5 things we can learn from Belvedere Vodka

Friday, March 30, 2012 | | 2 comments

A week ago, Belvedere Vodka posted an ad on its Facebook and Twitter account that I assume was a horrible attempt at humour. It was horrible because it seems to be laughing at sexual assault and I’ll never understand how an ad like this was allowed to run.

There’s an excellent article in the Globe and Mail that covers the way the company has handled this mistake and how people are judging them for their handling of this issue. Worth reading if you’re interested in the story.

As I read the story, a few thoughts came to me:

1. Mistakes like this should never happen. The company must have an approval process that wasn’t followed.
2. Some things just aren’t funny. Ever.
3. When mistakes like this are made a company has to show the world how sorry it is without corporate speak or reservation.
4. Good PR can’t overcome horrible lapses in judgment.
5. What we do on social media lasts forever.

What other thoughts would you add to this list? Please leave me a comment or send me a message!

Do you think of your company as a rental car?

Thursday, March 29, 2012 | | 1 comments

Yesterday, I attended an IABC webinar on employee engagement, led by Steve Crescenzo.

Steve shared with us his five keys to fostering an environment where employees feel engaged and provided tremendous examples of organizations that are doing the right things.

Steve’s top 5:

1. Bring employees inside the loop: tell them what drives the business and why and answer the question – why should they care? Then, tell them what you want them to do.
2. Show them what they do matters: feature the people closest to the work when telling the story
3. Help employees be ambassadors for the organization: when employees are asked, “What do you do for a living?” have we prepared them to tell a good story or hung them out to dry?
4. Let them talk to each other: organizations must trust their employees to act like adults
5. Show them their opinions matter: organizations should communicate the what and the why down, but allow for the how to come from the employees

Steve gave us an analogy to help us understand what true engagement looks and feels like. He asked us to think about a time we rented a car and whether anyone had taken it through a carwash or changed its oil. Of course the answer is no – because we don’t care that much about a rental car. Employees who aren’t engaged think about their companies like rental cars. They show up, do their work, get paid, and go home. When employees are truly engaged they feel like owners of the company and act accordingly.

As I sat through the webinar I made mental notes about the different organizations I’ve worked for and which ones did a good job of engaging their employees and which ones had a lot of work to do. I thought about the specific actions (or inaction) that made me feel engaged or made me see my company like I would a rental car.

I’m interested in hearing your stories – have you worked for an organization that made you feel truly engaged? What did they do? Have you worked for a company that had it all wrong? What did they do that made you feel this way?

Leave me a comment or send me a message!

The one thing I really should be doing to grow my social media presence

Wednesday, March 28, 2012 | | 0 comments

Someone asked me the other day how I’ve managed to grow my Twitter account to more than 1,000 followers.

I’m well aware that 1,000 followers won’t land me in the Twitter hall of fame, but it was clearly enough to impress this person and quite honestly, I’m very happy that I’ve attracted this kind of a crowd. I very nearly shared the list of steps I’ve taken that have worked for me:

1. I have a professional picture and a brief bio
2. I post content I find online that I think will be helpful to others (always using shortened links)
3. I create my own original content through my blog which I share on Twitter
4. I thank people who mention or retweet me (I’m nothing if not polite) and respond to DMs that seem to come from real people who aren’t trying to sell me something
5. I follow a lot of people who work in my industry and others who seem to have similar interests, and many of these people follow me in return

There’s nothing wrong with the above list and if you’re struggling to add followers, I’d highly recommend each step. The problem with this list however and the reason I didn’t feel comfortable even pretending to be a social media expert is that I’m missing something.

And the something I’m missing is big - really big.

Social media is about engaging with other people to share ideas and find ways to help each other.

Engagement takes many forms on Twitter:

1. Having real conversations with people
2. Actively looking for opportunities to retweet and comment on other people’s posts
3. Helping people with no expectation of anything in return
4. Connecting your followers to each other when you think they would benefit
5. Acting as a mentor
6. Answering questions, offering advice, being helpful
7. Taking an interest in people for who they are, not their business or what they tweet

The sad fact is that I’ve done very little engaging and I’m not sure how helpful I’ve been to the 1,000 people who follow me. I’ve had brief spurts where I’ve attempted to start conversations with strangers and actively looked for opportunities to share and promote and interact with my followers, but I get discouraged easily when it seems the world hasn’t noticed. I get busy and forget that I need to put in a consistent effort to build relationships, to give more than I take.

The keys to success on Twitter (and any other social media platform) are to be yourself, be real, be helpful and be consistent - relationships will follow.

I’m really glad that I have 1,000 followers, but once I put in the effort to really engage people, I know my entire Twitter experience is going to change.

That one thing is going to make all the difference.

How business leaders can be more like James Cameron

Tuesday, March 27, 2012 | | 0 comments

Everywhere I looked today, I saw the story of a guy who rode a small submarine to the deepest point of the sea, explored for two hours, then returned to the surface. It was the first manned expedition to this part of the sea since 1960.

While this is truly a remarkable journey, it’s not the sort of story that would normally catch my attention. But it did - and I’ll bet it caught yours too.

The reason of course is that the guy is film director James Cameron, who gave us two of the biggest films of all time – Titanic and Avatar. A story that would be newsworthy no matter who piloted the craft, now takes on a life of its own because of its celebrity star.

George Clooney’s recent arrest at a protest over the Sudan crisis became front page news not because we care so deeply about the issue, but because it’s George Clooney. If he had instead picketed a Baskin-Robbins location over the increase in the price of vanilla ice cream, there would have been media coverage. You would have heard about it.

Celebrities like Cameron and Clooney understand that they are constantly watched and use their celebrity to gain media coverage for issues that are important to them. As an aside, we need to be aware, as media consumers, that sometimes the issues of greatest “importance” (what is covered by the media) have been determined by entertainers and other famous people, but that’s another blog post.

How business leaders are different from celebrities

Business leaders are not celebrities and we don’t obsess over their every move. However, as employees, customers, partners, stakeholders or simply interested observers, we care very much what they have to say about the organizations that matter to us.

We want them to be vocal when there is change. We want them to tell us that things will be okay in times of crisis. We want them to tell us that we should be excited about the future of their organization, that what they’re doing still matters, to keep watching.

We don’t want to see pictures of you walking down the street with your children, but we expect regular communication from you. We expect greater interaction with you, more transparency and sharing than ever before. And we expect this not just from your organization, but specifically, from you.

We won’t ask you who you’re wearing, but we’ll notice when you don’t come to the party at all. We won’t chase you down the street to take your picture, but we’ll show up when you have something to say. We expect you to be the voice we hear when we turn in your direction. You might have to work harder than Justin Beiber or Angelina Jolie to get our attention, but we are watching and we notice when you’re silent.

And let’s not stop at business leaders. Community leaders, teachers, coaches, parents and many others have people counting on them to speak up and be heard. In so many ways, what you have to say is more important to us than anything we’ll ever hear from James Cameron or George Clooney.

Of course, leaders don’t live under the microscope of celebrity and the choice to say nothing is always there.

Just because you can though doesn’t mean you should.

5 ways to make complaining easier

Monday, March 26, 2012 | | 0 comments

Most people don’t like to complain, but as a recent experience has reminded me, any organization that hopes to keep its customers happy should make complaining easy.

Each week, for the past eight years I’ve filled my car up with gas at the Petro-Canada station in my neighbourhood. Their price is never the lowest, but the convenience of having only to make one left turn out of my driveway keeps me coming back.

And I quite enjoy the ability to use my debit and Petro-Points cards directly at the pump when I pay for my gas. In every way, Petro-Canada has been meeting my expectations. That is, until a couple of weeks ago when they made some changes to their pumps.

My Petro-Points card (despite the long crack through the middle) was accepted easily, but I received an “unable to read card” message when I tried my debit card – a card that gives me no problems anywhere else. Several attempts later, all with the same result, I cancelled my transaction and went inside to pay for my gas.

“There’s something wrong with your new pump and it wouldn’t read my debit card,” I told the woman inside.

“We’ve had a few customers tell us the same thing,” she politely told me, as she processed my debit card with no issue whatsoever.

Perhaps I was foolish to think that my feedback went any further than that counter, but I was disappointed this week to find that the pump was still unable to read my debit card. I paid inside and it bothered me that the same woman I had complained to the week before didn’t notice that I had tried unsuccessfully to pay outside. I didn’t want cigarettes, lottery tickets, newspapers or coffee – why would I come inside to pay?

I don’t blame her for the problem (surely she was neither the decision maker behind the new pumps nor the installer), but I do expect that she would offer to do something about it, especially when others had complained before me!

While I’m very interested in seeing that my debit card once again works at these pumps, the absence of an easy way to report my problem to someone who can fix it has me very frustrated. I could probably visit the Petro-Canada website and lodge a formal complaint and perhaps, someone there would respond to me, but is it reasonable to expect that I would put in this much effort? If ever I did, how would I feel about that? Wouldn’t it just be easier to take my business to the next closest gas provider?

The reality is that the easier you make it for your customers to complain, the more likely you are to hear where you need to improve and keep them as customers.

Here are my suggestions to make complaining easier:

1. Train your employees to ask, look for and resolve customer problems
2. Provide a phone number for complaints
3. Provide an email
4. Provide social media channels for customer feedback
5. Train your employees to ask, look for and resolve customer problems

What’s that? I have this point twice?


A lesson in concert promotion

Friday, March 23, 2012 | | 0 comments

For several weeks my kids have been practicing songs that their school choirs are going to perform tonight at the spring concert. My daughter has given us partial concerts all over the house, but my son insists that we are to be surprised by his song and hasn’t allowed us to hear him, not even once.

Two days ago, he came home from school and told us that his music teacher said, “Tell your mothers that they should bring tissue to the concert, because when they hear your song they’re going to cry!” He could barely contain his excitement. It was priceless.

I thought about all the other things this teacher could have said:

“Your parents are really going to love your song.”
“Your parents will be really surprised when they hear you.”
“We’re ready to put on a great show.”
“Remember to be at the school 45 minutes before the show and wear a white shirt!” (Don’t teachers say this before every show?)

But instead of any of these, she said to bring tissues. She said your mothers are going to cry. Brilliant.

It’s a perfect message because it’s:

1. Specific
2. Memorable (even for six-year-olds)
3. Creates an image in your mind
4. Contains emotion

What’s more, it inspired the kids to give their best performance tonight – you know they want to see if they can make their mothers cry with their song – and as a parent, I can’t wait to hear a song that might make us do more than clap and cheer.

All of us deliver messages every day. Do you tell people they’re going to like the song or do you tell them to bring tissues?

For all the news you may have missed...come back Sunday!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012 | | 0 comments

The other day, my brother and I were talking about a long-running
weekly television show that features a round table of sports reporters. Each week they recap the top stories from the past seven days and offer their opinions on these stories. Neither of us could understand why the show was still on the air.

“No one wants to wait a week to hear what these guys have to say about stories we already know!” he said.

He’s absolutely right - we don’t.

And although this particular show deals with the world of sports, it has become true of all news. No one waits until Sunday to find out what happened this week. “News you may have missed” no longer makes any sense.We didn’t miss it. It was on our computer moments after it happened. It was delivered to our phone while we were in the grocery store. We don’t need anyone to bundle it up for us and deliver it long after it happened.

Of course it wasn’t always this way and shows like this made sense. Growing up, I waited for the evening paper to be delivered to my house five nights a week and a little earlier on Saturday. The evening news on television was merely video to support the stories I had read in my daily newspaper, but rarely anything new. Back then, we were used to getting our news a day after it happened, sometimes later. Shows that offered a more in-depth look at the top stories of the week were interesting because we hadn’t heard it all before.

But times have changed. Today we not only want the information immediately, we want access to more information, more interaction. We watch shows like HBO’s 24/7 and hear what players say on the bench, on the ice and in their hotel rooms. We live chat with news reporters as they’re on the air and follow their tweets to learn what they’re thinking about the story they told us seconds earlier.

The community newspaper that comes out twice a week is viewed as laughably slow. Company newsletters that publish weekly or monthly badly miss their employees who wanted their information long before then. Worse yet, they complain that the company has kept them in the dark and withheld information they were anxious to receive.

Weekly and monthly meetings, once the staple of effective organizations, are replaced by ad hoc collaboration and debriefing that occurs in real time (and in many organizations, constantly). Blogs, wikis and intranets are updated as information becomes available, not around the predetermined publishing timelines of yesterday.

If we’re responsible for sharing information within our organizations, with our customers, or with an audience of any kind, we need to understand the new expectation.

No one is going to wait until Sunday.

Careers in Communications and IABC Student Membership

Tuesday, March 20, 2012 | | 0 comments

Last week at the Wilfrid Laurier University Careers in Communications event, I gave a presentation to a group of students about the benefits of IABC membership.

As always, it was a pleasure to be back on campus (though I’m still struggling with the Career Centre building being on the other side of King Street!), connecting with students and giving them advice that I hoped they could use.

I told them that IABC is a wonderful organization for people looking to grow as communicators, who wish to connect with others in the field and stay current with the latest tools and techniques in the world of communications.

I shared a list of IABC membership benefits that I thought would be most important to a student or young professional:

Job bank (great for uncovering the hidden job market)
Professional development (local, national and international sessions)
Networking and volunteering (great for finding mentors and making a contribution)
CW Magazine (learning from the successes of over 15,000 members)
Print and online resources

And of course I mentioned that student members receive all this and more for a fraction of the cost of regular membership!

In closing, I told the students that perhaps the two most important actions they could take for their career success are:

1. Making helpful connections and
2. Constantly upgrading their skills and knowledge

For a career in communications, I can’t think of a better way to accomplish both goals than to become an active member in IABC. You’ll note I said “active” and also that this advice isn’t limited to student members.

In the Q&A session, the students asked the panelists about the value of continuing their education beyond their undergraduate degrees and whether there is a right or wrong time to do a post graduate program. They asked about LinkedIn and how best to use it as a tool to find jobs which led to a discussion about the need we all have to manage our “digital footprints” and control our online brand.

I was impressed by the student turnout and their engagement during the panel discussion and networking that followed the event. These students and others like them are the future of our industry and I think we have a lot to look forward to when they’re out of school and working in our organizations.

Something tells me they will also make great IABC members.