March 2013

AHA Blog Post ImageHere at AHA, we have always strongly believed in the relevance and value of blogs. Even when it didn’t seem quite so “cool” anymore – our clients continued to see results from blogs. We monitor them closely to make sure that they provide return-on-investment; anyone who has ever had the responsibility to write a blog knows how much effort they take to produce on a consistent basis.

Writing a blog is like writing a newspaper or magazine column – it has to have an element of opinion in it, you need accurate stats and facts if you are going to cite them, the blog content has to be timely and interesting to your readers, and it should provoke thought and discussion. For many of our clients, a blog provides an excellent opportunity to share information and to open a conversation with their stakeholder group(s). But – and I know sometimes our clients get tired of hearing us say this – the blog has to be well-written and it needs to have relevant information that matters to the readers. If a blog is used just to put out marketing and sales information, it’s not going to gain traction. That’s not what people read blogs for.

We live in an incredible era. For the first time, there is an opportunity for people who are not paid by a print publication to have a voice. Media relations is still an important aspect of public relations; however – it is no longer the only option when it comes to sharing an organization’s story with stakeholders. Technology now provides the opportunity to write blog posts, to connect on Twitter and other social networking sites – to create awareness and enter the conversation about the topics that matter in your field of expertise.

Social Media Examiner recently ran an article on the results of Technorati’s 2013 Digital Influencer Report. This report shows that “blogs rank favorably with consumers for trust, popularity and even influence.” And that means something. If you don’t have a blog, I encourage you to consider starting one – but first, of course, sit down and plan it out. Approach it like you would any other communications tactic and define your objective, outline your topics and your target audience, ensure you know what to do if you are put under attack for an opinion or what to do should a blog post garner a great deal of positive attention, and understand how you will measure its success and what success means in this context.

Done right, a blog post is an excellent tool for strategic communications.


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Over eight months ago, I wrote a blog post that used a quote. We recently received an email from a person telling us that we had attributed the quote to the wrong person (same name) and that many of the online reference sites (which we had checked) were in error about the author of this quote.

We are in the process of checking out what is accurate in regards to whom the quote belongs to – and it’s not as straightforward as it should be as there are discrepancies online. This process caused some interesting discussions in the AHA office about how deep you should go in order to verify something.

When I was at Maclean’s, we needed to be able to showcase that something was accurate if we wanted to include it in a story – in fact, we needed to have three separate and independent references about the fact or point if we were going to cite it in an article. We use that approach here at our PR agency – however, the person who wrote to us made us question whether, in this day and age, we need to go further than that.

Some facts are easier to check or confirm than others. When we write articles for client newsletters, develop speeches or we produce brand journalism pieces, there is a fact checking process that we go through with the client to ensure that what we are saying is accurate. And, I have to say, in my experience, there is usually a strong commitment to being accurate from the client. If there are errors in their communications pieces, they lose credibility with their stakeholder groups.

Quotes are a little more challenging to fact check (as we are finding), especially with the propensity of the online world to share information. If something is shared and it is wrong, it can be shared again and again while being wrong – and this perpetuates the error.

The world seems to move more quickly than ever these days and there is pressure to get things done. It’s also important to get them done right. And small errors pull at the thread of an organization’s credibility… and they build up.

The error – if it is an error – in our blog post isn’t a huge deal in the big scheme of things, but it matters to us. We’re checking on it and will correct it if it is wrong. And while I think that checking three sources regarding facts is still a good process, we are going to revisit how we fact check and see what we can do to improve.

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My dad recently accompanied me on a trip to San Francisco. While I had to do some work while I was there, this city was a bucket list destination for him. As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, he had taken a bad fall last year and shattered his femur. Coming on this trip to San Francisco offered some incentive for him during his physiotherapy.

In San Francisco, we got a wheelchair for him, even though he can walk reasonably well with a cane. Given that he is still healing, I didn’t want him over-extending himself as we discovered the delights of the city by the bay. I really didn’t expect to learn anything about PR or communications because my dad had a wheelchair, but I did. (Funny how that happens.)

I took responsibility for pushing the wheelchair. It was something I wanted to do; he’s my dad after all. And we went to a lot of places: Fisherman’s Wharf, Pier 39, took a tour of Alcatraz and a wine tour of Napa Valley, rode on a cable car, went to Union Square, took a tour of the city, took a ferry to Sausalito, and more.

I discovered how challenging it can be for someone who has mobility issues. The ramps for wheelchairs aren’t always easy, sidewalk lips are a real issue, and crowded restaurants and bars are a nightmare. It isn’t because people don’t care or aren’t sympathetic; it’s just that everyone is involved in their own world and sometimes they don’t realize what it takes for someone with a wheelchair (or a cane or other support device) to get around.

For five days in San Francisco, I saw the world from the perspective of a person in a wheelchair and it was, frankly, exhausting. Even though many people went out of their way to be helpful, it was hard to maneuver around and I had to be alert for potential issues or risks. I was vigilant about making sure my dad was able to see the sites, to be respectful of other people and to stay safe – keeping an eye out for children running around, other tourists not paying attention to where they were walking, for things on the sidewalk that could catch the wheels, curb lips that weren’t that easy to navigate and – of course – hills. (We were in San Francisco…)

That’s when it hit me: People don’t always fully realize what specific stakeholders are going through or what the situation looks like from their perspective. Sometimes, you really do have to put yourself in their shoes to truly understand the challenges that they face (often on a daily basis). And there are times that these might be things that we take for granted or think are unimportant because they aren’t happening to us. It is a different world when you step into their shoes and actually experience what they live with every day.

This is very interesting to me because I believe – and have been told – that I have strength in the area of identifying how people receive information, given their specific situation or perspective. I am empathetic; I go out and listen to what people have to say. I work hard to fully understand what it means to the person I am speaking with. I am good at developing communications pieces that support change management because I realize how important it is to fully understand what people truly need or expect – not just what the organization wants them to know.

For me, it reinforced the importance of taking the time to really listen to the concerns and feedback of stakeholder groups. It opened me up to the fact that there are so many seemingly small pieces that can get overlooked unless you authentically shift your mindset from what needs to be communicated to what the people you are opening the conversation with want to hear. You need to “live in the shoes” of the people you want to connect with.

As communicators, we are often tasked with being the translator – taking organizational messages (positive or negative) to individuals and to stakeholder groups. I think it is important that we acknowledge how crucial it is to not just understand the messaging, but to embrace the perspective of the community and to truly realize what matters to those individuals. That will take us from being a good communicator to being a great one.

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