strategic communication

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

Archive for the tag “blog”

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.

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.

Growing up in the Digital World

Looking back on previous posts about mobile use, social media, blogging, and technology tools, I now realize there is a generation that has been born into all of this. Children and teens today have always lived in a world of instant accessibility through the Internet. All of these strategies for going mobile and posting on social media are practically embedded in their brains from an early stage.

Alison Gopnik’s TED Talk presented some fascinating evidence on how children naturally use problem solving strategies. In one experiment, a four-year-old boy was asked to figure out how to make a block light up. The child actually tried five different methods, rationalizing aloud as he did so, and finally figured it out. The curiosity of a child is a wonderful thing, and it can be taken even further when using technology. This article on how the Internet is a major part of life claims that even if an older sibling shows a younger sibling the Internet, it is the younger sibling that becomes the “computer genius.” Another TED Talk by Sugata Mitra showed how children in India with no exposure to computers or the English language actually taught themselves how to browse the web and speak about 200 English words. Technology sparked their interest and motivated them to work until the reached success.

Children are quick to absorb technology. Almost anyone can share a story of seeing a toddler playing on a cellphone and figuring out how to open up game apps.

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With this instant exposure comes great responsibility for the guardians of these children. Parental control options and firewalls at school are some ways parents are attempting to protect children from suspect content. When I was completing my student teaching for my undergraduate degree, I constantly overheard students’ conversations about social media and the Internet. I used this information to create a lesson on the legitimacy of online resources. They were interested simply because they got to use computers in class, but the lesson is extremely important. Nowadays, high schools across the country are adopting the one-to-one initiative: one iPad, tablet, or laptop for each student. How can we deny children’s use of technology when it is being enforced in an institution where they spend most of their days?

The fact that I am enrolled in an online Master’s program shows how far technology can take us. I have had plenty of experience with technology ever since I was young and AIM was the coolest way to talk to my friends. I had no trouble transitioning to online classes, and those younger than me will most likely have exposure to online classes throughout their years of education. I have already seen many commercials for online K-12 schooling which shows how young this “online generation” really is.

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Elementary level students that use technology should use it in a way that promotes learning: reading apps, vocabulary apps, math games, etc. At school, teachers frequently monitor content when taking their kids to computer labs. One way to ensure young children are using the Internet safely at home is to bookmark their favorite websites that have been approved, and instruct them to go to the bookmarks to access this content. This prevents the child from having to type anything into the browser. As students enter adolescence, their schooling requires more use of the Internet. Research papers require the use of secondary sources, most of which are found online. It is absolutely crucial for all students to learn how to conduct professional and productive research while in school.

Outside of the fact that children are online for schooling purposes, there is, of course, the entire world of social media. Teens need a mode of self-expression, and have found the Web to be the perfect platform for it. Unfortunately, they are not protected by the privacy of a written diary, rather their posts and pictures are on the Internet for anyone to see. I remember when MySpace was huge. I believe the minimum age was 14 to sign up, and the site automatically made your profile private, or “friends only” until you were 16. Many students simply lied about their age, or just accepted every friend request that came their way. I remember making the decision to make my profile private even though I was old enough for it to be public. There were too many news stories about strangers trying to stalk people on social media. Stories like this still occur today, and it is important for children and teens to know so they can protect themselves online. Privacy settings have been a huge topic today, particularly with Facebook. Facebook has gone from no privacy, to some privacy, to it offering personal privacy settings.

Looking towards the future and how all of this relates to strategic communication, adolescents are currently developing their own personal brand on social media and personal blogs. They decorate their sites in a style that fits their personality, and recognize changing trends such as going from a colorful, sparkly layout to a very plain and simple layout. These adolescents post pictures that reflect their interests, and they keep up with their friends. They know what their friends want when it comes to online pages: comments, tagging, and interactive conversations. They feel they have to comment on other pages so that users will comment on their page. Major business strategies have been demonstrated: advertising a brand, keeping up with trends, and knowing target audiences.

Businesses will benefit from these technologically advanced youths in the future. Imagine a company trying to start up a social media platform. Recruiters for this businesses would quickly develop a pool of interested candidates, because that is something this new generation will know. There are certainly strategies to be learned for appropriate, effective practices online, but there are more people than ever who have online exposure than ever. These potential candidates can will just have to fine tune their previous knowledge instead of learning from the basics, allowing for more productive opportunities for the company.

Children and teens will continue to grow with technology for years to come. Parents, guardians, and educators must engage in open conversation about online use. We cannot protect them from everything, but we can try to ensure security through frequent monitoring and parental controls. There are no limits to what children can learn, and technology tools can enhance the overall learning experience.

Hype up the Crowd

A common theme throughout these blog posts is the power of a crowd. Businesses either thrive or suffer based on strong public opinions. Social media, blogs, and mobile phones allow people to not only have access to breaking stories, but to contribute information to the stories as well. Crowds can actually be used as valuable resources of both information and product promotion.

In its basic definition, crowdsourcing is pulling a wide amount of information from a large group of people. In many instances, this is conducted from the Internet. A Wired article describes an example of crowdsourcing by describing an instance where a project director, Claudia Menashe, was able to go to iStockPhoto and search through thousands of photos uploaded by users. Menashe then chose as many photos as she liked, each one only costing a small fee. Instead of relying on finding a professional photographer, she went to a place where thousands of users willingly posted their work. This process was easy, inexpensive, and productive. With more sites thriving on communities and allowing users to upload original content, there is a good chance anyone can find useful information. Photographers are motivated to keep posting their work because of the idea of being chosen. This enthusiasm means unlimited resources for those searching for the perfect stock photo.

Paul Lewis explains in his TED Talk instances in which crowdsourcing helped The Guardian obtain necessary details on two different stories involving causes of death: Ian Tomlinson and Jimmy Mubenga. Both deaths were the result of something happening in font of witnesses, and in both instances the whole truth was being withheld from the public. Lewis and his team went to Twitter and received first-hand accounts of both causes of death. One bystander actually had video proof of police brutality causing the death of Tomlinson. These situations show that professional journalists have struggled with not having all of the resources for their stories. Their knowledge can be limited to time and space if they do not know how to effectively seek out information. Luckily, the Internet has created global communities and offers sites where people can share information quicker than ever. Lewis and his team were able to find first-hand accounts just from inquiring on social media.

Sometimes it may seem that crowdsourcing is too good to be true. There are instances where crowds are responsible for misinformation, such as the spread of hoax stories. The article “Who the Hell Writes Wikipedia, Anyway?” shows that experts take time to write majority of the content on its pages. Professionals who work for the site simply edit links and conduct minor tweaks, but the bulk of information we read was written by someone from the crowd. Chances are if someone is taking enough time to write an encyclopedia article on the subject, one must have a strong background in the matter. Many may take comfort in the statistics that show most people who take time to post online are highly educated professionals. However, it is up to the person seeking out information to always double check any sources.

One of my friends wanted to see what happens when one attempts to update Wikipedia. He found an article on a public figure and made a change on the whereabouts of this person. Immediately, he received an e-mail regarding his change. The e-mail asked for more information on why he made the change, and if he had any sources or proof. My friend realized that the posts are constantly monitored for accuracy. He chose not to respond to the e-mail, and his edit was removed. While Wikipedia is frequently debated on its basis of a credibility, it is using crowdsourcing to obtain information just like major news sources will do.

Because there is no limit to the possibilities that can come from a large group of people with freedom and a voice, it is important to implement crowdsourcing in an appropriate strategy based on achievable goals. Businesses looking to promote their product and keep up with current trends would be best advised to use an open call strategy inviting everyone to participate in the gathering of information. Using the Internet for an open call would be the best way to attract a large crowd. One study specifically mentions the concept of Co-creation along with open call crowdsourcing. Co-creation not only asks customers for their opinions on products, it actually involves them in the process and makes them feel like they are part of something with a purpose.

American Idol owes its long-run success to crowdsourcing. There was a time when it was the most popular, high-rated show on television. They premised their show on the fact that anyone could audition to be the next big pop star. Those uninterested in the spotlight still had the opportunity to choose the winner by casting their votes each week. The producers behind the show went to the crowd for resources: participants, voters, commentators. So many shows took this idea and created their own reality show with voting such as The Voice and Dancing with the Stars.

Last year, American Idol took the concept of crowdsourcing and co-creation even further. Relying on its own popularity as well as the fan bases of Coca-Cola and singer Carly Rae Jepsen, the ultimate user experience was created with the Perfect Harmony Project. Each week leading up to the American Idol finale, viewers were able to use Facebook to vote on song lyrics for Jepsen’s new single. Not only was this project a goal for increasing viewership, but it also served as a productive way to create something new: a song. Their strategy was also smart in that they relied on the motivation of the crowd, but did not give the crowd complete control. Voting on pre-made lyrics was a much more organized approach than having thousands of users attempt to come up with their own words.

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Notice how the ads enhance crowd enthusiasm by reiterating that they helped create a new song! The countdown for the poll also pushes for voters to participate quickly to ensure their vote is submitted.

Businesses can adapt similar strategies by having their consumers vote on new products. Some can even try holding contests in which customers create their own product to be sold by the brand, similar to Lays chips and TOMS Shoes. Customer excitement is valuable when using crowdsourcing, because the enthusiastic individuals will be willing to do their best to achieve the company’s goal.

It is important to promote organizations in a way that will get crowds excited. Businesses should focus on how their product can be used in everyday life. Does their product work well in social settings? Does it work for the greater good of the world? Does it make people feel better about themselves? One way to find out answers to these questions is to ask the crowd. Once a community is established about a certain product, the organization can then involve that crowd in a variety of promotional activities. If a crowd is passionate, their own motivation will go a long way for the success of an organization.

I’m bloggin’ it

Just like that: I have a blog.

My name is Rachel, and I am currently working towards a Master’s degree in Strategic Communication through Troy University. I am excited for the opportunity to discuss emerging media through a blog because it provides an opportunity to explore another tool in the digital age. This summer I am interning in the Human Resources department for Shoe Carnival, Inc. as an assistant to the Corporate Recruiter. My primary duties include developing a pool of qualified candidates by reviewing resumes and conducting pre-screen interviews, and recommending the strongest candidates to hiring managers. The most significant factor throughout the hiring process is communication. Relevant written information presented on a resume along with the quality of a phone conversation determine an applicant’s chance at getting the job.

The world of strategic communication and emerging media is constantly expanding. There are so many trends, topics, and cause-and-effect discussions that arise when diving into how emerging media affects today’s world. The purpose of this blog is to contribute to the conversation. Each week I will post on topics relating to strategic communication and emerging media. I will provide sources from articles, journals, and videos in order to comment on the ever pressing digital age, and what it means for society. If there is a hot topic in this field that evokes questions and discussions, I will be blogging about it.

If you are interested in following my weekly updates or would like to join in on the discussion, feel free to bookmark this page at https://rmscib.wordpress.com

Why a blog? Why communication? Emerging media is changing many of the ways we reach out to one another. in 2012 42 million blogs were published in WordPress and 329 million people claimed they viewed a blog. Blogs are becoming increasingly popular due to accessibility and the lack of restriction on length for posting compared to other online sites.  Businesses can share information with their consumers, and people can use blogs to express whatever they want and put it in the mercy of millions of strangers on the Internet. Some may find posting on the Web terrifying, while others are too busy updating all of their other apps that put their information into cyberspace.

Digital media has offered hundreds of platforms to keep individuals connected, but are they really communicating?

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George Bernard Shaw’s quote is like a punch in the stomach. How many times have I or my peers texted, posted, or shared something without getting the intended message across? I can think of numerous situations in which miscommunication actually amplified what would have otherwise been a small problem. There is a sort of block that comes with digital conversations as opposed to face-to-face or phone conversations. Web-based content is open to interpretation in terms of how the reader establishes tone based on the writer’s word choice or use of punctuation. It is my hope that as I continue with the Strategic Communication program I will learn strategies that I can share on this page in order to improve communication as a whole.

This discussion of digital media raises an essential question: Are traditional media dying?

Traditional media includes television, newspapers, magazines, and radio. Today more people are discovering that for every form of traditional media, there is a digital media format. Online radio, online television, and online news are topping the charts with high consumer demands. With so many options for instant news, one may be quick to think there is no hope for traditional media. However, when the Internet is in a frenzy over the next big story, there is  a need for the credibility of traditional media. Traditional media are not giving up the fight just yet, rather they are picking up a new strategy to stay relevant.

I want to start this topic with a personal experience from the beginning of this week. The world was faced with the news of the tragic death of actor Robin Williams. The first word I received about this news was a text message from a friend on Monday evening. Once I read it, I immediately pulled up my Google app on my cell phone and typed “Robin Williams.” Only one article came up stating that the actor was found dead. I refreshed the search results and the article was gone. I refreshed again and there were four articles all claiming he had passed away. My mom was in the room with me, and when I told her the news she grabbed the remote and turned the television to CNN. We waited about ten minutes and sure enough: breaking news announcing his death.

When I think about that sequence of events, I realize how much of an impact digital media has as a source of information. A text message, to a Google search, to an online article was the path I took to confirm the news was true. My mom chose to go straight to television. Each of us had our own method of finding the most credible source, and it is interesting to observe the mediums we chose. There is significance in the fact that my mom is part of a different generation and that she chose television over digital media.

A Pew study found that while television news sources have consistently been the most widespread, only 34% of viewers were younger than 30. In fact, 29% of people under the age of 25 did not receive any news (traditional or digital) in a single day. My mom is in the majority age group of those who prefer to get their news from television sources and generation needs traditional media. When finding out about Robin Williams , she still thought to turn to the TV even though she has an iPad, and I read her details from an online article. I stopped searching for confirmation of his death at the article, while she went one extra step to one more, faithful source. Watching CNN turned into an hour long event as we watched the details come together, and I realized I had put my phone down in order to focus on the reporter’s information. Suddenly, television news became my credible source and was what I used for material when continuing the conversation with my friend.

The 18-25 age group, commonly referred to as Millennials, is the turning point for traditional media. Another study in 2012 showed that 33% of Americans under the age of 30 used social media to get their news. When interviewing Americans who are active on social media, 36% (a 17% increase) stated they received news from social networks.

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Whether users are active on social networking or not, the graphic above shows more people are exposed to some form of news on a social networking site. However, a study by USC Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism reported 51% of users of social media users recognized that a only very small portion of news posted on sites such as Facebook or Twitter is completely reliable. This recognition is important because these users must turn to another news source to find the most accurate details. A survey by Knowledge Networks claimed “60 percent of people said they turn to an established outlet as their “second source” to learn more.”  Established outlets such as CNN or the New York Times are still valuable news sources, showing that traditional media are oftentimes useful for accuracy checks.

Statistics have shown the beating traditional media has received in the last five years, yet traditional media are not totally obsolete. Newspapers are now charging for online, digital content. An online newspaper offers the same printed content as a physical newspaper. People who read online newspapers know they are reading a newspaper and can distinguish newspaper articles from other web articles. Some argue that a newspaper is still a newspaper even if it is online. So far, there is not a frontrunner in online news that started completely online. When nationwide or global events occur, long-running news sources such as the New York Times, CNN and Fox News are used both offline and online because they have established credibility.

In what appears to be a completely digital world, traditional media are not yet “dying.” Media are re-inventing their original content and purpose into a form that Millennials will appreciate.

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