College students – Is your online reputation helping or hurting you?

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success

– Image courtesy of Renjith Krishnan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

This post is the first in my new series with communications advice and social media tips for college students making the transition from campus to work. I will share the same techniques and principles I use with business leaders to help you learn how to communicate like a professional.

Getting hired is all about presenting yourself well and effectively describing who you are and what you bring to the table over and above other candidates. While you should focus efforts on meaningful and targeted in-person interactions, you also need to be mindful of your online reputation.

Most hiring managers now routinely search job applicants online. This means after they meet you or read your resume, they will type your name into Google. You want to make sure the search returns information that is consistent with your resume, cover letter and how you presented yourself in-person.

Here are 5 common mistakes that you should fix before you begin to network and apply for positions.  Also, make sure to utilize your career center on campus. They can help you with this and are there to advise and guide you through all aspects of planning your career.

1. Search brings up damaging information.
Take time every few weeks to search your name and keywords (like your college) using all the major search engines. Delete anything that would detract from you as a professional or how you want to be perceived. Make sure your Facebook, Google+, Twitter and other media sharing sites are locked down by setting privacy levels appropriately so you shield your personal activities from the search engines.

2. Search brings up nothing.
An online search with no results could leave the impression that (1) you are hiding something or (2) you have done nothing substantial during your college years. At a minimum you should set up a LinkedIn page. Think of this as your own personal website and use it to your advantage! See #3.

3. No LinkedIn page
If you haven’t taken time to set up your LinkedIn page, set aside 30-45 minutes to establish one. Your career center on campus can help you and it’s free. Go to http://www.linkedin.com and click ‘Join Today’. Sign up for the Basic Account. Do NOT click ‘Sign up with Facebook’. You want to keep these accounts separate. Here are the areas you should complete:

  • Photo. If you don’t have a head shot in professional attire (dark suit jacket/light colored shirt/tie for men and suit jacket/conservative blouse and jewelry for women), then have a friend take one in decent lighting. You may also be able to use your formal fraternity/sorority photo or school picture.
  • Profile. Like your resume, it should be brief and focused on those skills and experiences you are ‘selling’ to employers. You don’t need to list every job and club. Work with your career advisor to select the most meaningful ones. Just as you would with your resume and cover letters, proofread and fix grammatical errors and inconsistencies.
  • Connections. Search and find classmates, professors, colleagues, friends and family that you know in person and invite them to join your network. Always, always include a personal message.
  • Groups. Search and find Groups that match your interests. These could be professional associations, former employers and topical interest groups. At a minimum you should belong to the LinkedIn Groups for the companies and organizations you applying to, your college and at least one area of career interest.

4. Incomplete or unprofessional LinkedIn.
You took the time to set up a LinkedIn page but your profile picture looks like it’s from spring party weekend, you have no connections and no description in your profile. Fix this now!

5. Too much social media activity.
If you Tweet, make sure it is professional.  If it isn’t, then lock it down as you did with Facebook.  You can also share updates on LinkedIn, but don’t go crazy using this feature.  You don’t want to give the impression you spend all your time online. Follow the same rules as with your Profile, if it supports your career goals, post the status. This can be information about a professional event you are attending, a link to a news story that featured your work or a link to an article you found interesting.

It’s time for leaders and all employees to get social

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“The digital environment is not a parallel or purely virtual world, but is part of the daily experience of many people.”

Are those the words of a Silicon Valley entrepreneur? Not even close. Pope Benedict XVI said this in his annual message about the importance of human interaction and relationship-building on social networking platforms. The 85-year-old leader of the Roman Catholic Church now tweets in nine languages and has a YouTube channel. He is in good company with other spiritual leaders, including the Dalai Lama, who has more than six million Twitter followers, a Facebook page and a YouTube channel.

Business leaders are also visible on social networks; Bill Gates, Google CEO Eric Schmidt, Virgin Group Founder Richard Branson, and Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh all have a social media presence.

It’s not just well-known leaders and celebrities who are embracing social media. More and more organizations and companies are empowering employees to use social technologies to make their brand more visible, engage with customers and understand marketplace perceptions.

Interactions on social networking sites can help organizations big and small:

  • reinforce and extend their visibility
  • uncover new opportunities, customers and talent
  • monitor and track conversations to gain intelligence to better serve customers.

For a five step framework on enabling your organization for social, read the full article in CW Bulletin on the International Association of Business Communicators website.

Employees take control of social channels

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--Image courtesy of Mr. Lightman / FreeDigitalPhotos.net--

Image courtesy of Mr. Lightman / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

As companies work to craft ways to extend their visibility in the social space, they are turning more and more to their own staff. The notion of employees as brand evangelists is not new and of course is not limited to social channels. I wrote about this 2 years ago.    

In the marketing profession, companies, like IBM, are investing in retraining staff to engage with customers and prospects in the social space. As Ed Abrams, IBM midmarkets vice president discusses in this post, IBM has been training the marketing team to use social technology to not just fuel demand but to gain insights from dialogues occurring on social channels. “We have changed our marketing and communication team,” Abrams said. “We had to learn how and where to most effectively leverage all this social media capability. For example, we had people who were direct mail specialists but now are specialists in how best to use Twitter. It’s the evolution of marketing.”

Nike too decided it was time to have their own employees run with social campaigns and made headlines last week with its decision to bring social media in-house. It’s expected more companies will follow suit.

It will be interesting to watch how the agency relationship adapts to the increased confidence companies have with social technologies and their desire to own the conversation.

Social media marketing – Top buzz words for 2013

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2013 sign

Image courtesy of Frame Angel / FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

It’s that time of the year for lists so here’s mine for the most used, and sometimes confused, social media marketing terms. But first, let’s stick them into one simple sentence:

Digital natives are naturals at social communication and understand the power of inbound marketing and content marketing as techniques to engage customers.

For those who make a living in marketing, you of course can explain what this means. For those who can’t, here’s a glossary along with a few links for further study.

Happy 2013 and good luck with all your social initiatives this year.

1. Digital native – This is what we call individuals who have grown up using social technology, aka the Facebook Generation. They live a portion of their lives online, naturally, and are the reason why companies are investing heavily in social media marketing.

2. Social communication – Isn’t all communication social? Of course, but we like to distinguish that which occurs using social technologies and networks like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube, blogging, online communities, etc.

3. Inbound marketing – Traditional outbound tactics like advertising, cold calls, and direct mail overtly promote the business to target customers. Inbound marketing is different; it makes customers find you, by drawing them into your website through search (via SEO), content marketing, (see #4), email marketing and analytics.

4. Content marketing – When non-promotional material is published and shared by your business through blogs, micro-blogs, e-books and news stories, this is called content marketing. Of course the content must relate to your business but it does not push a particular product. This can be called thought leadership and is designed to showcase the expertise of your employees and of course to drive traffic to your website (inbound marketing).

5. Engage – To engage is to communicate with other users or companies online through social platforms. Examples are sharing content, liking Facebook posts, commenting on blogs, and writing reviews. The ultimate goal of engagement is to convert the engaging person into a real customer. There is an entire social analytics industry that offers products and services to measure how effective your social media marketing efforts are at doing this and how to adjust campaigns to engage the right prospects.

Here’s a few links if you are interested in more vocabulary. What are your top social media words for 2013?

Social media A to Z : A glossary of terms for 2013 (Social Media Today)
Glossary of social media terms (IBM)
26 Social media marketing terms you need to know (Social Strand Media)

Tell us what you think – What does it take to be a social technology enabled professional?

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What is the profile of a skilled social technology enabled professional?  How will businesses locate individuals equipped with the social media skills needed to help them grow?  What social technology skills do organizations expect their workers to possess? 

Questions like these are at the heart of a new project I’m working on with a team of business professionals and educators. Funded by the National Science Foundation and led by Education Development Center (EDC), our ultimate goal is to provide tools and materials that will aid educators in developing effective curriculum and training programs to prepare future professionals for the ‘social business’ workplace. 

Join me in providing your expert opinion on what it takes to be a social technology enabled professional by sharing your knowledge in this short survey. 

Your comments will help us refine this document before we share it with educators.  As a token of our appreciation, if you are among the first 100 individuals to complete the survey, EDC will send you a Starbucks eGift card. 

Launch the survey now!

Social media for professionals: Five common mistakes to avoid

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In the digital connected world, we are responsible for our professional images not just within the parameters of our real life interactions but online. This is more important now than ever as studies indicate recruiters and employers routinely screen job candidates online. Your colleagues and prospects are probably doing the same. 

As part of my job, I help individuals learn how to use social media to define and manage their online professional reputations. Most people know what they need to do, but have not invested the time and ongoing effort to establish and nurture a good online image. I’ve found there are common mistakes being made that with a little extra effort and focus are easy to overcome. Here are five I see frequently that can detract from a professional image, along with ways to address them.  

  1. Not searching your name on a regular basis. How can you control your image if you don’t know what people see when they Google you? Google your name on a regular basis, start with once a month.
  2. A poorly written bio. Take the time, or ask a good writer, to write a succinct, summary biography, aka personal branding statement. There are countless books and online resources to help you. I found this article nets it out well – 3 Steps to an Outstanding Personal Branding Statement.
  3. An unprofessional photo. Aim for a good headshot that looks like you now, not 10 years ago. You should look professional and approachable.
  4. Inconsistency.  Strive for consistency across all of your web properties (Twitter, Blog, LinkedIn, company website, etc.). Use the same bio / summary paragraph and photo.  
  5. Setting up a Twitter account or blog and not posting to it. This is hard work. If you are not inclined to create content and engage with people through blogging or microblogging, then don’t do it.

The corporate intranet – Are you featuring your people enough?

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‘…because we’re primates with endlessly deep interest in each other…’ writes Lionel Tiger.   

We have an innate interest in our fellow human beings. This is why Facebook is now a daily behavior for so many of us and has made Mark Zuckerberg the world’s richest primatologist, according to Lionel Tiger in a recent WSJ article.  

The corporate intranet is still the mainstay for large organizational  communications, albeit shrinking due to the advent of enterprise social media. Featuring real people and their individual stories and views is a great way to liven up the intranet storyline and generate goodwill across the organization, especially those with many virtual workers.  

We recently launched two series that star employees which have taken off better than expected. The first, titled “Get to know” features an individual each week through a Q&A format where they respond to questions including “What was your first day at IBM like? and “Do you have any hidden talents?”. The other called “Perspectives” features a person who shares a unique work experience and what they learned.

These are easy to produce using a set interview template. Here’s the two we use for our series. You can modify them to suit the culture and message strategy for your organization.

Template-Get to know

Template-Perspectives

Our employees look forward to seeing their colleagues in the limelight. What other tactics have you used to weave the employee story into your communications strategy?

Powerful public speaking – How you say it is as important as what you say

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February 3, 2012

“Pay attention to what I’m saying not how I’m saying it”, said Margaret Thatcher to one of her detractors after he accused her of being shrill and emotional. But style is as important as substance.

Margaret Thatcher

I saw The Iron Lady last night and was truly amazed by Meryl Streep’s performance as Margaret Thatcher and particularly inspired by the scenes where Streep was reenacting Thatcher’s speeches. The movie shows how Thatcher’s speaking style was carefully practiced to maximize the impact of her words.  In particular, she was coached to lower the pitch of her voice and fine tune her physical presence. It’s an understatement to say Thatcher did turn out to be one of the most powerful woman speakers, and leaders, of our times.

What can we learn from this?  We learn that carefully chosen words, spoken clearly and with conviction can inform, inspire and move people to action. We learn that we should spend as much time honing our delivery as creating our content.  We do this by practicing in front of a friend, colleague or spouse and being open to suggestions. We should also pay careful attention to speakers who inspire us to get ideas how to take our skills to the next level.

Here are a few pointers I’ve picked up that have helped me along the way. I hope they help you too.  

  • Stand up tall
  • Be calm
  • Use the ‘presidential pause’ for effect
  • Control the emotion in your voice
  • Control the cadence of your speech, not too fast or slow, but lively enough to hold attention

How do you prepare to make sure you perform your best?

What corporate communicators can learn from Presidential campaign messages

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Believe in America. Rebuild the America we love. The courage to fight for America.  These are taglines for a few 2012 Presidential hopefuls.
 
What can we learn from these?  They are emotional not intellectual pleas. We communicators know that to get buy in on any idea, you’ve got to speak to the heart not just mind. And we know a positive, actionable message motivates more deeply than a negative one.
 
This is vitally important in employee branding – messaging that encapsulates the organizational culture and what it means to work there. It serves to both retain and attract like-minded talent.
employee brands

Screen grabs - Intuit, Bain and IBM

   

Here’s few companies that have powerful employee brand messages. Like candidates vying for votes, these brands know how to generate a positive emotional reaction and translate that into potential employees. 

Online blackouts protest US legislation to regulate Internet

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Google blackout 18Jan2012

Major websites including Wikipedia, Google, Wired and Flickr are taking a stand today against anti-piracy legislation on the table in the US Senate- PROTECT IP Act (PIPA); and US House –  Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). 

In short, the original intent of SOPA and PIPA is to stop people from illegally downloading TV shows and movies, (primarily from foreign web sites) but the language in the legislation is so broad, it could impact sites like this WordPress blog and many others including Wikipedia, Tumblr, Blogger, Flickr and Google. 

I support this protest and believe that if made into law this legislation would disrupt free and open sharing of content. It puts power into the hands of the US Attorney General to police and shutdown sites. 

Wikipedia blackout 18Jan2012

I do support current US law, which will not shut down sites but require them to remove copyright-infringing content upon the request of copyright holders. 

Measures by governments and big media to regulate the Internet need to be carefully crafted so that they do not damage free and open conversations and restrict online freedoms.   

To learn more see -  Sopa and Pipa anti-piracy bills controversy explained (BBC Online) and Protest on web uses shutdown to take on two piracy bills (NY Times).

Social media tools for business – Functional categorization

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social media categories

I recently went through an exercise with a team of digital media colleagues to describe social media tools a professional may encounter on the job. This is a part of a broader project to define what skills workers need to stay competitive in the digitally enabled workplace.

We categorized them based on what the tool is used for because with any social media effort, you first have to define goals, map out which activities will help you achieve those goals and select tools accordingly.

We came up with 14 categories coupled with examples of some of the most widely used tools in each category. Many tools cross over multiple categories so we did our best to slot it into its ‘main’ function.

We know social technologies are advancing rapidly along with new business applications. At this point in time, what do you think of our list? What would you add?

  1. Social networking (Facebook, Linkedin, Google+, Ning)
  1. Private social networking/ enterprise social platforms (Microsoft Sharepoint, Yammer, IBM Lotus Connections, Adobe Connect, Basecamp, Jive, SocialCast)
  1. Blogging (Blogger, Typepad, WordPress)
  1. Microblogging (Twitter, Tumblr)
  1. Media sharing:
    Video (YouTube, Vimeo)
    Audio (Soundcloud, Audioboo, iTunes)
    Photos (Flicker, Instragram, DeviantART, Posterous)
    Documents (Google docs, SlideShare, Issu)
    Multimedia (Tumblr, Posterous)
  1. News/ Bookmarking/ Content Aggregators/ RSS Feeds (Delicious, Digg, Stumbleupon, Quora, Reddit, Slashdot, Feedburner, Technorati, Google Alerts, Google Reader)
  1. Social media productivity tools (Tweetdeck, Hootsuite, Evernote)
  1. Social Q&A/ Customer reviews/ Forums/ Surveys (Answers.com, Yahoo Answers, Quora, Zaga, Yelp, Angies List, Survey Monkey, Doodle)
  1. Geo Location (FourSquare, Oink)
  2. Social living/ E Commerce (Living Social, Groupon, Meetup.com, EBay, Etsy, Virb, Cafepress)
  1. Livecasting/ Online conferencing (WebMeeting, GoToMeeting, Skype, UStream.tv, QIK.com, Livestream.com)
  1. Email campaigns/ Marketing (MailChimp, Constant Contact, Vertical Response)
  2. Social media monitoring/Analytics (Radian6, Google Analytics, Klout, Grader.com)
  1. Wikis (PBWorks, MediaWiki, Wikispaces, SocialText, WetPaint)

Snow, power outages, Facebook and Twitter: Utilities go social to reassure customers

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“Thank God for my i-phone, it was the only contact with the outside world” said one of my siblings still in the dark after the Northeast snowstorm last weekend. With power and phone lines still laying twisted in the ruins of snow covered trees all over Massachusetts and Connecticut, utilities are using Facebook posts and tweets to keep their customers informed and safe. 

Beyond customer service

Besides good customer service, social media helped ensure public safety during the height of the storm, warning people not to go near downed trees with potentially live wires hidden beneath the deep snow and to receive and respond to reports of outages.

Westfield Gas and Electric is posting repair activity information on their Facebook page, providing up to the minute detail on which streets they are working on and responding quickly to the inquires of frustrated customers.

Connecticut Light and Power is doing the same with their Twitter feed.

Social media and public safety

Social media is widely used for customer service but is in its nascent stages in public safety.  I think we will see more and more utilities, organizations, law enforcement agencies and local governments begin to use this channel to serve and protect their citizenry.

The Connecticut and Massachusetts utilities’ social media efforts in the wake of this early snowstorm are a nice example of serving customers well and looking out for their well being.

Making your point with profanity – Does it really work?

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Colorful language in the workplace is nothing new but business books titled with profanity? A product of increasingly casual in-the-moment communication styles possible with mobile and social technologies? Or the urge to be ‘distinguished’ in a crowded market?

I’ve been getting bombarded with ads for the new social media how to: No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media .

Profanity in the spoken word can sometimes be effective when used judiciously by a respected  person — with the right audience – to make a point. But the written word? I think it’s a lazy cop-out for weak language skills and when used to title a professional book, diminishes the credibility of the author and message therein.

Is this the best way to sell ideas to highly educated, professional market?  But then the title did get my attention. What do you think?

New roles in the social media age – Community Manager

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Social networking channels have revitalized the marketing profession and at the same time created new roles in enterprises large and small. The community manager or online community manager is one such role companies are now staffing.

Part marketing, part PR and part customer service, the community manager serves as the online voice for your brand on those social networks you’ve selected to have a presence. Their purpose is to not only broaden awareness and interest in what you offer but to cultivate the brand-customer relationship. They offer information and interact with customers. Responsiblities will vary from job to job, but here’s the core set.

  • Cultivate a strong community and manage interaction around the brand using select social properties (Facebook, Twitter, company blog, LinkedIn, etc.)
  • Write content to post to social accounts maintaining a regular cadence of posts to keep readers engaged.
  • Coordinate with marketing, PR, and customer service colleagues to support their respective missions, ensuring consistency in voice.
  • Investigate and create social campaigns as needed to support targeted initiatives.
  • Monitor metrics to gauge the growth of the community.
  • Analyze and report on the effectiveness of social campaigns.

What else would you add?

Hurricane Irene – Lessons for communicators

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Hurricane Irene aftermath, Pennsylvania

 There was a sizable disconnect between what the media was reporting about Hurricane Irene and what the official national hurricane center forecast was (who all along predicted the storm would weaken). Did the weather channel the worse offender lose any credibility? Will people believe what they hear from them the next time? Will they go someplace else to get better information?

In this era of building community around communications, trust is paramount.  Are we compromising it in the quest to grab readers, viewers, likes, shares and retweets?  I’ve seen one too many headlines that overpromise and underdeliver. There’s got to be a better balance between reality and creativity so that we do what we are supposed to as professional communicators.

Is your message getting through?

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You’ve seem them — the Recession 101 billboards. The Outdoor Advertising Association’s inspirational campaign to get people to stop worrying about our dreadful economy.    

These snappy messages are attention grabbing. But attention isn’t enough. A good  message has to be something your audience can relate to — personally.  Bill Gates starting his company in a recession?  Come on. 

So a quick lesson for communicators in organizations large and small. Make it personal.  Don’t talk in abstract terms about millions in market opportunities over the next 10 years or transformative strategies that position the company for future growth. 

Know your audience and decide what you want to accomplish. Then say it so it’s meaningful, something they can actually take action on or relate to in their role. That $20 million market opportunity has more meaning to a sales exec when you say they can close 10% more in sales this year.

Back to basics part 3: A communications plan template anyone can use

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pencilsI’m working with a non-profit that needed a marketing communications plan.  They’ve got decent visibility, a sound reputation, and a long history.  But they were facing competitive and budgetary pressures and needed to expand awareness of their offering and attract more businesses to sponsor their work.  

Here’s a snapshot of the 4 step process we went through to define a plan. It lays out in question format, how we defined goals, who we needed to communicate with, what messages we needed to transmit and how we could best distribute those messages. 

You can take this and apply it to any communications campaign or activity and use it to develop a work plan, assign responsibilities and allocate budget.

Laying out the plan

1. Define Goals

What are the desired outcomes?  Is it to create awareness?  Broaden the reach of our message?  Spur people to take action?   

2. Define Target Audience

Who do we want to reach?  Do we know what they care about?  Does their age or gender matter?  Where are they located? 

3. Create Key Messages

What do we need our audience to know?  How can we say it so that it is understandable and motivates them to do what we want them to do? 

4. Select Channels

Where is the best place to reach our audience?  Do we know where they go for information and how they consume it?  Are they mobile and tech savvy?  Are they on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter?  Do they read blogs?  Do they watch TV or listen to the radio? Do they prefer print?  Are there events where we can engage with them? 

Learning from and refining the plan  

Evaluating what we did will complete the planning cycle.  This will help us understand the effectiveness of our campaign and if it did in fact help achieve intended goals.  This is an ongoing process so that tactics can be assessed and fine tuned to achieve desired outcomes.

What else would you add to the planning process?

Is Twitter a big fat waste of time?

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 Twitter doesn’t make you credible, or smarter. Some of the most popular and respected intellectual voices (and best selling authors) of our time are not active tweeters.

I like millions, tweeted over to the Twitter party a year ago (that’s how a lot of people describe it, ‘hey it’s like a cocktail party with all these cool conversations going on’). But shockingly, I found little value. So two weeks ago I decided to leave the party. (Well I did leave my handle there with a pointer to my blog and LinkedIn). Guess what? I’m still getting followers. And I’m even more informed and connected to the people and things I care about. Why? It’s called focus. I’m blocking out the noise, and focusing my brain capital on activities where I find value.

I’m still informed. I’m still learning. But I’m selective and don’t need an endless Twitter stream to keep me in the know. Sure there is a place for Twitter and I think the corporate accounts function well as newsfeeds. But for individuals (you know, real people), ask yourself, is this a good use of my time? What do I hope to get out of this? Should I be applying my talent and intellectual energy in other places?

Back to basics, part 2: Amazing business writing in four easy steps

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In this era of rapid fire, anyplace, anytime communications, creating engaging and easy-to-digest copy is imperative. This is within every business writer’s reach if you follow this 3-C mantra: 

Concise — Clear — Compelling

You don’t have to be a famous author or blogger to achieve this.  Just keep these points in mind and you’ll be amazed what you can create.  And your readers will appreciate it too.   

 1. Write less. Use short, to the point sentences. If a phrase or word doesn’t contribute to the meaning, scratch it. Don’t qualify or explore every contingency. Make the point and move on.

2. Be active. Say it with conviction by using active voice — your subject is doing the action, eg. The shark bit off the surfer’s foot. Not – The surfer’s foot was bitten off by the shark.   

3. Hear it. Read what you wrote aloud as the final test. If it sounds stiff or impersonal, rewrite. Use contractions, spell out acronyms and eliminate jargon and pretentious words to humanize your message. Remember you want to talk to not at your reader.  

4. Make it scan-able. Use bulleted lists, bold text, call-outs and meaningful images to make key ideas jump OUT at your readers.

 This is just a start. If you want a complete 30 day workout – check out Matthew Stibbes’ Better business Writing in 30 Days.

More from Back to basics:

Back to basics, part 1: Rock-star presentations

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rock star cat

Courtesy of guzer.com

 

The Back to Basics series provides proven advice for powerful business communications.  

How many meetings have you been to where speaker after speaker parades across the stage, happily clicking through slides with 8pt text, complex graphs and dumb quotes? Or even worse, reciting every word on the slide. 

If you are in the business of public speaking or preparing content, some up front planning and what I call ‘graphics restraint’ will go a long way. It doesn’t matter if your audience is or  5 or 5,000. The same rules apply.  

First, ask yourself, what is the one thing I want them to remember. You know, the ‘take-away’. From there, decide what three points you need to make to get them to remember this. Then, and only then, begin to build your story on the slides, following these four rules: 

1. One idea per slide

People read ahead. Don’t spill the beans all at once.  Build your story one idea at a time so you keep your audience engaged and message clear.

 2. Simple graphics and pictures

You don’t want brain energy focused on figuring out what that weird line chart with 45 arrows pointing up, down, across and diagionally means. Better, use a large photo or simple chart, or some high impact text, in a large interesting font that conveys the idea.

 3. Put speaker notes in their place

Do NOT put what you are going to say on the slide. The slide reinforces what you will say, not the other way around. Write down your notes separately and have them on hand to refer to.  

 4. Seamless from end to end

End, as you began, by re-stating the key idea.  

A must read is Chip and Dan Heath’s Made to Stick .  This book will teach you how to craft and communicate ideas that are not only memorable but inspire the action you want. 

What other tips would you add to the mix?

Three important reasons why your company’s leaders should be using social media

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It’s not good enough for the leadership team to be visible simply inside the company anymore. They need to be known beyond company walls and the employee intranet. They do not need to become Twitter or blog celebrities but should be actively engaged on appropriate social channels that reinforce their professional reputation and that of the company. Here’s why: 

1. Branding – Leaders support and cultivate the corporate culture. They represent why the company is a great place to work. 

2. Employee engagement – Today’s workplace extends well beyond office boundaries. Social networks enable human interactions essential for a successful global workforce. If employees are more connected to what their leaders are saying, they will be more committed. 

3. Attracting business and talent – Social media enables leaders to expand their reach. A larger sphere of influence enables them to tap into and attract a wider talent pool, uncover new sales opportunities and forge additional business partnerships.

The easiest way to start is to build a good LinkedIn presence.  From here, leaders can guest post on a company blog, participate in LinkedIn Group discussions, share their thoughts by commenting on blogs in their field and even consider setting up their own Twitter account or blog.

Leaders can’t sit back anymore. They should not only listen to what is being said about their company online, but need to be seeding and participating in the discussion themselves.

Three digital marketing resolutions you must make for the new year

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You’ve got compelling content, a blog, a few Twitter handles and a Facebook fan page. Done. Well, not so fast. 

Are you sure your content is optimized for search?  Have you empowered your own employees with social media?   Have you integrated a social element in all of your marketing and PR activities? 

To get more power and reach out of your digital marketing activities, make a commitment to  integrate and  further institutionalize social media across all external communications programs.  Begin with these three resolutions: 

1. Create a social culture  

Make employees brand ambassadors. Get better at syndicating content across all of your social properties and empower employees to link, share and start the dialogue.  Have leaders lead by example and hold brand and marketing managers accountable for driving the socialization of content.     

2. Optimize for search

Do your writers and editors understand SEO?  Do they know how to craft a headline, write, and organize content so that it ranks well in search. Require all writers and editors, including contract ones,  to complete writing for SEO and search engine marketing training.

 3. Repurpose 

You don’t have to write a blog entry from scratch every time.  Slice up the big study your company just published and create an engaging series.  Summarize and link to bylines authored by employees, events, media mentions and create short posts to publicize speaking engagements, linking to photos, audio and video. 

Don’t stop here – read Pam Moore’s 2011 predictions why businesses will fail at social media and get to work.

Four reasons why it’s worth your time to comment on blogs

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Want to blog but don’t know where to start? Get over the learning curve by first commenting on others’ blog posts. This is a good use of your time and not only to sharpen your writing skills. Taking the time to write comments to blog posts is worth the effort. When you post a comment under your name, you create a proofpoint for your personal brand which demonstrates and validates: 

 

1. your knowledge

2. your ability to think critically

3. your skill at crafting a convincing viewpoint

4. your willingness to share and add value

Here’s a step by step to launch this activity:

1. Subscribe to a few blogs written by reputable leaders and thinkers in your field and read them on a regular basis. 

2. Keep in mind what you are working on or content that you have recently wrote that can be used to craft a blog comment. 

3. Commit to posting a comment as least once / week or more if you read something you can add valuable insight to. 

To manage and control comments under your name, think about using a blog commenting system. I use Disgus Profile. It’s worth doing because it allows you to authenticate yourself when commenting thereby enabling you to ‘lay claim’ to anything you took the time to write. You can also manage comments (search, edit, delete etc) at any time. 

Any comments?

Writer’s block? Create a blogging bank so you never run out of ideas

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monkey smiling

Is it ok to go dark every once in a while online?  We all need a break and disconnecting can be a form of much needed renewal.  So after my 2 month blogging break, I’m now inspired and resolved to follow Tom Pick’s Seven tips to a healthy blog.  Of course, the first, and yes most important, is to Post Regularly.  Ha, easier said than done.

Saving for your (blog’s) future

I’ve found my blogging shortfall is capturing and organizing ideas.  I have an editorial calendar, but find it too constraining.  I needed a way to add discipline to the creative process while sticking to my main themes.  So I created a Blogging Bank.  I don’t know who coined the term (no pun intended) but it’s a great idea.  

A Blogging Bank is a place where you spontaneously dump your fabulous creative ideas as they happen. You then periodically survey this random list of thoughts and look for common threads and ideas that can be built out into an interesting piece. You can even organize them into an editorial calendar.  

This is an incredibly simple task, but you need to get into the habit of making regular deposits. Here’s how I created my bank account:

  1. I set up a folder on my desktop
  2. I stuck an MS Word file there. It has a table with 3 columns– Main Idea, Theme, Stuff.  The Stuff column contains urls, images, quotes, and in some cases rudimentary writing or an intro. 
  3. I also dump images, presentation decks and other inspiring raw materials into this folder. 

 A lot of my aha moments are when I’m away from the keyboard, so I use my voice notes recorder on my SmartPhone to capture for later depositing.  Social bookmarking is also valuable, I use StumbleUpon.   

If you are blogging for your company, read Jeremy Victor’s 18 Hot topics for B2B blogs first, and create separate ‘accounts’ for each Topic.  

How to you keep track of and harness your creativity?

College students – Is your online reputation helping or hurting you?

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success

– Image courtesy of Renjith Krishnan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

This post is the first in my new series with communications advice and social media tips for college students making the transition from campus to work. I will share the same techniques and principles I use with business leaders to help you learn how to communicate like a professional.

Getting hired is all about presenting yourself well and effectively describing who you are and what you bring to the table over and above other candidates. While you should focus efforts on meaningful and targeted in-person interactions, you also need to be mindful of your online reputation.

Most hiring managers now routinely search job applicants online. This means after they meet you or read your resume, they will type your name into Google. You want to make sure the search returns information that is consistent with your resume, cover letter and how you presented yourself in-person.

Here are 5 common mistakes that you should fix before you begin to network and apply for positions.  Also, make sure to utilize your career center on campus. They can help you with this and are there to advise and guide you through all aspects of planning your career.

1. Search brings up damaging information.
Take time every few weeks to search your name and keywords (like your college) using all the major search engines. Delete anything that would detract from you as a professional or how you want to be perceived. Make sure your Facebook, Google+, Twitter and other media sharing sites are locked down by setting privacy levels appropriately so you shield your personal activities from the search engines.

2. Search brings up nothing.
An online search with no results could leave the impression that (1) you are hiding something or (2) you have done nothing substantial during your college years. At a minimum you should set up a LinkedIn page. Think of this as your own personal website and use it to your advantage! See #3.

3. No LinkedIn page
If you haven’t taken time to set up your LinkedIn page, set aside 30-45 minutes to establish one. Your career center on campus can help you and it’s free. Go to http://www.linkedin.com and click ‘Join Today’. Sign up for the Basic Account. Do NOT click ‘Sign up with Facebook’. You want to keep these accounts separate. Here are the areas you should complete:

  • Photo. If you don’t have a head shot in professional attire (dark suit jacket/light colored shirt/tie for men and suit jacket/conservative blouse and jewelry for women), then have a friend take one in decent lighting. You may also be able to use your formal fraternity/sorority photo or school picture.
  • Profile. Like your resume, it should be brief and focused on those skills and experiences you are ‘selling’ to employers. You don’t need to list every job and club. Work with your career advisor to select the most meaningful ones. Just as you would with your resume and cover letters, proofread and fix grammatical errors and inconsistencies.
  • Connections. Search and find classmates, professors, colleagues, friends and family that you know in person and invite them to join your network. Always, always include a personal message.
  • Groups. Search and find Groups that match your interests. These could be professional associations, former employers and topical interest groups. At a minimum you should belong to the LinkedIn Groups for the companies and organizations you applying to, your college and at least one area of career interest.

4. Incomplete or unprofessional LinkedIn.
You took the time to set up a LinkedIn page but your profile picture looks like it’s from spring party weekend, you have no connections and no description in your profile. Fix this now!

5. Too much social media activity.
If you Tweet, make sure it is professional.  If it isn’t, then lock it down as you did with Facebook.  You can also share updates on LinkedIn, but don’t go crazy using this feature.  You don’t want to give the impression you spend all your time online. Follow the same rules as with your Profile, if it supports your career goals, post the status. This can be information about a professional event you are attending, a link to a news story that featured your work or a link to an article you found interesting.

It’s time for leaders and all employees to get social

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“The digital environment is not a parallel or purely virtual world, but is part of the daily experience of many people.”

Are those the words of a Silicon Valley entrepreneur? Not even close. Pope Benedict XVI said this in his annual message about the importance of human interaction and relationship-building on social networking platforms. The 85-year-old leader of the Roman Catholic Church now tweets in nine languages and has a YouTube channel. He is in good company with other spiritual leaders, including the Dalai Lama, who has more than six million Twitter followers, a Facebook page and a YouTube channel.

Business leaders are also visible on social networks; Bill Gates, Google CEO Eric Schmidt, Virgin Group Founder Richard Branson, and Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh all have a social media presence.

It’s not just well-known leaders and celebrities who are embracing social media. More and more organizations and companies are empowering employees to use social technologies to make their brand more visible, engage with customers and understand marketplace perceptions.

Interactions on social networking sites can help organizations big and small:

  • reinforce and extend their visibility
  • uncover new opportunities, customers and talent
  • monitor and track conversations to gain intelligence to better serve customers.

For a five step framework on enabling your organization for social, read the full article in CW Bulletin on the International Association of Business Communicators website.

Employees take control of social channels

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--Image courtesy of Mr. Lightman / FreeDigitalPhotos.net--

Image courtesy of Mr. Lightman / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

As companies work to craft ways to extend their visibility in the social space, they are turning more and more to their own staff. The notion of employees as brand evangelists is not new and of course is not limited to social channels. I wrote about this 2 years ago.    

In the marketing profession, companies, like IBM, are investing in retraining staff to engage with customers and prospects in the social space. As Ed Abrams, IBM midmarkets vice president discusses in this post, IBM has been training the marketing team to use social technology to not just fuel demand but to gain insights from dialogues occurring on social channels. “We have changed our marketing and communication team,” Abrams said. “We had to learn how and where to most effectively leverage all this social media capability. For example, we had people who were direct mail specialists but now are specialists in how best to use Twitter. It’s the evolution of marketing.”

Nike too decided it was time to have their own employees run with social campaigns and made headlines last week with its decision to bring social media in-house. It’s expected more companies will follow suit.

It will be interesting to watch how the agency relationship adapts to the increased confidence companies have with social technologies and their desire to own the conversation.

Social media marketing – Top buzz words for 2013

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2013 sign

Image courtesy of Frame Angel / FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

It’s that time of the year for lists so here’s mine for the most used, and sometimes confused, social media marketing terms. But first, let’s stick them into one simple sentence:

Digital natives are naturals at social communication and understand the power of inbound marketing and content marketing as techniques to engage customers.

For those who make a living in marketing, you of course can explain what this means. For those who can’t, here’s a glossary along with a few links for further study.

Happy 2013 and good luck with all your social initiatives this year.

1. Digital native – This is what we call individuals who have grown up using social technology, aka the Facebook Generation. They live a portion of their lives online, naturally, and are the reason why companies are investing heavily in social media marketing.

2. Social communication – Isn’t all communication social? Of course, but we like to distinguish that which occurs using social technologies and networks like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube, blogging, online communities, etc.

3. Inbound marketing – Traditional outbound tactics like advertising, cold calls, and direct mail overtly promote the business to target customers. Inbound marketing is different; it makes customers find you, by drawing them into your website through search (via SEO), content marketing, (see #4), email marketing and analytics.

4. Content marketing – When non-promotional material is published and shared by your business through blogs, micro-blogs, e-books and news stories, this is called content marketing. Of course the content must relate to your business but it does not push a particular product. This can be called thought leadership and is designed to showcase the expertise of your employees and of course to drive traffic to your website (inbound marketing).

5. Engage – To engage is to communicate with other users or companies online through social platforms. Examples are sharing content, liking Facebook posts, commenting on blogs, and writing reviews. The ultimate goal of engagement is to convert the engaging person into a real customer. There is an entire social analytics industry that offers products and services to measure how effective your social media marketing efforts are at doing this and how to adjust campaigns to engage the right prospects.

Here’s a few links if you are interested in more vocabulary. What are your top social media words for 2013?

Social media A to Z : A glossary of terms for 2013 (Social Media Today)
Glossary of social media terms (IBM)
26 Social media marketing terms you need to know (Social Strand Media)

Tell us what you think – What does it take to be a social technology enabled professional?

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What is the profile of a skilled social technology enabled professional?  How will businesses locate individuals equipped with the social media skills needed to help them grow?  What social technology skills do organizations expect their workers to possess? 

Questions like these are at the heart of a new project I’m working on with a team of business professionals and educators. Funded by the National Science Foundation and led by Education Development Center (EDC), our ultimate goal is to provide tools and materials that will aid educators in developing effective curriculum and training programs to prepare future professionals for the ‘social business’ workplace. 

Join me in providing your expert opinion on what it takes to be a social technology enabled professional by sharing your knowledge in this short survey. 

Your comments will help us refine this document before we share it with educators.  As a token of our appreciation, if you are among the first 100 individuals to complete the survey, EDC will send you a Starbucks eGift card. 

Launch the survey now!

Social media for professionals: Five common mistakes to avoid

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In the digital connected world, we are responsible for our professional images not just within the parameters of our real life interactions but online. This is more important now than ever as studies indicate recruiters and employers routinely screen job candidates online. Your colleagues and prospects are probably doing the same. 

As part of my job, I help individuals learn how to use social media to define and manage their online professional reputations. Most people know what they need to do, but have not invested the time and ongoing effort to establish and nurture a good online image. I’ve found there are common mistakes being made that with a little extra effort and focus are easy to overcome. Here are five I see frequently that can detract from a professional image, along with ways to address them.  

  1. Not searching your name on a regular basis. How can you control your image if you don’t know what people see when they Google you? Google your name on a regular basis, start with once a month.
  2. A poorly written bio. Take the time, or ask a good writer, to write a succinct, summary biography, aka personal branding statement. There are countless books and online resources to help you. I found this article nets it out well – 3 Steps to an Outstanding Personal Branding Statement.
  3. An unprofessional photo. Aim for a good headshot that looks like you now, not 10 years ago. You should look professional and approachable.
  4. Inconsistency.  Strive for consistency across all of your web properties (Twitter, Blog, LinkedIn, company website, etc.). Use the same bio / summary paragraph and photo.  
  5. Setting up a Twitter account or blog and not posting to it. This is hard work. If you are not inclined to create content and engage with people through blogging or microblogging, then don’t do it.

The corporate intranet – Are you featuring your people enough?

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‘…because we’re primates with endlessly deep interest in each other…’ writes Lionel Tiger.   

We have an innate interest in our fellow human beings. This is why Facebook is now a daily behavior for so many of us and has made Mark Zuckerberg the world’s richest primatologist, according to Lionel Tiger in a recent WSJ article.  

The corporate intranet is still the mainstay for large organizational  communications, albeit shrinking due to the advent of enterprise social media. Featuring real people and their individual stories and views is a great way to liven up the intranet storyline and generate goodwill across the organization, especially those with many virtual workers.  

We recently launched two series that star employees which have taken off better than expected. The first, titled “Get to know” features an individual each week through a Q&A format where they respond to questions including “What was your first day at IBM like? and “Do you have any hidden talents?”. The other called “Perspectives” features a person who shares a unique work experience and what they learned.

These are easy to produce using a set interview template. Here’s the two we use for our series. You can modify them to suit the culture and message strategy for your organization.

Template-Get to know

Template-Perspectives

Our employees look forward to seeing their colleagues in the limelight. What other tactics have you used to weave the employee story into your communications strategy?

Powerful public speaking – How you say it is as important as what you say

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February 3, 2012

“Pay attention to what I’m saying not how I’m saying it”, said Margaret Thatcher to one of her detractors after he accused her of being shrill and emotional. But style is as important as substance.

Margaret Thatcher

I saw The Iron Lady last night and was truly amazed by Meryl Streep’s performance as Margaret Thatcher and particularly inspired by the scenes where Streep was reenacting Thatcher’s speeches. The movie shows how Thatcher’s speaking style was carefully practiced to maximize the impact of her words.  In particular, she was coached to lower the pitch of her voice and fine tune her physical presence. It’s an understatement to say Thatcher did turn out to be one of the most powerful woman speakers, and leaders, of our times.

What can we learn from this?  We learn that carefully chosen words, spoken clearly and with conviction can inform, inspire and move people to action. We learn that we should spend as much time honing our delivery as creating our content.  We do this by practicing in front of a friend, colleague or spouse and being open to suggestions. We should also pay careful attention to speakers who inspire us to get ideas how to take our skills to the next level.

Here are a few pointers I’ve picked up that have helped me along the way. I hope they help you too.  

  • Stand up tall
  • Be calm
  • Use the ‘presidential pause’ for effect
  • Control the emotion in your voice
  • Control the cadence of your speech, not too fast or slow, but lively enough to hold attention

How do you prepare to make sure you perform your best?

What corporate communicators can learn from Presidential campaign messages

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Believe in America. Rebuild the America we love. The courage to fight for America.  These are taglines for a few 2012 Presidential hopefuls.
 
What can we learn from these?  They are emotional not intellectual pleas. We communicators know that to get buy in on any idea, you’ve got to speak to the heart not just mind. And we know a positive, actionable message motivates more deeply than a negative one.
 
This is vitally important in employee branding – messaging that encapsulates the organizational culture and what it means to work there. It serves to both retain and attract like-minded talent.
employee brands

Screen grabs - Intuit, Bain and IBM

   

Here’s few companies that have powerful employee brand messages. Like candidates vying for votes, these brands know how to generate a positive emotional reaction and translate that into potential employees. 

Online blackouts protest US legislation to regulate Internet

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Google blackout 18Jan2012

Major websites including Wikipedia, Google, Wired and Flickr are taking a stand today against anti-piracy legislation on the table in the US Senate- PROTECT IP Act (PIPA); and US House –  Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). 

In short, the original intent of SOPA and PIPA is to stop people from illegally downloading TV shows and movies, (primarily from foreign web sites) but the language in the legislation is so broad, it could impact sites like this WordPress blog and many others including Wikipedia, Tumblr, Blogger, Flickr and Google. 

I support this protest and believe that if made into law this legislation would disrupt free and open sharing of content. It puts power into the hands of the US Attorney General to police and shutdown sites. 

Wikipedia blackout 18Jan2012

I do support current US law, which will not shut down sites but require them to remove copyright-infringing content upon the request of copyright holders. 

Measures by governments and big media to regulate the Internet need to be carefully crafted so that they do not damage free and open conversations and restrict online freedoms.   

To learn more see -  Sopa and Pipa anti-piracy bills controversy explained (BBC Online) and Protest on web uses shutdown to take on two piracy bills (NY Times).

Social media tools for business – Functional categorization

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social media categories

I recently went through an exercise with a team of digital media colleagues to describe social media tools a professional may encounter on the job. This is a part of a broader project to define what skills workers need to stay competitive in the digitally enabled workplace.

We categorized them based on what the tool is used for because with any social media effort, you first have to define goals, map out which activities will help you achieve those goals and select tools accordingly.

We came up with 14 categories coupled with examples of some of the most widely used tools in each category. Many tools cross over multiple categories so we did our best to slot it into its ‘main’ function.

We know social technologies are advancing rapidly along with new business applications. At this point in time, what do you think of our list? What would you add?

  1. Social networking (Facebook, Linkedin, Google+, Ning)
  1. Private social networking/ enterprise social platforms (Microsoft Sharepoint, Yammer, IBM Lotus Connections, Adobe Connect, Basecamp, Jive, SocialCast)
  1. Blogging (Blogger, Typepad, WordPress)
  1. Microblogging (Twitter, Tumblr)
  1. Media sharing:
    Video (YouTube, Vimeo)
    Audio (Soundcloud, Audioboo, iTunes)
    Photos (Flicker, Instragram, DeviantART, Posterous)
    Documents (Google docs, SlideShare, Issu)
    Multimedia (Tumblr, Posterous)
  1. News/ Bookmarking/ Content Aggregators/ RSS Feeds (Delicious, Digg, Stumbleupon, Quora, Reddit, Slashdot, Feedburner, Technorati, Google Alerts, Google Reader)
  1. Social media productivity tools (Tweetdeck, Hootsuite, Evernote)
  1. Social Q&A/ Customer reviews/ Forums/ Surveys (Answers.com, Yahoo Answers, Quora, Zaga, Yelp, Angies List, Survey Monkey, Doodle)
  1. Geo Location (FourSquare, Oink)
  2. Social living/ E Commerce (Living Social, Groupon, Meetup.com, EBay, Etsy, Virb, Cafepress)
  1. Livecasting/ Online conferencing (WebMeeting, GoToMeeting, Skype, UStream.tv, QIK.com, Livestream.com)
  1. Email campaigns/ Marketing (MailChimp, Constant Contact, Vertical Response)
  2. Social media monitoring/Analytics (Radian6, Google Analytics, Klout, Grader.com)
  1. Wikis (PBWorks, MediaWiki, Wikispaces, SocialText, WetPaint)

Snow, power outages, Facebook and Twitter: Utilities go social to reassure customers

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“Thank God for my i-phone, it was the only contact with the outside world” said one of my siblings still in the dark after the Northeast snowstorm last weekend. With power and phone lines still laying twisted in the ruins of snow covered trees all over Massachusetts and Connecticut, utilities are using Facebook posts and tweets to keep their customers informed and safe. 

Beyond customer service

Besides good customer service, social media helped ensure public safety during the height of the storm, warning people not to go near downed trees with potentially live wires hidden beneath the deep snow and to receive and respond to reports of outages.

Westfield Gas and Electric is posting repair activity information on their Facebook page, providing up to the minute detail on which streets they are working on and responding quickly to the inquires of frustrated customers.

Connecticut Light and Power is doing the same with their Twitter feed.

Social media and public safety

Social media is widely used for customer service but is in its nascent stages in public safety.  I think we will see more and more utilities, organizations, law enforcement agencies and local governments begin to use this channel to serve and protect their citizenry.

The Connecticut and Massachusetts utilities’ social media efforts in the wake of this early snowstorm are a nice example of serving customers well and looking out for their well being.

Making your point with profanity – Does it really work?

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Colorful language in the workplace is nothing new but business books titled with profanity? A product of increasingly casual in-the-moment communication styles possible with mobile and social technologies? Or the urge to be ‘distinguished’ in a crowded market?

I’ve been getting bombarded with ads for the new social media how to: No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media .

Profanity in the spoken word can sometimes be effective when used judiciously by a respected  person — with the right audience – to make a point. But the written word? I think it’s a lazy cop-out for weak language skills and when used to title a professional book, diminishes the credibility of the author and message therein.

Is this the best way to sell ideas to highly educated, professional market?  But then the title did get my attention. What do you think?

New roles in the social media age – Community Manager

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Social networking channels have revitalized the marketing profession and at the same time created new roles in enterprises large and small. The community manager or online community manager is one such role companies are now staffing.

Part marketing, part PR and part customer service, the community manager serves as the online voice for your brand on those social networks you’ve selected to have a presence. Their purpose is to not only broaden awareness and interest in what you offer but to cultivate the brand-customer relationship. They offer information and interact with customers. Responsiblities will vary from job to job, but here’s the core set.

  • Cultivate a strong community and manage interaction around the brand using select social properties (Facebook, Twitter, company blog, LinkedIn, etc.)
  • Write content to post to social accounts maintaining a regular cadence of posts to keep readers engaged.
  • Coordinate with marketing, PR, and customer service colleagues to support their respective missions, ensuring consistency in voice.
  • Investigate and create social campaigns as needed to support targeted initiatives.
  • Monitor metrics to gauge the growth of the community.
  • Analyze and report on the effectiveness of social campaigns.

What else would you add?

Hurricane Irene – Lessons for communicators

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Hurricane Irene aftermath, Pennsylvania

 There was a sizable disconnect between what the media was reporting about Hurricane Irene and what the official national hurricane center forecast was (who all along predicted the storm would weaken). Did the weather channel the worse offender lose any credibility? Will people believe what they hear from them the next time? Will they go someplace else to get better information?

In this era of building community around communications, trust is paramount.  Are we compromising it in the quest to grab readers, viewers, likes, shares and retweets?  I’ve seen one too many headlines that overpromise and underdeliver. There’s got to be a better balance between reality and creativity so that we do what we are supposed to as professional communicators.

Is your message getting through?

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You’ve seem them — the Recession 101 billboards. The Outdoor Advertising Association’s inspirational campaign to get people to stop worrying about our dreadful economy.    

These snappy messages are attention grabbing. But attention isn’t enough. A good  message has to be something your audience can relate to — personally.  Bill Gates starting his company in a recession?  Come on. 

So a quick lesson for communicators in organizations large and small. Make it personal.  Don’t talk in abstract terms about millions in market opportunities over the next 10 years or transformative strategies that position the company for future growth. 

Know your audience and decide what you want to accomplish. Then say it so it’s meaningful, something they can actually take action on or relate to in their role. That $20 million market opportunity has more meaning to a sales exec when you say they can close 10% more in sales this year.

Back to basics part 3: A communications plan template anyone can use

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pencilsI’m working with a non-profit that needed a marketing communications plan.  They’ve got decent visibility, a sound reputation, and a long history.  But they were facing competitive and budgetary pressures and needed to expand awareness of their offering and attract more businesses to sponsor their work.  

Here’s a snapshot of the 4 step process we went through to define a plan. It lays out in question format, how we defined goals, who we needed to communicate with, what messages we needed to transmit and how we could best distribute those messages. 

You can take this and apply it to any communications campaign or activity and use it to develop a work plan, assign responsibilities and allocate budget.

Laying out the plan

1. Define Goals

What are the desired outcomes?  Is it to create awareness?  Broaden the reach of our message?  Spur people to take action?   

2. Define Target Audience

Who do we want to reach?  Do we know what they care about?  Does their age or gender matter?  Where are they located? 

3. Create Key Messages

What do we need our audience to know?  How can we say it so that it is understandable and motivates them to do what we want them to do? 

4. Select Channels

Where is the best place to reach our audience?  Do we know where they go for information and how they consume it?  Are they mobile and tech savvy?  Are they on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter?  Do they read blogs?  Do they watch TV or listen to the radio? Do they prefer print?  Are there events where we can engage with them? 

Learning from and refining the plan  

Evaluating what we did will complete the planning cycle.  This will help us understand the effectiveness of our campaign and if it did in fact help achieve intended goals.  This is an ongoing process so that tactics can be assessed and fine tuned to achieve desired outcomes.

What else would you add to the planning process?

Is Twitter a big fat waste of time?

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 Twitter doesn’t make you credible, or smarter. Some of the most popular and respected intellectual voices (and best selling authors) of our time are not active tweeters.

I like millions, tweeted over to the Twitter party a year ago (that’s how a lot of people describe it, ‘hey it’s like a cocktail party with all these cool conversations going on’). But shockingly, I found little value. So two weeks ago I decided to leave the party. (Well I did leave my handle there with a pointer to my blog and LinkedIn). Guess what? I’m still getting followers. And I’m even more informed and connected to the people and things I care about. Why? It’s called focus. I’m blocking out the noise, and focusing my brain capital on activities where I find value.

I’m still informed. I’m still learning. But I’m selective and don’t need an endless Twitter stream to keep me in the know. Sure there is a place for Twitter and I think the corporate accounts function well as newsfeeds. But for individuals (you know, real people), ask yourself, is this a good use of my time? What do I hope to get out of this? Should I be applying my talent and intellectual energy in other places?

Back to basics, part 2: Amazing business writing in four easy steps

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In this era of rapid fire, anyplace, anytime communications, creating engaging and easy-to-digest copy is imperative. This is within every business writer’s reach if you follow this 3-C mantra: 

Concise — Clear — Compelling

You don’t have to be a famous author or blogger to achieve this.  Just keep these points in mind and you’ll be amazed what you can create.  And your readers will appreciate it too.   

 1. Write less. Use short, to the point sentences. If a phrase or word doesn’t contribute to the meaning, scratch it. Don’t qualify or explore every contingency. Make the point and move on.

2. Be active. Say it with conviction by using active voice — your subject is doing the action, eg. The shark bit off the surfer’s foot. Not – The surfer’s foot was bitten off by the shark.   

3. Hear it. Read what you wrote aloud as the final test. If it sounds stiff or impersonal, rewrite. Use contractions, spell out acronyms and eliminate jargon and pretentious words to humanize your message. Remember you want to talk to not at your reader.  

4. Make it scan-able. Use bulleted lists, bold text, call-outs and meaningful images to make key ideas jump OUT at your readers.

 This is just a start. If you want a complete 30 day workout – check out Matthew Stibbes’ Better business Writing in 30 Days.

More from Back to basics:

Back to basics, part 1: Rock-star presentations

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rock star cat

Courtesy of guzer.com

 

The Back to Basics series provides proven advice for powerful business communications.  

How many meetings have you been to where speaker after speaker parades across the stage, happily clicking through slides with 8pt text, complex graphs and dumb quotes? Or even worse, reciting every word on the slide. 

If you are in the business of public speaking or preparing content, some up front planning and what I call ‘graphics restraint’ will go a long way. It doesn’t matter if your audience is or  5 or 5,000. The same rules apply.  

First, ask yourself, what is the one thing I want them to remember. You know, the ‘take-away’. From there, decide what three points you need to make to get them to remember this. Then, and only then, begin to build your story on the slides, following these four rules: 

1. One idea per slide

People read ahead. Don’t spill the beans all at once.  Build your story one idea at a time so you keep your audience engaged and message clear.

 2. Simple graphics and pictures

You don’t want brain energy focused on figuring out what that weird line chart with 45 arrows pointing up, down, across and diagionally means. Better, use a large photo or simple chart, or some high impact text, in a large interesting font that conveys the idea.

 3. Put speaker notes in their place

Do NOT put what you are going to say on the slide. The slide reinforces what you will say, not the other way around. Write down your notes separately and have them on hand to refer to.  

 4. Seamless from end to end

End, as you began, by re-stating the key idea.  

A must read is Chip and Dan Heath’s Made to Stick .  This book will teach you how to craft and communicate ideas that are not only memorable but inspire the action you want. 

What other tips would you add to the mix?

Three important reasons why your company’s leaders should be using social media

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It’s not good enough for the leadership team to be visible simply inside the company anymore. They need to be known beyond company walls and the employee intranet. They do not need to become Twitter or blog celebrities but should be actively engaged on appropriate social channels that reinforce their professional reputation and that of the company. Here’s why: 

1. Branding – Leaders support and cultivate the corporate culture. They represent why the company is a great place to work. 

2. Employee engagement – Today’s workplace extends well beyond office boundaries. Social networks enable human interactions essential for a successful global workforce. If employees are more connected to what their leaders are saying, they will be more committed. 

3. Attracting business and talent – Social media enables leaders to expand their reach. A larger sphere of influence enables them to tap into and attract a wider talent pool, uncover new sales opportunities and forge additional business partnerships.

The easiest way to start is to build a good LinkedIn presence.  From here, leaders can guest post on a company blog, participate in LinkedIn Group discussions, share their thoughts by commenting on blogs in their field and even consider setting up their own Twitter account or blog.

Leaders can’t sit back anymore. They should not only listen to what is being said about their company online, but need to be seeding and participating in the discussion themselves.

Three digital marketing resolutions you must make for the new year

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You’ve got compelling content, a blog, a few Twitter handles and a Facebook fan page. Done. Well, not so fast. 

Are you sure your content is optimized for search?  Have you empowered your own employees with social media?   Have you integrated a social element in all of your marketing and PR activities? 

To get more power and reach out of your digital marketing activities, make a commitment to  integrate and  further institutionalize social media across all external communications programs.  Begin with these three resolutions: 

1. Create a social culture  

Make employees brand ambassadors. Get better at syndicating content across all of your social properties and empower employees to link, share and start the dialogue.  Have leaders lead by example and hold brand and marketing managers accountable for driving the socialization of content.     

2. Optimize for search

Do your writers and editors understand SEO?  Do they know how to craft a headline, write, and organize content so that it ranks well in search. Require all writers and editors, including contract ones,  to complete writing for SEO and search engine marketing training.

 3. Repurpose 

You don’t have to write a blog entry from scratch every time.  Slice up the big study your company just published and create an engaging series.  Summarize and link to bylines authored by employees, events, media mentions and create short posts to publicize speaking engagements, linking to photos, audio and video. 

Don’t stop here – read Pam Moore’s 2011 predictions why businesses will fail at social media and get to work.

Four reasons why it’s worth your time to comment on blogs

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Want to blog but don’t know where to start? Get over the learning curve by first commenting on others’ blog posts. This is a good use of your time and not only to sharpen your writing skills. Taking the time to write comments to blog posts is worth the effort. When you post a comment under your name, you create a proofpoint for your personal brand which demonstrates and validates: 

 

1. your knowledge

2. your ability to think critically

3. your skill at crafting a convincing viewpoint

4. your willingness to share and add value

Here’s a step by step to launch this activity:

1. Subscribe to a few blogs written by reputable leaders and thinkers in your field and read them on a regular basis. 

2. Keep in mind what you are working on or content that you have recently wrote that can be used to craft a blog comment. 

3. Commit to posting a comment as least once / week or more if you read something you can add valuable insight to. 

To manage and control comments under your name, think about using a blog commenting system. I use Disgus Profile. It’s worth doing because it allows you to authenticate yourself when commenting thereby enabling you to ‘lay claim’ to anything you took the time to write. You can also manage comments (search, edit, delete etc) at any time. 

Any comments?

Writer’s block? Create a blogging bank so you never run out of ideas

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monkey smiling

Is it ok to go dark every once in a while online?  We all need a break and disconnecting can be a form of much needed renewal.  So after my 2 month blogging break, I’m now inspired and resolved to follow Tom Pick’s Seven tips to a healthy blog.  Of course, the first, and yes most important, is to Post Regularly.  Ha, easier said than done.

Saving for your (blog’s) future

I’ve found my blogging shortfall is capturing and organizing ideas.  I have an editorial calendar, but find it too constraining.  I needed a way to add discipline to the creative process while sticking to my main themes.  So I created a Blogging Bank.  I don’t know who coined the term (no pun intended) but it’s a great idea.  

A Blogging Bank is a place where you spontaneously dump your fabulous creative ideas as they happen. You then periodically survey this random list of thoughts and look for common threads and ideas that can be built out into an interesting piece. You can even organize them into an editorial calendar.  

This is an incredibly simple task, but you need to get into the habit of making regular deposits. Here’s how I created my bank account:

  1. I set up a folder on my desktop
  2. I stuck an MS Word file there. It has a table with 3 columns– Main Idea, Theme, Stuff.  The Stuff column contains urls, images, quotes, and in some cases rudimentary writing or an intro. 
  3. I also dump images, presentation decks and other inspiring raw materials into this folder. 

 A lot of my aha moments are when I’m away from the keyboard, so I use my voice notes recorder on my SmartPhone to capture for later depositing.  Social bookmarking is also valuable, I use StumbleUpon.   

If you are blogging for your company, read Jeremy Victor’s 18 Hot topics for B2B blogs first, and create separate ‘accounts’ for each Topic.  

How to you keep track of and harness your creativity?

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