What Are You Thinking?

It sounds like an easy question, but the answer itself is hard. I recently had a conversation with a colleague about “getting on Twitter.” As a strategic communicator, I needed to know more, and so I asked “why?”. In his role, being on Twitter is the thing that you’re “supposed” to do; after all, everyone else is.

That prompted me to ask, do you want to engage with colleagues or be a thought leader among colleagues? It wasn’t his response to the question that surprised me, it was my own.

I hadn’t realized that I wanted to become a thought leader myself in my profession, but there it was staring me in the face. As a regular participate in a moderated Twitter chat and now a blogger, I suppose that does make me a thought leader!

But I cannot be satisfied with this role. I am compelled to set a new professional goal for myself and a personal goal. For me, the goals have collided. This year has been about balance: family, work, school and professional associations.

Last week our moderated Twitter chat featured a discussion about the Four-Step Process for public relations, also known as Research, Planning, Implementation, and Evaluation (RPIE). Consider this:

As strategic communicators, we need to counsel others on how best to implement sound communication strategies—especially when using new media technologies. Sometimes the work isn’t about stepping on the gas, it is about knowing when to ease off.

At this point in my career, I have come to the realization that in order to be innovative, I must provide myself downtime so I can think and recharge. That said, part of the goalsetting for me includes stepping back from this blog for a while so I can focus on other areas of my life. My aim with the beautiful weather around the corner is to get out and enjoy it more with the ones I love the most! The best way I can make that happen is by leaving my office on time each day!

 

 

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Strangers Are Everywhere

Growing up as a child of the 1980s, the lessons taught by my parents and teachers have served me well: don’t get in cars with strangers, don’t take candy from strangers, and don’t talk to strangers. Apparently, life in the eighties was consumed with the idea that children should be educated on the reality of strangers!

But I recall in my young mind a stranger was someone in a long trench coat with the collar flipped up, wearing a hat, and maybe sunglasses walking down the sidewalk. Back then, I just knew that I didn’t want to end up with my face on a milk carton. To be honest, I don’t think I ever encountered someone who looked like that.

Now, as a parent myself, I find myself offering a new generation of the lessons to my own children and how to prepare them for the dangers they may encounter in the age of new media and new technology. In this week’s Modern Retro PR, we examine the differences between what my parents (and their peers) needed to teach kids to stay safe with what I (and my peers) teach to keep our kids safe.

Modern: Common Sense Media’s Digital Citizenship

We’ve all gotten the emails from an alleged “prince” in a faraway land who has cash he needs you to hold for some sketchy reason, but he will cut you in for helping him. Or the alleged cautionary tale of a “friend” who got lured away from an online interaction that leads to a bathtub full of ice and his or her kidneys being gone with a note to call 911 nearby.

Most of us (hopefully) wouldn’t fall for it, but it’s enough to concern a parent that the possibility could be one click away for their child.

With access to multiple social media platforms available in the palm of a child’s hand, families want to keep their children safe. The answer to doing so varies from family to family. For some families, that may be denying their child access to the internet and social media platforms until a certain age. Other families may choose to allow it under certain circumstances.

Regardless, for educators ensuring that children are using technology appropriately isn’t just best practice. It’s also required by law. In 2000, Congress enacted the Children’s Internet Protection Act, or CIPA. It’s designed to hold schools and school districts accountable for ensuring students are shielded from harmful content by the use of internet filtering and educating students on responsible use. The way it works is that it ties federal funding to bring down the expensive cost of implementing technology in schools through the e-RATE program by ensuring compliance.

For many years, the process to ensure students stayed safe on the internet was ad hoc, with schools and school districts developing their own processes to educate students. In 2015, Common Sense Media introduced a new curriculum to support adults in teaching students how to use the internet safely. Dozens of age-appropriate lessons are available for free. At the time, the organization said the work was necessary.

“Teaching kids to think critically and behave responsibly in today’s fast-paced digital world is essential,” said Mike Lorion, General Manager of Education at Common Sense Media.

When it comes to digital citizenship it’s important to understand what it actually is.

Just like citizenship to a country comes with rights, responsibilities and privileges, so does digital citizenship. For educators, it is an important of a lesson to learn as government or civics.

Retro: Stranger Danger PSA

The rules are simple: don’t talk to strangers. It is a concept that any child who grew up in the 1980s knows by heart. This message was only reinforced with PSAs, like this one produced by the American Medical Association, airing on television.

Even McGruff the Crime Dog was in on the action:

The underlying message is a moral panic, a concept attributed to a South African criminologist named Stanley Cohen.

“Moral panic has been defined as a situation in which public fears and state interventions greatly exceed the objective threat posed to society by a particular individual or group who is/are claimed to be responsible for creating the threat in the first place.”  –  Scott A. Bonn Ph.D., Psychology Today

The efforts centered on raising awareness on ways in which a stranger might lure a child away from a safe location. If children became aware of the possible dangers, they could just avoid them altogether.  In homes and classrooms across America in the 1980s, it was a message that was oft-repeated.

Final Thoughts

Times have since changed. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children is now urging parents to avoid even uttering the phrase “stranger danger.” Experts say that the phrase “really doesn’t fit all scenarios.” In fact, even conducting internet research on the campaign is difficult; it is as if agencies don’t want to remember the campaign even existed. No mention of it even is made on either the American Medical Association’s website or the website for McGruff the Crime Dog!

However, it doesn’t take anyone long to find information on ways to keep kids safe online. Common Sense Media even has a section for parents to help them understand what new pitfalls may be available putting kids at risk. Parenting in the age of new media technologies comes with responsibilities we may never realize existed when we first posted a birth announcement on Facebook or maybe Myspace about a decade ago. As parents, we must keep updated on the social media tools available to our children who are digital natives, having grown up in a world that has always had technology at our fingertips. Admittedly, for their digital native parents: it is work.

Like in the eighties, today’s parents understand that the best safeguards for ensuring children remain safe are to make sure we are both monitoring our children and equipping them with the tools they need to make the right choices.

The Whole World is Watching

It’s been a busy week in for communications professionals who work with brands online. Most notably, we’ve seen young people at the helm of the #NEVERAGAIN movement who are impacting the reputations of brands and organizations through social media. Their efforts are a direct effect of their surviving the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. Where 17 people lost their lives.

The way it has been done is a testament to the effectiveness of the Agenda Setting Theory. Although this group of survivors is still in high school, their work has been a textbook case of public agenda setting. In this aspect of the theory, members of the public raise awareness of an issue and bring it to the forefront for others.

In one week’s time, a group of grief-stricken teenagers’ has primed the discussion in the media and policy makers. It’s prompted one network to sponsor a prime time town hall and state legislators in Florida to reverse course from long-held beliefs.

For those who like to explore brands and marketing, this week has given us much about which to think. And that’s exactly the point of the Agenda Setting Theory: it doesn’t tell us what to think, but rather, what to think about.

At one point in my career, I worked for the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, where I could see exhibits from history were brands were disrupted. In this week’s Modern Retro PR, we look at how activists can affect a brand’s reputation in their quest for change and to be heard.

Modern: Last Week Online

For those adept in social media it was easy to see conversations happen in real-time that affected brands. On Feb. 22, reality TV star Kylie Jenner tweeted her impressions of a redesign to the social media platform Snapchat. She didn’t mince words either:

That message was no only heard by her 25 million followers, but also the stock market. By the end of the day, Snapchat had lost about six percent of its value, or about $1.3 billion dollars.

Then, two days later a survivor of last week’s mass shooting started a ripple effect with this tweet.

Students, who in their grief one week prior, pledged to place a “badge of shame” for those not actively working to prevent tragedies such as the one that happened in their school. Their online activism spurred others to call out companies working with the National Riffle Association through corporate deals.

By Saturday night, more than 20 companies ended their relationships with the association. It doesn’t appear that the students’ momentum is slowing down either.

Direct Action Campaigns

The young people could probably find examples of activists affecting brands in their textbooks. This, too, happened during the Civil Rights Movement. It seems fitting that this post should pay homage to those foot soldiers fought for equality in the context of human rights during Black History Month.

Direct action campaigns were a mainstay during the Civil Rights Era where participants would call attention to injustice through non-violence demonstrations, protests, sit-ins and strikes. Those the journey to gain civil rights was not immediate, the efforts worked.

The arrest of Rosa Parks in 1955 led to the Montgomery Bus Boycott. For 381 days, black residents stayed off the city’s transit lines to protest the segregation of Montgomery buses. The story of how the boycott impacted the city’s coffers was prominently featured in the traveling Smithsonian exhibit titled 381 Days. This exhibit visited the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute during my tenure there.

The historic Sixteenth Baptist Church was just outside my office window when I worked at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. The basement of the church was the place where four little girls died as the result of a racially motivated bombing in September 1963. But months before the bombing, civil rights leaders developed the idea for the Children’s Crusade, a non-violent protest by children.

The children’s non-violence was met with police officers, police dogs and water hours. Biography.com Author Kim Gilmore noted the effects to the brand of the City of Birmingham (Ala.): the whole world was watching.

Footage and photographs of the violent crackdown in Birmingham circulated throughout the nation and the world, causing an outcry. Businesses in downtown Birmingham were feeling the pressure. 

­Final Thoughts

Coordinated efforts for action can affect brands and business. This approach is not only effective, but time-tested. History is replete with examples of brands being motivated to change based on public outcry and reaction; they would be wise to take note.

Organizations put a lot of money into their brands—everything from research and development to production to advertising. While a key influencer starts to speak out against a brand and encourages others to do the same, brands notice.

As with Jenner, her followers began quickly replying how they disliked the Snapchat changes as well. From there it only snowballed. There is now a change.org online petition with more than one million signature asking Snapchat to abandon its redesign of the app.

The same thing goes for the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students. Their clarion call to their followers prompted them to begin contacting organizations en masse to threaten to or cancel their own personal associations with the big names. When the complaints start to add up, so can the dollar signs.

In other words, money talks.

Paying attention to the conversation about an organization’s brand is the first step. It is important for communications professionals to monitor the conversation happening online about the organization. This environmental scanning can serve as a leading edge to discovering an issue on the horizon. These days, that’s part of the cost of doing business.

However, no one is going to give an organization credit for merely monitoring the brand online. What people do remember is the response the brand offers. Change isn’t easy, nor does it come overnight for activists. Their strength in affecting change is their persistence and ability to remain an influencer on topics of significance to their efforts.

Crowdsourcing: The Cup is Half Full

In 2011, the word “crowdsourcing” was added to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary as a mashup of the words “crowd” and “outsourcing.” In five short years, it became a way to define a new way of doing business:

“the practice of obtaining needed services, ideas, or content by soliciting contributions from a large group of people and especially from the online community rather than from traditional employees or suppliers” – Merriam Webster

Even though the etymology of the word hasn’t been around that long, the idea, itself, has.

In fact, just this past week I employed crowdsourcing for a project on which I was working. I had hit a speed bump in my planning and the ideas had stalled. We sent out an email asking for a solution to a group of key stakeholders and literally, within 45 seconds, I had the answer to something that had stumped me for days.

In this week’s Modern Retro PR, examine the ways in which soliciting others for help in solving complex ideas has happened in two different eras.

Modern: #WhiteCupContest

Sometimes a when it comes to a new project a blank piece of paper can leave your mind empty and overwhelmed. But that’s exactly the opposite what Starbucks saw. The company’s baristas noticed customers doodling on the company’s white paper cups designed with only a Starbucks logo. The revolution of a blank canvas sparked a unique opportunity for crowdsourcing a design for the iconic cup. Thus, the White Cup Challenge was born in 2014!

According to Starbucks:

The company-sponsored design competition encouraged customers in the U.S. and Canada to decorate a Starbucks® reusable cup with their original customized art and submit a photo through social media using the hashtag #WhiteCupContest.

According to the company, the promotion brought in nearly 4,000 submissions in less than a month’s time, with the winner’s artwork being reproduced on a limited edition reusable Starbucks’ cup.

The blog Marketing Eye explained the impact of the Starbucks crowdsourcing campaign by calling it “a winning combination of crowd-sourced product design, increasing reusable cup sales and reinforcing a Starbucks’ environmental responsibility credentials.”

The affinity for the crowdsourced designs shared via Twitter has even prompted the company to expand the platform on which the artwork is seen to Pinterest. The Starbucks Cup Art Pinterest board is yet another way for the company to thank its customers for being part of the company’s success. This particular Pinterest board is being followed by more than 250,000 other Pinterest accounts.

Shortly after launching this campaign, the Seattle-based company expanded the crowdsourcing to its annual red cup holiday designs. Patrons were offered a red cup on which to draw their hearts out. Similar to the #WhiteCupContest, the #RedCupContest features holiday-themed art.

According to the company’s Facebook page, in 2015 Starbucks received more than 24,000 artwork submissions in five days!

The popularity of the competition further enhanced the brand and created customer loyalty. Additionally, the company developed a permanent, digital home for the holiday artwork at www.redcupcollection.com.

The beauty of this campaign wasn’t that Starbucks was asking customers to come up with new ideas, but it was that they provided a platform to showcase how people spent their time as they enjoyed a cup of their favorite brew.

Retro: Crimestoppers

It was more than 40 years ago when an Albuquerque, New Mexico police detective came up with an idea to help solve a backlog of crime mysteries. The idea was simple: solicit the public for information about the unsolved crime to which the police may not have had access. If successful, the hope was that the information provided would help police crack the case and ultimately lead to an arrest and conviction.

The incentive to the anonymous tipster would be a cash reward. According to Crime Stoppers:

Members of the local community, media and law enforcement, came together in partnership to begin the effort to provide crime-solving assistance to law enforcement, and the first Crime Stoppers program was born on September 8, 1976.

In 1976, the word “crowdsourcing” simply didn’t exist, but it is evident that the philosophy did based on the work Crime Stoppers was doing to address issues of crime in local communities. While this collaborative partnership with the media, police and the community began with a telephone tip line, the organization now takes anonymous tips through the internet, too—a reflection of the modernization of an organization to evolve with changing times and technologies.

Crime Stoppers presently operates around the globe and has a 95% conviction rate on cases where tips are submitted, according to the organization’s website. There, viewers can also find an up-to-date tracking log of the success of the program. So far, more than 700,000 arrests have been made.

Do you have a tip to share? Call Crime Stoppers USA at 1 (800) 222-TIPS.

Final Thoughts

For strategic communicators looking for permission to use crowdsourcing, it already exists in one plank under the typical 12 functions of public relations’ competencies: trusted counsel. It is here where a communicator can use information gathered from stakeholders to provide trusted counsel to an organization’s leader. Done correctly and effectively, the information gleaned can offer the communicator primary informal research to use for consideration.

But it takes courage and a sense of humility to employ this strategy to address a challenging opportunity. Leaders must be willing to recognize that they nor their team has all the answers and that the collective “we” may offer insight we have yet to consider. Additionally, crowdsourcing can help leaders avoid groupthink by having others outside the organization’s inner workings to think of solutions to the problem.

“Crowdsourcing prevents groupthink and stops leaders from buying in to their own ideas without thinking through other perspectives.” – Chris Cancialosi, Forbes Contributor

This is a huge shift in the thinking that the experts know it all.

If, as organizational leaders, we are trying to solve challenging issues in order to meet the needs of a key public, then why not include them in the process? Writer Carrie Dagenhard of Tektonika.com argues we should as part of a brand loyalty strategy: “By leveraging crowdsourcing and the technologies that make it possible, digital brands can amass and retain user allegiance.”

Simply put: an optimist communicator would view the cup as half full and crowdsourcing as a way to fill it to the brim.

Citizen Journalists: Authors of the First Rough Draft of History?

As public relations’ practitioners, we must be prepared not only present information on behalf of an organization to our stakeholders, but also for them to reply with their side of the story. Increasingly, practitioners are seeing stakeholders challenge the narrative through the publication of blogs and microblogging (e.g. Twitter). It is important to consider how these technologies impact the work of professional communicators.

The role of the citizen journalist has an important place in society, and professional practitioners would be wise to recognize this. Citizen journalism can often be the leading edge of sparking a conversation about important topics to raise awareness and possibly, bring about change.

However, the ease with which anyone can start a blog, it can be difficult to determine what is noise and what is not.

According to Statistica.com, there are nearly 392 million blogs which have been published, including this one! In reviewing the data on blog, that number only increases year after year. But unfortunately, for the reader not all of them have quality and/or relevant content. However, for those writers for whom have something important to say, in the ability for a single person to speak out from darkness to shine a light on key issues, there is power.

In this week’s post, we review the impact of the published writings of everyday people and how they can lead to greater awareness.

Modern: A Diary by “Gul Makai,” a BBC Blog

In 2009, a 14-year-old girl began blogging for the BBC after she and other girls were banned from schools because of their gender. She blogged under the name of Gul Makai, a pen name. For Malala Yousafzai, the blog became an outlet to the world to speak out on the Taliban limiting of a generation of girls achieving their full potential.

Her series of blog posts share in vivid detail what life was like for at the time in Swat, Pakistan. The isolation from an education she loved and her fear for an uncertain future.

“I am upset because the schools are still closed here in Swat. Our school was supposed to open today. On waking up I realised the school was still closed and that was very upsetting.” – Malala Yousafzai

Yousafzai, an international education advocate, became the youngest person to win the Nobel Peace Prize at age 17, and has since started a foundation to continue her work.

Read more of Yousafzai’s blog posts.

Retro: Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl

I was in ninth grade when I read Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl. I know this because I remember being about the same age as her when she wrote in captivating detail about her life as a Jewish person hiding inside the Secret Annex during 1940s’ Amsterdam. From behind a rotating bookshelf, Frank detailed what life was like for her and seven others living in silence. Her diary was the one place she could use the full power of her voice to tell the story of how Nazi occupation affected her life. Wise beyond her years, she had much to say.

“I can shake off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn.” –Anne Frank

This young woman wrote of love, hope, maturing and more through of one history’s darkest moments. She shone a light on making the world a better place, even if it is in your own little corner of the world.

Frank’s dream of becoming a book author was realized when her father published her diary in 1947, which has since been translated into more than 70 languages worldwide.

Learn more about Frank’s life.

Final Thoughts

Blogs seem to be the great equalizer—giving everyone a voice. However, the role of the citizen journalist done effectively can be a chronicler in real time of events on the ground. Oftentimes, these citizen journalists provide a perspective that a traditionally-trained journalist just can’t match: the raw emotion of a story told in first person by the one living it. The ability to share from the human condition in a raw emotion is served best by being uncensored.

Frank described it like this in her diary: “Because paper has more patience than people.”

The writings of both Yousafzai and Frank highlighted what life was like during the occupation of their respective communities. Amid the isolation of the situation, both looked to moments of normality as a sign of better days to come. Tragically, for Frank, that day never came, but her words are immortal.

Both journalists and citizen journalists have the ability and the responsibility for shaping the narrative on a given topic for generations to come. It is from these accounts that historians can add layers of color to the geo-political issues affecting the world around us.

Many journalists give former Washington Post President and Publisher Philip L. Graham credit for being the first to describe journalism as “the first rough draft of history.” – Jack Shafer, Slate.com

Certainly, this is the role Yousafzai and Frank played in telling their own story.

In the March 2014 edition of Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, the article, Citizen Journalism: Valuable, Useless or Dangerous, points to citizen journalism as being a double-edged sword. For the awareness that citizen journalists can bring to a topic, the information presented may not be told from an objective point of view:

Citizen journalists have provided real-time descriptions of events and subcultures seldom if ever covered adequately by traditional media. However, the absence of journalistic background, editing, and quality control have often led to biased, inaccurate, low-quality pieces.

Something that can lead to more confusion for the reader is something that may lead them there in the first place: good design. According to Julia McCoy of Expresswriters.com, a highly-polished blog equates to credibility to the reader who may assume the blog has more credibility than it should.  This is may contribute to the reason people have trouble discerning fact from fake when information is presented in a blog format as compared to its more traditional news media sources.

All the more reason for professional communicators to understand this as they are preparing a strategic response.

The Purpose Behind Your Practice

For professional communicators, the challenge remains: how best can we communicate with our stakeholders? As a practitioner, I consider myself to have a strong knowledge base of incorporating social media into practice. In my office, I have a vintage Underwood typewriter and a vintage camera as reminders that if practitioners before me had less sophisticated tools and were able to produce quality content, what’s my excuse?

These two items are not mere decoration; they are a challenge to me to up my game each day.

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Items in my office

The journey to locate these two items wasn’t easy, and that’s what makes the story itself worthwhile. I told a coworker that I was seeking a vintage typewriter to decorate in my new office a few years back. She and a friend went to an outdoor flea market, where the vendor had a typewriter for sale. She asked the price, thinking she’d would buy it and I would pay her back. He told her (because she was an Alabama Crimson fan) sporting her gear): the cost would be $50. Incensed, her Auburn Tigers’ fan friend (sporting her gear), asked the price and he replied $25.

The friend of a friend bought it and gave it to me.

THIS is why I say on this blog good storytelling is always in style. It helps us feel connected. In this week’s Modern Retro PR, we example the purpose behind your practice.

Modern: Facebook’s Changing Algorithm

Lately, every PR-type or blogger has been offering his or her hot take on how communications professionals can be successful in light of Facebook’s change in algorithm. This won’t be another one of those blogs offering advice, but embedded in the science of the change is the best practice of the profession.

As social creatures, we value interaction. Social media offer that, in albeit a superficial way. To address that, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote in a January 11, 2018 post:

 “(W)e’ve gotten feedback from our community that public content — posts from businesses, brands and media — is crowding out the personal moments that lead us to connect more with each other.”

For organizations, this new direction should help practitioners refocus their work in providing content that is meaningful to the stakeholder and motivating to share. It can be done.

Understanding this, my team and I determined that a strong story would be helpful in communicating a particular message the strength of the schools in our community. In developing our communications strategy, we helped our coworkers understand their role as brand ambassadors among their friend and family circles who would value their opinion. That compelling content was shared repeatedly with colleagues, parents, and others in our community—catapulting it to high engagement numbers.

See for yourself:

CHS data.png

Numbers like these outperform our typical posts ten-fold!

According to Pew Research, more than 60 percent of Millennials gets their (political) news from Facebook, as compared to more traditional news sources, like television. This is a crucial tidbit for school systems, as the parents of our students are increasingly in the Millennial generation.

People want to feel connectivity. Social media can provide that avenue. Plus, it makes good business sense to help stakeholders understand your organization’s purpose!

Retro: The Page Principles

The origins of this work in the age of social media can be found in the work and speeches of the godfather of corporate communications and former AT&T executive Arthur Page. Although Page did not author the principles bearing his name, it is based off his life’s work and was adopted by the Arthur Page Society:

  1. Tell the truth.
    2. Prove it with action.
    3. Listen to stakeholders.
    4. Manage for tomorrow.
    5. Conduct public relations as if the whole enterprise depends on it.
    6. Realize an enterprise’s true character is expressed by its people.
    7. Remain calm, patient and good-humored.

Regardless, of the medium used with which to communicate, this is solid advice!

For the purposes of this post, let’s dig into principle six a bit more.

The strongest opinions — good or bad — about an enterprise are shaped by the words and deeds of an increasingly diverse workforce. As a result, every employee — active or retired — is involved with public relations. It is the responsibility of corporate communications to advocate for respect, diversity and inclusion in the workforce and to support each employee’s capability and desire to be an honest, knowledgeable ambassador to customers, friends, shareowners and public officials. –Arthur Page Society

In short, the responsibility of public relations doesn’t just belong to the PR pro—it belongs to each employee of an organization. Further, the organization must demonstrate a solid measure of respect for its employees by recognizing their right to know and be part of a strategic communications’ effort.

Final Thoughts

Leaders of today know and embrace this fact, by using social media. Savvy leaders ensure that it is being done. It is likely highly Facebook employees were aware of the changes in the algorithm, but what Zuckerberg did in his public post was to widen the circle to share directly with Facebook users.

Page was ahead of his time. His work recognized that the strongest asset of any organization is its people. This underscores why it is important for communications’ practitioners to incorporate this in to the strategy section of an effective plan.

Evidence of this can be found in surveys on workplace culture, too. Tolero Solutions, a human resources outfit, found that nearly half of people “say lack of trust in leadership is the biggest issue impacting their work performance”. This is easy to remedy! In fact, the answer to this workplace challenge is the same that will help brands be successful in the age of the new Facebook algorithm: share the content!

Zuckerberg’s bet is the change to the social network will bring people closer together and help them feel more connected to the stories in their lives. It also seems that same practice can offer a communicator a blueprint for business.

[NOTE: Should you want to watch video we posted to social media, view it here as to not artificially inflate the video’s analytical data on Facebook.]

 

Out Of An Abundance of Caution

My work as a school public relations practitioner often has me trying to figure out how best to communicate exactly what it is I do. A few years ago, I started telling students, teachers, and parents alike, that I’m the one who calls your house to cancel school. That answer usually gets a few laughs and is a great icebreaker for public speaking.

Stakeholders associated with my school district claim that there are six words they long to hear when school officials determine school should be canceled due to inclement weather. Apparently, my catch phrase letting people know that the decision was made was done so “out of an abundance of caution.”

I now have my very own catchphrase mug that I plan to use in the event of inclement weather.

That phrase became so popular that I stopped saying it for about three years, fearing it was a joke. Recently a colleague gave me with my very own catchphrase decal as a gift, which another colleague placed on a coffee mug for me.

The phrase is now back in the rotation. Earlier this month, I used a mobile-first strategy to cancel school for families and employees, sending messages to their voicemail, text message, app, Facebook, Twitter and our website at the same time. In less than five minutes, I sent that message to more than 10,000 stakeholders, including members of the media.

In this week’s Modern Retro PR, we’ll examine the means of the messaging and how organizations can use it as part of a mobile-first strategy.

Modern: Predictive Dialing

In just over a decade, the number of Americans with a cellphone of some kind has increased more than 30 percent, according to Pew Research Center. That number now stands at 95 percent! Beyond that, the same survey found that almost eight in 10 use a smartphone. For communication practitioners, these are key pieces of data. This means communicators have the ability to reach audiences nearly instantaneously!

Predictive dialing is the technology behind automated phone messages.  It is the very same technology school districts around the nation use to cancel school in the event of inclement weather. Recently, there has been a rash of winter weather, which prompted many school districts to cancel school using their automated phone messaging systems.

An organization’s representative can log into web-based system, determine which people associated with the organization need which messages and the means in which the messages can be disseminated.

This (some-times annoying) technology got its start in the late 1980s.  This technology has morphed into being able publish content across multiple platforms simultaneously to specific audiences.  Additionally, communicators can use the technology to identify a geographic region in which to broadcast a particular message.

Retro: Calling Trees

As a child, I remember well what the experience was like to get the call that school was canceled. My parents, who were both schoolteachers at different schools in my hometown, would each receive a phone call from a designated coworker and then be expected to call their own small groups of coworkers. Not terribly efficient, but it could be effective as long as the message was relayed correctly.

Because branches of the phone tree can be broken (i.e. contacts leave the organization or no longer want to participate), it’s advised to test the phone tree at least once per year make sure it works effectively and to fix any broken connections.

This is about as low-tech as one could get.

But as an elementary student, I didn’t care: the message got through loud and clear that we had no school that day.

Curious how to build your own phone tree? Learn more.

Final Thoughts

In this day and age, organizations should include a mobile-first strategy in their communications efforts. There’s good reason, too: interconnectivity. Author Priya Viswanathan summed it up this way in a 2017 blog post: “The mobile user is always online and can access the Internet from wherever he or she may be.”

This level of connection allows audiences to build trust with an organization, and trust can build brand loyalty by improving the level of customer service offered. Additionally, organizations are finding that mobile-first is a “necessary means to communicate and remain competitive.”

So, why not embrace it?

The trends point to mobile-first capabilities as becoming big business to include mobile commerce. A 2016 survey by Business Insider “forecast that m-commerce will reach $284 billion, or 45% of the total U.S. e-commerce market, by 2020.”

This is a huge opportunity for business: to be in the back pocket (or pocketbook) of their consumers. These kinds of mobile-technologies offer real-time data points for businesses: likes, location, demographics and more.

Fifteen years ago, some consumers were wary of mobile technology in favor of bricks-and-mortar businesses. Today, my family and I visited the local mall where many of the storefronts and food court restaurants were empty and dark; one of the anchor stores was having a going-out-of-business sale offering upwards of 60 percent off the regular price.

Times are clearly changing. While it was once understandable that consumers were cautious about this trend, it’s time for businesses to cast the caution to the wind and fully embrace mobile first. Failure to do so could mean those businesses and industries will find themselves in their last days.

Postscript

It goes without saying that mobile-first technology can be an effective strategy as part of crisis response. Just this week, I had an emergency at work that including my need to call multiple families at once to make them aware of the situation and to provide an update to the status of their children. Thankfully, all was well, but that was the most terrifying call I have ever had to make.

In that moment, our public relations department, which has a solid reputation among our stakeholders, needed to determine how we communicate this very important message and quickly. We ultimately decided to use the automated messaging system to call multiple families and text them with the basic details: their children were safe and my direct line phone number.

The parents, with whom I spoke, appreciated our communication efforts and the fact that we reached out to them through a variety of means.

Love It or Hate It: Big Data

Big data—you either love it or hate it. As a public relations practitioner, I have come to fall into the category of loving it! I have found that it just makes me that much more effective at accomplishing communication goals. In fact, I think I have carved out a niche for myself working in school public relations for using data generated by the school system to inform my decision-making. Plus, it makes it easier for me to determine whether or not I have been successful. For me, the use of data by communicators is a hallmark of a practitioner being on his or her game. Fail to use it and I want to read into what one is presenting to understand their (lack of) methodology.

Think I haven’t done it? Just Ask my #schoolPR colleagues with whom I regularly participate in a moderated Twitter chat with that can be found by searching the hashtag #k12prchat. If you could see and hear them when you asked the question about me, you’d probably get an eye roll and a collective groan.

Yes, put me in the “love it” category!

If you work for a large organization, then you know your company collects many, many pieces of data no matter what industry for which you work. It’s no different for the love industry. In this week’s Modern Retro PR, I am drawn to a case study I first learned about through a now-canceled podcast, called “Undone,” and produced by Gimlet Media in 2016.

The episode, “Operation Match,” billed itself like this:

“Before Tinder, before eHarmony, before the internet, there was Operation Match. This is the story of the roots of online dating, when, in 1965, a computer the size of a van helped people find their perfect dates.”

Click to listen to this episode of Undone here.

Modern: Online matchmaking apps and websites

At the turn of the century, online dating had a stigma—that something was “wrong” if you needed to go online and find a date. I recall two people I went to college with who used me as their cover story for meeting when they really met online. (During their process of getting to know one another, they each realized they both knew me.)

These days, no one would think twice about telling others they met their partner online. In fact, Pew Research has seen the momentum shift since they first began measuring this topic in 2005. Since that point, 13 percent fewer people would categorize “people who use online dating sites as desperate.” See table below as indicated by three separate administrations of the survey by Pew in 2005, 2013 and 2016, respectively.

stat

Unfortunately for my friends, they met prior to Pew’s first popping the question of American adults, and hence the way they told their story of how they met.

But for all those looking for love on websites/apps like e-Harmony, Match, Tinder, Grindr and the like, endless amount of data are needed to find the perfect match. In 2017, Pew Research found that 15 percent of American adults have used online dating services. Consider that each person shares vitals like name, photographs, height, weight, age, dating preferences, vocation, etc., that is copious amounts of data!

Each keystroke or click of a mouse represents data that someone is hoping to find them “The One.”

But it hasn’t always been as easy as to swipe right or left for love.

Retro: Operation Match

In the 1960s, college students looking for love would attend a mixer and hope to meet someone. Unfortunately, there is a lot of variables at stake with a mixer. Let’s face it, it was probably not ideal for an introverted college student or for someone who lived in an area with what they felt to be limited options.

survey question

Interested to see what matchmaking looked like in 1965? Here is one question from the questionnaire developed by Harvard University students. Want to see more of the survey? Click to view

In the spring of 1965, a group of college students from Harvard University decided to create shake up the process and let a computer do the work. It all started with a 100-question survey that yielded information on a potential suitor’s background and attitudes. Those answers would be put into a computer which would generate a list of names and phone numbers of possible dates.

According to an article published in The Harvard Crimson in 1965, the number of approximately 70,000 American students who sent in “three dollars and a completed questionnaire” was cited.

Final Thoughts

Although I didn’t meet my mate online, more and more people are. In fact, the popular wedding website The Knot found that in 2017, 19 percent of brides had met their mates online. Statistically speaking, that number could easily increase.

Love is, apparently, big business. A 2017 report from IBISWorld indicated that the online dating industry is now a $3 billion a year business. That number could increase as Pew Research found in 2016 that the trend for online dating increased slightly, with 12 percent of Americans ever having used a dating site.

When considering Moore’s Law and the idea that the “power of technology hardware doubles every 18 months,” a great example can be found in the world of computer-assisted matchmaking. The number of people looking for their match has been multiplied more than 500 times as compared to the statistic cited in the Retro example in The Harvard Crimson. The rough math of the number of people using online dating help tops more than 37 million people! That number mushroomed in just more than 50 years!

At this rate, the technology has to continue improving with an uptick in the number of users—that’s with only 15 percent of the population using the services. What happens if more year for tugs of their heart strings via an app? The technology must continue to improve.

However, online matchmaking isn’t all just science, it’s art, too. Data aside, even with a computer-calculated odds of a successful match, there is one thing a computer just can’t replicate: an on-target strike of Cupid’s arrow to the heart.

Media Mania & Emerging Technology

I learned how to be a journalist in the late nineties. One of my class assignments was to use a telephone book and a curly-que-tailed phone to find and call sources. At my first job, I was expected to know how to navigate my way around the city using a large map book in the news vehicle.

Six months after graduation, the reporters in my shop were being asked to become “convergence journalists” and report on television, a regional newspaper, and the internet at the same time.

Some of my colleagues balked. “We are TV reporters,” some declared. “Why would I put my work on the internet at lunch when the news doesn’t come on until 5 p.m.?” others asked. It was no better at the regional newspaper where the print reporters would refuse to share their story on television because “nobody brought a brush” to brush their hair before going on the evening news.

Three months later, 9/11 happened.

That was nearly 17 years ago and I was on the front lines of a shift in journalism and clearly remember the panic it caused in my newsroom. Now, a reporter needs smartphone with a strong signal and a full battery.

As the world around us changed, the newspaper industry stayed the course, belatedly posting content in text-laden, visually uninteresting stories and giving away the proverbial milk for free.

I am most likely at the midpoint of my career and the traditional news industry is fighting for its life. Media companies are rethinking the way they are doing business. Nowadays, to see a print reporter on television is commonplace; in fact, many journalists have built followings by offering live updates to their reporting throughout the day via Twitter. This was unthinkable when I started my career (and to be honest, some of my colleagues would have out-right refused!).

The use of mass notification during crisis has been a topic for this blog before. In this edition of Modern Retro PR, I noted a correlation between two incidents of causing mass panic through the medium of the day.

Modern: Hawaii Ballistic Missile Push Notification Alert

This weekend, residents and visitors in Hawaii were informed through mobile push notifications that a ballistic missile was headed their way. People in Hawaii thought the world was coming to an end, sheltered in place, and told their loved ones goodbye.

People in Hawaii waited for more information from the state government through the channel that sent the first harrowing message: their cell phones. But nothing came. So they turned online to glean any information they could, only to learn that 38 minutes after the initial text message, their lives were never in jeopardy.

It turned out the push notification was sent as the result of human error—a mistake.

Error or not, it was a panic-inducing event playing out in real time, online.

Taylor, et. al, noted that during times of crisis, social media is key to offering “connectedness; both to loved ones and to the broader community, providing reassurance, support and routes to assistance” (2015).

This time the panic was caused by an accident, but something like this has happened once before—on purpose.

Retro: Orson Welles War of the Worlds Radio Broadcast

On Halloween in 1938, actor/writer/producer Orson Welles did a radio adaptation in to the 19th century book, War of the Worlds. The production suggested to a nationwide CBS Radio audience that Martians had invaded America. Welles opened the program with a disclaimer and followed up with one two-thirds through the program that this was a production.

While there are reports of panic, it that has been mostly attributed to lore. Ironically, it wasn’t radio that was to blame, it was the ensuing newspaper coverage of the radio production, according to a duo of writers from Slate.com.

 

 

“Radio had siphoned off advertising revenue from print during the Depression, badly damaging the newspaper industry. So the papers seized the opportunity presented by Welles’ program to discredit radio as a source of news. The newspaper industry sensationalized the panic to prove to advertisers, and regulators, that radio management was irresponsible and not to be trusted,” (Pooley & Socolow, 2013).

NYDN

Interested in reading the news of the day? Click here for the 1938 New York Daily News article following the broadcast.

Final Thoughts

Incidences like these only raise skepticism among already-questioning publics. This isn’t necessarily a cause for concern for the media industry, but it should be taken as a warning signal.

Modern-day assertions that news is “fake” parallel with those of newspapers in 1930s America that radio couldn’t be trusted.

A 2016 survey from Pew Research indicated that fake news causes confusion among citizens.

Communication is key, especially during crisis.  In both cases, it is evident that “communication is one of the fundamental tools of emergency management” (Simona, Goldberg, & Adini, 2015, p. 610). Like push notifications in the modern example and radio in the retro example, both were considered newer (emerging) forms of media in their day. While it is important for the industry to embrace change to remain relevant, it is more important to embrace the responsible use of emerging technologies through the use of strategic thinking of what are the possible outcomes.

The misuse of any communication channel can erode the public trust. In both examples, the Federal Communication Commission weighed in and issued responses to a questioning public.

That is why it is crucial that those working in communications-related fields use all the tools at their disposal to find appropriate sourcing and provide corroborating evidence of the information being shared.

 

 

There is no secret to this success; the foundational skills which have served journalists well will continue to do so well into the future.

References

Pooley, J., & Socolow, M. J. (2013, October 28). The Myth of the War of the Worlds Panic. Retrieved January 14, 2018, from http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/history/2013/10/orson_welles_war_of_the_worlds_panic_myth_the_infamous_radio_broadcast_did.html

Simon, T., Goldberg, A., & Adini, B. (2015). Socializing in emergencies—A review of the use of social media in emergency situations. International Journal of Information Management, 609-619. doi:https://ac.els-cdn.com/S0268401215000638/1-s2.0-S0268401215000638-main.pdf?_tid=b3bd74ca-f98a-11e7-858d-00000aacb35d&acdnat=1515976157_1245c9557d422f6c388d9f02b742870

Taylor, M., Wells, G., Howell, G., & Raphael, B. (2012). The role of social media as psychological first aid as a support to community resilience building. The Australian Journal of Emergency Management, 27(1), 20–26.

Welcome Back.

A new year always brings new opportunities and 2018 is no different. I don’t think that I am same-old Lesley I was just a year ago. I am smarter. I am wiser. I am grayer. I have a better sense of purpose and of myself. I have worked in communication-related fields for more than 15 years now, meaning most likely, I am nearing the midpoint of my career. Ironically, I am starting over though, as I have headed back to school to earn a degree in strategic communication.

Previously, when I blogged in this space, I enjoyed comparing and contrasting public relations campaigns from two different eras–one modern and one retro, like the title of this blog. I hope to continue exploring this this time around as writing about strategic and emerging media allowed me to build a knowledge set surrounding strategic communications.

I found that what I learned here I was able to put to use in my “real life,” working in school public relations. I don’t expect that to change as I write weekly in this space. I learned a lot about myself blogging here: I learned that this is a time for me to invest in myself and my professional growth. I am even more convinced that good writing is always in style.

I hope you’ll grow with me at Modern Retro PR, too.  Be sure to bookmark it at https://modernretropr.wordpress.com/