Thursday, June 11, 2009

8 Rules for Pimping Your PR -- Part Deux

Last time, we used the metaphor of 'pimping your ride,' or gussying up a wreck, to describe how social media can help build out and dress up a PR and marketing program. Hopefully, your PR plan isn't currently a shambles, but let's face it. With today's research and information gathering being done over the Internet, any plan that doesn't take full advantage of blogging, chat groups, forums, networking platforms, etc., might as well be sitting on blocks in the driveway. Here are five more rules for the social media highway:

Rule of the Road #5 – Communicate your strategy internally.

Keep your team informed about what you expect from them. They should be reminded that even when they are on their own, home computers and converse online using social networking platforms, they still represent the company. This may rankle some of us here, in the land of the free. But, you wouldn’t think much of an employee who behaved inappropriately in public. You can explain that the virtual world calls for a similar sense of decorum to the physical.

Rule of the Road #6 – Plan for who will say what, when and to whom.

Wha’…? Companies will want to plan for responses to questions, requests, negative/positive comments and complaints. Different spokespeople may be required on different occasions. For example, if a customer writes a searing accusation about your corporation’s product or service, you’ll want a senior-level staff person to respond. Predetermining a response and solution to these eventualities will pay off, big time, when you can sweep in with a ready answer within minutes after receiving their input.

On the other hand, for the more routine exchanges that occur when using online resources for conversations with customers, make sure your company’s representative is articulate, well-informed and empowered to address minor complaints, whenever necessary.

Then, give your spokesperson a plan to carry out your program. It may be that they are expected to write a blog each week, enter a Facebook item daily and Twitter twice a day, for example.

Rule of the Road #7 – Be a thought leader.

Thought leaders who can be looked to for content that is of consistently high value are the bloggers, tweeters and Facebook pals I follow. So do your customers. So be a thought leader. Educate, entertain and engage. Make that your mantra. If your company is a resort developer, please, please, please don’t post blog entries that chirp about your low-cost vacation getaway special! You may get lucky and someone surfing the net to find a bargain such as yours might accidentally stumble over you. But your true objective should be to build a following of loyal supporters. Owners, vacationers, families – the kind of customers you want visiting your resort will be more likely to rely on a familiar resource with which they are already connected, when planning their vacation.

Rule of the Road #8 – Evaluate and measure results after you tweak your PR/marketing plan.

Every time you carry out a campaign or make a significant change in your messaging or strategy, you want to know if it’s making a difference. Sometimes the results can take a while, particularly as you are developing a following. You probably are already set up to monitor whether or not you are getting traffic to your Web site, ink from online and print news sources and how many times the phone rings. Watch these areas to see if a campaign causes a bump. Also, sites such as www.newscactus.com can post your news and watch for track-back traffic. As with any marketing and PR campaign, test and then review results. Then analyze what’s working and do more of that. Easily said; not so easily executed. But, such is life.

Remember, whatever forward motion you take, you’re going to be better off than before. So, hop in the driver’s seat and get going!

Reprinted, courtesy The Trades Publishing Company, July 2009

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

8 Rules For 'Pimping' Your PR With Social Media

“They can have any color Model T they want, as long as it’s black!” were the famous words of Henry Ford at the turn of the 20th century. Back then, the rules of the road were much simpler. Today’s options for ‘pimping your ride’ are much more numerous. The phrase comes from a television program produced by MTV during which a banged-up, saggy looking car is polished and pampered with body work that can include everything from providing a ball spinner in a bowler's trunk, to installing a clothes dryer in a surfer's bank.

Public Relations is, essentially, relating your story to your public. Five years ago it meant that you distributed press releases to representatives of the media and tried to persuade writers and editors to publicize your product, service or event. But today, companies are expected to ‘pimp their ride’ when it comes to using social media in their PR and marketing strategy. Corporations and entrepreneurs are using blogs, chat groups, forums and social networking platforms like Facebook and Twitter to prompt one-on-one conversations directly with their customers. In an Internet-intense world, social media is an essential part of your PR and marketing plan. To help you roll out your new SoMe wheels, here are a few rules of the social media highway:

Rule of the Road #1 – Research, look and listen, before you leap.

Would you walk up to a group at a cocktail party and start announcing your company’s latest promotion? Hardly. Picture the chatter going on today on social networking platforms like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn like huddles of attendees at a huge, public cocktail party. There’s an etiquette to follow that you’re only going to learn through observation and study. You’ll want to find out where your audience ‘hangs out,’ what they’re saying and how they’re accustomed to conversing.

How can you track the public conversation most efficiently? After all, your organization has finite resources. At the micro level, you can begin doing the research, yourself, by using free applications, such as Google Trends, Technorati, Serph and others. (Visit http://takemetoyourleader.com/2009/03/24/free-social-media-monitoring-tools/.) Once you identify the blogs, forums, chat groups and ‘centers’ where your audience is gathering regularly, you can subscribe to various RSS feeds of interest and plan to visit these sites regularly. Software and outsourcing for this kind of tracking is also available through companies such as Vocus, BurrellesLuce and Meltwater.

Rule of the Road #2 – Set priorities, goals and objectives.

Take it from one who has gotten irredeemably lost in the maze, tangle and morass of social media. You can find yourself walking aimlessly on a beach, somewhere, having a very pleasant time but going nowhere, very easily. Like taking a road trip, you need to know where you want to go and map your route, in advance. If you don’t know where you’re going, how will you know when you’ve arrived?

Rule of the Road #3 – Be selective about your audience.

Target marketing is not a new concept, but you’d hardly know it if you followed the paths of many of today’s self-proclaimed social mediarites. Like shooting stars, they are destined to burn out. There are tweeters out there having contests to see who can amass the most followers. What a waste of time. They remind me of a T-shirt I saw recently that showed concentric circles representing narcissism, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and stalking intersecting to form Twitter, Facebook, MySpace and Tweetstalk. Tell me about it!

Time to take a deep breath, step away from the computer and nobody gets hurt.

I suggest you go for quality rather than quantity. Follow the classic PR and marketing strategy of studying your demographic, knowing where they meet, what their interests are and how they prefer to be addressed. Then you can start appearing in all the same places. “Oh! Fancy meeting you here!”

Rule of the Road #4 – Plan to commit the time and resources.

Once you’ve committed to a social media plan, you can begin to figure out how many man-hours are going to be involved in actuating that plan. Perhaps you have team members on staff who will be dedicated to distributing your articles, press releases and other traditional PR and marketing pieces, as well as producing your blogs, tweeting and interacting on the social networking platforms and carrying on the cross-pollination and one-on-one conversations that constitute today’s PR in the online world. On the other hand, maybe it’s up to just one person who has other responsibilities, in addition to the promotion of the company. That’s okay, too. It will take time to build a solid network and to leverage the various PR opportunities, regardless of how much attention you can give to it. If you can outsource the whole function to a proven PR and marketing company (our personal favorite), you’ll have that much more time to concentrate on your core competency and serve your customers.

Next time…Rules 5-8! Oh boy….

Reprinted, courtesy The Trades Publishing Company, July 2009

Friday, May 1, 2009

Social Media: Getting Started

Many executives are wondering how their companies can get started in the social media (SoMe) milieu. If you are one of them, you should be aware that this is still an evolving platform for marketing. As such, it demands a higher level of strategic planning than traditional marketing.

Perhaps a company might have formerly been able to develop new business and retain current clients simply by advertising, direct mail, maintaining a storefront or Web site and by telemarketing. Social networking – the use of various Web 2.0 tools, such as blogging, chat groups, forums, online communities and SoNet platforms like Twitter and Facebook – is radically changing all of this, however. SocialMediaToday calls it "the Social Media Revolution." BusinessWeek claims it "will change your business."

FACT: Our world is changing technologically and demographically.

FACT: Traditional marketing and advertising is making less of an impact on today’s decision-maker.

FACT: Small and midsized businesses could greatly benefit by creating the types of networks and communal resources that are typically only afforded by large corporations.

At Group 221, we were recently approached by a company seeking help in developing a prototype social media marketing strategy. Involved in the travel industry, the company was a leader in their niche, while managing to operate with only 40 or so employees. They had come to a crossroads in the corporation’s lifespan: Their customers’ needs, desires and habits were changing rapidly, while the company’s methodology continued to remain mired in the “old ways” of marketing and communicating. They were searching for new ideas.

Our client quickly grasped the concept that SoMe could help them build a loyal and committed community. They found that our phrase, “a social media marketing strategy allows you to entertain, educate and engage,” resonated and aligned with their corporate goal to become “the go-to place” for their customer base of small, entrepreneurial companies being recruited into a membership program.

Their biggest concern was the manpower resources that might be required. We promised to address this during the course of the project. We agreed to present our new client with a plan that would a) analyze their audience, competition and current status, b) provide them with a nuts-and-bolts, step-by-step social media plan and c) help them determine what resources – internally and/or externally – they would need to achieve their objectives. Our plan was as follows:

Action Plan for Creating Social Media Strategy

1. Group 221 provides the client with a series of proprietary worksheets to serve as a comprehensive questionnaire concerning their business, the competition, current situation and their goals and objectives. We review the worksheets with the client, item by item.

2. We then perform independent research to review the client’s product, what the competition is doing and how to reach the prospective customer.

a. People: Who are your prospects and customers, and how do they feel about your brand, service and products? Are they talking about you online? If so, what is your online reputation? (Positive, negative, neutral?)
b. Competition: What are your competitors doing online? Where can we leapfrog them? What is their online reputation?
c. Prospective Customers: How do your prospects wish to converse? How can you effectively use SoMe to communicate your company’s benefits and gain an audience among professional travel buyers most likely to purchase your product?

3. Group 221 then presents the client with a summary of our findings, recommended tactics to follow and a suggested timetable.

4. We study, analyze and identify resources to implement our client’s plan.

5. We typically provide them with a timetable that schedules activities on a graduated level of intensity. Ordinarily, our clients prefer to start out gradually so that results can be analyzed and quantified.

Conclusion

Companies wishing to excel in today’s environment must, in most cases, adapt themselves to the new methods of communicating. A company that accepts that SoMe needs to be part of their strategic roadmap for survival, must also be willing to allocate some upfront time and brainpower to better understand the “road conditions”; what avenues their customers and competition are taking and what direction they should be taking.

Sharon Drechsler, Group 221

Monday, April 27, 2009

#1 reason businesses should participate in social media

My new friend, a terrific thought-leader and the proximate cause of www.askMANDO.com, Barry Brown, was kind enough to critique my recent apologetic for social media, or SoMe. (See my April 23, 2009 post, "5 Reasons to Participate in Social Media.")

His first impression was that I was talking to a reader that has little or no knowledge of SoMe. Indeed, that was my aim, but I also found the exercise of noodling about this global phenomenon to be refreshing and clarifying. PR and marketing professionals using SoMe often feel they have affixed their passions like votive candles in paper boats amidst a channel of eddying currents. Sometimes we just need a slack tide, for a time.

Barry observes, “There is a good parallel between word-of-mouth and the viral effects of the web, which is the same by a different name. It may be short in scope however, because it stops at “telling two friends”. Think of the chain as trust, then loyalty, and then advocacy (scale). The true power of web market reach is scalability. If you influence the right person, they may have an audience of influence in the hundreds, thousands or even millions. When these individuals become advocates, they extend your reach to many.”

Barry took some umbrage at my upbraiding the recalcitrant – those too intimidated (or is it lazy?) to even take the splash into this bold, new ocean. But he makes a great point that I had missed: The buzz has begun and it’s broiling into one heck of a whirlpool:

“To me the most compelling reason to get into social media is that your customers are already talking about you and your industry online now,” adds Barry. “Maybe something around “the conversation has already started without you” would be a better #1.”

Well said, Barry!

Barry kindly adds, “The blog feels like you, and this is important when you meet later with a reader. ‘Authentic’ counts and I think you hit it.”

Aw, thanks. --Sharon Drechsler, Group 221

Thursday, April 23, 2009

5 Reasons Why Your Company Needs Social Media

Reason #1: Social media is viral.
We ‘old-timers’ remember a shampoo commercial in which a girl tells two friends, they tell two friends and so on, until the television screen is lathered with suds-ridden females virally marketing their favorite shampoo. If you use the Internet (via blogging, social forums, micromedia platforms such as Twitter and Facebook and eNewsletters) to do good things for your customers and prospective customers, you will inspire their loyalty, plus they will tell two friends.


Reason #2: Social media is to marketing, what fire was to the caveman.
How do you think business people felt about the telegraph and telephone when they were first invented? Do you think they automatically embraced its many possibilities? It took even the most intelligent entrepreneurial types a while before they began automatically reaching for the phone instead of the pen if they wanted to reach someone instantly. Companies that ignore social media as the new mode of communication may wish to consider installing tin cans and strings for inner-office conversations. (Nobody in the real world is going to be listening to them, anyway.)


Reason #3: Social media is cheap…well, affordable.
True, it does require time. How much time you invest is for you to decide. One cleverly-planned campaign can make you an overnight sensation. However, it’s more likely you’ll want to strategize to build an audience by reaching out to participate in chat groups and forums, posting informative and entertaining information on your blog and/or eNewsletter and engaging in conversations with individuals and groups of individuals to form ongoing relationships.


Reason #4: Establish your brand as a thought leader.
Social media best practices call for a one-on-one conversation. Compare it to sending a representative of your company to an important social event, perhaps a cocktail party. You want to send someone who will be a credit to your company; someone whose comments will be respected. That person should also be someone who is personable, approachable and able to engage other people in a conversation. Your representative won’t march past the bar and the canapĂ© tray and pronounce your company’s benefits over a loudspeaker system. Rather, they’ll nibble their brioche, sip their merlot and smile politely as they listen and respond to those whom they meet. When they do speak, they are sharing information that has value for the listener. They gain respect for you and your company.


Reason #5: Track your community.
If you use social media for nothing else, you can passively watch what your competition is doing and track what your customers and prospects are discussing, like never before! A well-planned social media plan will identify the micromedia sites, blogs, forums and Web sites to watch. You’ll know when your supporters ‘share the love.’ You’ll see where your detractors are giving you a poke in the rear.


Any more questions? As we here at Group 221 look into our crystal ball, we see that a social media program will certainly be as common an office fixture as a PC on everyone’s desk. (Yes, Virginia, we also remember the days when NASA was the only organization that owned its very own computer!) Those businesses taking a step forward to implement a well-orchestrated plan, now, stand to get in on the ground floor.