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The challenges of helping C-level executives communicate with rank-and-file employees

A few weeks ago, Josh Bernoff made a post that talked about a recent communication from Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s CEO, to employees about a recent series of layoffs.

If you read Bernoff’s blog with any regularity (as I do), you probably picked up on the fact that he wasn’t a big fan of the language Nadella used in the communication. He describes the memo as using language of a victim like “impacting” and “reductions.”

Clearly, the Microsoft corporate communications team helped Nadella develop this message. Rarely does a CEO or senior leader write an important message to employees on his/her own. The corp comms team is almost always involved.


And even with a number of communications pros involved (including most likely the senior-level communicator for Microsoft), the message still came across as unclear and full of corporate speak.

And herein lies the challenge for every corporate communicator when helping an executive develop an employee communication.

In fact, having spent 10+ years in corporate communications roles myself, I see a few key challenges:

Executives speak a different language than rank-and-file employees

Just look at the background and education of any C-level executive. They’re usually a career C-level exec. They have advanced degrees from places like Harvard, Stanford and Wharton. And, they’re usually locked in meetings all day with other C-level and high-ranking officers of the company. The result? They all speak the same language. And, it’s a language FULL of the corporate buzzwords and lingo most of us typically scoff at. Meanwhile, most employees speak and read at an 8th-grade level (in fact, 21 percent of Americans read BELOW a 5th grade level) So, you have an executive with a Harvard education who reads and writes at a 19th-grade level trying to compose a message to an audience comprised of people who have a 5th-8th-grade reading level. Do you see the problem here?

Executives control our futures

You know that layoff communication you’ve been working on? Who do you think made the tough decision to can those 5,000 employees? The CEO–the very person you’re working with. So, it’s a little challenging for us communicators to stand up to, and challenge, these executives when they control our very future. I’m not saying communicators don’t challenge executives from time to time. I’m not even saying they shouldn’t. But, I am saying this is most likely an issue. After all, we all want to keep our jobs/work, right?

Warning: Massive egos at play

For those who have worked with high-ranking executives, you’ve probably run into one or two who thought fairly highly of themselves. It just comes with the territory. You don’t get to be a CEO without having a little self-confidence. And, in many ways, it’s a good thing. But, when it comes to crafting a communication together with an executive, egos can frequently prove a problem. After all, everyone fancies themselves a writer. Execs are no different. And  when putting together employee communications, they can often bulldoze the communicator simply because they think they know best.

So, what’s a communicator to do?

I don’t have a list for you today. But, I do have one word: Trust. That’s what’s at the heart of this whole deal. If you can work to develop the outright trust and goodwill of your executive partners, it makes the process of developing tougher communications with employees that much easier.

photo credit: Satya Nadella via photopin (license)

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When will the emoji marketing madness stop?

Yeah, I know. Emojis are everything.

I know it’s how all the Millennials of Mother Earth communicate.

I know brands want to appear “hip” and “on fleek.”

But haven’t we all taken this just a bit too far?

Dominos Twitter

I mean, Chevy created an entire news release in emojis earlier this year. A NEWS RELEASE. A tool that is typically one of the most buttoned up documents littered with corporate jargon and buzzwords used EMOJIS to communicate. Of course, one could argue it was all part of a publicity stunt to drive interest in a new car (I blogged about Chevy’s approach a while back, if you’re interested).

You can order pizza via emoji thanks to the folks at Dominos.

And on Twitter and Instagram, emojis are rampant. So rampant, you have uber-conservative companies like Goldman Sachs using them. Yep, THAT Goldman Sachs.

I know the rationale. I get it. Younger people use emojis to communicate words in a visual format. It’s easier. It’s “cool.” And, for businesses, it’s a way to endear themselves to these younger audiences.

For some brands, I get that this approach makes sense. Taco Bell, for example. I’m with you. Pizza Hut even. Sure. Comedy Central, even.

But, Goldman-freaking-Sachs? Yeah, here’s what they posted on Twitter earlier this year.

Goldman Sachs Twitter

C’mon now.

I’m sure the argument is that Goldman Sachs is recruiting younger talent. They need to speak their language. They need to appear keen to the needs and lexicon of the 25-year-old Stanford grad.

But, you know what I see? Desperate brands.

Brands looking at the short-term game instead of the long-term play.

Brand that are so desperate to connect with younger audiences they’ll do virtually anything.

Like creating an entire news release out of emojis.

Here’s my take. Sure, communicate with your audience in a way that makes sense for both sides. But, don’t do it at the expense of your overall brand.

And don’t do it just because your competitors–or other brands–are doing it.

Finally, don’t do it because you saw an article on “emoji marketing” (oh yeah, that’s a thing) on Digiday. Marketing fads seem to change and shift by the week these days.

Here’s a thought: Maybe you don’t even use emojis at all.

What a radical thought.


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Facebook video views: The new fluff social media metric

Earlier this week, YouTube creator Hank Green authored a pretty pointed post about Facebook video and its many flaws titled “Theft, Lies and Facebook video.”

While the post is full of rants against Facebook for the many “crimes” against creators, the most relevant for us marketers is this: The Facebook video view is kind of a joke.

The key is how Facebook counts its videos views. You would think a “view” would be a more substantial metric. Not so in Facebook-land. According to Facebook, a “view” is registered anytime a user watches a video (which are all on auto-play, keep in mind) for 3 seconds.

3 seconds.

Red Bull video

By contrast, YouTube measures views at around 30 seconds (which makes much more sense). Take a peek at the graphics in Greens’ post for more damning info.

But Facebook: Just 3 seconds.

With auto-play, you usually haven’t even turned the sound on inside of three seconds.

And, many people are scrolling slowly through Facebook, so those “three seconds” might really be spent reading a completely different post.

So, the claim remains: Is the Facebook video view a complete joke?

From a marketing point of view, this should be concerning. All we’ve heard for the first half of the year is how video is exploding. In particular, native Facebook video. View totals are through the roof. “Engagement” numbers are up (more on that in a second). Facebook video is so hot!

But, is it really?

Judging from what we’ve seen (and what I’ve seen in my work), video views are the new “impression.” A fluff metric at best.

Meanwhile, Facebook is also showcasing another interesting metric around videos: “engagements.”

According to Facebook’s advertising dashboard, “engagements” do include likes, comments and shares. In other words, what you would think of when you say the word “engagement” with a social media context.

But, it ALSO includes those 3-second views. Those are also engagements.

So, there’s another fluff metric in the Facebook realm.

What are we left with? How do reliably measure Facebook video performance in a meaningful way?

* Hardcore engagement. How is the post performing in terms of likes, comments and shares. Those are still the holy grail when it comes to “engagement” on Facebook.

* 20 percent rule. Although this certainly shouldn’t be a hard-and-fast rule, maybe you put the 20 percent Green talked about in his post to work. In other words, if Facebook is telling you a video had 100,000 views, maybe you only “realize” 20,000 of those who actually watched 30 seconds or more of the video. To me, watching a video for more than 20-30 seconds (in today’s world, at least), should count as a “view.”

So, to summarize:

Facebook video views are wildly inflated.

Facebook engagements for videos are at worst a flat-out lie and at best unclear language.

And, I’d look a lot more closely at your hardcore engagement metrics instead of views and “engagements” on Facebook to measure success.

Everyone in agreement then?

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Talking Points Podcast: A conversation with Deluxe’s Heather Rist

In this edition of the Talking Points Podcast, Kevin and I are joined by Heather Rist, director of social media and content for Deluxe. We talk about emojis (yes–emojis!!!!), corporate blogging and the trend of more companies insourcing their marketing efforts. It was an energizing discussion (did I mention we talked about EMOJIS?!?!?!?) Hope you’ll take a listen.


SHOW NOTES – July 30, 2015

Heather Rist

Small Business Revolution

“Are Brands Taking Emojis Too Far?”

SPOTLIGHT: “Get a drone’s-eye view of GE facilities on Periscope”

“Being an Effective Communicator in 2015”

“5 Reasons companies are bringing their marketing in house”

SHOUTOUT: Amanda Brinkman, Deluxe

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7 of the most unique and interesting Instagram brand campaigns in 2015 (so far)

Instagram is arguable THE platform for brands right now. According to a SocialBakers survey, Instagram is CRUSHING Twitter in terms of engagement. You’re seeing brands like Nike, Starbucks and Adidas with MASSIVE communities on Instagram.

And, we’re seeing some brands using Instagram in all sorts of interesting and interactive ways with their customers.

That’s what I want to talk about today: The interesting new executions brands are implementing to use Instagram to interact with their audiences.

Nordstrom uses rooftop Instagram installation to promote sale

Our biggest sale of the year deserves a really big @instagram post! #NSale #instaphoto #seattle #drone

A video posted by Nordstrom (@nordstrom) on

According to this Mobile Marketer post, Nordstrom used a visual of an Instagram post featuring a 55-foot dress on its corporate headquarters in Seattle. They then took video/photos of the installation via drone and then shared those pics and videos on Nordstrom social media channels. All to promote a summer sale. Fun, smart way to promote a sale that most likely happens every summer.

Whiskey maker created Insta-zine


Interesting concept here from whiskey-maker, Ballantine’s. The Insta-zine! One part Instagram project, one part digital magazine. Users are encourage to click on each photo (and its tag) from its @w_issueone account to dive into deeper digital stories on whiskey. Not sure if this is the future of Instagram, but it’s an interesting concept. And, kudos to Ballantine’s for giving something new and different a try (I may dive into this one in greater detail in a future post).

Target using Instagram clues to style dorm rooms

Target IG

Leave it to the Bullseye to use Instagram and Facebook data to build the perfect dorm room! Yep–that’s what Target it up to this fall. Interesting way to use the DATA from Instagram to point customers to products that work for them.

Forever 21 turns customer pics into Instagram mosaics

Forever 21

Not sure I’m really buying the effectiveness of this tactic, but it is different. And, it is a creative execution. Essentially, what Forever 21 did was create a 2,000-pound, 11-foot high “thread screen” that turns pics posted by customers/friends with the #Forever21ThreadScreen tag into complex-looking mosaics. The weird part: The “thread screen” sits inside the agency’s office that created it (Breakfast). It does create the “thread screens” and post them to this site: http://f21threadscreen.com/. But, I can’t get over the fact that it’s sitting inside the agencies walls–and NOT in or outside a Forever 21 store. Seems odd.

TOMS gives away 1 million shoes to children in need via #WithoutShoes campaign


In May, TOMS started the #WithoutShoes campaign (nice recap over on Jay Baer’s blog here). It’s goal: To give away 1 million shoes to children in need by asking people to share a pic of their feet and tag it with #WithouShoes. For every pic posted with the hash tag, TOMS will give one pair of shoes to a child in need. Outstanding cause marketing campaign. And, judging from the 358,599 pics using the #WithoutShoes hash tag on Instagram, I’d say it was a smashing success!


Gap starts micro-video series on Instagram to promote Dress Normal campaign

Gap started what has been described as a “micro-video series” between Jenny Slate (Marcel the Shell creator) and actor Paul Dano (no idea who that is, but I’m sure he’s famous and hits their target market). It’s an interesting approach–much like those “webisode” series’ that were so popular a few years back (PSFK has a nice recap here). Since the series is somewhat built on the cliffhanger model, it encourages viewers to check back each week–nice way inspire repeat views. And, each video features a different style or item from the Gap spring line (not surprisingly, of course). Interestingly–just glancing at Gap’s Instagram account, the video series’ generally generated LESS likes/comments than those “everyday” posts in its feed. Hmm….


Land Rover’s Instagram accounts take you inside National Parks

Land Rover IG

Land Rover created two new Instagram accounts (@solitudeinsawtooth and @brotherhoodofwonderstone) that attempt to give followers an “epic panorama” (as described by Fast Co.writer Dan Solomon in this recap post of pretty fantastic outdoor environments. Creative? Yes. Effective at advancing key marketing goals? That one I’m not so sure. I’m still not sure I understand why Land Rover made the panoramas in landscape view. The only way to see the whole thing is by visiting either one of the main IG pages. It is cool to see the whole panorama–I won’t lie. But, since it’s in landscape view, you have to turn your phone. And, the videos leave MUCH to be desired. They seem disjoined and provide little context to the bigger picture. And, of course, all the little pics that make up the big pic provide ZERO value or context. Again, seems like a big “creative agency project” to me.

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