Why McDonald’s flap over franchisee’s politics actually helps PR pros

This is a piece I was commissioned to write for Ragan.com:

Published: 11/1/2010 

Why McDonald’s flap over franchisee’s politics actually helps PR pros
By Ari B. Adler

When a single location’s owner taints a global company, who ya gonna call?  

McDonald’s Corp. is working to get some Egg McMuffin off its face after astory hit the Internet about a franchise in Canton, Ohio, distributing a paycheck stuffer suggesting which political candidates the employees should support.

The McDonald’s legal team will be working overtime trying to pull the company out of the deep fryer on this one, but that’s not the most interesting thing to me. As a media relations professional, I’m interested in seeing how one of the world’s most-recognized global brands deals with a local mistake that spreads across the world.

The story broke Friday and, thanks to the Internet, there were news stories, blog posts and tweets going out at a rapid pace. If history is a good predictor, the fun has only just begun for the McDonald’s corporate communications team.

Legal issues aside, readers’ comments on at least one blog entry added up fast and quickly turned vitriolic. The majority of readers at the Thinkprogress.org post were quick to blend the fast-food chain’s reputation with the apparent Republican agenda to take over the world one minimum-wage vote at a time.

Missteps can happen with a corporation as large as McDonald’s, and the risk is even greater when your company is built on franchise operations. That means it’s your logo, your brand and your reputation, but it’s at the mercy of every local yahoo who has paid enough to open a store with your sign out front.

Remember the disgusting Domino’s food video last year? That was at a franchise store where corporate had no say in who was working there. If they had, they might have been able to sniff out a problem faster than the franchise owner did.I’ve been in media relations for many years, and it is amazing to me how much things have changed in just the past few. We used to worry about a story getting in the local paper and, perhaps, going even more widespread if it hit the TV news that night. Should it have gotten out of control, we might have received coverage by a national news outlet. Now we have to deal with every potential outlet, including blogs and social media. And many of the new outlets don’t play by the old rules. Actually, some of them don’t play by any rules. Even if a given outlet tries to be fair in reporting on something, reader comments often are the most damaging part of the attack on your brand and reputation.

I recently heard Tim McIntyre, Domino’s vice president of communications, talk about how the online mentions of the gross employee video peaked and then plummeted after the company posted its response video on YouTube. Unfortunately, the company posting the video ended up drawing the attention of the mainstream media, and the second news cycle on the issue immediately got under way.

The odds seem insurmountable sometimes, because it just doesn’t seem possible to keep up with it all. But that does not mean we should be throwing in the towel. Media relations professionals have myriad tools available to them to monitor, track and respond to mentions in mainstream and online press as well as Twitter, Facebook and other social media outlets.

Instead of getting frustrated with all the work we see laid out before us, perhaps we should see it as job security instead. I’m certain some corporate executives are wondering why, at a time when the mainstream press is crumbling, their media-relations department really needs the budget it has requested. When corporations realize how fragile their brand is, however, and how easy it is for anyone and everyone to launch an attack these days, that should help those of us on the front line land a little more support.

Media relations is no longer just about the media in the traditional sense. Certainly we have to work with the mainstream press, but we also have to broaden our horizons to take on online news outlets, bloggers, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and many more. If it can be used for communication, we need to be aware of it, monitor it, understand it and work with it.

So keep that in mind as the company budgets are being prepared for 2011. The media team is no longer effective if your company’s definition of “team” is you and a Google news account. There are hardware and software costs that must be budgeted for, as well as having the necessary number of employees on hand to handle the growing list of media relations tasks.

The CEOs of the world often focus on the bottom line. But they still are going to spend some money on property insurance in case a fire happens at one of their facilities. It’s high time companies started paying attention to the reputation-focused firefighters they have on staff, too. Otherwise, the next time a three-alarm blaze erupts and you try to douse it with some pitiful Google news alerts, their bottom line is likely to end up all burned and crunchy—like a McDonald’s fry left floating in a basket of hot oil for too long.

Employee engagement article at Ragan.com

Here’s an article I wrote for Ragan.com regarding the International Association of Business Communicators’ Employee Engagement Survey:

Published: 8/6/2010

Survey: Half of employers use social media to engage workers
By Ari B. Adler

Intranets, e-mail remain top channels, but social media is gaining steam, according to IABC

In what could be deemed the most unsurprising survey results of the year, the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) announced this week that company e-mail and intranets are the two most common ways to communicate with employees.

Nearly 900 communication professionals responded to the “Employee Engagement Survey” conducted by the IABC Research Foundation and Buck Consultants. The results revealed e-mail is used 83 percent of the time while an organization’s intranet is used 75 percent of the time to “engage employees and foster productivity.” The survey also found that nearly half of employers—a slight increase from last year—communicate with employees via Facebook, instant messaging and Twitter.

“What the survey suggests is that there is still a huge requirement in many organizations for education and raising awareness of social media tools and channels,” said Neville Hobson, ABC, director of social media Europe for the communications firm WCG in London, England. “People at all levels need to better understand the business value of social media from their perspectives.”

What Hobson says is especially true for younger employees, according to Danielle Weller, corporate responsibility specialist for Jackson National Life in Okemos, Mich.

“The younger workforce is demanding more two-way communication with management,” Weller said. “Social media tools are a great way to engage that generation in meaningful discussions without adding extra expense for an organization.”

The survey results weren’t surprising because e-mail and corporate intranets remain the better medium to share information internally, said Nekolina Berlie, internal communication specialist for The Forzani Group Ltd. in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

“Sharing on widespread social media sites is not always the ideal medium, but corporate intranets are changing and becoming more social,” Berlie said. “Rather than being a place for companies to push information out to their employees, many corporations are incorporating social components, such as blogging and commenting directly into their intranets in an effort to increase two-way dialogue and employee engagement.”

Integrating social media platforms into employee communications is seamless for the younger generation, according to Weller.

“Employees in their 20s and 30s use social media in their personal lives. Integrating it into business communication tells employees you’re listening to what they want,” Weller said.

Listening to employees is essential to employee engagement and retention, Bruce Spiegel, principal at Buck Consultants said in a news release about the survey.

“Surprisingly, 32 percent of survey respondents indicate their organizations rarely or never conduct employee listening activities,” Spiegel said. “This is a huge opportunity for organizations to mitigate their risk of employee turnover and diminished performance.”

Spiegel’s comment struck a chord with Berlie.

“While sharing information with employees is critical, we need to ensure we provide them with the information they are craving,” she said. “The only way to do this is to ask them and really listen to what they say. Rather than setting up Facebook and Twitter accounts for the company to feed more information to employees, companies should be using these sites to listen to what their employees are saying about them and how they are interacting in these mediums.”

Regardless of whether you’re using e-mail, the company intranet, Facebook or Twitter, engaging with employees needs to take precedence over the medium being used, Berlie noted.

In the survey, increasing productivity (66 percent) and retaining top talent (65 percent) were the most important goals employers cited to keep employees engaged. Increasing employee morale and creating a new culture or work environment came in third and fourth, respectively, at 59 and 52 percent.

“Increasing employee engagement and the value of internal communication is not about what specific tools you use – it’s about knowing your audience, understanding their needs and giving them what they are looking for,” Berlie said. “In some cases, this may be by using Facebook and Twitter, but in others it will always be e-mail and intranets.”

Blogging finally pays the rent for someone

Here’s a piece I wrote for Ragan.com about a blogger who won a free year of rent in exchange for blogging about her experience:

Published: 7/29/2010

How a video contest boosted new condos, gave a blogger a home
By Ari B. Adler

‘I Love Detroit’ competition draws global interest in the city’s comeback efforts

The number of bloggers in the world has grown dramatically over the past few years, but there aren’t too many who can say it helps them pay the rent. Brandi Keeler of Detroit can, though, at least for a year.

Keeler, an advertising and design major at Detroit’s College for Creative Studies, won the Garden Court Condominiums’ “I Love Detroit” video contest. That means she will be living rent-free in a downtown condo in exchange for her blog posts chronicling her participation in the city’s culture, dining and sporting events.

Identity Marketing & Public Relations in Bingham Farms, Mich., was the agency that worked with Garden Court on the 30-day contest, which was developed to raise awareness for the recently renovated condominiums. Using traditional media, new media and events to create buzz for the contest, Identity also was getting people talking about the condos and the city of Detroit.

“The contest clearly struck a nerve with people who have a passion for the city of Detroit. There are some incredible advocates for the city, and this was an ideal platform for them,” said Andrea Trapani, senior account executive and Identity’s architect behind the concept. “We knew the contest would be something different, but it definitely exceeded our expectations in regard to the quantity and overall creative quality of the videos submitted.”

The contest launched in late May with an appearance on FOX 2 Detroit by David Farbman of Garden Court. By the end of the contest in late June, more than 60 two-minute videos had been submitted from around the world, with 53 making the final cut. More than 300 people also joined the special Ning community that Identity had established for the contest. A panel of local personalities and bloggers judged the videos.

“Since this was unlike anything the client has done before, we did not set any specific expectations regarding how many videos would be submitted,” Trapani said. “We knew that by leveraging social media channels, as well as the traditional media, that the overall brand exposure would be broad and meaningful.”

According to Identity, the contest resulted in more than 48,000 page views and more than 23,000 views for the videos that were submitted. The promotion resulted in 15 online stories posted by traditional media and bloggers within 20 days, and there were more than 300 tweets sent using the hashtag #ilovedetroit. Perhaps most important to Identity’s client, however, is that the contest resulted in generating more inquiries from people interested in buying the condominiums.

“The overall positive responses shared from contestants on the site was inspiring,” Trapani said.  “They supported and complimented each other’s videos. New connections were made, and many have continued past the end of the contest. On multiple occasions, we heard, ‘It doesn’t matter if I win; I’m so happy to have the chance to connect with others and share my story.’”

Trapani said she considers the contest and the promotional idea to be a success and, with lessons learned in hand, the potential for similar campaigns is high. That raises the question, however, of how many of these can succeed before they are too common to draw the attention that Garden Court did.

Brandon Chesnutt, social media director at Identity, says there will always be a market for them.

“Just hearing the phrase, ‘enter for a chance to win,’ creates a unique level of excitement,” he said. “What organizations really need to start thinking about is what happens after the contest. How do they continue to engage the audience without an incentive in place? There should be a plan to keep the buzz going until their next call for entries.”

Zoos are going wild for social media

Here’s a piece I wrote for Ragan.com about the use of social media by my local zoo:

Zoos are going wild for social media
By Ari B. Adler
Facebook, Twitter and Flickr augment the live experience for animal enthusiasts

Zoos and aquariums across the country are joining the online jungle to attract visitors.

Of the 221 institutions that are members of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums, at least two-thirds are using social media of some kind, and the number is growing continually, says Linda Cendes, a member of AZA’s communications team.

“It has provided a great way for zoos and aquariums to interact with their communities on a whole new level,” she said. “It’s not only to promote events and other activities, but a way to provide real-time updates to visitors, whether to announce a keeper talk or a closure due to inclement weather.”

For Potter Park Zoo in Lansing, Mich., outreach to visitors has been steadily increasing during the 17 months that Jake Pechtel has been on the job. Originally a producer and marketer of video games, Pechtel joined Potter Park Zoo when he got a job there updating its website.

“Potter Park had updated the zoo on the inside, then the project started to bring the website up to date,” said Pechtel, who has earned the designation “Swiss Army Knife” at the zoo. “Our thought behind social media is enhancing guests’ experience, something for them to take home and share with friends and make them want to be fans, too.”

The zoo started a Facebook page, a Twitter account and a Flickr feed in September 2009, but the accounts sat dormant until early 2010. Pechtel said the zoo just recently started using YouTube, as well, having to opt for the channel name “PotterParkTV” because they hadn’t secured their full name earlier.

“There’s definitely a lesson to be learned there,” he said.

Even with all the activity around social media, Pechtel said organizations need to remember to stay focused. The zoo’s newly updated website is still the core component; it’s what Pechtel refers to as a “discovery tool.”

“It’s a landing site for every piece of social media. It beckons to the way social media works,” Pechtel said. “Someone might love to converse with you on Twitter one day, then suddenly might find Flickr and, when they do, you need to be there.”

Better than 1,000 words

Pechtel said their Flickr account is “very interesting” for the zoo.

“Photos can be more emotional than words, and we try very hard to make our experience an emotional one for visitors,” he said. “When the Flickr pool was started, we made an effort to go find people who were already using Flickr to share pictures of their trips to the zoo and invited those folks to join our group.”

Pechtel said he tries to stay active within the group, posting behind the scenes photos as much as possible, which has gotten the zoo invited to join other Flickr groups.

“Flickr, as it turns out, has been as much about participation as any of its social media cousins,” Pechtel said.

The zoo has used Flickr to engage with visitors and make them feel a part of the zoo, in some cases even offering memberships in exchange for great photos to be used on the zoo website.

“I’ve since met a number of the photographers, as they stop by my office when they come to the zoo,” Pechtel said. “It’s a nice translation from online acquaintance to someone you share a chat with.”

Cendes said social media is allowing people to experience their zoo or aquarium in a way that isn’t possible even when visiting in person.

“People can see pictures of newborns even before they are picked up by the media, videos showing behind-the-scenes animal care or updates about current research or rehabilitation of a rescued animal,” she said. “People look to their zoo and aquarium to be leaders in conservation and education and you will often see conversations between an engaged public and the institution.”

For folks like Robin Miner-Swartz of Lansing, Potter Park’s engagement via social media got her to think about the hometown zoo she hadn’t visited in a long time.

“I guess I had begun to think of the zoo as a family place or a kid place, and I was neither. But once Jake started Potter Park’s social media efforts, I began to see the zoo in a whole new light,” she said. “I love Jake’s enthusiasm for the zoo but also for the Lansing community in general.”

Pechtel gives people a view of what’s going on at the zoo with glimpses behind the scenes but he also shows them a lot of what they’re missing if they don’t visit.

Featured content on Facebook

For the zoo, Facebook is the biggest home base away from its website.

“It’s where we can post the most robust content beyond our website,” he said. “I look at the Facebook posts as tent poles. Twitter is used as a way to fill in the gaps between the tent poles.”

For example, when Pechtel was going to visit the bongo exhibit recently for a Facebook update, he used Twitter to alert folks that he was going to spend some time in the bongo yard and he’d have pictures on Facebook soon.

It’s with his Facebook posts that Pechtel tries to tie the zoo into things the page fans might already be talking about. For example, a recent wall post read, “Our Golden Lion Tamarins are sad after watching their home team Brazil get eliminated from the World Cup. Did you know these guys are on loan from the Brazilian government?”

The Facebook page has more than 3,800 friends. Even when coupled with the Twitter followers, it’s a smaller online fan base when compared with some zoos. But Pechtel said the level of interaction is great, even when compared with much larger facilities.

“A lot of zoos have a lot more fans and followers. They might have 10,000 followers and get 30 retweets. I get the same with 800 followers,” he said. “It’s about quality not quantity.”

Of course, the bottom line is still the bottom line, and any outreach efforts are eventually going to be measured against the number of visitors walking in the front gate. Pechtel said the zoo has seen a 15 percent increase in foot traffic this year, which he attributes a lot to social networking.

“It’s tough to measure that though,” Pechtel said. “The end result of social networking is awareness. If you have a good, succinct marketing campaign in conjunction with a good effort in social networking, then the awareness level goes up. And having a user-centric focus has really driven our success. No one becomes friends with a logo.”

Pechtel said the zoo’s Twitter account, @PotterParkZoo, has “a bit of an attitude,” which makes it more personable for its more than 800 followers. It’s an attitude he tries to carry on throughout all of the zoo’s social networking activities.

“Other zoo employees mention that their friends say they feel like they’re talking to a person on Facebook rather than the zoo—and that’s the point,” he said.

Plus, without social media, Miner-Swartz probably wouldn’t have gotten to know some of the animals on a first-name basis.

“They have a pig named Kevin Bacon. How hilarious is that?”

Can Foursquare capitalize on its marketing potential?

Here’s a piece I wrote for Ragan.com about the untapped potential of Foursquare:

Published: 4/26/2010

Can Foursquare capitalize on its marketing potential?
By Ari B. Adler

Function must supersede frivolity and deliver pertinent information when the consumer wants it

There’s a love-hate relationship going on with Foursquare the likes of which we haven’t seen since Crocs tried to make brightly colored shoes with holes in them a major fashion statement.

The mobile check-in started as a game and quickly turned into a way to keep up with friends and their favorite hangouts. For some, that’s enough to keep them coming back. Others try it and lose interest.

Still, it’s the folks thinking not about what Foursquare can do, but what Foursquare could be doing that will probably continue to drive the company’s success.

“It took me a while to figure out what the thing is about—not what everybody uses it for, but what function does it play?” said Ike Pigott, a communication consultant and blogger from Birmingham, Ala.

Pigott noted how Twitter expanded the world so people can know what any of the people they follow are doing. The problem with Twitter, Pigott said, is the information, “falls off the radar due to sheer volume.”

Transcending time

“If I go to a sandwich shop in an unfamiliar town and have a life-changing sandwich and tweet about it, [and] if you’re there while traveling for a conference four months later, that won’t mean anything to you,” Pigott said. “What Foursquare does at its core is connect everyone over time instead of just space.”

According to Pigott’s theory, Twitter is about the here and now, whereas Foursquare is more about the here when you need it.

“I may not see your noisy tweet from four months ago, but with Foursquare, I’ll see it when I’m in the exact place where that information is relevant to me,” Pigott said.

It’s that type of relevance to travelers that prompted The History Channel to engage Foursquare for its campaign to bring visitors more information when they check in at historical sites.

Foursquare’s real strength, therefore, may be its ability to connect people with relevant information.

“One of the things that has intrigued me about Foursquare is its potential in event planning and attendance,” said Ryan Knott, manager of communications for the Michigan Osteopathic Association. “An event like Lansing’s ‘Be a Tourist in Your Own Town’ could use Foursquare to track people’s movements and special prizes could be given out to those with the most check-ins. I also was impressed with Foursquare’s partnership withIgnite Week. When I checked in at Ignite Lansing 3.0, I was given the Ignite Badge. Not a huge deal, but it was a nice way to bond with other attendees around Lansing and around the world.”

Conference call

Knott said he thinks this kind of Foursquare connection could expand to bring more life to industry conferences, as well.

“I could see using Foursquare for competitions at our annual convention—our member physicians could receive additional raffle tickets or something for checking into specific rooms or events,” Knott said. “Unfortunately, our members aren’t quite wired into Foursquare yet, but with some prodding, we might be able to get them there.”

It may not take much prodding if folks start to see the value of the giant database of useful information people are building via Foursquare, even without realizing it. Connecting with people is important, but connecting with and getting information from your “friends,” is even more important.

“Five years ago, what you asked Google or Ask.com, we now go to Facebook for, because our friends give us more relevant information that means something to us,” Pigott said. “In three years, people won’t be fighting it out to be mayor of Starbucks. If Foursquare is done right, it eliminates the noise, because it only delivers the information when it’s relevant to me at the moment I can act on it.”

As floods hit, R.I. delivered updates via social media

Here’s a piece I wrote for Ragan.com about the Rhode Island Department of Transportation’s use of social media during a flood crisis:

Published: 4/12/2010

As floods hit, R.I. delivered updates via social media
By Ari B. Adler

State’s DOT posted road closings and other essential info and saw a surge in fans and followers

When the East Coast got hit with torrential rain recently and flooding occurred at levels that hadn’t been reported in 200 years, the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) turned to social media to help clean up the mess.

The department used the front page of its Web site for a constantly updatedlog of road closures and other transportation related issues caused by the massive storms. More important, they used outlets such as Twitter and Facebook to stay in touch with motorists directly.

At the peak of the flooding, nearly 100 roads were closed in Rhode Island, including I-95, according to Dana Alexander Nolfe, chief public affairs officer for RIDOT. About a dozen roads remain closed, but in some cases that’s because bridges need to be replaced.

“The staff was able to use social media from home, sending links about the RIDOT home page as it was updated,” Nolfe said.

RIDOT got involved with social media in January 2009, but they’ve never seen it put to the test until recently. Nolfe’s happy to report it passed with flying colors.

The flooding has resulted in triple the number of fans for the department’sFacebook page and its Twitter account, @RIDOTNews, has nearly 1,000 followers.

Nolfe said that by consistently using the same Bit.ly-shortened URL for the link to its updates, RIDOT tracked more than 8,000 hits to its home page in a week via social media links alone. The RIDOT home page normally picks up about 2,100 hits per day, but because of the flood of both water and information, it recently peaked at more than 83,000 hits per day.

“Social media is where the public is looking today for information from state agencies. Where would those 83,000 people visiting our Web site every day have gone otherwise?”

Part of the success is attributable to Nolfe’s six-person communications team, which continually posted fresh information on the home page. Two team members handled all relevant social media announcements, working around the clock from work and home. They soon had the public and the media listening to them. Those listeners then took the time to retweet and repost status updates and links, helping to spread the information even further and faster.

“This is a successful test of what’s going on in the world of social media,” Nolfe said. “It’s the way the average motorist is getting messages in the easiest way. There is no filter—people could get what they wanted when they wanted it.”

Besides passing along information, many residents passed along notes of thanks, as well.

“We’re a service agency. People usually get what they need and move on,” Nolfe said. “When they get what they need and take the time to say thank you. That’s when we know we’re doing a good job.”

A tweet from Martha N. McClellan of Providence, R.I., is a good indication they did the job.

On April 1, she tweeted to @RIDOTNews, “You guys KICK ASS!! Thank you for all of your hard work, the whole state appreciates it whether they say it or not!”

Love it or hate it, Journalism 2.0 is amazing

Lots of folks are familiar with the term “Web 2.0,” which refers to the interactive Internet so many of us have come to appreciate and rely upon. In the past couple of weeks I’ve had experiences leading me to the realization that as a former journalist, I’m envious of the reporters who now get to practice their trade in this era of what some are calling “Journalism 2.0.” (Mark Briggs even has a blog by that name that is a running conversation about journalism and technology.)

What got me started down this recent path was writing a piece for Dome magazine about changes occurring in the Lansing, Mich. radio market, including a new Internet-only radio station. That led to a guest appearance on a local radio talk show. During the interview, the host and I were chuckling about how we were discussing changes in radio based on an article I wrote for a magazine — but one that is only published online now. That was interesting experience number one.

The second came when I was contacted by a journalist who is working on a story for a local print magazine that features my wife Jessi. There’s a reference to me in the article, so the reporter contacted me to find out my title at the company I work for. What struck me about the outreach was that it was via Twitter, and the reporter saying, “I tweeted my question because I’m on deadline.”

Of course the reporter, Louise Knott Ahern, also found amusement in my reply, which is that I would probably end up blogging about her tweeting because she’s on deadline. She replied: “I like that your response is that you feel a blog post coming on. Times changing, indeed.” Louise should know. One of the daily papers she’s written for has been shedding reporting staff lately faster than one can say, “I already read this online.”

The third event that triggered this post was writing an article for Ragan.com about cross-posting on social media. The piece’s readership picked up steam when it was shared a lot on Twitter, but it truly came to life when people starting posting thoughtful and thought-provoking comments on it.

I even added a comment to the article:

One of the things I value as an online journalist vs. when I was a print journalist is all the great discussions that can spring from the original article. This is another great example. Thanks for all the comments and allowing us all to learn from every one of you.

I come from an era of journalism that isn’t really that far removed from the present, at least in terms of years. It was the late 1980s and early 1990s when I was putting pen to paper, furiously jotting down notes, statistics and lively quotes to inform and entertain readers.

It’s amazing to think how much has changed in 20 years. I’m not just talking about the technology, although that certainly plays a pivotal role in what has happened. I’m referring to the engagement with the audience that journalists today both enjoy and, probably, revile.

News reports now have an opportunity to become living, breathing entities, fueled by the insightfulness and, unfortunately, the thoughtlessness, delivered by the readers and viewers. These “flame wars” are best illustrated by a comical piece on YouTube involving Beaker from the Muppets.

So, certainly, there is a negative side to allowing comments. And the strain of a constant deadline brought about by a Web-based beast that is perpetually hungry for information is a tough one for some journalists to stomach.

Still, there’s no question that Journalism 2.0 should be embraced and revered. I often long for my days as a full-time newspaper reporter. But, lately, I can’t help but feel sorry for that former journalist who never had a chance to practice his trade the way he could now.

I wonder if the journalism students of today appreciate what they have available to them in their future careers? And, as the name of this blog says, “Here comes later,” so I hope they’re ready for it. Are you?

Should you cross-post updates to Facebook and Twitter?

Here’s an article I wrote that was published on Ragan.com:

Published: 3/5/2010

Should you cross-post updates to Facebook and Twitter?
By Ari B. Adler

Consider your audience before posting the same update to multiple social media channels

The root strategy for any public relations initiative includes creating your message, determining your audience, and finding the best way of delivering your message to that audience. But now, with social media, technology has given people the ability to blast identical messages to different audiences.

LinkedIn allows you to post your status update simultaneously to Twitter. You can automatically feed your tweets to Google Buzz. You can connect tweets with your Facebook status updates or your Posterous feed. And with third-party software like Tweetdeck, you can post the same message to multiple Twitter accounts, Facebook and LinkedIn with the touch of one Send button. Whether that’s a good thing or not depends on whom you ask.

“I don’t cross-post, because I use each tool for a slightly different purpose. Therefore, I target messages for each audience,” says Angela Dockett, marketing and communications manager for the American Cancer Society in East Lansing, Mich.

“I’ve done it, but am starting to back off,” admits Jason Dobson, a professional gaming blogger in Broken Arrow, Okla. “Audiences can be quite different between social media sites, and the messaging needs to reflect that.”

Although there is some mingling of followers and friends from one platform to the other, the style of how people communicate on those platforms differs, especially from a language standpoint.

While Twitter often is filled with abbreviations and symbols, those same messages appearing on a Facebook page could be confusing. Still, that hasn’t stopped some people from connecting their accounts.

“I post Twitter to Facebook, because I have friends and family finally on Facebook that don’t get Twitter. It’s too much of a hassle for me to keep up with both,” says Colleen Lin, senior rich media producer for the Dallas County Community College District in Texas. When asked if the audiences were ever confused, Lin said they were at first.

“I had some complaints, but I find that most people ‘hide’ me (on Facebook) if they’re irritated,” she says.

For some entities, particularly government agencies and universities, cross-posting may make sense.

“We cross-post, using Facebook for students and future students; Twitter for corporations, media and parents,” says Laurie Creasy, a new media specialist at Penn State.

Creasy said they aren’t using quite the same message everywhere, but Penn State hopes all the separate networks see similar messages. She noted the messages on Twitter are “more professional.”

In Rhode Island, the state Department of Transportation uses the exact same message on multiple networks, according to Dana Alexander Nolfe, RIDOT’s chief public affairs officer.

“I have a very broad target audience, and I think my goal is to get my message to as many people as possible. With so many venues, and to ensure consistency, I cross-post my message,” Nolfe says. “Some social media have a good-size audience, and some are very small, but my feeling is if MySpace, for example, is the only place someone is going to go to get RIDOT’s message, then I am going to continue to ensure that the message gets out that way.”

Some argue that business accounts should be given some leeway when cross-posting.

“The audiences are completely different if you are coming from a personal perspective,” says A.J. Teachout, owner of Ulu Marketing in Detroit. “My Twitter followers are likely not my Facebook friends, or friends at all for that matter, so they will not care to hear about what my kid did the other day. My Facebook friends actually know me and care to hear more personal details.

“That being said, from a business perspective, I think it’s a wise move. Your audience is in it for the same reason—to learn more about the business and, likely, your messages will be similar.”

In the end, it’s up to the individual whether to cross-post. With social media being such a new conduit, there’s no proven right or wrong way to do things—yet.

“The bottom line is: Know your audience and how they might be different across multiple networks and social sites,” Teachout says. “How would that affect your message?”

Linking LinkedIn and Twitter: You can—but should you?

Here’s an article I wrote recently for Ragan.com about linking your LinkedIn and Twitter status updates:

Published: 11/17/2009

Linking LinkedIn and Twitter: You can—but should you?
By Ari B. Adler

If you use networks to different ends, the overlap may be undesirable

“You got your chocolate in my peanut butter.” “No! You got your peanut butter on my chocolate!”

Those of you old enough to remember that ad campaign for Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups can appreciate Twitter co-founder Biz Stone’s using the reference when talking about LinkedIn and Twitter status updates getting connected.

For the younger readers, just trust that it was clever, fun and enduring—perhaps the very attributes Biz Stone would like people to think about Twitter.

LinkedIn now allows you to connect your Twitter account to your profile, to have your Twitter feed sent to your LinkedIn page and to have your LinkedIn status updated via Twitter by simply adding #in to your tweet.

Stone and LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman are touting it as the greatest thing since, well, since peanut butter cups. They claim it will help people get things done. The question is, what things?

Updating Twitter and LinkedIn simultaneously is simple enough, if not the easiest thing to remember when you’re hyper-multitasking and trying to zip off a quick update via your thumbs while waiting for an elevator. But should you do it just because you can?

Various descriptions have been coined over the past year to compare all the networking services. The one most frequently used denotes LinkedIn as the office, Twitter as a cocktail reception and Facebook as a backyard barbecue. If that’s the case, should you be connecting all of your status updates from one to the others?

If you belong to a social networking group, your reasons for keeping that group of “friends” may be different from the reasons you connect with people in another group. So would you want your status updates and comments to be the same everywhere?

That answer would be “no” for Lindsay M. Allen, a professional communicator from Mt. Pleasant, Mich., who is unemployed and relying on LinkedIn as part of her job-search strategy.

“I’ve had some version of the same status update [at LinkedIn] for about eight months. I go in and refresh it, but that’s it,” Allen said. “I don’t need LinkedIn to know what I’m saying to Twitter. I need LinkedIn to know I’m looking for a job.”

Allen’s comment raises a point that most users should consider. Do you make the same comments and bring up the same topics of discussion at an office meeting as you do at a family gathering, a night on the town with friends or a professional networking event? You probably don’t, and if it’s not something you do in person, then don’t do it online, either.

In his book, “Six Pixels of Separation,” Mitch Joel writes, “…digital channels break down the notion of ‘it’s who you know,’ because we all live in a world where we can know everyone—and everyone can know us.”

That’s one reason people should think twice before linking all of their status updates together. People we know and people we don’t know can now learn much more about us than ever before, but often it will be learned out of context.

If the analogy of the office and the cocktail party holds true, then think about how you behave in those two settings. It’s very likely that what you say and, more important, how you say it will vary from a professional office to a reception after work.

That also depends on who is at the reception with you. Peers and colleagues who know you well will understand if you decide to have fun and blow off some steam. Unless you cross some heinous line, what you say after work is unlikely to affect your professional standing with them. But what if you were at a cocktail reception with a room full of strangers? Would they take what you consider fun banter to be a true representation of who you are and how you operate?

Joel also writes in his “Six Pixels” book, “LinkedIn is the dark horse of online social networks for professionals. It is amazing and, with some simple tweaks, you’ll be shocked at how quickly it can grow your digital footprint.”

That shock Joel writes about could be of another kind—a kind that is likely to do more harm than good. Although some may see it as a time saver to update all your status boxes at once, it’s really akin to just walking into every meeting and social gathering with a bullhorn, shouting out whatever is on your mind and not caring if the people in the room will get it or even care. Or worse, they could be offended by it.

That is assuming, of course, that people are actually paying attention to status updates on LinkedIn. The site devotes much less of its screen real estate to status updates than Twitter or Facebook. Status updates have never been the focus of LinkedIn, which may be one reason some folks will decide not to bother with real-time updating.

“Considering the limitation of status updates you can see at a time on LinkedIn, it’s a non-issue for me. I haven’t merged them and don’t intend to,” said Ari Herzog, an online media strategist from Boston.

“No one uses LinkedIn to check statuses,” said Derek Wallbank, the Washington, D.C. correspondent for MinnPost.com. “You’re updating to the cosmic void.”

Ari B. Adler is a professional communicator with experience as a newspaper reporter and editor, as well as a government and corporate spokesperson. He is the communications administrator for Delta Dental of Michigan and an adjunct instructor at Michigan State University and University of Michigan-Dearborn. You can follow him on Twitter at @aribadler.

Facebook vanity URL: Did you get yours?

Here’s an opinion piece I wrote for Ragan.com regarding the mad dash for Facebook vanity URLs:

Posted On: 6/15/2009

Facebook vanity URL: Did you get yours?
By Ari Adler

The rush to choose a personalized Facebook address was anticlimactic for some and thrilling for others

FacebookThe countdown was excruciating.

I knew that as every second ticked away until 12:01 a.m. on Saturday, June 13, my level of nerdiness was growing. But I did it. I went to www.facebook.com/username and I joined the line of lemmings headed over the Facebook vanity URL cliff. When the clock ticked down to zero, I pressed continue and shouted, “Here we go!”

I’m not sure where we were going. Were we going to a place that MySpace has been for a long time with the ability for users to have vanity urls? Were we going to a place Twitter has dominated lately with people being able to find me just by putting my name at the end of an online address? Were we headed to an apocalyptic crash of servers and the resulting torrent of hateful comments directed at a company that dares to provide us with subpar customer service for a free product?

In the end, it seemed to work just fine and “Your user name has been set” appeared on the screen. A number of my Facebook friends agreed with my subsequent status update that noted the whole thing seemed anticlimactic somehow. As one person replied, “From the way people were talking about it, weren’t you expecting a ball dropping and fireworks?”

So, now, I’m the Facebook user formerly known as profile.php?id=733701081. According to Facebook, in the first 15 minutes, more than half a million people joined me on my quest to become something besides a number.

The reaction to the new feature was interesting to watch. As Facebook status updates and Twitter posts came filing in after midnight there was the expected mix of reactions. People jumped for joy over having claimed their name and were astounded at how easy it was to get what they wanted. Others were frustrated over just having missed the one they needed, or perturbed that anyone should suggest change is a good thing and wished Facebook would stop messing with them. Facebook warned people that you only get one shot at naming yourself.

It makes me wonder how many vanity URLs were chosen based on the amount of alcohol consumed since this feature went live just a couple of hours after the Stanley Cup playoffs ended. That’s bound to be someone’s hangover story to be shared for years to come.

Facebook says they made the change to “make it easier for people to find and connect with you.” I guess typing my name into the search box on Facebook was a lot of work?

Ah, but that’s not the end of it. Facebook also reports, “We expect to offer even more ways to use your Facebook username in the future.”

I suspect there are several more ways already in the works and you can bet they aren’t all about making things easier just for users but for advertisers as well. After all, vanity always comes with a price.