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Activism – The New ‘Sex’ that Sells

activism

It’s out with sex and in with activism; marketing and branding specialists alike have dubbed 2017 as the year that “activism comes of age”.

Following a series of polarizing elections and debates, it’s clear that the world is now more divided than ever. Demonstrations, protests, and marches fill our streets and dominate the conversations on our social media feeds – there simply is no avoiding the topic of activism. Fuelled by millennials – who see themselves as active agents of social change – this wave of social activism has set off new ripples in the marketing world.

It’s gone beyond supporting a cause – audiences are now demanding that everyone else does the same. And while this may present a risk of alienating segments of their consumers, brands are beginning to dip their toes into politics. The potential virality of brand activism in the era of social media marketing has helped brands gain more exposure, attract new customers and cement old loyalties. In most cases, the benefits far outweigh the harm.

No longer excused from sidestepping conversations about pertinent socio-political issues, it does little good for a brand to remain sitting on the fence. Take Uber for instance. Earlier this year, the company suffered a major setback after the hashtag #DeleteUber trended worldwide on Twitter. Close to 200,000 users deleted or deactivated their accounts within minutes, following allegations that the company was endorsing Trump’s controversial immigration policies by remaining neutral during protests. Meanwhile, in announcing its $1 million donation to the American Civil Liberties Union, Lyft (Uber’s competitor) received high praise for its denunciation of Trump’s outrageous executive order. By the thousands, angry consumers began switching their allegiance to Lyft and within hours, the company saw a drastic expansion of its user base – exceeding the numbers of Uber for the first time.

Riddled by heightened emotions and drastic political changes, consumers want to be more involved – associating themselves only with brands that share the same ideologies and values. Consumers are making their voices heard with their wallets: every purchase is a political statement. Thus, explaining the biggest rise in brand activism observed in the history of marketing and advertising. But riding this wave seems a lot easier said than done. While brands like Heineken and Dove have successfully crafted campaigns around the importance of unity and feminism respectively, others like Pepsi have completely missed the mark.

Heralded as “The Great Pepsi Shakeup” the three minute Ad was quickly pulled following the global #boycottPepsi on Twitter. Commentators on social media were understandably aggrieved – accusing Pepsi of appropriating imagery from the real protests and completely undermining the dangers and frustrations of these group of people. In attempting to resonate with the millennials, Pepsi completely neglected the most important aspect of brand activism: sincerity. Attempting to “join the conversation” (as preached) without discussing real issues, portrays the brand as opportunistic and more detrimentally, offensive.

Following this fiasco, Heineken, on the other hand, made a political statement of their own with a video titled “Worlds Apart: An Experiment.” Six strangers, each with diametrically opposed socio-political views were paired and encouraged to foster an understanding and open friendship despite their differences. Where Pepsi enraged, Heineken pulled at the heartstrings of its viewers. In this, there are two key differences:

(a) Heineken’s Ad discussed real controversial issues concerning transgender rights, climate change, and feminism while Pepsi adopted a more generic claim for unity and peace – whilst appropriating the imagery of real protests.

(b) Heineken proposed an actual, practical solution of encouraging discourse and fostering understanding despite our differences, instead of portraying themselves as the miraculous solution to all problems.

Gone are the days where sex was enough to sell. In the advent of progressive political changes, consumers and audiences alike have become more politically engaged, often interacting on social media where reputations are made or lost within a matter of minutes – aka the age of the millennials. Ultimately, as much as consumers love thought-provoking ads that tackle the real-world issues we face today, brands should always remind themselves that sincerity and authenticity should underlie all efforts geared towards harnessing the power of brand activism.

Posted by Roselynda Afandi, CorpMedia

How Was It For You?

WAG-Poster

In Shelagh Stephenson’s Olivier-award winning dark comedy, The Memory of Water, three sisters reunite to bid farewell to their recently departed mother. As adults, it is evident that their present lives have not lived up to expectations. That’s how life goes. But these girls can’t even agree on their shared past. And that’s how memory goes.

A common estimate used by psychologists suggests that a single ‘moment’ can last up to 3 seconds. So we experience about 20,000 separate moments each day, and about 500 million of them if we live to be age 70. Professor Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel Prize-winning economist and psychologist suggests that the vast majority of these moments simply vanish: poof – gone. And the memories we are left with can be very different from our experiences!

He distinguishes between what he calls the Experiencing Self and the Remembering Self. One of his favourite illustrations of this dichotomy is a story about a music lover, listening to a rare vinyl recording of a symphony. For 20 minutes, he got to experience some of the most sublime music of his life. Then, right near the end, there was a scratch on the record, a loud squeak, and he angrily declared: “It spoilt the whole thing!” But did it? He had enjoyed 20 minutes of lovely music, many moments. But that single negative moment coloured his memory of the entire thing. That’s what he committed to memory. What a shame.

What we now know is that, of the very many moments we experience in life, we are selective about which ones we commit to memory. And, for significant moments, we never simply record the facts. There’s always an emotional component – a feeling – that gets attached to the memory of that moment, and the two parts are not easily separated.

We all know people who lean towards a ‘glass is half empty’ philosophy of life. So is this merely a phenomenon that affects the pessimists among us? Probably not. Scientists believe that we are hard-wired to actively seek out, and remember, the negative. It is thought to be an evolutionary adaptation that enhances our ability to survive. Which I imagine was very useful in the jungle (“Yikes! A tiger, big teeth, scary, avoid in future!”) but occasionally frustrating for us in the modern world. For how does a ‘ruined’ memory of music impact the survival of the species? It doesn’t. But our hard-wired cognitive processes can’t automatically distinguish between the two.

Naturally, we also store and recall good memories. Things that nurture us, or feel pleasurable, are worth repeating if we get the chance, for they can also help our survival. For example, last week I was offered a piece of soda bread in a restaurant. It looked and tasted exactly like my granny’s bread, and I vividly remembered a warm kitchen and the smell of her apron as she hugged me close, more than 40 years ago.

That the girls in our play recall their shared experiences quite differently should come as no surprise. The emotional component of those moments was quite different for each of them, as our audience discovers along the way. One of the key reasons that the practice of mindfulness is so popular today, is the discovery that we can ‘hack’ our minds. By consciously marrying a neutral, or less negative, emotion to an immediate unpleasant experience we can influence our future mental states. Literally, we can write happier endings. It’s fascinating stuff.

In the 1960s Ellie Greenwich was a prolific songwriter, responsible for dozens of classic hits from The Girl Group era. Vi, the girls’ mother in our play, would certainly have sung along to these tunes as she got ‘dolled up’ to go out to the dance hall. One of Ellie’s lesser-known songs laments the heartache of having loved, and lost. The aching end lyric goes like this: “I wish I never saw the sun shine. I wish I’d never saw the sun shine. Cos if I never saw sunshine baby then…maybe… I wouldn’t mind the rain.”

As theatre makers it’s our job to know the breadth of human possibilities, and the depths of our individual character’s possibilities. We work with what the author gives us, and we can’t rewrite the ending. But by holding up a mirror to life, we believe that great theatre can help an audience to rewrite their own script, and maybe learn to love a little rain.

Written by Sean Worrall, an Ensemble Member of Wag the Dog Theatre.

The Memory of Water will play at Drama Centre Black Box, 100 Victoria Street, Singapore from 30 June to 9 July. Tickets are $35, available at SISTIC.

The Russians are Coming!

fake news

Between fake news, fake apps, and “alternative” facts, there seems to be no let-up in the barrage of misleading and outright false messaging. Fake news is not new, but its amplification through social media gives it a new dimension, causing it to become more pervasive. Unlike the PR spin, fake news is completely and intentionally made up. And because of the false narrative, a slight blend of truth to a story can make it difficult to discern the accuracy of its claims. Not surprisingly, this has created an opportunity to influence and exploit for political or personal gains.

Social media has rapidly become an integral part of all of our lives – it is the primary source for news and updates. The epidemic of fake news and alternative facts spread quickly like wildfire on social media platforms, like Facebook and Twitter – reaching tens of millions of people in milliseconds!  If you use any social media platform (duh!), you’ve probably been hit by some of these. Information doesn’t need to be true or funny to go viral – it can be a half-truth or even an outright lie.

Sometimes it may be something that fits a certain narrative that we have in our mind about a person or organization and we want so much for it to be true that we fall for it. On the other hand, a story is so outrageous that it’s easy to spot. No more was this more evident than during the 2016 US elections. Let’s see – “Hillary Clinton has brain Damage!”; “Pope Francis endorses Donald Trump!”; “Democrats to impose Sharia Law in Florida!”

Algorithms are part of what spreads fake news – because false stories which become popular can be pushed out by the software that runs social networks. But some programmers think computer code could also be part of the solution.

Google and Facebook have announced measures to combat fake viral stories online. Google has added a new feature, i.e. Fact Check (https://techcrunch.com/2017/04/07/fact-check-the-world-is-flat/) to Search and News to identify news reports as having been fact-checked by other news publishers and fact-checking organizations. Facebook is testing a new tool, located at the top of the News Feed to users in 14 countries (http://www.ubergizmo.com/2017/04/facebook-creates-new-tool-to-combat-fake-news/).  It is an educational project intended to help people spot and stop fake news from going viral.

Advertisers can help to solve this issue by paying closer attention to where their ads run and the environment in which their brand messages appear. For publications and news outlets – once the financial incentives for running click-bait, fake headlines disappear – the number of false news stories will decline.

What Can We Do?

  1. Beware the click bait: One way that fake news gets amplified or sensationalized is because busy readers may not look past the headline before they decide to share an article. Go through the whole article – you may find that it actually has nothing to do with the headline!
  2. Check out the news outlet: To trust or not to trust? Again, go beyond the pop-ups and loud ads. Google a site’s name and check out similar articles on various sites to determine if it’s trustworthy. Pay close attention to URL names of pages that look suspect to make sure that it’s not a spam site pretending to be a trusted source.
  3. Who’s the author: Looking at the writer of an article can reveal a lot of information about the news source. Searching through the author’s previous articles can show whether they are a legitimate journalist or have a history of “misleading and false” articles.
  4. Know your source: A lack of links or sources for claims in an article is an obvious red flag that the post may be false. Fake sites also provide numerous links to sites that appear to back up their claims, but are themselves spreading misinformation.
  5. Photos or photo-shopped: It’s common to take a photo from one event and say it is from another. Images can also be altered for a certain story. Reverse image searches on Google, Facebook, and TinEye can help you find where an image originated.
  6. Fact-check and verify: People are often drawn to stories that reinforce the way they see the world and how they feel about certain issues. It’s important to check that news stories are based on fact, rather than sharing them because they support one side of an argument to bolster belief or support.

Can We Ever Escape Fake News?

Unfortunately, there’s no one simple solution but we can start by not sharing stories just because they make us mad or tug at our heartstrings. News rightly gets an emotional rise out of us when a story is true, but when it’s false, that emotion can give power to baseless accusations and sow seeds of doubt. We can probably never escape it all together. But it’s up to each of us to use our intellect and common sense.

Posted by Irene Gomez, CIO, CorpMedia

Whose Line Is It Anyway?

Managing Your Reputation

In an increasingly digital age, online conversation plays a huge role in shaping brand opinion and anybody with an Internet connection can be a potential contributor. Your online reputation is accessible with a click and you can be sure that at any time, someone, somewhere, is going to turn on a device and check into a search engine to find out all they can about you.

When prospects encounter negative content related to a brand, they are likely to switch to a competitor, resulting in lost leads and sales for your company. The correlation between a brand’s reputation and its sales is different for each industry and unique to each field, but the link is painfully obvious to those brands that have fallen into disrepute or those personal brands that have fallen out of favour with the mainstream media often caused by negative reviews.

It’s not just your customers who will search online for information about you but the media, business partners, prospective employees, and even personal contacts. If you don’t protect yourself and your business, someone can easily post a comment, create a blog post, promote your competition or worse. The results of a negative online reputation can be as subtle as a potential customer clicking on a competitor’s search result instead of yours or it can be as damaging as an industry-wide boycott of your products or services. Case in point – the recent #GrabYourWallet boycott that saw US retailers like Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus and Sears, among others, drop the Ivanka Trump clothing line.

With increasing numbers of people turning to online resources for information, how does a business take ownership of their online reputation? Taking a proactive approach is the way to go. Managing your online reputation is not only a means of defence but it is also best practice.

Here, we share key initiatives that are integral to an effective brand reputation management strategy:

Public Relations: A strong PR program positions you as a thought leader and expert resource in your field in major newspapers, business and trade publications, and social media platforms. As a critical component to successful brand reputation management, PR can improve brand perception, manage negative sentiments, share positive customer opinion, and increase your web presence. A professional PR team can also secure high profile speaking engagements and opportunities (online or onsite) to promote your brand and gain top mind share.

Social Media: Social media is an integral part of brand reputation management. It’s a great way to make your business accessible, personable and focused on the customer. Being active on social media gives companies the opportunity to monitor their social reputation, as well as to act and react accordingly. Social media listening tools, like Hootsuite, SocialMention and Radian6 can research and collect user generated content such as blogs, comments, reviews, and alert a business of any negative conversation going on.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO): SEO strategies put you at the top of search engine results, where customers are searching for resources and solutions to real-time problems. If you are not present where consumers are searching, you will be left behind to competitors who are there. Leveraging strategic keywords and useful content can help to drive more web traffic and increase sales that are essential for your company’s strong brand reputation.

Content Marketing: Raising awareness about the brand through content marketing tools like white papers, blogs, targeted article contributions, and industry research reports can help in a company’s brand reputation management. Producing lead-generating content across an array of channels raises awareness about your brand and your products. By positioning your company as an informative industry source on topics your audience is interested in, you will gain more website visitors and potential customers.

Website Development: Designing a website that’s easy to navigate, with interesting and user-friendly features will definitely help a business in its reputation management. It’s important to make sure that the website works in tandem to the needs of customers – this helps them find relevant information easily and quickly. A strong website not only enhances a company’s online image but also helps to grow brand loyalty.

In the hustle and bustle of normal business operations, it can be easy to lose sight of the importance of brand reputation management and its impact on corporate growth. But lack of brand reputation management can significantly and negatively impact an organisation’s overall success.

It takes time to tackle these crises and turn the ship around, but such issues can be fixed with an appropriate online reputation management strategy. Clear, achievable goals will help restore your company’s good name and keep your business reputation clean.

Posted by Irene Gomez, CIO, CorpMedia

Ignorance is Not Bliss!

social-media

Social media has become interwoven in the fabric of our lives. It’s no longer simply a way we communicate; it’s becoming the way we communicate.

In just over a decade, social media has completely and forever altered the way we communicate, acquire news and information, make purchasing decisions, and interact with the world. It has changed the way in which brands market themselves and conduct business.

In fact, social media is completely inextricable from the online landscape, and practically every single person you have ever known in your life is reachable with a single click of a button. Think about it!

  • Social media users now account for two-thirds of all global Internet users.
  • There are 2.3 billion active users on social media platforms – that’s 31% of the entire world’s population.
  • The average person has five social media accounts and spends around 1 hour and 40 minutes browsing these networks every day, accounting for 28% of the total time spent on the Internet.

Millennials use social media extensively. The Gen-Zers use it for a mind-boggling 9 hours a day! Mobile devices and the mentality of being constantly connected serve to further enhance this trend.

Despite the evolution and these staggering stats however, smaller brands and businesses still don’t see the value in investing in their social media presence or spending money on social media advertising. Social media is not a novel accessory. It must be embraced as an essential component of an integrated digital marketing strategy to succeed in today’s marketplace. For those who are still pondering over the “why” of social media, here’s a quick reminder as to what can be achieved when using social media for business.

Attach No Strings

Social media is the perfect platform to share tips, facts, resources and your own expertise in a format that will provide value to others. And the best part is you get to share this information, and build new relationships, with no strings attached. If you genuinely want to help others and enhance your credibility at the same time, offer value-added information to your readers, followers and connections that don’t include a link to a product or service.

Break through Boundaries

Many businesses rely on local traffic, or the physical presence of customers to make sales and succeed. Whether you are a brick-and-mortar business or an online entrepreneur, social media helps erase the boundaries of community and borders. If your products or services are something that can be offered or provided online, then the world becomes your potential customer base, and social media helps connect you with them.

Educate and Upgrade

Long gone are the days of enrolling in a class and losing an entire day of work in order to gain knowledge and education that will help grow your business. Today’s online world offers up a plethora of online learning, classes, courses and eBooks that allow education and growth within a few keystrokes. The Internet affords business professionals all over the world the luxury of learning at your desk. More education and skills make you a better leader and teacher for those around you. With educational programs being promoted through social media and often conducted on online platforms, it’s easier than ever to keep up-to-date with our skills and business education.

Connect with Peers

It’s easier than ever to connect with like-minded business owners thanks to social media sites like LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. Competition is a healthy thing, and like it or not, many of us could learn a thing or two from our business peers and direct competitors. Social media allows growing businesses to observe other businesses and learn what works for them, and what doesn’t.

Embrace the Visual

Now that you’ve found them, you need to attract them. Brand your accounts clearly – you’re fighting to get noticed among millions, so to avoid getting lost in the abyss you need to stand out. Use appealing header images and profile photos, and write an informative and engaging bio that not only explains who you are and what you do, but also gives an idea of what they can expect from your channel. Three of the “newest” social networks, Pinterest, Instagram, and Snapchat, are based entirely on images. So why aren’t you leveraging the visual when promoting your content? Create not only a branded “featured image” to share with your post, but also create separate images for each of the main points in your content so they can be shared when you repeatedly post them to social media.

The important giveaway about social media is that there are many tools out there today – blogging, Twitter, Wikis, smart media releases, Facebook, LinkedIn, to name just a few. You don’t have to utilize them all – start small, keep going and you won’t be left behind.

Posted by Irene Gomez, CIO, Corporate Media

Socially Speaking, It’s all About the Dating Game

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Successful social marketing depends on planning. Planning ahead leads to higher quality content by allowing adequate time for research and execution, and ensures that you’re engaging your audience consistently and effectively.

Using a content calendar provides numerous benefits beyond basic scheduling. A calendar can be used for all aspects of your marketing strategy, including identifying your target audience, planning and goal setting, and tracking resources. Think of it as a shareable resource that marketing teams can use to plan all the content marketing activity. The benefit of using the calendar format, rather than a long list of content to be published, is that you can visualize how your content is distributed throughout the year. This allows you to plan content around key events in your industry or important dates; identify and fill gaps in your marketing plan; and make sure you have your content ready way before it’s published.

Well, January 2017 just passed us by in a wink of an eye. But don’t despair! It’s still not too late to start planning for the rest of the year. Here are some tips to get you started.

Develop a Solid Strategy

A content marketing calendar should organize the way you curate and create content, and help develop your editorial strategy. The calendar cuts extra time out of your marketing strategy and helps you allocate your resources wisely to help ensure your brand consistently publishes high-quality, well-written, high-performing content pieces.    

Before you build a content calendar though, bear in mind that it is more than just a schedule with deadlines. As with any marketing plan, you need to identify your target audience, which can include existing and potential customers. Knowing your audience will help determine what social media channels and types of content are most appropriate for your business. You can also get a sense of your audience by evaluating which of your social profiles are receiving the most traffic.

Key question: Who do you want to sell your product or service to? Your calendar should map out content that factors in the big picture, and how your efforts can drive real results.

Build your Content Team

The success of implementing your content strategy hinges on an important, but often overlooked group of people: your content team. These people will be responsible for the successful ideation and execution of your content needs.

You should identify at least 3 key players in the group:

  • Content strategistSomeone who is able to see the big picture and develop the script, including editorial strategy tasks like writing brand stories and/or style guidelines. A good content strategist (in-house or external) will always begin with an audit of your current content marketing efforts, then compare those to what you want to achieve and create a strategy to fill in the gaps.
  • Writers Ah, the creative force behind the content team! They’re the ones you rely on to conjure up creative ideas and capture the magic of storytelling through your brand voice.
  • CoordinatorsA good coordinator can be your key to scaling content. This is the person who keeps track of all the details from vetting and managing freelancers to making sure that someone really did add the alt text to all those images!

Peaks and Troughs

When developing a content marketing calendar, be sure to consider major events that fall within the publishing cycle, and reserve slots for disseminating relevant content coinciding with these dates. For example, you may have ideas for e-blasts or blog posts that the team can publish to help create publicity for a conference that your company is organizing. Incorporating these into your schedule makes sure that you flesh out your calendar with targeted and timely content that matters to your business.

Identifying peaks and lulls, meanwhile, helps you create and distribute content appropriately. Instead of overstretching your resources or being idle during gap periods, it commits you to producing a consistent cache of content that continues to build on your brand’s expertise.

Repurpose, Redistribute, Repromote

As you source for great content, don’t forget about the materials that are readily available and yet, underutilized. For instance, presentation slides from past workshops could be refreshed and repurposed into multimedia posts, and data from company white papers could be adapted into infographics. Pumping your calendar with unexploited assets would certainly ease the strain of having to frequently brainstorm for novel ideas. You can also redistribute relevant content to new and existing audiences to help attract attention. It could be quality information that may not have broken through initially; or perhaps it needed another context.

Check out time-saving curation tools like Scoop.it and Feedly that can aggregate all the topics and publications that resonate best with your brand, and help facilitate your content discovery process.

Without question, having everyone on the same page can improve productivity and help keep track of the different timelines for various assignments. With a dedicated content calendar, marketing teams can strategically align content with business goals, and anticipate the adjustments needed to meet benchmarks.

Posted by Irene Gomez, Corporate Media

It’s 2017 – Make it Happen!

 

happy-new-year-2017

Another year rolls in, yet another opportunity to come up with new resolutions. But, let’s get serious – how many of us actually stick to our resolutions, right?

The start of a new year seems to be the perfect time to take stock of where we are in our lives and the things we’d like to improve upon. Often, though, our best intentions are no match for daily life and we slide back into old patterns. Resolutions are not confined to our personal lives. You can also create impactful resolutions for your business. A resolution, after all, is a decision to do something differently to bring about positive change.

So, if you are ready to make some powerful changes, here are some tips to help you reset your small business in 2017:

Time to Take Stock

Spend some time to look back and take stock of the previous year. As a CEO, you may want to look at the roles you took on within the company, and determine if you can delegate anything to your employees. This will help you keep your eye on the big picture – opportunities for further growth. At the same time, it will empower your employees, give them a sense of personal responsibility and therefore more commitment to achieving team goals.

Stop and Smell the Roses

Running a business takes all of your time and then some, but if you don’t build time in your day for yourself, to take a breather from the hectic pace, it’s easy to burn out and lose your passion. Even if it’s only for 5-10 minutes, be sure to carve out some time this year.

Rest Not on Your Laurels

Keeping your skills current is essential. Whether you’re a restaurant owner, retailer, or marketing manager, it’s important to try new things to enhance your own professional growth. Try a new menu selection, reposition the items on the shop floor, or offer a new service to keep your business up to date. Talk to your customers about what they want from your business and think seriously about how you can implement some of their suggestions to great success.

Face to Face

It’s time to stop relying on emails, social media and mobile apps as an exclusive way to communicate with customers. Deep and long-lasting business relationships are built in real time. Schedule time to pay a courtesy visit to your customers, even if it’s just to have coffee or lunch – let them know how much you value and care about them.

Clean Up Your Workspace

It’s hard to stay organized and on top of your most important tasks and priorities when your desk or office is a mess. Take an hour or two every week to organize the paperwork that is no doubt taking over every inch of surface area. File away the things you don’t need and take action on the things that require it. While a cluttered desk may not be the sign of a cluttered mind, it certainly won’t help you get and stay organized for success.

Tie Up Loose Ends

Set aside at least 20 minutes at the end of your business day to tie up loose ends. Go through your remaining work and make assignments to employees, forward information to co-workers as necessary, respond to email and voicemail messages, file away the things that you need to keep, and toss the rest. Finally, quickly review your appointments for the following day.

Have a Positive Outlook

Running a business can be stressful. It’s not easy, and cash flow is usually an issue. In 2017, try not to get bogged down with the negative – focus on the positives: Where you’ve come, where you’re going this year, and where you’ll be next year. It will help you focus on the big picture – your business goals. Once you’ve focused on what you want to accomplish, your business objectives for 2017 will become clear.

Here’s wishing you a happy, healthy and profitable New Year!

Posted by Irene Gomez, CIO, Corporate Media

‘Tis the Season to Get Creative

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For many of us, the festive season brings much excitement – mega sales, year-end parties, exchanging presents – the list goes on.

And here forth is the early gift that content writers and marketers everywhere are presented with – the opportunity to rise above the fold, and deliver sincere and personalised messages to your consumers immersed in the festive fever. In other words, it’s the perfect time to build meaningful connections with your audience with content that is compelling, targeted and helpful.

So how do you effectively captivate with your content this holiday season? This month, we share some useful tips to get you started.

Give to Receive

While information is churned out every day, it takes the right kind of content to get the attention of your target audience. And that’s not all – you have to keep them engaged, and inspire positive action that will, in turn, enhance your brand. Compile a set of hot topics for the different segments of your audience and create pieces that provide suggestions or solutions to specific concerns that are on people’s minds during the holiday season. For example, a busy parent may find a list of time-saving decoration ideas extremely practical, while the restless millennial may appreciate tips on surviving the holidays with the extended family.

You can make content discovery effortless by creating SEO-friendly pieces. This means using keywords that people typically look for during this period in your headlines and articles. Popular ones include ‘simple’, ‘eat’ and ‘snack’. Essentially, it’s all about offering quick access and real value with your content.

When you share something helpful, people are bound to amplify it and recommend the same to others. They’ll also be more invested in the things you have to say with each new message you put out. Building great, people-centric content thus makes it easier to grow the following for your brand.

Get into the Spirit

Send greetings to your clients. This is also the best time to express appreciation and gratitude for their loyalty. Pamper them with personalised gifts that are related to your business, such as discounts and coupons for products and services. Introducing a holiday special for a limited period can also help create buzz around your brand and drive traffic to your site.

And who doesn’t appreciate the occasional heartwarming story or a spontaneous message? We all do, and even more so during this season. A large part of getting into the holiday spirit is getting in touch on a more personal level and fostering genuine connections with your clients. Throw the spotlight on your brand’s human side and share photos of staff in festive gear (complete with a fun caption!), or post short videos of your annual company party or of your team demonstrating a product, specially released for the holidays.

Indeed, ‘tis the season for good vibes! Take advantage of people’s propensity to connect with messages emotionally, and share content that’s able to hit a chord. Remember – emotions generate shares, and positive stories are likely to reach more people than negative ones.

Round Up Your Troops

Your work most certainly doesn’t end with the dismantling of the last festive lights, or amidst the dying notes of Auld Lang Syne. In fact, it’s only just beginning! The period after the holiday season is the ideal time to touch base with new followers you’ve gained in the last month. Follow up with these new additions, and continue to nurture relationships with them. Show them that their presence matters to you and make a special effort to convert them from casual customers to brand ambassadors.

Solidify your pool of followers by consistently creating compelling content – quite simply, by continually being interesting to your target audience and more importantly, by being interested in the very things they value.

The flurry of marketing activity and oversaturation of material that are typical of festive periods should in no way deter content writers from attempting to distinguish themselves with excellent stories and brand messages. Hopefully with these tips, you can be the voice of calm, seek real human connections, and reinforce your status as a trusted source of information this holiday season. Cheers!

Posted by Rahimah Amin, Corporate Media

What Great Listeners Actually Do

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Chances are you think you’re a good listener.  People’s appraisal of their listening ability is much like their assessment of their driving skills, in that the great bulk of adults think they’re above average.

In our experience, most people think good listening comes down to doing three things:

  • Not talking when others are speaking
  • Letting others know you’re listening through facial expressions and verbal sounds (“Mmm-hmm”)
  • Being able to repeat what others have said, practically word-for-word

In fact, much management advice on listening suggests doing these very things – encouraging listeners to remain quiet, nod and “mm-hmm” encouragingly, and then repeat back to the talker something like, “So, let me make sure I understand. What you’re saying is…” However, recent research that we conducted suggests that these behaviors fall far short of describing good listening skills.

We analyzed data describing the behavior of 3,492 participants in a development program designed to help managers become better coaches. As part of this program, their coaching skills were assessed by others in 360-degree assessments. We identified those who were perceived as being the most effective listeners (the top 5%). We then compared the best listeners to the average of all other people in the data set and identified the 20 items showing the largest significant difference. With those results in hand we identified the differences between great and average listeners and analyzed the data to determine what characteristics their colleagues identified as the behaviors that made them outstanding listeners.

We found some surprising conclusions, along with some qualities we expected to hear. We grouped them into four main findings:

  • Good listening is much more than being silent while the other person talks. To the contrary, people perceive the best listeners to be those who periodically ask questions that promote discovery and insight. These questions gently challenge old assumptions, but do so in a constructive way. Sitting there silently nodding does not provide sure evidence that a person is listening, but asking a good question tells the speaker the listener has not only heard what was said, but that they comprehended it well enough to want additional information. Good listening was consistently seen as a two-way dialog, rather than a one-way “speaker versus hearer” interaction. The best conversations were active.
  • Good listening included interactions that build a person’s self-esteem. The best listeners made the conversation a positive experience for the other party, which doesn’t happen when the listener is passive (or, for that matter, critical!). Good listeners made the other person feel supported and conveyed confidence in them. Good listening was characterized by the creation of a safe environment in which issues and differences could be discussed openly.
  • Good listening was seen as a cooperative conversation. In these interactions, feedback flowed smoothly in both directions with neither party becoming defensive about comments the other made. By contrast, poor listeners were seen as competitive — as listening only to identify errors in reasoning or logic, using their silence as a chance to prepare their next response. That might make you an excellent debater, but it doesn’t make you a good listener. Good listeners may challenge assumptions and disagree, but the person being listened to feels the listener is trying to help, not wanting to win an argument.
  • Good listeners tended to make suggestions. Good listening invariably included some feedback provided in a way others would accept and that opened up alternative paths to consider. This finding somewhat surprised us, since it’s not uncommon to hear complaints that “So-and-so didn’t listen, he just jumped in and tried to solve the problem.” Perhaps what the data is telling us is that making suggestions is not itself the problem; it may be the skill with which those suggestions are made. Another possibility is that we’re more likely to accept suggestions from people we already think are good listeners. (Someone who is silent for the whole conversation and then jumps in with a suggestion may not be seen as credible. Someone who seems combative or critical and then tries to give advice may not be seen as trustworthy.)

While many of us have thought of being a good listener being like a sponge that accurately absorbs what the other person is saying, instead, what these findings show is that good listeners are like trampolines. They are someone you can bounce ideas off of — and rather than absorbing your ideas and energy, they amplify, energize, and clarify your thinking. They make you feel better not merely passively absorbing, but by actively supporting. This lets you gain energy and height, just like someone jumping on a trampoline.

Of course, there are different levels of listening. Not every conversation requires the highest levels of listening, but many conversations would benefit from greater focus and listening skill. Consider which level of listening you’d like to aim for:

Level 1: The listener creates a safe environment in which difficult, complex, or emotional issues can be discussed.

Level 2: The listener clears away distractions like phones and laptops, focusing attention on the other person and making appropriate eye-contact.  (This behavior not only affects how you are perceived as the listener; it immediately influences the listener’s own attitudes and inner feelings.  Acting the part changes how you feel inside. This in turn makes you a better listener.)

Level 3: The listener seeks to understand the substance of what the other person is saying. They capture ideas, ask questions, and restate issues to confirm that their understanding is correct.

Level 4: The listener observes non-verbal cues, such as facial expressions, perspiration, respiration rates, gestures, posture, and numerous other subtle body language signals. It is estimated that 80% of what we communicate comes from these signals. It sounds strange to some, but you listen with your eyes as well as your ears.

Level 5: The listener increasingly understands the other person’s emotions and feelings about the topic at hand, and identifies and acknowledges them. The listener empathizes with and validates those feelings in a supportive, nonjudgmental way.

Level 6: The listener asks questions that clarify assumptions the other person holds and helps the other person to see the issue in a new light. This could include the listener injecting some thoughts and ideas about the topic that could be useful to the other person.  However, good listeners never highjack the conversation so that they or their issues become the subject of the discussion.

Each of the levels builds on the others; thus, if you’ve been criticized (for example) for offering solutions rather than listening, it may mean you need to attend to some of the other levels (such as clearing away distractions or empathizing) before your proffered suggestions can be appreciated.

We suspect that in being a good listener, most of us are more likely to stop short rather than go too far. Our hope is that this research will help by providing a new perspective on listening. We hope those who labor under an illusion of superiority about their listening skills will see where they really stand. We also hope the common perception that good listening is mainly about acting like an absorbent sponge will wane. Finally, we hope all will see that the highest and best form of listening comes in playing the same role for the other person that a trampoline plays for a child. It gives energy, acceleration, height and amplification. These are the hallmarks of great listening.

This post by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman first appeared online in Harvard Business Review.

Keeping Cool in Hot Weather

 

angry-phone-call

“You can’t have a business without having clients and unfortunately, where there are clients, there are also ‘difficult’ clients.”

You can please some of the people some of the time but not all of the people all of the time. Every business that provides a service, will no doubt, encounter a few disgruntled personalities along the way. As public relations professionals, we’ve all had that experience. Some clients are a breeze to work with. Others can be extremely difficult – the kind that makes you cringe every time their number lights up on your mobile. You know, the ones who drain your energy, criticize and complain incessantly about something you’ve worked on diligently (and see real value in), or an overly needy client who calls at least twice a day to find out why they aren’t in that society magazine yet!

PR is difficult at times. You’re in the middle of everyone, the diplomat between the client and the marketing spiel and between the journalist and the story. So suddenly having to deal with someone being nasty or unreasonable is just one thing that you don’t need. But how do you handle it, when the client is paying the bill?

Dealing with difficult people is essential to our success. When dealing with difficult people, specifically a client, it might seem that keeping peace and our sanity is a tough, if not impossible, task. So how do you find the right balance?

Bottom Line: You bend over backwards when appropriate but you also learn to put your foot down when needed. Even though you may be holding the phone on one end, biting your tongue and stabbing that notepad with your pen, you can turn this around! Here are some helpful tips on how to deal with difficult clients.

Be Open, Be Clear

When dealing with a client, it is better to be clear about expectations at the start of the new business relationship. This is your opportunity to share what type of reporting, results and communication your new client can expect from you. Have an honest conversation about the amount of communication that is most comfortable to your clients and what your agency can provide. However, even clients who appear pleasant, understanding and accepting in the beginning, can become challenging once the contract is signed. It is important to know that while you should aim to be a valued partner, not all requests are feasible. Don’t be afraid to tell your client no – but with good reason. Explain why their request is not realistic or possible. You cannot please everyone all of the time and that’s a fact.

Worth the Trouble

Some clients will send a rude email – out of the blue! Or you may get a harsh tone on your voice mail on a weekend. Then it’s time to ask yourself this question, “Is it me?” If not, it’s worth your while to check in on your client. Ask probing questions to find out what is really bothering him. It could be that he’s going through something that is affecting his personal life, or it could be a trickle down “telling off” from his boss that has nothing to do with you or your work. Be kind, lend your ears and see if there’s anything you can do to help. Sometimes it does have everything to do with you. If this is the case, have an honest conversation with your client, and with yourself. Perhaps, you need to assess and amplify your own efforts.

You are the Expert

For clients that call for constant updates or to give you their own PR ideas (ridiculous as they may seem), remember you are the expert, hired to do the job. Don’t be arrogant – you can either take the ideas into consideration (if worth exploring), or politely give your views as to why they cannot be executed, for e.g. it would end up in the editors’ trash. Explain why you were hired in the first place – because of your specific expertise. Perhaps, this is also a good time to share more information and updates on what you’ve been doing to assure your clients that you’re on top of things and have their best interests at heart. More importantly, assure them that you know what you’re doing.

Be Proactive and Supportive

It’s quite common for some of my clients to reach out to me for advice on matters not related to the work we’re doing. Don’t turn away. If you can help with some input to a web design or business question, become an ally and take the time to problem-solve with them. Or refer them to someone who’s in a better position to help. By offering a solution and assisting with other tasks, you show that you care about their business. This not only builds rapport but also trust and this goes a long way in building a good, long-lasting relationship with your client.

Time to Let Go!

Unfortunately, the client is not always right. If your client is consistently being difficult and your personalities just don’t mesh, then it may be time to take the “D” out and let difficult clients go. While it’s important to do whatever it takes to keep a client within reason, you, as the expert in your field, get to define what is or isn’t working.  If your client is making your team miserable, taking up a lot of time better spent working on clients who do respect your work, it might be time to set you both free.

Whatever you decide, always be professional and polite. Be as honest as you can without getting too personal.

For the most part, PR pros love their clients and probably spend more time with them than they do their family. A PR agency should act as an extension of the client’s team. Your interactions with your client should build on one another – after all, you’re ultimately interested in a long-term relationship with your clients, and that is what you should strive for.

Posted by Irene Gomez, Corporate Media