Monday, December 29, 2008

Four reasons Peter Shankman is a genius

It's ridiculous to even infer that there is any limit to Peter Shankman's brilliance. For full disclosure, not he's not paying me. I'm not a long-lost relative. And I'm not a personal friend.

But I am a fan. A big fan.

For those of you who were online late last week, you know @skydiver held giveways literally every 10 minutes for those unfortunate souls stuck in the office on Christmas and the day after Christmas. Genius idea. Great for Shankman (he got to de-clutter his desk) and key to HARO's future success. Why?

1--He catered to his key audience. @skydiver now has 19,000-plus followers on Twitter. How many do you think were working Thurs/Fri? I'm guessing more than a few. How many of those folks work in media relations/PR? I can't speak for the media folks, but we PR peeps need all the free stuff we can get. Most importantly, he knew his audience of Tweeple would all be experiencing a slow work day so he'd have their undivided attention. He knew his audience, understood their frustrations (working on Christmas-big bummer) and needs (free stuff) and what would pique their interest. relations colleagues, sound familiar?

2--He created a whole new legion of HARO followers, believers and advocates. If you visit you'll see his first-hand account of his original plan for the giveaway and the initial reaction. After his announcement on Christmas Eve, he suddenly had 400 new Twitter followers. That's 400 more people to help spread the HARO message and further the HARO--and Shankman--brand. Pretty stellar result for someone who was just trying to de-clutter his desk by giving away some SWAG on a holiday.

3--He knows the word-of-mouth game. The brilliance behind this idea: the bulk of the folks who won those giveaways last week were media/PR types, right? Guess what the lion's share of media/PR types like to do? Communicate. Especially about products, services and experiences they've won recently. You're telling me whoever won that trip to Tahoe or those blacksmithing lessons isn't going to be talking about that to their friends, family and colleagues for the next six months. Great way to introduce the brands of the companies who donated items to the Tweeple masses and Shankman followers--creating a whole new slew of brand champions for these organizations.

4--He's not afraid to try new things. For a day-and-a-half, Peter held the giveaway all on Twitter. Enter @brianshaler. Suddenly, we had a live stream of "two guys and a couch" (if you followed, you understand that reference). For those of you who know or have met @skydiver, he's an engaging fellow, which is why the video was so powerful. In a matter of minutes, it went from online giveaway to interactive entertainment experience. Not all of it was riveting. But it was funny, human (you could actually see him realizing he messed up with the final answer) and honest (can't hide from the camera). In any case, the real lesson here is he wasn't afraid to try something new on the fly (fairly sure he wasn't planning to do that--then again, I could be wrong). As companies navigate this unsettled economy, they may start implementing strategies and tactics they once thought to be impossible, ineffective or risky to build their brands or jump-start revenues. Like Shankman, these organizations are going to take risks and try new approaches to reach their key audiences.

What do you think? Smart move by @skydiver? Lame self-promotional stunt? Typical Shankman? Or pure genius?

Sunday, December 28, 2008

My New Year's Resolutions: Five things I resolve not to do in 2009

As I thought about my resolutions for the new year, the garden variety goals came to mind: exercise more, eat better, spend more quality time with the kids, etc. But, there are a few others I've been kicking around that don't involve taking action. In fact, these five goals actually require a little different approach:

* I promise not to be "that guy"--Shannon Paul really put it best. As I continue to explore and engage in new social media tools online, I hope to build relationships within my preferred networks, be human (and hopefully, inspire a few laughs along the way), and promote others whenever possible. Not too tough, really.

* I won't have an intimate relationship with my Twitter account. Sometimes it seems we're all a little too close to our online activities. This was most evident to me over the long holiday weekend. Instead of spending quality time with the people that matter most to us, I noticed a number of folks active on Twitter, Facebook and other social networks online. Of course, I was out there, too (after all, how did I know the others were online?), so I'm just as guilty. But that's where my resolution comes in. Using Twitter, Facebook and other tools to develop relationships is great, but I also plan to get out of the house more and meet up with the great PR/marketing/communications minds in the Twin Cities in 2009, too. Nothing replaces good, old-fashioned face time.

* I won't do someting just because "that's the way we've always done it." This one applies not only to my professional life but my personal life. For example, I'm currently researching a way to listen to my music library throughout our home. Originally, I thought about the traditional approach and buying a new portable Bose Sounddock. But as I thought about it, what I really want is access to my expansive music collection in virtually every room of the house, without having to lug around the sounddock. I need a "wired" house--not a sounddock or a run-of-the-mill receiver and speakers. I'm guessing this is going to mean a fairly expensive trip to Best Buy in my near future. For business, this means not falling into the trap of taking the easy way out. I plan to challenge the status quo and never stop thinking of innovative solutions to my organization's communications challenges.

* I promise not to talk too much. Another goal with multiple applications. I need to be a better listener with my clients, my wife, my kids, my friends and my extended family in 2009. Why? Because good listeners are better friends, better dads, better husbands and better communicators. David Mullen seems to agree. Organizations should also make this a priority--listen more intently to your customers next year. Whether it's online through tools like Twitter or blogs or face-to-face through focus groups or personal one-on-one conversations, companies can learn a lot from their customers. Just ask Dell, Starbucks and Southwest Airlines.

* I will not go back to school. Ok that's an odd thing to say, right? Yeah, well I don't have an extra 15K lying around to pursue my MBA right now. Hey, you try it with two kids and 24K in annual daycare bills. What I will do, however, is passionately continue to learn. I hope to spend at least one hour online each night listening on Twitter, commenting on blogs I follow, developing my own blog content and discovering new tools. I plan to stay engaged in my local PRSA chapter as a board member where I've learned so much from so many smart people the last seven-plus years. And I plan to read feverishly. Books on my short list include Groundswell and Naked Conversations.

Those are my goals for 2009. What about you? What do you resolve not to do in the new year?

Monday, December 22, 2008

How are you cultivating your leadership skills?

It occurred to me the other day--at most companies (with one notable exception) I've worked with over the years, managers have been promoted more based on technical ability than leadership qualities.

Shouldn't those two characteristics be flipped?

Yes, we need our managers to be proficient at their craft--whether it's writing, welding or producing widgets. But, more importantly, don't we need them to be leaders that are driving our organization's strategies and furthering our vision? Don't we need them to have critical change management skills that are so vital in an economy and climate like the one we're experiencing right now? Don't we need them to be leaders who can build high-performing teams and bring people together--not folks who polarize and enjoy alone time in their offices?

In reality, we need them to be all these things and more, which is why management positions are so challenging. There are so many demands on your time--prioritization and organization are at a premium. Plus, there's the whole other element of employee retention. Want to keep and develop your top talent? Better make sure employees respect and enjoy working with their manager. After all, what's the saying, "people don't leave jobs, they leave managers." Powerful.

One of our roles as communicators is to help managers foster their leadership abilities when it comes to change management, team building and communications skills. But, as we're helping them become better leaders through our insightful counsel, what can we do to improve our own leadership skills?

* Take a couple leadership classes. I'm not saying stop pursuing your advanced degree in your specialized field--I'm just saying consider taking a course to better prepare you for the people management side of your position. If you really think about it, how much of your day is spent building consensus, persuading and navigating relationships? Take that side of the job seriously--your employees do.

* Learn from leaders past and present. Pick a leader--whether it's one within your company or Barack Obama. Present day or years ago. Doesn't matter. Just select someone you respect--and a leader with a style you'd like to mimic. Maybe it's your CEO. Maybe it's FDR. Whatever the case, start studying this leader and their traits--how do they communicate? how do they present to groups/teams? how to they learn from their mistakes?

* Read at least three books on leadership this year. Start with Lincoln. And you won't struggle to find books about the man's renowned leadership abilities. Find a more contemporary version, too. And learn. Get a few different perspectives to help you get a better handle on your own leadership style.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

We need online medicine--NOW!

OK, I'll admit, I have a vested interest in this topic as an employee of Fairview Health Services and as someone who needs to visit a physician soon (I may or may not have broken my pinkie earlier this week). That said, as health care providers, insurance companies and government entities look for ways to transform the health care system, I make this plea: Make it happen--faster!

Why? Quite simply, the "Facebook generation" will demand it. Heck, I'm demanding it. And if my local provider can't figure it out soon, I'm going to Google for my health care needs (as soon as they figure it out, which I'm guessing should be any day now). Anyway, as always, I have a few ideas:

* Online chats with providers to address simple ailments. Similar to the MinuteClinic model, couldn't we develop a model where you could chat online with a doc by IM about basic ailments--ear infections, colds, broken pinkies, etc. Just identify a few physicians on a rolling schedule who would be responsible for connecting with patients online all day. One doc could actually interact with multiple patients at once. Why not--it's called multi-tasking, right? Not sure how we'd reimburse for care in this kind of model, but as has always been the case, industry would find a way.

* Health care Twitter feeds. Wouldn't you sign up to follow a Twitter account that fed you useful health care facts and tips? Five ways to help reduce the duration of your child's cold. Three tips to help you run more and suffer less from joint pain. You get the idea. The tweets could include a quick tip and "point" to a blog post for more information. Mayo Clinic (big surprise) is already doing this--kinda. Like that old public service statement, "the more you know..."

* Virtual visits with providers. We almost have the technology to pull this off now. Tools like Second Life are in relative infancy. When they mature, which is not as far off as you might think, this becomes a very real possibility. The other option--video conferencing. You could visit with your doctor through tools like Skype--look your doc in the eye, ask questions, show your doc a rash, etc. It could be fairly interactive using today's technology with the promise of a whole new experience in the future using virtual tools.

What are your thoughts?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Why you need to hire Curious George

I'm here to tell you that you need to hire Curious George.

No, not the actual monkey. But people like Curious George. Whether you're building an agency or corporate communications department or rounding out your marketing team, you need more Curious George's on your squad.


* Curious people are innovators and trailblazers. Don't you want people like this on your team? People who constantly question the status quo and challenge decisions are more likely to help you improve processes, build better teams and drive results.

* Curious people are fast learners. In this climate of change, you need folks on your team who can learn new skills. Fast. When the winds of change shift within your organization, you need players who can move quickly and take on new roles and projects--work that often requires them to learn new skill sets at lightspeed.

* Curious people are early adopters. Think about Twitter. How many people do you know who use the tool? Would you consider them curious, by nature? Curious people have a desire--no, a need--to try new things and use new technologies before anyone else. These folks are not only adopting these new technologies faster than others, but they're also learning how to implement those tools in the right situations--before anyone else.

* Curious people have great client service skills. Inquisitive people ask more questions--and that's a valuable skill when dealing with clients. Asking questions and seeking additional information can help you identify needs, barriers and challenges when you're putting together marketing and communications plans with clients.

* Curious people are strong team players. Think about the last really good conversation you had with a friend or colleague. They probably asked you a bunch of questions to start the discussion, right? Curious people use questions to start conversations and build relationships. After all, the more you learn about someone the closer you will feel to that person, right?

How many Curious George's do you have on your team?

Friday, December 12, 2008

Why your organization's intranet should act, feel and function like your Web site

Quick question: Does your company's intranet act, feel and function like your external Web site?

Unless you work for Best Buy or a handful of other Twin Cities companies, the likely answer is no. 


A litany of excuses exist--lack of resources, lack of commitment, lack of agreement between communications, IT and HR departments. Take your pick. Regardless, not having a progressive, more "social" intranet site is hurting your company--and your employee pride and engagement.

Employees expect company intranets to act, feel and function just like external Web sites. They want to be able to share and rank content. Share photos. And post comments to stories, articles and blog posts. All things they can do on the Web. 

And why shouldn't they? Shouldn't your company be communicating with your employees the same way you communicate with your customers? Isn't that just as important, if not more? Don't your employees serve as the front lines to your customers? Aren't they your primary brand champions? 

Think about Facebook for a moment. You know a lot about your "friends" on Facebook, right? You know their birthdays, their interests, their hobbies, their kids names--and you're able to view photos of all these folks and communicate with them in real time with a few simple clicks.

Now, think about your organization's intranet--does it function the same way? 

You may not have this kind of functionality on your intranet right now--but your employees expect you to. And when you don't, what do they do? They go on Facebook, LinkedIn, blogs and Twitter each night to connect with friends, family and coworkers. 

So, what can you do--especially in this resource-constrained economy? Here are a few quick, easy and relatively affordable strategies:

* Give employees the ability to build their own profile--add photos, share interests and hobbies and update contact info. Basic information, but it will empower your employees and allow them to connect in ways you may have never thought of.

* Give employees the ability to rank content. The "folksonomy" approach. Think Amazon. By giving your employees the opportunity to rank articles, stories and videos on your intranet, you'll be able to determine exactly what they're interested in and tailor your approach in the future.

* Give employees the ability to connect with other employees--quickly and efficiently. This might mean providing IM, Yammer or video chat capabilities. The upside of this approach? You'll take the heat off email--and who doesn't want that with many folks receiving upwards of 200 emails a day? And in the process, you'll improve employee productivity.

Implementing some of these basic first steps may not get you all the way to Web 2.0 status, but it will help you engage your internal stakeholders more effectively and connect them in new and different ways.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Why engage in social media?

Two recent examples of why it pays to engage in social media--even on a personal level:

* My post earlier this week, "Are you really engaging your fan base?" drew an email from my friend, Tom Snee, who works for the University of Iowa. We had some good banter about the issues facing academic institutions when it comes to engaging their alumni. However, in one of his emails, he mentinoed he went to school with Vince Flynn, the Minnesota-based author, and passed along some interesting nuggets about his experience with Vince. Why is this relevant? Because I'm a huge Vince Flynn fan. How did he know that? He obviously took a few minutes to look over my Facebook profile and check out my interests. Kudos, Tom.

Media relations pros could learn a thing or two from Tom's approach when approaching non-traditional media outlets. Starting a blogger outreach campaign? Start by researching the blogger, finding out what interests him/her and reading his/her blog (you can frequently find most of this information right on their blog). You'd be surprised how much a little extra time and work can pay off.

* Earlier this week I sent an email to the marketing director at BlendTec in Utah--the makers of the wildly popular Will it Blend? series. My four-year-old son and I watch the videos virtually every night--it's become somewhat of a bedtime ritual for us. My son's a huge fan--to the point that he knows many of the videos by name and has actually become a Weezer fan as a result (those WIB fans out there know what I'm talking about). Anyway, I wrote this gentleman an email telling him we enjoyed the videos, to keep up the good work and to let me know if he'd ever be interested in featuring their youngest fan in a future video. Hey, it never hurts to ask, right? He responded the next day with a well-crafted email saying he appreciated the note and that he would find some WIB swag and personalize it for my son. Wow--a simple gesture that will surely pay off. OK, so my son may not run out and buy a BlendTec blender tomorrow, but I do tell anyone who will listen about BlendTec and its YouTube videos because of my experience with the company.

This example demonstrates the larger point of listening to your customers and taking even the smallest actions to make them happy. This gentleman could have easily ignored my email, but he knew from the content of my message that I was clearly an engaged WIB "fan" and that a little would go a long ways with me and my son. He was right. Can't wait to see what he sends.

Random stories, I know. But they prove the larger point that social media can pay off--sometimes in unintended ways. And it can work for your company, too. But you have to engage in the tools and you have to be a savvy player.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Are you really engaging your "fan base"?

I graduated from Winona State University in 1996. It's not a big school, but I really enjoyed my time there. I played golf for a few years, graduated with a BA in mass communications and was involved with the student newspaper, AdFed and a handful of other student-led organizations. Point is, I was an engaged student.

Twelve years later, I'm still an engaged WSU fan. I follow the news and recent happenings from the University. I follow the football, basketball and golf teams. And every once in a while I even get the chance to head down for a game.

But, WSU is still missing a huge opportunity with me.

Aren't I already an invested fan, you ask? Well, yes and no.

As an alumnus, the University depends on people like me for two things: money and referrals/word of mouth.

And quite honestly, despite my commitment to the school, they're failing on both counts.

I don't give back to the University. Not because I don't support it or care. I just haven't been approached in the right way. Every year, some anonymous student calls me from WSU asking for money. A cold call, in effect. It's a blanket ask for money. Little context. And no relevancy. Why not customize the "ask" a little more--have someone from the mass comm dept reach out to me and encourage me to give $100 so they can purchase 25 new MacBooks next year. Or, someone from the golf team could call me and ask for $250 to buy new bags for the team in '09. I can guarantee you right now if either of those calls is made, I'm plunking down the money. Now, you might say, maybe they are planning to use the money for those things? Well, yes, but it's all about relevancy and catering your approach to your "customer"--in this case, alumni like me. Show me you care about me and what's important to me and I'll return the favor.

On the word of mouth side, I also have reservations. I would refer folks to Winona, but I just feel like I don't "know" the school anymore. I don't have the time to keep up with what's going on with the mass comm program. What new facilities they've built. Or, what innovative technologies they've helped develop. What about a once a month email from the alumni office highlighting the most recent achievements of the school, new professors and results from the teams I follow (basketball, football and golf, in my case). Why not offer up more frequent information to those alumni who've signed up the WSU fan Facebook group, including photos from recent alumni events? Why not encourage current students to reach out to former students to ask them to speak at upcoming lectures or classes about how they've put the skills and knowledge they gained at WSU to good use in the workplace? Simple actions that would result in a big payoff--me referring family, friends and colleagues to my alma mater.

With a little extra effort, and a few additional resources, WSU (and other schools its size) could really make huge inroads with their alumni.

What about you? Do you feel engaged by your alumni organization? Why or why not? What could they do differently to draw you in?

Friday, December 5, 2008

Five ways to start fixing the health care industry

I must start this post by telling you I am a Fairview employee and these remarks and comments in no way reflect the thoughts, opinions and policies of Fairview Health Systems, Inc. I should also tell you that my doc is part of the Allina Health System.

I think the health care system is broken. There, I said it. Obviously, I'm not alone. I say this because I had a health care "experience" earlier this week (physical). For the most part it went OK. I like my doc--he's thoughtful, professional and takes extra time to make sure I understand the advice he's giving. But, around that visit, were problems. Lack of organization. And poor customer service.

I'm not one to complain and not offer solutions, so here goes. Five ways we can start to fix the health care system:

1--Get rid of the gowns. Please. How can I feel comfortable in my clinic or hospital when my backside is hanging out of a gown? I know they give you robes in the hospital, but we just need to get rid of the gowns altogether. It carries a negative stigma and would be an easy fix. Why not give out nicer, warmer robes? Make it an advantage and an extra comfort instead of a negative takeaway for patients.

2--Make it easier to navigate hospitals and clinics. It's getting borderline ridiculous with all the additions clinics and hospitals are making these days. Like navigating a maze. Over at United, I need a tour guide to get around the place. Admittedly, I am a little directionally challenged, but it shouldn't be this hard. Why can't each hospital have a customer service counter the minute you enter--from any entrance. Most hospitals have some form of this (Fairview and United do, but not from every entrance), but others do not. I shouldn't have to spend 20 minutes searching for my clinic or provider.

3--Improve customer service. The health care industry could learn a thing or two from restaurants and retailers. Just simple customer service lessons, for example. Why not give patients pagers while they wait so they can walk around the clinic/hospital instead of being stuck in the waiting room (again, Abbott does do this in their cardiology department--great idea)? Why not incorporate customer service training into medical and nursing programs? After all, isn't half the experience the degree to which you relate to the physician or nurse you're dealing with? My wife and I have had numerous negative experiences with health care professionals--and it wasn't because they didn't know their health care xs and os. It was because of poor customer service and poor communication.

4--Make the insurance/cost side less complicated and more transparent. We're getting there--just not fast enough. With HSAs becoming more popular every day, consumers need this information to make informed decisions. Now. As consumers, we don't care how it happens, we just need it to happen. Why can't providers and insurance companies get together and figure this out ? For example, I go in to see my doc for a chest pain issue. She recommends I head down to the cardio department to get a stress test. OK, how much does that cost? I have an HSA--this is coming out of my pocket. Are their other alternatives? How much do they cost? Do I really need to take this test? This is the kind of scenario that's playing out across America. I know the information's out there--it's just hard to find. We need to make it easier for the consumer.

5--Make provider information more accessible. I'm not talking about their specialties or where they went to school, although that it helpful. I'm talking about how Joe in Minneapolis rated Dr. Matthew during his last visit. I'm talking about how many colon surgeries Dr. Hanson does in a given year and out of those, how many involve adverse health events? This is the information consumers want and expect in today's world. More so than almost any other industry, health care operates on word of mouth. So, we know this information is out there--it just needs to be easier to get to. Some organizations are already heading down this and Again, we need to get their faster.

This is just a start. What are your thoughts and ideas?