Friday, October 26, 2012

The weekend read

I wrote my 20,000th tweet this week, found treasure on Twitter, and the map led me here to the weekend, to boot--not a bad haul. Here are the diamonds and rubies that showed up in my Twitterstream, polished and shared for you to take all the way to the bank:
Two more gems are my upcoming workshops for speakers and communicators:  A November 27 day-long workshop on public speaking and presenting for introverts, with a discount if you register by next Friday, November 2...and a December 7 lunch-and-learn for communicators who want to make the case for a training program for your experts. For this workshop, the early registration discount ends November 9. 

On the treasure map for jobs this week: The American Farm Bureau Federation is looking for an executive director of communications...the Association for Corporate Counsel wants a director of communication and public relations...the science faculty at the University of Calgary seeks a director of marketing and communications...the U.S. Pharmacopeia needs a vice president, global communications...
Johns Hopkins University seeks an associate director for development communications...World Learning wants a director of communications.

I'm in North Carolina this weekend for the Science Writers 2012 conference. If you're there, too, find me--or email me ahead at info[at]dontgetcaught[dot]biz. I'd love to see some weekend readers in person, and on the weekend, no less. In any case, I'm glad we can meet here every week. Enjoy the weekend, wherever you are.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The overly controlled student voice and #highered PR

At one university where the marketing team was trying to get some student videos in motion, they found a willing student--but instead of his homegrown effort, decided to ask him to work with a professional crew to script and polish the video. This took more time, during which a student blog got wind of the project, writing a story about the "secret marketing video" being kept under wraps.

While this was not a nefarious plot--the video was released, pronto--it shows how using students to enhance the campus image can run into the buzz saw of social media, with extra friction caused by traditional command-and-control PR tactics. You may be viewing social media as just another marketing tool in which you get to massage the message that students convey, while students and reporters see it as a vehicle for disclosure and transparency. Or is it part of a wider effort to control diversity in student voices, a campus trend described in an op-ed in this morning's New York Times? 
2010 study by the American Association of Colleges and Universities of 24,000 college students and 9,000 faculty and staff members found that only 35.6 percent of the students — and only 18.5 percent of the faculty and staff — strongly agreed that it was “safe to hold unpopular positions on campus.”
Whatever the cause, at some point, those views will collide, as in these three examples, some more extreme than the others:
  1. A student blogging with the help of a consultant is not blogging: When Uuniversity of Virginia rector Helen Dragas was attempting to do damage control after her firing of the university president backfired, she e-mailed the board’s lone student member, looking for help: 'Do you know of students on grounds who might be willing to assist with a communications effort by engaging constructively in the blogs as guided by a communications consultant?'" This article, part of a Washington Post series, gives no word of any payment to be offered to the proposed student bloggers, but does note that three different PR firms received more than $250,000 for their help with the damage control.
  2. Student robot sources? Not so awesome: US News education reporter Menachem Wecker described how he uses Twitter (and other social media sites) to look for students who haven't been vetted, screened and prepped for interviews by the university's communicators"I've interviewed far too many students, who, when asked what they’d change about their college or university if they were empowered to do so, answer with something along the lines of: 'I really think our president is right on in her pursuit of innovative solutions to higher education problems, but I just wish the students respected her more,' or 'Honestly, I think the university should stop being so awesome for a spell, so that the competition can catch up.' Needless to say, those kinds of atmospheric and scripted statements are basically useless to me," Wecker said. While he doesn't name names in this post, Wecker has used social media on a well-read journalism blog to give fellow reporters a heads-up about your practices, along with the rest of us eavesdroppers. Perhaps not the desired result, eh? A more honest and professional approach: Let the students speak their minds and be ready to answer the questions and criticisms that arise.
  3. It's called the First Amendment, people. Isn't it? At Bryan College, a Christian liberal arts school in Tennessee, the editor of the student paper was told that his Biblical studies professor was leaving "to pursue other opportunities," but good reporting with public records showed the professor was arrested and facing charges of attempting to meet with a minor. Forbidden to publish the story in the student newspaper, student editor Alex Green published and distributed his story independently in print and electronically, citing his concern that Bryan College not repeat the mistakes of Penn State in keeping child sexual abuse charges quiet. Administrators advised him to seek removal of the coverage by a journalist following the issue, then said that "may have been a mistake." Professional journalists and others on Twitter, blogs and other social networks have been actively sharing the coverage, making this yet another failed effort to quash negative coverage.
Since the advent of social media, I've had an eye on whether it is truly changing communications--or whether you're using these new tools to grease the windows of the fishbowl you now find yourselves in, to keep the view nice and blurry for those looking in. What would it look like if you embraced not just the technology, but the transparency? What if social media were integrated fully into your approaches, so fully that you were comfortable with letting students speak their minds on those channels? In these cases, I'm guessing the students might have more positive things to say publicly. Share your thoughts in the comments. 

I've got two unique professional development options coming up for you: A November 27 day-long workshop on public speaking and presenting for introverts, with both content and format designed to focus directly on what introverts need and their special advantages as speakers. And a December 7 lunch-and-learn for communicators who want to make the case for a training program for your experts. Part brainstorm, part briefing, this will help you develop the data, examples and encouragement you need to convince those who need convincing. You'll get discounted registration if you sign up early, as usual. Please join me for these sessions.

Friday, October 19, 2012

The weekend read

Pour yourself another cup of coffee and settle in. It's Friday, and time to share all the steaming goodness from my Twitterstream full of great ideas and insights. These are the best reads, items and data I shared there this week, served up for you, right here, right now:
Pour yourself some jobs: The University of Pittsburgh is looking for a senior news representative (with social media and more)....the Rockefeller University seeks an executive director, communications and public affairs...the Chemical Heritage Foundation wants a communications coordinator...New York City's department of health and mental hygiene needs a deputy press secretary.

And I've got two new workshops to consider for your own development: 
  • A November 27 day-long workshop on public speaking and presenting for introverts, with both content and format designed to focus directly on what introverts need and their special advantages as speakers. Join us yourself, or recommend this to a colleague or one of your experts.
  • A December 7 lunch-and-learn for communicators who want to make the case for a training program for your experts. Part brainstorm, part briefing, this will help you develop the data, examples and encouragement you need, whether you want to convince fellow communicators, the powers that be or the experts you want to train. Two hours of insights, plus lunch, a great network of fellow communicators and a followup email so you don't even need to take notes.
Both workshops offer significant discounts and limited seating, so don't delay in booking your space.

I'm glad you have a regular seat at this diner on Fridays. Thanks for coming in...and TGIF.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

What communicators should know about what's fake in social media

There's a tug-of-war going on in social media and generally online. On one side, transparency and authenticity are praised and followed, highlighted and rewarded. On the other, it's all fake-it-until-you-make-it. And some weeks, I wonder whether the fakers will win.

Faking it online might seem harder than ever to do. Whether you're a face in the crowd at a riot or someone deliberately trying to pass yourself off as someone else on Twitter, the web offers more ways than ever for the crowd to root out fakery and plain old anonymity. Faking another company's account or your own identity on most major social sites are among the 40 ways you can get kicked off the sites. Despite that, faking it is already commonplace. Here's a roundup of cautionary tales and trends data to bring you up to speed:

Faking identity

While humorous fictional Twitter accounts are all the rage, when a political aide for one of the presidential campaigns wields a fake account, the reaction's swift and negative. That's a change from the earlier days of online faked identities, as when the Whole Foods CEO tried to use a fake name to make spurious comments about a competitor, a fact that only came to light in Federal Trade Commission documents years after the fakery. NPR's Andy Carvin used Twitter to uncover a blogger hoax in which a male blogger was posing as "Gay Girl in Damascus" on Facebook and Twitter. Just this month, it was revealed that a staffer for the speaker of the New York State assembly posed as a female blogger in an effort to defend the speaker's payments to settle accusations of sexual harrassment against a fellow assemblyman.

Facebook forbids fake names, but estimated earlier this year that some 83 million accounts on the site are fake. (For perspective, that's just 8.7 percent of the total, and Facebook is shutting down tens of thousands of fake accounts daily.) Google+ only recently began to allow fake names, although it still may remove fake accounts under its revised policy. People are even stealing images of families and using them in Internet hoaxes, creating fictional identities with these "instant relatives."

Faked trails

A major league baseball player created a fake website to get around drug charges. A scientist used fake emails to do "peer review" on his own research articles submitted to and published by journals. Instead of being accessible, customer service executives use fake middle initials or domains to hide their direct email addresses from unhappy customers. And anyone can use a new app called Please Don't Stalk Me, which adds fake location information to your tweets. But here's a reason to be hopeful: I wouldn't be able to write about these things if the fakery hadn't come to light. It's always useful to remember that journalists are adept at tracking things like your IP address or other indicators that are high-tech dead giveaways.

Faked reviews

Ever wonder about those glowing online reviews, from restaurant ratings on Yelp to author reviews on Amazon? Turns out they're helping to grow the economy, since getting paid to write fake reviews is now a cottage industry. The New York Times look at faked author reviews notes that:
The Federal Trade Commission has issued guidelines stating that all online endorsements need to make clear when there is a financial relationship, but enforcement has been minimal and there has been a lot of confusion in the blogosphere over how this affects traditional book reviews.
By the way, if you're part of an organization that includes bloggers and online writers, as I am, you can easily request a speaker from the FTC at your next conference. As noted when I wrote about bloggers and brands struggling with the FTC guidelines back in 2010, the FTC has yet to turn down a speaking engagement opportunity in its efforts to spread the word about how to manage within the guidelines, which also apply to things like how and whether you note affiliate relationships or sponsored blog posts.

PR Newser debates whether faked reviews are justified as marketing strategy, and compiled reactions from PR pros here--even the chair of the Public Relations Society of America "weighed in to state unequivocally that posting reviews under fake names is unethical and should not be tolerated by any respectable PR organization." Despite that, it cites a newly released Gartner study which estimates that by 2014, 10-15 percent of social media reviews will be fake and paid for by companies.

Faked followers

The most recent brouhaha has been over fake followers, for two reasons: Companies offer ways to pay for thousands of followers, and--perhaps more important--there are new apps allowing anyone to see whether your company's followers are fakes. Let me suggest you use them on your own organization, quick, to see what others are seeing. Mashable offers helpful advice on sorting out your fake followers from the real ones. Don't forget that all your social followers need a scrubbing to get rid of the fakes. I've got more suggestions in my post about putting together a social-media cleanup retreat for your team.

What to do next

Start a discussion within your company or organization about your values on this score. Do you or don't you embrace fake followers, fake accounts, paid reviews? I hope the answer is "We're not that desperate for the publicity." If so, put it in your policies and be transparent about it. Stay up-to-date on the FTC regulations, and do regular scrubs of your followers to get rid of the fakes. 

What else would you do to deal with the trend towards fakery? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Making the case for a training program for your experts: Lunch & learn 12/7

At the last Be an Expert on Working with Experts workshop, the top-level communicators assembled got into a discussion of the challenges of creating training programs for their organizations' subject-matter experts, scientists and policy experts. They wanted to go on for another couple of hours specifically on how you make the case for training. And now they--and you--can do just that.

I'm hosting a lunch and learn in Washington, DC, on Friday, December 7, from 11:30am to 1:30pm on Making the case for a training program for your experts. That might mean making the case to the experts to be trained, making the case to your communications colleagues, or making the case to the powers-that-be. We'll cover it all. Part briefing, part brainstorm, this session will walk you through:
  • Leaders who are calling for experts to gain better public communications skills, with quotes you can use to bolster your program;
  • Pluses and minuses of one-off training sessions versus a series or standard training program;
  • What other communications pros are facing in their attempts to start training programs; and
  • Creating a pilot program and collecting data to make your case.
You'll get lunch, a jam-packed follow-up email with all the links and references you need to get started, and a great network of fellow communicators facing the same issues you are. We'll hold the workshop in an easy-to-reach location near Metro Center in Washington, DC, close to public transportation.

As usual, there's a significant discount if you sign up early: Register by November 9 to get the lunch-and-learn session for just $45. Registration is $55 after that, and all registration closes no later than November 20 or when all seats are filled. 

I hope you'll join me for this short but useful session. Be part of our brainpower on making the case for training, and stay tuned for announcements on the next "experts" workshop, coming in early 2013.

If you or one of your experts is an introverted communicator, check out my upcoming daylong workshop on Public speaking and presenting for introverts, coming up on November 27. Different rates, dates and times apply.

Friday, October 12, 2012

The weekend read

We're in the end zone, people. It's Friday. Let's hold off on the cheering, though, and forget those little dances until you get through this weekend read--call it our last huddle of the week, in which you can see all the good signals I found in my Twitterstream this week. Then you can start the weekend fueled with good plays, end runs and stats:
Team opportunities: Active Living by Design, a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation-funded program based at UNC-Chapel Hill, is looking for a communications officer. San Jose State University is looking for an associate vice president, marketing and communication. The International AIDS Vaccine Initiative in New York City seeks a director of global communications.

Glad you stopped by here on your way to the weekend. Be careful out there...

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

WaPo series sheds light on U-Va. PR damage control

Communicators of all types, but especially those in higher education, should take the time to read "At U-Va., emails show faltering efforts at crisis control after Sullivan ouster" from the Washington Post. The story is pieced together from more than 2,500 emails sought under state public records laws after the university's governing board fired, then rehired, the president last summer.

It describes the governing board's rector, or chair, Helen Dragas, directing damage control efforts that ignored the advice of the university's spokeswoman, associate vice president Carol Wood, but spent $250,000 on the services of three PR firms hired after the decision to fire the president backfired. For communications directors, it's your worst nightmare, another effort to avoid bad publicity, coming at a high price: Solid and knowledgeable home-team advice is ignored, a major action is taken without thinking about the public consequences or how they'll be handled, and outside counsel brought in to close the barn door after the horse is gone.

Wood demonstrated professionalism and good advisement when confronted with a decision to mass-email a third statement from the head of the board to the university community. Her reply to the board rector didn't win the day, but will win your admiration:
“I am well aware of the fact that you don’t trust my advice — that has been very clearly communicated to me by all three of the outside PR firms you have talked with — and I’m sorry for that,” Wood wrote. “But I sincerely believe that sending one more e-mail to alumni today will result in another onslaught of negative responses from alumni."
It's not noted in the Post, but Wood recently announced her retirement as the university's spokesperson after 17 years in the role.

This type of situation doesn't wind up on my list of what an outside trainer can do that the in-house communicator can't, although I admire the consultant who drafted a resignation letter for the university rector. But I've also spent plenty of time on your side of this fence as the in-house communicator. So I know more than a few of you will read this, shake your head and say "That won't happen here," or "That'd happen here, but I can't do anything about it."

Just for today, though, I'd encourage you to consider what you could be doing, now, to make sure your company or organization doesn't get caught in this way. That's the entire philosophy behind don't get caught: Making sure you don't get caught unprepared for a crisis. Can you use this article to suggest a planning session that walks through your organization's biggest potential crises and how they'd play out publicly? Or a session with your own team to anticipate a variety of responses that you might be asked to put forward, and whether they'd actually work? What do you need to ask for, budget-wise and otherwise, to be prepared?

You might push it further, too. Does the chair of your board know you, and how you respond and advise the leadership? Do other senior executives know and trust you and what you've done lately? Are you keeping them up to date more than annually, or with more than a written report? Does the communications team need to do what one staffer of mine used to call "gentle promotion for the department," in the form of in-house briefings and open Q&A sessions for other colleagues? Do your reports to others highlight the fact that you're looking for a heads-up about potential issues, rather than a call after the horse has left the barn? And in the end, you need to decide something for yourself: If all that fails, what will you do, as a professional?

Many of my clients ask for media training sessions or communications strategy sessions that anticipate issues and crises and work through not only responses, but their consequences. Such sessions give you the chance to see how others on your team will respond--a surprise waiting to happen that you can deal with now--and to work through the realities of the situation before the issue arises. If I'm facilitating such a session, you get to sit back and observe those reactions. Your senior executives, from your CEO on down, will get the chance to anticipate and understand how you work through communications issues before they become issues. Let me know if I can help you do that, with an email to info[at]dontgetcaught[dot]biz.

Friday, October 05, 2012

The weekend read

I hope you don't need either a lifeboat or a cruise director to know it's Friday, and time to bail on the week just past. Stop rearranging those deck chairs and sit down in one so you can take a look at this weekend's worth of great finds I shared on Twitter this week:

PR News Measurement Conference from Danielle Brigida


Thanks for spending part of your week and the run-up to the weekend here. I so appreciate it! TGIF...

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

What the outside trainer can say and do that the in-house communicator can't

From a very funny client of mine: A wine called "The Consultant"
I hear it all the time when communications directors are hiring me to do media training, social media consulting or speaker training: "Besides, you can say the things I can't, and they'll listen to you." I'm sure I said the same when I was a director hiring consultants. At the same time, many of you also thinking (and some of you say it right out), "This isn't anything we couldn't do ourselves."

Is that really true? After time on both sides of the fence, here's what I think an outside communications consultant and trainer can say and do that's often tougher for you to pull off:
  • The room to observe, rather than run, the session: This might be the most valuable benefit I can give a communications director. If you can step away from the controls, you get the chance to collect data by observing--something that's hard to do when you're focusing on conducting the CEO's media training session or trying to facilitate the staff retreat. You'll always get my observations, but this way, you can add your own for a richer understanding.
  • Neutral territory that encourages frankness: I can't tell you how many communications directors have sworn to me that their expert just doesn't have time for interviews--only for me to find, on questioning in the training, that she's an introvert and has been pleading schedule conflicts to avoid interviews. Or some similar confession. My outsider status in these cases is like Switzerland, a neutral territory where my trainees can be frank. I also work hard to make sure my trainees feel comfortable enough to tell me what we both need to know. You may learn a lot that you wouldn't otherwise, because of that phenomenon.
  • The chance to look smarter: Smart communications directors often bring me in to find out how their operations compare to others. Sometimes, that takes the form of a briefing, such as the ones I include in social-media planning sessions where we review what the rest of your sector's up to, and where it's falling behind. But smart directors also ask me "How do we compare?" after I've trained a group of their scientists, or prepped the president for media interviews. And when it comes to those high-level trainees, they, too, want to know how others do it. Unless you're out working with as many operations as I am, that kind of understanding can be hard to come by. 
  • A sense of what's next: When you're in the weeds, you may not be poking your head up to look at the horizon. I can bring you data on what to look for next in social media so you don't waste time when making future plans. And in my public speaking trainings, that means the ability to share the latest trends in a world where TED-style talks are the new normal. 
  • Ammo to back up or get rid of those ideas: You may feel good about that gesture you want the CEO to use in her speech or your decision to post on Saturdays on the company Facebook page. But if you want data to underscore that decision--or talk you out of it--that's what I can bring to the party.
  • Speaking truth to power: From providing uncomfortable feedback during a speaking coaching session on everything from wardrobe to odd mannerisms, to explaining why his prized retort to reporters just won't cut it, I can provide tactful but direct feedback your leader needs to hear...from someone other than the person with whom he'll be working every day. Trust me, you want this kind of shelter. You'll get to repeat and remind later, but leaving the first salvo to me will make your life easier.
I'm a Washington, DC-based communications and social media consultant, and a trainer who specializes in public speaking and media training. If you want that outside perspective for training executives, experts or scientists, or to create a communications retreat or strategy for your team, board or volunteers, email me at info[at]dontgetcaught[dot]biz.