World Vision’s PR Bumble

Policy strategies and directives, HR policies, and best practices are challenging for organizations to hit the sweet spot every time. Like most things human, organizational culture and behaviour are difficult to manage, but policies are at least an attempt to standardize expectations in a workplace. And the larger an organization is, the more vulnerable it is to public opinion.

World Vision is a global Christian charity focused on economic development, child welfare, relief operations and poverty reduction in some of the poorer areas of the world. World Vision operates entirely from the goodwill and contributions of its members. People can sponsor a child in a developing country for $40 a month and receive pictures, updates, and cards from their sponsored child. They do other types of fundraising as well, including grants, receiving NGO financing in war-torn countries and working in refugee camps. In total, their operating budget is over $1 billion dollars annually.

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Last week, they surprised many of their supporters-who are practicing evangelical Christians-by announcing that they would hire individuals who were in same-sex relationships. Gay marriage continues to be a flash point in America, and the back lash from supporters and some prominent Christian leaders such as Franklin Graham was immediate and harsh. Notwithstanding the legality of an organization discriminating against a distinct group, two days later World Vision retracted its decision to say that it was not moving in that direction saying in part “We have listened to you and want to say thank you and to humbly ask for your forgiveness.”

I wonder what World Vision was hoping for in making their initial stance. Perhaps the organization wanted to respond to employees who were asking for fair treatment. But whatever their motivation was, two things happened immediately – traditional evangelical supporters of World Vision who typically oppose gay marriage became very upset, and those who might not even have known what World Vision was, but care a great deal about gay marriage also became very upset at the situation.

Within one week, over 4,000 people cancelled their sponsorships of children, believing that by doing so they were sending a message to the leadership of World Vision that they did not agree in their about-face.

What could they have done to minimize some of this impact? Granted, they do good work around the world, they did make a mistake by making a decision that they weren’t really that committed to. That’s fine for smaller strategic decisions, but for culturally sensitive issues that would certainly be reacted to by their constituents, this was a no-win situation.

The response from World Vision on its social media platforms is zero. Besides press releases, a visit to World Vision’s Facebook page today reveals comments like “I am disappointed that World Vision caved in to bigotry and now refuses to hire married gays. I have been and currently am a sponsor of a child” and “So disappointed in the reversal. I’m really torn on how to respond.” These comments have been placed on regular World Vision posts – about sponsoring children or helping in Rwanda or whatever. The comments themselves get more comments, 50 plus “likes” and full discussions that have absolutely no response from WV itself.

My Advice to you World Vision:
1) Take care of your supporters so that you don’t lose any more. Respond to negative criticism on your website, blog, FB posts, and Twitter with personable, positive, and direct comments.

2) Publish more than a short apology for the reversal. Explain why you had the idea in the first place, and more importantly, why you changed your mind two days later. While you can’t make everyone happy, you need to at least try. Not everyone, including many Christians, believe as you do, and you undermine the intelligence of your supporters by ignoring the situation.

3) On Social Media, proclaim loudly your belief in the value of every human being regardless of their race, wealth or sexuality while at the same time (this is the tricky part) outline why your internal policies need to be what they are. I would not suggest taking an official stand on this (there is really no need, your mission is to eradicate poverty not win gay rights for the world), people who support children in poverty need to know that the organization they send money to is a compassionate one. This recent decision and subsequent reversal makes you seem like a cold-hearted hater against gays. Again, I’m not suggesting that one side or the other is “right” in this debate, but I am suggesting that for a world-wide organization as diverse as you are, stick to what you know – bringing support to the neediest and assure your public that you still are an organization who cares about people.

At the end of the day, the less World Vision responds to these very direct criticisms from its supporters, the more it proves itself as a less than trustworthy organization to handle the hard-earned dollars of the public. Because if it turns out that World Vision’s leadership actually doesn’t care about its employees, this double-standard will be what people remember, and the long-term health of its finances will suffer.

Measuring Your Social Media Impact

Most organizations appreciate the importance of having an on-line presence in our ever-connected world. Being connected into on-line social networks and regularly contributing original content that is centred on its goals are two ways of establishing this presence. But to succeed on this front, an organization must find appropriate ways of measuring its efforts. I say appropriate, because depending on the scale of its operations, one-size does not fit all. 

In this post I researched three free (or nearly free) social media monitoring tools that are available for organizations with limited resources just dipping their toes into the murky waters of social engagement on-line. 

1) Icerocket (http://www.icerocket.com

Icerocket is an easy to use “listening” tool for three of the major social networks – blogs, twitter, and Facebook. You simply have to enter the name of your organization or competitor to create a list of links that mention the name. It’s a bit like Google, but dedicated to these three platforms only, and lists the results in a chronological order, from most recent to oldest. There are also tools to embed the search feature into your own blog, so that you are updated automatically whenever someone mentions your organization. 

This is a great way to find out who is talking about you, and what they are saying. You may not know exactly who has mentioned you on Facebook outside of your page, or tweeted a link about your organization, and this tool allows you to create a connection. While this tool can come in handy as a relationship-building tool, it certainly is not geared to metrics and numbers. However, for smaller organizations, a weekly visit to Icerocket can help to document the numbers of comments, mentions, and links, and over time can provide interesting statistics and reveal trends. 

2) Hootsuite (http://www.hootsuite.com

Hootsuite is a much more robust monitoring device. The free version will track and monitor up to 5 social networks. This could be a Twitter page, a Google + page, or a Facebook page. This is perfect for individuals who manage multiple pages even on one or more platforms. Unlike Icerocket, once you create an account and link all your social networks into Hootsuite, you have everything in one place on a dashboard. 

This is a wonderful tool for professionals needing to monitor the on-line communities that they have created themselves and to pull multiple platforms into one place. It is also efficient, allowing for scheduled posts and tweets to any of the 5 networks that you are managing. The downside for me in terms of analytics, is that all the data that Hootsuite analyzes are already available to me by visiting each page individually. I can analyze my weekly reach on Facebook by going to Facebook, or I can pull that information out in my Hootsuite dashboard. The focus is on convenience, monitoring and scheduling, but not so much on analyzing or measuring the overall presence of my brand on-line. 

3) Klout (http://www.klout.com

“Pioneering the science behind social media.” Klout has created a system that measures, usig a number, that applies a score to anyone who registers, and even those who don’t. Klout scores can be seen inside the Hootsuite dashboard whenever a user checks on the Twitter profile of a follower to let you know who to pay attention to. By registering with the Klout system, users can measure their on-line influence and get suggestions around what kinds of content to share with their followers, as we’ll as checking on the influence and effectiveness of their company’s pages and social media presence.

To succeed today, monitoring your on-line presence is paramount for all businesses. When starting out, one of these tools might help to analyze, measure, display, and create reports about your engagement efforts.

Measuring Return on Investment (ROI) in Social Media

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Although many “social media” types measure success by numbers of “likes”, “retweets”, “reach”, and general increased on-line awareness they help create for their organization, strictly speaking, return on investment can only be measured in dollars and cents. 

Olivier Blanchard states that for ROI equations, “only a financial outcome can qualify as a proper gain or return…financial outcomes are the culmination of any investment. This is where return is always measured. It cannot be measured anywhere else.” I found this very stark but very powerful, all gains (including social media metrics) are ultimately measured by the bottom line.

So how can we measure the gains in social media?

Like - Thumb Up1) The first stage of measurement include the metrics that typically quantify on-line AWARENESS of an organization. These include numbers of Facebook fans, Instagram fans, Twitter followers, unique visitors to the website, check-ins on Foursquare, etc. People are aware of the brand or organization, and have made this known by opting into the organizations on-line platforms. These might include existing customers, potential customers, employees, past employees, or just random strangers who stumble upon the organization and for some reason found it interesting enough to click on a link.

2) The second stage of on-line measurement is taking the pulse of those who have connected with the organization. What is the ATTITUDE of those who are talking about a brand or organization on-line? Do they have positive things to say? Do they vent and complain loudly and often? This measurement will often give a clue as to how well an organizations social media strategy is working. Assuming that all organizations want positive things said and shared about it on-line, the shift in sentiment, perception, and attitude is an important metric to look at. 

3) Finally, all roads leads to ACTION! Has a person moved from becoming a follower on Twitter, to developing a positive attitude to your organization, to pulling out the credit card and donating to a non-profit capital campaign, or purchasing the new product that was just tweeted out to them?

At the end of the day, regardless of the number of Facebook fans or website viewers an organization has, the only metric that can be used to evaluate ROI for social media is money!

The Role of the “Community Manager”

Or…5 Ways that PR can best serve the needs of on-line communities AND meet organizational objectives?

ImageWith one foot inside and one outside an organization, Community Managers are the face of an organization, and brings back valuable customer feedback. They build a wider customer base, and broker relationships between an organization and the people who care about it.

 What are the main roles of a Community Manager?

1) Build Relationships

At the heart of all businesses and organizations are people. And people are social animals – we need to be connected and we need relationships. Community managers best serve an organization when they are actively engaged in building positive connections and real, person-centered relationships. That might be a group of photographers on flickr who discuss equipment and supplies from the company you work for. Or it might be an on-line discussion forum and help desk (community of users) that your organization has created . Wherever it is, connect with people, connect with their questions, listen, and create a positive and warm tone in your interactions. People want to be paid attention to, and they want to know that the products or services they use and typically care about have real people behind them who equally care.

2) Be a Communication Bridge

Bring back concerns and positive feedback to the internal teams. They may be working in a bubble, unaware that there are opinions about their work floating around. The community manager’s job will be to bring a dose of reality inside an organization. It may mean that a reality-check might also be in order for customers who have unrealistic expectations or engage in on-line jousting just for the fun of it. Be gentle, but be clear. Your role is to be realistic and reasonable to on-line publics and to internal stakeholders.

3) Engage in Dialogue

Beyond relationships, initiating conversation about customers is a key component of managing and interacting with the community. By creating meaningful and thoughtful dialogue, customers can become unpaid spokespersons for your brand or organization, and many will spread your message through social media far-beyond your circles. Make sure that they are spreading the message you want. Hardly anyone will read a press release, but most will remember your thoughtful answer to a question they raised if it is timely, accurate and truthful.

4) Create and Curate Good Content

By providing engaging and interesting content that your brand or organization is already creating, you add value to the on-line social networks. Find content that connects with your brand or cause and share it with on-line communities. Organizations are creating content all the time – make sure that you take that content and tailor it to the specific group that will be receiving it. A dry press release written for scientists can be turned into a “cool” instagram video for high school students. Be creative, and be now your different audiences.

5) “Mini” Crises Managers

Finally, community managers can act as mini crises managers before a problem, complaint or issue gets out of hand. While reputation management and brand development might not be the primary role of a community manager, by attending to the small fires that arise from time to time in on-line communities, you can alleviate much suffering down the road for your organization. If your organization has screwed up, own up to it and apologize, and learn from it. Don’t allow destructive comments to go unanswered. Either apologize, inform, or teach when you encounter negative criticism. People will appreciate that you are taking responsibility for the quality of your output or product, and may be more likely to trust and respect your brand. However, you can’t win every battle, and when you spot a particularly litigious, sour, or spiteful individual, walk away and resist the temptation to get sucked in. Most people on-line can spot someone with an unreasonably large chip on their shoulder and will likewise turn the volume way down.

By faithfully representing your organization within on-line communities, and participating in them, you will be able to create value for your company and act as an important link in the communication chain with your most valuable commodity – your customers.

The Power of Images

I inadvertently conducted a test this week on one of the Facebook pages I manage for a non-profit website. The website is a treasure-trove of information and resources for people with intellectual disabilities and their families and friends – everything from relationship-building to staying safe on the internet. 

My role is to create some content, but mainly to curate and collect content that I find related to the theme of intellectual disabilities and friendships. I happened to share two images within about 15 minutes of each other – one that highlighted an elderly wise man speaking about the importance of eating meals together to build friendships and celebrate being alive, and the other of a smiling 3-year old boy with Down Syndrome that said simply “Don’t forget to laugh today!” 

Young boy smiling
From Noahsdad.com

Of course, I too was drawn to the image of the boy for its cheerful colours, beautiful smile, easy to remember and positive message, and good photographic composition. The photographer knew how to take a good composed pictured, captured a lovely moment, and the subject is dressed in vibrant colours. There’s also something to be said about children – their innocence, joy, and transparency connect deeply with us as humans. 

So while one image showed a wise and peaceful-looking elderly man giving his learned wisdom in creating friendships, joy, and celebration, people on the very same page within 15 minutes of each image being shared responded to this image 10 times more! I think that the text has something to do with this impact, but I believe the image plays a much larger role in creating a wider reach for content. 

My LEARNING: The shareability of any content will always be enhanced by coupling it with an image – and the more cute, cuddly, colourful and relatable it is, the better. Because really, at our core, our primitive monkey brains are visual – attracted to the bright and shiny – even if intellectually we would rather think our brains are more sophisticated than that. 

Creating a Content Strategy for your Corner of the Digital Universe

Let’s face it, we’ve all got an opinion, and we all have a need to communicate. Everyone with a laptop or mobile device can publish their thoughts and ideas for all to see. While the barrier to become a content provider has come down, the information landscape is littered with garbage and half-baked ideas.

How can you create a Content Strategy for yourself or organization that stays true to your purpose AND organically builds your brand through effective content with your audience?

Top Five Considerations

  1. Ask yourself: “what do I want to communicate and why do I want to communicate it?” Define your purpose and stick to it.
  2. Provide useful content that solves a problem, teaches something new, or inspires your audience.
  3. Speak passionately about the things you care about using normal, conversational, human-style language.
  4. Produce content in a variety of media – video, pictures, text, stories, audio podcasts etc. on a variety of platforms – websites, blogs, social media, email newsletters to subscribers, etc.
  5. Create a publishing schedule that creates a regular and consistent on-line presence with your audience – whatever you have the time and resources for.

Content Strategies for the on-line world can be quite complicated to communicate to stakeholders, but I have found that infographics can provide a way to visualize an overall strategy in a simple way. Here are a few examples of some infographics I’ve found on the web that can inspire you as you create your own Content Strategy.

Content StrategyThe first image is my favourite – I found it on the bitrebels website.  It compartmentalizes the key types of communication tools – websites, white papers, tweets, etc into bite-sized parts of information that highlight what to use and why to use a particular type of media. And all if this in a candy-coloured graphic that is very pleasing to look at. A lot of thought and time has gone into organizing and illustrating this information and that work – for me – has paid off in a wonderfully pleasing graphic that entertains and teaches at the same time.

ImageThe second image is illustrative of what types of Facebook posts result in the greatest amount of engagement. While this diagram doesn’t cover an entire content strategy, it shows what types of content receive the most attention. This image clearly shows that when an audience receives “insider” information that benefits them, they respond more than when the store is pushing an event or offering a “deal.”

Wordle ImageThe third image illustrates the different platforms that individuals and organizations can use to communicate content. I created this infographic using the Wordle website. The many different media and content platforms are illustrated with the larger words representing more important content types. I like the simplicity of this diagram and think that it would be useful for explaining to a board of directors or team where resources need to be focused. It however doesn’t outline a schedule or detail the why/how/how often parts of a content strategy.

Developing a content strategy is an essential part of any communications plan. Finding a way to communicate your content strategy is just as important to get your organization, team or board on the same page.

Another helpful resource that I found in content strategies is this video by Richard Millington:

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/66199737″>Content and Community with Richard Millington</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/ning”>Ning</a&gt; on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>
The essential roadmap of what you are going to say, how you are going to say it, and how often you are going to say it will provide you and your organization with a strategy that will stay true to your mission and be an engaging and thoughtful content producer and on-line publisher.

Good luck!

Exploring Foursquare and QR Codes

My first foursquare badgeI’ve heard about Foursquare, the location-based social platform, but I must admit (and my badge is proof) that I am a newbie to this. I checked into my home-town as a start and was off and running connecting with friends imported from my contacts and facebook account. My first discovery was that I could actually check into a place (like a town) even if wasn’t in the town. That seemed a bit odd to me, I supposed there would be some magic force that detects when I walk into an establishment. The Foursquare app just takes it at your word that you are where you say you are. 

As a social media user, I focus a lot of my time researching content and posting as a manager of a few non-profit FB pages to expand the reach of the organization I work for on-line. I had seen Foursquare simply as a marketing tool for commerce, especially small businesses looking to connect physically with local customers, and had discounted its use for service-oriented organizations to connect with users. My biggest learning this week has been that Universities, cities, hospitals, and other organizations like the Red Cross are using Foursquare to offer their fans tips, guided tours, and even unique badges. 

Any Foursquare user can create a unique venue and check into it, all without the knowledge or approval of the owner of the venue. Others can then check in, write mini-reviews, love/hate it, share it, offer their own tips, all publicly available. It is like a micro-travel book for neighbourhoods, shops, restaurants, and organizations. The process of claiming a venue as an owner or authorized owner of a venue does require verification and additional time. But just knowing that over 93% of existing businesses are already entered into the system by customers should prompt any business to claim and authorize their venue.

From a Public Relations perspective, interacting with customers who have taken the time to write a tip or share a page offers an invaluable opportunity to discover people who are potentially “high influencers”. These are individuals who are extremely active on social media and get a kick from telling all their friends everything that’s on their mind all the time. While many people find this to be overwhelming in terms of the massive amounts of data, I also know that for me, when I want to know where a good restaurant is in a certain part of town, I go out and seek the advice of friends with good taste. Foursquare provides the opportunity for me to carry my very own personal travel book in my pocket and log-in whenever I’m searching for a good tip. Organizations at the very least need to have a presence on as many social media platforms as their resources and time allows, to monitor and engage in conversation and build relationships. 

ImageQR codes are used in many print ads (and television surprisingly) to direct users to a website, video clip, or pdf file on the web. You use an QR code reader app that can be downloaded to your phone and just point the phone’s camera at the symbol. It is a way to get a user to move from one medium, usually print, to on-line content that connects with whatever the print content is. Posters, print-campaigns, magazine ads and newsletters can use this technology to direct a viewer to additional content. Many organizations still send out print materials to constituents, like annual christmas cards, brochures, and newsletters, and QR codes can allow additional material to be connected to these. I can imagine educational usage where textbooks covering a certain topic can use a QR code to have students access videos, infographics or up-to-date statistics on-line. 

The big downside I see to this technology is that it looks really ugly and a little bit scary. My little monkey brains associate black and white squares with barcodes that tell my grocer how much the spam costs. It really doesn’t work visually for me. I don’t think that something visually pleasing will happen when I scan something that looks like this – I’m just not even tempted usually. Perhaps over time, if the QR code continues to survive as it has, we will all just get used to this funny little graphic around us and feel more comfortable using it. This technology is not something that I feel I have the time to invest in, but I’m curious to know if there are any statistics that can point to the click-through rate for campaigns using a QR code. 

Paying to Tweet?

Promoted Tweets

“Make your Tweets count even more with advanced targeting and tools.” Twitter has been engaging businesses and organizations in expanding their reach by using very advanced demographic metrics that are available – BUT – for a cost! Is it worth it?

Twitter offers Twitter Ads and promoted tweets that target your companies’ specific message to your exact audience. For a cost, Twitter will ensure that the exact type of person that you want to connect with will have a much higher chance of receiving your message.

As the impact and saturation of social media reaches further and further into the lives of consumers, the sheer amount of information is becomes more overwhelming for everyone. Having the ability to target potential customers with pinpoint accuracy has become a valuable commodity and something that every business should be planning and budgeting for.

As companies recognize that the consumers they wish to target are getting most of their information from social media via Facebook likes, shares and recommendations, and twitter retweets, many are moving their marketing dollars to the on-line platforms where influence is really being spread.

As this Twitter video shows, the promoted products for small businesses for Twitter includes both promoted accounts and promoted tweets. Twitter uses its database to connect potential customers with similar likes to your business account and nudges potential new customers to discover your small business. For promoted tweets, Twitter monitors your tweets and amplifies the reach for your best tweets without any further action from you.

The difference of the “promoted tweet” from the products that Facebook offers is that on Facebook your best posts are not automatically promoted. Facebook will always suggest or recommend that certain posts be promoted because of their engagement, but each post must be promoted separately, as opposed to the Twitter formula which promotes all tweets that have high engagement (to the daily dollar limit that the business has set.) The paid promotions on Facebook mainly involve capturing new fans through targeting certain countries, cites and people with certain interests.

Twitter has certainly proved itself to be adept at targeting the right audiences for companies and small businesses. It offers a free trial experience, and many businesses see an immediate return and continue to use this powerful marketing device. The beauty of this product is that Twitter has captured and analyzed the profiles of its many users and offers this knowledge to business owners. This type of information is invaluable.

In terms of sending the right message to the right person at the right time, the cost of a promoted tweet is absolutely worth it. Small and large companies, as well as non-profit organizations know that the right message to the wrong person goes nowhere.

Promoting a tweet or promoting an account on Twitter costs money, but in my view the return and potential connection and relationship with the right person or organization is worth it. The best message, the best tweet, means nothing if it doesn’t reach the right person.

Information is gold and as companies reach out to customers in the social media age, it is PRICELESS!

Building a Case for Using Social Media in the Non-Profit Sector – WEEK 1

“Creating a social media program begins not with insight into the latest social media tools and channels but with a thorough understanding of the organization’s own goals and objectives.” – Olivier Blanchard, Social Media ROI

Few executives and Board Members fully understand how on-line social environments can engender trust and brand loyalty. But developing a strategic framework to do just that begins with a surprisingly traditional idea – start at the beginning.

Non-profit organizations developing a social media program need to ask  “why are we here? and what do we want to accomplish?” and then begin to sketch out ways that the new social media can assist those main objectives.

At the heart of the founding story of all great organizations, are people living a purpose together. Perhaps very few people, but in time through word-of-mouth, personal relationships, and wise leadership, growth and development occurred.

If an organization has remained true to its purpose, or its purpose has evolved to meet a real need, the new social media provides an opportunity to expand the scale and meaning of relationships and trust.

The virtual introduction to an organization via a Facebook “like” or “share” by the organization’s fan-base to their friends is the modern version of a word-of-mouth recommendation. It encourages trust, and makes it much more likely that a person can become really engaged.

Social media can influences the journey of trust a potential volunteer, donor, or new staff member makes with an organization. Divot, Edelman, and Sarrazin in “Demystifying social media” outline six steps in the consumer decision journey: Consider, Evaluate, Buy, Experience, Advocate, and Bond.

For non-profits hoping to attract like-minded people to join their cause and support their mission, it’s all about relationships. And what better way to start new recruits on that journey than through the personal relationships and recommendations of friends in their on-line circle.

A social media program whose foundational message is the mission and purpose of the organization and whose strategy follows its overall objectives and goals will not only attract the right people, but will continue to inspire and strengthen the commitment of its current members.