The personal connection

I recently attended the Social Media Camp in Victoria. While there were many incredible speakers talking about Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and sharing best practices, the speaker who resonated the most with me didn’t speak about social media at all.

David Knapp-Fisher spoke about the importance of the personal connection. He talked about putting down the technology and actually connecting face-to-face with the people around us. A novel idea.

A key takeaway from his talk was be the first to say hello. It’s really that simple. So few of us take the time and actually acknowledge and connect with people in a meaningful way. It’s not about adding a new friend on Facebook, but rather saying hello and making a personal connection.

This stuck with me throughout the conference. Low and behold the next morning I was checking out of my hotel and standing next to me was Rory Capern, Managing Director of Twitter Canada. As I sat down to have my breakfast and noticed Rory in the restaurant, David’s words were echoing in my head. So I picked up my breakfast and asked Rory if I can eat with him.

Turns out we had lots in common – went to the same university, have family in the same community and have a love for the west coast. I took the moment to be the first to say hello and instead of eating my breakfast staring at my phone, I had an engaging conversation with some with a shared life experience. And it only took a simple word – hello.

A lesson in humanity

The Fort McMurray forest fires and subsequent evacuation of an entire city, is a great example of how corporations can use their resources to help. West Jet is one great example – sending in planes to evacuate residents to safety – all free of charge. They did this with no motivate for publicity, but rather because it was the right thing to do. Being a company based in Alberta, that provides transportation for many oil sands workers, their quick response to send in planes was just another way of helping their customers and the province that has played a key role in growing their business.

West Jet is well known for stepping up to the plate and doing the right thing. Whether it’s helping cancer patients get home when other airlines have deemed them too sick to travel or simply making sure a missing teddy bear is reunited with its owner, compassion is a key value of both the company and its employees.

While the Fort McMurray fire is devastating, the corporate response to help is commendable. Labatts shut down its beer line to fill cans with water for evacuees; Shell, Suncor and other oil companies opened up their work camps to provide food and shelter; restaurants in Edmonton provided free meals to customers fleeing from the north… The list goes on and on.

The main lesson here is while all of these stories have received extensive social media and news media coverage, the companies didn’t spend hours planning how to get coverage. Rather they looked at the resources they have and looked for ways to help where they could. It is this genuine humanity that resulted in the media coverage – and will be remembered by their customers.

Dog days of summer

One of the questions I often get is when is the best time to pitch a story to the media. The answer – it depends. It depends on what the story is, what else is happening in the world or your industry, which media you are pitching it to, which reporter you are pitching to and whether or not your story is interesting. There are many factors that go into making a successful media pitch.

But having worked as a newspaper editor, I can tell you that July and August tend to be slower news months. Government often isn’t sitting, schools are out and many people are away on vacation. This means many of the news generators are taking a break – which can provide you with less competition on your pitch. On the flip side it also means that less people are tuned into the news.

This is the time to look at what is happening in your world during the summer months that is worth pitching to the media. It doesn’t have to be a full scale news conference, but can be simple as a photo opportunity. Are you sponsoring a science camp for kids? Do you have a new product or service that people will be using during the summer months? How about a profile on an interesting part of your business?

Working as a media manager, I have had television reporters appear at my desk mid-day on a Friday saying they have nothing for the evening news, asking if I have a story. Being in media relations I made sure I had some ‘quiet day’ stories ready to pitch. While I realize not everyone will have a tv crew sitting at their doorstep, during the quiet days of summer reporters still need to file stories. So why not have it be one of yours?

Before you get ready to escape for your vacation, take a minute to think of interesting stories you can pitch to the media during the summer months. Then take some time researching the appropriate media, fine tuning your story and picking the best time for your pitch.Then you can enjoy your time at the cottage.

Never stop learning

With cooler nights and September around the corner, it’s time to prepare for back-to-school. While many parents (myself included) cheer for a return of “normality” and full school days, we don’t always reflect on our own education. Although your days of sitting in a small school desk may be over, you should never stop learning.

There are many ways to learn. I personally learn by teaching at a university. I teach a variety of media relations, public relations and leadership courses. Although I’m the instructor, I honestly believe I learn much more from my students than they learn from me. Why? Because I’m only one person with one frame of reference. My students on the other hand bring a variety of perspectives and backgrounds. As I listen to their arguments or read their presentations, I learn about sports leaders, public relations events in the fashion industry and the newest fad and how the brand is marketing youth.

There are many ways of learning. But the point is to learn. Don’t ever stop learning and trying to improve yourself. In such a rapidly changing world, it’s important to stay current.

So as you buy a new lunch kit for your child or send your daughter to college, stop and reflect on your own education. What areas of your life and/or career do you want to foster?  What paths can you take to expand your knowledge? We should all be lifelong learners.

The importance of staying relevant

When I teach media relations courses, and the area of social media comes up, I always stress how important it is to keep any social media site live and current. Clearly I have broken my own rule on this blog by being absent for a bit. Life, kids, work seems to get in the way. While I make a daily point of updating my Facebook page and staying current there, sometimes it is hard to keep up with a blog, twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn…

In my field, as a consultant, this can be okay at time. For example, I currently have a full-time contract that does not leave time for anything other than teaching the occasional course. However, in businesses where you are constantly selling a product or service, and rely on regular sales, it is extremely to keep social media site up to date on a daily or weekly reason.

Why? You want to be front and centre in your customer/client’s mind. By continuing the conversation with them, they will remember you when they need your services. Successful businesses and individuals have mastered the art of relationship building. And this truly is an art form that takes time. The beauty of social media is it allow you to maintain relationships with one post, one blog or a simple tweet.

Now it is time for me to follow my own advice.

Why “no comment” can fuel the media fires

In the wake of allegations of a video showing Toronto’s Mayor Rob Ford smoking crack, instead of rising to defend himself, the controversial mayor instead took the “no comment” position. After years of media relations, you would think Mayor Ford would have known the importance of making a statement early in the story versus delaying an inevitable comment.

So what’s wrong with not commenting or saying “no comment?” Plenty. Too often, not commenting is seen as an admission of guilt or that the person is hiding something. After all, if they are innocent or have nothing to hide, why not just talk?

In issues management cases where you can’t comment for legitimate reasons, state those reasons versus saying “no comment.” For example – “at this point we cannot comment as the matter is before the courts.” Keeping with the golden rule of crisis communications – be open, honest and transparent, you are still making a comment to the media. And hey, they are well aware you can’t talk about the matter, but just need someone on record to say why you can’t talk.

When it comes to being the Mayor of Canada’s largest city, it is important to show leadership. Not commenting on an alleged incident that questions your ability to govern the city, only adds more fuel to the fire. So speak up early instead of hiding in the corner.

Attack ads – how to lose friends

Justin Trudeau had barely come home from his celebration party after being elected leader of the Federal Liberal Party when the Conservatives began running their attack ads against him. The ads feature images of a shirtless Trudeau raising money for the Liver Foundation as well as other clips from his youth. While these ads weren’t unexpected, as the Conservatives had already begun attacking Trudeau about his youth, what the Tories hadn’t expected was the public backlash.

While attack ads work in the US, they are generally frowned upon in Canada. We tend to be a more polite society, looking for the positive in situations vs the negative. And in the case of the recent ads, many question why attack someone who is so passionate about his country and is excited about making changes in a stale political party. All this when an election is two years away.

A number of Canadians showed their disgust with the ads by donating to the Liberal Party as well as the Canadian Liver Foundation. By turning this negative campaign into a positive for the two organizations, Trudeau came out shining, while the Conservatives fell a notch in public opinion. This at a time when the millions being spent on infrastructure ads, long after the projects have been completed, is questioning the Conservatives’ use of tax dollars.

So what’s the lesson here? Instead of wasting your ad dollars on saying why your competitor isn’t great, spend your money by telling your audience why your organization/product is superior. In the end, it’s the positive campaigns people remember and resonate with. Otherwise you end up with a media relations exercise that will be used by communications instructors across the country.

All hail YouTube

Remember the days when corporations would spend thousands of dollars to create an in-house training video? These videos would run 30 minutes or more, complete with flashy graphics and multiple locations. They would then be shown in a conference room with much fanfare (likely to justify the high production cost).

For many organizations those days are over. Training budgets are tight, and the attention span of employees and consumers has dramatically decreased. However, the power of video has never been greater. Using video on social media pages increases the hits by over 100 per cent compared to a post without video.

And this is where YouTube comes in. With thousands of videos to choose from, there is no shortage of video content. Whether it be posting a motivational video on your intranet page or educating your consumer on health benefits related to your product, video content is only a click away.

Video is an amazing tool for facilitating discussion or showing a third party opinion on your subject – all for free. So when you’re looking for material for Facebook posts or something to spice up your corporate training program, head over to YouTube. And if you really want the stuffy, 30 minute corporate video I’m sure you can find it there, without spending thousands.

Social media is not a sales sheet

I’m often asked how to succeed in social media. Many people have been told they need to be on social media and are overwhelmed by the options available. So they end up creating Twitter accounts, Facebook pages, LinkedIn pages…the list goes on. The problem with this approach is many people and organizations haven’t taken the time to research and monitor successful social media sites before starting their own. They may post once a week, sometimes twice a week, then forget about it when they get busy.

I will do more posts on this topic, but for this post let’s look at Facebook. Too many companies use their Facebook page as a sales sheet. The posts are all about what is on sale or items related specifically to the organization. Sure, your fans may want to know what your specials are occasionally, but after a while they will tune out as they are tired of being sold to.

Instead, you should think about who your fans are. What are their interests? What do they have in common? I’ll use the example of the organic grocery store I shop at – Urban Marketplace in Sarnia, Ontario. Wendy, the owner of the store, has one of the best Facebook pages I’ve seen. She posts multiple times a day and knows her audience. Her posts are recipes (using ingredients she sells), facts about GMOs (her groceries are all GMO-free), links to organic gardening tips and videos about natural remedies. The only time she posts about items for sale in her store is to post pictures of her fresh produce (which is her top seller).

I look forward to getting updates from Urban Marketplace because the posts are of interest to me and educate me on my lifestyle choices. I do not tune out the feeds, as I feel they are written directly for me. And this is the power of a successful Facebook page – tuning in fans vs tuning them out. The result is I make sure I go to Urban Marketplace every week, avoiding the chain stores, as I’ve developed a relationship and commitment to Wendy.

Wendy has found most of her new customers have come from Facebook. And as she’s developed her page, her customer base has also grown. All this for zero marketing dollars.

The power of connecting – Trudeaumania

It’s hard to turn on the news without seeing Justin Trudeau. With the Liberal party of Canada only days away from announcing its new leader, the young front runner has become a media darling.

Justin Trudeau’s ability to capture the media spotlight, as well as the attention of younger Canadians, is all about connecting. You won’t find Justin giving well rehearsed speeches about balancing the budget or foreign policy. Rather, he passionately urges Canadians to get more involved in politics, and take back their country. While some commentators complain about the lack of a well thought out agenda, social media sites are abuzz with photos of his campaign stops and his ability to connect with people at his election stops.

During a recent visit to London, Ontario, many of my colleagues posted on Facebook and tweeted pictures and updates of his visit. There were many shots of gushing fans posing next to Justin, filled with pride of getting to meet this new generation Trudeau. And some of these people are card carrying Conservatives, caught up in the excitement.

I encourage anyone interested in public speaking or creating a personal brand to watch Justin Trudeau in action. It doesn’t matter if you like him or not, but there is much to be learned on how he connects with Canadians. Whether it be his speeches, media interviews, Rick Mercer spots, Facebook page or Twitter account, he takes a personal approach, not a political approach. And this is why Canadians love him. They are excited about getting to know a prominent politician who comes across as a friend who cares about our country.

It is this connection with thousands of Canadians, and his methods of communicating with them, that makes for an exciting public relations campaign. Now let’s see if it earns him the Liberal leadership.