Saturday, June 30, 2012

Table Top Exercise

When was the last time your institution took its crisis plan down from the shelf? When was the last full review? Most of all, when was the last exercise? In the FEMA/DHS/Public Safety community, the term those of you in athletics or university relations should note is "table top". Literally, the principals that would be involved in an event sit around the table and go through scenarios. This is a little more than a review of the plan. It requires the creation of an incident to solve, and better ones will include injects -- unforeseen additional events -- and an evaluator/facilitator/referee. A requirement for your university's public safety side to maintain any grants from DHS, it's just good policy to follow the same kind of policy. There are dozens of companies that provide these drills for evaluation to public safety, and it crosses my mind that I can't recall any that specifically do it for athletic department communications. If there is anyone out there interested in having an outside evaluation of existing plans and a custom table top exercise created and managed, call or email.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Past, Change and Social Media

I discovered a copy of the 1956 president's address to the American Historical Association by Lynn Thorndike in a box of stuff from my old house today.  Thorndike was lamenting a proto-presentism in his talk, and when taken in the context of the rising Red Scare and soon ramping up of Cold into at least Lukewarm War in the 1960s, his points are worth considering in bulk.  Here's the key passage, and I found it interesting both when considering changes in how we communicate today and how we look at our past. "Innovators and reformers too often have had single-track minds which were taken possession of and overwhelmed by one dominating idea.  A solitary reason for making a change may appeal to them so powerfully that it alone is sufficient to stir them to action, goad them into agitation, and impel them into propaganda.  Of arguments to the contrary they take no account.  How the situation which they wish to alter came about, they do not inquire, or, if they do, assign it to an unwholesome origin and ascribe to evil motives.  Nor are they interested in the many reasons, past and present, which this state of affairs has continued for so long, and possibly should continue for still longer.  For them, the very fact that it has endured for so long a time is in the nature of presumptive evidence that it has outlived its usefulness and its long persistence they regard not as a sign of inherent merit but as so much the more a lag from the march of modern progress. They do not pause to reflect that ancient Egyptian civilization may have lasted so long because it was not continually being reformed . . .  The iconoclasts who smashed statues, shattered stained glass windows and whitewashed over religious paintings, thought only of ridding the church of idolatry, and recked not of the irreparable loss to art, archaeology and history." Ah yes, in other words, don't change it for change sake and consider the impact.  Thorndike goes into a long example of how there's a new problem in the world with juvenile delinquency and that the modern 20th century world essentially invented it through well meaning child labor law and other reforms.  "For the first time in history we are keeping in a state of tutelage persons who were physically, emotionally, and often intellectually adult."  Of his four illustrations of minors, the one regard Joan of Arc was best: "by the age of 19 [she] had defeated the finest military machine in Europe, crowned a King of France and herself suffered martyrdom. If today she were training as a teacher, she would be allowed out after 10 p.m. once a term, on written application and on promise to take another member of the college with her." Does it mean that everything old is justfied?  Hardly.  The title of his piece was a take on Alexander Pope, saying "Whatever was, Was right" and meaning more as a caution to say those old folks, they weren't stupid.  You can't judge their decisions by today's standards (ie, presentism), accept that for them what they did was valid and take a little time to understand why. Later, Thorndike makes it clear that change isn't always good. "Such innovations and reforms and changes, which were made from some one compelling reason, or from mere love of change, are of course likely to be undone for another compelling reason which has been overlooked before, or from the same mere love of change." It's in these old position papers that I find great nuggets of current inspiration.  We talked at length at CoSIDA about the way that social media impacts coaches, athletes and institutions.  Consider Thorndike talking about the printing press, and substitute the networked world of fans as you read: "Here was an innovation that was not merely a mechanical improvement but of stupendous mental and educational promise.  Instead of merely enabling man to move faster -- like the horse, the locomotive, the automobile and the airplane, it enable one to read faster, to think faster and it was for some time fondly believed, to publish faster." He goes on for a page to talk about just because the cost dropped didn't mean that people actually took the time to publish, that what they created was worth publishing or that what you ended up with was what you were really looking for.  Sound familiar? While I'm picking at the old essay to talk change, I have to close on the real theme -- the study of history -- in Thorndike's lecture. "The more we study the past, the more we find that it was right, not wrong as previously supposed on the basis of insufficient evidence and knowledge.  The more we know concerning any past period, the better our opinion of it becomes.  Charges of ignorance against it are usually a sign of our ignorance about it.  Charges of bigotry and superstition against it may be due to our own prejudice and narrow-mindedness." If you're interested in the entire article, Lynn Thorndike, Whatever Was, Was Right, American Historical Review, Vol 61, No. 2 (Jan 1956), p 265-283.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

How a Crisis PC Should Look

Following up to this week's CoSIDA presentation, here's more on the TCU press conference. The media briefing conducted by TCU chancellor Victor Boschini on Feb. 15, 2012, is a great example of how a classic multi-speaker, public safety briefing, is conducted. WFAA still has a full version on its website. Straight out of the FEMA Public Information Officer handbook -- a lead spokesperson (Boschini) that manages the event, stepping in and out of the frame as needed to let others address questions. Watch that little two-step of how he'll take a step back, wait for the next person to enter the frame, then depart. Small details add up to great execution. Whoever was on camera at the time got the key talking points across -- that it was a problem that was isolated to a handful of students; that it was a student, not student-athlete problem; and that TCU was talking positive action to remedy the situation.

Extreme Error Correction

Couple of the questions during the presentation yesterday at CoSIDA centered on when to step in against problem comments in social forums. My standing rule: correct any factual error. As much as administrators would like, you can't do much with opinions. But what if you have an opinion hiding as a fact? Smart car got a smart ass tweet, and proceeded to take fact correction to the extreme. I don't want to give this away until you go to the jump. But thinking about this, there are more than a few times a similar info graphic would be great in the sports world . . .

Monday, June 25, 2012

Preview of Tomorrow's Conclusion

The heart of my presentation is a comparison of the crisis events at TCU and Arkansas from this spring, and a third-party distant look at the perception of the way they were handled.  At the end of the PowerPoint, I've got this closing monologue.

It is very easy to sit back and dissect what happens in these events, but in the end, key driving factors in these events were the understanding of, and the respect for, what we loosely call social media.

One administration that worked in concert versus one coach who was less than forthcoming at the outset.

Ending on this shot of Richard Nixon reminds us -- coaches, administrators and media relations -- that a presidency that gave us Title IX is also the one that became defined by the phrase:

What did the President know, and when did he know it?

I am reminded of that Charles Dickens opening that I used to title this presentation, but not the famous first line; instead, the next two:

It was an age of wisdom
It was an age of foolishness
It was an epoch of belief
It was an epoch of incredulity

Speaking to us from his 19th century world, Dickens perfectly captured the chaos that is a crisis here in the 21st century.  One group worked as a team from start to finish while the other struggled initially against itself.

I hope the takeaway today is to return back to your campus and as was pointed out by Jeff Nelson of Penn State yesterday, go home and take some time to meet with your university relations team.  Remind your coaches and key administrators that in this era of networked communication, information flows like never before.  The days of unverified details are over.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Less Really is More

A visual example of why writing for the platform is important, and if you can say it in less words, that's better.

The name of the school that made this tweet and the target URL changed to protect the innocent.

I should take my own advice.  Last week's 90 word entry on Solis' Brandsphere was the most read post here in months.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Facebook Five: Brevity

The Facebook Five hits No. 5:  Brevity

Saying it in 120 characters is one thing.  Making it memorable is another.

James Geary is the high priest of the aphorism, and today we see the most shared items on Facebook as visual mashups of the pithy quote and the cutesy photo.  Read more here on the importance of aphorism.

We even have established genres -- the Successories knock offs like Despair, the Faux greeting cards, the 19th century line drawing wood cuts, SomEEcards being the most popular form.

George Takei's entire Facebook feed is devoted to the concept.  And the other night, Alton Brown took it to an art form with an entire night of TwitPic Tweets (I know, mixing platforms -- but it's about the concepts, not the tools) in which he responded to the impassioned pleas of fans with photos of cartoons he drew on Post-It notes.

Pintrest's growth is based on this.  As with social trends, this is not something new in human interaction.

When you marry the right words with the timely photograph you can achieve something memorable.

They call it a post card.

What the social world ads is the "viral" -- I prefer to say networked. The folks at the old shop got this image after Arkansas advanced 2-0 in the CWS for the first time since 1979.  It brings it all together -- and happens to have the perfect line built right in as baseball coach Dave Van Horn walks under one of the branding signs at Omaha.

At the end of the process, the key to success in the Facebook EdgeRank is sharing.  If you don't say things that are interesting and provide information that people want to know, you will be doomed to the side bar, not in the main news feed.

Coming up this weekend:  The Twitter Three followed by -- if you at in St. Louis for convention -- the Four Rules of Crisis.

Alton Brown's Retro Social Genius

Freely admit this -- I am a AB cooking freak, own every book and he's taught me how to cook.

That said, tonight's exchange by Alton Brown with his fans is simply inspired.  After making a few TwitPics the past few days with Post-It notes on TV screens, he spent the entire evening interacting with his followers through a series of doodles.

At first I'm thinking he's had his Twitter feed hacked -- 30 to 40 TwitPics in a row?

After clicking on a few, he brings home an interaction like none I've seen lately.  Fans begging for specific drawings (do a hedgehog, do a hedgehog -- and he obliged).

So while it was Twitter, tell me, how Alton doesn't score a 5 of 5 on what makes for great social on the Facebook Five scale?  Even when he says goodnight.

How have you thought about leaving the box?  Something more than pictures or videos?  Please share.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Facebook Five: Mobility

The Facebook Five hits No. 4: Mobility

There is no substitute for being there.  Period.  I read my share of "web tourist" blogs and columns.  Oh, you can watch an event "live" via streaming or interactives.

Rarely does it beat being in the moment.  I can look at all the nice National Park Service images, but nothing trumps:

This seems obvious.  You'd be surprised.

Engagement happens when you can project, when you can defeat time and space.  Humans have a particular fascination with this, and your posting from the unusual place and at the immediate time things happen feeds this.

I've lectured over and over -- if an institution is committing human resources to social media the most absurd "savings" comes in the technology deployed with them.  For years, universities resisted providing cell phones, then no iPhones, then no iPads.  Ridiculous.  You expense salary, and often travel expense, only to have a $50 a month data plan savings undermine a thousand dollar investment.

The other hindrance is the belief by staff that "it's not my job" to do social.  It is the job of the communicator on the ground to make the impact.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

I Reject Your Reality, And Substitute My Own

Adam Savage on MythBusters said that throw-away line during one of the first episodes of the series, and it stuck with me as a post-fact real-world way to explain the way executives and organizations attempt to remake a bad situation (kind of like the Reality Distortion Field).  You can even get a tee-shirt now.

It rarely ends well, but this piece of advice from the PRSA daily news out of Harvard Business Review takes Savage School to some logical, albeit scary, conclusions.

In If You Don't Like Your Future, Rewrite Your Past, Rosabeth Moss Kanter urges organizations and individuals to not let previous events limit where you can go in the future.  Parts of the blog aren't quite as bad as the headline implies -- it speaks to how IBM reshaped its future by putting different emphasis on its past.

Parts, however, are: Leaders who create the future can start by rewriting history.

Overall, it still comes off as really, really bad presentism.

Or, to restate Ms. Kanter's title, as George Orwell put it, Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.

Solis' Brandsphere

In light of today's earlier post, Content: King or Crap, Brian Solis provides a scathingly brilliant infographic that hammers home the point that it is all about the content and it starts with your brand story.

Stop what you are doing and baste your brain with this:  Brandsphere.

When you're done there, take a moment to backtrack through this article on Why Brands are Becoming Publishers from Mashable which led me to Solis' latest brilliance.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Content: King or Crap

ADDENDUM: Had I discovered this two days ago, this would have lead the blog -- Brian Solis' Brandsphere.

The battle over the future path to networked communication success often boils down to this basic battle -- is quality of content vital to ultimate success or is it just a matter serving up as much information to as many people as possible.

Daniel Tisch got this started with his PRSAY column about how public relations is losing the battle to communications.  (Sidebar guffaw: kinda how sports information lost the war with media relations, hmm fellow CoSIDA'rs).  In lamenting how consultants are moving clients away from traditional PR through focusing on communications (and one infers, strategic communication), he reminds the PRSA community of two important items:  content creation is the domain of public relations and that customer service is the new marketing (which that line smells a little like "Your New Trend of Choice is the new Black").

Tisch is a great read, but he gets down to this 140 nugget:

Solving a problem in public — in front of the entire community — does wonders for an organization’s reputation.

And that is done through well crafted content.

Doing the minimum or letting the next interface/app/gizmo/whatsit do the job in attracting and interacting with customers is yielding to technology a solution that is as relavent in today's market as Don Drapers'.  Having a message that connects is vital, regardless of the platform, and making darn sure whatever information is there is tuned for the growing mobile market.  Jason Falls weighs in here with a lengthy post-presentation story at Top Rank Online Marketing.

Why is it all important?  Remember a few weeks back when GM famously pulled out of Facebook advertising, launching the meme of advertising on the social media giant was not useful?  That's launched a back and forth about the measurement and efficacy of social advertising.

One corner of this battle is comScore and Reuters' surveys about the impact Facebook ads have, and within that, another key nugget.  Whether you think it's effective or not, what you get via Facebook and the news feed is earned media (yes, you can buy the ads and feature posts/stories).  The payoff from All Things D:

ComScore says that Facebook “earned media” ads — the kind that Facebook users distribute on their own, via “Likes” and “Shares” — do help sell stuff. In their words, the ads have a “statistically significant positive lift on people’s purchasing of a brand.

Even inside the Reuters' survey, there's a couple of supportive points:

About two out of five people polled by Reuters and Ipsos Public Affairs said they used Facebook every day. Nearly half of the Facebook users polled spent about the same amount of time on the social network as six months ago.

No one really believes all 900 million "members" are engaged.  Most experts are looking at active groups roughly a third of that number (or hey, "two out of five").  According to skeptical Reuters, what drives users away from Facebook?

Of the 34 percent spending less time on the social network, their chief reason was that the site was "boring," "not relevant" or "not useful".

Let's circle back to Jason Falls:

Brands still don’t get content. They still don’t understand that the content you deliver that appeals to and attracts an audience isn’t about your sale items or your promotions. It’s about what’s useful to the audience.

ComScore promises more info next week in a new whitepaper on the "power of like."

Think about your content for a minute.  This Facebook Five run is all about creating a specific kind of content.  Focused.  Encouraging interaction.  Getting the reader to click.

So if it's not about the quality of the content, then we could all just set up our websites to RSS into both our Facebook and Twitter feeds and maybe pick up some feeds from other generic sources and we'd have all the traffic in the world.

Grab that shotgun and see how well it hits your target.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled discussion of what makes good content for social -- The Facebook Five -- already in progress.

The Facebook Five: Visual

Part three of five breaking down the five key items to successful Facebook Five: today, Visual

Facebook is telling you what's important -- and it isn't your pithy comments or life-milestone moments.

There it is -- the legendary EdgeRank formula.  It's applied now to your news feed.  And the "W" for edge type is skewed to the visual.  If you want to delve deeper into the formula, go to Tech Crunch for a start.

They bought Instagram for a billion dollars.  Think visual is important to Zuckerburg's, well, sorry, . . . vision?

Even if the weight of the edge type was skewed for visual items, consider communication theory.  The old aphorism is correct -- a picture is worth a thousand words, and you don't have 1000 -- just 450 (and you darn shouldn't use them all) words on Facebook.  Video is universal language and if you tell a story well with images, you score a huge two-fer in this Facebook Five: the Sentiment comes naturally to great Visual. (And to hammer a point home, if you didn't click on the first two links to this paragraph to an earlier post about Who is Your Most Valuable Staff Member -- GO NOW.)

Welcome back from your past blog post interlude.  Let's refer back again to our original case study post -- the football field full of freshman.  In a staff meeting, the question was -- but what if you don't have a good picture?  Excellent point -- and of course a few minutes (let me repeat, MINUTES) to download something crisp, or better said, close up thanks to optical, not digital, zoom your message is well served.

But posting an album full of 10 great visual photos is useless if though that last factor -- time -- has eroded the being there/immediacy.  This is more important in the sports side than the general university side, but the chance to gain interaction with followers is greatest in the moment.

One of the first things I announce at CoSIDA and other talks is for people to turn their phones on.  I want them to report out and cause a buzz about what's happening.  No different at graduation.  Or at cheerleader camp when I posted a quick photo of five mascots suiting up.  There's another example of good enough image in real time.

I'm walking out of a meeting where I've said essentially what we're talking about here.  And I stumble upon these high school mascots putting on the suits.  Well, time to practice what I've just preached.  Wait for the last one to get its head on and snap the photo, post it right there, give it a pithy catch line.  Walk away.  As I'm writing this, I decide time to check the results.

Admittedly a compromised picture -- the light was bad and the exposure a bit fuzzy -- but look at what literally 60 seconds of work resulted in:  more likes than the previous six or seven links to NSU press releases combined, couple of shares, a comment or two and 14% reach -- again far better than the single digit we usually get for the push we do on news stories.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Facebook Five: Sentiment

Part two of five breaking down the five key items to successful Facebook strategy.

Of the Facebook Five, Sentiment seems obvious, but it is oblivious to far too many.  On a social platform, we want to share.  Many of us overshare.

When I speak of making sure there is sentiment in your post, try to discover something that connects with people, something that can evoke emotion.  It's one thing to post that photo from the event that documents it, but if you can, try to shoot from an angle or with a point of view that provides a hook for emotional connection.  If not, you need to make sure the text along with it can amplify the image and provide the connection.

Case in point today.  I fixed up an old table that belonged to my grandmother.  A friend did the sanding and some of the staining.  I did the repair -- a gap, a loose top, a broken setter board on the bottom -- and we worked to reseal it and put it back into use.

Once I finished it, I was pretty proud and decided to put the picture on my personal Facebook.  OK, old antique table.  It was my tag line that did the trick.

I was surprised how many of my friends liked on this picture -- I think I had taken much more stunning shots over the previous week of really gorgeous flowers and trees around Natchitoches -- but what gave this picture top reaction compared to the previous two weeks on my personal feed was grandma.

See, everyone loves grandma.  They love that it's grandma's heirloom.

That's the sentiment you need to discover.

The day Ray Bradbury passed away I was fortunate to have one of our former journalism teachers, Tom Whitehead, email me a scan of an envelope that Ray had sent Tom after speaking at NSU in the 1970s.  Ray drew a cartoon of an orange and purple striped tie that he was enamored with from the trip to Natchitoches on the outside of the letter.  I posted that as a bit of lagniappe for the day on our feed -- it connected NSU to a national event, it showed a personal side of Bradbury and it was unique.

Tomorrow -- The Facebook Five continues with Visual.

Friday, June 08, 2012

The Facebook Five

There is a particular strength to every social tool. As argued before, time perceived to be "saved" with a post once, appear everywhere approach works against messages tuned for the platform. Or, in a hunting analogy, you can hit a lot of stuff with a shotgun, but you'll hit the target if you aim a rifle. Here's a checklist to gauge the potential of your Facebook post.  

Post in the moment; nobody really likes leftovers.  

Everybody loves their grandma  

Whenever possible, show, don't tell  

There is no substitute for being there  

Don't waste a friend's most valuable commodity: time

Any Facebook post needs at least one of these concepts to receive any attention. Don't believe it? When was the last time you paid any attention to a friend's Nike or Cyclemeter post that they just finished a run or a ride? Maybe the first time you noticed it, and gave them an "atta boy" like for exercising. After that, they became the antithesis of the Facebook Five: it was posted after it happened, it was soulless data, there's nothing to see, you didn't share where you went and most of all, it became an annoyance that wasted the viewer's time (and got you one step closer to being blocked).  Two words: Mafia Wars.  Need I say more?

Combine two or three, there's really opportunity for interaction. Get four or all five, you will have impact.

Here is a real example. We still post a lot of news stories on the Northwestern State Facebook page. It has more to do with a lack of population density and mobile follower logistics -- the feeds act too much like Twitter. Predictably, those posts underperform.

When I am out on campus and capture moments, we see interaction spike. Last weekend, we hosted the largest Freshman Connection session ever -- well over 500 -- and we anticipate this bodes for a record freshman class. We captured snippets of video, posted photos and encouraged them to become friends of the main NSU feed and their respective academic and social areas during meetings.

A signature event was the faux pep rally at the football stadium. All the freshman went on the field. We do it at night so the lights and video board are on. The head coach comes out and fires up the kids. With my smartphone, I capture a simple photo that shows the size of the group and the place -- and I post it immediately.

Within 28 minutes, 28 likes and the comments begin. The capture above was done at that 28 minute moment.  By morning, this photo has one of the best interactions in weeks (73 like, just over 2100 uniques; 20% reach), including comments from alumni (Oh, I remember Freshman Connection 25 years ago) and future students (I'll be there in two weeks for the next one -- can't wait). Why?

The post scored four and the comments took it to five. The photo (Visual) was snapped and posted during the event (Immediate) from the field (Mobility) with a short description (Brevity). I'd argue there wasn't a lot of Sentiment, but the alumni added that through the comments.

Over the next week or so, come back as we break down the components of the Facebook Five. Then, we'll move on to the Twitter Three and end with the Social Seven.

Monday, June 04, 2012

Sorry -- Been Busy

The thing about being a full-time employee and a part-time blogger -- well, life gets in the way. It's been an interesting past four weeks, and I appreciate everyone's support. You know who you are.

Sunday, June 03, 2012

To Tell the Truth

Funny how that still remains a "strategy", but in the face of some fairly draconian budget cuts proposed for all Louisiana public universities both major systems decided to launch an offensive of saying what those abstract numbers mean.

LSU's administrators lead off by rattling the cages that certain campus locations would be "put in mothballs." The next day, the University of Louisiana System played catch-up, issuing a template for all campuses to release.

Northwestern State was a little different among the nine peers of ULS: we put our story on the website. Only one other ULS member did so. We were the only one to link it to our Facebook and send it out via Twitter.

That was not done without some concern, and some of the reactions we got on Facebook weren't what we expected. However, the next few days, the feedback received by faculty and staff, as well as key local community members, made it well worth the "risk". They all appreciated the honesty, and became appropriately concerned (is my area on the chopping block?).

This needs to be framed for some of the national followers with this note: back in 2008, NSU made some very deep cuts in the face of another budget crisis -- dropping programs and tenured faculty. In that round, the university was pretty round beat up for not being out front with bad news.

No surprise in this space as I've always advocated that you should be the one that tells your bad news.

At the same time, you can go too far. Two Gulf Coast cities received news that they would be losing their daily newspapers, but there is a world of difference between how the Times-Picayune of New Orleans and the Mobile Press-Register shared the same info.

The Press-Register sold it with a banner headline of "Exciting News" (literally) for readers. Hey, isn't this great, you don't get a paper four days a week!

As Paul Greenburg of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette noted, it's like saying there is exciting news, you've been laid off. (As an aside: ADG recently announced it would raise daily issue costs, which seems a little more reasonable. If you want the print edition, maybe that's going to be a boutique buy and $1 isn't unreasonable [have you checked out newsstand magazine prices lately?].

Plus, Warren Buffett -- who just bought a BUNCH of local and regional papers -- certainly didn't think the NOLA move made sense.) There is some research to back Greenburg's point: it's better to be up front with the bad news.

In Forbes a couple of weeks back, there was a very touching first-person column about how being compassionate and straight with the bad news is the best approach. If you don't believe me, ask Richard Nixon. Or Bobby Petrino.