Reputation

dreamstime_xs_45994455At AHA, we’ve recently been working on quite a few stakeholder communications projects. We really like this kind of work because you get to work with great organizations that understand the value of regular, consistent and useful communication to their stakeholder groups, and it makes a positive impact when done well.

I think that it can be easy to forget or overlook some stakeholders, especially during a time of change, transition, strategic or other long-term planning, or during an issue. Depending on what you are dealing with, the focus might be media or government relations or reporting to the board of directors or governors – the seemingly “higher priority” groups. In reality, in our experience (and we have done a great deal of work in this area), one group can’t be seen as a higher priority than another – especially in this day and age of social media.

Messaging needs to be consistent throughout your communications, no matter what stakeholder you are engaging in dialogue or updating. What you tell journalists, board members, employees and members of the public must be uniform in the messaging. Don’t share more information with one group than you want the others to know. It will get leaked and it will create resentment and mistrust.

Communication with stakeholders has to be regular and it should be as often as resources will allow (even if you need to bring in help). It may seem clear to you or others who are more involved in the situation, but for those who are receiving the updates, details or other news – especially if it deals with change (even potential change) or an issue – it takes longer to absorb the information.

Providing regular communication might seem repetitious to you, but for the person who is getting the information, they need time to take it in, process it, and put it in context of what it means to them. It is better to have your stakeholder groups complain about getting too much information (and they will) than not enough. Even if you have people complaining that they are receiving too much info, you will always have those who will say they haven’t heard enough or anything at all. It’s just how it works when you are dealing with serious subject matter.

There is, of course, a great deal more to planning and implementing a successful stakeholder communications program. However, you have to start with a clear commitment to communicate with all stakeholders, consistently and on a regular basis.

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dreamstime_xs_49756552I am a student of human behavior. I people watch wherever I am – in meetings, at coffee shops, in airports, on the ferry, in waiting rooms and in reception areas. I am always interested in how people act in public, when they think no one is watching. It is always interesting to see who is considerate and who isn’t. And I’m not talking about being a doormat here. Polite, considerate and courteous people can – and do – communicate when they are unhappy with something or are upset with someone’s actions. We just do it in a way that helps to manage the process in a more positive manner.

Being polite, considerate and courteous is second nature to me. I was taught to say please and thank you and to take other peoples’ feelings into consideration. My parents were sticklers for this. And it has served me well in both my personal and professional lives. It helps to build positive relationships with clients, partners, journalists and, of course, my fabulous AHA colleagues. I know that I have been given opportunities, had introductions made for me, and had doors opened because of these interpersonal skills.

I recently had two very different experiences that highlight the power of this. The first one was with a former client who asked for a proposal for a proactive marketing communications campaign from us. We sent over the proposal and he e-mailed back thanking me for it and saying he had a couple of urgent matters on his plate and would get back to me in a few days. A few days went by and he e-mailed again saying: “I haven’t forgotten about you; it’s just a bit hairy here right now. I promise I will get back to you by the end of the week about your proposal.” He was considerate and made the effort to reach out and acknowledge that we had a proposal in with him and that he hadn’t had a chance to review it yet. This is the type of client we want to work for – someone who sees us as partners and treats us with respect.

The other experience was completely the opposite. I was asked to sit on the board of a high-profile, national organization as co-communications director. This is a volunteer board and the organization wants to completely rebrand itself in 2016. That meant a huge amount of work on my part. I wasn’t sure that I would be able to manage the amount of time and effort that it would take and asked a few questions about it. I had to follow up several times and, eventually, a phone call was set up with three other board members. We spoke for about an hour. I thanked them for their time and told them I would get back to them within 48 hours about whether I felt I could fulfil the demands of this role. Within 24 hours, I knew that, as much as it would have been an interesting experience, it was too much to take on with everything that we have going on here at AHA. I sent out an e-mail thanking the chair and the board members for considering me, but that I had to decline because I didn’t feel that I could make the type of time commitment that was necessary. I wished them well but heard nothing back from anyone – no response at all. Thinking that perhaps my e-mail had gone into their junk folders, I resent. That was three months ago and I still haven’t received a response.

Interestingly enough, I had a colleague ask me if I could recommend someone for a pretty lucrative contract that was right up the alley of one of the board members I had e-mailed. Given that client service and communication was a key element of this project and I had seen firsthand that he wasn’t great at that – he couldn’t even be bothered to respond to my e-mail – I didn’t feel comfortable recommending him for the job. It’s funny how that works.

Please, thank you, if you have time, I really appreciate this… There are so many phrases that make life easier. It sounds so small, but basic courtesy is a valuable skill. I know that being polite, considerate and courteous has positively affected my career and my personal life. And it’s really not hard to do. Take the time today to be considerate and courteous to the people you work with and to the people you share your life with. I promise you, it’s worth the effort.

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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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