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Becky Gaylord discusses the 12 Most Untenable Excuses Not to Have a Crisis Communications Plan…

Via 12most.com

A breakdown in action that stops us from making progress on a project is known as writer’s block. I think a better term is idea block because it happens when we’ve run out of ideas for how to move forward.

To defeat writer’s block we don’t actually need to write. But we do need to get unstuck and break the block. It’s not in the hands. It’s in the brain. So hit the a reset button.

Here are 26 ways to get ideas flowing again.

1. Listen to music without lyrics, such as a Classical station on Pandora

2. Close your eyes and picture a peaceful, quiet scene

3. Breathe deeply

4. Jump for 60 seconds

5. Do a puzzle with numbers, like Sudoku

6. Sing

7. Skip

8. Hum to a happy song

9. Get up and make a cup of tea

10. Move your right elbow to your left knee and your left elbow to your right knee ten times

11. Pretend you’re in the second grade and explaining the project for Show and Tell, and do that out loud

12. Write out an affirmation and walk to mirror, look at your reflection and repeat it to yourself

13. Read a poem out loud

14. Climb up and down several flights of stairs and do a jumping jack on the landings

15. Call a good friend who knows nothing about the topic and have her  interview you about it for a few minutes

16. Think of the concept or project as a tree and visualize what needs to be the trunk and what would be branching off from it.

17. Sketch what you imagined in #16

18. Do something totally different and that interests you for ten minutes

19. Draw

20. Color

21. Watch a video with babies laughing 

22. Read some inspiring quotes 

23. March with your knees high, even better if done while listening to band music

24. Watch something short and funny

25. Stare out a window and let your mind drift

26. Keep a cheat sheet handy

These are some of the things I do. What works for you?

We all want customers or clients who are so thrilled with us (and our work, service or results) that they voluntarily and enthusiastically spread the word among their contacts and networks. But how does this work if you’re not a superstar brand with a ton of money to spend?

You need to do four things:

  1. Know your customers and what they want
  2. Give them something they perceive to have real value
  3. Don’t attach any strings or hide any gotchas
  4. Make it really fun

Here’s a quick case study based on an experience I had today that shows all four elements at work, really effectively.

We have an annual pass to the Greater Cleveland Aquarium. When it opened about two months ago, the aquarium seemed like it would be a super cool place to visit, especially during the months in Cleveland when it’s important to have    indoor options to keep kids busy and entertained. (We have two boys, ages 3 and 7.)  My husband went once with our 7-year old son. At the time, we decided to get an annual pass.

Here’s why: if our family of four went to the aquarium together, and bought tickets for just that day, it would cost us $75.80. (Tickets for adults are $21.95 and for the kids [aged 2-12] are $15.95. The annual pass is $130 for a family. So, if we go even two times a year, together, the pass becomes the better deal. I had planned to take the kids, too, but hadn’t fit it in, yet.

Last week, an email arrived announcing a special Toddler Time party for annual pass holders with children aged two to four. It would give the 40 or so respondents who RSVP’d access to the entire facility from 8 am to 10 am, before it opened to the public. But the little ones wouldn’t just get to roam, unfettered, around “40 tanks of all sizes, which are home to thousands of living creatures. From the Ohio-native brook trout, to the ferocious piranhas, as well as the sand tiger sharks that reach more than seven feet long,” as the aquarium’s website touts.

As well, the inaugural Toddler Time party featured music, dancing, touch exhibits staffed with plenty of friendly aquarists, snacks, juice, storytelling, Captain Neil (with a booming brogue) and friendly, furry costumed sea creatures to cuddle and wave at. Oh, and the lovely folks at the aquarium set out hot coffee for the parents, too.

We were truly treated to a special, private and fun time. It cost an additional $7. But I would’ve paid five times that and still felt like it was a deal. My three-year old, Max, had fun, too. (And he ate three packages of Teddy Grahams!)

The experience converted me into a brand ambassador, for sure. Here’s how the aquarium delivered on the four elements:

1.  Know your customers and what they want

The set up is exactly what works with this age group: space, movement, food, things to touch, music, animals and water. And, it was what the parents wanted, too. About a 1/3 or so of the caregivers at the Toddler Time party were guys/dads — a much bigger chunk than I expected. The morning timing and location (the aquarium is downtown) made it a great way to fit in some fun time and wrap it, smoothly, into the rest of the day. I did the same thing.

2.  Give them something they perceive to have real value

It wasn’t just the thoughtful additions of snacks, drinks and coffee or music, dancing, stories and characters that made this so great. The private access made us feel like we were truly special guests. The staff welcomed us warmly and showed us around with pride. It wasn’t at all crowded. We got to feel like we were being honored as annual pass holders. Smart! I’m not going to be the only one who talks this up, and that’s bound to entice more folks to become annual pass holders.

3.  Don’t attach any strings or hide any gotchas

No one made me sign anything or promise to send anything in. I wasn’t hounded to buy one thing. In fact, the gift shop was closed — which was a sigh of relief to this mom, who dreads the parade past the goodies in the grocery checkout line because of the pestering. The experience was all treat and no tricks, just the way it should be when a business is trying to show customers extra value. Problem is, it doesn’t always happen like this. Customers notice.

4.  Make it really fun

This is almost the easy part, if you nail the other three elements. The aquarium took care of everything, including making it fun for the grownups. I had such a good time that when I dropped off my son at day care, afterwards, still chatting about it, our caregiver said she’d look into joining so she could take the kids. (She looks after five toddlers and takes them to the zoo and concerts and plays for children, so this facility would be right in line with those fun excursions.) And I am blogging about it. And I’m posting pics on Facebook. And I’ll Tweet. How much in advertising would that publicity cost?

The upshot is this: if you want to turn customers into brand ambassadors, it takes forethought and planning. But it doesn’t take a ton of money or a huge marketing staff. The effort is mainly in giving your customers what they want as well as value and fun, like this Toddler Time party. I want to share about it through social media because I now consider myself an ambassador of the Greater Cleveland Aquarium and its brand.

When advising clients or others about seizing opportunities on social media or through other marketing channels, keep in mind the experiences you have when you are the customer. That’s a great way to test out the ideas to see if they are authentic and would work. This experience with the aquarium is just one example of how to do that.

My Twitter-data generated Infographic…yep, pretty much nails it!Image

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Becky Gaylord lets us in on the 12 Most Savvy Ways to Get Ahead…

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The company Visual.ly has come up with many incredible tools. But its latest development (I have no stake — monetarily or otherwise) fascinates me as someone who devours all forms of media and data to stay on top of trends and advise clients who want to do the same.

Using the option to create infographics, anyone can see how a topic spread across Twitter in the past 30 days, as indicated by a #hashtag. This feature also shows the most influential Twitter accounts that used and spread the topic’s hashtag.

The implications for research into cultural and media trends are profound. We can see — admittedly though just one imperfect vehicle: a Twitter #hashtag — how information about a specific topic or news item ripples through a social media site with more than 300 million accounts and that handles 1.6 billion search queries each day.

I decided to look at the spread of news about Trayvon Martin by analyzing the use the hashtag #Trayvon. As media reports indicate, Trayvon, a 17-year old African-American teenager from Miami Gardens, Fla., was unarmed when fatally shot last month. George Zimmerman, the man who says he fired in self-defense, has not been arrested as of today. He has been described in different news reports as White and as Hispanic. And the case has sparked widespread outrage and protest. Trayvon’s school has been criticized for not announcing his death to the students until almost a month had passed. The police and prosecutor connected to the case have also been criticized their conduct. And the police chief has temporarily stepped down.

In this case, I input the hashtag #Trayvon in the Visual.ly tool and created an infographic. What appeared surprised me. I expected to see use of the hashtag swell after the shooting of Trayvon. Instead, there was just one reference. That appeared on Feb. 26 — the day of the shooting. And then, weeks went by before the hashtag #Trayvon was used again on Twitter. After that, it rose dramatically.

Many observers of this tragic death charge that the mainstream press delayed and downplayed coverage because of race. This infographic shows that a weeks-long lag in spreading awareness of Trayvon’s death is apparent also through a common social media marker: the Twitter hashtag. By examining this and blogging about it, I hope to illustrate a new way that those of us who care deeply about issues in society and the media can add dimension as we explore and analyze important current events that affect our communities and our relationships with each other. I also wish peace for the young man’s family, friends and community — and for calm as justice unfolds.

#Trayvon Twitter hashtag absent for weeks after his death Feb. 26

If you want to increase the influence you have through social media and attract more followers on Twitter, the best way is to be human: approachable, humble, informative, engaging and a little funny. In other words, don’t try to get more Twitter followers. Instead, try to find people whose work interests you, whose posts inform you and whose viewpoints make you reflect.

Through conversation, connections and the social sharing that happens in creating and posting solid content, ReTweeting and giving credit to others, followers will come.

My experience proves this. I signed up for an account on Twitter three years ago — almost to the day. But until about three months ago, I didn’t update very regularly. I didn’t hang out and learn or actively follow people who posted interesting things.

I really didn’t understand the community that Twitter involves.

I made a concerted effort to jump in and learn more near the end of last year. And I started blogging more regularly. I became more engaged through Twitter and other social media sites. I wanted to be able to apply the knowledge to better help my clients and increase the profile and credibility of my business.

But in the process, I also found empathetic guides who shared selflessly and helped me make other connections. They led me to other social media tools, sites and data. And they still help me. Through them, I have found bloggers I love, as well great Twitter chats, resources, books and other mentors.

The social media community is very welcoming — as long as you’re not a spammer, a plagiarizer, buying followers or ceaselessly selling your wares. It turns out that, by engaging, I also found followers. In three months, my followers grew from 200 to more than 800. For proof, have a look at this chart.

The yellow bars show my Tweets. The red line reflects my followers.

If you’re famous, you’ll get followers anyway. But, if you’re not, and you do want more followers, here’s some things I’ve learned. It’s best to:

  • create and share relevant, fresh content
  • say thanks and give credit
  • follow back most of the time (though I always check out a new follower’s Tweets first, and I never automatically follow because of the ‘bots)
  • be present and be yourself
  • know you’ll make some mistakes and feel like a newbie as you go
  • have fun

Others might have another route, but for me, this is the path I found to be the most productive.

So, that’s the secret: you get Twitter followers by jumping into social media with both feet and an open mind. And it turns out the people already doing this knew it all along.

If you liked this post, feel free to follow me. Chances are good that I’ll follow back and share interesting posts and content from some other great folks I’ve met through Twitter.

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See my entire social presence here: http://XeeMe.com/beckygaylord

Mayor’s school reform plan is critical to students’ success

This is an Op-Ed I wrote that ran in the Cleveland Plain Dealer on Sunday, March 18. It’s about an incredible public school our second grader attends in Cleveland and why I support a plan by the city’s Mayor to create more schools like this.

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Becky Gaylord shares her experience with 12 Most Powerful Words in Business.

Via pegfitzpatrick.visibli.com

I do much of my grocery shopping at Giant Eagle. In the warmer months, we get a weekly goody bag of fruit and veggies from a local farmer as part of a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture.) But most of the year, we’re lured to Giant Eagle because of the discounts it offers regular shoppers and the wide selection of gluten-free and organic food.

I have a rewards-related credit card associated with the company, which bestows discounts at all branded stores. When consumers with reward cards patronize the company’s gas stations with car washes, and grocery and convenience stores — taking advantage of many of the weekly specials — it really adds up. Our family has saved almost $2,000 in the past year. My local Giant Eagle grocery store has a Starbucks inside, too, so I sip coffee as I shop. (And all spending, even on my beloved java, is counted toward a discount on gas when I fill up.) Lovely.

But that’s not what this post is about. It’s about targeted marketing and customized perks based on buying habits. Of course Giant Eagle is tracking everything I buy. Otherwise, it couldn’t offer me every fifth cup of coffee free (which is tracked electronically on my rewards card). And it also wouldn’t know to give me $2.21 off the last tank of gas I filled up with, based on the amount I had spent — and saved on — in-store grocery specials. Nor, would the company be able to tell me that I’d saved $1,996.75 through the various perks and savings and other tied-discounts it offers customers who take the time to look for those deals.

Of course, the company is keeping very close dibs on me, mainly, to serve itself. And I feel more than a little conflicted about this.

In an era filled with consumer scoring, from Klout to frequent flyer perks to special grocery store offers, it makes me a wee wistful for the days when we were all more anonymous. I love the treats that come from being a “regular.” There’s nothing new in that. It’s a concept even older than tabs the barkeep ran for local cowboys whetting their whistles in the saloons. Their chums knew them. The bar keep knew them. But no one else did (except the Sheriff, who likely also knew the shady ones…)

Nowadays, though, we need to realize that to snag perks that come from being “score-able” we trade-off the ability to be unknown. The benefits that come with being a good customer in this era means we have given up enough privacy that our service providers are able to know, accurately, what kind of customers we are. They know when we shop. What we buy. And where we live, among other things. That brings me to the hummus and the organic apples.

Today in the mail (snail mail, interestingly), Giant Eagle sent me coupons truly customized for me. They fit my buying habits. And they give $1 or more on things I already buy frequently, such as “loose organic apples” and “Market District hummus” and other specific items I buy. (They know this, of course, because it’s monitored, recorded and parsed.)

I was pleased and a little freaked out all at the same time. I didn’t ask for these or even know they were coming.

There’s no going back to a time when this kind of thing won’t happen. Now, no matter what the venue, customers who are deemed more valuable, loyal or otherwise influential are wooed. They have more Klout. And technology makes this possible to track and act upon.

Still, it makes me aware that with great advances technology brings, we need to be careful how the data are collected, used and analyzed. It’s innocent enough to give me $5 off my apples and hummus and other items. It’s more complicated and perhaps more concerning, though, as the special deals offered to consumers become increasingly targeted and connected to their behavior and choices — and to their personal information and social scores, online or offline. I wonder if related technology will make more polarized and striated our society, which, to my mind, is already experiencing a too-wide gulf in income and with access to medical care and quality, public education and job prospects.

I just finished Mark W. Schaefer’s excellent book on influence and social scoring called Return on Influence. Undoubtedly, this is why the issue was top of mind. So many aspects of this trend are wonderful and open up opportunities for sellers that make their jobs more efficient and cost-effective and for buyers that make their experiences more fun and rewarding. (Could this technology give rise to marketing that’s so targeted it ends junk mail someday? Well, we can hope!)

Technology and social media enable amazing access and reach. And social media is a great equalizer in many respects — you don’t need an Ivy League degree or the “right” pedigree to influence on social media. You do need to reach and interact with an influential audience that finds you and your content that way, too, and that shares your content and comments on your blog posts. This is among the points that Return on Influence makes so well.

Yet even though the power hierarchy of decades past doesn’t apply in the same way today, segregation between the haves and have-nots or between the influencers and those without influence continues. It just looks different.

I am going to go buy my apples, hummus and other items and happily claim my discount at Giant Eagle. (I’m seeing if I can get my 12 month savings to $2,500. And I’m thinking of approaching the company to tell them about my quest, blog about it and see what else that yields…) But I remain mindful of the power that modern-day consumers can amass as influencers. It’s great for marketers. And great for some consumers. But maybe not so much for others.

As this power gets shaped and grows I believe we should be aware of, if not concerned about, the gulf. I love the concept of using social media for social good, where access increases so the benefits from technological innovations spread. Anyway, that’s part of my goal in working with and through social media.

The question is: Can this be done? And, if so, how?

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You can see my full social presence at http://XeeMe.com/beckygaylord