Archives for the month of: February, 2012

My office is about 30 miles from Chardon, Ohio, the close-knit town of about 5,000, where three teenagers died after a young gunman opened fire in a school cafeteria not long after sunrise yesterday and shot five students, spreading permanent, piercing darkness

The murders are tragic, senseless and horrifying. Profound loss and pain have sliced through the hearts of parents, teachers, friends, families — and an entire community. Grieving washes outward and affects us all, portraying our worst fears that something so evil could happen at a place where young people deserve to feel so safe.

Amidst the mourning, healing begins. Community bonds firm. Neighbors reconnect and reassure. Love deepens.

Much of that has happened virtually, through social media. Right from the start, children near the carnage were quicker than the official news with texts to their loved ones. And ever since the first shots sprayed in that school building, social media has continued to enable and ease the spreading of condolences, heartfelt wishes of sympathy and sorrow for the families, survivors, victims and their community…on Twitter, Face Book and other sites.

That social media has anchored this outpouring reminds us, in this high-tech age, we humans still need — indeed, thrive among — community. We crave community because it soothes, connects and offers us a foundation for functioning amidst the mourning.

The physical community around Chardon is joined and supported by other communities, nearby and far-away, all connected through social media. The friends and relationships we make and sustain through social media can be every much as comforting and connecting for us as our neighbors. Even more so, in some cases.

A tragedy that snuffs out the lives of bright, young people, reminds us of what’s most important in our lives: the love and communities that surround us. It’s also a reminder that the communities fostered through social media are real and growing deeper and broader. This most modern of technology complements a human need as old as history — to share, connect  and comfort. Social media helps spread the support, love and healing that so desperately needed to flow right now, reminding us of the power the technology presents.

Below is a Storify chronology of the Tweets associated with this horrible event. It has been edited and curated by Michael Scott, a seasoned reporter at the Cleveland Plain Dealer. While filled with emotion and difficult to read, in places, it shows the outpouring of compassion  and concern that took root through Twitter in the aftermath of this tragedy.

My wish is for peace for Chardon’s residents, for you and for all of us — now and tomorrow.

[View the story “Day after Chardon school shootings: Mourning in virtual and personal space” on Storify]

Next time you need to persuade or inform prospects, customers, clients — or even shareholders — consider making your case with an infographic. They can be powerful and compelling.

If you haven’t taken a fresh look at these visual tools recently, dive into a site like Here, a wide range of incredible infographics appears in a gallery that’s updated regularly. Often, there is great content to borrow for a blog (like the one below) or a presentation.

Increasingly, there are graphic artists who make infographics, if you don’t have the capacity on staff or already contract with creative talent who do these well. One marketing and digital media consultant whose site and work I really like is Mark Smiciklas.

Infographics can really punch up a presentation or pitch. Even, as one company just demonstrated, an entire annual report: Now, this is an annual report that will get read!

Here’s where you can find me across social media sites:

by Wix.

The most important aspect to get straight when you’re faced with the challenge of creating content is this: who needs to know?

Giving your audience the information they need is the most crucial element of effective messaging. Once you’ve got a vision of the audience, keep that etched in your mind as you write or develop content in another form. This doesn’t have to be fancy — a sticky note would do. Pin it in front of you, if that helps. But picture who is going to receive the message. Who will get it  influences what and how it gets delivered.

To show an example of how the characteristics of an audience drive the framing of a message, consider this broad idea: Do the Right Thing.

What follows are five short, Tweet-length messages. Each adapts that broad idea for a different, specific audience.

The message “Do the Right Thing” aimed at five distinct audiences

1. To a congregation: “So in everything, do unto others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”

2. To a first grade class: “If you choose to bring in Valentines cards, class, please make sure you have one addressed to each pupil.”

3. To the family and friends of newly minted doctors being sworn in: “I will follow that method of treatment which I consider for the benefit of my patient and abstain from whatever is harmful or mischievous.”

4. To employees, reading a sign that hangs near the office kitchen sink: “Wash your own dirty dishes. Your mother doesn’t work here.”

5. To a bride on her wedding day in response to the question: Will you love her, comfort, honor and keep her, in sickness and health; forsake all others and be faithful ’til death do you part? “I will.”

The message in each example was, essentially, “Do the Right Thing.” But the characteristics of the audience required the content to change in each case, to enable the message to suit the tone, maturity, circumstances and expectations of the situation.

So, as you create content, first picture your audience and then lock your focus on that as you go. For me, this makes the process of shaping what I want to say much smoother and more organized.

If you try it, let me know how it works for you!

A funny, but cringe-worthy graphic spoofing the rise of a social media self-righteous jerk, sometimes (self-described) as a "social media guru."

One species now seeps across too much of the social media habitat. Like Kudzu the social media “guru” has been allowed to thrive nearly unchecked. And, also like Kudzu, it’s actually damaging the landscape.

I think a prominent subset of this species is the self-righteous jerk. (I love this witty graphic by David Armano, EVP of innovation and integration at Edelman Digital. It ran on Ragan’s PR Daily.)

The social media learning curve kind of resembles that of life. And, the older I get and the more I learn, the more I realize how much more there is yet to learn. In other words, the more I realize how much I don’t know.

Social media opens up almost limitless opportunities. It’s fascinating. And huge. But there’s so much happening, so quickly, there’s no way that any one person is the all-knowing guru.

A true guru is like Yoda: otherworldly, learned and eager to teach, quietly and patiently, by example. I’m thinking there are probably as many social media gurus as there are Yoda-like folks. They do exist. But very, very rare, they are. (Oh, and they never actually call themselves gurus.)

Learn, play, dabble, practice, do, connect, share, post, help and teach on, about and with social media. But be wary of those who claim to be a guru. And steer as far clear as you can of the self-righteous jerks, the noxious weeds of social media!

This graphic originally appeared on Armano’s blog Logic + Emotion. Check it out, his accompanying post is wonderfully descriptive, sarcastic and dead on!  

My social media profiles on XeeMe

One of my current favorite social media sites is XeeMe. And I’m pretty sure it’s going to stay that way for a while. It makes so much sense: it’s a tool that takes the panoply of social media profiles, handles and identities many of us have and allows those to be cataloged and discovered in one place. It has other benefits and uses, too. (Lest it appear otherwise, I have no financial or other ties to XeeMe, pronounced “see me.”)

But in my view, the most valuable aspect of XeeMe is that it lets you bundle together in one place all of your social media affiliations that you want your blog audience, potential employers, clients, associates, friends, professional contacts and family to have.

Just above is a screen shot of mine.

So, you can choose to include, say, a personal Face Book page and also the Pinterest account you use to pin images related to a hobby. And in the same grouping of social media profiles, you can include your LinkedIn account as well as a work website (which, cleverly, can be “disassociated” when you switch jobs). I included those four, and 14 others. XeeMe currently enables users to list a profile on about 200 social media sites.

Founded by Axel Schultze, XeeMe describes itself on its website as:

“A social media software company focusing on social presence management. The social presence is the sum of all social profiles of an individual or brand and the foundation of any social media engagement. A ‘XeeMe’ lets users or brands organize, grow and monitor their social presence in an easy to use and professional manner.”

“Social presence”

Until I read that phrase and found XeeMe (thanks to this great post by Mark Q. Todd ) I hadn’t thought about this idea, in this way. But, of course, that’s exactly what we have: a social media presence — call it a brand — that is the sum of our links, connections, interactions, posts, shares and contributions across social media.

One analogy that comes to mind dates to the early 2000s, when cell phone numbers in the U.S. weren’t portable. It was madness because any time you switched carriers — or even, sometimes, phones — you had to get a new mobile number. That ID is an anchor for our contacts. Today, we routinely keep our mobile number even when moving to a city with a different area code because changing it is just too disruptive to our personal and professional networks and to the ability to stay in touch with contacts easily.

Personal and professional brands are converging

Commonly now, our tracks across social media seem to also follow us indefinitely. References, posts or tags you erase can often be found cached. And who knows where control of Face Book’s timeline will eventually reside. It’s just easier to watch what you post than try to keep up with the latest policies about turning off or on privacy screens on social media sites.

I think this convergence between our personal and professional brands is inevitable and absolutely wonderful. It’s also convenient. And it simply makes sense. Forcing a wall between them seems artificial in many, if not most, respects. (Especially when the account holder controls which pages and profiles get linked or assembled, as happens on XeeMe.)

So why isn’t Google+ there, yet?

However, through Google+ I have been extremely frustrated in trying to accelerate this process. Let me explain. I have a personal Gmail account. Separately, my work email is also on a Google platform. I love Google. I love my Google calendars. I love Chrome. Google docs, etc. I’m. A. Big. Fan.

So, after Google+ came out, I signed up with my personal Gmail account. And I started circling people. Very soon it became apparent I wanted to circle work-related contacts. But I didn’t want to do that using my personal Gmail account. Why? Because the name attached to that account includes my married last name. I don’t use my married name for work. I was a journalist for more than 15 years. My byline was my maiden name. And it remains my professional ID. My professional brand. And the name of my company.

Yes, the brands are converging, but I will always have some spheres where I use my married name: at church, in the neighborhood, at school and so on. And I will have other spheres where I use my professional name. My contacts should be able to find my brand through my social media footprints whether they come there via a professional or a personal relationship.

A mess of circles

In the end, I signed up for Google+ using my work Gmail, too. And then it got really crazy. A couple of folks I know personally somehow found me through my work Google+ profile. I’ve got a few people circled in both accounts. But most are separate, as if my two Gmail accounts are held by different people. And at one point, Google+ sent a note to Becky Gaylord McDonald asking if she wanted to circle Becky Gaylord. I think I still have one profile in the other one’s circles, but not the other way around. It’s nuts.

I have sent notes about this to Gmail and Google+ pros in the social media community. I also initiated an exchange that produced a response from a manager directly connected with the Google+ product. And while I nearly begged Google to let people merge their accounts and thus, their circles…so far, nothing.

Yes, I know you can post other social media sites and links on your Google+ profile. And I’ve done that. But it doesn’t deal with my main gripe. If I want to merge these accounts — which together represent my brand — I should be able to. And if you don’t want to merge yours, you should be able to keep them separate. (Although I think it’s folly to think there won’t be people who stumble across more than one profile being maintained by the same user.)

My point is: this should be easy, not just to make it convenient. It should be easy because it would acknowledge the brand convergence trend that’s well underway. I want to help my network — which includes many personal contacts, many professional contacts, and many who fall into both categories — to see me across the full range of social media I use.

And on Google, I can’t. The problem is compounded on Klout, because only one of my Google+ accounts could be registered by Klout and thus, tracked and monitored by Klout. (Perhaps Klout could start allowing users to put in more than one Google+ account?) I think it would also be a huge leap forward to include XeeMe in a Klout score.

I can’t be the only one who has two Gmail accounts who wants to be rid of confusing, frustrating, senseless segregation between them.

An idea of what it could look like

I’d like to be able to switch between accounts when I +1 something or share something publicly. As it stands, my tracks across Google+ depend on which account I was logged into at the time I was searching or posting. What I want is something like a drop down that lets me click on a +1 or share with either Gmail account and toggle between them. Something, in fact, just like I’ve had on email for years: I can choose among several of my email addresses when sending a message. For example, a message going to my son’s teacher uses my personal email. And one going to a client uses my work email.

It’s just not that hard.

Okay, so that’s much more than I expected to say. Thanks for hanging in there. I’d be thrilled to hear any suggestions or comments from you.

Oh, and Google, I still love you, but please hear my plea! In the meantime, my entire social media presence is here:

Most of us readily grasp that we can glean valuable insights from our bosses, mentors or colleagues with more seniority at work in our fields.

Not all of those lessons are good, of course. When we see those folks doing stuff that makes us cringe at the office, that’s plenty powerful!

Still, things we pick up from higher-ups, often, can teach us how to navigate office politics, network effectively or execute on the job.

I spoke to a graduate class in public relations awhile back and talked about learning from people in the workplace who might not be so obvious. I was speaking about a few examples, in particular. Here are three people at work I got to know and why the relationships were so valuable. They all cared, amazingly deeply, about doing a bang-up job.

The friendly lady in the cafeteria

She scooped up more pasta and veggies, and less broth, when serving up soup. And she’d let me know if a dish didn’t really live up to its billing.

When I was pregnant and hungry all the time, she offered to keep a jar of my peanut butter on a shelf in the kitchen and spread it on my toast (since the cafe didn’t stock any.)

She clearly cared about her regulars. She tipped me off if the bean soup I was eyeing had bacon in it. She’d ask, genuinely, how I was. And she laughed. A lot.

Nurture a relationship with her. It will repay itself over and over and over.

Willa was the name of the special lady in our cafeteria. And, may she rest in peace, at her funeral, when she was taken too young, it was clear that hordes of others — in addition to her large, loving  family — knew how really special she was, too.

The Intern

He’s keen. And young. Still green, okay. But, he’s ready to learn. And he almost certainly knows more about software or technology, or many other trends, than I do.

Be friendly. Offer to take him (or her) out for a cup of coffee. Share some tips that might seem old hat to you, but that surely a newbie would welcome. These hungry go-getters can awe us with their gumption, work ethic and eagerness. And insight. And talent.

One of my favorite interns while I was at the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Tom Benning, is now at the Dallas Morning News and broke some big news during the PR crisis recently plaguing the Komen Foundation.

The mailroom guy

At Christmas, I mail cards to six different countries. And our mailroom guy weighed them all for me, so I could use the correct postage. Larry also made sure he got a package — that I was waiting to be hand-delivered from a source, on deadline — to me as soon as it arrived at the front desk.

When I needed to send a check to Australia to our accountants, overnight, he let me write our publishing company a check for the FedEx shipping fee, and send it out that day. At the time, I didn’t have a separate FedEx account. He devised a solution that helped me, and didn’t cost the company anything — right on the spot.

He smiled often. And he got letters to me whether they had my  married, or my professional name, on them. Larry. Rocked.

Inspiration and personal connection can spring from anywhere

What these, and many other workplace interactions have taught me is that life gives us insight about, and from, people in all different ways. It pays to be open to them. Learn from the rich exchanges you have with people everywhere. You might need to draw on a favor, I told the graduate students. I needed several favors from the three folks I mentioned here.

But you’ll also learn as you watch and interact with others about how they do their jobs and navigate their professional realms. So often, there are valuable lessons there about life. Right on the job.

You might think of three, or more, as well. Who did you learn from? And what were the most poignant stories?

Which tools are best for making a message with impact?  It depends.

  • Who do you want to reach?
  • Why?
  • If you’re successful, what would that look like?
  • And how would you know?

It’s common for folks to start at the wrong end of the process. Often, they’ll focus on a tool they want to use. Like this: “We need to get the word out; we need a press release.” Or, we need a video that “will go viral.” Or a brochure, PowerPoint deck, Facebook page or Twitter account. And so on.

You get the idea.

But those are tactics, not impacts. In other words: it’s like getting snagged in the details of whether you need a rake, a hoe or a trowel to weed, when what you want is a thriving garden.

The big picture is the savvy view. That’s the focus that makes sense. Let the outcome you want drive the tools you use and inform the process for getting there. So, instead of focusing on the specific product you think you need, zero in on the outcome you want. Only after deciding on that goal can you devise a targeted approach to reach it.

Sure, if you want to influence an audience, you’re bound to include social media. And specific tools. But first, be clear why you’re choosing those options. Know what they need to know, why.

Audience is important, of course. But so is framing the information the audience needs to have. Tell them what they need to know so it enables you to make your point.

Starting at the end: the desired result

See, it’s not about just doing something — anything. It’s about getting results. If your message gets scattered to the wrong audience or is sent without finesse, it won’t make the impact you want. Worse, it could undermine your efforts. And turn off people you wanted to win over. You might not get to come back for a second try.

Even if you know what you want to say, distilling your message can be tricky: The outcome must be guided by answers to some key questions:

  • What do you do?
  • How do you do it?
  • Why does it matter?
  • Who needs to know?
  • What do they need to know? And, why?

You might decide to call in a consultant to advise. That’s what I do for clients: Help them put ideas together in fresh ways and offer insights that not only create impact but also unearth value.

If you find, though, that you are facing a project without an outside perspective, you should still remind yourself to focus on the end result you want and work backwards.

It’s only that way that you can find the best steps to take to get there . . . and to get out of the weeds.

Word clouds captivate. They show concepts in ways that allow our brains — already saturated with information — to take in, quickly, the relative importance of the components. Proportion, font, color, orientation: they can all add to that clarity.

For presentations, I sometimes use a word cloud to clarify, or emphasize, a point. It’s effective for summarizing analysis. A word cloud can illustrate data in a way that bullet points, or even a graphic, can’t.

Word clouds, though, have to be used judiciously in reports or presentations. Overuse dilutes their impact.

Still, I think word clouds can grip an audience and hold their attention as they take in, and mull and process, the information displayed.

Wordle is one free resource for making them. This site also allows users to share or print the word clouds they create. Or, to open them in a new window and, say, take a screen shot to embed in a document. It takes some practice to get the layout, font and look of a word cloud you’re building to appear clear and engaging. But, after making a few word clouds, the knack comes and making them is not too hard. With Wordle, a word cloud can be inserted into a document or presentation, such as Prezi (which is what I use now, having abandoned Power Point.)

For fun, I created a word cloud for the phrase Social Media and inserted it at the end of this post. It includes most of the descriptions and functions I associate with the term. What words would you add?

I’m eager to hear your thoughts, including ideas about using a word cloud in a client or business presentation.

This word cloud shows just some of the aspects and functions of social media







“Oh, you’ve got to use…”

It’s easy to feel like you aren’t sure what to do, where or how, on social media. After all, the life cycle within the social media sphere can feel as if it’s shorter than that of a fruit fly. New lingo. New sites. New companies. New capabilities.

So, if your organization is mulling its social media strategy — putting one in place or changing the one you’ve got — keep this in mind:

There’s no one-size-fits-all set of rules.

The way to connect with audiences you want to start and maintain conversations with is to make sure your strategy matches the organization’s own style and culture. Social media is, ultimately, about relationships and brand. To be effective and authentic, your social media tactics must work in concert with those.

To my mind, there’s no one channel that all organizations have to use or approach they must take, especially if your group is a nonprofit or is focused on building communities. By definition, those are as unique as the people in them.

The one thing you must do? Customize your social media outreach.

By itself, that won’t guarantee success, which takes time, diligence and responsiveness that lead to trust and build credibility. To do that, you need to interact and converse with the audiences you want to reach.

But how your organization does that through social media can, and should, be framed to suit your organization’s goals for outreach. What does it want to do? Reach funders? Find clients? Build public or industry awareness?

Two examples

Consider two organizations I’ve conjured for this blog post: a fairly traditional law firm and a nonprofit focused on community development. Their audiences and messages would be very different, as would their cultures and brands.

Case # 1

For the law firm it’s better form to have someone else tout its work, social media marketer David Heyman notes, lest the firm look like an “ambulance chaser.” A Face Book page might not be one of the social media tools it would employ. Perhaps, instead, a blog would be the way to go. That would let the firm talk about fresh trends, or do’s and dont’s within scenarios that potential clients might need counsel in navigating, Heyman suggested.

The firm, of course, wouldn’t talk about clients or any specific cases in its posts. But, by using social media, it could show its expertise in action and through examples, enabling its authority to spread much more widely than if it were published in a printed newsletter. And the firm’s followers, who would’ve opted in to receive the blog or e-newsletter, would increase the impact by sharing it with some of their followers.

Lawyers do have constraints and rules for conduct, notes lawyer, blogger, podcaster, presenter and digital media strategist Whitney Hoffman. So, they need to be sensitive to concerns such as those that relate to promoting their business or attracting clients, Hoffman says.

Still, there are smart, tailored ways they can tap into the power of social media to increase their public profile and credibility and, indirectly, their business. (Thanks to Marjorie Clayman and Shonali Burke for helping me find the experts I quoted in this example!)

Case #2

The nonprofit whose work centers on community development, on the other hand, would seek to engage in active conversations with the audience it serves. It would use social media in much more direct ways to reach current and potential clients, as well as many others.

This group would want media, bloggers and the public to know about its work and its outcomes. Using social media tools successfully would drive more viewers to its website. It could also lead to more interviews or invitations for guest posts on related websites. The nonprofit group would also want to spread evidence of its expertise so it could increase opportunities to present at conferences or appear on panels.

Like all nonprofits, this one would need to raise funds. It probably believes that existing funders know all about the nonprofit’s programs and its track record. But that’s usually not the case. Funders need to see and hear, often, how a nonprofit they are supporting is using the money. That not only lets them know the money is being used well, it gives them some recognition, too, through association.

By putting those stories out through social media channels, it informs potential funders, too. The nonprofit’s social media outreach should make it easier for it to find more resources, from grants to respected board members to volunteers.

Goals for outreach shape the social media tools

It might be that, in setting up or refining a social media strategy, you bring in a consultant or adviser with that expertise. But even if you take that path, it’s a good idea, first, to think through the outcomes you want to achieve.

Once you are clear on what you want social media to help your organization do, it will be easier to sort out which tools and ways to do that. And then you can assess new ones, strategically, in terms of whether they’d let you meet the goals you’ve already set for a smart, customized approach to social media.

It makes keeping up with the latest social media developments less frantic because you don’t have to adopt every new tool. What you choose to add should make sense in terms of your brand and culture. It depends on what you want to say and achieve, and who you want to reach, why.

So, that’s my opinion. What do you think?