Where It’s At with Location-based Apps

FourSquareWe’re at the point in the digital age where we make choices almost every day about how much personal stuff to share online.

Some struggle with this. We’re told by news media that Gen X doesn’t sweat it at all. I have several Baby Boomer pals and slightly younger friends who’re engaged in an internal wrestling match with themselves right now. They know the world has changed, and they’ve adapted to being online for work, but they can’t quite make the leap to placing life details out there – whether it’s joining Facebook or posting career history on LinkedIn.

I’ve been there myself. When I joined Twitter in 2011, I did so under a pseudonym. I considered it my “training wheel” Twitter account. And I resisted Facebook – long and hard. But I get it now. Being on Facebook, reading and interacting with messages and photos that friends have posted, and having folks respond to my posts…well, it takes using Facebook to feel comfortable with it.

Same thing all over again for location-based platforms, like Foursquare. Geolocation tools are typically apps you download to your phone and permission to <gulp!> access your exact current location.

Freaky, right? I mean, who needs a phone stalking you? Your own phone. One that you’ve allowed to stalk you.

A lot of women have said a big “No, thanks” to this kind of online interaction. When the makers of location-based apps survey potential users, the No. 1 obstacle to adoption is privacy.

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Foursquare

Most of my close friends would be appalled to know I use Foursquare given my stance on privacy. Nevertheless, I’ve somehow become a Foursquare addict. How did this happen?

While I would never push anyone to use an online app or service that made them uncomfortable, here are a few thoughts from a relatively new user:

Just a Small Circle of Friends – The thing I didn’t understand about an app like Foursquare is that it’s a lot like Facebook. In other words, I have some choice about who I’m connected with and thus who sees when I check in at an event, restaurant or work. So far, I’m only sharing this information with 10 friends, far fewer than on Facebook or in my Google+ circles.

The Wider World – That said, when I check in somewhere – or score a mayorship – Foursquare does share that information more widely than my chosen friends. When I tap the Check-in tag, the app shows me how many other Foursquare users have checked in at the same location today, and I may even see their avatars (their photos and names). So, if a stranger wanted to find me, it’s not impossible. This makes it incumbent on me to be careful about the types of places I check in – always public, never at home – and to do so only when I’m comfortable sharing. It’d be highly unlikely you’d be singled out at an airport or concert check-in, where there are crowds of people. On the other hand, I get my mail at a retail mailbox service, and I never check in there.

The same is true when the app makes me “mayor” at a favorite restaurant – Foursquare shows me who I’ve ousted as mayor. Likewise, when I lose a mayorship, the app tells me who’s nabbed the office from me (and informs that person that I’m the one he or she has ousted).

On the other hand, I have control over whether I share my Foursquare check-in further afield, with social media platforms like Twitter or Facebook.

Coupons, Discounts and Freebies, Oh My – This is what really got me hooked. I checked in at the Getty Museum one sunny Saturday – my very first use of Foursquare at the Getty – and was rewarded with a first-timer’s discount at the museum store, good just for that day. The discount was tasty enough that I bought a photography book I wouldn’t have otherwise purchased. Now I wonder why more stores and restaurants aren’t offering discounts, incentives and engagement opportunities for their Foursquare fans.

Same As It Ever Was – When I access Foursquare, it zeroes in on my location and shows me a list of possibilities in the immediate area. For a creature of habit like me, this at first seemed silly, but even I tire of my habitude – hard to believe, I know – and the chance to experience an undiscovered gem of a restaurant or art gallery is more and more appealing.

It’s Got Game – Leveling up – earning points (and scoring higher than your friends) and badges and mayorships – is, yup, totally dorky. But, it’s designed to entice you to interact more often with the app, and it works. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be plotting how to win back my mayorship of Hollywood landmark Pink’s Hot Dogs now that I’m working 9-to-5 for a client and can’t pop in for lunch whenever I want.

Know Your Privacy Settings – If privacy is your utmost concern with digital assets, I highly recommend that you learn how the location-targeting function on your phone works and check to ensure your settings are where you want them each time your provider pushes a network update to your handset.

The Dating Game – Don’t use location-based apps for online dating. Unless you’re looking for a Mr. Goodbar-type encounter, there’s enough risk of people disguising their identities and their true intentions online. Many dating geolocation apps are designed to pinpoint when matches are in your immediate area. You need to vet strangers you meet online carefully and never agree to an in-person meeting without a friend or group accompanying you for safety’s sake.

For those in Los Angeles, who want to learn more about location-based apps and their use in marketing and social media, join the Social Media Club of Los Angeles on Tuesday, July 23, for an enlightening panel discussion, starting at 6:30 p.m. More information and RSVP here.

Mom Bloggers Are Transforming Everything from Marketing to Families

Mom blogs are as diverse as the mothers who write them and the parents who read them. With 3.9 million moms blogging in the United States alone, women have been some of the savviest early adopters of the platform. And they’ve taken to social media channels, like Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, to further engage audiences and promote their blogs.

A sure sign of success, mom blogs have been courted by Madison Avenue (even though, “moms don’t put themselves into little demographic boxes the way that marketers do,” notes Elisa Camahort Page, COO at BlogHer. “They come from all walks of life.”) and they’ve even endured a short-lived backlash.

I wanted to explore the diversity of mom blogging and the experience of mom bloggers, so I talked with Camahort Page and two bloggers with very different approaches:

Ana Flores Spanglish Baby

Ana L. Flores, co-founder of the Spanglish Baby blog.

Ana L. Flores co-founded Spanglish Baby with her friend Roxana A. Soto after recognizing there were few online resources for parents who were passionate about raising bilingual and bicultural children. Since its launch in early 2009, Spanglish Baby, with its contributing experts, teachers and bloggers, has become a go-to online community for bilingual families (and not just the English- and Spanish-speaking ones). The blog has given birth to Flores’ and Soto’s first book, Bilingual is Better: Two Latina Moms on How the Bilingual Parenting Revolution is Changing the Face of America, which came out last fall.

Robin Kramer, owner of the Pink Dryer Lint blog.

Robin Kramer, owner of the Pink Dryer Lint blog.

Robin Kramer created her blog, the thoughtful, funny, touching Pink Dryer Lint, in 2010. With three daughters (and loads of laundry), she accumulates plenty of the stuff that gives her blog its title. By day, she teaches college public speaking and writing classes at Penn State University. She’s a first-time author, too. Then I Became a Mother was published in October by Byrne Publishing.

Elisa Camahort Page was especially helpful in framing the discussion of mom blogs. Camahort Page co-founded BlogHer in 2005, and it has grown into the largest community of women who blog, with 50 million unique visitors per month. BlogHer puts on the world’s largest conference for women in social media and hosts the BlogHer Publishing Network – 3,000+ blogs authored by women on every topic from politics to parenting.

Vickie: How would you describe the “State of the Mom-Blogosphere”?

Elisa Camahort Page, COO of BlogHer.

Elisa Camahort Page, COO of BlogHer.

Elisa: I think there is not one blogosphere, there are many. That’s the beauty of the blogosphere. For example, many of the moms who blog do so in relative obscurity, sharing their daily trials and joys, forming a tight-knit community with moms at similar stages, and more efficiently communicating with far-flung families.

However, it is also the beauty of the blogosphere that if you’re interested in professionalizing and leveraging the time you spend on your blog to contribute to your household income, there is an avenue to do that too. We’ve certainly seen that explode over the last five years. Whether monetizing their blogs or not, though, self-expression and forming community are still huge drivers for moms online, along with seeking and sharing advice and recommendations that will make their lives easier.

Flores’ blog is one of several part-time jobs. Kramer’s provided her with “an opportunity to establish a loyal readership and a platform from which I could launch my first book.” Kramer has decided for now “to not participate in product reviews or advertising. I don’t feel as if it aligns with my blog’s mission. It might be rare among mom bloggers.” Flores says she’s “slowly but surely started opening my eyes to the fact that blogging is actually a career path and has become what I do with my life.”

Vickie: Did the two of you always want to be writers?

Ana: Roxana, my partner on the site, is a writer; she trained as a journalist. I never considered myself to be a writer. I worked for 15 years in TV production, always focused on the Hispanic market. But I think, the more you blog, the more you hone your craft and gain confidence. I hear that a lot from bloggers – they didn’t consider themselves writers before they started their blogs.

Robin: I’ve written for as long as I can remember, and I have a shelf that holds all of the journals that I’ve filled over the years. Blogging has been an extension of this love for writing.

Vickie: What did you want to do with your blog when you started out?

Robin: I launched Pink Dryer Lint when my youngest of three daughters was only a month old. Essentially, my goal was to reach out to other women who also were in the trenches of the early years of motherhood. It’s easy for moms to feel isolated. That isolation can breed an unspoken shame that we’re the only one who struggles with the day-to-day demands of parenthood.

Even though my initial readership was small, women started writing to me and thanking me for the humor, transparency and encouragement that my posts offered. My goal always has been to write for my readers. By that, I mean that although I write about the particulars of my life with my kids, I do so in a way that invites my readers to see their own lives. Good writing is relatable.

Ana: I took a leave of absence from work after I had my daughter, and that’s when I discovered blogging. I was searching the Internet and wasn’t finding any information that spoke to me as a Latina mom: Where can I find bilingual books? What are the lyrics to nursery rhymes and songs – we call them nanas – my mom sang to me in El Salvador? Should I be speaking to my daughter in Spanish? What came up were blogs. There was a whole community of women out there, and I got inspired by them and realized I could actually do this.

We decided that Spanglish Baby needed to be in English because we wanted to reach the widest audience. Our readers are mostly second- and third-generation – they weren’t taught Spanish, but they understand it, and now that they’re raising children, they feel the culture is part of their identity. Plus, raising a bilingual (or trilingual) child applies to any language combination. We always say: We write in culture.

Vickie: There’s an astounding amount of diversity among mom bloggers – from attachment parenting moms to moms of color, moms raising children with illnesses, older moms, etc. Do you think this diversity is reflected across the entire blogosphere or is it specific to mom blogging?

Elisa: The blogosphere in general displays more diversity than the entire online universe, at least according to Pew. So it’s not specific to moms. If you remember that “self-expression” is a number one motivation to blog, it’s not hard to understand why groups that may not see themselves accurately represented in mainstream media or pop culture would gravitate to a medium where they can speak for themselves.

Vickie: When you began, did you develop plans for editorial, advertising and how your readers would interact with the blog? 

Robin: Originally, I didn’t know whether I’d have many readers, much less any plans for how I would handle requests for advertising or product reviews. As my readership grew, however, I had to assess the purpose of my blog. I wrote the mission statement, and I use it as my litmus test to guide the content that I post.

My contact page expressly states that I don’t currently participate in reviews or advertising, yet I still receive requests daily asking me to promote products.

Ana: We spent six months planning Spanglish Baby in the middle of the recession. I decided not to go back to work; it was really bad timing. I had no money. All I had was time. I read Problogger. We set a date, which was Feb. 9, 2009, and we launched with all of the categories – The Culture of Food, Books & Libros, Cultural Travel, etc. – populated with two posts each, so people could see we were serious. And we had two experts on board already. We wanted people to see we were professional content creators even though it was a new medium for us.

I created our first media kit five months in, with a lot of research and statistics, like how many kids under the age of 5 are Hispanic.

Vickie: What have been the biggest areas of interest for your readers? 

Robin: Regardless of the specific content of a post, readers respond to transparency and humor. Motherhood is challenging, but it’s also ripe with humor. When I write, I can be honest about the struggles while also drawing out the hilarity. There’s a lot of universal comedy in parenting. I want readers to laugh with understanding, realize they’re not alone, and leave Pink Dryer Lint feeling better than when they came.

Ana: We work with a panel of experts, which enables readers to send in questions. They get answered once a week, and they’re archived on the site. There’s so much information there. There are so many variables to families raising bilingual kids. Our readers appreciate finding an expert who’s gone through the same thing they’re going through.

Vickie: In light of the fact that “everything is out there forever” on the Internet, do you think privacy will become a big issue for mom bloggers and their families?

Elisa: Privacy and security are already issues for moms online, and it comes in several flavors. For example, many moms who blog begin evolving their blog content away from straight stories about parenting as their kids get older, because the kids become more aware of the blog, and the moms begin to feel these are their kids’ stories to tell, not just their own.

We see location-based apps being far less adopted by women because the creepy factor outweighs the benefits (thus far) offered by these apps. And let’s not ignore the fact that a lot of folks, not just moms, don’t really understand how they can control privacy settings on Facebook…and that’s not entirely by accident on Facebook’s part!

Ana: Our kids really enjoy being part of Spanglish Baby. We both use our kids’ names and pictures, but we also use common sense. Everything we share is in context to the topics we’re covering. We’ve never shared a story that would embarrass them. The moment that they tell us, Don’t blog about that, mom, we won’t.

Robin: My children are still young, but I’m highly aware that their stories will not always be mine to tell. I don’t think of my children as “content,” and I’m sensitive to not post anything that would be embarrassing or revealing.

Vickie: Which social media tools did you find the most helpful in promoting your blog when you started out? And how do you approach new platforms, like Pinterest?

Robin: Facebook was – and continues to be – the most helpful social media tool to promote Pink Dryer Lint. I also use Twitter (@PinkDryerLint) and Pinterest (robinkramer), especially in terms of pinning applicable posts to collaborative Pinterest Boards.

Admittedly, blogging is not a job for me, so I wasn’t focused on mastering new platforms when I began blogging. Still, I certainly have seen the benefits of creating a presence for my blog on sites such as Pinterest as a way to reach a broader audience.

Ana: Facebook and Twitter, all the way. Twitter (@spanglishbaby) helped us engage with other Latinos and other bloggers. So did commenting on other blogs.

I think it’s important to know your readers. For example, our readers are not flocking to Google+. I was one of the early adopters of Pinterest with a personal account, and I use Instagram for myself. My nature is to get an account as soon as I hear about it. But, I don’t have time to invest in social media tools the way I did when we started. It’s a huge investment of time, so I keep going back to Facebook and Twitter.

Vickie: Mom blogging has gone from “start-up” to professional in a half-decade. How do you see mom blogs evolving in the next five years?

Elisa: Yes, some mom bloggers have indeed professionalized. Some have not. And many get the best of both worlds. One of the reasons a lot of the moms in our BlogHer network enjoy working with us is that they get to focus on the writing and let us focus on the monetization. As long as they follow our pretty simple and aboveboard editorial guidelines, they’re free to tell the stories that matter most to them and their community.

The future is probably about expanding their ability to do so beyond their blog and its browser-based audience, but fortify how they can equally monetize their influence across social tools and when accessed on mobile devices. Right now, your blog is the one place you can control the content and control the monetization. But why does it have to be that way?

Vickie: What are the implications of the blogging platform enabling such a wide diversity of mom bloggers to engage with a much larger audience than they ever have been able to before?

Elisa: One of the hugest implications of blogging platforms, for all women, is that they give women a voice and a presence that had previously been a struggle to attain, and they give the rest of us a window into the daily lives of all people, not just big macro-events.

I wish my grandmother had blogged, escaping the Nazis in the 1940s. I wish my mom had blogged as part of the second-wave feminist movement in the ‘70s. Don’t you wish you had that window into the world of the women in your life?

But the implications aren’t just for politics or history or society, there are huge implications for companies, too. Women no longer can only be marketed to. We have a voice, and we can use it to speak to brands. We can use it to share the real skinny on how products work or don’t work. We always had the power of the purse, but that power is so much more direct, impactful and scalable.

Finally, there are huge implications for the economy. I once heard Steve Westly (early eBay executive) speak about how proud he was that eBay had created a new livelihood for so many people. I feel the same way about being at the forefront of helping writers get paid for their work. BlogHer has paid out $17MM over the last three years to the women in our community. This has helped women get through the roughest economic era in most of our lifetimes. There is power in finding a new, flexible way to contribute to your household income.

Flores echoed Camahort Page’s comments when we discussed how Spanglish Baby works with brands, particularly around products that cater to bilingual families.

Ana: We were at the epicenter of this perfect storm of need for bilingual resources and the blogging explosion. So, I began consulting for companies, helping them work with Latina bloggers and helping bloggers understand relationships with brands. It motivated me to create Latina Bloggers Connect.

It’s great to see. We have a content partnership with Discovery, which has programs for children, and they’re translating some of our posts into Spanish on Discovery Familia. Disney enables a Spanish option on everything, including DVDs. Initially, PBS sent us books in English. We gently and politely reminded them that our audience is bilingual, and they went out and found the books in Spanish.

I’ve seen how empowering blogging is for any woman who starts a blog on her own and how empowering the medium is to inspire. I think that’s why mom blogging has become so powerful right now because, for moms at home, they feel productive, stay connected and bring income into their households.

Vickie: What has been the most rewarding aspect of launching a mom blog?

Robin: Pink Dryer Lint allows me to merge my greatest passions. I love to write. I love to encourage other women. I love being a mother. Blogging lets me blend these interests, and it supplied the impetus for me to publish my first book. That’s rewarding.

Plus, one day, if my daughters ever are interested in their childhoods, they’ll have plenty of material to sift through.

Ana: Crafting my own life. I’m starting to realize we are advocates, creating a movement. It’s empowering in a spiritual sense, reaffirming in me what I’m capable of doing, enabling me to set aside a lot of my fears.

Tis the Season to Plan Your Awards Submissions

Dear fellow communicators, PR people and marketers:

I’m sure visions of a holiday break are dancing in your head right about now. You’re swamped with year-end reviews, next year’s budget, holiday parties, and what to give your administrative assistant so she or he will put up with you for the next 365 days.

If you’re feeling especially spent, perhaps it’s because you did such stellar work in 2012. That means now is exactly the right time to start thinking about how those programs might be recognized by the industry.

Give your work a fighting chance. Make sure you’ve got all the supporting materials your entry needs to make it awardable by checking out these helpful, tip-heavy posts.

To get yourself going, I highly recommend reading them in the order presented here:

Crafting a Strong Award Program Entry for Your Work
Getting yourself prepared, reviewing award-worthy work, filling in missing metrics and feedback, taking a hard look at whether your program stands a chance.

Writing Your Entry: How to Make Your Work Competitive this Awards Season
Writing tips and a section-by-section view of standard entry forms, guiding you on what you need to write to support your program effectively. Includes link for a FREE worksheet to help you organize your entry, showing the judges clear connections between research, objectives, tactics and results.

And for writers:

Writing Your Writing Award Entry
Make the most of your writing talents to highlight the key program areas judges want to see in your entry.

Additional Resources

IABC Gold Quill Awards offers you tips for writing an effective entry, shares the judging score sheet and provides a download of their webinar, “The Midas Touch,” with advice on completing an effective entry.

Early deadline for the Gold Quill Awards is Jan. 31, with final deadline March 5, 2013.

PRSA Silver and Bronze Anvil Awards provides the excellent “Anvil Thinking” video, featuring judges discussing what it takes to win one of these prestigious awards.

Early deadline for the Silver Anvil Awards is Feb. 8, with final deadline Feb. 22, 2013.

IABC Revamps Gold Quill Awards

I write regularly about awards programs in the PR, marketing and communications industries, so I was thrilled to receive an email last week, announcing significant updates to one of the major honors – IABC’s Gold Quill awards.

Full disclosure: I’m a member of the International Association of Business Communicators and have served as a first-tier judge for the Gold Quills several times in the last two decades. Perhaps that makes me biased, but I’m convinced these changes will lead to a program that offers greater ease of entry and even better judging.

What’s changing and what does it mean for you? I’m working from an Aug. 30 email, from IABC Chair Kerby Meyers, which notes several important updates:

Online entries! – Yes, that deserves an exclamation point! The Gold Quills were the last major program to require a mailed entry. Sure, I’m an advocate of advance planning for award entries, but the reality is that most entrants are prepping their materials up to the very last minute. Relying on overnight delivery – and cramming everything into a giant notebook that had to meet a long list of requirements for how it looked and how it was organized – made the process that much more fraught. Now, every entry will be standardized thanks to online forms, and entrants have an extra 24 hours to double-check their submissions.

Longer entry period – There’s little excuse to be copy-and-pasting your entry into the online form five minutes before the deadline. According to the email, the Gold Quill program will open in October and entries will be accepted through the March 2013 deadline.

Standardized training for judges – Starting with the 2013 Gold Quill program, judges will be required to complete a training that ensures they are International Awards Evaluators in Good Standing, according to IABC. This, I think, will make the Gold Quills an exceptional awards program. In my experience (and not just as a judge for IABC), there’s a range of expertise in the judging room that includes long-time judges and newbies, 30-year marketing pros and new graduates in their first communications role. I don’t draw these distinctions to say that one is better than the other – judging should never be based on who’s been a judge before. What’s most valuable to the program and entrants alike is a consistent, fair, standardized set of judging criteria and a formalized way of training judges to understand and apply those criteria. For those interested in becoming an Evaluator in Good Standing, IABC will be communicating further information next month.

Those are the biggies. Additional changes include:

Eliminating first-tier evaluations – Now all entries will be judged by the aforementioned trained evaluators serving on a blue ribbon panel in one of five countries: the United Kingdom, Canada, the United States, Australia, and South Africa.

Introducing a new scoring sheet – This ensures even more feedback on each part of the entrant’s workplan, which should be a welcome addition for everyone submitting work.

Adding more guidance for entrants – IABC already offers comprehensive guides, webinars and social media chats related to entry preparation, as well as a mentor program for members who haven’t won a Gold Quill. It’s always highly recommended that entrants make use of these; you’ll find a list of opportunities here, as well as under the Resources tab in the Gold Quill section of the IABC website. (Note that these will be updated with the just-announced program additions as the 2013 program gets under way in the next month.)

The IABC email mentions that the 2013 call for entries will be announced in late September, and available on the IABC website.

Related posts on writing a competitive entry for all of the major PR, marketing and communications awards programs:

Table of contents of No Bad Language posts on awards
Advance planning for writing a strong award program entry for your work

Thor for Social Media Executive Champion?


Thor, the god of Norse mythology. “Thor’s battle with the Ettins” (1872), painting by Mårten Eskil Winge. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Read almost any social media book and you’ll quickly arrive at a certain piece of advice that’s beginning to set my teeth on edge. It’s the requirement for an Executive Champion.

Invariably, these books recommend the CEO fill the Champion role, and apparently one of the Champion’s duties is to swoop in like Thor with his hammer and smash any impasse, leaving the social media team a clear path through the rubble.

Here are five key reasons why this isn’t an effective social media strategy:

Most social media books are written by experts in social media, not the corporate world
While many of the social media strategists who’ve penned books work with corporate clients, this is not the same as navigating a corporate hierarchy from the inside. They simply don’t have the experience of maintaining effective working relationships in highly matrixed departments and across all the business units involved in supporting a strong social media program.

When you need a “decider” in a lean, fast-paced entrepreneurial company, the CEO is often the go-to guy because he’s also the person who developed the software or the idea the company was founded upon. There are few layers between the CEO and the teams engaged in key initiatives. Not so in an established corporation. The social media team operates several pay-strata below the members of the senior team, much less the CEO. And there are established processes for solving issues that involve starting with your team and seeking your immediate supervisor’s help and approval before the supervisor (not you) takes it to the next level (which won’t be the CEO’s level).

Thor needs to be capable of influencing the C-suite, but, in the long tradition of superheroes, he isn’t one of them
In his book, The Social Media Strategist, Christopher Barger, who’s led social media programs for IBM and GM, describes the Executive Champion as a corporate player who:

  • sells the “social media vision to the highest levels of business leadership” and explains “why resources allocated to it are being wisely spent;”
  • credibly takes this vision to the rest of the organization;
  • enforces “consistency among social media, marketing, and communications strategies;” and
  • provides the budget for your social media program or has the savvy to “credibly and effectively go ‘tin-cupping’ through the rest of the organization to acquire that budget.”

That’s a tall order, but inside most companies, there’s a VP with the credibility, likeability and practicality to drive agreement around each of those requirements.

You’ll be lucky to get one impasse-bashing favor from the CEO in your entire career (if that)
If you actually managed to get your issue in front of the CEO – say Legal refuses to allow spontaneous posting to social media sites without approvals or IT won’t budget for resources or bandwidth – guess what she’d tell you? “Find a way to work it out,” is what you’ll hear as she directs you to the door.

CEOs wisely understand that their role isn’t down in the weeds of day-to-day decision-making. They also know they musn’t play favorites. Running to the CEO to tattletale about your right to tweet without a three-week Legal review will only serve to make Legal irate. Likewise the IT department.

If the CEO does extend you a favor – and that’s a big, Thor-sized IF – you’ll spend the rest of your days at the company, trying to prove that you’re capable of making future decisions on your own. You’ll be forever under the hammer, and that’s a very uncomfortable – and ineffective – place to work from.

If Thor handles a disagreement for you, it will be the last time anyone supports you in the company
The real corporate world isn’t like the one portrayed in old comics, where Jimmy Olsen becomes a made guy at the Daily Planet because Superman acknowledges him after saving the world. Run to the CEO to solve an issue, and no one will trust you again. Your ideas won’t be pushed forward, work you needed done yesterday will slow to a snail’s pace, your meetings will be sparsely attended, your achievements begrudged, your failures snickered over. You’ll be the Loki of your company.

It takes a village to manage an effective social media program – not a demi-god
One reason non-corporate types put dibs on the CEO for Executive Champion is because they believe he or she has the ability to rise above the scrabbling that goes on around ownership of social media. You’ve probably seen hundreds of articles like this: Is it PR or HR? Marketing or IT? Customer Service or Advertising?

Actually, it’s all of them. As Christopher Barger notes, “territorialism” doesn’t work for social media. “The reality is,” Barger writes, “each function brings a different strength and a different weakness to social media activity. In an ideal situation, these strengths and functions are brought together as sort of a hybrid function operating together and directing the rest of the business.”

It’s the team’s job to rely on the cross-functional expertise in the room to solve problems. If they can’t – with all that brainpower at the table – then even Thor’s mighty hammer isn’t going to solve the problems in that social media program.

Employees on Social Media: Have Fun Storming the Castle

The following is a true story. Could this still happen in the age of social media? If your company wants to remain competitive, let’s hope not.

Once upon a time, a company was struggling to regain market share. After trouncing all comers for a decade, it lost its punch as new competitors and more exciting products entered the ring.

The entire company was reorganized to focus on marketing. Despite decades of award-winning work, the old advertising agency was let go. A hip new one was hired. Product lines were brought somewhat up to date, but they didn’t function as well as the market leaders. Consequently, they received poor reviews from press and consumers alike.

And what of employees inside the hallowed halls of this once-great company?

The daily grind was pretty grim. Employees coped as best they could with successive reorgs, changes in leadership, mission rewrites, OPEX reductions, and the launch of one new initiative after another. It was hard to generate excitement when every move the company made seemed to lead to a new round of layoffs.

But try they did. At employee meetings, they sat politely as marketing unveiled the latest products and plans. When asked for input, they gave it. Intelligently, clearly, poignantly. They wanted this stuff to work its magic and they were fully invested in its success. But, because they were closest to the front lines (manufacturing, quality, sales, customer service), they also knew it wouldn’t and, like the little boy in The Emperor’s New Clothes, they felt obliged to tell the truth before the company threw good money after bad.

What did they get in return?

They were told repeatedly that they didn’t understand all this newfangled marketing because they weren’t the right demographic. They didn’t like the new products because they weren’t the ones who were going to buy and use them.

And the “right demographic”? What did they think of the new products and marketing? They turned away in droves.

Was there a Happily Ever After for this company? Sadly, no. Remember, this is a true story, not a fairy tale.

The only thing that kept this saga from getting any worse was the fact that it took place in the days before social media. Imagine if employees – treated like that – had access to Twitter, Facebook and blogs!

What’s the moral of this story?

Dismissiveness discourages engagement (and encourages mutiny)
What exactly are employees supposed to do with insults, such as, “You don’t understand because you’re not the right demographic?” (A lot of them might think about taking their revenge on Twitter or Facebook or in industry forums.)

Effective marketing is all about relationships. Launching a campaign calls for engaging key stakeholders to help build enthusiasm. It starts inside a company before the very first ad airs on TV or the first tweet goes out. If a company can’t build solid, positive relationships with its own employees – natural allies because they share the same goals – how can it expect to create them in the world, where people are far more suspicious of brand messaging?

And if morale is bad inside a company, it’s only a matter of time before that negativity seeps into the social world where it influences key audiences and customers.

Employees aren’t the “right demographic,” they’re the “first demographic”
Engagement must start inside the gates with internal audiences because they are a company’s ambassadors during good times and bad.

“Your people are your best assets,” notes Christopher Barger in The Social Media Strategist. “In an environment in which trust is a key currency, it is your people and their personalities that will sell an audience on your brand as much as your product.”

In this age of social sharing, even with limited or no budget, a company can still create word of mouth around its products if its social media strategy includes having employees use their expertise and enthusiasm to engage customers.

This is doubly true in a crisis, when employee goodwill is shared in social circles, reinforcing official communications. Effective crisis communication is no longer simply about “putting a coin in the good karma bank in case you need to make a withdrawal,” as crisis experts used to describe it.

Companies that value employees and empower them to engage with audiences in social channels on a regular basis have a host of vocal advocates ready to put their influence to work on behalf of the brand’s reputation when barbarians are at the gate.

It’s important to understand how employees relate (and are related to) your customers
Think about a company that makes toys for toddlers. The employees probably range in age from early-20s to early-70s. Clearly, they are not the target user of the toys they manufacture.

But, do none of these folks have children? Grandchildren? How about parents who buy toys for grandchildren? And cousins and aunts and uncles and friends and professional colleagues they meet at industry conferences, etc., etc., etc.

Of course, employees are customers. And, if they’re not direct consumers, they encounter customers in all walks of life and have the potential to be ambassadors for the brand and influence purchase across networks of family, friends and professional associates.

Companies don’t own their “story” any more
Companies no longer control messaging about their brands, leaders or dirty laundry in social channels. (Just ask Yahoo!)

Sure, companies can restrict access to social platforms on the corporate network and create HR policies that forbid mentioning the company in social channels after work. But brands that want to excel take a different tack.

Christopher Barger recommends “teaching the organization to fish”: “Not every organization or company will empower all of its employees to engage in social networks. All the same, it’s a good idea to build a social media education program for all employees anyway.”

Barger’s approach enables employees to learn everything – from social media platforms to publishing tools and company policy. It also gives employees insight into how the company – both marketing and corporate – shares messages and builds relationships in social circles.

This kind of immersion in social media best practices, based on teaching and trust, goes a long way to building a strong base of employee ambassadors who understand the vision and strategy and are well-versed at engaging with the audiences companies most want to reach.

Companies don’t always know how to build a better mousetrap
“Great leaders…know that if they come up with all the answers, the chances of having anyone else buy into the solution are next to zero,” write Andrew Sobel and Jerold Panas in Power Questions. “But if their employees come up with the answer – if they feel ownership of it – there is a good chance it will bear fruit.”

Many social media experts predict that smart companies will create iterative processes that allow feedback from social media fans and followers to inform the design of better and new products. Both consumers and employees are in prime positions to contribute expertise in this scenario.

Some companies are already doing this. So, when an employee figures out a whole new way to use a product, simplify consumers’ lives, solve a problem, streamline a service, or just make customers happier, give that employee a blog. Why restrict access to social media? Heck, let them share their personal story with as many people as possible, and watch how customers get engaged.

Now that gives employees and customers something to tweet about!

Do you have examples of companies that encourage employees to use social media channels? I’d love to hear about them in the Comments.

Is it Okay to Take an Admin Job to Get Your Foot in the Door?

Since today is Admin Professionals Day, I thought I’d address a sensitive question that seasoned PR, marketing and communications folks often hear from recent graduates, looking to get experience in the field:

“Should I take an Admin job to get my foot in the door with an agency or company?”

My answer is a definite “No.”

(This advice comes with the caveat that, even as we climb out of recession, jobs continue to be scarce, so if you desperately need to work and the only option is an Admin position in your industry, take it – and check out the tips at the end of this article.)

My response is never meant to dismiss the role of administrative professionals. They work exceptionally hard, multitasking across dozens of projects and requests, while keeping the office, its people, client relations, business processes, and technology on track and operating smoothly. They are the lifeblood of our workplaces, we couldn’t get by without them, and the fact that there is only one day a year that honors administrative pros is the real shocker, to my mind.

So why the big fat “No”?

It’s precisely because we depend so much on admins that these situations become fraught for everyone involved. The disconnect happens because the person who accepts the offer for an Admin position when they’d rather be at a higher pay grade (let’s call this person the Non-Admin-Admin) expects to take on development work – projects that will position the Non-Admin-Admin for a promotion to Associate. Meanwhile, the agency or department has enough administrative tasks to bury a battalion of Admins, which is why it posted and interviewed for people with specialized administrative skills.

Frequently, the Non-Admin-Admin has enough experience to be an Associate (there just isn’t an opening right now), but doesn’t know some of the necessary requirements for an Admin job, whether that’s maintaining databases or the delicate dance of keeping everyone scheduled and organized so they can focus on their work. When the Non-Admin-Admin doesn’t want to be an Admin, it’s painful all around, and everyone in the office ends up unhappy.

If you find yourself working as a Non-Admin-Admin, and you’re frustrated with the lack of forward momentum, here are a few key suggestions for career advancement:

Know your company’s promotion policy
Make sure you know the official HR policy on applying for new jobs and in-place promotions (don’t just rely on your manager or hearsay). Do ask people who’ve been promoted (from Admin to Associate, from Associate to Manager) if you can schedule a brief informational discussion with them or offer to buy them a coffee in exchange for some career mentoring. People love talking about their accomplishments, so find out what kinds of skills they needed to learn or projects they took on that enabled managers to see them in a promotable light.

Put a review process in place
Got four-to-six months before you’re eligible for promotion? That’s not an eternity in corporate life, and so not the time to sulk or fill the office with eau de bad attitude. Embrace this time with gusto and schedule a meeting with your manager pronto. Tell him that you see yourself as an Associate in six months, and that you’d like to put a development plan in writing that you’ll both review on a regular schedule. Ask for your manager’s honest assessment so that you have a realistic idea of the skills and behaviors you’ll agree to work on. You can ask questions to clarify, but this isn’t the time to argue with the boss. You’ll need her to sign off when you’ve achieved everything in your plan and are ready to move on.

Accept and excel at your Admin job
This one is absolutely crucial. There’s no question that the ability to succeed at a higher grade will be judged on success as an Admin. The prospect who leaves work undone, doesn’t support the team, acts as if administrative tasks are beneath him or her, shows up late, or, worse, winds up being disciplined for poor performance, will never be eligible for a promotion and may even find themselves unemployed. How you perform at your current position counts for (or against) you when you apply for your next job.

Volunteer for professional-level projects
This is the best way to learn new skills and practice new behaviors. Remember, you still need to keep your current job running like clockwork, but projects are a great way to learn more about the work you’ll be doing and make new allies who can help you navigate your career path at the company.

Learn new technology
Many small agencies and big companies are struggling to manage the additional workload of social media on top of all the existing client work. Learn the company’s blog publishing tool or how to post to its Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest accounts, and you may become indispensible. You’ll be doing the kind of work expected of an Associate and be seen in a new light.

Support your agency’s clients
Are the office’s exempt employees volunteering this weekend at a client’s charity walk-a-thon? Have they been spending lunch hours running around getting people to sign a petition for the client’s pet cause? Once you become an Associate, your focus will be on the client. If there’s a way to jump in now – as a development project, free from concerns about overtime pay – grab it. Like the previous two examples, this will give you the perfect chance to do work at a higher grade level and show everyone what you have to offer.