Sunday, January 31, 2010

It's Not About You: Focus Your Attention On Your Audience

Powered by all the resources available through social media, organizations now have opportunities to converse directly with their audiences. We can't focus only on broadcasting general messages through the mainstream media. Now we find out who our "buyer" is and we talk directly to him or her.

In the PR world, we usually use the words “publics” or “audiences” instead of the term “buyers.” But David Meerman Scott uses the term buyer personas in his excellent book, The New Rules of Marketing and PR, and to be consistent with him, I will use the term "buyers" as an inclusive term for any audience you are trying to reach, such as donors, volunteers, subscribers, students, etc.

The most important point to remember as you develop a marketing, PR or social media plan is to focus your complete attention on the buyer. It’s not just about your organization or your service or your product. Scott writes, “Without a focus on the buyer, the typical press release and media relations program is built on what the organization wants to say rather than what the buyer wants to hear.” Instead, you must focus on the buyers and develop relationships with them.

To have a strong conversation with your buyers, you need to first find out more about them. Most often, you will be targeting more than one type of buyer. In the old media world, an organization would use a wide brush to use the mass media to try to reach all their audiences with the same general message. Today, we need to use a narrow brush to reach specific, targeted audiences.

Scott calls these niche markets “buyer personas.” We need to create specific messages to target these buyer personas. We need to know how our buyers think and what matters to them. Scott says organizations should “target specific buyer personas instead of using a one-size-fits-all campaign that targets everybody and appeals to nobody.”

You need to do basic research on your buyers by reading what they read and trying to think like they think. Do interviews with people that are in your targeted buyer persona. Also, follow your audiences through social media. Have conversations with them on Twitter and Facebook.

Once you create your buyer personas, you can then begin forming specific programs and plans to reach each buyer persona with compelling messages and material that is relevant, useful and interesting to them. Thus, it's time to walk in your buyer's moccasins and start finding out what they think about your organization and your products or services.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Don't Lecture: Have A Conversation

Digital technology and social media are completely changing the way we access information, pay our bills, take college courses and interact with each other. Organizations, especially their PR people, need to figure out how to use this New Media World to connect with their audiences.

In the early part of this decade, the Internet as we knew it from its inception started changing. This transformation is often titled Web 2.0, which has changed the way businesses and organizations communicate with current and potential customers. Instead of the information-based, static Web 1.0, the Internet now facilitates interactive information sharing and collaboration. Examples include social networking sites such as Facebook, video sharing sites such as YouTube, wikis such as Wikipedia, and blogs where an individual or company communicates and dialogues with readers.

Now, organizations don’t have to rely on third-party influencers, such as the media, to endorse brands, events, products or issues. There’s no filtering through expensive advertising or the gatekeepers of the media. An organization can speak directly to customers and buyers. And that’s a good thing!

It’s important for us to learn how to leverage the potential of the Internet for large and small companies, non-profit organizations, brands and individuals. In this New Media World, you can reach niche buyers directly and inexpensively. (I recommend David Meerman Scott's book, The New Rules of Marketing and PR, for more info on this.)

Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff in their book “Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies,” write that there is a “spontaneous movement of people using online tools to connect, take charge of their own experience, and get what they need—information, support, ideas, products and bargaining power—from each other.”

Today, people are getting what they need from each other instead of from companies, which can be a challenge for companies!


Organizations must learn how to be a part of this groundswell, or they could be left out of the conversation with their audiences. Unhappy customers or employees might post negative videos on YouTube (remember the Dominoes employees from last spring who posted a video of themselves spitting in and contaminating the food they were making?) or customers might announce their displeasure with your organization’s products or services on Twitter or Facebook.

You must monitor and develop relationships with the audiences via Web 2.0. You can’t control what they say or do (which corporate bosses hate), but you can develop a relationship with them — and this effort at relationship should help your organization in the long run.

It is time (past time) to start thinking about facilitating conversation between people. So start listening and talking!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Improving Detroit's Image One Person At A Time

When I first moved to Michigan in 1991, Detroit's image was poor, but now in 2009, it is even more frightful. Detroit is the poster child for all that is wrong in America: joblessness; greedy, corrupt public officials; urban blight; failing companies; decrepit infrastructure; the list could go on and on.

I've never lived in Detroit itself, but I have been a resident of Rochester Hills, a northern suburb of Detroit, for almost two decades. (I can't believe it's been that long because I hate our cold, endless winters.) Of course, Detroit is the hub for much of what happens around here, so its survival is important to all metro Detroiters.

My husband, Dave, sent me a link to a Sam Roberts video, Detroit '67, that the Red Wings have been using, and it inspired me to think about what is good about Detroit (in no particular order):

1. A prevailing attitude of hard work and resilience
2. Good people who care about each other and help each other
3. The Detroit Tigers (I'm just not a hockey fan)
4. The Queen of Soul: Aretha Franklin
5. Four Distinct Seasons: Sunny Summers and Gorgeous Crisp Falls
6. Rochester College: A community of people who care about teaching, learning and growing!
7. The Detroit Institute of Art: An amazing collection of art.
8. Water, trees, gorgeous places to hike to see God's inspiring creation
9. Deer trampling through my backyard
10. Hope for a better future for Detroit!

As a PR professional, I know that we can't gloss over the imperfections of Detroit. Our area is facing a long illness because of too many poor decisions and too much turning of the head to our problems.

But we can reclaim a better image for our area one person at a time. Think about what you like about Detroit and pass it on.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Shield

The winter issue of The Shield was distributed on Wednesday, and I'm very proud of the work produced by our Rochester College students. This is the first academic year that we've produced The Shield as a combo student newspaper/yearbook. We cover events and issues, people and opinions, and have fun too. The Shield is strong evidence of the talent and commitment of our student editors, writers and designers. I'm very proud of the work you all do!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Getting Savvy With Social Media

My reading the past few weeks has focused solely on one area: social media! I'm concentrating on how organizations can use social media to communicate with their target audiences.

Once upon a time, an organization used traditional methods to converse with its audiences. A PR professional would work with mainstream media, local community groups and internal print publications to get out the message.

Wow, times have changed!

Social media is revolutionizing the way organizations communicate...and the way they listen. First, what is social media? A simple definition is "using the internet to facilitate conversation between people." Now, we must think about having conversations with members of our audience instead of broadcasting or marketing to them. We now can communicate in a two-way conversation at all times.

This new reality means that the era of the PR professional is really taking hold. We listen, we communicate well, and we care about our organization AND our audiences.

Monday, February 23, 2009

PR Rules: Phelps, A-Rod & The Peanut Man

PR is often misconstrued by the public at large, but PR is all about truth. Here are three foundational rules for PR with current examples.

Rule #1: Do The Right Thing. If you or your organization continues to "do the right thing" and to communicate your good intentions, then you typically will have a strong reputation among your community and various publics. For example, Kellogg's announced a recall of Keebler and Austin products containing suspicious peanut butter on January 16. It was a voluntary recall, and at the time, Kellogg wasn't positive that its products were tainted, but Kellogg cared about the possible safety of the consumer. Kellogg was the first company to do this...before the FDA had completed its investigation. Many other companies soon followed suit. Kellogg put the safety of its customers before its own bottom line. Kellogg did the right thing, and in the long term, that will increase its bottom line.

Rule #2: If You Don't Do The Right Thing The First Time, Admit To It. Be Apologetic And Sincere. Face The Consequences. OK, people and organizations make mistakes. That's a given. It's how you react to the mistakes that really counts. So you messed up. Doing the right thing means that you confess, you apologize and you pay the consequences. If you don't take these steps, check out Rule #3.

For examples of Rule #2, let's look at Michael Phelps and Alex Rodriguez. Winner of eight gold medals at the Beijing Olympics, Michael Phelps returned to America as a hero. Within months of his return, though, a photo made its way to a British tabloid showing Phelps up-close-and-personal with marijuana paraphenalia. The story and photo soon exploded throughout the airwaves, the Internet and in major publications throughout the world. Phelps was widely criticized for his behavior and for letting down all the youth who look up to him. Very quickly, Phelps released a statement apologizing for his behavior. We can question whether he or his agent wrote the statement; we can question his motivation; but we can't question the correctness of his action. If you make a mistake, fess up to it and be apologetic. Get back into the pool and work hard!

Let's move on to Alex Rodriguez, arguably the #1 player in Major League Baseball, even if he does play for the NY Yankees. Sports Illustrated published an article claiming that A-Rod used steroids for several years in the early 2000s while playing for the Texas Rangers. As with the Michael Phelps story, the media coverage was intense. Following Rule #2, A-Rod admitted to using steroids and publicly apologized. He conducted a long interview with Peter Gammons and then held a press conference during spring training. While I don't completely buy his excuse that he was "young" and that the atmosphere around him was loosey-goosey, I do think his statements are correct PR steps.

Rule #3: If You Don't Do The Right Thing, And You Cover It Up And Lie, PR Will Not Help You! There are so many examples of this (Kwame Kilpatrick), it's hard to know where to start! Let's look at the recent example of Stewart Parnell, president of the Peanut Corporation of America, who knowingly supplied contaminated peanuts to corporate clients. The salmonella-laced peanut butter killed nine people throughout the United States, and thousands of products have been recalled by various suppliers. It looks like Parnell knew about the contamination and released his peanuts any way because he put profit over public safety. Parnell is in such a mess now that when he appeared before Congress to answer questions about his actions, all he could do was take the Fifth. PR methods will not help him now because he did not do the right thing at any time!

Remember, PR is about "doing the right thing!"

Twitter vs. Facebook

I've always been a reluctant, sporadic user of Facebook. Why? I just didn't think I had the time to interact on the site. So I log on a few times a week, mostly when an email is sent to me alerting me to the fact that someone has added me as a friend or written on my wall. I've posted photos on my Facebook site after special events or trips, but I haven't found a way to make it part of my daily routine.

In October, I attended the PRSA International Conference in Detroit, and the main buzz of almost every presentation I attended was about Twitter. A few weeks later, I set up my first Twitter account. I didn't really get it at first, but now I "tweet" quite often and always follow other "tweets." Why my enthusiasm for Twitter? It seems to be a "hub" for information that I'm seeking as I prep for classes or investigate a trip or find out about the latest happenings with the Detroit Tigers. I can follow news organizations, social media experts, and other users who post relevant links to information that I'm seeking.

I guess it boils down to this: I care more about information that is relevant to my life and my work than I do about whether a Facebook friend has cleaned her kitchen that day or found a new favorite song. I like both sites, but right now, Twitter is my favorite.