strategic communication

“Write to be understood, speak to be heard, read to grow.” – Lawrence Clark Powell

Onto the Next

It has been an enjoyable experience learning about strategic communication leadership and strategies these past weeks. I never thought I would have a blog, much less followers! Thanks to everyone who supported this blog. I hope some of these topics were beneficial to you.

Strategic communication is important in many environments, but it is especially crucial in professional settings. Businesses that are lead by those who are constantly looking ahead and envisioning the best for the company are the most successful. Leaders are willing to try new things if they think their company and the people involved will benefit. With how much emerging media has evolved, the possibilities for how future businesses are run are endless! It is important to use emerging media effectively in both internal and external communications. Internal and external support could be the foundation a company leads on if a crisis ever develops.

While actively engaged in the job search, I had a couple first impressions of how I thought businesses were run. It is important to understand that interviewing for a job is not just for the company, but for the job seeker as well. If your company’s interview process is unorganized, and the interviewers seem cold, what would a potential candidate think daily activities are like?

I am excited to say that I did go to a great interview with what seems like a wonderful, supportive company and I was given a job offer! I am very excited about all of the possibilities ahead as I start my career in a new city. I know that topics from my Graduate classes will be applied to everyday activities. I hope to be able to grow as a professional and learn new skills.

That being said, I will probably not have time to post much anymore. I have a lot of new things to engage in and get together these next couple weeks. Of course the holidays don’t leave much room for downtime either! I do not plan on deleting this blog, as I feel it can still be used as a reference. Who knows, maybe I will return sooner than I think.

Until then, it’s on to the next chapter for me: Strategic Communication in the Real World!

How does Your Company Measure Up?

Strategic communication professionals must balance a large variety of tasks every day for their company or organization. Not only do internal communications need to be practiced through e-mail, staff meetings, and feedback options, they also must ensure their external communications are conveying the right message to their audience. This blog has talked about the use of social media, the importance of internal and external relationships, and advertising strategies to reach the most people. Now, after a communications professional has gone through the long checklist of disseminating messages, how does one know whether or not the communication plan is successful?

When thinking in terms of company success, there are many tangible and intangible factors with big roles. Success is partly the big numbers at the end of the year. Were product sale goals met/exceeded? Was a certain product acquisition a good investment in terms of revenue? Numbers and quantitative data are convenient measures of a company’s success. However, another important part of overall success is the audience’s perception of your company. Are your products being received positively or negatively? Does your company’s reputation fit well with the community? Does your company have a long, solid relationship with both the consumers and the community?

Intangible factors like feelings and perceptions can sometimes be most important, but are often not considered. As long as employees get their proper paycheck there is nothing to worry about. Think of what the media defines as successful companies: Apple, Microsoft, and Google. These big name brands are not just successful because their products are used every day—they also value internal and external relationships. These brands have had their share of struggles, but being able to withstand good internal and external relationships for so long has made them trusted names in the world. They prove their worth through their services.

When evaluating a campaign, it is important to go back to a company’s original objectives. Objectives can be those specific numbers in sales mentioned before, but they can also be intangible. Perhaps with the selling of a certain product, you company also wants to raise awareness on a topic. Every bottle of Dawn dish soap features a statement about how Dawn saves wildlife. Their website features the statement “Every time you use dishwashing liquid from Dawn, you help save wildlife.” Customers that frequently buy Dawn will expect a picture of an animal on the front of the bottle and understand that Dawn is used to clean wildlife in terms of environmental disasters. When evaluating Dawn, strategic communicators can look at how much Dawn sells, how many visits to their official webpage occurred as a result of inquiry on how it helps save animals, and how many new volunteers sign up.

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Sometimes internal employees can determine the success of a project within a company. The old idea about learning from failure definitely applies in the professional world. I can think of times when I was working on a project with a team and we were so confident that we were close to finishing when suddenly something else was thrown in that required us to start all over. Had we taken the time to fully understand the task, we could have prevented having to start over. However, when the next project came along, we were sure to hold a meeting to make sure everyone was on the same page about what needed to be done. What was so important during these tasks was that our leaders never faltered. No one had a negative attitude or wanted to quit. No one blamed anyone for mistakes. We just opened the floor for more suggestions and knew that we would complete the project if we continued to work hard and communicate with one another. Success of a company can be measured in terms of relationship commitment. Openness and assurance in all internal communications as well as emphasizing the human condition will show company success in terms of employee satisfaction. No matter the level of employee, all humans want to be treated as though they are a valued asset of a company. Employees with positive outlooks who continue to work hard are another factor to observe when evaluating success.

While this may not seem the most official way to measure a company’s success, what the public opinion says about a company speaks volumes. I have mentioned the Glassdoor app in previous posts, and how you can view rankings of companies based on a number of factors. However, when I chose to write my own review of a company, I was prompted with questions that will fill those rankings that can be viewed by anyone online. Review sites such as this one or Yelp can assist in evaluating a company as whole.

The first question is to define if you are a current or former employee, which could be the most important question to answer. Is your company satisfying to current employees? Do employees leave your company with positive comments about it? The next question is to list some Pros about working there as if “you are talking to a friend.” Glassdoor understands the impact of Word-of-mouth marketing, and gives current/former employees a chance to praise a company in a way that is comfortable to most people. The next section is to describe cons, or challenges, of working at the company. Finally, the last question is “Advice to Management.” This is where users can express their opinions on how the company is managed. Does upper management encourage growth? Do they accept employee feedback and promote two-way communication?

All of the reviews are anonymous, because Glassdoor wants users to give the full picture of a company. This benefits those looking for a job, but it also gives leaders of companies an opportunity to view how people feel about their work environment and services. Obviously, there are always the setbacks of scorned employees or current employees being asked to give positive reviews, so it is important to understand these reviews may not be 100% accurate. However, these feedback sites usually come up when Googling a specific company, and it would be beneficial for users to see a high rating.

Measuring a company’s success ultimately serves as a summary of each week’s topic these past eight weeks. Companies will find success if leaders are encouraging, open, innovative, and informative. Leaders who get a company excited about a product or cause will see the excitement transfer in both sales and general employee wellness. Reviews, word-of-mouth, and numbers all contribute to measuring success and will be useful in the overall evaluation of a company’s work.

Crisis Communication: Prepare for the Worst

A company can be the most successful, most innovative, highest ranked company in the world, but even those attributes cannot protect it from crisis. Many times a crisis is caused by elements out of a company’s control while other times it is caused by the actions of an internal member. It is important for companies to realize potential warning signs of a crisis, prepare for the worst, and respond to it as soon as possible.

Many leaders are competent in their work, but have never had direct experience with a major work-related crisis. It is hard to have knowledge of what to do in certain situations if the situation has never happened. However, leaders should have the right qualities and understanding to keep the workplace productive. One key factor in managing a crisis is to recognize prodromes, or warning signs. If you are the manager of a popular hamburger joint and your competitor finds out their meat has been infected with E-coli, you should take precautions and test your meat to make sure the same crisis does not happen to you. In another example, managers of transportation services must keep a lookout on weather patterns, as car or bus services may not maneuver properly in heavy rainfall, sleet, or snow. Recognizing warning signs and making preparations for “what if” situations will allow an organization or company to gather useful resources in the event an incident should happen. Once a leader realizes the prodromal stage of a crisis, he or she must realize it may only get worse, and be prepared to face it.

Along with my Leadership class this term, I am also in a Public Relations class that requires us to create an original Crisis Communication Plan for a company. Over the past seven weeks I have read examples of real-world crises and how companies handled them. Ultimately, I have noticed it is those that have effective resources prepared that are able to clear up any confusing details. These companies also remain open with all audiences and media. Handling a crisis is so much more than saying “We have it under control” in a press conference. Consumers will have questions. They will be filled with fear and doubt about their use of the products and the negative outcomes as a result of the crisis. Strategic communicators must know how to communicate with all media channels in a timely manner and with the right messages. Part of the Crisis Communication Plan includes a list of all local television, newspaper, and radio stations. Having this list with a contact name for each one will keep communication open throughout the crisis cleanup.

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Not only do companies need a list of media contacts, they also need to assign those responsible for getting in touch with the media. In most cases the CEO is considered the first spokesperson, but in order to keep up with a timeline of events, employees need to be able to send messages to media outlets that will then post them to the public. Keeping a constant flow of information sharing shows that a company is not trying to hide anything, and is trying to maintain trust with its consumers. Perhaps one director will be in charge of contacting newspapers, while another employee is responsible for online postings. As a leader, think about how your company is organized and the best method of sending messages based on each person’s role.

Probably the largest evolution in managing a crisis is the use of social media. Depending on what your crisis entails, certain social media sites may be more useful to your company. Think about the possible crises that can occur in a company and make a list of potential social media posts addressing the issue. Anything about widespread health issues, such as the current Ebola scares, will benefit from videos that allow the faces behind the information to talk directly with viewers. Television news videos or even YouTube videos allow representatives to present information, as well as show specific examples of how to stay safe and healthy (i.e. how to effectively wash hands, a simulation of how germs spread, etc.) Companies should have these videos already made so they can post them faster.  For other crises, Facebook statuses or play-by-play tweets may suffice in getting the information to the public. It is helpful to have some statuses already on file for a crisis that is most likely to happen. Companies should update their social media in real time to show they are actively working to resolve a matter as it is happening. On top using social media to inform your audiences, you should also monitor comments and respond to those you deem appropriate based on information you available to share.

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During a crisis, audiences are quick to express their opinions online. Two-way communication, once again, is what will keep audiences informed of a company’s efforts. Communicating with the public allows leaders to show their empathy and apologize for whatever has happened. However, it is important to establish procedures for those commenting on your page to avoid a user just continually bashing your company for the sake of stirring up trouble. Company blogs are useful for announcing the acknowledgement of a crisis, and then posting all efforts and important information in detail. It would be beneficial to the company to have someone designated to update blog posts because that would keep all information to the public organized and timely. Posting from your own name may be more useful than the audience hearing it through a third party such as a news source. Audiences will know that a post on the company blog is coming directly from the company, and this will establish trust.

It is important to know that there is no one way to manage a crisis; there is not a strict set of procedures you have to follow step-by-step to achieve success. What works for one company may not work for another. Eddie Obeng explains how rules change as the time changes. Companies simply are not managed the same way they were decades ago. In the event of a crisis, remind the audience why your company is needed. Create messages that show your company cares about its audience. How does your audience benefit from you being around? What makes your product or service unique from others?

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Think about how BP, Sandy Hook Elementary, and Johnson&Johnson have all recovered from a crisis. It may have taken a large amount of time, but the leaders and spokespeople behind each organization cared about their audiences. They had to work hard to gain the trust of the public by keeping communication open and sharing inside information.

As long as leaders of a company know their audience, understands what information needs to be shared, and knows the best way to disseminate that information, a company has an advantage of steering itself back to normal routine.

Don’t Sell Out, Sell Purpose

Product placements and key messages are how brands survive today. Between movies, television, and the Internet, people can be in front of a screen at all hours of the day. How a brand develops its product placements and key messages is part of a strategic communications plan to connect with customers.

When faced with the idea of “product placement” many people immediately associate it with “selling out.” A scene from Wayne’s World comes to mind when Wayne and Garth claim they are not interested in representing any sponsors on their show, all while modeling labeled clothes and using brand named products.

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Product placement is an effective method of advertising, and we see it on nearly every television show or movie. Sometimes it’s subtle: the main character takes a quick drink of a Coke in a scene. Other times it seems to be very in-your-face, ultimately taking away from the drama of the story.

I remember watching an episode of Pretty Little Liars during its first or second season. Those familiar with the show know that the four main characters are constantly plagued by text messages from an anonymous “A” person. “A” sends on average about 4-5 text messages per episode, so it is naturally part of the show. The characters and the audience are used to hearing the sound of a text alert and seeing the girls quickly take out their phones to read the next message.

There was one episode when I found product placement both extremely obvious and irritating. At the time there was a new Microsoft phone out called the Kin. It was a tiny phone with a slide up keyboard that claimed to be the perfect phone for social media. In the episode, one of the main characters, Aria, gets a text message and stops in the hallway saying “it’s my Kin!” followed by an extreme zoom in of her using the Kin. I didn’t remember them ever explicitly saying the brand of their phone before this episode, so this instance really stood out to me. It was the first time I’ve ever seen blatant product placement that was serious instead of a joke. I could not take it seriously and laughed at how obvious it was.

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I am not alone in this opinion. Cowley and Barron (2008) state when “people with high levels of program liking see a prominent product placement, they may interpret the placement to be an attempt to influence the viewer, which could interrupt the viewing experience.” Fans of television programs want to be entertained by the world of the program, not by characters making a point about a product they use.

There are ways to advertise products without shoving the advertisement in the faces of audiences. Going back to the example of a character drinking a Coke, or even asking another character “Can I have a Coke?” is a natural way of mentioning a product, because most consumers see drinking Coke as a regular habit for many people. After a subtle mentioning of the brand, the next commercial break could begin with an advertisement for Coke. The brand is being delivered in repeated messages for recall, but it is not so over-the-top in the actual episode. Those who are highly involved with the show won’t feel the storyline has been interrupted strictly to promote a brand.

Another example is undercover word-of-mouth marketing, or “shill/stealth.” The example from this link (starting on page 235) involves 60 actors dispersed around New York and Seattle with a new product from Sony Ericsson. The actors were not given a script, but they were asked to use the product in public. When approached by people, they had to have an honest conversation about the product. It was easy to have an honest conversation since there were no scripts or guidelines. What happened is that people were engaging with one another and sharing information. Those who were interested in buying the product had to go find out where to purchase it themselves. This meant the consumers actually found value in the product and wanted to use it in their own lives.

It may seem sneaky, but how many times has word-of-mouth worked in your life? There is always that friend that jumps on a trend and talks about the benefits until you jump on too. Why not engage in personal conversations with customers about your brand?

When developing key messages, it is important to research your audience. What’s the population of your city and are you in a large metropolis or a small town? How many people drive across town for work? How many have access to cable and Internet? Is there a certain location where your company could engage with the most people at a single time, or is your online presence the strongest point? Answering these questions will aid in your messaging strategy.

One example of a leader seeking out message delivery to customers is Gap’s up-and-coming CEO, Art Peck. Peck is commonly referred to as the “digital guy” and lives up to this name by being enthusiastic about e-commerce sales. In a time where shopping mall attendance is slowly dwindling, online shopping has become more important than ever in terms of store success. Wi-Fi has been set up in 1,100 stores, and he is interested in measuring the number of clicks each site in the Gap family receives. Going back to last week’s post, Peck truly is a “visionary leader” in that he knows his customers, he knows how habits are changing, and he is using forward-thinking ideas to keep the company valuable.

Most recently, he is behind the campaign of “Dress Normal.” The campaign highlights ordinary style as opposed to the busy patterns and unique cut-out clothes. Neutrals, comfort, and hidden labels are the main components of this style, often called “normcore.”

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I was not familiar with normcore when I first saw Gap’s slogan. My first thought when I saw “Dress Normal” was that the Gap was scolding people to dress in a way that is universally acceptable as opposed to some of the edgier styles out there. Further criticism includes those who do not want their style to just be “normal,” they want to be trendy and stylish. There are mixed reviews about the message Gap is sending, but Peck wants to stand by it for a couple of seasons to see how it plays out. He has explained his purpose behind the message and feels that if given the chance, it will be successful. On Twitter, the “Dress Normal” message is accompanied by pictures of models in what is considered “normcore” style, which assists in what the message is actually trying to convey. Their Facebook page also features advertisements with more messages about how clothes shouldn’t be what attracts people to you: your actions are more important .

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Developing message and product placement strategies is more than just selling your name. What do you really want your audience to gain from your product? Make sure every advertisement option you use has a purpose behind it, and that it is not just selling out empty messages.

The Power of a Leader’s Vision

Job seekers are finding that the culture of a workplace is extremely important. I am not just talking about employee relations and fun events, rather I am stressing the importance of how the company views leaders. Glassdoor is a website and app that provides reviews for companies nationwide. I downloaded the app and am able to search jobs and companies in any city. Once I find a company, I am taken to a Glassdoor page that gives it an overall rating out of 5 stars. The rating is compiled of anonymous reviews that share experiences. Each review includes a rating on recommendation, positive/negative outlook, and opinion of CEO.

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The highest ranking companies have consistent positive outlooks of the CEO. Review titles are usually “Great place to work!” “Great Executives!” “Opportunity for growth!” The places where employees are encouraged to work hard and grow into new opportunities are the most appealing. The upward mobility is a result of a productive environment instilled by leaders upholding the company’s values. The leaders of the company have a vision for their purpose, and they know how to motivate all employees to continue working hard. A leader’s vision that is shared by all employees makes all the difference when evaluating a workplace.

Leadership is an interesting concept in that anyone can have the qualities of a leader. Sure, there are some who seem to be “born to lead” with natural confidence and enthusiasm for success. However, there is not some cookie-cutter mold that every leader must follow. While it is important to have skill sets with management qualities (organization, planning, working with budgets), a leader should have behavioral qualities that encourage a company to constantly grow and improve.  For example, leaders in communications understand that technology and social media have changed the way companies share information to their audiences. Those who are hesitant to adopt a social media platform or use mobile media are falling behind. Leaders look to the future with confidence, and reassure the team that it is worth it to make changes for the better of the company.

One of the most admirable traits of a leader’s vision is the fact that it is driven by motivation. Leaders do not give up and do not distract themselves from the ultimate goal. In a world where many people are instructed to make “safe” decisions or choose a “stable lifestyle” instead of taking a chance, it is easy to give up on a dream. A leader never loses sight of the final destination, rather, he/she reroutes the direction to get there. Wendy Kopp founded one of the most well-known, valuable organizations, Teach for America, during a time when no one would have dreamed successful college graduates would want to work in lower income level parts of the country. Her perseverance lead to the success of the organization, and it inspired associates to work to make a difference in the lives of others.

Actions matter

Actions matter

Benjamin Zander announced that when he finished his TED Talk, everyone in the building would have a better understanding and love for classical music. He made it a point to express he had no doubt in his mind it would work, claiming that visions can be realized if the leader and team both believe it. His example: “What if Martin Luther King, Jr. said ‘I have a dream! Although I’m not sure they’ll be up to it…” really stood out because MLK Jr. was out to do the impossible. There were so many odds against him, yet he never faltered in front of the crowd. He knew that if he wanted his dream realized, he had to believe it would be realized and he would take every chance he got to achieve it. The support from the crowds helped his cause because they trusted him and admired his vision. It didn’t matter how hard the road was as long as they had something to hope for.

Everyone has a passion for something. Some people are passionate about writing or theatre, and want to share their stories with the world. Others want to do a good job in their work, perhaps because they really enjoy the purpose their work or because they really enjoy taking care of their loved ones. Those who follow their passions without failure are the leaders. How they handle negative outcomes or intense pressure makes all the difference in the quality of leadership. What I am figuring out as I continue life after undergrad is that the field you work in is so important.  Working in a field that you are interested in, that excites you, and ignites a passion in you will make you work harder. You will find that every action you make will ultimately work toward reaching success, and you will want others to succeed alongside you.

Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs

Now that we are all feeling inspired, let’s put this leadership vision in a work setting. Think about the goal of the organization and how each work task gets the team one step closer to that goal. Ensure each employee is properly trained in their position. Encourage everyone to keep putting all of their efforts into their work by reminding them of their purpose. Customer satisfaction cannot happen if the right kind and number of products are not available, if a customer service representative is rude, or if public information isn’t updated. Be someone who thinks strategically about what each department of an organization brings to the company as a whole. Open the floor to new ideas from everyone. What is working well and what can be improved?

Leaders should trust that their leadership is effective enough to continue without their presence. If employees are trained on what they need to do and educated on why they need to do it, a leader won’t have to breathe over each person’s shoulder to ensure everything is working. Jerry Porras discusses visionary companies: those that are high performing and have endured over the years. Visionary companies are known to make an impact on human culture. He brings up the fact that leaders make companies great while they are present and this greatness last even when they are gone. The leader that builds an organization on all things it needs to be successful is ultimately the most effective leader.

Leaders work for a cause greater than themselves. It is not all about glory and self-fulfillment. Having a vision is a powerful tool for a leader because it encourages hard work and dedication. Leaders that encourage their team with motivation, open discussions, and a positive work environment will drive organizations to lasting success.

“The worst leader is one who is despised.
Next, one who is feared.
Next best is a leader who is loved.
When the best leader works, people are hardly
aware he/she exists.
When the work is done, people say,
‘Amazing. We did it all by ourselves!’”
-Lao Tse; Tao te Ching

Working from the Inside Out

When thinking of a company organizational chart, it is similar to this:

organization-chart

All positions ultimately lead up to an executive member. The executive is considered the leader of the company because that role is in charge of most of the important decisions that affect the good of the company. However, a leader is not simply someone who is in charge of making decisions. A leader cannot lead without a team, and to maintain a team, a leader must know how to communicate with every individual. A leader must work well with colleagues, subordinates, and those outside of the organization. Leaders in all organizations, whether it be business, nonprofit, or a government agency, need to know how to communicate internally in order to communicate their messages externally. Employees who have experience with efficient communication in the office will be able to use these strategies when working with outside clients to ensure satisfactory customer service. Outside relations are a reflection of inside environments.

When managing a company or organization, it is crucial that associates are satisfied with their work. Obviously there will always be some sort of issue or complaint depending on the day, but employees should be content with coming to work each day. If there is an ongoing issue that prohibits work, and no one feels they can turn to anyone for help, the problem only increases in its burden. Leaders need to be attainable and willing to step in when necessary. Dr. John Klein discusses types of work cultures in his essay. A “dehumanizing culture” is one where employees are considered lazy and ineffective in the workplace. Their feedback to their superiors is either ignored or never brought up for fear of punishment. How productive can that culture actually be?

Possible solutions of fixing a dehumanizing cultures include opening the door to any and all employee feedback. No leader is so great that he or she does not need advice every once in a while, and good leaders will understand that. It is the leader’s responsibility that the office runs smoothly, and part of that responsibility is to take in account all employee viewpoints. Department meetings should be more than just “any questions or concerns?” Instead, a department could try out new methods of conducting meetings each week. Perhaps one member of the team will lead the meetings each week. This would give each associate a chance to discuss any feedback in a supportive setting. This method would give each employee more experience with leading, and would allow everyone to see what works well and what could be improved.

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Leanne Glenny observes that in terms of government communications, “communication is no longer recognized as an act performed by one entity upon another. Participants are not considered as passive bystanders as their interpretations lead to the creation of meaning.” The idea of two-way communication is applied to all groups and is especially key in internal communications. A constant dialogue should be active in all workplaces to ensure all employees are on the same page.

Consider the following scenario:

A team in a company conducts an audit to see if each hired employee has all important paperwork completed and on file. The audit shows that there are key documents missing from a number of employees in both the main office and offices in the field, including some executives. These employees must be notified they have to complete these documents in a timely manner, but it is important for identities to be discreet in terms of privacy. The resolution is to send out an e-mail explaining the procedure to complete the paperwork, but to blind copy (Bcc) each employee on it so no one can see who else has received it. The e-mail is proofed, approved, and sent to the select employees. It only takes a minute for people to respond. Responses include “Was this meant to be sent to me?” “Was I supposed to be bcc’d on this?” “What was wrong with my paperwork in the first place?” “Can you explain further?”

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What seemed like a simple solution actually created a whirlwind of confusion. There were good intentions behind the method of the e-mail, but the message was not correctly conveyed. The team must get together to work out how to better explain not only the content of the e-mail, but why they chose to blind copy everyone on it. A brief meeting results in a to-the-point explanation that is e-mailed to the employees, using bcc again to protect identity. The reason that new paperwork was required was explained as well as how the blind copy e-mail was the most efficient and discreet way to reach everyone. Again, people respond, but this time with varying forms of “Thank you for the clarification.” The team had to work through two solutions in order to solve the initial problem, but the result showed that everyone had a mutual understanding on what needed to be done. This process will also require a number of follow-up e-mails until each employee has completed the paperwork. Communication takes work!

During my internship there were times when e-mails or phone calls were sufficient for certain tasks, and other times when it was best to physically go to another employee’s office. Interpersonal communication is a great strategy to connect with employees, if done correctly. Advantages of interpersonal communications include being able to fully explain instructions and providing immediate clarification if needed. Many times e-mails may unintentionally convey the wrong message or tone. It is important to remember that when communicating face-to-face with others, vulnerabilities such as facial expressions or body language may hinder the meaning. The best way to have effective interpersonal communication is for both parties to share a mutual respect for each other and the organization. A relaxed environment in which employees are listening with intent to understand by maintaining eye contact and having a pleasant attitude will promote effective communication. Offices are busy, but when working with people it is important to create opportunities to treat them like people.

Imagine if every conversation could be this pleasant

Imagine if every conversation could be this pleasant

Communication makes all the difference in completing tasks, and the more communication that takes place, the more a company will improve as a whole.

A quote to leave you with that was sent to me from an expert communicator and leader:

“Make a careful list of the things done to you that you absolutely hated, that demotivated you. never do those to others…ever. Now, make a careful list of the things that motivated and inspired you. Do those with others…always…without fail.”  -Dee Hock.

Strategic Social Media

Happy Halloween! Are you celebrating offline and online? There are tons of companies taking advantage of posting Halloween themed messages on social media!

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Social media has made it easier for companies and organizations to connect with their consumers. One would think a public relations professional would have it easy, too, right? When you look closer at different company Facebook pages or Twitter accounts, you will see that most of the popular pages feature the company responding back to fans even in the latest hours of the day. Successful social media pages are those that are made up of strategic daily posts. Public relations professionals, as well as professional communicators, must constantly have access to all media sites to ensure customer satisfaction.

A story on Walmart costumes went viral this week when online users posted screenshots of Walmart’s official website that listed the category of “Fat Girl Costumes.” Post after post shared the image along with disdain from customers. The category has since been taken down, but the screenshots will live on the Internet forever. When Walmart was off of the cyber world for even a minute, this story spread before they could do anything to stop it. Walmart issued an official apology, and has been busy apologizing to individual users on its Twitter account. This issue was a result of negligence, and it was enough to make a wide audience angry. Someone representing Walmart is constantly updating the Twitter page and responding to each user’s tweets.

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Walmart’s Facebook page features select products that customers can comment on or share. I noticed that even a customer simply stating “I love this product!” will get a reply from an official Walmart representative. These representatives are trying to ignite conversations with customers in order to build that relationship between company and consumer. However, on each product picture, there are users who choose to post negative feedback. Sometimes the feedback has nothing to do with the picture posted, but Walmart still tries to respond by giving a link to their feedback site.

An article titled “Corporate Facebook Pages: When “fans” attack” states that “negative complaints, personal insults or incriminating gossip make far bigger impacts on us than do positive comments.” If a company is under fire for a negative post, product, or error, there will always be those who choose to hold on to it. It is important for strategic communicators to develop and sincere apologies, as well as make genuine connections with customers. Customers do not want to feel their complaints go unnoticed, and especially do not want to support a company who claims nothing bad ever happened. Listening comes into play on the Internet, even if it is a conversation through typing. If a customer has a complaint, it is the responsibility of a representative to completely read the complaint, interpret exactly what the issue is, think progressively on how to fix the issue and ensure it does not happen in the future, and then respond fully to the customer.

Companies do best when they have a unique branding strategy on social media. YouTube has become a popular site where videos go viral and are seen by millions of people around the world. These videos go viral because they are interesting, unique, entertaining, or attract the attention of taste-makers that will share it. Strategic communicators should want the best possible image for their organization on such a powerful platform. The possibilities for a viral video are endless. For example, Tom Dickson, the CEO of Blendtec, used YouTube to create a series called “Will it Blend?” where he places a variety of objects (including an iPhone) in his blenders, turns the blenders on, and watches what happens to the objects. There are enough people in this world willing to witness the destruction of valuable objects at their own amusement, and Dickson successfully got his name and his product out to the masses.

Will it blend?

Will it blend?

Strategic communicators must think about their products when posting on social media. What does their product do or what is it used for? Who is using it? Understanding their audience is key on social media because the audience varies. The audience could consist of consumers, clients, employers, and job seekers. It is important to be able to create content that appeals to the masses, and that is concise enough to post quickly and daily. Sometimes an elaborate story gets looked over if someone is seeking out specific information, which is why Twitter’s character limit can be used to an organization’s advantage. There are also third party apps such as Google Alerts that allow businesses to search within social media sites and receive alerts when their content is viewed. Businesses can use this data to figure out what types of posts get the most views, and adjust their communication plan accordingly.

While looking at companies during a job search, I notice that most company Facebook and Twitter pages include group shots of the staff working together. The staff is bunched together at conferences or even community service events. This shows me that the company culture is important to them because they spend time at events together, and look like they are enjoying it. Social media is not only effective for promoting a product, but for promoting the business as a whole. There is so much talent out there, and companies know that the more information about they can share out in the open, the more enticing their company looks to job seekers. Company blogs are excellent tools to show off all accomplishments. Reading a post that a company just received an award or was featured on a “Best Places to Work” list increases my interest in learning more about the company.

I was viewing a twitter account that is dedicated to posting jobs North Carolina and found that the account was live tweeting an awards ceremony. With each announcement of a winner, the twitter handle also included a link to the official website and stated whether or not they were hiring. I was able to access so many different companies in the area because of this event. The twitter account helped get business names out there I never would have heard of otherwise.

There is a lot to keep up with when using social media as a PR tool for an organization, but leaders with a strong online presence will reap the benefits of online connectivity. As long as posts are informative, professional, and sincere, customers will continue their interest and support for a company.

Step into a Leader’s Shoes

Building on last week’s topic of the diffusion of innovations, this week’s topic is on interpersonal communication and opinion leaders.There are certain steps each new idea goes through before it reaches a wide audience. These steps involve interactions not only within an organization, but with outside consumers as well. Why do some products trend more than others? How do companies keep their customers interested? Communication is an extremely large factor in elevating public interest, and there is much behind the scenes work in getting the right information out there.

Word of mouth (WOM) communication is a powerful tool for in sales. In fact, Okazaki states in his study using the social influence model that as much as “67% of sales of consumer goods are based on personal information sources.” WOM was increased with the Internet sensation, but has now reached a new level through mobile devices. Consumers can take these mobile devices anywhere, so what better strategy than to have mobile advertisements and information readily available to anyone, anywhere?

Ford embraced mobile WOM by rewarded active social media users with a free Ford Fiesta. It is safe to say that receiving a free car will get a customer to talk about a company’s product. However, it is important for a company to do more than a one social media campaign. A company cannot just have one big social media event and think it will stay relevant in this fast-paced world. Starbucks has succeeded in the art of social media posts that continually impact the in-store experience. They have revamped their pages to invite customers to share their ideas, as well as to announce in-store promotions on each of these sites. The pages are thriving on the idea of a social culture and influence: friends will go to the coffee shop together; an individual will go to see live music or attend a special event knowing people will be there.

Today was my last day as an intern at the Shoe Carnival corporate office. To say the past five months have been a learning experience would be an understatement. Working in the corporate office allowed me to see how everything in each department comes together to ensure success in the stores. Shoe Carnival has mastered the art of interpersonal influence by supporting the community and participating in nationwide charities. The company is also run by opinion leaders, those who aren’t afraid to try out the next big thing, or those who have a strong influence on others.

Simon Sinek’s TED Talk discusses the attributes that make a great leader. Throughout the talk he repeats the idea that “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” Shoe Carnival’s leaders are more than willing to try something new to improve their stores and give families more opportunities for affordable merchandise. Their stores are expanding to states they have never inhibited before, and their advertisements have recently reached a national level. Their Instagram account is updated weekly along with fresh Facebook posts. They have also adopted better shipping techniques to ensure customers will get their products in a timely matter. The biggest change seen in the stores is the increased amount of higher quality brands over the past year. Many were concerned introducing higher-priced brands would take away from the affordable, family values, but they found a way to bring higher end brands to more affordable prices. The company is truly thinking from the inside out by focusing on the purpose of their shoe sales, and not just the fact that they have products.

An Instagram post showing off a variety of boot choices and inviting users to talk about what they like

An Instagram post showing off a variety of boot choices and inviting users to talk about what they like best. 

Shoe Carnival is known to be a family-friendly store, and the company takes pride in its family values. How do customers know about these values? When you enter a Shoe Carnival store you will see a basketball shooting game for children/teens to play. Each store features a person on a microphone that announces deals and a wheel for customers to spin to receive additional savings. This fun atmosphere is directed towards families and makes their shopping experience more enjoyable. I have friends who have never set foot in a store, and when I told them about the Mic Person and the spinning wheel, they said they had to see it. Even something as small as describing an atmosphere of a place allows interpersonal communication to influence someone’s decision to enter a store.

wheel

The company also engages in a variety of community events. Shoe Carnival supports charities that are centered on families and children. For example, in Evansville, IN, where the corporate office is located, there is an organization called CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates), which provides guardian ad litems for foster children. Each year Shoe Carnival hosts a Walk the Runway event where they have school aged children modeling the latest fashion trends in shoes. Shoe Carnival employees volunteer to run the show and handle the silent auction and donation tables. Their logo is posted on the volunteers’ t-shirts and on banners throughout the event.

This year an incredible thing happened. Once the show was over, an auctioneer came onto the runway to offer a testimony and ask for donations starting at $1,000 and counting down. A man in the crowd suddenly raised his hand to speak, so the auctioneer handed him the microphone. This man began to talk about how he’s been shopping at Shoe Carnival for years and felt they always had the best prices and deals. His story ended with the following sentence: “Over the years I’ve probably saved up $10,000 by shopping the deals at Shoe Carnival. If Shoe Carnival supports this organization, it must be good, so tonight I would like to donate $10,000 to CASA.”

You can imagine the chills that ran throughout the building and the jaws that dropped! This man felt grateful to Shoe Carnival and passed his gratefulness onto a valued, non-for-profit organization. This also inspired even more people to donate, and CASA is proud to report they shot past their donation goals. CASA took time to post on their Facebook page to thank Shoe Carnival for being the title sponsor. All of this attention and WOM posting has made Shoe Carnival’s reputation stronger. Once again, “people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”

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Shoe Carnival shows leadership in the world of family-friendly retail through the store environment, merchandise, marketing, and by WOM from community events. Businesses that aren’t afraid to try new strategies and participate in the community will consistently attract valuable customers.

Communicating New Ideas

Greetings bloggers!

I started this blog 10 weeks ago for my Emerging Media class as part of my Masters of Science in Strategic Communications program. My posts centered on new media platforms that strategic communicators must adopt in order to succeed in the professional world. Now it is time to look at the leaders who are pushing forward with new technologies. This week I have just begun a new class: Leadership and Media Strategies. Leaders know that hiding behind the “We’ve always done it this way” attitude will do more harm than good. 

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We are in a world that is constantly on the verge of adopting the next big thing! I will discuss how communication has changed and the benefits and challenges of these changes. I will be sure to include links to weekly readings discussed in class. As a reminder, if you wish to follow or bookmark my blog the address is:

http://www.rmscib.wordpress.com

We will begin discussion of leadership and media strategies with a frequently referenced theory: Diffusion of Innovations. Dr. Everett M. Rogers defines diffusion as “the process by which an innovation is communicated through certain channels over time among the members of a social system.” Basically how do ideas not only spread, but stay relevant? There are multiple moving parts to diffusion. First, knowledge of a new innovation must reach an audience. Then after being persuaded to use that innovation, a member of the audience decides to accept it, implement it into his or her own life, and evaluate its results. Sharing information and persuasive results is done through a number of communication channels such as commercials, social media postings, news stories, and peer-to-peer conversations. Think of the amount of trends that have made their way into our lives, and how certain products had to adapt or be forgotten? One example in the journalism world that I talked about in my first post was how newspapers are moving to online versions and apps. 

The way the audience becomes aware of an innovation and decides to use it happens in shifts. This article gives a great summary about each type of user: Innovators, Early Adopters, Early Majority, Late Majority, and Laggards. The titles of these groups are pretty self-explanatory. The innovators are those who are always thinking of the next big thing or next useful tool. Those who adopt this innovation first are the Early adopters, and the the early majority and late majority follow in line after them. Laggards have the traditional view and often see more risk of innovations than benefits. Strategic communicators should know how to reach out to each of these groups in order to for them to accept the innovation. Think about what each group needs and establish a plan to

diffusion

A business that holds this variety of people on their staff can succeed in releasing a new product or idea because it will go through the whole process internally before reaching the public audience. From the innovators, to those who are ready to accept it, to those who are supportive but may need a little more convincing, to those who want to discuss risks, these employees all help the company to stay grounded and efficient. 

When Amazon came out with their Kindle I was pretty much in the laggard category. As an English major and self-titled “biggest lover of books, of all time, ever,” I found the idea of reading a complete novel on a screen repulsive. Why was everyone so obsessed with technology that the value of holding a new book was lost?

My dad and I were Christmas shopping for my mom and I saw an advertisement for the Kindle. I quickly scoffed and said to my dad “I can’t believe that’s a thing. I would never replace a good book with a dumb screen!” My dad just nodded without comment. Well wouldn’t you know it, Christmas morning I open up my last gift and inside is a Kindle. My dad laughed a little bit and said, “Sorry.” My mom defended herself by saying phrases like “I thought it would be perfect because you love books!” and “All the commercials and reviews say it’s so good!” I felt like the worst person, and I was determined to give it a try for the sake of my parents.

Fast forward to today and I have 38 books and counting. I absolutely love it! As soon as I finish one book, I can immediately by another one! It’s especially perfect when reading a series—no mid-trilogy cliffhangers for me! It fits right in my purse, so it is especially perfect for traveling. I realized the benefits of the Kindle and now I recommend it to anyone. Currently, I am trying to convince one of my coworkers to get one because she says she likes reading but always forgets to buy books when she’s out shopping. Stay tuned to see if this peer-to-peer persuasion works.

My personal Kindle: the older version that prevents glare while you read. I love it.

My personal Kindle: the older version that prevents glare while you read. I love it.

The other point worth mentioning in this story is the fact that age was not the main factor with sticking to tradition here. My parents, who were not born in a technology-centered world, actually accepted this innovation before I did.

Social media is also a key communication channel to spread new ideas. One of my friends posted a picture of herself on Instagram saying she used the “Serena filter” on the Social Light app. Never hearing of this photo editor before, I went to the App Store and typed in the name and sure enough the first version was released October 5th. It only has 41 reviews and all of them are positive. This app has come at the right time because high society city life (re: Gossip Girl) has become a popular online trend. The app is also designed for those who are constantly on-the-go which is also relevant to the fast-paced lifestyle of the new generation. My friend is the first person in my “social circle” to use this app, and based on the amount of comments she already has, she has most likely set the trend. I have no doubt her followers will start downloading the app. How many photo editing apps can one possibly have, you ask? In a world where photography, selfies, and Instagram are dominating hobbies, people will try any new app at least once and see how they like it.

Strategic communicators and leaders must come up with fresh ideas that are relevant and useful to a wide audience. Innovators are constantly reshaping the ways of the world, and some of them that may have seemed so out of the box are regularly used today. Communication through mass media and interpersonal ties is crucial with spreading new innovations.

The Future Starts Today

Attention all smartphone users: Raise your hand if you’ve ever had a flip phone.

Attention all FaceTime users: Raise your hand if you remember when a phone call was the only option to talk over distance.

Attention all bloggers: Raise your hand if you’ve ever kept a written journal.

Attention all Pandora Radio/iPod users: Raise your hand if you remember your first boom box/portable CD player.

Attention all Facebook users: Raise your hand if you used to log on AIM every day.

Attention everyone: Raise your hand if you are ready for what is next with communicative technology and emerging media.

techhand-580x386

There should be a lot of hands raised. The future of technology is limitless and exciting. Think of the technology that seems so normal to you now, and then think of a time when you did not have it. It is so easy to take smartphones or the GPS for granted today because they seem like normal, everyday items to own. However, they are not normal devices. They are advanced- an evolution from an earlier product. Soon the world will be filled with other “normal” devices that will do things we cannot imagine. I can barely wrap my head around products like Google Glass. There are products that are ready to let us dive into virtual realities. There are products that allow us to share our information more than ever, and connect with our friends, family, and loved ones.

We can now say a short phrase to our phone and instantly get turn-by-turn directions to anywhere. Directors can film movies in a single studio that take place all over the world thanks to green screens and CGI. A job seeker can post an online resume and gain access to jobs anywhere around the globe. Everything is instant and convenient. The Internet and the World Wide Web have opened up doors for everyone.

Strategic communicators cannot fall behind on all of the effective tools for human connection. There are so many tools out there that will increase productivity. Check out sites such as Wired, Businesses Insider, CNN Tech, and more. There will always be technology innovations that will improve conversation.

Businesses have so many new options to connect with their customers. They can post on social media, offer e-commerce options, create apps, and anything else to get names and brands out there. Businesses can inform customers of their brand in a variety of ways: participating in live tweeting, creating a company hashtag, and sharing employee experiences through a company blog. The amount of time people are spending on their phones and tablets is only increasing, so there is an advantage to having a strong online presence.

I am finishing my first term in my graduate program and I cannot believe how much I have learned in just nine weeks. I am excited to continue learning throughout the program, and sharing information on this blog. There is so much out there for us to discover now, and so much more to come later. Stay tuned, strategic communicators. If you think it’s crazy to picture a world of holograms and advanced artificial intelligence, take a look at what AT&T predicted in the early 90’s and see what they got right.

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