Monday, March 30, 2009

What are your PR "must reads?"

As PR pros, we all do our fair share of reading. Me? I read the Wall Street Journal, CNN, and various local publications. Esquire and Golf Digest. And, of course, I read my fair share of PR and social media blogs. Where I fall short--at least lately--has been my book reading. You know, those hard-covered repositories of information and insights? 

Sure, I read some non-fiction and an occasional Vince Flynn novel, but what are today's "must reads" for PR pros? Instead of sharing what I think you should read, I enlisted the help of my trusted PR colleagues. Here's what they had to say (interesting to note that very few of these suggestions were actually traditional "PR" books). 

What would you add to this list?

Kellye Crane--Elements of Style (William Strunk and E.B. White) and The New Rules of Marketing and PR (David Meerman Scott)

Lisa Hoffmann--Emotional Intelligence (Daniel Goleman), World Wide Rave (David Meerman Scott)

Jen Wilbur--Groundswell (Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff) and The Influentials (Jon Berry and Ed Keller)

Lauren Vargas--Never Eat Alone (Keith Ferrazzi and Tahl Raz) and Made to Stick (Chip and Dan Heath)

Dave Fleet--Now is Gone (Brian Solis/Geoff Livingston) and Tactical Transparency (Shel Holtz, John Haynes and Lynne Johnson)

Kelly Groehler--The World is Flat (Thomas Friedman), Execution (Larry Bossidy, Ram Charan and Charles Burck), and The Snowball (Alice Schroeder)

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

PR Rock Stars: A Conversation with Allan Schoenberg

One of the great things about social networks is their ability to connect you with like-minded individuals you might not otherwise have the chance to meet. Such was the case when I met Allan Schoenberg on Twitter a few months back. Completely chance meeting--but since then we've connected on a number of fronts--everything from family obligations to B2B communications to Bells beer.

Here's the great thing about Allan is--in my opinion: Here's a guy who runs PR/communications for the combined largest financial exchange in the country and he somehow finds time to teach and educate the next generation of PR leaders, give back to his alma mater and network with other PR pros across Chicago and the country. 

Rock star, right? Let's hear more...

You head up corporate communications for CME Group, which operates the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, Chicago Board of Trade and New York Mercantile Exchange (combined the largest financial exchange in the U.S.). I know social media plays a large role in your communications and PR mix. How are you currently using social media tools to shape and influence attitudes and perceptions of your customers and stakeholders and how do you see that evolving over the next few years?

Social media certainly plays a role in what we do at the exchanges and has for at least the past 18 months. Let me just go over how we use before I talk about what we use. Our strategies and tactics for social media encompass three things: listening, engaging and servicing. First, social media allows us to follow the trends and issues that our customers are most concerned with and talk about. By using social media we can better understand what is on their mind in both the short and long term. Second, we can actively engage customers with the products and services that matter most to the engage. By listing and talking about these we can monitor feedback and have a dialogue with customers. Third, we use social media to actively provide another way to help answer questions that are important to our customers.

Now, how are we using these tools to better communicate?

One thing that was very simple for us to do was to just make our media room social media enabled. Not only have we provided an RSS feed for our news releases for the past two years, but in late 2007 we took the initiative to make every news release shareable by using some of the most popular social media tools -- Facebook, Reddit, Word Press, Blogger, Twitter, Digg, etc. We know that customers want to talk about and share things we're doing so this was an easy decision for us.

Another way we use social media to our advantage is to monitor what is going on in the blogosphere. There are a number of media, economists and academics who blog regularly about things that matter to us -- risk management, treasury bonds, agriculture, energy, market regulation -- so following these people and engaging them is part of our strategy. I personally use tools such as Bloglines, Google News and Technorati to help me aggregate blogs and key topics.

We also are actively using some of the tools out there to help us better communicate with customers. Facebook has been helpful in allowing us to build online communities and forums for customers to know what is happening at the exchange. We have a customer group that was formed by traders following the merger of CME with CBOT in the fall of 2007. I proactively reached out to the admin of the group and asked if I could help manage the content. After adding me I've been active at posting content from our web site and the Internet with items that we believe should be of interest to the group. There are more than 350 members of this group today. Our Market Education team this past fall also created a CME Group Fan Page on Facebook that we use to showcase our education topics and forums. Both groups help us to communicate in different ways -- one in more of a conversation where we can interact with customers about topics inside and outside of the exchange, and another in a way that lets us talk to customers about the many education opportunities we have to learn more about our products and services.

Another social media tool that has been really useful for the exchange is Twitter. I personally started using Twitter in early 2008 (@allanschoenberg) and after seeing the benefits of talking with others I created an account for the exchange in September 2008 (@cmegroup). Today, we have more than 30,000 followers of the exchange. I'm very mindful of how we use this tool since, unlike Facebook that is more of a static post and comment forum, Twitter is a real time conversation. I don't use Twitter to push CME Group content out to people but I'd rather find the "diamond in the rough" blog posting about treasury bills and someone's opinion on how that may effect the market. I know that one way our customers are using Twitter is to gain a trading advantage, so if we can help them with useful trading information than we are doing our job. Twitter is an interesting tool for us because I have a number of things to balance with every posting. Since we are a publicly traded company (Nasdaq: CME) I know that there are people on Twitter who just own our stock and don't trade our products. So I have to converse with these types of customers in addition to traders. We also have to use Twitter like any other communication tool when we talk publicly knowing that we have to meet disclosure and regulatory guidelines. I think the advantages of Twitter for the exchange is two-fold: we can watch/observe/listen to what traders are talking about, and we can actively engage in real-time conversations with customers who need a question answered or want to talk with us.

In terms of what's next, I can tell we are actively looking at a number of other tools but I don't want to reveal just what is next quite yet.

You're also an adjuct professor in PR/communications at DePaul University and Loyola University-Chicago. Do you think today's cirriculum and programs at our universities and colleges are effectively preparing students for a career in PR or corporate communications? Where do universities fall short and what might you recommend as potential solutions?

I've been fortunate enough to be involved with two outstanding universities for the past four years with rich histories in the city of Chicago. In my short time at both schools I have seen a lot of great changes. The College of Communication at DePaul was established in 2007 and works to meet the needs of students in a variety of communication fields, including public relations. In January 2009, the Loyola University School of Communication offices moved into the brand new School of Communication building in downtown Chicago.

A few points of observation from my brief time at both universities. First, they both recognize the growing and exanding field of public relations. It is great to be involved with both schools knowing that they see the importance of the profession -- and that they tap into professionals to help teach. Second, it's also evident that we have a lot of work to do as a profession as most of my students know either very little about the profession. This presents both a challenge and an opportunity for me as a teacher.

Like any degree program, I would guess that both schools wish they could require more credit hours and classes to fully immerse students into these programs. I think one way they are both trying to accomplish this is with the help of Chicago's vast public relations community. Both university's have PRSSA programs that tap the help of professionals, use professionals as adjunct professors and offer other opportunities for students to connect with professionals. Hopefully as these programs expand the growing alumni base will give back to their respective schools.

From our conversations, I also know you set up a scholarship in your name at your alma mater at Central Michigan University (a wonderful idea, by the way). What gave you that idea, how did you execute it (initially) and why do you continue to give back to the students at our alma mater?

Yes, back in 2002 I worked with Dr. Diane Krider to establish a public relations leadership award given annually to one student. I pay for the costs of the scholarship out of my own pocket and the university and student recipients have all been lucky enough to receive a partial matching gift from the exchange. I can't take all of the credit for starting this. The idea really came from Dr. Krider whom I met simply because I called her one day and asked how I could get more involved. There were two reasons for me to reach out to CMU. First, I would have to say that my involvement really goes back to my parents, who always pushed me to give back. That has always stayed with me. Second, I really wanted to help build a connection with tomorrow's future leaders in the profession. There are some extremely bright students coming into this field and they continue to make me push myself to be a better professional. The rest, as they say, is history.

I really would encourage everyone to somehow get back involved with their undergraduate university. My degree from CMU is in Economics so for me now to be involved with the school though its public relations program gives me a new pride. Not only has this been a nice source of accomplishment for me personally, but I do believe in the idea of mentoring up. Each recipient of the award brings something unique to our relationship and I have learned something from each of them. It's also important that they realize that while the scholarship is a one time deal, I hope to be able to maintain a long-term personal and professional friendship with each of them. To this date I still regularly communicate with each of them. I also work to try to connect them with each other. In addition, I try to make it every year to the university's annual PRSSA event on campus to speak and every spring I arrange a career day in the city of Chicago for six to 10 seniors in the program.

You can find several past recipients of my scholarship on Twitter (@rachelesterline @LacyQ @tasevedo @Kcovert @MeganSoule) and encourage people to talk with (and consider hiring) them.

We've been talking about the lack of conversations and case studies around B2B and social media for quite a while. This week, we finally began our venture to help better facilitate that conversation--the B2B Voices blog (along with Kate Brodock, Anna Barcelos and Beth Harte). How do you think this blog--and the conversations it will hopefully spur--will help communicators and marketers better understand this complex and relatively unexplored space?

I think there are a couple of misconceptions about B2B communications. One is this idea that it is not as glamorous or challenging as B2C communications. I would hope to show that even though some of the things we sell to our customers in the B2B space may not seem exciting, if you look at the value chain of what our companies do there are some very interesting things where consumers benefit from our work. I also hope we can show that many of the strategies and techniques we do really are very similar to the B2C enviornment. Hopefully this can show that making the transition from B2C to B2B and vice versa can be relatively seamless. Finally, I hope we can showcase some of the great professionals in the B2B space who do some excellent work.

Among other things, we share a common love of microbrews. We've had many conversations about how these brands interact online. If you were consulting these brands today, what would you suggest microbrews like Bells, Surly and Goose Island do differently to engage and interact with customers online?

Well, actually, I can appreciate any profession that requires a highly intensive skill or craft to achieve. It just so happens that microbrews are something that can be enjoyed with some of my great friends and a grille. I hope that the brands I enjoy really do embrace social media as a way to talk and listen to customers. Most of these brands grew up with their roots around friendships and a small group of people sharing a passion, and social media helps keep that passion alive with fans like myself and others. What I hope they don't do is use social media to alienate other core followers. I know plenty of friends who enjoy Bell's and Goose Island, but they're not active in social media. What any company/brand needs to realize is that social media is just another tool in the toolbox, but we can't forget the other ways to reach customers. The other part about using social media is that the brands have to realize that just "doing it" isn't enough. If you're going to set something up you have to use it otherwise you can turn customers off. Finally, they should understand that not every tool needs to be utilized; picking and choose what tools to use can be more important than using them.

Another topic we've talked about recently--the fledgling newspaper business. With more newspapers shuttering their doors every day, what can these institutions do to transform their model so they're not only serving their watchdog function for the public-at-large but also creating a sustainable business model?

I don't want to pretend I know how to run the news business. From what I can see the print side of the business is suffering from two converging dynamics. First, readers continue to migrate online for news, information and stories. I think the industry has known this for years and they have actually done some very interesting things with online content. So while that is effect the bottom line I don't think that is the key driver of what we're seeing. The second and more pressing issue of what we are seeing is more an impact of the economy than people not wanting to read the newspaper or magazine. If you look closely at what's happened with the papers and magazines that have either shut down completely or transitioned to more -- or only -- online content is that they are struggling through the credit crisis. They're losing advertisers, not readers, and advertising pays the bills. What will be more interesting is what the industry looks like after we come out of this recession. Will Seattle rebuild demand for the P-I? Will the Detroit papers reinstate weekday delivery? There are certainly some interesting models to follow, such as, Huffington Post, Slate and even what the Chicago Tribune is doing with social media. The way I look at it for myself is that I'm willing to pay for really good content -- WSJ, NY Times, FT, Esquire to name a few of my favorites -- so if the publishing industry can stay focused on getting exceptional content that its readers want they can charge a premium. And while I really am enjoying my Kindle and reading everything in one location, I do hope (and believe) the print business will be with us for a long time.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

What corporate communicators can learn from Shaq and the NBA

Recently, we've seen two NBA players tweet during halftime: Charlie Villaneuva and Shaquille O'Neal. My friend Warren Sukernek blogged about Villaneuva's halftime tweet last week and the comparison between the NBA's "command and control" approach by making players available to mainstream media right before halftime and a player expressing his own, personal views via an online medium.

This is an interesting story for a number of reasons, but the parallel I find most intriguing is the comparison with corporate America and its use of social media in the workplace.

In essence, Villaneuva and Shaq were tweeting during the game. From a coaches and owner's perspective, that's not a good idea. Even thought it's halftime, players should be 100 percent focused on the game. After all, they're paid millions of dollars to play basketball--and produce results. How can they do that effectively if they face an endless stream of distractions (like hopping on Twitter to update their status) during the game? But, to Warren's point, aren't NBA players obligated to participate in media interviews before and during the game? Isn't that the same kind of distraction? What's so different about tweeting or blogging or posting on Facebook?

Here's the interesting parallel with corporate America: As social media tools become more ingrained in the way we, as employees, communicate with our coworkers, our friends, our family and our customers, is it OK to engage on company time? Isn't that essentially what Villaneuva and Shaq did?

Many organizations right now are struggling with this issue. Surely, there are many companies (like Zappos) that completely encourage--and, in fact, outright promote--social media use during the workday. These organizations clearly see the value in encouraging their employees to serve as brand ambassadors who can actively shape conversations about their brand online.

On the flip side, other organizations see social media tools like Facebook and Twitter as a complete waste of time and a distraction to employees who should be focusing 100 percent on their work activites (hmm...sound familiar Mr. Villanueva?). These organizations often block social media sites and actively discourage employees from participating in conversations online during the workday.

Where does your organization, or the clients you counsel, stand?

* Do they condone the "command and control" communication model? Or, do they look at it in a different way and attempt to influence, persuade and engage customers?

* Do they see social media tools as distractions from work activities? Or, do they see leveraging these tools as an opportunity to engage one of your biggest assets--your employees--and open up a two-way conversation with customers that can help you further your brand and improve the brand experience?

* Do they believe they control the brand through ads, marketing collateral and Web portals they create and push out? Or, do they think their brand is what their customers say it is and attempt to influence the perception of that brand in the marketplace?

Friday, March 20, 2009

Follow Friday: 6 PR pros to follow--and why

Over the last few months, I've participated in the "Follow Friday" trend as a way to share connections and promote others over the Twitter airwaves. But, I'm going to steal a page out of my friend Sonny Gill's playbook here and provide a little more context behind my Friday Follow suggestions on a weekly basis.

Here are my six Follow Friday suggestions for the week of March 16:

* David Mullen (@dmullen). One of the first folks I connected with on Twitter--boy, was I lucky. David is responsive, smart and funny (for a NC guy). And a tremendous advocate for the PR industry--learn more on his blog: Communications Catalyst.

* Danny Brown (@dannybrown). One of the great PR Twitter voices. Danny's a busy guy. Whether it's helping kids by donating a Wii to a local hospital or assisting starving children around the world through his 12Kfor12 initiative that he jumpstarted earlier this year (just raised more than 13K in 12 hours yesterday!), Danny keeps a pretty tight schedule. Oh, and he also manages to blog daily. But, he's always willing to help. If you're lucky, you can catch him on #journchat Monday nights, too.

* Scott Hepburn (@scotthepburn). The Chris Rock of Twitter. Scott's tweets have made me spit up my coffee on more than one occasion. Huge 'Cuse fan (don't hold that against him). Smart PR guy. And always looking to engage in conversation. You can follow his thoughts and views on his blog--Media Emerging--where he discusses the intersection between PR, social media and journalism. Following Scott's a no-brainer.

* Allan Schoenberg (@allanschoenberg). I only met Allan two months ago, but in that time he's helped me develop multiple blog posts, advised me on professional decisions and collaborated with me on a soon-to-be-unveiled B2B project. This guy knows PR inside and out and he leads the corporate communications function for the largest financial exchange in the U.S. Oh, and in his "free time", he's an adjunct professor at DePaul University at Loyola University-Chicago. Why wouldn't you want to follow him?

* David Spinks (@davidspinks). He may still be in school, but David's as smart as they come when it comes to the social media/marketing/PR space. And he's going to make some organization very happy in the near future when he graduates and accepts that first job. For now, he keeps an active blog full of advice on social media, creativity and marketing/communications. He's also a big sports fan (we connect here--even though he is from NY) and an artist.

* Amy Mengel (@amymengel). World traveler, PR and social media junkie and fellow Bell's Beer fan, I took a shining to Amy right away. Plus, she adds great value through her blog, Mengel's Musings, where she discusses corporate communications, B2B PR/marketing and a slew of other topics. Always engaging and willing to share her thoughts, I'd highly recommend following Amy.

Who are your Follow Fridays today and why?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

PR Rock Stars: A conversation with Nicki Gibbs

You only get so many chances to work with someone with the skills, personality and leadership abilities of Nicki Gibbs during the course of your professional career. For me, that opportunity came nearly three years ago when I joined the team at Beehive PR, a small agency in St. Paul. And believe me, when I tell you she's a rock star, that's actually an understatment.

Nicki's one of those rare PR pros who can write, consult, plan, lead and coach--all without missing a beat. Needless to say, that's not an easy combination to find. But, she serves her clients--and partners with her colleagues--in all those capacities on a daily basis. Flawlessly. OK, so I'm a huge Nicki Gibbs fan. For those of you who have worked with Nicki in the past, you know what I'm talking about.

Enough lavish praise from me--let's here from this PR Rock Star herself.

Q: You’re a group director (VP for all intents and purposes) at Beehive PR in St. Paul and you have two kids that are involved in a number of activities during any given week. Juggling agency life and a small family can be demanding, but you manage to find balance in the face of chaos—what are your secrets?

I wish there was a secret recipe, but if there is, I haven’t found it yet. I think everybody has to find a plan that works with individual career and family goals.

There are three things that work for me most of the time – prioritizing commitments, managing expectations and being present and focused on what I choose to do.

It is hard to do everything and do it well, so I try to pick the things that are most important, whether it a professional or a personal commitment.

It took me a long time to get comfortable saying no to things, but if I can manage expectations (yes, I can do this, but only this much, or no, I can’t do this, here’s why), it makes my schedule more manageable and keeps me on the up and up with the people who matter most.

I also try to be very mindful of what I chose to do so that I can really focus and give it my best effort. Let’s be honest, my clients don’t want me if I am distracted by my kids sports practice any more than my kids want me if I am distracted by my Blackberry.

It also helps to work in an agency that recognizes the benefit of letting employees work where and when it is best for them, for the team and for clients. Having the technology to support that flexibility is a gift.

Q: I had the privilege to work with you a couple years ago. One of the things I valued most about you was your strong leadership skills. Instead of taking the traditional top-down tack, you seem to favor a flatter, collaborative, more team-based approach. Who were your influences from a leadership perspective as you came up through the ranks? And what about those folks made a lasting impression?

I loathe office politics. In PR we are so often working on tight deadlines and facing other outside pressures that it is fatal to waste time playing the hierarchy game. One of the best ways to avoid it is to surround yourself with smart people and recognize that good ideas come from all levels of an organization or agency.

I have been very lucky in my career to be surrounded by great leaders and great teams who are more interested in great work than silly ego games. At the risk of this sounding like an Oscar acceptance speech gone wrong, here are a few folks who really influenced me, either as leaders or teammates: Cindy Matson, Sara Gavin, Chris Werle, Joe McGrath, Jorg Pierach, Lisa Hannum, Ayme Zemke, Kelly Puspoki, Rebecca Martin, Matt Hanson and Allison Resner.

The thing I loved most about working with each of them was the exposure to different styles, different strengths, and to be candid, different weaknesses. I think it helped me realize that one of the most important leadership skills is flexibility. If you can meet people where they are and keep an open mind about how to approach any particular challenge, nine times out of ten you will come up with a stellar solution. Of course, it helps when your team expects kick-butt results and will accept nothing less, something my influencers all have in common.

Q: Over the course of my career, I’ve had the opportunity to work with some outstanding writers. I’d put you right near the very top of that list. Since PR professionals, as a group, continue to struggle in this area (in my opinion), what tips and tools could you offer up to younger PR professionals for developing and honing this critical skill?

One of my favorite pieces of writing advice actually came from my high school English teacher, “Choose your words deliberately, but don’t love them so much that you can’t kill them.” This is a great filter for clear, concise and persuasive writing. It also helps keep things in perspective when somebody takes a red pen to your work.

Another thing that can help you develop your writing style is to read – a lot. And read all kinds of things – newspapers, trade publications, blogs, business books, novels. You get a great sense of how to tell an effective story just by knowing what you like to read.

I think the last thing is to practice writing everyday. Writing is just like any other skill, the more you do it, the better you will be. And don’t be afraid to ask somebody to take a red pen to your work. Feedback is essential, as long as you take it in stride.

Q: You’ve mentioned to me a few times that one of your dreams is to write a book/novel. I’m curious, what would be the subject and potential title of that future New York Times best seller?

There are two books I want to write. One is a cookbook. The working title is “No Reservations”. It would be a collection of my favorite family recipes and adaptations of meals I’ve enjoyed eating out. The idea is that you don’t have to go to a restaurant to enjoy a great meal. You just have to take a little risk, try something new, and if it doesn’t work out, be okay with pancakes for dinner.

The other book I want to write is some kind of historical fiction. I have not formulated the plot yet, but I know I will enjoy doing the research if I can ever pin down the storyline.

Q: Over the years, I’m sure you’ve submitted your fair share of PR award entries. I know this is the first year Beehive PR has entered the awards scene locally. Your shop has already won “best in show” (Pinnacle Award) at the MN IABC Bronze Quill awards. Now, you’re up for a handful of MN PRSA Classics Awards next week. In your opinion, what elements are essential to a winning award entry?

I think agencies have a love-hate relationship with awards. They are great to win, but it takes an incredible amount of effort to submit a strong entry. Again, if there was a secret recipe, I’d love to have it. As it is, here are a few things that have worked out well for us:

Start early – When you start a new project, start thinking about it like an award entry. Keep an electronic file of all the supporting elements an entry needs, like plans, research, copies of clips, anecdotes from clients and other stakeholders. It is much easier to keep the file as you go than to try to go back and find everything at the end of a campaign. I am dating myself here, but back in the day, I used to have a whole bookshelf of three-ring binders overflowing with paper copies of everything we needed to enter an award. I killed a lot of trees. So glad there is a more efficient way to go now.

Be selective – Entering awards is time consuming, costly and sometimes stressful. You can keep it more manageable by being really critical on the front end. Is the entry really award material? If you decide to enter, are you entering in the right category? Would it fit another category better, or is there one with less competition? Doing a really great job on fewer entries can increase your winning percentage. That’s the whole point – nobody enters these things just for fun.

Tell a good story – Remember, award entries are judged by other PR people and communicators. They can see through your PR-speak and corporate jargon and frankly, it gets boring after about two entries. If you can tell a good story about your project that makes the judge think, “I wish I had worked on that program” you are half way to hardware.

Demonstrate results – We are challenged as PR people to demonstrate results. There is a difference between measuring the effort (like number of clips, circulation numbers, ad equivalency, etc.) and measuring outcomes (how did key stakeholders respond, did they answer the call to action, are there measurable business results). In my experience at Beehive and elsewhere, what sets winning entries apart is demonstrating that the work really made a difference to the client’s business.

Be memorable – Judges look at mountains of entries. If your entry stands out in tone, style and design, you are very likely to get a second look. If a judge thinks your entry looks interesting enough to read past the two-page summary, you probably just went the last half of the way to hardware.

Q: Unless things have changed drastically in the past year-and-a-half, I’m guessing you’re still doing yoga and pilates a couple times a week over the lunch hour at Beehive (one of the many perks of working at Beehive PR). Why do you continue to take time out of your busy schedule each week to do this and how does it help you stay healthier?

I love our yoga and pilates classes. I don’t get there as often as I would like, but I can tell a difference in my day when I do. I feel more relaxed and more creative when I get back to work. Since this is often the only time I get to work out, it is a benefit to my overall health – mental and physical. Around here you are likely to hear somebody say “only one workout away from a good mood,” and there is truth to that.

(Note: Photo above--the Beehive PR team accepting the Pinnacle Award at the 2009 IABC Bronze Quill Awards)

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Best smart phone for PR? The iPhone/Blackberry/G1 debate rages on

Technology changes quickly these days. Just think, a few years ago, we all thought a flip-phone was revolutionary. Today, our mobile devices are much more advanced. Heck they're practically handheld computers (the future is right around the corner). But there are so many choices out there--Blackerrys, iPhones, Google phones, and a slew of others. How do you compare and contrast? And more importantly, if you work in PR or communications, how do you find the smart phone that will best meet your personal and professional needs?

Introducing David Erickson, Lauren Fernandez and Jennifer Mitchell. Three PR pros who use their smart phones in their day-to-day professional lives. Each will examine the pros and cons of the phone they use, discuss helpful applications and talk about how they use the phone on a daily basis.

Device: iPhone

Price: 8 GB $199; 16 GB $299; AT&T Exclusive Carrier

Reviewer: Lauren Fernandez (@cubanalaf), Marketing Coordinator, American Mensa, Ltd.

Review: Three features I dig:

Social media applications (Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, Wordpress). Hands down, the application store on the iPhone goes above and beyond any other. I am able to customize applications to my needs and information is updated in real time. I can handle multiple Twitter accounts, respond to blog comments and check our Facebook fan pages with ease. The Application Store also makes it easy to install programs from either my laptop or the phone. With social media constantly being integrated in our daily lives, it is important to have applications to best fit the needs of a PR professional.

E-mail. E-mail is probably the one thing that I believe the iPhone can improve on, and where my BlackBerry was actually better. PR professionals are constantly on the go and need to be able to receive and respond to emails in a sufficient manner. Unless you are able to constantly hit the refresh button, my iPhone email will only update itself every 15 minutes. When I had my BlackBerry, I received emails on the spot. I was also able to manage all of my email accounts from one place, where the iPhone makes you go from account to account. I have a friend who works for a technology magazine, and his advice to me was “If you are buying a phone solely for email purposes, go with BlackBerry. You need an iPhone for everything else.”

Sidenote: If you use Exchange, make sure to have IMAP enabled so that it will be compatible with the iPhone.

Web browsing. I like checking for clips and reading the New York Times from my iPhone. The Web browsing on my iPhone is much better than my Blackberry, and the speed at which my phone goes from browser to Web page is much quicker than the Blackberry. Also, the ability to touch the screen and zoom into a Web site makes reading much easier. The Blackberry Storm can do this as well, but I found it wasn’t as natural as the iPhone. Safari is also able to display complex Web sites easier.

One thing I love that was not mentioned above: The sleek design of the iPhone makes it easier for me to carry it around than my bulky BlackBerry.

Device: Blackberry Curve

Price: $299 (depending on discounts and rebates)

Reviewer: Jennifer Mitchell (@jenmitch), Owner, JMPR Communication

Review: My Blackberry Curve is the best investment I’ve ever made for my business. I pay $120 a month which includes 2,000 shared minutes with my (non-chatty) boyfriend and unlimited data.

I purchased my Curve two months ago. I chose it over the Storm on the advice of a sage salesperson who suggested I needed a bit of patience for the Storm. Great advice. I wanted to use my phone now, now, now! My learning curve (pardon the pun) was zero.

Within thirty minutes my e-mail account, TwitterBerry and Facebook were live on my phone. (These are my do-or-die applications.) FYI- a Blackberry can handle up to five e-mail accounts.

My Blackberry does everything I need it to do for public relations purposes. I am always-on with my clients now, which gives me great piece of mind. Last weekend I replied to a reporter inquiry at 9:30 on a Friday evening. I can access Twitter 24/7 or get some social fun on with my Facebook friends. I am also able to view and edit documents. (This was a big selling point for me.)

My Blackberry’s Roxio media manager has become one of my favorite applications. I can hook in a USB port, boot it up and transfer photos/videos (any media) from my phone to my computer. This means that I can take pictures anywhere I am and utilize them on my blogs later. I find that I pay attention to my surroundings more often now and think: how could I use this later?

If you don’t have a navigation system on your phone, you’re missing out. I often have to navigate to new places in town for client meetings or networking events. My trusty Verizon Navigator came “traffic enhanced” on my Blackberry. I now know if I am going to run into a delay before I leave the house or while I am en route.

The Blackberry is not without its flaws. I find it amazingly annoying that there are character limitations on text messages. I’m sure my friends find it equally annoying when I sent “text blasts” when I have more than 160 characters worth of subject matter to share. And I’m not really sure why the default setting orders every e-mail I send (on my computer or phone) to go to myself on my computer AND phone. As the pack-rat I am, I can’t bring myself to change that setting. But it seems excessive, no?

All and all, my Blackberry reminds me of a miniature computer. It’s clearly not nearly as powerful but I’m always connected. For me, that means I’m always available for my clients and that’s the kind of service I aim to provide.

Device: G1 (i.e., the "Google phone")

Price: $179

Reviewer: David Erickson (@derickson), Director of e-Strategy, Tunheim Partners

Review: I was torn. I am typically a first-adopter, despite the lessons I should have learned along the way. Still, the inner tech conflict I was experiencing was should I get the pretty, pretty iPhone now or should I wait for the more utilitarian G1?

While the iPhone was cooool, there were a few things I couldn't get beyond: The virtual keyboard and the absence of copy and paste. I tested out the virtual keyboard on a friend's iPhone and took an immediate disliking to it; I couldn't type accurately. I've had full QWERTY keyboards for my last two phones, so maybe it's just personal preference. I might've gotten used to the keyboard but ultimately I could not do without copy and paste functionality. I do a lot of work on my phone and I would not be nearly as productive without the ability to copy URLs and email them. That was the deal killer for the iPhone.

The G1 costs $179 through T-Mobile with your regular calling plan plus a data plan of $25 or $35/month. Google services are built right into the phone: Search, Gmail, Docs, Contacts, Calendar, Reader and, very cool, Google Voice Search. HTC designed the phone, so it works beautifully.

First and foremost, the thing works as a phone. Reception is clear and consistent. The speaker phone is loud enough to hear people in my noisy Wrangler. And the slide-out QWERTY thumb-board works wonderfully. The only thing missing from the touch screen is the iPhone's pinch-gesture interface. Internet access is fast and rarely drops.

Another very strong consideration was that the G1 uses the open source Android operating system and, as such, allows anyone to develop applications for it. In the long run, I reasoned, there would be many more options and features than Apple's proprietary system would offer. Ultimately, if there was an application I absolutely needed, I could always pay someone to develop one. Looks like my reasoning was sound: A new In-Stat survey projects that Android phone sales will overtake Apple's in the coming years.

Essential PR pro apps:
Delicious Bookmarks - Easily save links to your Delicious account
Voice Recorder - Save and/or email recorded voice notes
StreamFurious - Listen to live radio through MP3 streams
Touchdown - Microsoft Exchange app

There you have it. Three smart phones. Three perspectives. Which one do you find more useful for PR purposes? Share your thoughts so we can all learn from your experience.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

6 things to do on Twitter before you die

We all have our "life lists." 10 things we want to do before we leave this earth. It usually includes incredible trips to far-flung destinations like Australia or Tahiti and serious challenges that you would normally never consider. Think sky-diving (OK, so maybe that one's not on Peter Shankman's list).

Life in the online world's a little different. But, I would argue it's somewhat similar in that there are a number of things I think every Tweep should do before they pass on to the next life.

Here's my short list. What would you add to this Twitter "bucket list"?

1. Participate in a Twitter hashtag conversation. Specifically, I'm thinking about Sarah Evans' and her immensely popular Journchat on Monday nights from 7-10 pm CST, but really any chat will suffice. I recommend Journchat because of the collaboration and sharing it fosters between PR pros, journalists and bloggers. But, I also recommend it to many who are new to Twitter for the "experience." I mean, the first time you try to follow Journchat (I recommend using an application like TweetChat), it can be insane. Your eyes glaze over. You can't follow the conversation. You may even get a little dizzy. But, then you start to figure it out. You begin to follow the threads. You may even post a tweet or two. Next thing you know, you're hooked. And then you're participating every week and encouraging your colleagues to join the fray (and Sarah's legion of Journchat disciples continues to swell!).

2. Live tweet an event. Attending a conference in the next month? Bring your Blackberry or iPhone along and tweet right from the event. For you, it's a fun way to relay useful information to your followers, friend and colleagues. And for those following you, it's a great way to glean useful nuggets of information from an event they may not have the good fortune to attend. Right now, this is relevant as I, and many others, would love to be in Austin at SXSW. But, since I can't, I'll be sure to follow Mack Collier, Beth Harte and others who are in Texas and relaying the best practices, tips and interesting stories along the way. Over the last few months, if you've noticed, I've also enjoyed live tweeting Gopher basketball games (lately @dfolkens, @mnheadhunter, @rpmaus and @ryanmathre have joined in the action)

3. Raise money for a good cause. Think Danny Brown and 12for12K. Think David Armano raising more than $16,000 for a homeless mother of three in just a few days in early January. Twitter can be a powerful tool to help rally your community around a common cause.

4. Have fun with your avatar. Chris Brogan seemingly changes his avatar once a week (closed circuit to Chris: I like the one with your daughter in the pic). Others have swapped out their avatars to demonstrate support for causes or charities (the various 12for12K avatars, for example). Whatever the case, let your hair down. Have some fun. Live a little.

5. Help someone get a job. Heather Huhman and Sarah Evans are the leaders in helping connect job seekers with employers in the PR area, but really, anyone can lend a hand. Send PR job openings you hear about to these two and they'll RT them to their networks (2,400 for Heather, 15,000-plus for Sarah). That's some serious reach. Or, make personal connections among your friends and followers. You might know someone who's hiring--and a few people that are out of a job. Broker an online Twitter introduction. And change someone's life.

6. Be a virtual mentor. Many Twittizens mentor in their "real lives". However, that doesn't mean you should pass on the chance to mentor someone virtually as well. It's easy and doesn't require a ton of time. Just passing along a few good pieces of advice to younger pros can help immensely. And make sure to tag your posts--use the #pradvice tag so everyone can benefit from your pearls of wisdom. You'd be surprised how far your message, tips or insights might travel.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Twin Cities PR/communications pros on Twitter

Below you'll find the updated list of Twin Cities communicators online (Twitter and blogs). A number of updates this month, including two new agency accounts (Fast Horse & Colle+McVoy).

Again, standard disclaimer: This is by no means meant to be an end-all-be-all list. It's a work-in-progress and a resource for us all. So please, if you know someone I've missed, please leave a comment below and I'll add their name, Twitter handle and/or blog to the list. My plan is to update this list and re-publish every month so we have a definitive, running online catalog of all Minnesota PR/communications blogs and Twittizens.

Blogs (Waxings--authored by various Beehive staffers) (authored by various RMPR staffers) (authored by Tim Otis and other Axiom staff) (authored by various FH staffers) (authored by Albert Marruggi) (authored by Lee Odden) (authored by Connie Bensen) (authored by Katie Konrath) (Shandwick PR/social medial blog) (authored by Albert Marruggi and Mike Keliher at Provident Partners) (Sterling Cross blog) (Sterling Cross blog) (Sterling Cross blog) (blog by David Erickson) (authored by Lee Aase) (authored by Heather Schwartz)

Twitter (GTA Marketing) (Jennifer Kane--Kane Consulting) (Padilla Speer Beardsley) (Fairview) (Strother Communications Group) (Axiom Communications) (April Nelson--Weber Shandwick) (Mike Keliher--Provident Partners) (Augsburg College) (Provident Partners) (Kary Delaria--KD Public Relations) (Anthony Deos--Target) (TopRank Online Marketing) (Connie Bensen--Techrigy) (John Reinan--FastHorse) (Brant Skogrand--Risdall McKinney Public Relations) (Bridget Jewell--Mall of America) (Xiotech) (Minneapolis Synod) (Beehive PR) (Carmichael Lynch) (Sara Ryder--Select Comfort) (Heather Schwartz--Weber Shandwick) (Risdall McKinney Public Relations) (Erika Dao--Mall of America) (LeeAnn Rasachak--Select Comfort) (Keith Negrin) (Tastefully Simple) (Best Buy) (Ayme Zemke--Beehive PR) (Greg Swan--Weber Shandwick) (Joel Swanson--Risdall McKinney Public Relations) (Jared Roy-Risdall) (Ryan May) (Melanie Boulay Becker) (Laura Kaslow) (Jennifer Bagdade) (Jon Austin) (Ted Davis) (Dawn Bryant) (Blois Olson) (Susan Busch-Best Buy) (Amy Fisher-Padilla Speer Beardsley) (Liz Miklya) (Nicole Garrison-St Paul Pioneer Press) (comm pros at Allina) (Shelle Michaels) (Stacy Housman-Ameriprise) (David Hakensen) (Mike Porter-University of St Thomas) (Rose McKinney-Risdall McKinney PR) (Gabby Nelson-Select Comfort) (Brooke Worden-Weber Shandwick) (Kaleidoscope Partnership) (Michell Wright-Padilla Speer Beardsley) (University of Minnesota) (University of Minnesota) (University of Minnesota) (University of Minnesota) (Sterling Cross Communications) (Sterling Cross Communications) (Sterling Cross Communications) (Sarah Ryder-Select Comfort) (David Erickson) (Lee Aase-Mayo Clinic) (Maria Surma Manka) (Heather West) (Andrew Meyer-North Memorial) (Adam Meyer-Interval Marketing) (Chris Bevolo-Interval Marketing) (Kellie Due Weiland-Beehive PR) (official account of Fast Horse) (Sandy Swanson-consultant) (official account of Colle McVoy) (Liz Tunheim-consultant) (Ben Saukko-Ameriprise) (Candee Wolf-Metro Dentalcare) (Jason Douglas-Spyder Trap) (Doug Hamlin-Weber Shandwick) (Kristin Gast) (Matt Kucharski-Padilla Speer Beardsley) (Gayle Thorsen-consultant)

Thursday, March 5, 2009

PR Rock Stars: A conversation with Kelly Groehler

If you work in the PR industry in Minneapolis/St. Paul, you'll be hard-pressed to meet many folks who haven't heard of Kelly Groehler. A past MN PRSA president (2004), Kelly is one of the dynamic--and more outspoken--leaders in the Minnesota PR community. She's also an active "community builder." Kelly gives back to her alma mater (profession advisor to the PRSSA chapter at St. Cloud St. University), is engaged professionally (APR certified; served as a member of the PRSA national advocacy advisory board) and is involved in the Twin Cities community (volunteers for the Citizens League).

By day, she's also a key member of the corporate public relations team at Best Buy--the largest specialty retailer of consumer electronics in the United States--where she oversees the organization's reputation management efforts and is credited with developing its corporate responsibility program. Sounds like a rock star to me. Let's meet the woman behind this sterling reputation.

You’ve been through a lot at Best Buy the last few months with the layoffs and changes. You’ve parted ways with what I’m guessing were good friends and trusted colleagues. And, at times, you’ve shared your feelings pretty publicly on Twitter. Talk a little bit about those experiences and why you chose to share your personal thoughts over the Twitter airwaves.

Thousands of our employees, across our brands and operations worldwide, share their personal stories, their fears, and their hopes – both for our company and their own futures – through Twitter, FriendFeed, Facebook and other platforms. True, many of the stories in recent months have reflected the difficult times and decisions we’re all going through as the economy continues to churn. The impact on our business, like so many, has been painful, but it’s also very personal, from one person to the next. These platforms help us support one another, consider others around us, and stay connected as we weather these changes in our business.

We also have the benefit of talented employees who develop ways for us to funnel these stories so they can be collectively heard – from the application developed by @benhedrington, to the creative uses of simple hashtags to categorize comments of employees leaving (#goodbyeBBY) and those staying (#helloBBY), to the Connect! page at, which aggregates our employees’ voices and content from numerous sources. And these are just a couple of examples.

And while several of our senior executives are also active (such as @bjdsr, @BestBuyCMO, @rstephens), I think the average person reading our employees’ stories gets a pretty honest look inside our company culture, versus trying to figure us out via some “official company Twitter handle.” (We do have @bestbuy and @geeksquad handles currently being programmed so tweets from numerous employee handles feed it.)

My own activity on Twitter has a few different origins. One is cultural: I’m grateful that Best Buy is a company that encourages employees to “bring your whole self to work.” We know our competitive advantage comes from the perspectives of our people, whether they’re in a corporate support function, or directly engaging with our customers through our channels. Sharing my own experiences deliberately through this medium provides my honest look inside Best Buy. Plus, it gives others a pretty good idea of how I’m wired, and I’m not going to paint a picture of myself that isn’t authentic.

Another is core to the profession: This is a newer medium quickly accelerating along the adoption curve, and part of my responsibility to Best Buy is to understand how it works, participate, build relationships through it, and see how it drives perception and action – just as I’ve done over the years with other channels. Yes, it’s also being explored for commercial use, and why not? Look at e-mail, phone, postage-paid mail, Web sites, newspapers, magazines, television – point to a medium over the course of history that hasn’t been maximized commercially while also providing authentic content, news or information.

Bottom line, our stakeholders participate in here, and their perceptions of Best Buy are touched by the numerous company voices – not just mine – they experience. Our ability to build trust and connect with our stakeholders will require a continued adoption of these emerging channels.

Best Buy took an interesting approach in communicating with staff about the financial challenges and layoffs in December. Essentially, Best Buy gave staff a choice—take a buyout package or stay and take your chances. When this news was shared publicly, you did an interesting thing: I noticed you shaping the conversation on Twitter. Making sure the facts were correct. Answering questions. And providing your take on the situation. How do you feel that impacted the public perception of Best Buy’s unique strategy? And how did your work on Twitter intersect with your media relations strategy during that announcement?

We know that everything internal is external, and vice versa, so we have a tendency to approach communications strategies from the vantage points of numerous stakeholder groups and the use of multiple employee- and public-facing channels. This was no different a case. The sensitive nature of the financial challenges, and the subsequent impact on employees, meant the message must land first with our own people. Our external outreach strategy was laser focused and wholly proactive, targeting the key influential reporters covering our business. 

That said, we knew the story would come back to us once the employees heard it. (We had a call from the Star Tribune less than 20 minutes after an employee e-mail message was distributed, listing the number of employees taking the voluntary package.) Twitter and other platforms are both internal and external media, so they were key to the effort, as part of the broader communications strategy. That said, I don’t think any of our public relations team members’ voices on Twitter (me, @susanbusch, @hawkstang, @justinbarber, @erinbix) for a major event in our business would be as effective if we weren’t tweeting on a regular basis.

How this particular strategy has affected public perception of Best Buy remains to be seen. There generally aren’t any quick-win measures for reputation. Our stock price has been somewhat steady – relatively speaking – since we announced the voluntary option. But we’ll also look at reputation measures, both proprietary and syndicated, that take the pulse of the perceptions both the public and our employees across the U.S. have of Best Buy, and their willingness to act (shop, work for, invest in, support locally). And we need to quickly follow up this next year with stories of how Best Buy is going to weather this tough period and stay competitive in this new era. Overall, I am pretty confident that we’ll look back at this period in our business and feel good about the way we chose to handle it.

You work in corporate PR-reputation management at Best Buy. However, you spend a decent amount of your day online on Twitter. Talk a little about the unique way you use Twitter to help further and protect Best Buy’s digital reputation online.

I guess I don’t see it as a “however” proposition. Funny, how we were saying the same thing 10 years ago about e-mail: “You’re spending too much time on it! Get back to work!”

I certainly do not see a distinction between an online, or digital, reputation and an overall company reputation. I have a pretty strong point of view that many are overreacting to social media, and compensating for it by trying to “sell” it as something it’s really not. Case in point: online reputation management. That, to me, is an attempt to spin something that can’t be controlled (reputation) and packaging it into something that can be (SEO, click-throughs, followers, etc.). It’s like pointing to the number of news releases issued in a year as a measure of impact. I’m not buying it.

I was tweeting earlier today with @creichow about our tendencies for flavors of the month. As he correctly pointed out, e-mail today is ubiquitous. But 15 years ago, we agonized over how it would deplete productivity and diminish the value of face-to-face conversations, while others extolled it as the game-changer for organizational excellence. Then, 10 years ago, we were doing the same with e-commerce. Today, what do we do? We agonize over social media, how it depletes productivity and diminishes the value of face-to-face conversations, while others extol its game-changing qualities for organizational excellence.

Again, this is a newer medium, and we need to understand how it works and participate. But the measures for what it can do are better directed at the outcomes, not the outputs. And, soon, this too will evolve, and I’m sure we’ll get all frazzled over the next big thing.

We’ve had a few conversations in the last couple months about the value of APR. I know you hold this certification (as do I) but we both agree there’s work to be done to position the APR designation better in the eyes of the business community. In your mind, how can we best tackle this challenge?

Right now, it’s entirely upon me, the carrier of the designation, to position and articulate its value for my business peers, and even for many of my public relations peers. But I don’t believe better branding for APR is enough. The challenge rests with the undergraduate programs, both in the liberal arts colleges and in the business schools.

The very problem we have with recognition of the accreditation designation – and with the public relations profession, for that matter – stems from the first introduction a student has to the role of public relations in business. If we keep the PR students in one building, and the business students in another building across campus, chances are very good they’ll learn two entirely different sets of ideas, and leave with two different pictures of what success looks like. Last I checked, the ones usually leading in the board rooms aren’t the PR graduates.

I don’t at all discount the liberal arts underpinnings of the profession; I value mine, and I believe they do fill a critical gap missed by business management programs. Additionally, PRSA does play a key role in undergraduate education, and I’m constantly impressed by students involved in the PRSSA chapters. But I don’t think that’s enough to overcome the “PR as marketing tactic” perception held in the business programs.

Until we force more connection between business management principles and communications principles, then we’ll continue to have the same problems with true recognition of public relations as a business management function. (Case in point: Who told Lehman Bros. it was a good idea to stand up at Davos in 2008 and announce that it was shock-proof to any economic hardship?)

Historically, Best Buy has been on the cutting-edge when it comes to new media and technologies—as evidenced by the development of Blue Shirt Nation just a few years back. How is Best Buy leveraging social media tools today to engage its customers and key stakeholders—especially during times like this when customers may not be willing to spend as much discretionary income as they would have in the past?

We sell consumer electronics – the stuff that makes all of this social interaction possible. Broadly, we know that our perspective on technology, and its constantly-changing state, is key to our differentiation against cost-based competitors like Walmart and Amazon. And that’s what customer centricity is about: not a focus on the technology itself, but rather helping consumers use technology in ways that enrich their lives.

So while I don’t think I or any of my colleagues would say that we’ve cracked the code, there is a shared point of view that social forums help us empower people to collaborate, listen, solve problems, and find new opportunities to help consumers discover what technology can do for them. We have a number of ideas, tests, and initiatives in play to engage our people, consumers, and others through these new channels. We know that some will work, others won’t, and everything will constantly evolve. That said, we’re not afraid to take risks, try things, and even fail, so long as we learn something from the experience that will further our business strategy and growth goals.

You’re a former MN PRSA president and long-time advocate for the organization. Talk a little about your involvement with PRSA and how it has helped shape who you are today as a PR practitioner.

I’ve been a card-carrying PRSA member since college, and I can’t give enough credit to the programs, experiences, networks, mentors, and leadership development I gained through active participation in PRSA at local and national levels. My viewpoints around reputation management, for instance, stem from those same theoretical and practical experiences. The accreditation process is vigorous, and the code of ethical conduct is a strong baseline for good practice. I absolutely think the organization is well-poised to help those entering this profession to view their work as a business management function, something that helps an organization steer its actions and words and advocate for the public perception.

I also think PRSA is at an interesting crossroads for its continued relevancy, particularly for those who have an increasing number of years’ experience. Not only is the accreditation program in need of coalition-building within business, we’re seeing business itself continuing to move toward adoption of corporate social responsibility (CSR) principles – that is, social and environmental accountability, as well as financial performance. These are times when the need for clear messages, stakeholder engagement, and advocacy in the court of public opinion has never been greater. Sadly, an entire cottage industry has emerged for CSR, and we don’t see the levels of engagement of public relations principles or practitioners where they need to be. This is more than an agency carving out a CSR practice area, or creating new award entry categories; this is a fundamental opportunity for the public relations profession to shine and add tremendous value to businesses worldwide.

I’m a believer in Bill Murray, the PRSA president, and his ability to navigate the society through this next wave in business, and come out well-positioned on the other side. So I won’t be giving back the membership card anytime soon.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Who's talking on Twitter? A list of moderated conversations and discussions

Below is a short list of hash-tag-based moderated conversations on Twitter. The best way to follow any of these conversations: use an application like TweetChat, enter the hash tag and group name and join the fray. 

Please add any discussions or conversations I've missed. I'll commit to updating this list on a monthly basis as a community resource:

When: Monday nights from 7-10 pm CST
Moderated by: Sarah Evans (@prsaraheavans)
Who should attend: PR professionals, journalists, bloggers
Notable contributors: @storyassistant, @rockstarjen, @rachelakay, @skydiver, @pitchengine, @dannybrown + hundreds of others I'm missing

When: Sunday nights from 8-9 pm CST
Moderated by: Dana Lewis (@danamlewis)
Who should attend: PR/communications pros in health care, physicians, heath care researchers
Notable contributors: @edbennett, @tstitt, @2healthguru, @philbaumann, @billfer, yours truly (@arikhanson) + a slew of other passionate health care folks

#ageop (aka "Age of Opportunity" chat)
When: Thursday nights from 8-9 pm CST
Moderated by: Marc Middleton (@marcmiddleton), Bill Shafer (@billshafter), Katy Widrick (@kwidrick) and Jackie Carlin (@jcarlin)
Who should attend: Anyone interested in "the opportunities that exist for all regardless of age." Topics in previous weeks have included the divide between boomers and Gen Yers and how the Web has changed the lives of those 50-plus.

#gno (aka "Girls Night Out")
When: Tuesday nights from 8-10 pm CST
Moderated by: Featured panelists include Gina LaGuardia, former editor-in-chief of CollegeBound Teen Magazine; editorial director for the CollegeBound Network; @ginalaguardia; Keith Bourne, AdaptiveCampus, @adaptivecampus, Capella University representative; @capellaU; Nicole Russo, Capella University student and single mom of nine-year-old, working online toward a Master of Science in Mental Health Counseling degree, @nicatcapella
Who should attend: "Mommy bloggers", women interested in a variety of relevant and timely topics

When: Thursday nights; 8-9 pm
Moderated by: Chuck Welch (@chuckwelch & @journ2journ)
Who should attend: Journalists
Notable contributors: @lifeofmichael; @catekustanczy, @karenhanson 

#smbiz (aka, "Small Business Chat")
When: Tuesday nights from 8-9 pm CST
Moderated by: John Sternal (@sternalpr)
Who should attend: Small business owners, entrepeneurs, independent marketing and PR consultants; group discusses issues facing small businesses today including hiring and insurance issues (topic for March 3 edition).

Monday, March 2, 2009

Brands on Twitter: What's the best approach?

By now, most of us have seen the lists of brands on Twitter. We know all the major players and early adopters. The Comcasts, Southwest Airlines and Home Depots of the world. But, which brands are really engaging the right way? And how are they positioning themselves on Twitter?

It's important to note at this point, there are no clear-cut right or wrong answers or best practices--at least not in my humble opinion. We're all still learning about this space. The smart brands are just figuring it out faster than others, that's all.

What they're learning is that Twitter represents a people-to-people experience--not an organization to millions of customers experience (mass media model). This is one-to-one. These are real conversations. This is genuine engagement. Are companies ready for that? Some are. Others are terrified. Most are in between and testing the waters.

So, what's a brand to do?

Before your organization starts on Twitter, it needs to make decisions about how it positions its brand. Does your organization tweet under the corporate flag or do you take a more personal approach by letting an employee tweet on the brand's behalf? Or, do you use a hybrid model? Here's a few examples and thoughts about each approach including challenges and potential opportunities:

* PGA TOUR (corporate). One of my personal favorites. The TOUR positions itself publicly as a corporate brand on Twitter--even though some savvy followers know who's tweeting behind the curtain. PGA's bio reads like this: "Golf. Official tweets of the PGA TOUR, Champions Tour and Nationwide Tour."

Most of the time, the brand is live tweeting right from the course during tournaments from week-to-week (since I don't currently subscribe to the Golf Channel, this is how I keep up-to-speed on golf results now), but they mix in general golf and TOUR-related news and information from time to time. Obviously, the TOUR is using Twitter as a way to keep its online legions of fans up-to-date on news and tournament information--as it happens. For me, this is a hugely valuable service. The only downside to this approach is I don't see PGA TOUR engaging with its fans much. That's a missed opportunity in my view. They could learn from their fans. Hear their stories. And connect in a more personal way.

* Ford/Scott Monty (personal). The opposite approach is to enable one of your brand champions to speak on behalf of the company. Enter Scott Monty at Ford. Now, keep in mind, Scott had a very strong personal brand prior to joining Ford. But, for all intents and purposes, he is the face of Ford online. Scott's bio reads like this: "Head of social media at Ford Motor Company, husband, dad, host of and a generally nice guy. Formerly from Boston."

Scott's personal approach humanizes the Ford brand on Twitter. Take another look at his bio. From that short snippet we know that in addition to working for Ford he has a family, is a Sherlock Holmes wonk and hails from Beantown. Feel like you kinda know the guy already, don't you? And online, Scott has worked hard to keep his reputation as a "generally nice guy." And, as a result, he represents Ford in a different way. At times, he speaks on the company's behalf. Other times, he's building personal relationships with other Twitterers (and potential Ford brand advocates). And he's always working to shape the conversation around Ford and its products. This approach puts a more personal touch on the one-to-one conversations that happen on Twitter. After all, isn't this space all about personal interaction and two-way dialogues? Scott knocks it out of the park, in my opinion. Wish more brands were engaging this way.

* Kodak (hybrid). This is the combo platter. The corporate brand is in the Twitter handle title, but we see a name and face associated with the brand as well. In this case, it's Kodak's chief blogger and social media maven Jennifer Cisney. Kodak's bio reads like this: "Jennifer Cisney-Kodak's chief blogger. Design Geek. Photography Nut. Check out"

From this short bio we learned a little about Jennifer personally, which "warms up" the brand. But they're also careful to point us to a corporate Web site where you can find a slew of Kodak social media "assets" through sites like FlickR, YouTube and their various blogs. This is an interesting approach as you get the best of both worlds. Personal, face-to-face interaction (Jennifer's photo is part of the Kodak avatar) and tried-and-true corporate branding (Note: To be clear, Scott/Ford to take this approach to an extent--I just tend to think Scott does more personal tweeting than the Jennifer does).

Many brands have gone this way--Home Depot, Southwest Airlines and Dunkin Donuts just to name a few. Jennifer does an outstanding job as she really takes the time to engage with her followers--as evidenced by the 1,500-plus updates. In addition, I notice a lot of replies (@s) on Kodak's Twitter page--which in my mind, is a good thing. It means Jennifer is listening and engaging with Kodak's fans. Remember the 80-20 rule? 80 percent of your time should be spent listening and engaging. Only 20 percent pushing our original "content." Kodak seems to be following that guideline to the letter.

So, which model do you think works best? And which brands, in your opinion, are executing best on Twitter?