BLOGS: Wag The Dog

Tuesday, March 31, 2009, 12:29 PM

Innovis Health turns to social media in a crisis

All eyes this week have been on North Dakota and Minnesota, where residents have battled flood waters as high as 42 feet along the Red River. Innovis Health, a community health center serving both states, embraced some creative tools during the crisis to communicate with those in need. Innovis created a blog and utilized popular social networking tools like Twitter to keep the public up to date on its services, staff levels, and other critical information. Read about it here.

Innovis Health's efforts reinforce two important lessons :

1. Every organization should develop a crisis communications plan before the crisis occurs. Deliberating over how best to communicate after a crisis emerges is no recipe for success.

2. Social networking is an important tool for communicating with the public instantaneously. In the midst of a crisis like the one facing North Dakota and Minnesota residents, every second counts. Some may argue that direct communication with members of the press is most important in a crisis. Perhaps, but most traditional news outlets not only follow organizations on Twitter and corporate blogs these days - they also use them. The Innovis Health case study should prompt every leader to ask tough questions about how their organization will communicate with its stakeholders in a crisis.

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Tuesday, March 24, 2009, 9:10 AM

Tuesday's quick reads

1. Repairing an agency's credibility (Wall Street Journal) -- An insurance veteran shows how to rebuild an organization's reputation through transparency and improved communications.

2. Veterans group takes to Twitter for campaign (PRWeek) -- A veterans advocacy group is harnessing social media to raise awareness about service members suffering from physical and psychological wounds.

3. AccuQuote CEO sees virtue in blog, Youtube communications (Blog Council) -- AccuQuote founder and CEO Byron Udell is using YouTube and AccuQuote’s blog to answer insurance and annuity questions submitted by readers.

4. Sides in "card check" debate intensify PR efforts (PRWeek) -- Business and labor organizations on both sides of the Employee Free Choice Act have turned their communications battle into an online and grassroots effort.

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Monday, March 16, 2009, 8:49 AM

Monday's quick reads

1. Using social media to build excitement for a product launch (The Blog Council) -- Check out how Cisco embraced social media and creativity to generate buzz about a new product.

2. Fidelity wants to hold your hand (The Boston Globe) -- Fidelity Investments seizes on uncertain times to communicate more effectively and build trust with customers.

3. Social networking overtakes email (MediaWeek) -- A new survey shows that social media may be the most effective means for communicating with your target audience.

4. Local newspapers won't be missed by 42% in U.S. (Marketing Charts) -- A new report from the Pew Research Center holds more bad news about newspapers and their difficulty attracting young readers.

5. Recession brings lessons in crisis communications (Charlotte Business Journal) -- How a company responds in a crisis can make all the difference, experts say.

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Friday, March 13, 2009, 9:03 AM

Generating goodwill on the cheap

Our monthly column in today's Daily Record explores how companies can use social media to generate goodwill in times of tight budgets and low public trust.

We hear so much about the latest "trends" in social media and so little about how it can actually be used by a company to generate buzz. Hopefully this column helps with the latter dilemma. You can read it in its entirety below, or check it out at The Daily Record's website.

Generating goodwill for your company on the cheap

Special to The Daily Record
March 13, 2009

Let’s face it. It’s hard to justify an ambitious advertising campaign in this economy. Your company watches every penny like a hawk.

The news outlets with which you previously advertised are losing staff and audience share, declaring bankruptcy or shuttering their doors. Plus, it’s hard to convince Baltimore’s understaffed newsrooms to cover your company when their own resources are dwindling.

Budgets are tight yet our pursuit of the public’s goodwill is endless. To make matters worse, seven in 10 Americans think U.S. businesses are on the wrong track, meaning we need all the goodwill we can find. So how can your company generate buzz and goodwill without breaking the bank?

It can be done. Technology and public conversations are converging in a way that allows you to achieve this goal. The convergence is known as social media.

It enables companies and the public to engage in two-way dialogues at little to no cost, and it’s happening every day here in Baltimore and around the world. The question is whether your company will join the discussion.

I have one rule for companies intimidated by social media: have no fear. Any organization with creativity and a plan can use it to reach the public. If you don’t know where to begin, this column outlines four starting points on the Web with real examples of companies generating buzz on the cheap.

Blogs: More than 112 million of these Web-based publications are on the Internet, with the most popular ones garnering more than a million visits monthly.

You can make blogs work for you in two ways. First, introduce yourself to blog authors who write about your hometown, industry, company or product. The makers of Audi did just that by offering a test drive of their latest model to Guy Kawasaki, a venture capitalist whose blog attracts 2.5 million page views annually. Audi got a great review on the blog, hit a key demographic and connected with a huge audience for little or no cost.

The second way is to author your own blog. Baltimore’s LifeBridge Health used its blog to spotlight its domestic violence services after the well-publicized arrest of a celebrity on assault charges. Marriott International’s Bill Marriott used his blog to tout the good deeds of a Baltimore employee and to announce his own voluntary pay cut. If the CEO of Marriott can find time to blog, why can’t you?

Facebook: With 175 million users, Facebook is not just for teenagers. It allows companies to build an online community of customers and stakeholders where it can post everything from company messages to photos.

H&R Block created its own Facebook page to offer free tax advice to more than 1,600 members. Unlike a static advertisement, the Facebook page allows H&R Block to deliver the exact service that each customer needs — a great way to generate goodwill.

Twitter: This free Web site enables companies to chat or “tweet” real-time via cell phone or computer with the public. Each “tweet” is less than 140 characters. With more than 6 million users,

Twitter has attracted several companies seeking to connect in real time with the public.
Comcast uses Twitter to sniff out customers with cable outages to get them the help they need quickly. Home Depot uses it to remind customers what supplies they need to protect their homes during hurricane season. As a result, both companies are considered by many to be on the vanguard of corporate communications.

YouTube: Anyone with a video camera and Web access can use YouTube, whether a Fortune 100 company or your next-door neighbor. With 79 million subscribed viewers, it is the dominant place for companies to upload and share video clips with the world.

Maryland’s comptroller, Peter Franchot, used YouTube to promote the state’s electronic tax filing system. His irreverent video garnered nearly 23,000 viewers in its first month at a fraction of the cost of traditional advertising.

Embracing social media means changing how you connect with the public. But with public trust of U.S. businesses so low, change can be a virtue.

So take the first step. Explore these sites to see how they can connect you with the public. You may be surprised at how much goodwill you generate and how much money you save along the way.

Henry Fawell is a communications consultant for Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice PLLC in Baltimore and was press secretary for Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. His column appears monthly and his e-mail address is

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Wednesday, March 11, 2009, 3:26 PM

Citizen journalism on the rise

The Travel Channel is descending on cities across the country to teach individuals how to produce travel videos with their own hand held cameras. Some may see this as nothing more than license to film the kids at the beach. I see it as a reason companies must make citizen journalism part of their communications strategy.

Citizen journalists are no fad. They are here to stay. MSNBC relies on them. The Oakland Press depends on them. The first wave of photos and information about the Mumbai terror attacks and the Hudson River plane landing came from citizen journalists. The breadth of their work and the scope of their impact cannot be ignored.

So what does this have to do with your company? An effective citizen journalist can present a challenge or an opportunity. A citizen could catch a controversial remark by a CEO or elected official on camera and post it on Youtube within an hour. Barack Obama learned this lesson the hard way during the 2008 campaign. On the other hand, a citizen journalist with a wide following could poke holes in a newspaper's inaccurate coverage of your company. In Seattle, citizen journalists are the new watchdogs of city council hearings.

The democratization of such technology is a good thing, and companies would be wise to consider its potential. Just remember that when you see somebody filming their family vacation this summer, his or her influence could extend far beyond the beach.

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The Obama loan modification program

We all know that the federal government is taking steps to assist homeowners at imminent risk of default -- what is less clear is how the program actually works and how it affects banks and mortgage lenders. Womble Carlyle's Capital Markets group has penned a very helpful primer on the government's plan and what it means to banks and lenders. Take a look by clicking here.

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Monday, March 9, 2009, 6:31 PM

Monday's quick reads

1. Firms add Twitter to their business model -- Everyone from Skittles to county governments is using Twitter to influence public opinion.

2. Survey: Blogs, social media more popular than email -- If you think blogs and Facebook have are irrelevant to your company's communications strategy, think again.

3. How Garmin used social media to highlight its athletes -- In a down economy, Garmin looks to inexpensive social media to reach its audience.

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Thursday, March 5, 2009, 5:52 PM

How Warren Buffett delivers bad news

(Image credit:
Few mortals escaped the stock market's swoon in 2008, not even the revered Warren Buffett, whose Berkshire Hathaway conglomerate suffered its worst year ever with an $11.5 billion loss.
Last week, the investing world pored over Buffett's new letter to shareholders to glean insights into what 2009 holds for the economy.

I read it for a different reason: to learn how he delivers bad news to the public. Below are five lessons I pulled from the letter, many of which we've discussed here before. To read the entire letter, click here.

1. Executive accountability. Buffett assumes responsibility for many of Berkshire Hathaway's mistakes in 2008. "I made some errors of omission, sucking my thumb when new facts came in that should have caused me to re-examine my thinking and promptly take action...The tennis crowd would call my mistakes 'unforced errors.'"

2. Candor. See above, and Buffett's predictions for 2009. It is not encouraging, but his candor is a sign of his respect for his audience and customers. "Most of the Berkshire businesses whose results are significantly affected by the economy earned below their potential last year, and that will be true in 2009 as well."

3. The facts, plain and simple. Buffett backs up his assertions with facts, adding to the credibility and trustworthiness of his message. Even the bad news - Berkshire Hathaway's disappointing performance in 2008 - is verified for the reader.

4. Belief in the mission. Buffett reminds his audience that in good times and bad he has four simple goals: maintaining Berkshire's "Gibralter-like" position, recruiting and nurturing good managers, acquiring new revenue streams, and expanding his subsidiaries' competitive advantage. Imagine how much easier it is to communicate one's goals when they don't change with the market winds.

5. Perspective. Buffett reminds his audience of Berkshire Hathaway's long-term success. "Over the last 44 years (that is, since present management took over) book value has grown from $19 to $70,530, a rate of 20.3% compounded annually."

Finally, he frames the economy's troubles in the context of America's long-term economic prosperity. "Real standard of living for Americans improved nearly seven-fold during the 1900s...Though the path has not been smooth, our economic system has worked extraordinarily well over time...America’s best days lie ahead."

We could all do worse than follow Mr. Buffett's lead when delivering bad news. As one analyst said, "[Buffett] admits when he is wrong. You don't get that candor from other CEOs. That's why his credibility is so high."
Let's hear from you. Should he have said more?

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Monday, March 2, 2009, 1:43 PM

Monday's quick reads

(Image credit: Rocky Mountain News)

1. "Under weight of its mistakes, newspaper industry staggers." (The Washington Post) -- Newspapers across the country are either shutting down, declaring bankruptcy, or laying off staff as the public migrates to new forms of communication. The Rocky Mountain News (left) is the latest to print its final edition.

2. "Bailed out? Don't get caught having a good time." (Los Angeles Times) -- Columnist Michael Hiltzik outlines the public relations pitfalls awaiting companies and industries that seek government financing in these tough economic times.

3. "Effective communication can help management succession." (PR Week) -- A CEO succession plan isn't complete without a comprehensive communications component.


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