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Friday, March 28, 2014

Crisis communication -- don't wait until you're in a crisis to communicate

First Class Communication has always told our clients that when it comes to crisis communication...
  • You need to be as honest as you can with what you know
  • You need to show genuine concern for anyone who has been hurt
  • You need to say how you're going to make things better in the future -- and then, for Pete's sake, make sure you follow through
So it was reaffirming to hear respected crisis communication expert Diane Chase, owner of C4CS in Pittsburgh, PA, and Charlotte, NC, reframe that same advice in three easy questions. The questions she posed are without a doubt ones you must think through before you give any media interviews about a crisis:
  1. What do you know?
  2. How do you feel about it?
  3. What are you doing about it?
Chase, who spoke to the Arkansas Chapter of IABC today, also had some other great bits of wisdom regarding crisis communication:
  • You can't wing it. (That's why it's so important to prepare a crisis communication plan that is regularly reviewed and updated.)
  • Crises are a matter of when, not if. (So, really, you need to be ready.)
  • It's vital to build relationships with media and other stakeholders before a crisis occurs.
  • Crises present both danger and opportunity -- how you handle them defines which of those they turn out to be for you and your organization.
Are you prepared to turn a crisis into an opportunity?

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Social media success -- it's more than a numbers game

Before embarking on a social media plan, we always ask our clients what they want from their social media efforts. The reply is often, “To get more followers.” We understand! Everyone wants more followers.  It makes your organization appear popular...well-liked...valid!

But having an astounding number of followers doesn’t necessarily mean you have the
right followers. To make the most of your social media efforts, you need to gain followers who will help you:

  • Reach your organization’s larger goals
  • Promote your brand
  • Interact
To get those followers, an effective social media strategy should:

1.   Support the overall goals of your organization.

In order to accomplish this, you first need to define your organization’s overall goals for the next one to five years. Think about where you want to be – not on social media, but as an organization as a whole. Make it easy on yourself by keeping the list to three goals. More than that is probably not realistic.

After you set your goals, think about who, specifically, are the best people to help you reach each. Which social media channels are those people you identified using? Are some on Twitter and others on Pinterest? Target your message explicitly to those people, on those channels, and you will reach the larger audience, too.

2.   Reflect your organization’s brand identity.

A good social media strategy takes into account how your brand relates to people’s lives. Don’t be entirely self-promotional. In addition to reflecting your brand’s voice and important issues, your content themes should target the wider, related interests of your audience.

Facebook and Google+ posts that are relevant to your audience’s lives, rather than simply lauding how great your brand is, will attract customers and brand advocates. They are the ones who will spread the word about how fantastic you are.

3.   Include a means of engaging with your online community.

When planning your conversation calendar, remember that social media is not only about pushing information to your audience. The “social” part of it requires that you spend some time IN the conversation. Be sure to include time to respond to questions, reply to comments, and acknowledge mentions.

Also, include time to really listen to the conversation going on around your brand: read timelines, news feeds and boards. Find out what the people who like your organization are talking about, so you can be part of that conversation, too. When people realize you are fully participating in the dialogue, your community becomes stronger and wider.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Making a difference in kids' lives

I saw a terrific video on Facebook this morning of a young woman reading a poem she'd written called The Lost Generation. I encourage you to watch it.

The poem is a plea for adults not to write this generation of kids off as a hopelessly lost cause. Instead, she says in a hip-hoppy rhythm, give young people the nurturing and support they need to grow into the people they can and truly want to be.

A recent assignment has allowed me to talk to some adults who have done just that.

The Arkansas Community Foundation, which supports amazing work in towns and cities throughout the state, focuses on improving education as one of its seven pillars.  As part of that focus, the Foundation wanted an article about improving graduation rates for this summer's issue of Engage, the organization's magazine.

My graduate degree is in data-based journalism, so I started my research with graduation rate data obtained from the Arkansas Department of Education. I compared rates from 2010 to 2012 (the most recent available) to find those high schools where graduation rates spiked the most.

I have to say, there's no better feeling for a data-based journalist than when the "shoe-leather" reporting so completely bears out what the statistics show. And this was certainly the case here, as the data  pointed to real efforts to help students stay in and graduate from high school.

Without giving too much away, I interviewed leaders at three of the school districts where the graduation rates increased the most between 2010 and 2012.

At each one, school leaders had made concerted efforts to improve students' academic performance and, in turn, graduation chances and future opportunities. Sure, changes were made in the classroom in terms of instruction and curricula and credit-recovery opportunities. But the larger themes running throughout the interviews included the importance of:
  • Spending time with students to let them know they and their futures mattered and that success was expected of them.
  • Providing opportunities for students to realize they really, really could pursue a future that included college, technical school, the military or a job with a career path.
  • Involving parents and community in efforts to keep students on target for graduation.
No doubt, strong, determined and caring leadership made all the difference in the world at these schools. The stories illustrate it. The data prove it. The poem's author begs for it.

He who opens a school door, closes a prison. -Victor Hugo, poet, novelist, and dramatist (1802-1885)