It’s time we brought personal back to personal branding

androidify Ari

I was recently asked to keynote and kickoff an upcoming public relations conference by talking about digital and political branding. As I was preparing my presentation, it occurred to me that transparency and authenticity are what should be at the heart of any such branding. We need to be more about personal interaction and less about brand promotion when we’re talking about a person, be that a politician or a CEO. Unfortunately, that’s not often the case.

That’s no surprise though, and I’m as guilty as the next guy. When doing presentations during the past few years, I have promoted the need to consider your “personal brand” when you are participating in social media activities. I made people think about how branding is no longer just a corporate reference. Each and every one of us, I would say, is our own brand and we are personally responsible for it.

I still believe that responsibility for our actions, online and off, is paramount to a strong character. But it is transparency and authenticity that make us human and more powerful in terms of branding than anything a corporation can muster.

The avatar at the top of this post is what I now use on Twitter. It’s not a picture of me, clearly, so is it contradictory to my argument that we need to keep things more personal? I don’t think so — I actually think it tells you more about me than a standard head shot would. Take another look at it and figure out what it tells you about me. Go ahead, I’ll wait for you…

Here’s what you can learn about me from that avatar:

  • I prefer Android phones and I like ball caps — according to my wife I own more than any person needs.
  • I am a Google Glass Explorer.
  • I enjoy  am addicted to  desperately need coffee.
  • My favorite outfits involve cargo pants and hooded sweatshirts.
  • And you’ll see me walking around town on my lunch hour in bright white and black Chuck Taylors instead of dress shoes, which I gladly leave in my office.

There is an old saying about something being more valuable than simply the sum of its parts. That is especially true for businesses. Because businesses, no matter how small or large, are made up of people. And each of those individuals — from the CEO to the front-line worker — is what makes up a corporate brand. Each of their strengths and weaknesses, each of their valuable assets and their thorny flaws is a component.

But that goes for individuals, too. For years, public relations professionals have pushed to get business leaders and politicians involved in social media. But there is being involved, and then there is being involved. It’s high time PR pros kicked their clients and bosses in the rear and told them to either get with the program or stop trying. Yes, there may be missteps along the way, but if they are made by a person and not a “brand,” the public and media would – I believe – be more generally forgiving. minion

Besides, the world of social media and mainstream media attention is so fleeting and spastic that even if you screw up, someone else will end up screwing up at least as badly if not worse within a short amount of time. Social media is the electronic enabler of the attention deficit disorder the mainstream media has become seriously afflicted with during the past decade.

So get out there and take a chance on being yourself. Encourage your bosses to be a person first and a title second.

I used to work for former Michigan Speaker of the House Jase Bolger who understood the importance of being transparent on social media but didn’t always have the time to do the posts himself. At first, I posted on his behalf, noting that it was me and not the Speaker. But as time went on, when Jase saw how much more intense the interaction was when he posted directly, he started to do more of it. He made the time because it was important. By the way, “intense” didn’t always translate to “positive,” but that didn’t matter.

One of the best interactions I ever had on Twitter was with a person who contacted me because they hated what I said and what my boss at the time was doing. And yet, by sharing our opinions honestly with each other, the two of us end up parting ways still disagreeing but appreciating the dialogue. We often debated issues after that, and always civilly — albeit sometimes with snark, which was acceptable since we both did it. We were able to have those conversations because the first one wasn’t populated with me spouting off talking points like some machine. Instead, I talked like a human being.

One thing that has not changed over the years is my insistence on being real. When people who have interacted with me only via social media eventually meet me in person, there shouldn’t be any surprises. I am who I am whether I’m standing in the same room with you or tweeting at you from thousands of miles away.

Unnamed image (2)One of my current bosses is the Lieutenant Governor of Michigan. He’s a powerful leader to say the least. But, especially in terms of his personal brand, he’s a husband, a father and a runner. Unnamed image (5)Our official office Twitter account is somewhat reflective of his style but his personal account is where he really shines. Because on that account, he’s just a guy living his life, running marathons, doing what dads and husbands do — oh and he also happens to be a lieutenant governor.

We are all people. Yes, I have a personal brand that I care about, but I care more about the “personal” part of that. Which is why, for example, I never use an auto-reply for my Twitter account. If I follow someone and within seconds receive a “Thanks for following me! Please check out this YouTube video/website/great product!!” my first inclination is to just as quickly unfollow them. I am on social media to share information in a social way, not be shouted at by an automated bot.

So let’s put the social back in social media. And put the personal back in personal branding. By doing that, we just might put the human back into humanity.

Cheers!

^aba

Ari B. Adler with Glass

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The media’s coverage of low voter turnout is a self-fulfilling prophecy

dickerson columnThe Detroit Free Press’ Brian Dickerson has it mostly wrong in his recent column about why such a small percentage of voters voted in last week’s election.

People who do not vote should not be held up as “the new normal” or the people who are making the best decision because they don’t like the choices they are given. Democracy isn’t meant to be easy and freedom isn’t free. If you fail to show up and vote, you have no right to complain about who got elected. If you fail to fight and try to make a difference in the things you want to see changed, you have no right to complain that things aren’t the way you want them.

Voters today are part of a society driven by Hollywood’s and TV’s interpretation of the world, biased cable TV news networks, bloggers with no professional standards held up as real journalists, and real journalists hog-tied by shrinking budgets and corporate management intent on web clicks and social media likes instead of credibility.

Admittedly, I haven’t done any exhaustive research on this. But when you review the political coverage of the recent elections, I suspect you will find a vastly larger number of articles based on polling results that are questionable at best, a focus on who is funding candidates, reviews of what the latest blistering negative TV ads are spewing, and the supposedly campaign-ending scandals that aren’t nearly as evil as the media and election ads portray them. And, let’s not forget the large number of articles focused on how difficult it supposedly is to vote in the Unites States.

What’s missing is in-depth reporting on candidates, their credentials, the issues they care about, what they would actually do if elected and why people need to vote to have their voices heard. And the rest of the year, when electioneering isn’t driving the news coverage, it would be nice if the media reported on the day-to-day activities of elected officials. The Capitol Press Corps in Michigan has shrunk dramatically over the years, and many reporters have shied away from “process stories,” because editors (in those newsrooms where they still exist) don’t think the public will click on them. But the process is where all the interesting news happens. The final votes taken on the floor of the House and Senate are a very small part of all the work that has gone into a law being crafted. Floor speeches, while great for soundbites for a media driven by sensationalism, rarely have any real impact on how a person’s colleagues will vote. That’s because all the true debate, the hashing out of ideas, and the bipartisan compromise happened weeks and months prior in a committee process deemed “too boring” for the public to be told about.

Is it any wonder then that the public is feeling disenfranchised and wondering why they should bother to vote? Instead of being given a manual on democracy to study they are being fed the equivalent of Cliff’s Notes. In an ever-growing and concerning trend, we may not even receive that version anymore but instead the equivalent of a movie trailer.

My 18-year-old daughter voted in her first general election this year. She texted me one day while reviewing her absentee ballot (provided to her because she is away at college).

“This is difficult. How do you choose? There are so many people and none of their websites make sense. The troubles of a teenage voter.”

I was so proud of her for actually doing research on the candidates and not just listening to her dad’s opinion! I responded with the best advice I could think of that wouldn’t drive her to just do what I suggested.

“Democracy isn’t supposed to be easy and I applaud you for trying to research the candidates!”

If only more voters cared as much as my daughter, post-Election Day news coverage wouldn’t be all about the hand wringing over low voter turn out. And if only more media outlets understood their post-Election Day news coverage is a self-fulfilling prophecy, then we might actually get some true news coverage of government instead of sensationalistic, half-baked reports designed to increase computer clicks instead of voter intellect.

Dear Facebook, it’s not you, it’s me — well, maybe it’s you

mischief managedI finally made a leap that I’ve contemplated for a long time — I no longer use Facebook as part of my daily routine. I haven’t abandoned it and I’m not out talking trash about Facebook on Google Plus. I’m still on Facebook for work as I need to be. But something in my over-saturated social media existence had to give.

The three key outlets I’m active on personally and professionally are Google Plus, Twitter and Facebook. One thing I’ve learned over the past few years is that never in history have so many people had so many opportunities to express their opinions to so many others who don’t care to hear them.

I was really sick for about a week recently and my interaction on social media was quite limited, but I also found it liberating. I found that I was on Twitter periodically, Facebook next to never and Google Plus regularly, observing if not really feeling up to engaging.

I posted a “Gone for a Coke” profile picture at Facebook and probably won’t be there much at all anymore. Twitter has its usefulness, albeit limited due to its very nature. Twitter has always been more about shouting to be overheard at a party than having in-depth conversations.

I don’t have enough hours in the day to do it all, and if I need to focus my energy on some form of social media, it will be on Google Plus. I find that my Google Plus stream helps enrich my online experience and learning with more thoughtful posts and interesting links. Being fully integrated into the Google universe helps, too. I can do so much with Google, Google Docs, Google Drive, Gmail and Google Plus from within one environment while I’m online or on my Android mobile phone that it’s a very streamlined and comfortable experience.trek g+

Facebook has just become too filled with drama, religious rants and political stabs. I also found it becoming too routine to wish someone happy birthday because Facebook told me to. I didn’t really reach out as a friend, I just tagged them as “a friend.” Facebook, Google Plus and Twitter are what we make of it, I understand that. If I’m not happy with my news stream on Facebook, I suppose I could change it. But Facebook’s algorithms control what I see a lot more than I do anyway, and maybe Facebook has just been getting it more wrong than usual lately.

I hate epiphany posts. I’m not declaring Facebook dead and I’m not saying only people on Google Plus are worth following. I’m just saying I’m going to be a lot more discerning with what I do and where I do it. For me, that’s Google Plus. I still use Facebook to message people who are primarily there in terms of their social media presence. And I’m notified when something on Facebook involves me, whether it’s a mention, a picture or whatever. So I am periodically on Facebook for personal use, but more like a few times a week rather than continually.

I don’t think I’ve really been missed on Facebook. Maybe that’s a function of my connections on there. It would be interesting to have an analysis done of my connections on Facebook vs. Google Plus vs. Twitter.

Recently, a company called Demographics Pro sent me a link to a free analysis of my Twitter account. They did it so I would blog about it or talk about their company on social media and get them some free publicity. (You’re welcome DP, I hope this helps.) According to their analysis:

@aribadler’s followers are comparatively mature (in their mid thirties), typically white/caucasians married with children and with very high income. The account has a notable audience concentration in Lansing, MI.

  • Professionally, @aribadler’s followers are employed as senior managers, journalists, authors/writers, consultants and teachers. The account ranks within the top 10% of all Twitter accounts in terms of density of sales/marketing managers.
  • In their spare time they particularly enjoy keeping pets, technology news, going to the theatre, comedy/humor and reading. @aribadler followers are charitably generous and particularly health conscious. Sports that stand out for this audience include hockey, baseball and cycling.
  • As consumers they are affluent and fashion conscious, with spending focused most strongly on home/family, hobbies and technology. 
  • On Twitter they tweet infrequently yet are relatively influential. 

I guess it’s interesting to see those stats, although I don’t really know what I can or should do about them, if anything.

What about you? Do you ever wonder about your connections? Do you care which ones might come or go? Do you think they would care if you left?

The Seven Ages of Man by William Mulready, 1838, illustrating the speech (via Wikipedia).

What’s the point of all of this anyway? Is social media just a modern-day version of a famous Shakespeare poem?

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players.
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts.

If you figure it out, send me a note — preferably on Google Plus.

Customer service and marketing: You Can’t Fix Stupid

ron whiteI am quite certain I’m not alone when shaking my head periodically over stupid marketing mistakes or frustrating customer service travails. Over the past few weeks, I have shaken my head so much though that I’m growing concerned about the impact on my brain from all that jarring movement.

The missteps have involved utility and cable companies, retail stores, a major bank, and a daily newspaper. And there isn’t any social media outreach or clever slogan that can replace simple research or focusing on good customer service instead of focusing on how to address complaints. In other words, stop staring so much at the trees and take a broader look at the forest you’re creating from time to time.

First, let’s talk about marketing miscues.

While watching the Olympics on TV the other night, an ad came on for WalMart, not a bastion of union love and Made in the USA pride for sure. The ad was about how much WalMart is pledging to support U.S-made products and the workers who manufacture them. Unfortunately, the marketing department at WalMart apparently doesn’t have too many classic rock fans on staff. If it did, they would have caught that the theme song they decided to run at full volume during the commercial was Working Man by Rush, which is an iconic Canadian band.

credit offerThen, just this weekend, I received an unsolicited email from one of my credit card companies offering a hassle-free, credit-check free increase in my credit line. I just needed to click the button linked in the email and I would be on my way. Spam! you say? Actually, I think it’s legitimate, but there’s no way to prove it. The most ridiculous part is that the bank has a Secure Messaging Center that allows you to correspond with the bank (and vice-versa) within their system once you’ve securely logged into your account. I have forwarded the email to the address the bank uses for customers to report phishing attempts so that they can either start working on this fraudulent scam or walk down to the marketing department and smack someone upside the head.

I also noticed this weekend that my local daily newspaper, the Lansing State Journal, ran yet another letter to the editor that was factually inaccurate. As a media relations professional, it has always frustrated me how much newspapers claim to pride themselves on truth and accuracy, and then fill their opinion pages with rubbish. I’m not lamenting opinion columns by newspaper staff or the public that might have a different take on an issue than I do. I’m talking about people printing absolute falsehoods because the newspaper fact-checks their news but lets opinion trample the truth. It makes it tough to believe the marketing pitches from a newspaper about how they can be a trusted source when they are printing things that can’t be trusted.

Perhaps all marketing departments should hang a poster in their offices of comedian Ron White and his great line, “You can’t fix stupid.”

Customer service is becoming a bit of an oxymoron in many companies, too, with a focus on outreach through social media to address concerns people have. Here’s a concern I have: your customer service is horrible and whitewashing it with public relations outreach after the fact isn’t going to save you.

A classic example of this is the cable company Comcast. For years now, @ComcastCares on Twitter and other outlets has been touted as a great example of social media customer service that is responsive and well-liked. Unfortunately, Comcast as a company is considered vile by many of its customers. Just say something on Facebook or Google Plus about Comcast and watch the hate mail pour in on your comment stream.

comcast googleI discovered HBO GO is available as a channel on my Roku streaming device. I was excited because it meant I could stop using Comcast’s menu system that is as complicated as the family trees on Game of Thrones. In a strange twist, I actually started watching Game of Thrones after receiving a free subscription to HBO from Comcast because they were trying to make up for a massive billing mistake on their part. Unfortunately, Comcast isn’t one of the cable companies that allows you to log in to HBO GO on Roku. When I lamented about this on Google Plus, I tagged Comcast and ComcastCares. Of course the main account ignored me but ComcastCares responded within minutes. It wasn’t a particularly good or useful response, but at least I knew someone had heard me.

A local municipal utility company in Lansing, Michigan also suffered a massive credibility crisis back in December when ice storms wiped out power lines and the electricity they provide to area residents, in some cases for more than a week. Information was hard to come by and what was being delivered was questionable in terms of accuracy. After a public outcry over the Lansing Board of Water and Light needing to do a better job, the utility’s response was to post an opening for a social media coordinator. Of course! That makes perfect sense. After all, when I’m frustrated with a utility because my pipes are about to burst and food is rotting in my refrigerator, what I really wish I had was some great outreach via Twitter. Or, maybe, I’d rather have my electricity restored. And perhaps the money spent on social media whitewash might be better spent on restoring power and making sure it stays on.

Some days, I don’t think some places even care enough to try anymore.

Take a local store in my town called Meijer. It’s a Michigan-based company so many friends and I have tried to look past problems it has because we want to support the home team. The biggest issue people complain about is growing frustration with a reliance on self-checkout lanes that have lackluster scanners and a cumbersome layout. Most people who lament about not shopping there anymore seem to cite that as reason number one for their decision. I have learned to shop there at night since their checkout system is a bit more tolerable with fewer customers trying to use it.

However, a recent trip there and responses to complaints I filed about my experience have forced me to join the flock of those seeking my groceries and home supplies elsewhere. It was shortly after 10 p.m. when I stopped in to buy a few things, the bulk of which were in the toiletries section. Ten o’clock in the evening is late but not very late and considering the store is open 24 hours, it seemed too early for entire sections to be shut down for cleaning. But, alas, I left empty-handed with not a single toiletry item in my bag. When I inquired at the “customer service” counter about that section of the store being entirely closed off to customers, they shrugged and told me sorry, there was nothing they could do. I reported my frustration with the situation and the response to corporate headquarters. They forwarded it to the store manager who emailed me to say he was sorry, but cleaning was necessary and had to be done some time. I agree, but as I mentioned the store is open 24 hours, so how about cleaning at 2 a.m., or only cleaning certain aisles at a time instead of shutting down an entire corner of your store!?

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Frank Eliason, the founder of ComcastCares and now Director of Global Social Media at Citi, recently wrote about social media and customer service on a LinkedIn post. It’s a great read and I recommend taking a look, but here’s the line that really stood out to me:

I have yet to find a more important job than Customer Service. It is sad that people feel it is beneath them, because some day businesses will realize how important it is to their own success (or failure).

Well said. After all, no matter how good your PR and marketing teams are, they will never overcome horrible customer service. Fix the customer service first instead of whitewashing it with cool tech tools. And take the fun stuff away from the marketing teams for a while so they can spend time on the front lines dealing with customers and their personal frustrations. Maybe then you’ll be able to market your product without it resulting in a violent shaking of heads.

UPDATE: I’ve written a follow-up post about replies I received from the various organizations.

GM gets SM because it’s Social Media and SalesMen

Owly Images

Mary Henige, presenting to CMPRSA in East Lansing, Michigan

I heard a great presentation last week by Mary Henige, Director of Social Media & Digital Communications for General Motors, about what the car company is doing to use social media to its advantage, and to its customers’ advantage.

It’s natural for presentations like Mary’s to be uplifting and inspiring, because she only talked about the successes of various programs. I’m sure there are plenty of “Oh, if only we’d known,” or “Wow, that didn’t work!” types of stories to tell, too. It’s also understandable if companies aren’t eager to share their mishaps. Nevertheless, I’m certain that seeing practical applications brought to life was a great way to get the creative juices flowing for a lot of people at the Central Michigan Public Relations Society of America meeting.

In addition to learning about some of the logistics of how GM handles social media, I also walked away with a few key points that we all need to remember:

  • The social media team at GM’s number one job is not to be on social media, or engage with customers or humanize the brand. Of course, all of those things are vitally important, but they also are all leading to one thing: making each employee a salesperson. After all, as Mary pointed out, a primary goal as an employee of General Motors should be to sell cars. No matter what your role within a company or an organization, you should have a single-minded purpose: impact sales or support your issue in a positive way. If what you’re doing isn’t accomplishing that, it’s time to rethink how you’re spending your time.
  • GM is expanding its “social assistance staff” numbers as well as the days and hours they are available to help customers. If I recall correctly, she said they’d be up to 17 employees soon and will be online from early morning to late at night Monday through Saturday, and from noon to the early nighttime hours of Sunday. As Mary said, “If that’s where people are, that’s where we need to be.” They’ve also figured out something else at GM that many other companies haven’t yet. It’s not just about where the people are, it’s when the people are. Engaging with your customers or fans in the social media sphere is a nice touch. Since many people use social media more at home than at work, though, that means being available to engage on nights and weekends.
  • The number of active users on your Facebook page is a better measure than how many “likes” you have. Mary commented that engaged users aren’t people who just showed up to get a coupon. Think about how many company pages you like on Facebook or how many brands you’re following on Twitter. Evaluate that list honestly and I bet you’ll find that you were initially drawn to those pages because there was something used to entice you. The bigger question is, when was the last time you actually looked at that brand’s Facebook page or interacted with it on Twitter? My bet is that it has been awhile. That means that neither you nor the brand are getting anything out of the relationship. And relationships that are allowed to wither soon die and fall off the vine.
  • In addition to being the front line of humanizing the brand, Mary said the social web employees act as the proverbial canary in the coal mine when a crisis occurs, “because we hear about it first.” Humanizing the brand, engaging with customers, improving relationships — these common buzz phrases are all important to a brand’s presence on social media. But one of the most valuable tools you can provide your bosses is being a listening post. By spotting a crisis as it starts to unfold, you just might prevent it from being more than a minor problem that could have been a crisis if not caught early on. People are talking about your brand, your company, your organization and your product. Just because you aren’t listening to them doesn’t mean they don’t want you to hear them. As Mary pointed out, even those people who are complaining about you publicly can still be saved because you can engage with them and maybe turn them around. “It’s the people who don’t talk about you at all that are indifferent,” she said.
General Motors certainly seems like a brand that “gets it” when it comes to dealing with customers and potential customers on the social web. So go search them out — there is a social presence for GM, its brands and its individual vehicles all over the social media spectrum. And if you have any trouble finding what you’re looking for, just start talking about it publicly and they’ll find you. After all, they are eager to humanize the brand, engage with you — and sell you a car.

Betting on social media

Here’s a story I wrote for Ragan.com about the use of social media by a casino in Battle Creek, Michigan —

How a Michigan casino bet big on social media—and won

Firekeepers wooed its early detractors in greater Battle Creek, and it has built an online following, especially on Facebook.
By Ari B. Adler | Posted: September 14, 2011

Before the first patron could ever try to hit a jackpot on a slot machine at the Firekeepers Casino in Battle Creek, Mich., Jeff LaFrance and his team were betting on social media for the win.

“We saw a growing trend in social media, and in January 2009 we started a Facebook page. Before the doors were opened, we had 75,000 Red Hot Rewards club members registered,” says LaFrance, marketing manager for Firekeepers.

LaFrance says the casino built up its club membership before it opened in August 2009 through online registration, driven through its website and social media.

“That built integrity for us and a solid online presence,” LaFrance says. “They know what to expect from us, they know they can trust us online—which can be difficult.”

LaFrance, one of the first 10 people hired at Firekeepers, holds a computer science degree from the University of Michigan and started as a graphic designer at Soaring Eagle Casino in Mt. Pleasant, Mich. He says getting pulled into the online interaction provided through corporate websites and social media is an ideal situation for him.

LaFrance says that although the website is the casino’s main online presence, it also uses Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

“They’re all linked off our home page, and every other page on our website,” LaFrance says. “Overall, social media is a fantastic success story for us. It’s given us another opportunity to reach our guests and have a pulse on what is going on with our customers.”

When Firekeepers was proposed, there was a bit of an uproar in the city of 52,000 in southwest Michigan, with people worried about what its presence would mean for the community. In the two years since it opened, however, the mood seems to have changed, and the casino has become more widely accepted. Could online outreach have played a role?

Social media “can almost be used as an online focus group in some ways,” LaFrance says. “We can post questions to see what people like and what they don’t like.”

Firekeepers sometimes asks the community at large for input about an upcoming promotion or sale; other times people offer unsolicited feedback.

“People love expressing their opinions. Keeping your finger on the pulse of your audience allows you to react more quickly than ever before.”

With more than 57,500 fans on Facebook—and the total has grown every week—Firekeepers has plenty of feedback available.

“We had a big burst in the beginning once we opened, and then it trailed off for a bit. But then we invested more time, energy and content into the Facebook page, and our fan base has been steadily growing over the past six months at almost 4,000 to 5,000 per month,” LaFrance says.

Despite having a much smaller footprint in real life, Firekeepers has more Facebook fans than much larger casinos, including Hard Rock, Circus Circus and Excalibur in Las Vegas.

“For a casino in Battle Creek, Mich., to be ahead of casinos in Vegas is pretty amazing,” LaFrance says. “The key is to not use social media as a platform for you to sell everything about you. It’s meant to be social; it’s not meant to be just about you and your products.

“People will start to tune out, and you lose value in your posts. Find something interesting about your business, and engage with people.”

LaFrance says he often gets a lot more comments on the casino’s Facebook page when it posts questions completely unrelated to the casino or gaming. For example, last season it asked about the big football game between intrastate archrivals Michigan State University and the University of Michigan.

“We had a few hundred comments on it. You have to give visitors a fresh way to look at you,” he says. “That gives you an identity and gives your business a stronger social presence.”

Having an open page where everyone can participate means Firekeepers hears from folks who didn’t walk away big winners. That’s to be expected, but it’s the customer service concerns that really get the team’s attention.

“Part of social media is that everybody has a voice,” LaFrance says. “We’re in the casino industry, and, unfortunately, people do lose money. With complaints about service, we reach out and address the situation and get those customers back.”

LaFrance says that positive or negative, most comments remain on the wall for all to see and for the casino to address. Vulgar language and any mentions of violence are deleted.

The communications and marketing team of six at Firekeepers also maintains Twitter and YouTube accounts, but neither has seen the success of the Facebook page. LaFrance says that’s more likely because the general casino customer demographic skews older, and older folks favor Facebook over the other social networks.

The biggest reason to be involved in social media, after all, is to connect to your customers. So, you need to be where they are.

“If you’re not spending time there, you’re missing opportunities to touch your audience,” LaFrance says. “Social media is one of biggest growth areas online and should be a tool in your toolbox. In terms of dollars spent, the monetary value isn’t there, but the importance is. We treat everything equally.”

So it’s not about spending money, but what about the time involved? LaFrance takes care of most of the social media interaction for the casino himself, and it doesn’t have to be a huge time drain, he says.

“There’s not an army of people here, but you don’t need that if you can plan things out efficiently,” LaFrance says. “Invest in creating content, and then reuse what you’re creating.”

For example, video ads for promotions and events that run on in-casino TVs will then get new life on the casino’s YouTube account and are linked on its Facebook page.

“It exposes more people to the work you’ve already done,” LaFrance says. “The reality is that social media doesn’t take that much time. You don’t have to spend 24 hours working. For me, I monitor social media all the time—after meetings at work or when I’m at home. Often, I can just check in on my phone. One of the great things is how mobile social media is. That helps you get an opportunity to address any situation and to react quickly.”

So far, Firekeepers has found a way to win with social media, and the casino doesn’t plan to stop betting on the technology anytime soon.

“We’re always researching things, keeping an eye on what’s developing in the market,” LaFrance says. “Facebook is consistently coming out with new features. The joy of social media is it never really ends. There’s always an opportunity for growth and to continue engaging.”

Sincerity, Transparency, Relevancy & Accuracy are key for social media success

Reprinted from Dome Magazine

Social Media S.T.A.R
August 16, 2011

There have been plenty of discussions over the past two years about social networking and how the online outlets are the new grassroots movement. I’ve often said it myself and encouraged politicians and business leaders to get involved and engage if they want to be successful at interacting with their constituents and customers.

I’m often asked about tips and tricks for how to do that in a way that is beneficial for everyone, so I thought I’d share a few hints here. Of course, there is no perfect way to do anything, especially with the fast-growing and even faster-changing world of social media.

One of the most important lessons I often share comes from comedian Bill Cosby, who is credited with saying, “I don’t know the secret to success, but the secret to failure is trying to please everyone.” That statement is great anyway, but in the context of social media, it is vital to remember.

Not only will you not please everyone with what you are doing online, the medium allows “everyone” to give you instant feedback on what’s working and what’s not. That can lead you down a tumultuous path of constantly changing your style and content, to the point where no one really knows what to expect. The downside is they could see that as a reason to stop following you and, therefore, stop listening to you.

So it might help if you remembered some basic rules that I have turned into the acronym S.T.A.R. It stands for Sincerity, Transparency, Accuracy and Relevancy.

Sincerity is about being true to yourself and those who follow you. One of the greatest compliments I can receive is to meet someone in real life who has only known me through social networking, and to have that someone realize I’m the same person in both places. I have the same beliefs, the same sense of humor and the same demeanor in person as I do online.

I don’t use any online tools to make myself seem different or better in some way. If people don’t get enough out of what they see when following you online, they can easily stop following you. But if you show them that you are different in each of your online accounts and in real life, they will soon wonder who the real you really is and doubt what you’re saying in all venues.

Transparency is vital for building trust and for establishing relationships with people. Generally, consumers don’t want to follow a brand, they want to interact with people who happen to work for a brand. It helps us get the feeling of being connected behind the scenes somehow.

Politicians are brands, too, now more than ever. That’s why you must clearly state who is operating the Facebook or Twitter accounts you’ve established for your business or your political office.

If more than one person is adding to the account updates, they can be clearly identified by using the ^ symbol and the writer’s initials. There’s nothing wrong with having staff tweet for an elected official or business owner. But you need to be transparent about it to make sure the brand doesn’t lose the trust of those following it.

Accuracy is important in every aspect of our lives, and that is magnified when you’re online. People are used to getting instant information now and acting upon it very quickly.

Another topic for debate some day will be the desire for all of us lately to know everything right away and take immediate action for or against it, rather than waiting until we have all the facts and developing a well thought out plan. But, in the meantime, if you operate a social networking account, you have to make sure that what you are posting is accurate.

If you find you have made an error, declare so as soon as possible and correct it. Simply deleting your inaccurate post and moving on won’t cut it, because you can never truly delete a post from any account. It often will still exist in someone’s Twitter stream or Facebook news feed, or someone may have made a screen capture that can easily be broadcast to the world to show everyone your error.

People are quite willing to overlook human frailties, and they understand that we all make mistakes sometimes. They do not take kindly to being misled, however, which is what happens when you try to cover up a mistake.

Relevancy means keeping track of who is in your audience and sending them updates that are appropriate. One key to good communication is remembering that communicating is about the recipient more than the sender.

That means you need to post updates that matter to the people who are following you on that particular network. I post regularly to Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, Empire Avenue and Foursquare. I rarely cross-post the exact same message to multiple services.

When I do want to share the same information, I often tweak it so that it is written in a way that would be more appealing to that audience. Sure, it means spending a little more time and effort, but if you aren’t willing to spend those on every form of communication, then why bother communicating at all?

There are several third-party programs available that let you send the same message to multiple outlets with a single click. This, however, is not communication, it is robotic shouting.

It’s important to note that doing all the things in STAR requires some time, effort and patience. None of this is easy or free (although, technically, the pure dollar investment is quite minimal). But, as the old saying goes, if something is worth doing, it’s worth doing right. These days, we should add “multiple times.”

Successful networking means redefining “friend”

When you look at my online presence via social media, you might think I have a staggering number of friends. The truth is that while I’m blessed to be able to call a lot of people friends, there’s no way that I can call thousands of people friends. Oh, sure, according to Facebook I have more than 800 “friends” and on Twitter I have more than 4,000 “followers” and on LinkedIn I have more than 500 “connections.” But how many are friends, how many people would really follow me anywhere and how many feel truly connected to me? I’d be lucky if I could say 1 percent.

The point is that we often get caught up in thinking that people we are linked to online are the same as those we have interacted with regularly in real life. News flash: they’re not. I’m not suggesting you shouldn’t connect as much as possible, but you should consider how you do that and what’s in it for both of you. And it’s why you might consider different criteria for connecting on various social sites as well as how you interact with folks on those sites.

I’m not going to suggest there is any right way to do that, but I often am asked how I handle requests for friendship, etc. online, so I thought I’d share my thoughts in this post and maybe people would find that useful.

I’m primarily active on four main social networking outlets: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Foursquare. Here’s how I handle my connections and what they are likely to see if they follow me or become a “friend.”

 

Facebook: I have a rather open criteria for becoming friends with people on Facebook. If a request comes in, I will generally accept it, but I categorize the people on there so it’s easier for me to keep track of my truly close companions and to protect my privacy from those whom I consider just a networking connection. My friend list is broken into four sublists: A list, B list, Networking and Organizations. The A-listers are those people whom I have met in person, share some private connection with and am truly interested in keeping up with regularly. The B-listers are folks who might be friends of friends; the folks I’ve met at an event or through work and believe I should try to develop a relationship with. The Networking list is for people I’ve never met or whom I’ve met but our connection is purely work related and, therefore, with whom I’m more comfortable at arm’s length. Organizations is the list for companies and organizations that have reached out to me. My Networking and Organizations “friends” do not have full access to all of my Facebook information because I’ve not only learned how to use Facebook’s privacy settings, I actually use them.

My Facebook status updates are everything from quotes that I like from famous people to my own statements and observations on life. They are often personal and reflect my sense of humor more than my updates on other sites. I update at least once per day, and sometimes two or three depending on what’s happening that day.

Twitter: Twitter is a bit of a free-for-all, and my connections prove that. As of right now, I have 4,339 followers and I am following 3,876 people, companies and organizations. I obviously don’t follow spammers who start tracking my tweets, and there are times when someone’s Twitter feed just doesn’t contain anything I’m interested in. This includes people who aren’t necessarily spammers but whose feed consists of a constant stream of ideas on how I can make money or be more successful if I follow a link to their website. I also don’t follow or will unfollow people who do nothing but post quotes or annoy me in some way. (There are two quick ways to get unfollowed by me. First, you can abuse the direct message feature by trying to sell me something. Second, you can get on Twitter once per day and push out 20 tweets in 15 minutes as you play catch up on a service that calls for live interaction, not procrastinated responses best reserved for e-mail.)

My Twitter feed really is a hodgepodge of news and blog links, personal commentary, interactions with friends and colleagues, political debates, jokes, puns and snarky reactions to life’s many challenges. And don’t forget, if you are reading my tweets, that means you chose to follow me and be subjected to my sense of humor and my stubborn quest for an honest and nonpolitically correct debate on the issues of the day. If you don’t like what you’re reading, stop reading it. I promise I won’t be offended. Honestly, there’s really no way for me to even notice you’re not there anymore, so I’ll just bid you adieu now. I update a lot on Twitter, every day. Sometimes it’s only a handful of tweets, some days you’ll see a dozen from me. It all depends on the ebb and flow of life that day.

LinkedIn: Because of many training sessions with people who know more about LinkedIn than I do as well as my own trial runs, I have locked down LinkedIn more than the previous two services. It really is the business Rolodex of social media and I think it’s best if we keep it that way. I will connect with you on LinkedIn if we’ve met or if we have some reason to be connected — a shared cause, a common goal, perhaps a mutual friend or colleague who thinks we should know each other. If you try to connect with me on LinkedIn, please don’t use the boilerplate language about wanting to become connected. If you want to connect with me, tell me why. Show me why you belong in my Rolodex. And please make sure your profile is complete so I can learn as much about you as you’ll learn about me. An incomplete profile is an easy way to get ignored, not just by me, but by hundreds of others who otherwise might be interested in getting to know you better.

Because I consider LinkedIn to be the more professional or business world service than other social outlets, my status updates tend to reflect that. I usually reserve the updates for news links, blog links or interesting observations that I believe business connections would enjoy or from which they would benefit. I try to keep my snarkiness as nonexistent as I can, which is not easy for me. I also tend to leave updates on my page for longer than Facebook or Twitter. Because of this, I also tend to post updates that are a bit more timeless or at least have a shelf life of several days before they become too stale to matter.

Foursquare: To me, Foursquare is the most like electronic stalking and so I’m most protective of my presence on this service. My friend list is very small compared to the rest of my social networking outlets. You have to be someone I’ve actually met and whom I feel comfortable sharing most of my whereabouts with.

I don’t check in everywhere I go, reserving these mostly for places where I know I’ll be for a while. I don’t check in during errands that are a quick run in and out, unless it’s a coffee shop, since I figure they’ll all catch on eventually and start offering deals for frequent check-ins. If it’s a business I’m frequenting for an errand, I won’t always check in, but I try to do so if it’s a local business that I’m trying to promote because I believe they are a worthwhile place for my friends to give their business to. Any place where I’ll be for a while and think there’s a chance friends might be nearby at some point always gets a check-in. After all, Foursquare isn’t just about broadcasting your whereabouts, it’s about increasing the chances of bumping into people in real life so you can continue building your friendship in the best way possible: face to face.

 

As I said earlier, these are my methods and you don’t have to agree with them. The best social media counseling I can ever give is to tell people to find what they are comfortable with and make it work for them — whether that’s which social networking sites to be on or how best to conduct themselves there. If you can justify what you’re doing and where you’re doing it, I’ll support you. After all, what are “friends” for?  🙂

(Photo courtesy of Funny Animal Pictures.)

Buckle up PR pros

Here’s a piece I wrote for Ragan.com about social media and public relations in 2011:

Buckle up PR pros: 2011 promises an intense ride on the social media roller coaster

The avenues for dispensing information will multiply, so communicators of all stripes will need to understand and manage numbers as well as words.
By Ari B. Adler | Posted: January 3, 2011
In 2011 the hunger for information will grow in intensity, and how it’s consumed will grow in complexity. PR pros will have to deepen their understanding of social media beyond the “shiny new toy” it was in 2010. 

“PR professionals will be expected to consume information faster than ever before. It’s just the speed of doing business now,” says Arik Hanson, principal of ACH Communications in Minneapolis. “It means you have to work smarter, not harder.”

Hanson suggested that using effective online tools, such as RSS and news feed readers, will be crucial to keeping up with the information flow.

Though social media will continue to play an important role in all the information sharing, at least one PR pro thinks we are already seeing some numbers plateau.

“I’ve noticed that trend in organizations, mine included,” says Angela Minicuci, communications coordinator for the Michigan Association of Counties in Lansing. “Fans and followers are becoming harder to find, and online social spaces are developing more niches.”

Minicuci says that just browsing the home page of tech news site such as Mashable shows a focus on buzzwords like “optimize,” “personalize” and “integrate.”

“The bandwagon has been jumped on, and now everyone is scrambling to find a seat and hold on,” Minicuci says. “It’s not enough for companies to just be in the social networking space; they have to utilize it and utilize it well.”

For corporations, that means a focus on video, says Mary Henige, social media and digital communications director for General Motors in Detroit. “Corporate video storytelling will expand, since this medium helps to humanize companies and brands,” Henige says.

Are ‘gurus’ goners?

Could 2011 finally be the beginning of the end for social media “gurus,” as more professionals start to understand its power and become familiar with its use? Henige noted that with more marketers engaging on the Web, the concepts of simply monitoring social media versus becoming an expert user will blur even further into one necessary practice.

It’s that blurring that will require PR professionals to “get smarter about the numbers” if they want to stand out, Hanson says.

Predictions for 2011
• Just being in a social space isn’t going to be enough for companies anymore. They will have to learn to use the space well. 

• Corporate video storytelling will expand as a way to humanize companies and brands.

• To stand out, PR pros must learn to translate data from places like Google Analytics, not just talk about it.

• New and traditional methods will become more important as the public becomes less enamored of the shininess of social media.

“Sure, at heart most of us are wordsmiths; we don’t like math,” he says, “but those who embrace the numbers and know how to translate them into real, actionable ideas for business will continue to win and excel.”

Hanson says it’s about translating the hard data from places like Google Analytics, not just talking about it.

“You can’t simply report the data anymore; you need to be able to dig into it, understand it and translate it for the client or organization,” he says.

Hanson, Minicuci and Henige agree that PR will have to continue to evolve as social media evolves, with Henige adding that the profession will see more influence from out-of-work journalists entering the field.

“Journalists will continue to vie for public relations positions as traditional reporting jobs and newspapers continue to shrink,” Henige says.

In addition, Minicuci says, PR folks will be dealing with a public that wants more.

“I don’t see the general public accepting social media as the be-all end-all solution to public relations, but rather I see social sites having to better define themselves in markets in order to stay relevant,” she says.

“Social networking will prove to be a very useful tool,” she says, “as the growing pains are worked out and practitioners find ways to integrate both new and traditional methods into their efforts.”

Blogging isn’t social media

Every time I turn around there seems to be another study being conducted about who is responsible for social media at a company or organization. Is it the role of public relations, media relations, marketing, advertising, customer service — or a combination of all the above? What I’ve found most interesting about these studies is that many seem to still be lumping “blogger relations” in with “social media.”

I’ve long held the belief that bloggers are not journalists. There is something to be said for a professional journalist who has been properly trained to research a story and write a compelling article that people actually want to read. At the same time, however, I don’t believe bloggers should be relegated to the social media realm either. When I think of social media outlets, I think of 140-character tweets, two-sentence Facebook status updates and comments, a photo with a cutline on Flickr or maybe even a short video with comments by viewers on YouTube.

Social media is more about the continuing small-talk conversation being carried on between you and the world. Blogging is different. It can be weighty stuff or it can be about fashion trends. It can challenge your thinking or it can be something sarcastic and entertaining. But it is not social media.

Perhaps the problem is society’s insatiable need to classify things — especially new things people don’t fully understand. Now, certainly, blogging isn’t new, but for many people it is uncharted territory, as is social media. And since both are done via the Internet it makes sense to folks to drop them into the same bucket. That’s a mistake. Blogger relations is a new component of a very old discipline: media relations. As I said, I don’t believe bloggers are journalists, but they are a segment of writers that need to be dealt with professionally.

That’s why I’d argue that blogger relations is a function of whomever is handling media relations in your organization. Bloggers need information, either on background or on the record. They need assistance gathering photos, videos, soundbites, facts and figures. In short, they need information to complete the publication they are working on. But it is not enough for the media relations department to simply send them a press release and a link to some photos. For years, media relations professionals have spent time honing their craft by learning about news outlets and what makes individual reporters tick. It’s time we started doing that with bloggers, too. It is going to add a lot to our workload, but passing the buck and letting marketers or customer service departments deal with blogging because it is “social media” is not productive. It may even come back to bite you in a blog post that is anything but social.

What do you think? Do you believe blogging belongs in the social media bucket, the news media bucket or all by itself in a shiny new bucket?

(Photo courtesy of Chris Jones’ Flickr stream.)