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Why words still matter (more than ever)

Four weeks ago yesterday, my uncle passed away. I’m not going to get into a lot of details, because I think some things are better left personal.

But, I want to talk about just one piece of my experience: my cousin’s eulogy. She wrote a wonderful eulogy to her Dad which she then delivered to probably more than 1,000 friends and family.

You see, my uncle was a pastor at a large church for years and years. He ran a youth camp for years. He traveled all over the globe with church groups. So, he knew A TON of people. He was a mentor and leader to many.

But, he was a Dad to two people. And that was his most important role.

And that’s what my cousin talked about in her eulogy.

As you can imagine, there weren’t many dry eyes in the church as she delivered her speech. And sure, some of that had to do with the fact that it was a funeral and someone had passed away that we loved.

But a lot of it also had to do with the words she chose and how she strung them together.

Her words mattered.

In the overall online media landscape we live in these days, we hear so much about the power of visuals. And yeah, visuals are a powerful thing. And yeah, you do need to think about visuals as you craft online content. No question.

But man, words used well are still a very powerful force.

Think about your company’s corporate communications for a moment. Speaking from experience, many employee memos can come off stiff and extremely “corporate.”

And then consider Markus Persson’s memo last fall announcing that he was leaving Mojang, the company that created Minecraft (which was sold to Microsoft).

Now, I know this isn’t exactly a “corporate memo”, but it my as well be considering the context and subject matter. And yeah, I know, it’s the tech industry. But, I’m trying to make a point here!

Look at his memo. Notice the WORDS Markus chose. Notice the language he uses. Notice the story he tells.

You understand what he’s trying to say. You understand why he’s leaving. And you understand why.

Markus used real, easy-to-understand language that virtually anyone could read and interpret.

Can we say the same for us as PR counselors and corporate communicators?

Sometimes we get stuck using too much corporate jargon.

Sometimes we get stuck using words and terms most simply do not understand.

And sometimes we get so caught up in the “message” we forget about the actual words.

I would argue words matter more now than they ever have considering all the absolute garbage that’s shared and communicated each day.

So, be careful with each and every word you use in your daily interactions.

Words DO matter. To everyone. Use them wisely.

What is social media’s “revolving door” effect on your business?

Had a good conversation with a client the other day about social media churn.

As usual, we were both lamenting the lack of really good junior- to mid-level talent in the digital space. Sure, there are a TON of people out there with the experience to do some of these jobs. But, doing them WELL? That’s another story.

The bigger issue though–is “the churn.” Or, the “revolving door effect.”

Revolving door

The fact that you hire social media/digital talent, they stick around for a year or two, and they’re gone. Off to greener pastures. Off to a bigger role.

Leaving you stuck–and holding significant business risk.

Let’s look at a few of the more specific risks for businesses:

Social accounts often go dark–for months at a time

When a company loses a vital piece of its social media talent, social accounts often go completely dark for 3-4 months at a time while the company seeks to rehire for the position. That might not seem like the end of the world, but what if you have customers asking you questions on Twitter that are going unanswered? What if you miss a significant opportunity to engage a group of folks who are talking about your brand in association with a national event? Going dark means you most likely don’t have ANYONE managing or reviewing your social accounts on a daily basis. Sure, this isn’t a big problem for the Fortune 500–they have teams of people and agencies managing accounts and creating content. But, what about everyone else? For everyone else–it’s a problem. A big problem.

Lost momentum=Lost social accounts=Lost brand awareness

Losing a key piece of social talent also invariably leads to a big loss in momentum internally. Think about it. Good digital folks aren’t just good at the execution, they’re internal evangelists for digital marketing and PR. In case you missed the recent CIPR study, senior PR leaders aren’t exactly “digitally savvy”. So, these junior and mid-level social folks are really guiding a lot of strategy–even if they shouldn’t be. And, they’re often THE voice for digital within the company. Or, at the very least, they’re ONE of the voices. If you lose one of those voices (or THE voice), you take a big hit in momentum. A hit that may take months (if not a year in some cases) to recover from.

What if a crisis pops?

This is probably the risk that should keep most senior leaders up at night. Lose your key social talent, and what happens if you experience a real-life crisis? Who’s watching Twitter? Who’s sitting in the meeting providing counsel about how to handle social? Who’s advising your senior leaders about how to use their personal LinkedIn and Twitter accounts? I’ll tell you who–people who don’t understand the full picture. THAT’S a business risk folks. A big one. Yet, we see companies falling into this trap every month because of the revolving social media door.

 

What’s the solution for brands? Well, that’s not my problem (thankfully). But, if it WERE my problem, I’d focus on keeping my key digital talent happy. And, I’d work to find valued contractors I could work with at a moment’s notice to plug gaps when I have them (I realize that sounds self-serving coming from me, but that’s what I would do if I were in that seat).

But that’s just me. What do I know about such things? I’d like to hear from readers on this one. Specifically those of you who manage teams–what have you done that’s worked?

photo credit: Ali Winston vs. revolving door via photopin (license)

 

Talking Points Podcast: Millennials refuse to pay for the news

In this week’s episode of the Talking Points Podcast, Kevin and I talk about millennials and their refusal to pay for the news (say it ain’t so millennials!), Victory’s big win with VR, Meerkat (of course), PR and analytics and three content formats that one blog predicts will take off in 2015.

Hope you’ll take a listen!

 

SHOW NOTES – March 19, 2015

“Millennials say keeping up with the news is important to them — but good luck getting them to pay for it”

http://www.niemanlab.org/2015/03/millennials-say-keeping-up-with-the-news-is-important-to-them-but-good-luck-getting-them-to-pay-for-it/

“Oculus lets motorcycle enthusiasts take a virtual trip to Sturgis”

http://mashable.com/2015/03/13/oculus-victory-motorcycles-sturgis/#:eyJzIjoidCIsImkiOiJfaTY2dmg2enR6YWJ1Ym5ieCJ9

“”MeerKat Is The Next Big Thing. But For How Long?””

http://darmano.typepad.com/logic_emotion/2015/03/meerkat.html

“Listen up! Everything PR and Social Media Pros Need To Know About Meerkat”

http://www.business2community.com/video-marketing/listen-everything-pr-social-media-pros-need-know-meerkat-01178159

“A Traditional PR Pro Take on Analytics”

http://www.shiftcomm.com/2015/03/a-traditional-pr-pro-take-on-analytics

“3 Content Formats That Will Take Off in 2015″

http://contently.com/strategist/2015/03/13/3-content-formats-that-will-take-off-in-2015/

Does brand reputation even matter to Spirit Airlines?

Last week, I did what marketers like us WANT consumers to do on social media:

I asked my friends and family for a recommendation.

In this case, I was asking folks if they’ve ever flown Spirit–and what their experience was like. I was considering flying Spirit for a family trip this summer.

The response I got was, shall we say, “less than stellar.”

FB ACH Spirit

I mean, just look at some of these comments. Fairly damning, and pretty much the exact opposite of what PR folks paid to build positive reputations for brands want to see.

FB ACH Spirit 2

Conclusion: Do not fly Spirit. Wait, check that: Never, ever fly Spirit. Unless you don’t mind riding with goats on an airplane and getting charged for breathing (commenters words–not mine).

How could a brand like Spirit have SUCH a negative brand reputation and still be in business? How could their PR team still be employed? I mean, we’ve seen negative comments about airlines before, but NOTHING like this (outside of maybe Comcast in the past).

Now I was curious.

After a little digging around, and a bit of reading, it became pretty clear what was/is going on:

Spirit doesn’t necessarily care about building and maintaining a positive brand reputation.

What they DO care about is staying true to who they are (the bare-bones airline operation offering the lowest fares around) and making money.

And, make not mistake about it, business at Spirit is good.

The stock price is up.

Profits are up.

Flight numbers are up.

And, they’re hiring 1,500 people in the next few months.

I’d say they’re doing alright. Pretty much any company in the history of business would take those results.

And yet they seem to have a HORRIBLE brand reputation.

You want to know how far Spirit is willing to take this? They orchestrated an “Unleash the Hate” survey where they actually asked customers and potential customers what they HATE about airlines (not just Spirit). In exchange, they offered up 8,000 miles.

Spirit Hate Survey

You can imagine what they heard. Side note: Have you EVER heard of a company doing anything like this? Pretty amazing, if you really think about it.

So, let’s recap, shall we?

Spirit clearly has a horribly poor brand reputation in the marketplace (see my Facebook thread up top).

Spirit has multiple Facebook pages dedicated to disparaging the brand (see below).

Spirit FB Farce Page

Spirit is actively asking customers why they hate airlines like Spirit.

Spirit Hate Survey 2

Spirit is almost mocking customers on Twitter with its auto-pilot approach and seemingly sending most to a plain, simple contact form for more information.

Spirit Twitter 1

Yet, Spirit continues to enjoy profits, growth and a healthy stock price.

This begs the question: Does brand reputation even *matter* to Spirit Airlines?

The answer: Of course it does–just not the way you’re probably thinking.

For Spirit a *positive* brand reputation doesn’t matter. If it did, they would be doing more proactively to try to manage that. They would have a Facebook page. They would be more proactive on Twitter (they basically just direct people to their customer service page on their site now–not exactly a best practice in Twitter customer service). They would be more aggressive with media relations.

They’re not doing any of those things (at least as far as I can see). Translation: They’re not interested in a “positive brand reputation”, in the way we think about it.

What they ARE interested in is this: Helping customers and potential customer better understand who Spirit is and what they offer (and WHY).

This is clearly the Spirit PR strategy.

Let’s look at what they’re doing:

* CBS This Morning story featuring the Spirit CEO focuses heavily on educating people around Spirit.

* The Spirit web site is full of information that helps explain WHY they offer low fares and what customers can expect once they’re on the plane.

Spirit Web

* They don’t waste time promoting cheap fares on Twitter and Facebook (again, they don’t even have a FB page) since people are having little trouble finding them all on their own.

The reputation play for Spirit is increasing understanding around their model.

And, if you go back and look at my initial Facebook post last week, it appears to be working!

Look at these comments:

FB Spirit comment 1 FB Spirit comment 2 FB Spirit comment 3

 

FB Spirit comment 2

 

FB Spirit comment 3

 

The comments are negative in sentiment, sure, but look a bit more closely. People understand. They get there’s a trade-off. I think that’s a Spirit win. They don’t care if you label them as “The Walmart of the Skies.” All they care about is you understand WHY, and that you buy a ticket.

So, allow me to play devil’s advocate for a moment: Maybe positive brand reputation isn’t everything, contrary to what most PR counselors (like me) might tell you.

Now, THAT is interesting to consider.

Look no further than Spirit Airlines.

Don’t call me a freelancer

If you want to get under a consultant’s skin, call them a FREELANCER.

It’s been an ongoing conversation in the solo world for years. What do we call ourselves?

Some people call themselves a “solo PR pro.”

Some people call themselves a “freelancer.”

IMG_4228

And some people call themselves a consultant (or, an “independent consultant”).

You’re probably thinking: “Who cares?” Why does it matter what people call you?

I’ll tell you why.

Whether people want to admit it or not in this age of visual and online marketing, words still matter. Labels matter.

When you call yourself a FREELANCER, here’s the connotation that’s giving off to clients and potential clients:

* I may not do this forever, so I wouldn’t count on me being around forever. You may have to find someone else eventually.

* I bill by the hour–here’s my rate. It’s much cheaper than what you’d pay at an agency.

* What do you need done? I’ll do it? Just let me know what you need from me.

Is that a bit unfair? Maybe. But, it is what people think when they hear you label yourself as a FREELANCER. They may not tell you that–but it’s what they’re thinking.

Now, let’s try something else. Let’s say you described yourself as a CONSULTANT. What would clients and prospective clients think then?

* She is professional and this is her full-time job.

* I trust her to give me the best, most informed and ethical advice possible.

* I have problems and need solving. My consultant helps me make those problems go away. And, she even solves problems I didn’t even know I had!

See the difference?

A FREELANCER is someone who’s focused on tactical work. Someone who takes orders. Someone who bills by the hour.

Now, to be fair, there’s nothing wrong with that. If that’s what you want–there’s nothing wrong with that at all.

But, most of the solo consultants I talk with don’t want that kind of label–yet they continue to use that dirty word: FREELANCER.

STOP IT!

On the other hand, consultants are people who advise senior-level executives.

They get invited to strategy and annual planning meetings (hello annual retainer budgets!).

They never share their hourly rate (or, at least rarely), because it’s all about solving the client’s problem.

See what I’m saying?

So, want clients to start taking you more seriously?

Start using the right language to describe yourself.

<rant over>