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PR Rock Stars: A conversation with Lee Aase

When you work in the close-knit Minnesota health care PR/communications community, it’s almost impossible not to know Lee Aase. He’s widely known as a strong advocate of social media (I initially met Lee at a Ragan conference on social media presented by Shel Holtz back in June) and a pro’s pro in the media relations and public affairs arena.
As manager of social media and syndication at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., Lee’s helped this world-class organization foster and grow a strong community of loyal Mayo patients across the world who are more than happy to share their stories. In fact, Mayo counts on it. More than any other medium or communications vehicle, Mayo relies heavily on its patients to spread their stories of the outstanding care they received to others across the globe.
Interestingly enough, Lee and Mayo took yet another step in their social media journey this morning when they launched their new blog, Sharing Mayo Clinic. Designed as a way for patients and employees to share their stories about what makes Mayo Clinic unique, the new blog is another addition to an already impressive social media lineup that Lee has helped engineer the last few years. A Mayo Clinic YouTube channel, a Twitter account and multiple blogs and podcasts.
The other interesting thing about Lee: he’s a chancellor. That’s right. A little over two years ago, Lee started Social Media University Global as a way to help PR and communications pros learn about the burgeoning world of Web 2.0. The site is set up like an online university, complete with a full curriculum, videos of the “campus” (read: Lee’s home) and tuition and financial aid. Tongue-in-cheek references aside, the site has been a great way for Lee to help educate PR professionals on the ins and outs of social media.
Clearly, Lee is a PR Rock Star. He’s also a member of the famed Blog Council, so pay attention folks. And if you’re not following him, start now.
Historically, the health care industry has been slow to adopt new communications tools and technologies. Yet, Mayo Clinic is on Twitter, has its own YouTube channel, Facebook group page, and multiple podcasts and blogs. How did you go about educating your internal stakeholders and building consensus around the merits of social media to your overall communications plan?

Word of mouth has always been the most important way for people to find out about Mayo Clinic. So we’ve emphasized that social media are just the new way word of mouth happens. We also had two external consultants, Shel Holtz and Andy Sernovitz, come to Mayo to speak and hold workshops to engage our broader Public Affairs department and through that our leadership.

How are you using social media tools at Mayo Clinic to listen to your patients and their thoughts, concerns and ideas? Any examples of instances where you’ve taken action based on something you heard from a patient through one of your blogs, podcasts or videos?

With our Facebook page, it’s been wide open for patients to share their thoughts, and we’re launching a new blog this week (Thursday) called Sharing Mayo Clinic where we likewise will be giving patients the opportunity to share their stories and their feedback about their experiences. We had a blog last year for our employee patient population that was related to our Mayo ExpressCare service (a walk-in retail clinic), and through the blog we got feedback on some issues we needed to address…specifically, because the demand was so much stronger than we expected, we needed to add more staff, modify some procedures and accelerate the plans for a second clinic.

How has the social media landscape changed the way you work with the media? Do you still work with traditional media outlets? How are you interacting with bloggers? Are you eschewing traditional channels to tell you story directly to your patients and other key audiences?

Social media tools make it easier for us to provide audio and video resources to traditional media, as well as to bloggers. After the stories come off embargo, those same resources are made available directly to patients. Working with traditional media is still extremely important, but sometimes we do a post on our news blog instead of a full-scale news release because we can do it more quickly and still provide improved resources for journalists.

Physicians, by and large, are not individuals that have a lot of time on their hands. Yet we all know blogs, podcasts and video interviews require time and commitment from subject matter experts like them to succeed. How do you manage those competing demands and keep these key stakeholders engaged in the process?

Our main strategy is to use video blogs, so our physician experts can answer questions on camera. We prefer that our surgeons use their hands for operating instead of typing. By using video, they can talk about their research as they would to a patient instead of taking time to write. It becomes a 10-15 minute interview instead of a lengthy writing exercise. This also proves that the physician participation is genuine and not ghost-written, because the blog viewers see the experts speaking for themselves. The level of ongoing interaction in the comments varies among the physicians, with some choosing to engage directly and others preferring to do summary responses based on the general tone of comments.

You started with your Medical Edge podcast back in September 2005 and have grown your use of social media tools extensively the last three-plus years. Any key lessons you’ve learned along the way?

Starting with something that’s already approved for distribution to radio stations made it less controversial; it was getting another use for the same product. Then we continued to find ways to produce content tailored to the medium (i.e. longer podcasts) in a cost-effective way, as part of our TV production process. It’s also helpful to have outside experts share the state-of-the-art with leadership,
to validate that other companies and organizations are getting into social media without having major problems. The worst fears are almost never realized; everyone has nightmare scenarios, but you shouldn’t let them paralyze you and keep you from seizing the potential (and much more likely) benefits.

Now the tough question–how have these tools helped Mayo Clinic further its vision and achieve its organizational goals? How do you measure results?

We look at traffic to our sites, comments, appointment requests coming through our social media platforms, and also how having these electronic resources has helped us better serve journalists and get coverage in traditional media. The activities would be worthwhile based solely on the increase in traditional media coverage, but we see significant word-of-mouth benefit too.

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Do you have a board of directors?

After an interesting dialogue with Scott Hepburn recently about selling and merging Twitter accounts (he actually posted his Twitter account on Craig’s List earlier this week), I got to thinking, as the CEO of my Twitter account, blog and professional life, do I need a board of directors to advise me, bounce ideas off and keep me in check?


Just like a “real” CEO, I need counsel and a reality check from time to time. And I definitely need guidance around how to proceed in certain situations–advice on a potential career move, discussions around how to approach a challenge with a client or ideas/best practices to integrate into a PR/communications plan I’m putting together. I need a cadre of savvy counselors who can guide me on my journey, just like a CEO. 

Turns out, I already have it. Informally, at least.

For me, it’s a combination of former managers, mentors, colleagues and people I just really respect and trust. I’m not going to call out my board members by name, but rest-assured I call on them regularly for advice and help. Of course, I collaborate and get thoughts from my entire network of colleagues, friends and family as well (including folks I’ve met on Twitter), but I really rely on my board–those folks I’ve come to truly know and trust–for the big-picture thinking and savvy advice.

What about you? Do you have an informal board of directors? How often do you meet with them?  If not, do you have a plan to start something similar in 2009? Why or why not?

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PR Rock Stars: A conversation with David Mullen

About a month ago when I started engaging more actively on Twitter, one of the first folks I met was David Mullen. Man, was I lucky. 

Right from the get-go, despite his enormous popularity, David’s been approachable, accomodating with my questions and requests, and friendly. After multiple conversations online, we’ve discovered we have a lot in common (two young kids, passion for blogging and a spirited interest in PR and integrated marketing and communications). 
Bottom line: David represents many of the key reasons I continue to devote so much time to blogging and engaging through online channels. He shares. He advocates. He collaborates. In fact, I feel like I learn a little nugget from him virtually every time we interact. So many smart people out here. And today, I’d like to share with you all a little more about David–what makes him tick, how he manages it all and who he follows regularly online–as the first installment in an ongoing “PR Rock Stars” conversation series. Oh, and if you aren’t already, start following David on Twitter and visit his blog.
1-You’re a busy guy. Two kids at home. Full-time job at Mullen. You’re active on Twitter. You blog regularly. I’m assuming you have a healthy array of hobbies. How do you balance it all? 

I’m not going to lie. It’s really tough to balance work and family alone most of the time without even tossing hobbies and social media stuff in the mix. Twitter doesn’t really take up that much time for me since I quickly dip in and out throughout the day. Blogging, on the other hand, does require some decent time.

There was only one way to add blogging to the plate and not sacrifice time with my wife and daughters. The vast majority of work done on my blog falls between the hours of 11 p.m. and 2 a.m. after everyone else in the house is asleep. It’s wreaked a bit of havoc on my sleep schedule, especially since our youngest girl wakes up around 6 a.m. every day, but you do what you’ve got to do. Actually, the great thing about that was that it made me decide very quickly if I was serious about blogging or not.

2-I heard you mention at some point that you started your blog six months ago. Since then, you’ve evolved into a social media luminary online. Any advice for those aspiring to position themselves as authorities in different disciplines online?

You’re way too kind. I’ll leave the luminary title to Chris Brogan, Amber Naslund and a few other fine folks. My advice would be to blog about what you know and love, and find an angle on it that’s a bit different from everyone else.

For example, I’m passionate about social media, but there are a LOT of already established bloggers who tackle that topic with much more background in the space than me. What I know really well is PR and integrated marketing. I write about social media from time-to-time on my blog, but the majority of time is spent on PR and integrated communications generally.

What I noticed about other PR bloggers is that many write about PR industry news and such. What I’ve done to have a different voice is regularly challenge the way we PR types do business to make sure we’re doing things because they are the right way to do them, not simply because it’s the way it’s always been done. Challenging our profession in a positive way led to a lot of great comments on my posts, even early on, and solid growth in readers and subscribers.

3-You’re a pretty savvy “Twittizen.” Who are your “must follows”? Who do you make sure to check in with regularly? And whose blogs do you make a point of reading and commenting on each day?

Ah, you’re going to make me name names… There are so many great folks I follow and I know I’m going to leave some off. But here are some of my “must follows,” for various reasons. By the way, I’m leaving off the obvious A-listers (though a couple of these are inches away from that status). Those folks are pretty easy to find on Twitter.

@ambercadabra, @bethharte, @shannonpaul, @scottmeis, @sonnygill, @kellyecrane, @scotthepburn, @abneedles, @bradmays, @cubanaLAF, @evanspatrick, @rockstarjen, @dannybrown, @prjack, @susanisk, @researchgoddess and, of course, one of my new favorites @arikhanson.

I don’t get to read as many blogs as I’d like or comment nearly as often as I should, but my must-read blogs right now are Amber Naslund, Shannon Paul, Chris Brogan, Danny Brown, Leo Bottary, Todd Defren, Jason Falls and Mack Collier. On the personal side, I also follow Desiring God , The Just Life, and The Resurgence. There are others that I read regularly, but these are the ones I read most often. I also get pointed to a lot of great posts by my Twitter peeps.

4-In your day job at Mullen, how have you been counseling clients who want to get into the social media space because “everyone else is jumping in?” How are you advising these folks to be prudent and strategic in their decision-making instead of taking the “me too” approach? Any best practices to offer?

I ask them a lot of questions during the first discussion that not only provide me with insight about their motivations, but also require them to stop and think about why they’re interested. After getting all the answers out in the open, it’s usually obvious to everyone if we’re looking at social media tools as a strategic addition to our overall communications or if we’ve come down with Shiny Object Syndrome. It sounds simple, but asking the right questions – even if you already know the answer to some of them – can change a conversation.

5-Lastly, you mentioned the other day you paid off your second car and that you now have no payments. Nice. So, I’m guessing that means you won’t be in the market for a new car anytime soon. However, if you were, what would be yo
ur dream automobile?

We are definitely NOT in the market for a new one car anytime soon! But if I could pick any set of wheels, it would either be a 1957 Chevy Truck, a 1956 Porsche 356 or an Aston Martin Vantage. Which car would depend on how I felt that day and whether or not my wife was with me.

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7 Life Lessons and Professional Pointers You can Learn from Twitter

I’ll admit, I’m a relative rookie when it comes to Twitter. I just started really participating and engaging a few weeks ago. But, in that short amount of time, I feel like I’ve learned as much or more than I have during entire college courses. Or, even some of my post-grad classes for that matter. Hey, Chris Brogan said it best–maybe you don’t have to go back to school to hone certain key skills you need for your dream job today.

Since my primary MO is sharing, collaborating and connecting on- and off-line, I thought I’d share with you the life lessons and professional practices you can learn–as I have this last month–by engaging with others using this tool:

1–Twitter will make you a better writer. Writing in 140-word chunks forces you to communicate more efficiently and effectively. It makes you a great headline writer, which is only going to become more important as brevity is stressed more and more in the online–and offline–communications world. Twitter also forces you to write interesting, engaging copy–you know the kind you should be writing for your clients and organizations? If your tweets aren’t engaging and interesting, people simply won’t read them and engage with you. Wow, seems like I’ve heard that before somewhere…
2–Connect and collaborate with today’s great minds. You would be so lucky to have the opportunity to collaborate and learn from great minds like Chris Brogan, Shel Holtz, Jason Falls and Geoff Livingston. And those are just a few of the luminaries in the social media/communications industry. What about finance? Or, health care? Or, technology? They’re out there folks. On Twitter, you can connect with these thought leaders instantly in 140 characters. Believe me, these people are more approachable and open to conversation than you might think. Try them.
3–Be a sponge. A big, fat, ready-to-take on the world, kinda sponge. Soak in information as fast as you can take it in. I participated in Sarah Evans’ remarkable and wildly successful Journcat last night. With a non-stop stream of tweets running by at warp speed, it was tough to keep up. But, I tried to gather and learn what I could, connect with a few folks, throw in my two cents and move on (One of my lame tweets even landed on her “Top Tweets” list–Sarah, I’m blushing now…) Always remember: Do more listening and learning and less shouting and preaching and you’ll do fine.
4–Twitter can make you a happier person. Yes, psychology majors, you read that right. OK, so I may be over-stating it a little, but I find myself laughing at many tweets throughout the day. Just follow @ambercadabra, @darthvader or @skydiver for a while–you’ll laugh. Trust me. Doesn’t laughing make you happier? I’ve also met a boatload of people from everywhere from New Hampshire to Australia to Utah on Twitter. Doesn’t connecting with new people and building those relationships make you happy? Or, use Twitter to help others. Just look what @armano did last night on Twitter–helped raise more than 4K in two hours (running total is now around 11K, I hear) for a family in desperate need. Amazing.
5–Twitter will help you hone your “pitch” skills. If you’re in the media relations game, you know what I mean. When you pitch a reporter or blogger on a story idea you have to do a little research before crafting your pitch, right? You need to find out what makes the reporter tick. What he or she writes about. What they’re interested in. Twitter’s the same way. Before connecting with others on Twitter, take a few minutes to review their profile and read their blog. Find out where they went to school and if they have any special interests. Mention some of those things in your tweet. It’s the same skills–different arena. One more thing: reporters appreciate it when you send them a personal note after they’ve written a great story, right? Again, same principle holds true in Twitterville. Retweet a follower’s recent post. Or, just send them a nice tweet saying how much you’ve enjoyed connecting with them. Makes all the difference in the world.
6–Twitter: The new post-grad degree. Of course, it’s not all about Twitter. It’s about the conversations you have, the connections you build, the stories you share. It’s also about what you put into it–blog posts you write, comments you provide on other blogs, videos and podcasts you develop. Think you can learn all that in a classroom right now and in the next six months to a year? I’m not saying post-secondary education isn’t useful or a smart thing to do. I’m just saying tools like Twitter now give YOU the keys to your future. Take it. Run with it. You might like where you go.
7–Be yourself on Twitter. Isn’t that the first rule of dating? C’mon ladies, help me out here. I know it’s been a while since I’ve been in the dating game, but I’ve always followed this mantra. Applies on Twitter, too. Be funny. Smart. Irreverent. Whatever. Just be who you are. People see right through the folks who are trying to be someone they’re not–just like in the real world.
OK–your turn. What have you learned on Twitter? Any life lessons or professional tips you’d like to share?

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Minnesota PR/Communications Pros online

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been informally compiling a list of Minnesota-based PR and communications professionals who author blogs or are engaging on Twitter. Lately, I’ve found myself asking “Gee, I wonder if X is on Twitter.” Or, “What other MN-based blogs can I link to or follow and learn from?” 

After a handful of searches for a definitive resource/list, I continue to come up empty. So darn it anyway, I’m starting one myself. 
This is by no means meant to be an end-all-be-all list. Instead, it’s merely a starting point. So please, if you know someone I’ve missed, please leave a comment below or DM and I’ll add it to the list. My plan is to update this list and re-publish every month so we have a definitive, running online catalog of all MN PR/communications blogs and Twittizens. 
www.beehivepr.biz (Waxings–authored by various Beehive staffers)
www.marketingpie.risdall.com (authored by various RMPR staffers)
www.fasthorseinc.com (authored by various FH staffers)
www.getfreshminds.com (authored by Katie Konrath)
@graemethickins (GTA Marketing)
@jenkaneco (Jennifer Kane–Kane Consulting)
@stephaniesnyder (Padilla Speer Beardsley)
@annehendricks (Fairview)
@patrickstrother (Strother Communications Group)
@timotis (Axiom Communications)
@aprilnel (April Nelson–Weber Shandwick)
@mjkeliher (Mike Keliher–Provident Partners)
@jeffshelman (Augsburg College)
@albertmaruggi (Provident Partners)
@karyd (Kary Delaria–KD Public Relations)
@asdeos (Anthony Deos–Target)
@leeodden (TopRank Online Marketing)
@cbensen (Connie Bensen–Techrigy)
@reinan (John Reinan–FastHorse)
@bskogrand (Brant Skogrand–Risdall McKinney Public Relations)
@bmjewell (Bridget Jewell–Mall of America)
@jasonsprenger (Xiotech)
@saramasters (Minneapolis Synod)
@rebeccamartin (Beehive PR)
@curtisrsmith (Carmichael Lynch)
@sleepnumbersara (Sara Ryder–Select Comfort)
@prchck123 (Heather Schwartz–Weber Shandwick)
@evakeiser (Risdall McKinney Public Relations)
@ekdao (Erika Dao–Mall of America)
@uptowngirlmpls (LeeAnn Rasachak–Select Comfort)
@knegs (Keith Negrin)
@terrijellman (Tastefully Simple)
@kellygroehler (Best Buy)
@azemke (Ayme Zemke–Beehive PR)
@perfectporridge (Greg Swan–Weber Shandwick)
@joel22882 (Joel Swanson–Risdall McKinney Public Relations)
@laskaroy (Jared Roy-Risdall)
@mnpr (Ryan May)

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