BLOGS: Wag The Dog

Friday, December 19, 2008, 10:03 AM

UPS: What can social media do for you?

Still trying to figure out if your company should be monitoring social media? Join the club. Corporate leaders across the country wrestle with this question every day. What are the online masses saying about your company? Should you be monitoring the chatter? Where do you begin? (FYI, if I lost you at the mere mention of the term "social media" just click here.)

To help you with these and other questions, we've posted a recent discussion led by shipping giant UPS' social media manager. (Yes, UPS has a social media manager.) To watch a video of the discussion, click here. For a quick synopsis of lessons learned by UPS' Debbie Curtis Magley, read on:

Define your objectives. The most effective social media monitoring program has a defined set of objectives. Are you going to use the online chatter you pick up to help shape your company's messaging? Will you use it to improve your business operations, such as delivery times or customer service? Or will it serve as an early warning device to detect potential litigation or crises down the road?

Be creative with staffing. UPS gave a set number of employees specific search terms to monitor in online conversations. Be sure to choose terms that are relevent to your company, your industry, or your objectives. UPS empowered the administrative assistants most often at their personal computers to monitor chatter on blogs and elsewhere about the company, analyze the tone and sentiment of the discussions, and forward their findings to the social media team for additional action.

Measure your accomplishments. Social media is a creative way gauge how deep your company's public message is penetrating the public dialogue. As an example, UPS' monitoring program found that the company's environmental and fuel-saving initiatives were getting heightened attention in social media discussions, particularly in the summer of 2008 when gas prices reached record highs.

Monitor the competition. It's one thing to know when your competition issues a press release; It's another to know when that press release sparks a discussion among online communities that could impact your own company's reputation.

We are fond of encouraging organizations to "plan like Noah" - to build their ark before the flood by developing a crisis response plan. As customers, journalists, advocates, and others migrate to social media, chances are good they are taking your company's reputation with them. Including a social media monitoring program in your crisis planning exercises is the next logical step.

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Thursday, December 18, 2008, 3:53 PM

A call to action for 2009

Two recent commentaries drive home for me the need - and the obligation - of large companies to communicate aggressively in the coming year, as the country adjusts to new leadership in Washington and continued economic anxiety. One commentary is a call to action. The other is leadership in action.

First, the call to action: Johnson & Johnson's General Counsel, Russell Deyo, urges CEOs to speak out publicly on their companies' contributions to the economy in uncertain times. In his interview with The Metropolitan Corporate Counsel, Deyo states,

"Only by understanding the extent of those contributions can there be an appreciation by the public and the new [Obama] administration of the important role that corporations can and will play in the recovery. As the new administration formulates its economic policies, doing so against a backdrop of public distrust of business would discourage government from realizing the vital contributions that corporations can make and may, in fact, encourage governmental actions that could hamper that assistance."

Next, leadership in action: GlaxoSmithKline's Jean Stephenne puts Mr. Deyo's words into action. He penned this op-ed in The Wall Street Journal reminding the public of the virtues of his company's work. Not only does he paint a compelling portrait of GSK's malaria vaccine candidate and the lives it could save, but he also outlines the company's efforts to keep the potential drug accessible to vulnerable populations in Africa and elsewhere. In doing so, he addresses the perception that pricing often drives medicine out of reach for the poorest populations. Note Stephenne's use of the phrase "Yes, we can" - a familiar refrain of President-elect Obama's. Stephenne knows his audience - an essential trait of any good communicator.

A reader may think Deyo and Stephenne are stating the obvious, but as a communications advisor, I'm a big believer in stating the obvious. How else does the public know what an organization stands for? If we don't communicate our mission and our values, we shouldn't expect the press and the public to give us the benefit of the doubt.

So, one company has issued the call to action for 2009. Another is leading by example. Will you follow?

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Friday, December 12, 2008, 4:03 PM

Survey: corporate bloggers need to work on trust

Josh Bernoff at Social Media Today has a great survey that ranks methods of communicating from most trusted to least trusted. Sorry, corporate bloggers. You ranked last with a mere 16%. Emails from familiar people came in first, with a 77% trust rate. The full results are below:

Now what? Have organizations wasted time, money, and effort establishing blogs? I don't think so. My belief is corporate blogs aren't the problem - bad corporate blogs are. If a company sees a blog as a new way to regurgitate press releases and quarterly statements, they may want to reconsider the whole endeavor.
Corporate blogs can be successful. Examples are here and here. I have three quick thoughts on how organizations can generate greater trust in their blogs.

First, let go. Recognize that the blogosphere is not a one-way communication tool easily controlled by a corporate communications officer. Encourage the exchange of ideas on your blog. Empower visitors to leave comments - good, bad, or indifferent. Approach blogging like you would a meal with friends. Don't force feed them; enjoy the dinner conversation.

Second, relax. The writing style of popular bloggers is generally more casual and less formal. Again, if readers feel they are reading a press release, they likely won't come back. As noted here, Rubbermaid has successfully blended casual tone and irreverent but useful information to build an impressive company blog.

Third, spread the wealth. As noted here, blogs with multiple contributers are generally more successful, not only for the diversity of perspective, but also the frequency of new posts. Many blogs (even the one you are reading right now) could improve on this.

Fourth, hang a lantern on your problem. If emails from familiar people are the most trusted means of communication, consider generating a viral email marketing campaign designed to promote your blog.

There is no shortage of advice on how companies can blog effectively. Check here and here for more. I take solace in the fact that most organizations and consumers are only just beginning to fully grasp what blogs and other interactive websites can do for them. Judging from Mr. Bernoff's survey, we can only go up from here.

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Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI) Releases Online Safety Proposals

We've dedicated a lot space on this blog to communicating on the internet. Today, we look at the internet from a different angle: child safety. Read on for important information from a Womble Carlyle partner.

The Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI) released its report Making Wise Choices Online in which it provides a survey of ongoing initiatives to ensure the safety of children using the Internet as well as four policy proposals for the coming Administration to consider. The release coincides with the Second Annual FOSI Conference, held today in Washington, D.C., themed "Safe At Any Speed: Rules, Tools & Public Policies to Keep Kids Safe Online."

Womble Carlyle is pleased to have sponsored the FOSI Conference and to have forged a friendship with this organization.

Click here to learn more about FOSI's Internet safety proposals. Link those words to

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Tuesday, December 9, 2008, 5:34 PM

Bloggers and "real" journalism

Last month I spoke with an executive about negative coverage her company was receiving in its local newspapers. I asked whether the company had reached out to bloggers who cover the region or industry to try to introduce a different perspective in to the public debate.

The executive responded, "I'm only interested in real reporters."

The comment was further proof for me that communications managers have a ways to go in educating their companies and executives about the impact blogs and new media sites can have on a company's reputation - for better or worse. Bloggers are increasingly breaking news these days, as opposed to years past when they simply opined on what "real" journalists had published. The lesson? Blogs matter, and companies are well advised to treat them accordingly. Dell Computers is only one example of a company that learned this lesson the hard way.

Check out The Wall Street Journal's interview with Ariana Huffington, founder of Huffington Post, one of the most popular blogs around. Ms. Huffington sheds light on the rising relevance of blogs and how bloggers are giving "real" journalism a run for its money.

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Thursday, December 4, 2008, 5:11 PM

Beware the open microphone

The next time you schedule a media interview or a speaking engagement, remember Ed Rendell.

Rendell, the Governor of Pennsylvania, landed in hot water this week when a live microphone picked up his colorful comments about Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano, President-elect Obama's nominee for Homeland Security Secretary. You can hear the episode on CNN below:

The lesson is unmistakable: if you don't say it, they can't print it (or air it on national cable news.) Being a good speaker and giving great interviews requires more than just memorizing talking points. A good communicator is mindful of his or her environment and audience. With the proliferation of cell phones, hand held video cameras, and digital voice recorders, virtually anyone can get caught making the wrong comment at the wrong time.

Companies are well advised to consider one-day media training exercises to prevent such self inflicted wounds and the public relations headaches they create. Womble Carlyle's Emmy-Award winning communications consultant Greg Massoni leads our media training exercises. They can be an eye-opening and rewarding experience for those who want to test their mettle in "live fire" scenarios. As Ben Franklin once said, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

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Coming up: A presentation to the Baltimore Association of Corporate Counsel

Womble Carlyle's strategic communications group will address the Baltimore Association of Corporate Counsel on Wednesday, December 10th. There will be lots to discuss - crisis management, media training, and how the changes in leadership in Washington present new challenges and opportunities for certain industries. To learn more or register for the lunchtime presentation, click here.

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