Online Communications

Today’s blog post is a list of a few of the social media tools we like to monitor for ourselves and for our clients. These may help you navigate through the social media sites and weed through the hundreds of different tools in the area to figure out ways to increase business and/or open conversations with your customers/stakeholders.

Mashable – The Social Media Guide – is the world’s largest blog focused exclusively on Web 2.0 and social networking news. If you can only review one blog in the social media area, this one will keep you up-to-date with the latest and greatest.

Peter Shankman, the founder of The Geek Factory in New York, has developed an email/Twitter service called Help A Reporter Out (HARO). The email outreach is distributed three times a day, Monday – Friday, and offers 15 – 25 inquiries from reporters around North America looking for assistance with their stories. Go to his website and click on “Looking For Help A Reporter?” on the top right-hand corner to get on his email list. We saw Shankman speak at the Ragan Social Media Conference in Vegas last month. He is very interesting, engaging and really funny. HARO has changed things in how communicators connect with journalists – and it’s FREE! Shankman is also worth a look if you are searching for a keynote that is not typical.

Checkusernames.com is very useful. Simply type in your organization’s name in the “Check User Name” box and find out if your name (or your product’s name) is being used on various social media sites on the Internet. Over 100 social media sites are listed. This check leads into the topic of “brandjacking.” This is when a third party takes over another organization’s name or brand on social media sites and communicates with others for their own purposes.

 

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I had a good friend from Toronto staying with me this past weekend. She works at a credit union was explaining that she can’t access the Internet at work. It seems that many organizations are still living in the “dark ages” when it comes to allowing staff access to their Internet. There appears to be some concern that people will “waste” too much time online or perhaps say something they shouldn’t…

U.S. government employees are now able to access social media sites at the office. If the highest offices are allowing staff access, other organizations need to rethink why they are banning access to staff, and revise their policies to reflect this new and interactive world.

Most people are quite reasonable and won’t abuse the access, and putting policies in place provides staff with an understanding of what is expected. For many organizations that “block” the Internet, I often wonder if they realize that staff have other ways of going online – Blackberries, Internet wireless sticks, etc. There are more opportunities than ever before to get around rules and regulations that seem unreasonable.

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There is a great post on how Imedia Connection on how mothers are becoming more and more engaged and involved in social networks. It would appear, according to a recently released industry study, that year over year growth of women ages 25 to 54 with children in the household has gone up nearly 50% on Facebook since 2007. This post is worth reading. It has some very interesting stats and facts, such as: according to a recent MySpace study, the average MySpace mom spends more than 12 hours a week on the site. — That’s a lot of time!

One of the important points to note about social media is that it’s not just for teenagers anymore. I am reading Don Tapscott’s book Grown Up Digital right now and he calls them “screenagers,” which is a great description. However, it’s not just kids that are online. There is a wide range of individuals that are online and you can’t generalize or group them by age anymore. When we deliver our workshops to the senior team or the board of directors of an organization, we are always pleasantly surprised when at least one of the group tells us that they are really active online. Perhaps they are a gamer or they are immersed in communicating on Twitter or that they upload several videos a week to YouTube – and it’s never who you think it is. Times have changed and our perception of who is embracing social media needs to expand.

The Canadian Internet Project released a study last year that showed us that an older demographic is using social media in a variety of ways. I am active on Twitter, the microblogging site. While the people I am following tend to be involved in communications, social media or other areas that I am interested in, the demographic there is much older than you would expect.

A new report was issued by Nielsen – Social Networking’s Global Footprint. One of the interesting points in this report (and there are many) is Facebook’s jump in numbers of people aged 35-49 years of age (+24.1 million). According to the report, from December 2007 through December 2008, Facebook added almost twice as many 50-64 year old visitors (+13.6 million) than it has added under 18 year old visitors (+7.3 million). Pretty interesting stuff!

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Recently we have had the opportunity to assist several large organizations create, expand or improve their conversation with a diverse stakeholder base. These days, social/online media is always considered when it comes to this type of initiative. Enabled by technology, organizations that have a diverse audience and/or one that is geographically distanced or separated have an excellent opportunity to open up a two-way conversation that fulfills the needs of everyone involved. There are more cost-effective and engaging ways to communicate now than ever before.

While technology has provided us with the ability to reach out and connect, it’s always important to realize that just because you “can” doesn’t mean you “should.” When we take on a project with the objective of connecting or re-connecting with stakeholders, whether internal or external, it is important to get back to the basics of strategic communication and understand the audience. There has to be research and analysis done before we can strategically choose how to reach out. I think that one of the keys to using online media successfully is that you need to fully understand how the community you want to open the conversation with receives and puts out information. More and more, we are finding that people are online—on Facebook, reading blogs, on Twitter—but you do need to understand their comfort with technology and their habits.

PR Newswire recently put out an interesting questionnaire called Social Computing Online Readiness Evaluation. It is focused on enterprise social software, but some of the questions easily translate to understanding whether your audience is ready—even anxious—to begin the conversation online. You have to provide your email address and phone number, but in my experience, PR Newswire doesn’t drive you crazy with spam-like emails or unwanted phone calls, so it is worth logging in to read.

Some of the questions that it asks would be logical to ask when thinking about adding a social media component to your communications plan. This questionnaire happens to use the word “employees” – substitute that with member, stakeholder, or student and you can see the potential for context about whether social media might work for you. Some questions include:

  • What percentage of your employees are millennials (under 33)? This is a demographic that is quite savvy online. However, don’t think that those of us older than 33 aren’t. You would be surprised at how many people in your organization are connected and are moving further and further into online communication.
  • How difficult is it for your employees to cross divisional, hierarchical, and/or geographic boundaries? We find that even in organizations where people are all under the same roof, there are challenges – scatter them across the city, the province, the country or the world and the challenge grows.
  • How difficult is it to deliver crisis communications and/or other important organizational information to the right employees at the right time? This is a huge issue for many organizations and one of the biggest challenges is that many don’t plan ahead. This is something that needs to be in place BEFORE something happens.
  • How easy is it for your employees to discover internal subject matter experts? This is a very interesting question. How do you share knowledge and expertise in your organization? How much time is spent researching information that is easily available through a colleague or re-inventing the wheel? An organization can become more cost-effective and efficient when colleagues and other stakeholders become a part of a community and share information about who has expertise in certain areas, what your resources are, where they are, and other collaborative opportunities.

Our role is to provide strategic advice, planning and implementation to clients in both traditional communication and social media. It is questions such as these (and many, many others) at the beginning that help us to define the right roadmap for each client. It’s definitely worth thinking about. If you are considering using social media, what questions should you be asking yourself about how, when and why you communicate with your stakeholders and what would the value be if you added social media to the mix?

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