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Demystifying the Employee Communication Process

August 29, 2012

Davis & Company has published two books that I highly recommend to my colleagues in corporate communication and human resources. The first is The Definitive Guide to HR Communication by Alison Davis and Jane Shannon. I haven’t come across a better resource for creating clear communication that engages and motivates employees. Their approach begins with steps to understand your employees and treat them like customers—two fundamental areas that are often overlooked when rushing to get communication out. The book progresses through planning, messaging, writing, selecting communication channels and measuring effectiveness. The book includes plenty of examples and case studies that demonstrate how to turn boring, confusing messages into memorable ones. The inclusion of “HR” in the book’s title is somewhat misleading—the principles apply equally well to corporate communication professionals or any executive that creates communication for broad internal audiences.

How to Conduct Employee Focus Groups by Joe DeLuccia, Kimberly Gavagan and David Ptire, is another excellent resource for anyone who wants a refresher on the subject. It takes you through the process from setting objectives to reporting results. I found the book helpful when conducting focus groups for an Intranet redesign project I did at Brocade.

Both of these books can be ordered from Amazon or from the  Davis & Company website, which also contains free articles and white papers. Alison Davis also has a excellent weekly blog with insights and tips on employee engagement.


Peter Shaplen on the Art of Audio Podcasting

September 28, 2009

peter shaplen high resAre audio podcasts still relevant with the explosion of online video including video blogs, YouTube channels, Flip cameras and video-enabled mobile phones? I asked Peter Shaplen, a veteran news producer who has worked for ABC, CBS, CNN, Court TV, FOX, NBC BBC and SKYNews (and many more), his opinion on this question. I saw Shaplen in action at Cisco and was impressed with how he handled the preparation, interviewing and post-production on a segment for the highly-regarded News@Cisco podcast series. He has a passion for the medium and has built a reputation as a highly-skilled producer of podcasts for C-level and senior executives at Fortune 100 companies.

Q: You have worked in broadcast journalism for 25+ years. How did you get into podcasting?

A: I began making podcasts in the form of short, personalized news programs. I was the News Director and Vice President of News and Production for ON24 in the earliest days of streaming media in the 1990s. These were pioneering days of podcasts, even before the iPod or any of the devices we now take for granted.

Q: Why do you like doing podcasts so much?

A: Podcasts are a platform to reach audiences that don’t watch or listen to traditional media. But there’s much more. It is – at its heart – a 1:1 communication between the speaker and audience finessed by the reporter. Well-produced podcasts can be more intimate and conversational than video interviews. Eliminating the camera reduces stage fright that can restrict an executive’s innate ability to communicate authentically. Executives say things on podcasts that they would never have been comfortable saying on camera, not because of some inappropriate proprietary disclosure but due to the comfort and ease of the process and medium.

Q: Why are podcasts such a good medium for establishing executive thought leadership?

A: Podcasts are engaging conversations that allow an executive to effectively convey information and personality in a compelling manner. It can be risky these days to put your executive in front of TV news reporters when you have absolutely no control of the final cut. Thirty years ago the average length of a sound bite on a network newscast was 22 seconds. Today it is 8 seconds. Nothing, least of all an executive’s insight, can be captured as a full thought in 8 seconds. Podcasts are a viable alternative to what is otherwise too often a very negative outcome when left to the editors at a broadcast news outlet.

Q: Photos and videos are more popular than ever on the web. Why don’t you create executive videos instead of podcasts?

A: Great programs are all about sound, just like a podcast. A good interview should be tough, even combative at times, and bring out the authentic person behind the information spoken. The words, phrasing and intonation in a podcast carry significant meaning. Adding pictures, still or moving, doesn’t mean it’s better. Incidentally, producing good podcasts is every bit as difficult and challenging as producing great television.

Q: What are the elements of an interesting, engaging and effective podcast?

A: Intellectual honesty. Reasonable expectations. A complete absence of corporate jargon. A willingness on the part of all the managers and PR leads in the company to let your chief be a chief – speak not spin the message – articulate his or her goals. It gets back to basic communication. The audience wants to believe and trust you… dont give them any reason not to. The audience doesn’t need to be “sold”, especially not a hard sell in a podcast but instead to be gently guided, not coerced, into thinking and believing as you do.

Q: What are the most common mistakes that communications professionals make when producing podcasts?

A: The most common mistake is to think of podcasts as a PR vehicle containing a high quotient of message points and jargon-filled, polysyllabic words to connote intelligence and sagacity. Whew! A podcast is not an alternative vehicle for a speech, a sales presentation or a symposium. Regurgitating messaging points makes for boring and tedious listening. Believe it or not, I have heard many podcasts recorded in rooms where windows were open, sirens were blaring, horns were honking and planes were flying overhead. One doesn’t need the sanctity of the Sistine Chapel, but a little professionalism and audio control is a good thing. Another pet peeve of mine is long openings, music and flourishes. This is neither a sermon nor Hyde Park corner so get to the point already!

Q: What are some of the challenges you face working with executives?

A: Busy, stressed, over taxed executives can be impatient, presumptuous even cocky at times. They can fail to listen to a question or ignore the question while bridging directly to the objective. It takes considerable effort on the interviewer’s part to make the executive aware of these and take steps to overcome them.

Q: What advice do you have for executives preparing for a podcast interview?

  • Speak truths and really do believe and understand them so your audience will too.
  • Have confidence in yourself, act naturally.
  • Be clear, concise and targeted. Audiences don’t want to listen to a 20 minute speech that could have been conveyed in 5 minutes.
  • Treat the interviewer’s time with the respect and courtesy you would expect.
  • Choose your words carefully; simple is better; being concise is essential.
  • If you want to win audiences over to your point of view, work hard to create common ground with the listeners, establish your agenda, make your arguments.
  • Listen to the questioner – don’t just parrot messages that have been created by others, force fed into bullet points, and provided as rehearsed nuggets by a media trainer.
  • Go with the flow of the process with the confidence that true success will be the result and the long tail of the program will be satisfying.

Q: What is the secret to creating a fabulous podcast?

A: Hire me. That’s a great question but a proprietary answer.

Peter Shaplen can be reached on LinkedIn or

Recap: Brand Management in the Social Media Jungle

September 23, 2009

What makes a live expert panel a success? This question came to my mind today during today’s Brand Management in the Social Media Jungle panel held at Electronic Arts. Here are the reasons why I enjoyed the event.

  • Solid Panelists: Jeanette Gibson (Cisco), Garnor Morantes (eBay), and Jaap Tuinman (Electronic Arts) were joined by Joel Postman (formerly with HP and Sun).  All of them have deep experience in cross-functional communications roles with high visibility, and each have been responsible for significant social media or community programs at their organizations.
  • Good Stories: It is always enjoyable to hear stories like Cisco Fatty and Tiger Woods Walk on Water from insiders. What came as a bit of a surprise were the multiple examples Electronic Arts discussed where they admitted they failed to engage with their community in the past. They demonstrated how they have addressed this oversight with a variety of social media programs that continue to the present.
  • Celebrity Guest: Jeremiah Owyang made a brief appearance before dashing off to speak at the Intel Developer Forum.
  • Qualified Moderator: Larry Vincent (Siegel and Gale), an expert in branding, held his own with the panelists and kept things moving.
  • Designated Tweeter: Rebecca Murtagh (@virualmarketer), tweeted key updates and status updates throughout the session at #SVBF. She monitored incoming tweets, voiced questions to the moderator, and then tweeted the answers back. Her tweeting came in very handy because the venue did NOT have wireless access. This was the biggest disappointment of the event.
  • Twitter Feed on Giant Screen: This was fabulous!  A Twubs window set to #SVBF was projected on a theater-sized screen behind the panelists. Talk about transparency! This is a best practice I would like to see on every panel.
  • Engaged Audience: The event was attended by some 70 mid-to-senior level professionals who had plenty of questions for the panelists.
  • Leisurely Pace: It was nice to have 3 1/2 hours for one panel and Steve Farnsworth’s presentation on monitoring. It didn’t feel rushed.

This was my first event with Silicon Valley Brand Forum , a group founded by Kevin Heney 10 years ago. He and his volunteers seem to have the formula down. Unfortunately (for us) they host only two events per year. I look forward to the next one. For additional video clips of the seminar, see the Silicon Valley Brand Forum site.

Radically Transparent a Comprehensive Guide to Online Reputation Management

September 23, 2009

radically-transparent_frontcover I first heard about this book reading Andy Beal’s excellent Marketing Pilgrim blog. I saw a copy of the book while attending Search Engine Strategies 2009 and was surprised by its heft. It is 378 pages of small type with ample screen shots and diagrams. The 15+ reviews on Amazon overwhelmingly praise the book as a well-researched, comprehensive and practical addition to the emerging field of online reputation management.

The first four chapters are designed to help you understand the new social media landscape and the increased importance of personal branding and online reputation. The case studies and rules of engagement effectively convey why authenticity and transparency are now a business requirement. These chapters are especially useful for executives or entrepreneurs that have outdated beliefs and fears around social media or have hesitated to invest in cultivating and managing an online brand for themselves or their organization.

Effectively managing an online reputation requires an understanding and application of broad range of skills, including public relations, search engine optimization, blogging, multimedia content, copywriting and social networking. More than half of the book is devoted to understanding what each skill is, why it is important today, and how to go about applying it. Blogging, which the authors see as vital to a reputation strategy, rightly receives expanded treatment. As a whole, these chapters are good introductions to the topics and provide context to reputation management.

The book includes ample case studies (success and horror stories) from well-known brands, including Jet Blue, Dell, Pontiac, Apple, Kodak, eBay, GlaxoSmithKline and Go Daddy. Some of stories, like the Dell’s Hell blogging episode from 2005, have become business school case studies. I find they are also getting a little tiresome in social media presentations. The authors do a good job adding detail and perspective to many of the case studies by quoting individuals directly involved with the crisis or episode.

The book’s strongest feature is the 3 chapters on monitoring and repairing your online reputation. This is not surprising given Beal’s background as an SEO expert, early proponent of online reputation and architect of Trackur software. Even experienced social media practitioners should find these chapters useful for navigating the now crowded field of monitoring tools.

The Seven Step Action Plan in the last chapter was the book’s biggest disappointment. Three of the steps, “Write Your Goals,” “Craft a Strategy and Write Objectives” and “Create an Implementation Plan” provided vague direction and little substance. Isn’t it obvious that every plan needs goals, strategy and tactics? I can forgive the authors for this omission. My hunch is that this chapter was an afterthought and was hastily drafted. I posted a PowerPoint on SlideShare titled “7 Steps to Build and Manage an Executive Reputation” that I feel does a better job summarizing the process.

Radically Transparent is a must read for practitioners in PR, marketing, corporate communications and executive communications. The principles apply to established corporate brands, newer companies and individuals. Marketing and tech-savvy business owners, professionals and consultants should also find it useful. The sheer volume of information may overwhelm job seekers and individuals with less marketing and web experience.  However, I still recommend this book for any individual serious about managing their career in the digital era.

You can hear a podcast interview with Andy Beal recorded August 25, 2009.

Dan Schawbel: Personal Branding (Reverse) Mentor

August 4, 2009

dan schawbelWhat can a 25-year-old with a degree in Classical Languages teach senior communications professionals (Gen-X and Baby Boomers) about personal branding? As it turns out, quite a lot. I came across Dan Schawbel’s work last night while catching up on my online reading. He describes himself as “the leading personal branding expert for Gen-Y and the author of the bestselling career book, Me 2.0: Build a Powerful Brand to Achieve Career Success (Kaplan, April 2009).” I just ordered my copy on Amazon

You can’t help but be impressed by the fabulous reviews and endorsements for Schawbel’s book and blog, as well as the volume of work he has produced at such a tender age. Clearly he has worked hard and is a good marketer. However, I also believe he has applied and embodies some fundamental social media principles that all of us can leverage, regardless of where we are in our professional development. Here are a few that stood out to me:

  • He gives a lot of information away. Take a look at the index of his blogs and articles in the Starter Guide on his page. You don’t need to buy his books or engage in his services in order to understand and benefit from his expertise.
  • He has clearly articulated his own vision and mission and openly shares it on his personal web page. He identifies his brand attributes as prolific, ambitious, energetic, resourceful a creative. His dream is to become the bridge, where qualified applicants can cross to land the positions they deserve and to create a personal branding class in every school internationally, helping students follow their passions. I credit him for the courage to dig deep, find his passion, articulate it and share it so clearly.
  • He reframes his weaknesses into his strengths. Schawbel doesn’t apologize or hide the fact that he has a degree in Classic Languages. In a recent article, he talks about how this experience has helped him be more effective in his work. All of us have experiences that we probably don’t feel is relevant to our profession. My experience has been that further reflection has revealed that some of my experiences are more relevant to my profession than I expected.
  • He melds personal branding and social media. Schawbel has the benefit of growing up in the digital age where your online presence IS your presence. I agree with him that this is the direction all professionals must take to be successful.
  • His site is a model for how to leverage social media. His site is chock full of social media capabilities and he invites conversation.
  • He is authentic and transparent about his life. He is open about his personal and professional life. He comes across as a real guy who would be interesting to meet and converse with.

As the title of this blog indicates, I see Schawbel as a mentor to his Gen-Y peers, as well as Gen-X and Baby Boomer professionals. Some organizations approach reverse mentoring as way to expose older executives to the perspective of a younger generation, thereby making the executives more relevant. I like to think of it as simply learning from a smart individual who happens to be younger than me. I can learn a lot from Schwabel and other Gen-Y trailblazers. Thank you for continuing to inspire me!

Webinar Highlights: Social Media is Here to Stay

July 20, 2009 Friday, Gini Dietrich, CEO of Arment Dietrich, gave a 1 hour online presentation titled, “Social Networking Is Here to Stay: Get on the Bandwagon…Now!” The stated goal of the seminar was to help CEOs and other professionals understand the impact social media can have on their business. The session was hosted by Vistage, the prominent CEO leadership organization. This was the first webinar where Vistage allowed professionals outside of their CEO network to listen in.

The session was professionally produced, informative and enjoyable. The slides and audio were streamed via WebEx, which also made it possible for some 700  attendees to chat with moderator Mark Wiskup and ask questions. There were hundreds of them during the hour. Gini took frequent breaks to answer them and dialog with Mark, which gave the session an interactive feel. Apparently they have done a number of these before and have developed a well-honed delivery.

Gini is a good story teller and appears to openly share her feelings, fears and opinions (authenticity). She also seems willing to share her knowledge to benefit others (transparency). She describes herself as small business owner, entrepreneur and competitive cyclist. What I enjoyed most about Gini’s presentation was the fact that she takes a practical, results-oriented approach to social media. She is not enamored with the technical aspects of SM tools per se or the cultural potential of SM— she is a small business CEO who simply wants to drive more business! She also appears to have some semblance of a balanced life, although obviously a busy one. She spends one hour per day mainly on Twitter and blogging, and she sees this time as a critical part of her business development.

Here are some other key takeaways and soundbites that resonated with me:

•    You won’t exist in business unless you have presence online
•    Social media is about relationships—personal and professional—in customer service, PR, marketing, sales, direct marketing, and networking in general
•    CEOs must take the lead in their organization to do blogging and build a social media presence
•    The axiom “Honesty is the best policy” has never been more true than in the era of social media
•    Take advantage of all the free tools out there
•    Social media is blurring the lines between an individual’s personal and professional
•    Letting go of control of your message is vital—you are not in control anymore anyhow
•    Learn from others around you—interns, students, other people online
•    Be willing to reinvent your business—your competitors are already doing it
•    Even the busiest CEO or professional needs to spend 1 hour per day on social media—they can’t afford not to.

If you are a professional that has been dabbling with social media but still have some resistance, take the time to listen to this session. This especially applies to PR practitioners and communications professionals. You can hear Part two, “Developing Your Social Media Strategy,” on July 24.

Attention Social Media Experts: Time to Get Real

July 14, 2009

Peter Shankman comes down hard on potentially fraudulent social media practitioners in his blog titled, “Is Your Social Media Expert Really an Expert?” With the help of Sara Evans, he compiled a list 25 qualities/attributes to watch out for when selecting a firm or individual for social media consulting. I saw considerable number of tweets and blogs from communications types that liked the blog.

I found the list interesting, bold, accurate and humorous at times. Shankman sets a high standard for the integrity and experience of a social media expert, which is a good thing. I don’t recall that the standard was quite as high for PR experts, especially in height of the dot-com boom days when everyone was jumping on the PR bandwagon. Although PR practitioners were expected to demonstrate results and press coverage for their clients, but they generally weren’t expected to show press clips promoting themselves and have “fans” or an extensive body of published works. Social media experts, on the other hand, are expected to have a strong online presence. They are expected to blog regularly, be transparent about their background and experience, share their opinions freely and have allies and followers. This is good thing—it is just more stringent than was applied 10 years ago.

Shankman’s list is a reminder to avoid violating some basic rules of business and marketing when promoting yourself or your firm:

  • Don’t be a copycat—differentiate your brand
  • Don’t over-promise and under-deliver on your brand
  • Actions speak louder than words
  • Know your competition
  • “Pay it forward” (Provide free advice, mentor others and share your secrets)

Authenticity, transparency and altruism are three of the core principles of social media (and the original green business movement). Anyone calling themselves a social media expert should authentically embody these qualities or expect criticism from their peers.

This year I had the opportunity to work with with two genuine social media gurus (by my definition): Jeanette Gibson and Brian Johnson. These two individuals are passionate about social media and readily share their expertise with others as mentors and speakers. I am impressed with the dedication to their profession, integrity, work ethic and insatiable curiosity.

Moving forward, I would venture to say the same high standards that Shankman attaches to social media experts applies more than ever to ALL workers that provide a product or service, including doctors, auto mechanics, executives, administrative assistants, programmers, and so on.—whether  self-employed or working for an organization. (Those who are retired or work for an institution that offers lifetime tenure, may be exempt, at least professionally.) Google is the new reputation engine. Your performance, good or bad, will be tracked, stored and discussed online whether you like it or not. So it behooves all of us to recognize, cultivate and monitor our digital persona…or ignore it at our peril.


Ways to tell your Social Media “Expert” Might Not Be An “Expert” After All

Co-written by Peter Shankman and Sarah Evans

1. They call themselves an evangelist, guru or expert, and no one else does.

2. They use “expert” or “evangelist” or “guru” or our personal favorite, “influencer” as any of their user names.

3. They “discovered” social media in the last six to 16 months, and there’s nothing online from them in the social media space prior to that. (Remember – Google is your friend.)

4. All of a firm or agency’s “social media strategists” come from traditional PR or Marketing agencies.

5. Everything they learned about social media they learned by reading blog posts (i.e. no application). You can learn a ton about sex from reading Kinsey’s manuals, but I’d still rather be with someone who has some practical experience.

6. They haven’t done anything of significance using social media (i.e. demonstrating they know how to apply the tools). Again, see point on Kinsey.

7. They keep shouting about “widgets.” (Or worse, they’re still talking about push marketing.)

8. Their resume doesn’t include anything that has to do with social media (i.e. no results using social media). And no, having a Twitter account doesn’t cut it.

9. Their sound bites eerily resemble what you just heard from Chris Brogan and Brian Solis. And quite frankly, following them and a few others (including Sarah) can usually answer 95% of your social media questions to begin with.

10. Their firm has added social media as an additional service (as opposed to integrating it into a comprehensive PR approach). If they say “And we’ll do Facebook and Twitter!” beware.

11. Any use of the term “MySpace” unless you’re only targeting 14-year-old males, or independent bands.

12. Their networks don’t reflect that they are connected. (You should probably research them before hiring them. If their blog hasn’t been updated since 2004 yet they tweet every time they take a slurp of Yogurt, something’s up.)

13. When you Google them, it’s difficult to find them. If they don’t show up on the first page of Google, how are they going to get you up there?

14. They never talk to you about free ways to monitor your online presence (like Google alerts and Twitter search). Perhaps they’re afraid you can do it yourself?

15. They don’t maintain an active blog (at least two posts every month).

16. Any case studies they present only involve very big companies with very big budgets

17. Their lead social media strategist is “this kid we picked up after his internship ended.”

18. When they talk strategy, there is no approach that encompasses a discussion about: communications, marketing, advertising, business development, internal communications and/or customer service.

19. They see “Social Media” as a replacement for customer service, when in fact, only good customer service propels positive social media.

20. They want to charge you to get you signed up on social media sites (yuck).

21. There’s a pay structure that includes a pay-per-post model. Run very far away, very fast.

22. The strategy they provide you primarily includes a Twitter profile and a Facebook fan page.

23. Measurement to them means building up lots of followers and fans.

24. After you work with them you’re just as confused as when you started.

25. They’ve never used Help a Reporter Out (added by Sarah, not Peter). To Sarah’s point, they’ve also not suggested any of the wonderful free services out there before they recommend paying.