Public Relations

There is a good customer dissatisfaction video on YouTube about a band member that had his guitar damaged when flying United Airlines. According to the video, there were witnesses to baggage handlers throwing the guitar and taking absolutely no care with it. Currently, there are only a few hundred views of this video, but many, many comments – most of them saying they are appalled at how United has handled this issue.

Apart from being an interesting (and entertaining) video made by a dissatisfied customer, this also brings up something that we have recently been discussing here at AHA Creative Strategies: social media measurement – in all its forms. We provide evaluation on projects, media coverage and other initiatives to quite a few clients and the accuracy and credibility of that evaluation is very important to us. Social media is a challenge because the natural reaction is to use traditional evaluation methods, and that’s a little like comparing apples to oranges.

I had this discussion with my friend and colleague Stephen Hodgdon of Beaupre and I thought his response—while specifically about blogs—was worth repeating and could be applied to many forms of social media. He said: “Blog traffic has a number of advantages over traditional media reader metrics, including that it tends to drive more customers directly to your business website, enables you to engage with your customers directly, and increases your search engine visibility, to name a few.”

In the case of the United Breaks Guitars video, it is interesting to note that there are companies that specialize in the transportation of band gear (full disclosure, one of the top companies out of the U.S. that does this is an AHA client.). Think about the gear of big name acts like The Rolling Stones, Britney Spears, U2, Matchbox 20, Kelly Clarkson and Nickleback and the hundreds of other acts flying around. (These acts aren’t necessarily connected to our client). They tour globally and for the most part – they take a lot of their gear with them. The shipment of guitars and drums and other instruments and equipment needed to put on a world-class show can be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars per band. So, not only has United put off this one particular customer, who happens to be in what appears to be a smaller band, it may also be showing other much larger clients that United can’t be trusted with this kind of cargo. What do you think would happen if someone had to explain to Bruce Springsteen or Jon Bon Jovi that their favourite guitar was damaged in transit? That wouldn’t be good for anyone.

So, from this video – not only do I now believe that as a single passenger, United Airlines will do nothing to help me, I have also sent it to my client, who runs a company that promises that a band’s gear will get to the next city on time and in one piece.

In this day and age, it’s not how many people hear the good or bad about your organization, it’s who hears about it and what that means to you.

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First off, I have to apologize for this blog being less active than usual. As many of you know, things are changing in our world. QUAY is closing its doors and AHA is refreshing and re-energizing and getting ready for the next stage of our professional life. As of June 30, this blog will be over, but – within a few days (or a week) of that, our new AHA blog and website will be up and it will all be back to normal with almost daily blog posts and even some vodcasts and podcasts. And, of course, we will also keep you posted on what’s happening with Patsy and Della and hope they will come on as guest bloggers every once in a while. So stay tuned…it’s going to be great!

Now back to the real blog post!

Todd Defren has an excellent post at his PR-Squared blog today. (He often has excellent posts so if you don’t subscribe to his blog, you really should.) In it, he talks about the importance of having your PR team believe in what you do because they have tried your service or product and genuinely believe it has value.

At AHA, we won’t take on a client that we wouldn’t tell our friends or family about, that we wouldn’t be proud saying “hey, we work with them, we’re a part of their communications team.”  We have clients that offer things that might not be relevant to any of our team at this stage of our lives/careers…for example, we have done quite a bit of work with BCIT’s School of Health Sciences and it’s highly unlikely I am going to give up PR and go back to school to become a health care professional. However, I have spent a great deal of time with many of the instructors, program heads and the Dean of the school, Kathy Kinloch and I would recommend the School of Health Sciences to anyone I know that wants to enter the field of health sciences.

When I was a journalist and got a pitch from a PR person, I could tell in seconds if they were just feeding me a bunch of words or if they really believed in their client. Let’s be realistic, if your PR person doesn’t believe in what they are pitching the media – the media isn’t going to either.

AHA is a small agency by choice and one of the reasons we decided to stay “boutique” is because we want to make sure that we only take on clients we can get behind, that we believe in. We don’t want to become big enough that we have to take on work to support the company. And, let me tell you…there have been times early on in our company’s history when it would have been much easier financially to take on certain clients, but we held fast to our belief that we needed to understand and experience what they were offering wherever possible – and we need to believe in them. Which, by the way, doesn’t mean that we just take the message out “there.” We develop a strategy, work on story angles and develop engagement concepts that will connect like-minded people through social media sites, etc. But, at the heart of it, it’s that we think this organization is worthy of your time and/or energy and sometimes even your hard-earned dollars.

When we take on a client, when we “get” what they are offering – it’s so much easier to pitch media, to blog about them, to put information out on Twitter or to share it on Facebook or other social media sites. More and more these days, as social media blurs the line between professional and personal, it’s important that as communicators that we embrace the value of our being authentic in what we put forward on behalf of our clients.  For us, it’s not just about being awarded the contract. It’s about finding great organizations that we can put our expertise, experience and our reputation behind. It makes such a difference to our success, to our client’s success and to what the future holds.

No matter what organization you choose to work with, make sure they “get it.” It’s crucial.

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There are a couple of topics for today’s post, so I will try to keep them short and sweet.

Della and I had the honour of speaking to the Edmonton Chapter of the Canadian Public Relations Society on Friday. It was a great group of people – all interested in how to apply social media tools and tactics to their communications strategies.

Chris Brogan, who I have a huge amount of respect for, has a great post on The Undiscovered Country of Presence Management. Here he talks about the challenges of having organizations on Twitter and Facebook and blogging or commenting on blogs. Who should be the voice, where should you look online for your communities, how do you go about it? This is a great start to an important conversation.

One of the key points for any organization that would like to embrace social media is that you need to be strategic about it. You need to begin like you would any other traditional communications campaign and understand who your community is, where they are and how they would like you to join the conversation. And at the core of it—Chris nailed it in his post—what people want is “real” interaction. Social media provides the opportunity to create a relationship with people – one human being to another.

Great public relations has always been about building relationships – ethically, authentically and with integrity. Social media allows us to do this. It takes a client that will authentically embrace transparency, some effort, resources and a commitment to staying strategic (and not being pulled away by the newest, brightest, shiniest piece of technology). It provides opportunities that we have never had before.

We know that social media has changed how we do our job. Right now we’re in a bit of chasm between how it used to be done and how it can be done. It is a challenging time, but it’s exhilarating too. The world is demanding that organizations step up and be accountable, responsible, engaged and that they contribute. As communicators, our role is to help organizations do this in a way that benefits the community, the employees and the organization.

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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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Well, the blog post below “The Big Three Don’t Get Social Media” certainly got some attention. Creating respectful, authentic discussion is what social media is all about and, with a couple of exceptions, it seems that this is what is happening here.

Not everyone posted what they do for a living, but it is interesting to note that most of the comments here come from those involved in online/social media and/or the auto industry. Scott Monty of Ford posted and he also mentioned this post on Twitter, which sent several more people over. I did find it interesting that, at times, the thread on Twitter got a little personal. Rather than agree or disagree with my comments, the conversation focused on my using WordPress, how long it took for responses to be uploaded (yes, this is a moderated blog), and how many followers I have on Twitter. I am not sure how relevant to the conversation those points are. To me, that seems a little like saying I don’t like your shoes, so I am not going to have a conversation with you.

I want to clarify that this post was not a personal attack on Scott or any other communicator that works in the industry – in-house or as a consultant or contractor. That wasn’t my intent and I sincerely apologize if that’s how it came across. Communicators don’t have easy jobs and I think it’s great that Scott is on Twitter and on blogs.  And Jim is right, they deserve credit for “playing in the sandbox.”

Having said that, in my opinion, I don’t think that they really get it. Several posts here told me where I can find GM and Ford – on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and blogs. With the risk of raising the wrath of these good folks again…just because you have a frying pan doesn’t make you a chef. I think we all have a lot to learn – including from each other.

My initial post focused on trying to find information on the bailout.  I wanted to see what was being said out there and what the car companies were doing. I took off my communicator’s hat and I did a basic search, not an in-depth search.  I work in communications and understand how to do a thorough search, but what I did for this was a search that someone who isn’t immersed online might undertake. And I couldn’t find any information.

What I find interesting is that a great many of the people that took the time to respond, came to inform me, correct me or take a little shot at me, but no one asked me anything. There was an opportunity here to perhaps identify and deal with a weakness in how people are finding the information that the automakers would like to share. I think that some of the people who responded were so busy defending their position that actively listening took a backseat.

There are a lot of people that want to know more about what is going on with the Big Three than what we read, see or hear in mainstream media. We want to hear from the people that lead the automakers and that work there. If the only website I found is thefordstory.com, my perception would be that I was being “talked at” not “with.” Perhaps there was an opportunity to put some links on the website to Scott on Twitter or other blogs or online venues where I could voice my opinion.

I don’t know the business objectives or the strategy behind that particular site, so I am making some assumptions. The average person doesn’t know, and probably doesn’t care, about the strategy. They want information and for their concerns to be heard. No matter what organization you work with, as communicators, these are the people that it’s important to speak to.

I certainly learned a great deal from this conversation. I would be interested to hear what others think.

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