Archive for the ‘Business Class’ Category

The e-opportunity

In Business Class, Connecting to Communicate, social media on July 28, 2010 at 7:02 am

What do you call it when three-quarters of your potential customers want something, but only 4 percent get it?

 In most industries, it’s called opportunity. In the case of electronic communications in the field of health care, it’s a dilemma. But it’s a dilemma we all should examine.

A few years ago, a Harris Poll survey revealed that  74 percent of adults would like to use e-mail to communicate with their doctors, but only 4 percent had physicians who offered that service. A similar gap existed — 77 percent vs. 4 percent — between the percentage of people who would like to receive reminders about physician appointments via e-mail and those who were receiving them.

In fact, in question after question — about access to electronic medical records, scheduling physician visits, receiving test results via e-mail, and more — adults overwhelmingly said they’d like to be more connected to their doctors via e-mail and the Internet.

 But few of us have seen any progress on this front.

Of course, the world of health care presents plenty of legitimate hurdles to such connectivity, including privacy and security. And that forms the heart of the dilemma: Physicians, practices and health care organizations generally say that, for those reasons, they can’t engage in e-communications with their patients. But some physicians do, if only on such small matters as appointment reminders. Others go further, by providing Web sites with health tips and wellness information or offering online appointment scheduling.

 In other words, though an overwhelming number of physicians say something is impossible, a small percentage is making it possible.

 Why would that matter? Because more than half of the respondents to that same Harris Poll said their decision about choosing a physician would take into account whether or not a doctor uses e-communications.

 Anybody see an opportunity for tech-friendly physicians?

 But what about the rest of us, in other industries and professions? We all should be asking ourselves: What is it that my customers want that my industry says is impossible? And how can the evolving world of social media help me deliver added benefits to my customers?

 You don’t need a national poll to tell you that answering that question and providing that wanted benefit will boost your bottom line.


Focus your message for greater impact and success

In Business Class, Connecting to Communicate, Nonprofit Communications on July 16, 2010 at 3:03 pm

Sometimes, getting your message out there is easy. You know what your organization does and you can sum it up nicely.

When it’s not easy, the problem usually isn’t finding a message. More often, you can’t decide which message to put out there. You do so many things, in so many ways, how can you possibly narrow it all down to one succinct statement?

That’s the dilemma I was trying to address when I put together the slide above for my recent participation in a “Developing Effective Messaging” webinar conducted by Achieve for its nonprofit clients.  I admit it’s a pretty crude, inelegant illustration, but I hope it makes the point: Put too many messages out there, and they’ll get lost in your own clutter, confuse your team, diffuse your impact and, every now and then, crash a couple of metaphoric planes together.

 Why is it so hard to focus the message? Often, it’s because every time you choose to communicate one message, you’re choosing not to communicate others. And every time you choose not to communicate something, somebody says, “Yeah, but …”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve helped a client focus its message – defining objectives, wrestling words, sharpening syntax – only to have an executive or department head come in at the end of the process and say, “Perfect! Except it doesn’t say anything about our … [quality control, customer services, longevity, etc.]. Can you add that? And maybe something about … [cost-effectiveness, environmental awareness, fun culture, etc.]?”

Here’s the deal: I’m not suggesting that an organization can’t have a lot to offer, or that a company can’t provide a bunch of benefits. I’m simply saying that, when it comes to communicating, simple is best. Forge your primary message, and communicate others as appropriate.

How do you choose? By asking yourself a couple of questions:

  • “What are we trying to achieve with this communication effort?”
  • “What message will help us achieve that objective most efficiently?”

Other messages might be true, but if they won’t help you reach your objective, they simply create interference.  

Remember the old Miller Lite “Less filling! Tastes great!” campaign? I can almost guarantee that someone at Miller wanted to add “Incredible bargain!” “American-brewed!” and other messages. But “Less filling! Tastes great!” made the point that needed to be made and nothing more. As a result, it worked.

Choosing is hard, but not nearly as hard as watching a communications effort fail. Make hard choices, focus your message, and you’ll be a lot more successful.

Is your nonprofit dropping the ball on communications?

In Business Class, Connecting to Communicate, Nonprofit Communications, social media on July 12, 2010 at 5:10 pm

As I was preparing for tomorrow’s gig as a panelist on a webinar about effective communications, I ran across some stats that made me suddenly feel I’m doing some pretty important work.

The stats come from a survey of nonprofit communicators conducted by Nancy Schwartz & Co. The study offers a lot of good info, but the numbers I find most compelling are these:

  • 86 percent of the communicators said their messages are difficult to remember.
  • 73 percent said their messages lack inspiration.
  • 70 percent said their organization does a poor job of addressing audience wants and needs.

In a word, yikes.

For tomorrow’s webinar — being conducted in conjunction with  Achieve, an Indianapolis-based consulting firm serving nonprofit organizations — I’ll offer tips for organizations wanting to do a better job of communicating. The presentation will include steps you can follow to put together a good communications plan, and some suggestions of what you need to keep in mind to make it all work well.

For more information on the webinar, go to http://www.achieveguidance.com/webinars/.

Shortly after the webinar, I’ll post some of my notes and slides, but I do recommend tuning in if you can … throughout my presentation, Achieve CEO Derrick Feldmann will ask questions and provide his sharp-minded perspective. It will definitely add value.

Seeking that social-media lightning rod

In Business Class, Connecting to Communicate, social media, uhm on June 11, 2010 at 9:48 am

One of the frustrations of social media is its apparent randomness. One blog post, Tweet, Facebook status update, etc., will provoke a wave of hits and comments while another – seemingly similar – will be virtually ignored. As a result, using social media to build your business can be like trying to get struck by lightning – over and over again.

Think about your personal social media adventures. One day you post a Facebook picture of your cute little niece with ice cream smeared all over her face, and – lightning strikes! – the crowd goes crazy. A day later, you post one of your nephew looking all Norman Rockwell-esque as he takes a bite out of his hot dog at a parade, and … nothing. Tweet about last night’s episode of The Office and – zap! – you’re the reTweet champ; a week later, Tweet out a witty remark about Michael Scott’s latest gaffe and you’re the Omega Man – all alone.

While this unpredictability is annoying in the personal social media space, it can be devastating if you’ve made social media a key part of your marketing and communications strategy. Suddenly, it’s not just a matter of personal pride that you scored an extra 50 followers on Twitter – it’s a matter of bread on the table.

So, if social media is about as reliable as getting struck by lightning, how do you achieve success? Well, to beat the metaphor to death, you find the right lightning rod, hold it up nice and high, and connect it to the right objectives and outcomes.

 And I’m going to tell you how to do that, right?

 Not exactly. I don’t think anyone’s fully uncovered that secret. But some people have found ways to improve the odds. Here are five things I’ve noticed that they do (and a few really bad weather-related analogies to make the ideas “sticky”): 

  • Track the storms. When you’re planning a picnic and the clouds turn black, what do you do? You check the weather radar so you know where the storms are headed. Granted, in real life you do that to avoid being struck by lightning; in the social media world, you do it to anticipate the next lightning strike. How? By watching social media, “listening” to what’s going on out there, assessing the opportunities and making educated guesses. Hey: You can’t do any worse than your average wacky weather guy on TV, right?
  • Chase the right storm. Where do you find the most lightning? Where there’s a storm. Where will you find the most people inclined to pay attention to your posts/Tweets/etc.? Where a relevant conversation is already taking place. Engage in other social media outlets related to the topic you’re addressing. Then hold your lightning rod up nice and high.    
  • Find the highest ground. Lightning typically jumps to the highest point in the area – at first glance, this appears to be a matter of elevation. For the sake of our already tired metaphor, though, we’ll say it’s a matter of standing out in the crowd.  Offering the same thing people can find elsewhere on the Web won’t do you much good. Sure, go where the storms are, but, then, find a way to “rise above the crowd.”
  • Go fly a kite. Not great advice in a thunderstorm, but it did work for Ben Franklin. The point? When ol’ Ben put that legendary kite in the air with a key on the string, he discovered something extraordinary in the ordinary. Social media begs for innovation, creativity and smart thinking. Put them to work and you just might end up with, uhm, shocking results.
  • Seed the clouds. As with any other media, you’ll find the most success by cultivating and maintaining an audience. This takes time and persistence. But once you bring the right “atmospheric conditions” together, you improve the odds of making lightning strike.

Certainly, adopting those five practices won’t automatically make you a lightning rod for social media success, and I don’t pretend they’re the only practices that will jolt you to the next level. On the contrary: I believe no single process will work for everyone. But I do believe adopting a strategic process is important. Without one (to torture the metaphor one last time), you’ll probably find yourself standing on a crowded hill on a sunny day, shocked by nothing more than your failure.

Social media and integration – go beyond buzz words

In Business Class, Connecting to Communicate, social media on June 3, 2010 at 7:01 am

Any communicator worth his or her salt knows to throw the word “integration” into every conversation, presentation, planning meeting or performance review. Even if you’re certain the person on the other side of the conversation has no idea what the word means, you know you have to use it once or twice or risk seeming out of touch and behind the times.

 Social media has only sharpened this truth. As more and more communicators accept the fact that social media is here to stay, they’ve also accepted the fact that, even if they’ve never so much as Twirped or posted an update on Facespace, they have to claim to be integrating social media into every strategy.

 On second thought, a lot of communicators seem to think integration is a strategy.

 So, let’s back up for a minute and look at the notion of integration. What does it mean?

 At the obvious, literal level, integration means bringing various elements together to create a whole. In communications, we’ve come to think of it as weaving together various communications tools, tactics and strategies in pursuit of a single objective.

 Fair enough. But what does this mean on a practical level? Well, a lot of things.

 In social media, for example, it means pulling together all the useful tools – using Twitter to promote a blog, or using Facebook to push people to a YouTube site, or something along those lines.  In the more traditional world of communications, it can mean using media relations to support an advertising campaign, or using a letter-writing campaign to encourage participation in an event. And in the holistic, bring-it-all-together world communicators should live in, it means blending social media with old media, new tools with time-tested tools, and outrageous ideas with tried-and-true approaches.

 In other words, it means using whatever you’ve got in whatever combination necessary to achieve your goals.

 But here’s the sneaky truth: Integration isn’t an option. Maybe once upon a time, you could truly rely on only one medium or tool to get a job done, but I doubt it.

Christianity? To get its start, it integrated the written word with direct communications, developed a network of buzz agents and used miraculous and powerful events to make its point.

Democracy? Again, a lot of the written word, media relations, a speakers bureau, pyrotechnics, customer evangelists, and so forth.

Disco? Radio, events, street teams, movies, print, aftershave commercials, whatever.

OK: Silly examples, perhaps, but a hard truth: Integration is neither a new idea nor an option. It’s imperative. But that doesn’t mean you can use Twitter to promote your CEO’s blog and declare your organization integrated while, down the hall, your media relations team is sending out its own messages and your marketing folks are branding the firm in a vacuum. Your whole communications program has to be working together, in sync, in alignment with your brand and your organization’s central, core message.

Otherwise, you’ll not only fail to integrate, you’ll fail to succeed. And no buzz word in the world is going to change that.

What social media won’t do for you

In Business Class, Connecting to Communicate, social media, Uncategorized on May 24, 2010 at 7:35 am

You’ve no doubt heard a lot about what social media can do for your life or your business. Build it, maybe. Improve it. Transform it.

In fact, if you listened to all of the hype, you could be forgiven for thinking social media can do just about anything. But it can’t. So, to offset the endless hype about what social media can do, here are four things it won’t do.

Social media won’t substitute for a strategy. Social media is a tool. It’s one of the things you use to implement your strategy. It’s not a strategy. Before thinking about how you can use social media, think about what it is you’re trying to achieve and consider the best ways to achieve it. Perhaps social media will be a part of your strategy.


Social media won’t substitute for a message. Yes, once upon a time the medium was declared to be the message. But, face it: Without a message, you’ve got nothing to put into the medium. If you don’t have anything engaging to say, no one will listen – no matter what media you use to say it.


Social media won’t substitute for a brand. You’ve heard it over and over, but sometimes we forget these sorts of things. Your brand is not your organization’s name, a product name, a slogan or logo. It is, indeed, the complete experience a customer has with you. As such, social media will help you build, establish and connect a brand, but it won’t substitute for a brand.


Social media won’t substitute for a purpose. Even if you started Facebook, founded Twitter or came up with whatever is next, social media is not your purpose. Know why you exist or no magical media will make you worthwhile. Or interesting. Or successful.

Keep social media in perspective. It’s a great tool that can help some businesses succeed. For other businesses, though – those that don’t have a strategy, a message, a brand or a purpose – it will be a drain on resources and an unnecessary distraction. And, ultimately, OK, sure: It will indeed transform those businesses. In a bad way.

Big lessons from small business

In Business Class, uhm, Uncategorized on May 14, 2010 at 7:57 am

More than once or twice in recent days, I’ve found myself at lunch tables and on bar stools talking with fellow small business folks about the ups and downs of the economy. And again and again, I find myself recommending the same book: Bo Burlingham’s 2005 work, “Small Giants.”

In that book, Burlingham presents a group of companies that, as he put it, “choose to be great instead of big.” From a Michigan recording studio to a Silicon Valley HR firm, and from a New York restaurant group to a San Francisco brewery, the companies Burlingham examined had made conscious decisions not to grow.

Well, actually, they chose not to grow by the traditional definitions of growth — by expanding beyond basic operations, for example, or by going public, merging or being acquired. All of them, however, would no doubt say they grew in other ways. And, by their measures, all seem to count themselves as successful. And, in pursuing their own definitions of success, they offer lessons for any business — of any size.

Consider this overview of the factors Burlingham says contribute to small firms’ mojo and decide for yourself.

 Choice. Recognizing that you have options beyond the usual paths to success, and, as a result, going a different way.

 Resistance. Choosing to resist the “obvious” paths to growth.

 Roots. Having an intimate relationship with geographic location — your city, town, county or region.

 Community. Maintaining intimate relationships with customers and suppliers.

 Family. Building intimate workplaces, where employees are like family.

 Variety. Organizing your business in an imaginative way, without feeling bound by typical structures.

 Passion. Having a leader with passion for the organization and what it does.

In various formula and measures, these factors combine to create a bigger, perhaps-less-tangible piece that Burlingham describes as a firm’s “mojo.” In the Jim Collins vernacular, this is most easily compared to a firm’s “hedgehog” … others might describe it as an organization’s  “DNA.” Regardless of what you call it, though, it’s that special thing, that unique quality, that defining aspect of an organzition that makes it stand out.

The thing to understand is that your firm’s “mojo” might not be the product you make so well, or the service you provide better than anyone else — it might be the process by which you make that product, or the way you provide that service. The trick is to identify that mojo and build on it … often discovering you can expand that mojo in ways you never imagined, to grow in ways you never thought possible.

And why is this notion so important these days? Because in times of marketplace upheaval, pursuing growth for growth’s sake seldom works. Instead, focus on your mojo in order to develop your organization’s true strength. Then you’ll not only survive tough times, but, when times are better, you’ll grow … in the ways that you choose to define growth.

The view from the dishwasher

In Business Class, Connecting to Communicate, social media on March 18, 2010 at 10:15 am

To illustrate the value of open-book management, the folks at Zingerman’s like to tell a dishwasher story. And, while it’s primarily a story about how front-line insights can affect the bottom line, it also demonstrates a mindset that has become increasingly important in today’s highly connected marketplace.

A few months after the Michigan-based company opened its Roadhouse restaurant, the new eatery’s food costs were running high. While this is not unusual in a new venture, the folks at Zingerman’s (recently described by Inc. magazine as the “Coolest Small Company in America”) struggled to find the cause of the cost overruns.

So they did something unusual: They asked a guy back in the dish room for his thoughts. And this dishwasher noted that a lot of the dirty plates that came to him had French fries on them. Did the customers not like the fries? Quite the contrary; they loved them. But the portions were too big. So the company cut fry portions in half and offered free refills. Customers appreciated the offer of seconds, but few asked for them. As a result, the restaurant saved thousands of dollars.

Why would a company turn to a dishwasher—or anyone else outside the management suite—for financial insight? For Zingerman’s (as the company notes in a piece that can be accessed via http://zingtrain.com/more_samples.php), there are five good reasons:

  • It leads to better results. Letting people know the bottom line helps them see how they can add to it—and allows them to offer solutions to problems only they can see.
  • It’s in line with company values. While the Zingerman’s “community of businesses” seems to be particularly employee-focused, just about every organization seems to embrace some level of employee involvement these days. Opening the books is the ultimate embodiment of that philosophy.
  • It builds commitment. Give people information and they feel included. Make them feel included and they get more engaged. Engage them and they’ll feel more committed to your organization’s success.
  • It leads to better decisions. No one can make good decisions without good information. More information means more good decisions.
  • It teaches everyone to think like owners. Think about it: Do your employees think and act as though they are ultimately responsible for the organization’s success? No? Maybe that’s because they don’t have the big-picture perspective leaders have. Let them understand how your sales, costs and profits work, and they just might take a more personal stake in the organization’s success.

Certainly, these practices are timeless, but they hold special importance in today’s hyper-connected world. New media and social media put more of your people in touch with the public than ever before. That means your leadership and PR people are no longer your primary spokespeople – your people are, and they have greater access to the public than the front office ever did.

How can you trust them to say the right things? By equipping them and empowering them to think like owners. They’ll feel engaged and important. They’ll believe in what your brand stands for and truly want the organization to succeed. And, as a result, they’ll become the most powerful marketing machine you could ever imagine.

Change required: Social media demands a new way of thinking

In Business Class, Connecting to Communicate, social media on March 4, 2010 at 7:45 pm

Leaders can be funny people. They talk about driving change, about wanting to lead dynamic organizations and about “pushing the envelope.” They say they need their people to “think outside the box” and urge their organizations in new directions. “If we’re not leading the way,” they say, “we’re following the herd.”

But when their people come to them and say, “OK, in order to go in this new direction, we’re going to need to change the way we do things,” too many leaders slam on the brakes. It’s as though they’re saying, “I’m all for change, so long as everything can stay the same.”

The latest issue to spark this change/stay-the-same tug-of-war?  Social media. Most leaders know they’ve got to tap its potential, but, again, they hesitate when they realize the changes required to make it work.

What changes? Consider the following:

Out. Of. Control. The more you use social media to communicate, the less control you have over your message. It’s OK: Let go. Trust your customers to carry your message forward.

Keys, not key. You know your key message. You’ve drilled it into your people’s heads. Great. Now, let it fragment into a dozen messages, a hundred messages, and more. Don’t worry: Deep down, it’ll still be the same. It’ll just sound a little different to each audience that hears it. And that’s why they will, indeed, hear it.

It’s not about you. Really, it never should have been, but social media consumers must feel that your products, your mission and your communications are about them … or they’ll move on.

Friend of a friend. Make a new friend in social media, and you suddenly have access to hundreds more. Win a new customer, and you’ve suddenly got access to hundreds more of those, too. Cool, huh?

Stand and engage. Once upon a time, you crafted your message for one-way communication. Now you develop the foundation of a conversation. Stop delivering messages and start engaging in discussions.

It’s not what you make; it’s what it does. Products can be cool. Products can be innovative. But what consumers really want is an experience, a solution and a “feel.” Your products are simply a vehicle for delivering that experience, solution and feel.

There’s no place like home … page. That website the organization worked so hard to perfect? It’s not necessarily your home page any more. Instead, your “home page” becomes a virtual concept, a role filled by a Facebook page, a blog or some other web-based outlet.

Give it up. You don’t own your brand any more. Your consumers do. The good news? If it’s a good brand and you stay true to it, they’ll do more to spread the word than you ever could.

Off the clock. Your brand is being discussed while you sleep. That doesn’t mean you can’t sleep. It simply means you have to be prepared for a marketplace in constant motion.

Now, if all of that change makes your leader curl up into a fetal position, let him or her know the good news: Even in the face of all this change, a few things remain the same. In fact, they’re more important than ever:

Strategy. Social media isn’t a magic wand that solves all problems. Like any other tool, it only works if it’s employed as part of a focused strategy.

Relationships. Business always has been about relationships, and always will be. The good news? Social media makes it easier to forge relationships.

Focused message. Remember what we said about being prepared to fragment your message? It’s true, but it only works if you have a strong, focused message to begin with.

Quality. Social media doesn’t make silk purses out of sow’s ears. However, if you make a really good silk purse, it’ll help you spread the word.

Risk. Some things never change. If you want to get the greatest reward from social media, you’ll have to take a big risk. There are no guarantees. Just a lot of potential and opportunity. Are you up for it?

Social Media Debrief: Lessons from Atlanta

In Business Class, Connecting to Communicate, social media on February 25, 2010 at 10:01 am

I’ve got those post-conference/my-brain-is-full/now-what-do-I-do blues.

The good news is that my brain is full of good, useful information. The bad news is that now I’ve got to sort it out, maintain that post-conference enthusiasm for new information and put it to work for clients.

I spent the first three days of this week at a Ragan Communications Social Media for Communicators conference in Atlanta, listening to gurus and pros give their insights into social media and how to make the most of it. I’m still processing and decompressing – which means I’ll probably have fodder for plenty of upcoming social media posts – but, for now, I can offer a few key concepts that rose to the top.

Social media is huge. OK, no great revelation there, but a little context: Ragan CEO Mark Ragan pointed out (I’ll track down the primary source ASAP), if the number of people on Facebook were a country, they’d be the fourth-largest country in the world. (I can’t imagine what the GDP would be.)

You don’t own your brand. Your customers do. This isn’t new information – when you think about it, consumers have always owned the brand – but consumers’ ownership stake has increased with social media because they have greater control over the communication of that brand. (This idea was repeated in a number of ways by a number of speakers.)

Every day is Election Day. Always be campaigning, says Clyde Tuggle, Coca-Cola SVP Global Public Affairs and Comm, because consumers are constantly voting. You can lose an election (or competitive position) every day.

Sometimes it’s a good-enough world. A number of speakers (most notably, perhaps, Shel Holtz) pointed out that quality standards (especially for video, but also in terms of grammar, style, etc.) relax in the social media world. A shaky, hand-held video is acceptable if the content is good enough. On the other hand, too shaky and too amateurish (notes Brian Solis), and we’ll ignore it. So “good enough” means just that: GOOD enough – not, “Well, it’s bad but who cares?”

It’s all about ‘communitainment.’ That’s Mark Ragan’s word for what the world wants – real information, real communication, and really entertaining stuff. My take: It’s kind of like dating. Meet someone funny but shallow? Fun for a while, but it ain’t gonna last. Smart and boring? We’ll put up with THAT even less. Funny and smart? This might be love.

Mom rocks. It makes sense that Mommy Bloggers have the power: Women make the vast majority of household buying decisions. What do they want, according to Mommy Blogger Ace Beth Rosen? Engagement, genuine interest, lasting connections and empowerment. Wait: Are we dating again? (And, by the way, DON’T call them mommy bloggers.)

If I had a hammer. Renee Hamilton, formerly of Operation Smile, had the analogy of the week: The way a lot of organizations approach social media is akin to someone buying a hammer and then looking for something (anything!) to build. In other words, don’t grab the tool (social media) unless you know what you want to build and why. Otherwise, you’ll probably just end up running around hitting things.  

Technology comes and goes; relationships last. SocMed and PR guru Brian Solis points out that, while the social media focus tends to be on the tools (Twitter, Facebook, Tweetdeck, etc. etc.), social media is not about technology – it’s about sociology and psychology. Just like old-school communications.

I’ve got plenty more in my notes, detail on these points and resources to offer in future posts. But, for now, one final thought:

It takes resources and tenacity. The people who are making social media work are dedicating time, energy and other resources, and they’re sticking with it. You have to be smart, relentless and untiring. Or you have to be willing to watch from the sidelines.