Social Media

Post by: Ruth Atherley of AHA Creative Strategies

Communication has changed. We all know that. How it has changed and how it will continue to change is a hot topic right now. Interestingly enough, Delta Airlines has created a mini site to inform stakeholders about the proposed merger between their company and Northwest.

According to a blog posting by Harvard Business Review’s Scott Berinato, this is the future of press releases. While I appreciate his viewpoint and do think mini or micro-sites such as this are a valuable addition to the communications mix … they are added-value. Especially sites such as this one. It’s still one-dimensional and has been created in the old model of the web – information out to an audience, but no interaction or real dialogue.

We have been working with forward-thinking clients on a communications approach that we’ve been calling “diablogs” – micro-sites that provide basic information like a more traditional website, but that reach out and ask for input, engagement and interaction. If there is something important enough to create a micro-site, it seems to make sense to bring stakeholders into that conversation and to really listen to what they have to say. There is a huge opportunity here. One that Delta may have missed in creating their mini-site.

What if they had included a blog on this site where we could hear from the top executive of the two companies, employees or even other passengers — and we could respond to what they had to say. What if they created an easily updated page where they could address rumours, speculation and misinformation. This site isn’t going to live forever, it’s not a long term commitment for senior execs to speak WITH us … and if this is the press release of the future, I would hope it would be interactive enough to give reporters and the general public interested in this topic more than just the company line. It’s great to tell people where an organization stands, it’s even better to hear what those people think about it. That’s when the magic of real connection begins to happen.

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Starbucks recently launched mystarbucksidea.com.

This is an interesting site. It’s well designed, you can get around it easily and at first glance it looks authentic. The people at Starbucks seem to want to know what our ideas are. It does have some challenges – asking everyone for ideas could be overwhelming – which is what many bloggers are saying right now.

Some have also compared it to Ideastorm, which has done very well in helping Dell rebuild it’s brand and it’s relationship with consumers. Their blog is also a good example of reaching out and really connecting with stakeholders.

It is always interesting to see what organizations are doing online to connect with people. And while I am sure we could all find something wrong with these sites, the fact is – they are out there doing their best to hear what their customers have to say. Perhaps their approach isn’t as managed as it could be (and I think if they had managed it more, they would be criticized for trying to control the process…) and they may learn a great deal from doing this. They are doing it though and that is a huge step forward in how organizations interact with stakeholders. It’s very interesting to see how organizations, both large and small, are using online and social media to create a connection with people.

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The online world really has changed things. Now PR people that send irrelevant, useless and/or irritating pitches and news releases to journalists are being called on it –in public, on blogs. The bad pitch blog is definitely worth a read. Chris Anderson, author of The Long Tail and editor in chief of Wired magazine also published a long list of media relations types that are now blocked from his email. And most recently Lifehacker’s Gina Trapani did the same.

I was a journalist for years and can’t tell you how frustrating it is to receive pitches from PR people who don’t get it. Now, with bloggers as an important part of the news cycle, it’s even more important to refine media pitches so that they work for the person you are pitching. Sending out pitches that have no news value or that aren’t targeted hurts your reputation and your client.

Our role as communicators includes talking to a client about what is newsworthy and what isn’t. And if it is, it’s important to take the time and effort to develop a solid pitch that is targeted to the media you are pitching. Read their blog, their articles, watch or listen to their show … pay attention to who you are pitching and what they cover. Not doing your job well might get you covered in a blog or on a black list. That kind of coverage, you don’t want.

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I am just reading Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff’s book Groundswell. It’s an excellent primer if you are looking to understand the potential, both good and bad, of online media such as blogs, podcasts, Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, YouTube, SecondLife and more.

Along with keeping up-to-date online, I love books about social and online media. Just for the record no one calls it new media anymore :) It’s been around for a lot longer than most people realize. At any given time I have a line up of 4 or 5 books on this topic that I am reading and while groundswell has been around for a few months, it’s worth reading. Li and Bernoff, who are a part of the senior team at Forrester Research, have an in-depth knowledge of online media and who is using it. Their professional backgrounds in research add a layer of credibility and knowledge to their take on how communication is changing that is important. They aren’t just assuming or estimating who is online, they have done the research.

If you get the chance to read this book, do it. It will help give you a strong foundation of what online media can mean for your organization.

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It’s interesting to see how instant communication can change our world…on a larger scale and in a very up close and personal way. The Mercury News out of Silicon Valley recently ran a story with the headline U.C. Berkeley student’s Twitter messages alerted world to his arrest in Egypt. Whether or not Twitter was responsible for getting help to the Berkley student (other media sources say it’s because he had a cell phone), the fact is that we do have access to instant communication whether that is through Twitter, a cell phone, Instant Messenger, email on your iphone or blackberry or taking a quick photo with your cell and then downloading it to the internet.  At any given moment, what we do could be put out there for all the world to see. Unedited. Unapproved. And sometimes Unflattering. We live in interesting times.

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