COM0012-521-13F – Blog Posting Assignment #4 Write To Be Seen – Engaging Your Audience With Content

Be real and relevant. Go to where your audience is. Let the audience see themselves. Talk about things they won’t hear anywhere else. Appeal to their hearts. Give them something to respond to. Entertain them. These are some points to keep in mind as you create content to attract a following and to showcase your brand.

I am working on a strategy for a large organization that wants to increase its public profile to its external stakeholders, and to increase engagement among its employees who are spread out across Canada. Dual goals, but the same type of content can appeal to both groups and get the job done.

The key in developing the content is to show the authentic self of the organization. This can be achieved by using some corporate type postings, like official news releases and content from newsletters, as well as the spontaneous postings from employees. In fact, that makes it even more real since readers can see the same message come through in the content, even though the tone may vary.

The brand of this organization is its culture of collegiality, dedication to service, and love of Canada. That’s easy for the employees to talk about, since they live it every day. Photos and notes of site projects, team successes, awards, and employee participation in charity events, like the United Way, are published regularly. At a corporate level there are also project successes and cases of external recognition by industry which demonstrate the brand.

The channels of choice are Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube. Video content typically garners a very high readership and lends itself to many opportunities for internal employee engagement. One recent idea emerged from the many instances of upcoming employee retirements. Peers wanted to recognize these dedicated long-timers for their commitment to the organization. The Communications Team provided an interview template enabling these individuals to create their own video interview about what it was like to work with this organization. A communications staffer then does a bit of post-production tidy-up on the piece and posts it to our YouTube channel and Facebook page. We reference these postings on Twitter, to drive people to those sites. This works well since it is recognizes that employee’s long service, others can benefit from that person’s career advice, and external people can really get a feel for the corporate brand.

You are well on your way to achieving your communications goals if you give people the type of content they want to see, in the format they want to see it in.

Stephanie Ryan

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COM 0012-521-13F Advice on Preparing A Digital Strategy

What do you want to accomplish? What impact do you want to achieve? What change do you want to make? Before sitting down to create your digital strategy, the answers to these questions need to be clear in your head.

With these answers in mind, the goal and the necessary objectives should naturally follow. The goal should be an impact or change that you want to achieve. That is what makes it strategic. An example of a weak goal would be to measure the production of outputs, for example, if the goal is to create a blog or a Facebook page. This type of goal is tactical and would be part of an implementation plan and not the strategy.

Examples of goals that indicate a change or an impact could be: i) getting people to boycott a product or service, ii) increasing in-person visits to a retail shop, iii) increasing the number and quality of applications to a company’s job postings, or iv) rallying support to make or stop a change, such as to a city’s transit plan.

Your objectives are milestones on the way to achieve your goal. They should be SMART, which means specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely. What are they, how will you know when you have success, how will you do it, are they and their measures reasonable, and what is the schedule for getting them done? These are the questions to keep in mind when developing your objectives.

Social media is new and exciting and people are keen to get involved. Just like any other media such as the Web, television or radio advertising, or magazines, it is a tool for communicating messages and making change. It would be a wasted effort just to jump in and do it without a strategy. If you can’t answer the question of what you want to achieve, you need to go back to the drawing board, otherwise you are wasting your time.

Stephanie Ryan

COM0011-521: Blog # 6 Using Photos and Videos to Showcase the Brand

For my organization, I would like to showcase its brand in action on social media. The brand of this organization is its culture of collegiality, dedication to service, and love of Canada.

The easiest and best way to do this is through the use of pictures. We have lots of material to work with. The organization that I am with has offices across Canada, with very keen employees. Photos of projects, team successes, awards, and employee participation in charity events, like the United Way, are collected regularly.

Typically, people submit photos and news items on a weekly basis for our internal and external newsletters. This material has been adapted for postings on social media.

To take advantage of one of Brian’s ideas, I hope to increase engagement in this area by setting up a photo contest, and perhaps a caption writing contest in order to engage people more on Facebook. So far, most of the postings have been made by our designated community manager. I am confident that we have a lot of material to work with, and that there are a lot of stories to tell. It is a matter of getting people into the routine of participating.

Additionally, there are plans afoot for a video contest. We have done a video contest before for the 60th anniversary of our organization. People had great fun with it, and we posted these on our YouTube channel. I also feel inspired after seeing the case study for Australian Best Job in the World competition. I would like to run the video contest again, but have people (or teams) speak to why they have the best job at my organization. This will be a great team builder, contribute to employee engagement, and be a great recruiting tool.

What I learned when I first started producing corporate newsletters, is that everyone is looking for themselves in the publication. I think the same is true for social media as well. It is simply a matter of moving people to this new media and having them get used to it.

Stephanie Ryan

COM 0011-521: Blog Post #5 Comparing Content Management and Engagement Tactics

The two case studies that I would like to analyze are 1) Harvard Business School Blog – 500,000 Subscribers, and 2) CBC’s Unofficial Fan Page – 48,000 fans Without Any Advertising.

These are interesting in terms of 1) content creation and 2) managing follower engagement. Each case study has strengths and weaknesses in how they perform each of these functions.

The strength of the Harvard Business School (HBS) Blog is its system for creating content. The experts at HBS generate content once and apply it across all of the HBS collateral: in its publications, its on-line coaching/training service and now, this blog. New content is created daily. There is a decentralized system of content creators who are given tools, standards and procedures to follow. HBS encourages storytelling rather than blogging.

I am a fan of the story telling approach generally with communications. I like the author’s comment that “Content is not king. I think – great content creators who are gifted in storytelling is king”.

The objective of the HBS blog is to infiltrate conversations on entrepreneurship. Eventually, HBS wants to influence all significant conversations on this subject. HBS is working to create spikes in the trends of these relevant conversation topics. The overall goal is to change the brand of HBS. The sense is that when it comes to entrepreneurship, people think of MIT before they think of Harvard.

HBS is not quite there yet in achieving this goal. This is mainly due to the fact that they don’t have a strategy or a team to respond/participate in the social media conversations. HBS is experienced at publishing and distributing its content, but not as experienced in two-way engagement. they are slow to respond, if at all. On one hand, the decentralized system works well for content creation, but not so well for managing responses. I have the impression that no one is in charge of responding.

The existing reputation of HBS gave it 500,000 subscribers. This is compared to other blogs on the same subject matter which number around 500 followers, according to the case study. They are strong out of the starting gate, so to speak, but really need to improve their system and attitude for responding on social media channels. HBS is lacking when it comes to timeliness and quality of responses to its followers. My view is that, because of who HBS is, it will always have a large following, but if HBS does not start engaging properly, it has no where to go but down. It may be able to say that it has a large reach numbers-wise, but it won’t succeed in its objective of influencing the subject matter.

In the second case study, a non-official CBC page has a huge following. Fortunately for the CBC, it is run by a former CBC producer and radio host. It is run with the best of intentions and loyalty for CBC.

He does not have the arsenal of content creators that HBS has, nor does he have the 500,000 followers. Still, I think that his following of 48,000 followers is substantial for an independent fan page. I suspect that this is due to two factors i) he inherently knows what his followers like and ii) he responds appropriately to conversations. This owner is really good at engaging his following and he really understands the “social” in social media.

Some of the tactics that he used to build his following include: an automatic Twitter posting to advertise when he posts on Facebook, and following what he thinks are obscure sources. I find the latter tactic to be an understatement of what he is actually doing. He thinks that these sites may be obscure because they are not mainstream. What they really are, are the sites that his key demographic follows. He recognizes which ones are good (unconsciously) because he knows his people. His career at CBC gave him this knowledge. These links to so-called obsure sources are a main factor in increasing his following.

He develops a system for regular types of postings or “columns” as he refers to them. People know what to expect when he posts certain topics because he uses a standard masthead for each. He replies regularly to posts and watches as some of his postings grow in the thousands with likes by the minute. He believes that “putting a little bit of you in the page goes a long way to humanizing the content”. He also moderates his page by using the FaceBook insights tool – watching what posts create the most engagement. He uses this to hone his type of postings. He eliminates and blocks spammers immediately. Perhaps there is a lesson in there for HBS; add a more of a human touch and monitor reader reaction to posts. Perhaps simply, know your audience.

His goal is to keep awareness of the CBC alive and have the excitement of a fan club. His followers have bought into the fan club concept and to the CBC. His goals are not as complicated as to influence conversations or to undertake a rebranding exercise. HBS could tear a page from his book when it comes to responding, cross-posting and monitoring and managing spam. Unlike HBS, this page has nowhere to go but up in the numbers of followers, assuming that the owner maintains his responsiveness to the page.

Stephanie Ryan

COM 0011-521: Blog Post #4 Fears of Social Media

My view is that attitude and not age, drives a person’s use of social media. Often, I’ve heard people dismiss even exploring different social media channels, because they think that they are too old, or that it’s for “the younger generation”. It is true that people twenty-five years and younger have had greater access generally to computers, wireless and mobile devices. But I think that there are a lot of misconceptions about social media, and this has deterred those people who naturally are reluctant anyway.

Attitude means a lot. Don’t be afraid.

Organizations, whether big or small, are made up of individuals. Decisions are made based on the collective preferences of these people. When trying to implement the wide-spread use of social media in any size of organization, it will become clear what the prevailing attitudes are.

Often, many fears emerge from those people who are not familiar with social media. These fears come from all business units, including IT. Examples of these fears include: i) security issues – we will be hacked, people will be vulnerable to scams; ii) time theft – people will not do their work; iv) reputational damage – people will say bad things about us; and v) and we don’t need to be part of the social media conversation.

Yes, bad things can happen with social media. People can be scammed. But it is no different than telephone and email scams, or any other type of old-fashioned chicanery. Nigeria transfer funds, anyone? With education, all social media channels have privacy settings and large organizations have security firewalls. People need to act responsibly, just as they do when they drive a car, or if they attend any event where social decorum is expected. Don’t post anything you would not want to have public. When you put something in writing, file it under forever. And remember, if the deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

In organizations, there is a concern that if employees have access to social media, they will waste their day away on it. If that happens, that is not a social media problem, that is a human resource issue. If an employee is going to waste time, he/she will, whether it is at Tim Hortons, on the phone making personal calls, or going outside for a cigarette. Organizations need to trust employees and if people are misusing social media, the problem runs deeper than merely having open access to it.

But what if people say bad things about our organization? Chances are that if this is the case, people will still say bad things about you, just not on social media. Those conversations are happening anyway. At least with social media, you or your community can respond and deal with the issues. If this is a huge problem, again, there is a brand issue here that is a deeper problem than applying social media.

For those that want to keep a low profile and not be part of the larger conversation, really, you need to wake up and smell the coffee. No business can expect to remain viable with this attitude. There is an expectation for organizations to use social media, and if you are not part of this, your credibility is at questioned. Your competitors will have a social media presence, whether they be competitors for sales, or employees. For the public sector, even if you are not a consumer related business, transparency requirements demand social media participation. It is not going away and it will only going to increase in the coming years.

Don’t be afraid, just manage the risk as you would for any other function.

Stephanie Ryan

COM 0011-521: Blog Post #3 How is Social Media Being Used in Your Industry?

Lucky for me, as I set out to write this week’s blog post, I have a lot of industries to choose from when I look for examples of how social media is used.

I work for a business-to-business Crown corporation that provides construction contracting and contract management for the Department of National Defence and other federal security and defence related organizations. Applicable industries include: i) the federal government, ii) private contractors and consultants that are in the infrastructure and environment field, ii) and industry associations such as those involved with procurement, engineering, and architecture, to name a few.

Let’s start with the federal government. There are lots of good examples to chose from. Whether you love or hate his politics, the Hon. Tony Clement has really shown leadership in his use of social media. At a recent business communications conference that I attended, he was jokingly called Minister Twitter, because of his keen activity in that area.

A variety of cabinet ministers and MPs, not all, but a good amount, has made the foray into social media. Another example is the Hon. Megan Leslie, MP from Halifax who is very much engaged with her electorate on Twitter. Even Stephen Harper has caught the bug. At the time of the most recent cabinet shuffle in July, the new appointments were announced first on Twitter. In my office we monitored the cabinet tweets as they happened. With the Prime Minister doing this, it says that not only is social media is here to stay, but it acknowledges that regular users of social media, as a group, has political sway.

Check out the YouTube Channel for the Department of National Defence. They have excellent recruitment videos for the Canadian Armed Forces. It sure is a departure from the days of the TV slogans of “There’s no life like it!”

Some of the larger private sector engineering firms use social media for recruiting people, or to showcase their projects. Big companies like Stantec and Ellis Don have a presence.  Stantec has an active Facebook page to showcase its projects and Ellis Don uses Twitter well to engage its audience. A lot of other companies in this field who should be present on social media are not. It is forecasted that there is an increasing shortage of skilled construction labourers over the next 10 years. I would suggest that this industry look at social media more as a way to promote its opportunities to the up and coming workforce.

I find that member associations generally were one of the first groups to embrace the use of social media. By nature, they are short of resources, and social media is the fast and low cost way to spread their message. Twitter has proven useful to the Canadian Construction Association for reaching its national membership. It uses Twitter to broadcast not only information about itself, but about issues like new legislation that affect its membership.

Stephanie Ryan

COM 0011-521: Blog Post #2 Listening to Online Communities

This past week, I have been visiting different online communities with an eye to finding some common characteristics among them. I’ve looked at some for my area of work including professional associations and some that are generally related to the public service. As well, I am a member of one online group that is fighting to keep the movie theatres open at the downtown World Exchange plaza (WEP). And finally, there are several online travel communities that I check in on regularly. Even though it is a mixed bag of subjects, there are similar patterns of behaviour by the participants in these online communities.

Generally, I find that online communities are self-correcting. If someone goes off on a tangent or says something out of line, members will respond quickly. Often, even if there is no official monitor or coordinator for the group, one or two people will rise to the top and perform as a leader. I observed this recently in the WEP forum I joined on Facebook. The parameters of the discussion were clearly defined in the “About Us” section. When one participant deviated from this, members stepped in to clarify, and the situation was diffused.

With the business-related discussion groups, for example, on LinkedIn, people remain quite restrained and professional. This makes sense given the intent of that forum. Everyone who is on LinkedIn has bought in to its intent. At least, this is true of the professional groups that I have reviewed.

I would like to explore this more with private companies, or perhaps research more deeply into forums that are union related find out to what degree “authenticity emerges”. My circle of research has been quite sanitized. When I look at different public service groups, such as forums on GCpedia, they are more about seeking information and comparing notes on different topics of expertise, than an open kaffeeklatsch.

Most of these forums allow for other members to report participants if there are inappropriate postings. Overall, I find that participants in a forum will stick to the expected culture of that forum, based on what the community will tolerate, the level of risk to a person’s brand if an exchange goes wrong, or if there is a threat of expulsion.

For interest, one online community that I use regularly and participate in is Trip Advisor. I really don’t make any hotel booking without reviewing the comments on this site. I post detailed reviews regularly, based upon criteria that interest me, and what I think will interest other people.

After using the site regularly, a reader can easily identify the dedicated participants and get a sense for who is making constructive reviews versus those who are one time participants ranting after a bad experience. Within online communities, members gain a familiarity with each others’ style and views. It becomes easy to pick out those who aren’t part of the community.

Once you make a commitment to interact within an online community, keep in mind that each entry you make is another piece of the picture that is you.

Stephanie Ryan

COM0011-521 Blog Post #1: Favourite Social Media Tools

New inventions often shape lifestyle and culture. Think of the impact that the car, plastic, or the microwave oven has had on our lifestyle. These things are a part of our daily habits and it would be hard to live without them. When I consider the question of what my favourite social media tools are, I ask myself, which ones am I using now so routinely that it would be hard to give them up?

Facebook is at the top of this list. It would be very hard to give it up for extended periods of time, say, for periods longer than two weeks. Why? It is how I keep up with people both near and far.

I work in the field of communications, as do my peers. We all use Facebook to keep up with personal and professional developments, as well as the sharing of expertise and business knowledge. Postings like “Looking for an html programmer for a six week contract” are seen from time to time, equally with family milestones and videos of Maru, the cutest cat ever. This forum is much more familiar than LinkedIn, the place where we put our serious face on, because, well, bosses or head hunters could be watching.

Life happens on Facebook. There was my school chum that I lost contact with after grade eight. She found me on Facebook and we reunited. I keep up with the friends who moved across the country on Facebook. I only wish I had social media twenty years ago when I graduated university. I could have kept up with so many more people. No doubt that there are bad stories too – relationships ended over what was posted on Facebook, and the risk of being found by people who annoyed you 30 years ago, and you find that they are still annoying now. Remember the boy I had a crush on in grade six? Well, I found out through a Facebook friend that he dropped dead of a heart attack last year. But all of these encounters could have happened anyway off Facebook, and probably would have, just at a slower pace.

Not only is Facebook a great personal news aggregate service, it is a great way to scan a variety of media sources each morning. By this I mean professionally published media sources, like the New York Times, The Atlantic Monthly, NPR or the CBC.  This is making me hark back to the days of the news clipping service, like Bowden’s. Anyone remember? As a student in 1986, I worked in a government department, and there were two people who prepared all of the relevant news clippings each morning, photocopied and distributed the bundle across the organization, by hand. I digress.

This brings me to my second favourite social media tool, Twitter. This too, is an amazing news aggregate tool. The only difference is, is that the reports on Twitter are by private citizen reporters.

Twitter in particular has changed how I source immediate news. This past summer, I was in my kitchen listening to the radio when I heard that an airplane had crashed at San Francisco airport. Instead of turning on the TV to see visuals of what was happening, the first thing I did was go to Twitter to look for pictures. Sure thing – survivors deplaning on the tarmac were turning around, snapping photos and posting them immediately on Twitter. Readers had access to live shots faster than CNN. In fact, mainstream media services were picking up video and pictures of the wreck from Twitter.

Social media is the place where you find out what is happening now. I believe that there is still a place for newspaper publications, journals and news shows — that is where you go to find out what it means. Optimistically, I believe that social media will drive newspapers and journals to become more intelligent and analytical, and the less substantial ones will be weeded out naturally. I first joined Facebook in 2007. I’m not sure at what point Facebook and Twitter became one of those inventions that I just use routinely without even thinking about it. I know that there is no going back to a world without social media.

Stephanie Ryan