Online Communications

Brand JournalismI recently read an article about a new brand journalism site being produced by the U.S.-based organization Duke Energy, via an article on Ragan.com by Paul Working.

This site is a great example of brand journalism. According to the news release, this is an online destination for stories about remarkable people, innovations and community and environmental issues. And there are some solid, well-written articles that are examples of brand journalism best practices on this site. There is one on Duke Energy’s environmental director who is a national leader in devising ways to prevent wind turbines from accidentally killing bats. There is another about a North Carolina (where Duke is based) couple that is on a crusade to preserve the memories of a now-vanished 1940s village that sprang up beside a power plant. The site even has a piece entitled: “6 ways to improve your love life” – in relation to saving energy around the home.

Duke Energy has created a well-produced online destination for the average person who is interested in this subject matter – and I would expect that schools will find this site of value too. The news release outlines that media outlets are welcome to republish, with attribution, any content on this site – including stories, photos, videos and infographics. The company also hosts a multimedia news centre for journalists too.

AHA Moment

Brand journalism provides an opportunity for you to inform your stakeholder groups. Over the long term, it will help you to build more authentic relationships. Not every organization has the resources for a site like the one Duke Energy has launched, but there are things you can do to shift to an approach that includes brand journalism.

  • Think about developing an article for your e-newsletter or website that is less promotional and more editorial in style.
  • Review your current communications vehicles to see if there is an opportunity to include short video segments and interviews – not just of your senior team, but also of individuals throughout your organization.
  • Ask yourself what the toughest questions you might get from a journalist are and how you would answer them. Take a look at how you provide this information in a compelling, engaging and informative way that educates your audience and positions your organization as a thought leader.
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dreamstime_xs_29206617I don’t think a week goes by at AHA when I don’t learn about another social media communications channel. And some days, it can feel like there is so much information about the technology, usage and user demographic, that it can be really confusing and overwhelming.

We go through a process here at AHA that includes defining the demographic user, how this technology or channel can be effectively used for clients, and how challenging it might be to get it up and running – relevant to client understanding of technology or appetite for new channels. It can be a time-consuming process, but it’s worth it for us so that we can be aware of new opportunities for clients.

We are going to start a regular (every two weeks) feature here on the blog that focuses on explaining, in the context of communications or PR, different social networks, channels, tools and technology. And – we’re going to start with the most popular ones like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+. While many people are fully versed with these, many others aren’t – and we have had several new clients come to us because they want help with the basics. Other people might already be using the more popular social media networks for their organization, but don’t have a strategy. We’ll talk about that too.

We’re looking forward to developing this feature series here on the AHA blog – and we hope it will provide you with some useful information so that you can navigate through all of the communications opportunities online.

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dreamstime_xs_35210587 (1)This week, it was announced that convicted serial killer Robert Pickton had apparently self-published a book about the crimes and it was listed for sale on Amazon. There was, of course, a public outcry about this. I think everyone who heard about this book thought about how this news would affect the families of Pickton’s victims and wanted something done about it.

Hearing about this book was upsetting to many – including the AHA team. We worked with the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry. I took on the role of Director of Communications for the Commission and our team edited the 1,400-page report. The pain and loss that the families suffered is beyond comprehension and to see this book being sold – and Pickton potentially profiting from it – was abhorrent to all of us.

It generated widespread media coverage and social media outrage. People called, e-mailed and connected with Amazon and the book’s publisher, Outskirts Press (based in Colorado). And – quite quickly – both Amazon and the publisher responded. Amazon pulled the book and the publisher ceased printing and sent out an apology, explaining that they did not realize that Pickton had written it.

Public outrage has a more immediate effect with the power of the online world. Prior to social media, phone calls would have been made, protests organized and traditional media may have played a role, but today, when people are upset, they have a much louder – and more convenient – way to make noise. And it can happen quickly. The news of the Pickton book broke late Friday, I believe. By Monday morning, Amazon had pulled the book and the publisher had issued an apology.

In this instance, the power of the people worked well and the outcome was positive.

Now, the question I want you to ask yourself is: How would you respond if a large group of people were frustrated or angry with your organization or brand?

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Social MediaSocial media is a challenge when it comes to both your professional and personal lives. Posting to your social media accounts offers an often very public view of your opinions, hobbies, habits and attitudes. There really isn’t any separation between personal and professional anymore.

I have read many articles on the subject and have seen a couple of speakers say that you should keep your Facebook page personal and use LinkedIn, Twitter and other accounts for more public engagement with potential clients, customers, partners or employers. Well, the reality is – that’s not easy to do. LinkedIn is pretty straightforward; it is generally focused on professional networking and business-related topics. Other sites, such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or Instagram, aren’t so easy.

Let’s take Facebook as an example. How would you decline an existing or potential client or employer if they asked to friend you on Facebook? (And, if you haven’t experienced this, you will.) There is no easy way to decline that request. I have been immersed in the world of social media for more than 15 years – and I still haven’t found a good way to do it. That’s because turning someone away who has a connection to you does not build a good relationship. And it can look like you have something to hide.

The fact is, you can set up your privacy settings to stop some people from seeing all or some of your posts, but I know very few people who actually do this. While the person isn’t informed that you have done this, if they are paying attention, they might notice. And that doesn’t stop someone from tagging you or sharing inappropriate information and others seeing it. You have to be really on the ball and vigilant to make this work.

In working with clients, we have done social media audits that have turned up images of board members sitting beside someone smoking marijuana, senior staff drinking wine from a bottle, and several other pieces of information or photos that could damage their professional reputations. You can’t control everything and, for the most part, these kinds of things can be easily explained or put into context, but sometimes you don’t get that opportunity.

I have been on Facebook for a long time and I have friends, family, colleagues and both past and current clients as my Facebook friends. And while I do share some personal things, in the back of my mind I always ask myself – what if this ended up on the front page of a national newspaper… would I mind? We have a social media policy at AHA: We don’t post when we are sad or mad. And, for the most part, we focus on the positive. Even in a negative or serious situation, you can find something to say that is constructive.

The fact is, there is no longer a boundary between what you do in your personal and professional lives. They have blurred together. When you speak to young people in the workforce today, they expect the people who lead the organization to be transparent and authentic. More and more staffers are connected via social media networks – and often with their supervisors, managers, directors and the big cheese.

For the AHA team, we work closely with our clients and we usually have strong, positive relationships with them. Social media helps us build these relationships, as they can see who we are when we aren’t sitting at their boardroom tables. They can see who we are as real people. They are exposed to our values, our integrity and ethics in action – through example – not just from us telling them who we are. They can also see that we like to have fun, have a sense of humour, and they can learn about our hobbies and passions. For us, this is a benefit. People want to work with people they like and respect – and that’s a two-way street. When professional contacts connect with me on Facebook, I get to see who they really are too.

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