-approved Statements

Every organization has a handful of crises that are likely to happen. For the travel industry this might include weather emergencies like tornadoes and hurricanes, medical emergencies of guests and visitors, crimes committed at the organization like robbery, car accidents and domestic disputes.

Monitoring

Every organization should routinely monitor what is being said about their brand. This might include online services or keywords but may also be part of a media database subscription. These tools change frequently, so it’s important to know who has access and what they are capable of delivering in a crisis.

Evaluation Procedures

What action is necessary at the conclusion of a crisis? Are you bound by law to file a certain type of report? Is someone on the team required to write an after-action report? Will the team gather at a certain time after the crisis is over to evaluate what happened and any changes which need to be made in the organization before the next crisis? A good crisis plan will identify a timeline for these things to take place. It’s important for the crisis management team to download emotionally, too. Putting a statement about what’s required related to evaluation sets the stage for that to happen later.

Attachments

Your plan should include all necessary attachments like the management team chart and contact information spreadsheet, media lists, company backgrounder, pre-approved statements and company “boilerplate” language.

You can start the journey to making your organization crisis-ready when you start to build a plan from these essential elements.

More Crisis Planning Resources can be found here.

This post reflects some of the material I will be using next week for Texas Travel Industry Association’s Travel and Tourism College, an annual event to elevate the expertise of travel professionals in Texas.

Cardboard Kids Reach Those Who Need It

My Cardboard Kid. I named her EmmaLast month, I participated on a citywide effort to bring greater awareness to the problem of child abuse in our community. It was called Cardboard Kids. On April 3, two-foot-high cardboard cutouts similar to a “flat Stanley” appeared all over San Antonio and the surrounding areas. 5846 of them – one to represent each confirmed child victim of abuse or neglect in Bexar County last year – were decorated in all shapes and styles and appeared in government offices, grocery stores, businesses, yards, schools, and hospitals. All had a name tag on the front and an explanation on the back.

We wanted people who saw a Cardboard Kid to do these things: read what it was about on the back, take a picture with it and share it with the hashtag #cardboardkidssa. We had some ambitious ideas about what might happen on April 3, but we naturally had a lot of questions. Would people see them? Would they visit the web site? Would they take a picture and use the hashtag?

There were many elements to this campaign, but the social media elements were focused in four areas.

First, we reached out to influential San Antonio bloggers and asked them to help spread the word. To assist in that effort, we invited them to a coffee hour with the ChildSafe team to hear about the problem of abuse in our community and how we thought Cardboard Kids could create greater awareness of the problem. We also developed a content package for them to share easily in their preferred social channels.

The second element of our campaign was a content strategy for ChildSafe’s existing social media channels.Screen Grab of our Thunderclap campaign

Third, we communicated frequently with the organizations and individuals who had been decorating many of the Cardboard Kids in the previous months.

Finally, we used the social media amplification service Thunderclap and organized 100 influencers to “donate” a Tweet or Facebook post to be released on the morning of April 3. (thunderclap screen grab)

We laid a strong foundation for this effort in the weeks before the event, but the real magic happens when the campaign takes on a life of its own. The connections we made through social media helped to make that happen. In fact, two of the bloggers – Colleen Pence and Stacy Teet – curated an online magazine using Flipboard to put all the photos in one place.

View my Flipboard Magazine.

We are still analyzing the impact of this campaign, using Zoetica Media’s Framework for Social Media Measurement, but here’s the preliminary impact of the Cardboard Kids campaign:

  • Tripled the activity on ChildSafe’s social media channels in the 15 day period
  • 952 Tweets from 525 contributors created an estimated 1.34 mm impressions on Twitter
  • Facebook reach increased by 40%; fans increased by 30%
  • More than 2,700 unique visitors to the dedicated Cardboard Kids microsite. It was the number one landing page during the 15 day period
  • 100 Thunderclap participants created 140,000 social impressions
  • 1400 photos with hashtags appeared on Instagram; more than 100 photos per hour were uploaded to this channel on April 3.

The ChildSafe team believes that awareness of their cause has never been higher, due at least in part to the addition of Cardboard Kids to their already-jam packed activity level during Child Abuse Awareness Month.

What is truly significant is that the number of “walk-in” cases arriving at ChildSafe this April is eight times higher than the number of walk-ins from a year ago. (39 in April 2014; 5 in April 2013). While the individual social channels were important to this cause, the most important takeaway is that we’re starting to reach the people who need our help the most.

Your Social Strategy OR ‘Why Am I Doing This?’

Fran Stephenson doing a radio interview at the Solo PR Summit At the SoloPR Summit in Atlanta, I had the opportunity to talk with Brent Smith and Casey Colclough about Social Strategy for their Business In the Morning Podcast.

They had some interesting questions about the ROI of social media, channel selection for B2B versus B2C clients, and what to do with an abandoned Facebook page. Also, I got to chat about the why of your social strategy, which is perhaps the most important question of all. You can listen to the full interview here.

Do Facebook Ads Work for Microbrands?

Part 2 of the $100 Facebook Ad Experiment

Last week I wrote about how Facebook is pushing Brand Pages into advertising in order to preserve their reach to fans.  And I gave an example of the first ad I tested for a client.

The post I tested for my client, Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch, was really successful because they have an enthusiastic fan base and always offer compelling images of their animals. It’s not uncommon for 30 percent (or more) of their fans to see and interact with a cute animal post.

Since not every page has such high engagement, I decided to test the ad platform further on two pages which are relatively new and have much smaller numbers. And my budget was $100. Here’s what I found.

Solar Texas

Screen capture of Solar Texas Facebook Ad testThis small business in San Antonio is relatively new to Facebook and experimenting with reaching customers there. The owner has a good sense of who purchases his products, so was able to target that demographic when boosting posts. Over two weeks, we boosted 3 posts for $15 each. Before we started the experiment, he had 60 fans on his FB page and his posts were seen by 15-25 people per post. The advertised posts had thousands of views, dozens of clicks on the photos and some shares, too. He gained 12 new page likes – a 16 percent increase — in two weeks.

Why did it work?  Solar Texas has a reasonable idea about its customers. This will help target any type of advertising in the future, whether on Facebook or another platform. Also, the images were very aspirational, which probably enhanced their reach. But the results are small, so further testing on this platform might be a better indication of future success.

St. Francis Renaissance Faire

Screen capture of results of Renaissance Faire adThis is a one-day special event run by a local church.  Their Facebook page was less than a month old and it was a month until the actual event. The event organizers have a vague idea of their audience, and are hoping to grow the size of the event each year. Over two weeks’ time, we boosted three posts totaling $35 showing different features of the one-day event. Prior to our test, this page had 60 fans and a typical post was seen by 20-30. The advertising had huge reach — as high as 2300 on one ad. With each boosted post, additional clicks on the image were seen. But only one new page like came from the advertising.

Why didn’t it work? This event was so new that they were not well established on Facebook and in spite of changing the ad targets for each post, it didn’t enhance page growth or engagement. The images shown were from past fairs, which may have had an impact. By adjusting the demographics for each post, we were able to increase photo click-throughs. With further testing, we might have found the audience “sweet spot” before the event.

Was Our Test Successful?

Over the course of a month, with a budget of $100, we boosted posts for three different brand pages. The first, Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch’s Giraffe Bomb photo, had widespread appeal and delivered high engagement and new fans to the page. The second, a series of three posts for Solar Texas, also had widespread appeal and delivered some new fans to the page. The third, for the St. Francis Renaissance Faire, got wide views but had little page impact.

While this is a small test, it shows that a well-established brand page like Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch can benefit from adding Facebook advertising into its overall strategy. What is less clear is if that same opportunity exists for smaller brands. The Solar Texas page had more growth than the Renaissance Faire page, but there may be other factors which need to be resolved for these pages to increase their success. Targeting the right audience, having great photos and the timing and frequency of page posts all contribute to the success of brand pages on Facebook.

Have you been testing ads on Facebook for really small brands? What have you found to be successful?

The $100 Facebook Ad Experiment

The stage has been set in the last 6 months for brand pages on Facebook to change radically. I’ve been watching this trend on behalf of my clients and it’s hard to resist the “Sky is Falling” nature of the discussion.  An Ad Age article that appeared in December uncovered what a lot of practitioners had suspected for months:  Facebook is deliberately suppressing organic reach of posts in order to create an ad-rich environment to enhance its profitability.

The main reason to acquire fans isn’t to build a free distribution channel for content; it’s to make future Facebook ads work better.–Ad Age.

If you’ve been using Facebook for any length of time and have tried to keep up with the latest trends, this is completely the opposite of what many PR practitioners have adopted: create good content, target your audience, and your Facebook page will grow through fan engagement.

A Forbes article last month quoted a new study by Ogilvy looking at brand pages which are averaging 6% organic reach and predicts that those same pages will soon have zero reach.  Yes, zero.

“Brands are going to have to be more strategic in their use of Facebook, and think carefully about the content they are creating, when they post, and how they promote that post across Facebook’s network.” said Evan Spence, in the Forbes article.

This was an “aha” moment for me. It’s time to start testing Facebook ads to see what will work for my clients.  But a PR person buying ads? WHAT? No way!Giraffe photo bombing at Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch

I got a shot of confidence from Arik Hanson, who presented at the Annual Solo PR Summit in February. Arik is a PR practitioner in Minnesota who widely adopted a blend of organic and paid content for clients on Facebook last year.  You can read his post and see his slide deck here.

There were two things I took away from his presentation.  With a Facebook ad, you can amplify something that already resonates with your fans, and you have an opportunity to give fans what they want. During his presentation, I conducted my first test with the post you see here.

This photo post of a giraffe “photo bombing” the camera was taken by my client, Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch on a day when we were experiencing a rarity in south Texas – snow! It had already been seen by 50,000 people and been shared more than 700 times when I decided to spend $25 to boost it. Once I did, the photo was seen by an additional 22,000, was shared 120 more times and got numerous comments and likes. The big payoff?  172 new fans that week.

Why did it work?  First, Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch has a very enthusiastic fan base. Second, the photo was amazing and unusual. Third, people love giraffes (more than I ever realized).

Bolstered by this success, I next tested ads for two completely different pages, one for a brand-new page that promoted a once-per-year event and another for a small business in San Antonio.  On Tuesday, I will post the results of those two tests.

Are you testing any advertising options on Facebook? Seen any results?

Think Like An Entrepreneur: Use Free Stuff

Facebook Page for Yorktown MovieWhat if your next project had zero marketing budget?  If you only had your time and free channels, how would you use them? Think that’s impossible? Then you’re not thinking like many entrepreneurs, particularly those in cash-strapped creative industries.  Here’s the story of one entrepreneur who found success with free tools and no marketing budget.

Michael Felts didn’t spend years dreaming about being a filmmaker. But a series of events four years ago changed all that. I met Michael when he landed in my Introduction to Mass Communication class at Northwest Vista College. He was already making his first film, Yorktown, and had already used the crowdfunding site Indiegogo to raise $5,000 of the $15,000 needed for the project.

When it came time to market the film, he created dedicated pages on Facebook and Twitter for Yorktown. Those were used to promote online ticket sales to the premiere at a local San Antonio theater.  But that’s not all. He unraveled licensing issues for the music for the film and created a playlist on Spotify. He also organized rentals and pre-purchases through Amazon video on Demand.

Group shot of the Yorktown Production Team

The Yorktown team at the Wrap Party

He left nothing on the table. A friend and student created the cover art for the DVD release, which won a contest on the Deviant Art website.

“I was not even a blip on the radar a few years ago,” says Felts. Today, he’s working on his fourth film project and writing the script for a 12 episode television series.

He had the right idea about marketing his film. He connected with people online AND in real life. This led him to people who would connect him to other people, like actors, location providers and bands.  This is the magic combination for many entrepreneurs and a successful formula that larger companies often forget.

Shooting a Scene for Yorktown the Movie

Michael Felts behind the camera on the Yorktown film set

With so much experience under his belt, Felts’ recommendation to other entrepreneurs is surprising.

“I would not have done anything differently when it came to our marketing, at least, not for our first feature film. The guerrilla tactics we used on Facebook to promote the film, coupled with being aloof about the content of the film, and the intentional meshing of character vs actor on the blogs and Facebook fan page, created a cult following of individuals who spread word of the film and had great enthusiasm for the project that we would not have had otherwise,” said Felts. “Yorktown became bigger than it was, not because it was a good film, but because people were able to come along for the ride.”

It’s no doubt that Michael will be taking his fans along for another wild ride on his next project,  titled “Ghost Hunting is a Drag” scheduled to begin production in June. He’s also working on a horror adaptation of the Wizard of Oz, to begin production in December. His company, Angry Otter Productions, is a great place to stay on top of his current projects.

Mobilizing My Community to Fight Child Abuse

two-foot high cut out of a child FACT: In 2013, there were 5,846 victims of child abuse in MY COMMUNITY. 10 children died at the hands of their abuser.

FICTION: There’s nothing I can do about this.

When you think of your social media channels, do you ever think of how you can use the networks you’ve built to help your community?  This is an often-overlooked area when it comes to bringing attention to community causes.  This month, I’m using my networks on behalf of ChildSafe. 

ChildSafe and the Burden of Child Abuse

Earlier this year, when I was asked to be a volunteer with ChildSafe and help them advance their cause using a more strategic approach to social media, I had no idea where it would lead. Child Safe provides a range of services for child survivors of abuse and neglect and their protective family members, including forensic interviews, crisis intervention, case management, individual, group and family therapy and even adventure therapy to aid in healing child victims. They work with dozens of organizations in San Antonio but there’s more work to do. Only 1 in 10 cases of abuse is reported, so we need to create an environment to bring the problem to light.

Introducing Cardboard Kids

Cardboard Kids is a new program of ChildSafe, which should bring attention to the problem. 5,846 two-foot-high cardboard cutouts decorated in every way imaginable, will appear around San Antonio on April 3, which is the official start of Child Abuse Awareness Month in our city.  One Cardboard Kid for every case reported last year.

How I am Using My Online  Community

Bloggers from the Coffee Hour Holding their Cardboard KidsFirst, we invited bloggers who participate in a chat group on Facebook to meet the ChildSafe team and hear about Cardboard Kids. We asked them to participate, and dozens have already contributed. We created sample messages on a Google Drive document to make it easy for them to share messages and included important links and hashtags for easy retrieval.

Next, we scheduled a Thunderclap, a tool which combines the power of many voices in a simultaneous message delivery on a designated date and time.  Here’s a picture from our Thunderclap page.  You can add your voice to the “thunder” for our April 3 “clap.”

As our message begins to build momentum, we are seeing traction in many channels, including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.  But it’s hard to be everywhere at once, so we’re going to set up some keyword monitoring and we’ve created a Tagboard to collect everything in one place. We have so much more we can do between now and April 3, when we expect people who see these cardboard cutouts all over town will start posting pictures and questions.  We are encouraging citizens to take a picture, tag it #cardboardkidssa and reading about what ChildSafe does.  We have no idea how many tagged photos we expect to see next week, but it should be thousands.

thunderclap march 27There are lots of different ways we could mobilize our community, but this is how it evolved for us. Have you ever used your community for a special cause? Share your ideas in the comments. I’ll be back to share how we did in a couple of weeks.