Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Find me over at www.arikhanson.com

Sorry folks, I switched blog platforms a while back. Want to make sure you're finding me over at www.arikhanson.com. And, if you're so inclined, drop me a note or comment and let me know what you think of the new design/theme. I'd appreciate your feedback.

In the meantime, thanks for reading. Hope to connect soon.


Thursday, May 14, 2009

A happy ending to this Tweet-a-thon story

The following is a guest post from my PR colleague and good friend, Scott Hepburn. If you'll recall, a number of folks participated in a tweet-a-thon a few weeks back in hopes of generating job leads for Scott and Sonny Gill--two eligible "free agents" at the time.

While I know Sonny is still looking (and getting closer) for a new gig, I'm happy to report that Scott has some fantastic news to share with you all--the folks that played such a crucial role in this powerful story. Before I blurt it out myself, I'll let Scott take the stage...

“Jerry Maguire, my agent. You’re my ambassador of Quan.”

Arik Hanson is MY ambassador of Quan.

Just one month ago, Arik called on you, his readers, to join him in Tweeting me into a new gig. And you responded. In overwhelming, breath-taking, faith-affirming fashion, you responded. Hundreds of retweets. Dozens of leads. Countless inquiries. And momentum.

It seems only fitting that I would circle back to Arik’s blog to announce that my free agency. This week I joined Ritz Marketing in Charlotte to lead their social media and emerging media team.

I’m excited to join one of Charlotte’s top five agencies. Ritz Marketing clients include the Detroit Area Honda Dealers Association, Penske Automotive Group’s Central Zone Division, McAlister’s Deli’s largest franchisee, and dozens of others.

My role at Ritz Marketing will be part teacher, part navigator, part point guard and part devil’s advocate. Many of the questions we’ve debated on the Media Emerging blog are questions Ritz Marketing clients are asking. My advice to them will be to adhere to the wisdom of Dicky Fox: “The key to this business is personal relationships.”

Which brings me to you.

You, the generous members of Arik’s community who had my back when I was looking for my feet.

You, the PR, marketing and social media groundbreakers who teach me something new every day.

You, the forward-thinkers who are coaxing, prodding and leading your companies toward the future of communication.

Thank you for your support, guidance, leads, offers, and generosity. Though we may yet be strangers, you treated me as a brother, and for that, my door is always open to you.

If you’re headed to BlogPotomac, find me. Let’s connect. You’ll find me with my agent, Arik Hanson.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Why customer experience is still word-of-mouth's best friend

As you may know, I spent a few days this past weekend down in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Of course, we spent a fair amount of time lying on the beach. But one of our favorite activities while we're on St. John (our favorite island, in case you're wondering) is Woody's "World-Famous" Happy Hour. Yes, world famous. 

On an island that's known for outrageously high prices on everything from gas to orange juice, Woody's offers $1 beers and well drinks from 3-6 every day. Every day. What's more, they offer an electric, college-like atmosphere you simply can't find anywhere on St. John OR St. Thomas.

Quite simply, it's been a staple of all our trips to St. John. And we tell anybody who will listen to go there, too.

Why do we refer so many folk to this hole-in-the-wall bar? We have yet to have a bad experience. In fact, it's often the most fun we have on our trips. We sit at the bar, chatting with the bartenders and locals. Wait staff pass us shot glasses with tastes of their frozen concoctions. And they pump in great music throughout happy hour. The place just has a vibe. For us, it's all about the unique experience Woody's offers. Heck, I even bought a t-shirt (the true sign of an exceptional experience).

Keep in mind, Woody's isn't on Twitter. They don't have a Facebook page. They haven't presented me with any marketing materials. And I haven't talked to a single salesperson or PR rep (although I do try to chat with one of the owners when I'm there).

What's the lesson for brands here? It's all about the experience. Without an exceptional experience, all the social media, PR and marketing efforts in the world won't mean a thing.

In this case, Woody's nails it. The bartenders and wait staff are incredibly efficient (I always have at least one drink in my hand at all times), friendly and funny. The drinks (i.e. "products) are always cold and delicious. Heck, they even have a "drive up" window where you can grab a drink "on the go" as you're passing by. They also have all sorts of sports and island memorabilia inside to check out. And the food ain't half bad either (conch fritters anyone?). It's a total experience--every sense is satisfied. 

Now, should Woody's be engaging me to further their brand? Probably. Wouldn't take much really. But, I'm guessing in this case, they're probably not looking to open up multiple branches across the Caribbean. Regardless, they've developed a unique product and service that promotes itself. There's something to be learned from that simple fact.

But most brands could learn a lot from Woody's. Focus on your product or service. Strive to provide an experience that's so out-of-this-world that your customers will leave raving. And work every day to hone that experience so it's always improving.  Your brand does all this and it will make marketing and PR's job all that much easier.

Enough about Woody's--what's your organization doing to create exceptional products and services for your customers?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Shhh…I’m going to let you in on a secret

Come closer, a little closer, ok there. Here goes- PR isn’t rocket science. There, I said it and I’m proud of it. Over the years, this thought has come to me many times when talking with other professionals I respect deeply. It usually comes up when chuckling about some huge embarrassing PR gaffe we hear about that leaves you just scratching your head wondering “why would they do that?”

Now, I want to be clear that I’m not saying that all the wonderful PR people I know aren’t talented, brilliant, and dedicated professionals in the truest sense of the word. But when it comes down to it, our goals often rely on taking a message (from our employer, a client, our own) and finding a way to connect it to an audience that we want to reach and engage. Not rocket science.

I wish it were a magic formula that only a few people had cracked and I was a member of that exclusive club, but much of what we try to do boils down to understanding the workings of the amazing human brain. PR people need to spend time understanding what motivates people to take the action we want or need them to take. The challenge (and this is where we can actually add a lot of value and earn our keep) is to get past yourself and your organizations’ collective thoughts of “this is the greatest piece of news ever- everyone will want to know this” and move to a view of your audience who is thinking “why in the world do I need this info and how does it fit in my life?”

There’s a simple tip that I learned from a great mentor—“So what.” That’s it, from the audience perspective I want to be able to give them a good answer when they ask “so what.” I need to deliver the important part of my communications in a clear, simple manner that gives them a personal answer to that question and gives them a motivation to spend their time and remain connected with what I’m saying.

Now, in an era of more communication channels than ever before, how does this concept change? Not that much. When looking at how to engage customers or supporters via social media or Web 2.0 the concept remains the same though the method of engagement changes dramatically as we have a chance to connect more directly with our audience in real-time. Before creating a massive SM campaign that hinges on a new promotion, adding dedicated SM staff, or building a new Web site with enhanced functionality think first about how you can add value to your audience.

Think about some basics that drive behavior:

· What does your audience already know?
What is their experience which will shape how they interpret your message? Think about things like history with your brand/competitors as well as regional or cultural elements.

· What do you want them to do?
You’d better get this sorted out in a very clear way before engaging in the SM space. Failures in this area can be found everywhere....like when you see five updates a day from someone on Twitter that only includes when they got up and what they’ve eaten all day. If this is the best you can do, please don’t. You’ll only hurt your reputation if you hop online and haven’t thought this question through and figured out how you can actually provide people with a way to engage in a manner that’s good for them and drives your goals.

· How is it personal to them?
Put yourself in their shoes and answer my favorite question: So what? Run your information through this screen and see if you have a good answer to what you’re adding in their lives. This element is especially true in the social media space. The most successful individuals and organizations online get this point and focus on it consistently. The advances in social media aren’t realized by just pushing content out in one more channel but by adding value to people online in an honest way right where they’re at in their lives. It’s the potential for personal connections that make SM so valuable. However, you need to realize that it can’t just be about your info but rather what about your interests matches those of your audience.

If you’d ever like to talk more about the simple premise of communications (the devil is always in the details) just let me know. I would love to hear from you. It isn’t rocket science but it sure can be fun.


Monday, May 11, 2009

Before Participation, Build a Foundation

There are dozens of scenarios for why you may consider incorporating social applications into your latest communications plan. Maybe you're responsible for bringing dynamic brand marketing ideas to life. Or perhaps you're charged with facilitating a response to a situation with potential impact on reputation.

No matter what your objective, keep in mind that participating with social tools is an ongoing and holistic strategy in itself, effecting multiple communication channels and disciplines within an organization.

Therefore, the foundation for participation needs to be built before tactical use is proposed. It's important to step back, lay the groundwork and, for example:

1) Collaborate across internal and external disciplines to review the business goals and build a plan for a 360 approach
2) Set monitoring processes to listen to relevant conversations and discover influencers
3) Review how various stakeholders are using applications and determine which channels have potential for the greatest impact
4) Develop a plan for engaging and informative participation
5) Incorporate measures for continuous evaluation and refinement

A sound strategy for participation will ultimately enable exceptional execution. How will you build a foundation for your next communications plan?

Arik, thanks for inviting me to guest post. I had a blast "holding down the fort" and hope you had a wonderful vacation. @jillianf

Friday, May 8, 2009

Does Community lead to Commerce?

Cash MoneyImage by jtyerse via Flickr

Before Arik departed for turquoise waters, he posted “Is Social Media Really About Me?” Consensus from comments to that post in my rough observation revolved around sharing, collaboration and making connections. We can all agree that some ego is likely involved. Right?

For me, it is affirming when I get retweeted, @replies, or blog comments. It feels great to think that a post I have written compels someone to take time to respond – even in disagreement. I like feeling the connection. I am uplifted by feeling I participated in a conversation that taught me and others something new.

Unfortunately, most businesses need to believe something more valuable than an ego boost or “good collaboration” is on the other side of a journey into social media participation. The famous ROI question keeps getting raised one way or another. I usually run in to this question from business leaders who are still trying to understand online social spaces and their place, if any, within the operations of their organization. I heard it this week:

How do we monetize Twitter?”

How can we make money using social media? Nobody seems able to answer that.”

This feels like one of the most frequent questions asked with the widest range of answers. What is the ROI in social media? To me, the answer is in the verbiage. “How can we make money USING social media?” “Using” needs to be replaced with “participating.”

Businesses have used mass media. They use accountants. They use raw materials. Social media is not for use. It is for participation. Commerce, as a motivation for community, can easily lead to contrived interaction, superficial relationships and limited desire for customers and employees to engage.

I am driven to explain to these organization leaders that authentic/human participation in social media leads to real relationships, passionate employees, and engaged customers. Lack of participation, strategy, and tactics lead to issues like the recent Domino's debacle on YouTube or a loss of connection with the millions of consumers/employees who have come to expect a more personal relationship with brands.

In which camp do you fall? Should social media participation and engagement be measured against expenses and sales? Are you one that believes social media can be statistically judged?

Or are you of the belief that participation is about relationships, connections, collaboration, and sharing?

Can it be both?

Thanks you, Arik, for inviting me to guest post. It is an honor to try and fill in for you. I hope your readers enjoy the post. Cheers, All. @camgross

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Thursday, May 7, 2009

What's old is new again

First off, thanks to Arik for the opportunity to write on his turf. I'm glad to chip in (five years without a vacation?!), and I hope my little essay below doesn't disappoint.

Let me begin with a ray of hope.

I hope what I'm about to say is nothing more than preaching to the choir. I hope this writing is simply helpful reinforcement of a concept you're familiar with.

If not, don't worry. We're hear to discuss and learn, not to judge or scold. I come in peace!

Here's the bottom line: This newfangled "PR 2.0" stuff we're all hearing about everywhere we turn these days is newfangled only on the surface. 

Wild, huh?

Yes, helping your colleagues or your clients understand Twitter and its 140-character limit is new. Dealing with the intricacies of blog-comment moderation policies is new. Pitching people (bloggers) who are a lot more likely to publicly shame, rightly or wrongly, PR folks who rub them the wrong way is new.

But of course:

Writing concisely -- and well -- is not new. Dealing with critics is not new. Working hard to make sure your time spent pitching stories is meaningful and fruitful is not new.

The platforms, tools and concepts we cluster under the umbrella of "social media" have not changed the core of what PR practitioners do. Not one bit.

We have a lot of new tools and lingo and a lot more access to information than we had collectively been accustomed to -- a lot of stuff that's upsetting what had become a comfortable, familiar way of working --  this era of "PR 2.0" is actually just a quick, rough return to what PR always should have been. 

Yes, bloggers are a lot more likely to publicly ridicule the sender of an off-target e-mail, but is fear of public shaming really your strongest motivation for making on-target pitches? Yes, Twitter and Facebook might seem like utterly foreign territory at times, but wasn't there a time when CD-ROMs were blowing people's minds?

It's like Arik wrote in his recent post: PR is a relationship business. Always has been, always will be. Sure, you can get a story placed working with a reporter you've never even heard of, but in the long run, relationships make the work easier. And recently we've seen a clear return to public relations -- not just media relations. Working with bloggers might closely resemble working with magazine reporters, but what about that active twitterer who's constantly talking about your company's products? Or the Facebook wall-post writer who's always keeping you on your toes? Media relations? Hardly. Public relations? Damn straight.

So while it's clear that those of us on the leading edge of Web-savvy PR are quickly becoming pseudo-IT pros almost as much as we're pseudo-journalists, the core of PR is still exactly the same: working to establish credibility and foster conversations between organizations and their interested publics. Online or off.

Photo courtesy of Krista76 on Flickr