Taking a Fall Vacation? Take My Advice

Welcome Sign at a Tennessee State Park 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.

A boat making its way across a lake under stormy skies 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 doesnEdgar Evins State Park’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!

33 Ways to Apologize in a Crisis

White board with words "We Screwed Up.." to illustrate 33 Ways to Say I'm Sorry 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.

  1. There are no words…
  2. We are filled with sadness today…
  3. We were deeply moved by…
  4. We regret to announce that…
  5. I (We) got it wrong and we are sorry…
  6. It distresses us to share this news today…
  7. It is with a sense of loss that we….
  8. We deeply regret that…
  9. We collectively grieve today as…
  10. We were horrified to learn…
  11. Like you, our hearts are heavy…
  12. Words do not adequately express…
  13. We join with the community …
  14. We are anguished to hear….
  15. We sincerely apologize…
  16. We had no idea …
  17. We are deeply troubled…
  18. There is nothing we can say to make up for this mistake…
  19. We completely sympathize with the current situation…
  20. We apologize for the error…
  21. We ask for your understanding at this time…
  22. Please forgive the….
  23. Nothing can excuse….
  24. Please pardon our…..
  25. We do not condone…
  26. We screwed up and we take full responsibility…
  27. Our actions were inexcusable….
  28. What we did was careless….
  29. Please allow us the opportunity to…
  30. We regret any part of our actions which may have played in this situation…
  31. We are disappointed and will take immediate action…
  32. We have learned a lot from this and we are taking actions to ensure this never happens again.
  33. You are right to be frustrated.

Special Note: Contributions to this list came from my colleagues at #solopr including Karen Swim, Bill Bonner, Kami Huyse and Cherie Gary.

What creative ways have you used to apologize in a crisis?

UPDATE: Click here to get my FREE e-book called “Managing Your Next Crisis.” It’s a free download and will get your organization started on preparation.

7 Deadly Sins of Companies in 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.

UPDATE: Click here to get my FREE e-book called “Managing Your Next Crisis.” It’s a free download and will get your organization started on preparation.

Facebook Reaches out to SMB with “Fit”

Fran at the FB Fit SeminarSmall 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?

These are all questions I get regularly from my clients; the result is that I conducted some very small experiments with Facebook ads, which you can see here and here .

The challenLight up question mark photoge 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.

Boosted Posts

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.

Website Ad

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.

Conversion Measurement

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.

Lookalike Audience

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.

Custom Audience

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.

Three New Ways to Use LinkedIn

Screen capture of new settings on LinkedInI’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.

Screen capture of customized settings on LinkedIn 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.


Don’t Steal Stuff: Give Credit Where Credit is Due

Give Credit Where Credit is DueWe all learned the concept of giving proper credit in school. In research and composition, we called it “giving attribution.” The concept is not new and ethical communicators have always been very careful about using attribution.

The intense competition for activity on social networks, however, is making attribution a hot topic once again. The most recent “poster child” for lack of attribution involves a clever deception. A prolific Facebook user claims videos as his own, using a large FB following and advanced video capture software to re-post and re-claim videos. This story on Steamfeed explains it with a lot of images.

I won’t send you to the actual videos the story claims he has stolen, because then you’re giving more views to a piece of content with questionable credibility.

Is this obvious theft? Some say it is. At the very least, it violates the ethics of a number of organizations, and is not a good business practice — most of us would never counsel our clients to engage in this kind of behavior. It does serve as a great reminder of things that smart business owners can to do make sure that they are sharing well-sourced material.

Practice Digital Literacy

It’s so easy to get caught up in the excitement and flow of information on social networking sites, but it’s too easy to lose track of where you are. Be digitally literate by following the guidelines in Andrea Weckerle’s book Civility in the Digital Age. She offers three principles for examining credibility of sources:

  • Examine the source of the information
  • Examine authorship
  • Examine credibility of the information

“Our modern challenge now consists of trying to sift through the mass amount of data at our fingertips and find qualitative and credible information,” Weckerle says in the book (page 173).

Curate Carefully

As a business person, you no doubt are trying to navigate the mix of content creation and content curation, by sharing things that might interest your fans and followers or things that might align with your brand. Curating carefully includes clicking through to the original source of the material and making sure the site is legitimate and the author transparent.

Give Attribution Freely

Even if you’ve asked permission from a photographer to use a photo, or are forwarding something (like creating a Pin on Pinterest), give additional clarity to the communication with attribution in your accompanying text. Something like: “special thanks to Sue Smith for giving us permission to use this photo.” Michelle Phan, the famed YouTube makeup demonstrator, might be rethinking the concept of attribution, as she is currently being sued by a record company for use of a piece of music in one of her videos. According to the story in Media Bistro, millions of dollars are at stake.

Protect Your Assets

For media creators, it’s important to protect the assets you own. The first line of defense is to copyright your work, but that won’t keep people from using things without your permission. Many of today’s writers and artists are so willing to share their work, that they implement Creative Commons Licensing. In many cases, the person who desires to use the work need only link back to the creator when they use it. Sounds simple, right?

Not always.

Nan Palmero, a business and technology expert, has a robust Flickr site and shares hundreds of photos. He simple asks that the user link back to his website or his Flickr feed. But recently, he’s come across two sites who wouldn’t comply.

“I hate it when people and brands do this. I’m experiencing this with movoto.com right now. They keep using my photos for their “listicles” and I want them to link back but all they do is put my name on it,” says Palmero. “I don’t find that to be sufficient “payment” for using my photos. People should be compensated the way they want for their content. If the buyer feels the price is too steep, you don’t sell.”

How does he discover these violations?

“I do a Google search for my name, periodically. If I see use without a link back, I send a tweet or email asking to have it fixed. 9 out of 10 times people comply.”

Whether it’s videos, music photography or written works, everyone deserves credit for their original creations.


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.”


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.


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.


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.


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.

UPDATE: Want more? Click here to get my FREE e-book called “Managing Your Next Crisis.” It’s a free download and will get your organization started on preparation.