Online Communications

AHA - Social MediaI recently had a conversation with an acquaintance that went something like this:

Him: “Hey Ruth, I was thinking about those hash mark thingies…”

Me: “Do you mean hashtags?”

Him: “Yeah, those things. Do you think it would be worth choosing one to put on our e-mail signature?”

Needless to say, we had a more in-depth conversation about hashtags. We also discussed developing a one-on-one social media workshop for him so that he could better understand social media from both a strategic and a tactical (tools and technology) viewpoint.

The challenge is that this person handles a component of communications at a senior level for a very high profile organization. He is one of a handful of people who provide guidance and advice to the CEO of this organization, including advice on social media. And he has been advocating for the use of Twitter and Facebook for a few months now.

Don’t get me wrong, the person who asked me about the “hash mark thingies” is very smart and highly successful in his field of expertise. However, he doesn’t understand social media and doesn’t realize how much he doesn’t know. That is an issue for his organization.

We get calls pretty regularly from senior people who want to know more about social media. Some of them want to meet privately and have a tutoring session; others want to include their senior team, their board or others in a social media workshop. I think that for those of us who are involved in the world of communications and PR, there is an assumption that everyone knows what we know. That just isn’t the case.

First off, the tools and technologies are ever evolving. It can be challenging to keep up. And, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Talking to your kids over dinner about Facebook or Twitter is not the same as having someone who understands your business goals and your communications objectives assist you in developing your social media strategy (as a part of your communications strategy). Social media is not a stand-alone or “stand-apart” component; it belongs in your overall communications plan.

The fact is – not every organization needs to be “active” on social media. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t know what is going on in your industry or that you shouldn’t monitor what’s being said about your organization on social media. Both negative and positive conversations should be monitored. Developing your plan on how, what, when, where and why you will use social media is something that needs to be clearly defined and taken seriously.

Speak with your communications department, PR team or your consultant – or call us. We can help you define what you need when it comes to social media workshops or coaching.

Before you make any decisions about social media activities, make sure you understand the landscape relevant to your industry, the social media environment and what your risks and opportunities are – relative to your communications strategy.

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dreamstime_xs_31832574We recently had several discussions with clients and colleagues about the use and value of hashtags. For some professionals who aren’t regular users or participants in social media, there is a perception that a hashtag can be created and it’s then yours – that you kind of own it and have control over it. Nothing could be further from the truth. (If you aren’t quite sure what a hashtag is, please check out Wikipedia for a definition. And as a communicator, don’t assume that everyone knows what a hashtag is. It might be a common term in your world, but there are many who don’t know. And they might be afraid to ask for fear of looking stupid.)

While social media conversations and dialogue can be started, facilitated and participated in, any organization that believes that it can – for any length of time – control the dialogue is sadly mistaken (and really isn’t seeing the value of social media, in my opinion).

One of the interesting things to come out of advertising, marketing and even PR is the defined use of hashtags in campaigns. Many (usually larger) organizations use them in the hopes of driving social media users to help their hashtags trend and get their community to engage in positive sharing about their goods or services. That approach has some big risks involved. If it goes sideways, your hashtag no longer becomes a tool for positive communication; it can become a key facilitator for negative comments, humour at your expense and, at worst, attacks on your brand.

Hashtags are meant to allow people to easily find a topic, to bring people interested in a topic together organically, and to help organize and find the incredible amount of information out there on Twitter and Instagram. They aren’t meant as a promotional tool for your organization.

Now, that doesn’t mean you can’t use them in that way, but you do need to clearly identify the risks to this type of usage and have a plan in place in case your hashtag is hijacked. You can’t stop popular opinion (or in the case of Twitter – active opinion by a small, committed, influential and often really funny group of individuals). They could take what you thought was a brilliant promotional campaign and turn it into a mockery of your brand that then makes it onto The Daily Show with Jon Stewart or The Colbert Report. And that’s bad for your brand reputation.

I found a piece on Mashable that showcases some hashtag hijacks that have gone wrong (and one that went right as far as truth, justice and equality go). You can read it here. You have to admit, hashtag hijackers can be funny people.

We always go through a strengths, opportunities, weaknesses, threats (SWOT) review with clients if we are considering any kind of social media outreach. You can’t make assumptions that everyone is going to respond in the way you want them to/expect them to on social media. And it is always important to remember that you don’t own your hashtag, your Twitter feed, your Facebook page or other social networking sites. You might be the administrator who facilitates the discussion, but it’s the people who decide the tone and topic. Respect and appreciate that. Even if there are negative discussions, you can glean some valuable stakeholder/target market feedback. 

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who, what, when, where, whyThere are many social media platforms out there. I have seen some organizations attempt to use them all and the fact is, I have yet to see anyone accomplish that. Unless you have a huge communications team, a big fat budget and are all things to all people, it is strategic to identify the right platform or platforms for you and to limit them.

For our clients, we often review their social media platforms as a part of the planning process. Depending on the size of the client and the scope of our work with them, we make recommendations on changes and additions in this area.

We develop a great deal of content in a brand journalism style for our clients. The fact is, I believe communicators and public relations professionals have been using the brand journalism approach for decades – we just called it “content.” Today, we call it brand journalism and we use that content in a variety of ways, including on social media platforms. But before we do anything, we define where the organization’s stakeholders/community/audience hang out on social media platforms, we spend time understanding their needs, wants and expectations regarding interaction with brands and organizations (and often the world as a whole), and we develop a strategic editorial plan and schedule. And that plan and schedule is reviewed and revised on a regular basis as trends, interests and expectations shift.

I was fortunate to work with some incredibly talented editors and journalists back in my journalism career and they taught me a great deal more than how to write a good article. There is so much that goes into developing compelling content that speaks to the reader, listener or viewer. As much as each piece should be able to stand alone in its value, it’s also important to understand how all the pieces come together.

The content that is put forward in newspapers, magazines, in online publications and in broadcast news isn’t randomly pulled together. There’s a plan. As much as the media follows the news of the day/week/month, the content as a whole is strategically planned out with themes, context and flow. How pieces reflect on each other, what the sidebars attached to major news stories can communicate, how all of the images/visuals and articles/segments flow, what kind of follow-up or updates are expected, what time of year it is, whether the information will be important to people today, what the other seemingly unrelated events and news stories are, etc. All of these elements need to be taken into consideration when developing an editorial schedule/plan and when writing or producing the content.

It’s a thoughtful process and when it is done right, you can engage your community in meaningful and valuable ways. Not only is this approach important for which social media platforms you use, but also for the content you will share on them, including how often to share, what the themes are, the style and tone, how often you will self-promote (please, not often – it’s annoying and you will lose your community), what your level of engagement is, how much you will repurpose or repeat content from one platform to another, and – at the heart of it – what you have to say that matters to the people you want to connect with.

Working all of this out is one of the most interesting, exciting, challenging and rewarding parts of the work we do. When a client is committed to doing it right and puts in the effort, the results are often incredible. Their followers multiply, their web visits increase and they find themselves in authentic conversations with their key target markets, which – depending on their ultimate goal – drives sales, increases brand awareness, changes behaviours or perspectives, informs, educates and engages. But it all goes back to knowing who you want to connect with, why they would want to connect with you, where to connect and when.

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AHA works with clients in a range of sectors – consumer goods, technology, post-secondary education, health care, fitness, law and the judiciary, fashion, not-for-profit, insurance and, of course, travel. We provide a range of services for our clients including promotional public relations, community relations (including social media), strategic communications planning, writing and editing services, messaging and positioning, crisis and communication planning, and issues communication management.

We have extensive travel PR experience and a strong skill set in this area. Our clients range from tourism boards to hotels to airlines to tour operators and local activities. We have spent a decade building positive relationships with traditional and online journalists, bloggers and editorial content creators. AHA works in the world of travel because we love it, we’re really good at it, and we continue to grow and evolve our skill set in this ever-changing world.

Recently, we decided to put a little more focus on travel PR. Believe me, that doesn’t mean that our non-travel clients will get any less attention. Each one of our clients knows how important they are to us – and how dedicated we are to providing world-class client service and generating exceptional results. What it does mean is that we are going to get a little more proactive in the area of travel business development. We’re a little spoiled here. We have been incredibly fortunate that colleagues, clients, former clients and professional acquaintances recommend us and refer new clients to us – and that has kept us pretty busy. However, we have a kick-ass crew across the country and it’s time to reach out and connect with some great potential clients.

As a part of the launch of our increased focus in the area of travel, we worked the fabulously talented, incredibly professional, and delightful to work with Tanya Gadsby of Drawing Out Ideas to produce a short graphic recording video that highlights the benefits of working with AHA for your travel PR. We hope you like it!


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p&r egyptHere at AHA, we work with clients in a range of sectors – government, not-for-profit and private. We have clients around the world, in the U.S. and, of course, in Canada. One of the perks of working here is that we do get to travel a little and see the world. We are set to visit a client in South Africa in December, so I have been doing some online research about activities and events that will be happening when we are there. Finding information that specifically interests me for travel has never been easier – TripAdvisor is of huge value. So are Facebook and Twitter. You ask your community – the people you know and trust – for recommendations.

On TripAdvisor, there is an opportunity for the travel professional (tour operator, hotel manager, etc.) to respond to each review. I am always impressed by the travel professionals who respond to both the positive and negative reviews. In fact, if I am travelling to a place I have never been to before – for work or pleasure – it is the review that has a response that gets my attention and, usually, my business. I have seen hotel managers apologize for something that went wrong that was their responsibility and I have seen them respectfully take on a reviewer who perhaps wasn’t sharing the whole story. It impresses me when a service provider responds and when they take responsibility publicly for something that went wrong; it tells me that customer service matters to them. Things are going to go wrong; I just want someone who cares enough to make them right.

TripAdvisor isn’t perfect – not all reviews are necessarily authentic. Sometimes tour operators or hotel managers have staff or friends write positive reviews for them and negative ones for competitors. Let’s face it, there are also people out there who just don’t like anything and who always write negative reviews. It’s important to take these reviews in context. However, it does provide a great opportunity for both travellers and for the travel and tourism world. And it’s a great example of how the world of public relations has changed – and not just in travel and tourism, but in every industry sector.

People – consumers, clients, influencers, investors, government, media, etc. – are all online and talking. They are likely online somewhere discussing your organization or industry right now. Do you know where they are? Do you know who they are? Do you know where you can engage in the conversation (if it is strategic for you to do so)? Are you paying attention to what they are saying?

What is your website like – is it easy to navigate? Is the information up-to-date and relevant to your stakeholder group? Is it engaging and interesting?

These are important questions. Your stakeholders are online looking for information about your organization and if your website isn’t up-to-date, you may be responsible for any misinformation they have. If they are discussing you and – at the very least – you aren’t aware of what the hot button topics are and what they are interested in, you are not only missing out on an opportunity to engage and build positive relationships, but there may also be an issue emerging that you don’t know about and that could be damaging to your organizational reputation.

If you aren’t a part of the conversation, it could hurt you.

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