strategic communication

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

Archive for the tag “digital media”

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.

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

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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.

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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.

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.

Bring Your Brand to Life

A successful business or organization owes much of its accomplishments to good branding. Brands are how people find out about services. One may have a great organization, but without a strong brand and clean reputation, the organization will never be seen. What are some ways brands can be used to promote a product or organization?

By definition, a brand is used to “evoke…a certain personality, presence, and product or service performance.” A Business Insider article instructs that the meaning behind a brand must “fulfill a specific unmet need in a well-defined target audience, AND be perceived as special and valuable.”  These two sources stress the importance of not only establishing what you want your brand to be, but to prove to the audience the importance of your brand and how it is relevant to them. Unique brands that take time to reach out to customers are working toward establishing trustworthiness.

One of the most important factors for companies to add value to their brands is to develop a strong social media presence. As I have previously mentioned, avoiding where technology is harmful. The more digital, mobile, and social the world is becoming, the more important it is for brands to adapt to these platforms. Individuals will avoid waiting in line for customer service, or dialing multiple extensions for help if they can. Social media has made brands seem that much closer to customers. The concept of i-Branding features four pillars that all companies should keep in mind:

  1. Understanding the Customer
  2. Marketing Communications
  3. Interactivity
  4. Content

PRNewser posted an article titled “10 Brands That Do Customer Service Right on Twitter.” Each brand mentioned in the article provides examples of responding to customer complaints, questions, and compliments on Twitter. These brands have succeeded in using the four pillars of i-Branding. The fact that someone from any part of the world can communicate with a brand is amazing. Brands that actively participate in conversations with customers show that they really do care what the customer thinks of them, and will work to fix any problems that arise. In 2013, @XboxSupport claimed to hold the “Guinness World Record for ‘most responsive Twitter feed’” and account holders reply to tweets from customers every minute.

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A company’s brand can also use Twitter to promote their new product in a humorous way. The key to these brands having successful Twitter accounts is that they are creating personable and unique characters that relate to customers. People love positive energy, so bringing a brand to life with an enthusiastic personality is great for promotions.

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Oreo tweeted this during the Super Bowl XLVII blackout and immediately became an Internet sensation

Oreo tweeted this during the Super Bowl XLVII blackout and immediately became an Internet sensation.

Sometimes a little bit goes a long way on Twitter. Tim Leberecht mentions that a brand is what people are saying about you when you are not in the room. He continues by stating the importance of simply helping customers and employees to establish a positive reputation. For example, someone was having a bad day and venting on Twitter, and a flower company offered to send that person a free bouquet. Imagine how that person must have felt, and how positive that person’s perception of that company is now! Even if a company cannot offer a concrete product, a simply acknowledgment will suffice. One humorous example is my friend tweeting at the official account for Moe’s Southwest Grill. She tweeted that the Moe’s she went into did not give her the traditional “Welcome to Moe’s!” greeting as she entered the store. Shortly after she tweeted, they replied a personal apology on behalf of that store. She laughed at how serious Moe’s takes their welcome greeting and retweeted it so all of her followers could see the reply. Brands like those of fast food places benefit from reaching out to their customers because it is not always expected, but can be enjoyable.

The Shorty Awards honor the best brands on social media. The 2014 Shorty Award for Best Brand on Twitter is American Express. Reasons for this win ranged from business propositions to personal connections with their customers and followers. Not only did American Express offer specialty prices for those who connected their cards with hashtags, they also hosted a Twitter party for its 163rd birthday. This party showed personalized birthday images from users who wished them a happy birthday. American Express successfully used Twitter to promote new ideas, and establish a strong sense of community with its users. American Express clearly used the four pillars I previously mentioned: they understand customers want convenience and rewards when shopping, they advertise promotions on Twitter, they interact with customers in celebration of a birthday party, and their content is both informing and engaging. The Shorty Awards feature many more nominees of brands that are excelling on social media. It is worth it to take a look and take note of their success!

There is clear evidence how social media helps promote brands, but establishing a social media presence can be difficult. The American Red Cross uses social media to engage in customer relationships and recruit young volunteers. Social media strengthened their relationship with customers and kept them informed by posting information on upcoming events. It clearly improved its brand by being able to reach all of its customers through its Twitter and Facebook pages. However, they reported the struggle with limited time and staff available for keeping up with their pages. A Midwest participant said their region struggles with keeping social media a priority because of lack of staff. Other participants say they simply forget about bookmarked pages.

My recommendation for companies that are trying to establish their brand on social media is to reach out to young volunteers. Most college Communication programs require students to complete an internship. A company would truly benefit from offering a position such as a social media intern because they would be hiring someone who has studied current trends and will work for school credit. Free work along with ideas from someone who knows the best strategies sounds like a win-win for any company. Furthermore, there are recent graduates who are looking work to help them gain experience. These graduates will most likely be interested in an internship so they showcase their talents. A company can hire an intern and if there are clear benefits from the intern’s work, then the company may find value in offering the intern a full time position. Internships prevent staff from being spread too thin and offer learning opportunities for both students and employers.

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Branding and digital advertising go hand in hand today. To show that your brand has personality and value, you must promote it in a way to reach the highest volume of customers. Businesses should make their brands accessible on social media and show customers they are reading and willing to provide the best products and services.

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