Reputation

http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photography-d-chat-bubbles-storm-cloud-blue-background-bubble-gradient-image34914082One of the latest tools being used by organizations is the social chat – an online dialogue via social media channels. A social chat can happen through a range of social channels including Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, Instagram and many others. Any channel with an interactive component can host a social chat, and which tool you use will depend on your objectives and where your stakeholder group or audience gathers.

We have been speaking with several clients about social chats, and our approach is always to take a good look at what we want to achieve with this type of outreach and to identify both the risks and the opportunities.

There have recently been several high profile social chats – and a few that have backfired – including a Twitter chat by the New York City Police Dept that created a huge backlash online.

The NYPD asked Twitter followers to post photos of themselves posing with officers – unfortunately, that’s not what followers posted. This campaign went sideways almost immediately. According to NYDailyNews.com, more than 70,000 people posted negative images. To their credit, the NYPD responded to this by saying that they were engaging in new ways of communicating with the community and that Twitter provided “an open forum for an uncensored exchange” that was “good for our city.”

If you Google “failed social chats” – you can see many examples of the failures.

If you think a social chat is something that would benefit your organization or brand, you need to ask yourself some hard questions that include:

  • Do you have an engaged social media community? You can’t just jump into social media and hold a chat without first building relationships and creating a following and a community. If you only have 50 followers on Twitter, is that enough for an engaging dialogue?
  • What is your relationship with this community – has it been contentious or hostile? Have you authentically built up this relationship so that there will be a dialogue or discussion?
  • Have you reviewed what could be challenging, what the tough questions might be, and how you will respond? Expect tough questions and be ready to provide information in these areas. If you open the door to questions, you need to answer what is being asked – even if the questions are challenging.
  • What is the objective of this initiative? You need to be clear on what you want to achieve. Do you want to share information, get feedback, and engage on certain issues or topics? Why are you doing it? Who else in your industry has done this or are you the first? Understanding what you want to achieve is crucial. While social chats can be an excellent way to connect with your audience, they can also be risky – even for organizations with a good reputation.

Realize that as much as you can try to manage the direction of the conversation – online, you can’t control it. If even a small group of people want to derail the discussion and move it to their own agenda, they may be able to do that. You need to see that as a possibility and put something in place should this happen. You need to be prepared. And you need to have a plan in place about how you will authentically and respectfully engage with both supporters and detractors.

I realize that in this blog post I have been focused quite a bit on the negatives – social chats can be valuable when they are done right and when they are properly planned out. Not only does a social chat build relationships with your community, it also provides insight into the public perception of your brand. If you listen to both the positive and negative, you will have a real time perception of what your customers, clients or community think about your organization or brand.

One of the challenges we have seen is that sometimes a client wants to hold a social chat or engage in some other outreach via social media because they read about another organization that did it. It is important to take a step back and decide to do something like this because it will support your overall business goals – not just because you can. Engaging on social media can provide excellent results, but you need to strategically plan it out and make sure you cover all bases – including what could go wrong.

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writing editing proofreadingThe widespread (and growing) use of online technology continues to push organizations to realize the value of creating their own content. (Full disclosure – here at AHA, we push them to take advantage of this opportunity too!) It is a good way to connect with stakeholder groups (including customers or clients).

Creating strong, compelling, engaging and informative content doesn’t happen without effort – or good writing and editing. I was fortunate that I worked in the world of journalism prior to jumping the fence to PR and strategic communication. At Maclean’s magazine, where I worked, each article was developed by a team – there was the journalist/writer, the editor*, the researcher/fact checker, the copyeditor and the proofreader. It took several different skill sets to produce a good article. (*There were actually several editors – the section editor, the senior editor and the managing editor – who reviewed each piece with different perspectives: the piece itself and how it fit into the section and the overall magazine.)

For a communications piece – whether it is an annual report, newsletter, white paper, brochure, website content, frequently asked questions document, news release, speech or other document – it is important to understand and make use of all of the skill sets at your disposal.

The Writer

The role of the writer is to gather the information, arrange the thoughts and ideas, and present an organized approach for the piece. A writer normally provides a creative outline or brief on what we expect to deliver. It may be as straightforward as a newsletter outline that identifies each article with its key messages, if anyone will be interviewed and quoted, and the deadline. Annual reports or other more complex documents get more detailed outlines.

The Editor

The substantive editor is a person who works closely with the writer and deals primarily with the creative aspect of the content and the structure and order of the piece. If the content is highly technical, this person normally liaises between the writer and the subject expert as well. This person brings a clear perspective to the writing and supports the writer in ensuring that the information is clearly communicated, well organized, and that it makes sense. (Sometimes a writer can be so deep into the topic that they need support in making sure someone who is not as knowledgeable can understand the information.)

The copy editor deals with matters specific to the words (rather than the ideas of the content) and focuses on clarity, flow, sentence length, word selection, grammar, spelling and internal consistencies.

The Fact Checker

Another crucial role, the fact checker works with the writer and/or editor(s) and confirms the factual accuracy of the information in the document.

Proofreader

The proofreader reviews the document after all levels of editing and fact checking have been completed. The content is reviewed for overlooked errors in spelling, grammar, typos, etc., and when visual elements are used, they are the final check that all visual elements are placed correctly.

From our experience with our clients and in speaking with many of our colleagues who work in-house at organizations, many communicators either don’t have all of these skills or they don’t have the time to effectively write or edit pieces, with everything else on their plate. It’s a bit of a challenge because to develop a useful communications piece that informs, engages and inspires your target market or stakeholder group to action, it takes time and effort. For us, nothing is more disappointing than when we see a poorly written or edited piece; it loses its value and, unfortunately, doesn’t create the expected results (and it doesn’t look good for the communications professional). The need to create good content continues to grow, and understanding how to deliver solid content is an important component of the role of a communicator.

We have a strong writing, editing and proofreading team at AHA and, because of this, we do a great deal of this type of work for clients. One of the most high profile projects we have worked on was editing Forsaken: The Report of the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry – a 1,400-page, complex report.

At AHA, we offer a full range of editorial services – we write and/or edit and proofread newsletters, annual reports, special reports, white papers, briefing notes, plans, speeches, brochures, websites… the list goes on and on. We have always had a focus on content creation, and we have grown our writing and editing team to reflect that.

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The work we do here at AHA Creative Strategies often seems to come in groups. Right now, we are working with several clients on issues communication and this comes right on the heels of writing quite a few issues and crisis communication plans for other clients.

It’s important to understand that an issue is different from a crisis. An issue is one that keeps you up at night worrying about it – inappropriate behaviour by an employee or senior executive, the unexpected or unexplained removal of a CEO or president, plant closure and employee layoffs, a strike vote by your union, a change in legislation that will affect how your organization does business, etc. Issues are often – but not always – played out in the media (both traditional and social media). An issue threatens your brand, image and organization’s reputation.

A crisis is immediate and there is more at stake than just your reputation (although how you handle a crisis and take care of those affected by it could impact your reputation). A crisis threatens the survival of your organization. It can be a natural disaster (earthquake, flood, tsunami, hurricane) or it can be created by humans – an accident or act of violence at the workplace, mine collapse, hostage situation, airline crash, cruise ship sinking, etc.

In speaking with our clients – from the large multinational organizations that we work with, to our entrepreneurial clients – we always recommend putting an issue and crisis plan in place. When something happens, having a plan that has a complete checklist that provides you with a step-by-step way to move forward is crucial. During an issue or a crisis, your focus must be on managing the situation and ensuring that you are clearly, authentically and transparently communicating with your stakeholder groups – especially those affected.

With clients, we often present a workshop that provides the opportunity to role-play situations specific to their industry or geographic location, so that the key people who would be involved in helping to manage an issue or crisis get a sense of what would be expected of them at that time. It is of huge value to the individuals who participate and it provides them with context so that when we write an issue and crisis communication plan, they can provide input and feedback.

Making sure that your organization – no matter how small – has a plan is important. Thinking about the worst-case scenarios and developing an issue and crisis communication plan is a business asset. You don’t want to find yourself dealing with a big problem and not knowing what your next step should be.

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