Apr 09 2015

5 Questions to Ask Before Choosing a Payroll Provider

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Look before you fly into a bad payroll situation

Look before you fly into a bad payroll situation

In the past month or so, a few clients who are adding people asked me if I knew anything about the benefits of using a payroll provider.  So I dusted off a blog post I wrote but never published for a previous employer and sent it to them. They found it helpful and suggested I share it with others. My answer to the question? A good payroll provider can save you time, help avoid tax penalties, and the right one can be cheaper than hiring a dedicated employee for the job. At a minimum, a good payroll service will get checks to both the IRS and your employees on time – and that’s a huge burden off your shoulders.

Even if your business is on the small side with a stable turnover rate, a salaried staff, and minimal changes in tax obligations, you should probably consider whether a payroll provider makes sense for your business in a world where tax laws are complex and change on a regular basis. In addition, there are staffing situations that can quickly complicate your situation, including the presence of hourly employees, employees in multiple states, employees who receive tips as part of their compensation, or an illness or departure of that dedicated employee who handles payroll services. Perhaps the best reason to consider outsourcing your payroll process goes back to the importance of being on good terms with the IRS and limiting potential tax issues from distracting you from your company’s mission and from affecting your bottom line.

Companies looking at payroll providers generally fall into two categories: “New to Employees” (people hiring their first employee or worrying about their compliance requirements) or “Switchers” (people who aren’t happy with their current provider).  If you fall into one of these categories, here are five questions you might ask to find the perfect fit for your small business, organized under the topics of  services and payment structures, ease of use, level of customer service, 1099 contractors, and security track record.

  1. Which services do they provide and at what pricing structure? With so many payroll providers to choose from, consider whether you’re comfortable running payroll yourself and filing taxes electronically. If so, a do-it-yourself (DIY) solution is probably a good fit. However, if you want someone to handle everything for you – from setup, to running payroll, to filing taxes on your behalf, then a full service solution might be a better fit. It is really a matter of preference.
  2. Is their website easy to use and can I take a look under the hood? A simple but fundamental question to ask a payroll provider is how does their actual service work and is it easy? Is their website intuitive? Are they mobile- and tablet-ready? It’s important to make sure a payroll provider fits the way you and your employees operate. Request a free trial; some providers offer as long as one or two months at no cost. This will cut the wheat from the chaff rather quickly so you can focus on a smaller number of providers.
  3. How available is their customer service? How often will you be communicating with the provider, and is their customer service prepared for the commitment? Reading reviews of payroll providers can quickly get you an answer as to their level of client commitment. Businesses will be honest on third party review sites like Top Ten Reviews, indicating how detailed, security and service-oriented a payroll provider is. Many services already provide 24-hour help via phone/email/chat in time zones around the world, in addition to FAQ’s on their website. Also be aware that there may be different price ranges for customer service even within the same provider. Don’t be afraid to ask questions like “is someone going to be available to help us even on the holidays?” if that is something your small business may need. Of course, there’s an argument that if you’re contacting customer service too often, that payroll provider is probably not for you.
  4. Do you use 1099 contractors? Many small businesses get confused with the difference between 1099 contractors and W-2 employees, but the distinction is important, especially to the IRS. All small businesses should pay close attention to the rules and classify their workers correctly. Likewise, when finding a payroll provider, you should carefully research your options so that you’re choosing one that can help you pay and file taxes for the type of workers you have (W-2 or 1099 contractor).
  5. Have they ever had a security breach and how did they respond? While most payroll service providers commonly have good minimum levels of security, you should do your due diligence. Ask your potential providers detailed questions about security all the way from levels of employee access to how secure their data centers are. Has your company ever had to respond to a security breach and what preventative measures did you take to make sure it didn’t happen again? It may have been listed fifth here, but Security is no longer a given – be sure to choose a provider with a stellar track record.

As noted above, an important feature for any payroll service is scalability as you grow and require different services. While you might be a small, local firm now, do you plan on operating your business outside the United States? Will you eventually have employees that are represented by a union? Do you now (or plan to in the near future) offer 401(k)s and other deductions? These are all examples that point to the potential need for a payroll provider.

A Google search of payroll providers returns a daunting list.  Asking someone you trust for a referral is a great place to start your search.  Another would be asking for references from other similar businesses in your area.

Your payroll provider search will be shorter and much clearer if you start off discussions with the main five question themes above.  You should also make sure that during the vetting process you know what the payroll provider will expect from you to do its job.  Good luck!

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Mar 21 2015

Breaking these 10 rules can hurt your reputation

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skid marks

Breaking these rules can hurt your reputation

So there are times when life and blog posts intersect and get you thinking about things in a different way.

In the past few months, I’ve gotten a lot of traction with my consulting business and suddenly found myself with a lot of projects and fewer hours in the day/week to serve all of them the way I wanted.

And then I hit Play on a Jay Baer podcast focusing on 10 Rules that a guy named Chris Johnson uses for his business, Simplifilm, which makes online videos, explainer videos, and trailers. I was horrified to find that in the past week, I’ve violated four of these rules. I’m spending some time this weekend trying to figure out how to make it up to those clients, reorganizing some of my processes to avoid breaking any in the future, and writing this post as a form of penance.

The 10 rules work for consultants like me, professional services firms, and anyone whose livelihood depends on a client. Consider writing them down and sharing. Print them and put them in a visible place. And at the end of the day, check the list and make sure that you haven’t broken any of them.

  1.  When something is said to one person, it is said to the whole company.Don’t force clients to have to repeat themselves.
  2. Clients should never have to quality control anything. Get it right before you hit Send.
  3. The client never has to ask where their project is. You need to be proactive in providing daily (or at least very regular) updates.
  4. Client communications should always be acknowledged.
  5. The client should never have to resend anything.
  6. The client’s time is the most valuable resource. Wasting it is a sin.
  7. Do what’s right for the client and share what’s worked for other clients.
  8. Clients need gestures of respect at all times.
  9. Clients never need to hear how hard you’ve worked.
  10. Don’t seek gratitude for work delivered. That’s what they’re paying you for.
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Aug 04 2014

Now that you’ve decided to do the speech, what’s next?

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Bringing together all the right components to delivering a great speech can require the ability to herd cats.

Bringing together all the right components to delivering a great speech can require the ability to herd cats.

I have to admit to being a bit surprised by the page views — and engagement — I received from my last week’s post, Worth Your Time? A Checklist of Speaker Considerations.  I did receive a few requests for a second checklist on execution — how do you optimize the opportunity after you’ve agreed to speak.

Parts of this post will be aimed at larger organizations, but I hope everyone finds something useful for an exercise that is often compared to herding cats:

Internal Nuts and Bolts

  • Confirm dates, location, and deadlines for presentations and create a speech-development schedule that builds in buffers that recognize a few facts of life: Your speaker will take longer to provide input/review and spend less time practicing than you want, and very little you do will get him/her to speed up (because this will be scarily low on his or her priority list until just before the speech date OR some business priority will blow up and relegate you to an after-thought). This is also true if YOU are the speaker.
  • Decide whether you want to book your room in the conference hotel (lots of distractions but close and probably cheaper) or somewhere close by (probably quieter, unless someone else is hosting a raucous conference). Factor in the time of the speech (do you have to arrive the night before or can you travel day-of), keeping in mind planes get delayed and you will want time to practice and check out the venue.
  • If you’re planning for another executive, send a copy of the agenda and ask whether they want to be there for all or part of the conference, or just their speech. If you have offices or clients in that city, it may be worth asking if they want to schedule time for a visit or invite someone to attend (make sure you coordinate with your conference contact).
  • Ensure information is included in appropriate executive visibility calendars (who’s going to be where saying or doing what).
  • What role, if any, do we want/need for our agency partners to play (e.g., promotion, message development, vetting of other opportunities such as press interviews)?
  • Based on level of speaker and size of opportunity, do we need to include our communications team (assuming you aren’t your communications team)?
  • Is there a social-media opportunity (speech promotion, tweetable moments, post the speech or abstract or speaker notes on the company website).
  • Do we need to communicate anything to senior leadership?
  • Do we follow up with broader internal communications? This can be a good opportunity to repackage external thought leadership into something that reinforces core messages or provides additional context.
  • If this is a conference we’re sponsoring, is there an opportunity to provide collateral (brochures, branded gifts)? If so, is Marketing engaged to supply?

Something to think about: There are different views as to whether you should tweet key parts of the speech or rely on the audience to do that. If you’re going to rely on the audience, make sure you include “tweetable moments” in the speech (excerpts that are 100 characters or fewer to ensure someone can mention you, your company, and the conference hashtag and leave space for retweets. You should also have someone ready to retweet those positive comments from your handle.

Relative to the actual presentation…

  • If anyone is speaking (our own people or partners/vendors), have we synced our presentations to ensure the messages and numbers are consistent?
  • Do we have a strong message and call to action, without sounding like we’re trying to sell something?
  • Do we have an “emotional component” before or at each 10-minute segment? Research indicates that’s when you start to lose people if you don’t engage them with a story or image that taps into their emotions.
  • Do we need anyone else to review/provide feedback/approve the presentation? Does Legal/Risk/Compliance (where that’s a factor–my background is in financial services) need to take a look?
  • Make sure you understand how the conference will use Twitter (you may not want them projecting the Twitter feed over your executive’s head) and what they want to do with your presentation or speaker notes after the conference.
  • How will we assess the success/impact of participating?

After the Presentation/Conference:

  • Pull people together shortly after and get their feedback. What worked? What didn’t? What messages really seemed to resonate? What didn’t?
  • Send thank-you notes to the conference organizers, letting them know what you thought went well and whether there were opportunities to improve. Consider handwritten thank-you notes to your internal partners who spent extra time helping you hit your deadline, provide numbers, or got the leader engaged. And thank the speaker (if that’s not you) for all he/she did, even if he/she drove you absolutely nuts because — and you’re going to have to trust me on this one — it will help you the next time.
  • What kind of support did we get from the conference organizers? A lot of organizers sponsor multiple conferences so knowing which ones are great to work with and which aren’t could impact your decision.
  • Document whether we’d recommend participating again and under what circumstances. Put that in a central place that other lines of business can access.

Please let me know if I’ve missed anything or whether this post revived ugly (or good) memories of past speeches you’ve you’ve had experiences with speakers. Also, please feel free to contact me if you’d like assistance with any part of this process.

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Jul 29 2014

Worth your time? A checklist of speaker considerations

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For companies in high-profile industries with a complicated ecosystem and constant change, industry conferences are an omnipresent fact of life. And so are invitations from those conference organizers who are trying to make their events interesting and fresh (or maybe just fill all their time slots, particularly when there are multiple tracks).

Is the juice worth the squeeze when it comes time to accept or decline a speaking invitation?

Is the juice worth the squeeze when it comes time to accept or decline a speaking invitation?

Here are some questions that you should ask yourself before agreeing to speak. This assessment should be conducted between the line of business and its communications person or agency to decide whether the Juice is Worth the Squeeze (i.e., does the benefit exceed the risk and the time that will be spent by all parties?).

Assessing the Opportunity:

  • What is the format? Is there an opportunity for a more visible role?
  • Who is the audience?
  • How many attendees do they expect? How many did they have last year?
  • What role do other presenters play in their organizations and will our competitors also be presenting (i.e., are you the appropriate-level speaker)?
  • Will this event be covered by traditional.social media?
  • What do the organizers want you talking about? What’s the theme of the conference? And do those themes fit with our goals for thought leadership?
  • Are any other company executives speaking at the event?
  • What is our history with this organization and this event?
  • Does the sponsoring organization carry weight within the industry?

Assessing the Value Before Your Agree to Speak: Good Opportunity for the Company — and for You?

  • How — specifically — will this impact our business/drive revenues/deepen existing relationships?
  • Will participating in this event drive partnerships for joint ventures or introduce us to vendors?
  • Is this an opportunity to use storytelling to explain our strategy to an audience that can help drive the business forward?
  • Is the speech’s topic newsworthy?
  • Could this lead to more/better speaking opportunities?
  • Is there an opportunity to drive core messaging to influencers?
  • Would participating help us attract top talent (students or prospects from other companies)?
  • Would you be interacting with customers, clients, or prospects?
  • Is this a good opportunity for professional development or an opportunity to “deepen the bench?”
  • Does your manager approve? Does he/she have concerns?
  • Do you have a “big idea” for the presentation?
  • Will your message resonate with the audience/lead to a desired outcome?

Assessing the Risk/Investment of Time Before You Speak

  • Do we have existing talking points/previous presentations?
  • Is this topic consistent with our core messaging?
  • Is it a good opportunity, but for a different presenter?
  • Taking travel and the time of the presentation into account, how long will you be away from the office?  Is that OK?
  • Will there be conflicts on your calendar during either your preparation time or your actual presentation that could cause a problem (e.g., project due dates, offsites, month-end report deadlines)?
  • Does speaking at the conference invite additional scrutiny or criticism of the company?
  • Do we have/can we create a “toolkit” with key talking points, industry data, previous presentations, and “stories” to streamline preparation time.ensure consistency?
  • Are there requirements for additional collateral (e.g., white paper, podcast, public interviews)?
  • Will the organizers tape/stream the presentation? Will they make the presentations available to attendees? Do we have a choice? Will we have an opportunity to approve before they go public?

The time spent answering these questions before committing could save you a lot of angst as the conference approaches. You should also ask when materials will be due. Ask twice because the organizer’s deadline rarely aligns with the date that you or your executive will start focusing on the deck and message.

Please let me know if I can help you assess whether a speaking invitation that you might have received is worth your time and resources. 

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Jul 13 2014

Nine components of a elevated corporate storyline

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You need to develop your corporate storyline BEFORE creating your elevator speech

You need to develop your corporate storyline BEFORE creating your elevator speech

Creating a strong strategic narrative is about a lot more than a terrific elevator speech, good talking points and a presentation deck. This is particularly true when your company (or client) is in a competitive industry, when your business has a lot of moving parts, or when you’re in an extended job search.

Your strategic narrative (or corporate storyline) should enable stakeholders to create consistent internal and external messaging, marketing materials, and talking points for leadership. You should also be collecting on-point industry statistics that can be used in internal and external presentations and help you avoid bringing “too much” selling to your thought leadership.

Here are the nine components that I include in these documents:

  • People Should Say: When all is said and done what do you want people saying about you, whether it’s a customer, a reporter or influencer, or an industry analyst.
  • Primary LOB Goals:  What is the line of business (or in the case of smaller entities, the company/individual) trying to accomplish?  It is absolutely critical to involve them early.  This WILL NOT work if the creation of the storyline is only a Corporate Communications project.  The line of business will be less likely to support external distribution of the message and they won’t use what you’ve created with internal audiences.
  • Key Communications Objectives: What are your goals? You’re going to want to develop metrics to assess your success, and these will help. In addition, this is a good way to validate what others within the organization think is important. This section will also help you create a strategy for identifying what you want to talk about externally, who should be included in that discussion, and where you want to talk about those things.
  • Context: What’s the external story? What’s going on across the industry and what are the bigger-picture pain points? And how do you fit into all that?
  • Words to Focus on When Communicating: What are your “keywords” that will help people find your point of view when Googling a topic?
  • Customer Needs We’re Addressing Through Our Innovation Pipeline: Simply put, what are the Customer pain points you are trying to resolve if you want to be successful?
  • Interesting Points for External Engagement: What are those key messages you want everyone hammering home on a consistent basis? Be careful here: They need to be interesting to your audience, not just your board or executive leadership team.
  • Customer Concerns in the New World: What keeps them awake at night? For example, in the new mobile world, it’s some combination of security and privacy and figuring out how to keep things simple – in that order.
  • Visualizing Our Commitment to Customers: Simply, these are the stories that help the audience picture the benefit. Don’t forget your own employees here – they need to see the vision and be able to explain it to customers (often when those customers are angry).

Involve everyone in this exercise and share the document before you slap the word FINAL on it. It’s a document that requires buy-in – including negotiation and collaboration — across the organization.

Remember also that this storyline needs to be a living breathing document. Keep an eye on how others translate your talking points and speeches into their own blogs and articles. Listen to the people on your customer-service teams to see how they “shorten” your carefully-chosen words. Figure out how new acquisitions, new products/services, and changes in the industry impact your storyline.

Making your strategic narrative both a corporate imperative today AND a repeatable process going forward will pay dividends.

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Jun 24 2014

MUST Read: How the World Sees You by Sally Hogshead

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(NOTE:  Sally has given me a code to pass along to all my readers for a free Fascination Advantage Assessment. It’s at the bottom of this post.  There are also Amazon links within the post and at the end if you want to order the book).. 

As someone with a personality that people rarely feel neutral about (and someone who helps people make their LinkedIn profiles “fascinating”), I read a lot on personal branding and how to position yourself.  I met Sally Hogshead at a Jeffrey Gitomer seminar in Philadelphia a few years ago, just after she released the book, Fascinate.

How The World Sees You:  Discover Your Highest Value Through the Science of Fascination

How The World Sees You: Discover Your Highest Value Through the Science of Fascination

I liked Fascinate and incorporated some of the key points into my approach.  But it’s Sally’s new book, How the World Sees You, which has really changed the way I am thinking about who I am; what type of position would best fit my personality, and how to build and motivate a team.  And it’s important to note here that this is a book that will equally help people who might be looking for their next position AND people who want to better understand how to build a team at their current job or communicate more effectively with different types of people.

Sally reminds readers early on that “great advertising isn’t about what a company want to say. It’s about what the market wants to hear about, talk about, and buy.”  She also stresses that “different is better than better.  Different doesn’t try to turn you into something else.  Different allows you to highlight the singular traits you already have within you.  You aren’t necessarily better than your competition.  But you are already different.”

The thing I like about Sally’s books is the edginess (“If you’re not adding value, you’re taking up space.”).  For those of us who have worked in heavily matrixed organizations, she reminds us that “we will never be our most successful when evaluated according to criteria that are a natural disadvantage,” using an ice-cream example:Pistachio doesn’t try to please everyone, she notes.  It successfully engages a minority of the population really, really well.  Vanilla, on the other hand, is a commodity.  A flavor for the masses, appealing to the broadest range of situations and people.

Sally’s biggest goal in How The World Sees You is to make sure you’re not vanilla.  Her approach is based on Personality Archetypes using 49 different combinations of seven triggers (Power, Passion, Mystique, Prestige, Alert, and Innovation) that are like a set of tools.  The narratives around each of those Archetypes really resonate (I had five friends take her assessment and all five landed in what felt like the right Archetype).  But the big deliverable is her Anthem, which is part elevator speech, part Call to Action.

Identifying a Person’s Primary Advantage     

Clues to Look For How They Operate How They Fascinate Primary Advantage Is…
Expressive, Intuitive, Engaging Immediately creates connections Applies natural optimism and energy to instantly build relationships. Passion
Proactive, Organized, Reliable Incites immediate and urgent action Keeps team focused on deadlines, structure, and potential negative consequences Alert
Understated, Logical, Observant Reserve communication for best and highest value Keeps the focus on results, not drama. Carefully selects what they reveal Mystique
Confident, Goal-Oriented, Decisive Commands environment Becomes the opinion of authority Power
Ambitious, Uncompromising, Respected Immediately earns respect for results Uses admiration to raise the value of themselves and their company Prestige
Creative, Independent, Entrepreneurial Changes the game Invents creative solutions that tweak tradition Innovation
Stable, Dependable, Familiar Builds loyalty with stability and dependability Repeats and reinforce patterns Trust

I see this as a workbook of sorts, one that you’ll likely put in a handy location so you can go back and remind yourself of how you can communicate more effectively based on your Archetype and how you should communicate and work with different types of Archetypes.

Do I have quibbles with the book?  Yes.  I think the Adjectives she proposes for each Archetype are good, but I’m not sure they always serve job seekers and mid-level executives in matrixed organizations particularly well (but they are a terrific starting point).  I found my Fascination Advantage Report focused on my particular Archetype fascinating, but I was a bit distracted as I read all 49 Archetype descriptions in the book and kept saying, “that’s me.”

But on the whole, this is a tremendous body of work that will change the way people look at themselves and at others.  Remember, you don’t have to be perfect at everything, but you do have to be extraordinary at something.  This book helps you figure out what that one thing is.

As promised, here’s how to get started with a free assessment.  If you decide to pre-order the book, you’ll also get extra goodies:

  1. Go to: http://www.howtheworldseesyou.com/you
  2. Enter the code BL-posborne and create a user account with your name, password, and email address.
  3. Complete the assessment. (It takes 5 minutes.) You’ll immediately receive your in-depth, custom report, which identifies your personality advantage.

 

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Mar 31 2014

Must Read: Spin Sucks by Gini Dietrich

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Spin Sucks is a terrific read for those senior executives who may not totally “get” what you’re trying to do with social media, a fast read that will give them the basics they need to support you in senior-leader positions. For readers who take good notes or have great retention, it will offer them a more detailed framework for pushing back.  At 164 pages, it’s a fast read with a great mix of strategy and tactics…and a surprising amount of very detailed advice on a range of topics.

Early on, Gini describes her target audience as “business leaders who need to better understand how the industry is changing, what to expect from the PR professionals you hire, and what kind of return you’ll have for time and money spent by hiring PR pros…If you run an organization, are on an executive team or have (or need to have) communications professionals or a firm reporting to you…” Gini accomplishes her goal of showing readers how to prepare their business for a marathon instead of a sprint; how to build a communications program that can withstand the constant changes at Google; and how working ethically – while not providing instant ROI – will deliver more valuable long-lasting results, as well as a spotless reputation.

Must Read: Spin Sucks by Gini Dietrich

Spin Sucks gives you all the tools you’ll need for your Social Media Toolkit.

As a long-time reader of her Spin Sucks blog, I received an advance copy of the book and I noted in my review on Amazon that I’d have liked to have seen some “resources” for busy executives, some checklists or highlighted questions that these business leaders should be asking their agencies or internal teams (e.g., How are we optimizing our content for search?  Have you considered…?). Gini sent me a note almost immediately asking what sorts of checklists would be helpful for those executives.

After telling her I was looking for something easy for that senior executive who will scan but not absorb, she asked if I could send her some examples.  So I went back through the book and was somewhat surprised it was all there (e.g., Tips for Managing an Issue, Five Essential Parts to Your Organization’s Story, Calls to Action, Seven Steps to Dealing With Criticism).  I suspect a visit to the website in the near future will provide some of those checklists.

But that’s a small quibble. Gini is one of the “gurus” for those of us who believe that great content is more important than Impressions or Reach, for those of us who believe that your metrics can focus on close ties to actual business results. Spin Sucks is a really well-written book for those who struggle to really crystallize in succinct terms what the framework should be. It’s a must read for executives who want to be able to defend the importance of committing to great content and contextualizing why and how to do things the right way. It’s also a must read for people who are new to your digital teams (although I might give them a month on the job before I hand it over).

 

Here’s a link to the book if you buy from Amazon or have a Kindle.  I will benefit by you clicking on this link, but it won’t cost you any more than if you went directly to Amazon.

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Mar 19 2014

Do you “autopsy” your comms plan after execution?

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A lot can be learned from a thorough autopsy of a communications initiative.

A lot can be learned from a thorough autopsy of a communications initiative.

Over the past year, I dealt with a few situations where we determined communications success on whether we kept nasty social-media comments from showing up in the traditional media — news that easily could have undermined a lot of good work that others had been doing to prop up the bank’s brand. At the same time, friends of mine were developing communications plans predicated on ensuring that the RIGHT messages about branch sales and changes in products and service delivery were not overwhelmed by the “haters” comments about the bank’s chosen direction.

For many PR professionals, success in communications is defined by avoiding press coverage or limiting coverage to places where it doesn’t go viral.  Some of your partners may try to define success by Impressions or Reach, trying to impress the client with all the eyeballs that saw coverage of your new initiative.

But you know deep down as you’re putting together the communications plan that success may very well depend on reporters, bloggers, or influencers not misinterpreting your intent, not slamming the product or service to their audiences, and confining the coverage to social-media pockets and away from traditional media.  But it can also depend just as easily on really clear messaging, close integration with the business partners rolling out the new initiative, and strong relationships with the RIGHT reporters, bloggers, and influencers.

Within a few weeks, the coverage dies down (or everything stays quiet). And because your plate is full, you put a check mark on the To Do list and get back to the other stuff that went on the back burner as you moved from the planning phase to execution of your communications plan.

Not so fast…

Why not pull everyone together and assess what went well and what went, well, not so well?  Bringing your communications team — and your partners — together for a frank and open discussion can serve a number of purposes:

  • Reinforce the importance of the communications team to overall project execution.
  • Identify best practices — and things to avoid — for the next one.
  • Help your less-experienced communications teammates get the benefit of how the planning went and what they should do when it’s their turn.

You can download a template for this kind of review here. It was designed for larger organizations, but can be easily adjusted for smaller organizations.  It’s really a guardrail; you don’t need to answer all the questions.  They’re there to establish a framework for moderator and presenter (the person responsible for communications execution and his or her partners, as applicable).

The goals are simple:

  • What did you learn?  What would have made your life easier?
  • Is perception reality?  Was everyone as happy as you thought they were?  Did things go as badly as you thought they did?
  • Share broadly.  If you’re in a large organization, take a leadership role and invite communicators from other business areas.
  • Create a safe environment if you’re the moderator.  Get with the presenter in advance and decide what the biggest takeaways were.  Lead the discussion and do your best to protect the presenter from snarky questions.  Talk about that in advance — this isn’t a forum for others to show off.

These post-initiative reviews are taking places in other lines of business.  Why not in Communications? Schedule them regularly and make sure that everyone on the leadership team knows that it’s their responsibility to be active, candid participants.

What do you think?  How have post-initiative reviews like this made your future communications plans better?

 

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Mar 11 2014

Don’t Turn One Social Media Problem Into Two

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Every brand with a social-media presence and perhaps a social-media servicing team has seen the post.

A simple complaint can turn into something much worse if you don't respond quickly.

A simple complaint can turn into something much worse if you don’t respond quickly.

“I can’t believe you did X.  Your customer-service rep did Y. #YouSuck”

Most people don’t see what goes on behind the scenes when something like that happens.  In many cases, panic ensues.  Questions fly via e-mail.  Risk assessment abounds.  Should we respond or not?  How should we respond — 1:1 or 1:Many?

And meanwhile the clock keeps ticking.  And then…one problem becomes two:

“Can’t believe Brand X is ignoring my post.  What kind of people work there? #ServiceFail”  And then the retweets really accelerate.

And it could be avoided.  Regardless of your appetite for risk, there’s nothing wrong with empowering your social-media teams to acknowledge the post and tell them you’re looking into it.

You don’t need to admit to any wrongdoing.  Odds are you don’t know for sure that you screwed up.  But the thing you do want to avoid is being accused of not listening (or worse, being deaf).  That will often spread faster than the original complaint.

Two suggestions to avoid this:

  • Tell the people who answer customer questions that it’s OK to acknowledge the original concern and tell the poster that you’re looking into it — and depending on whether you have a Legal/Risk/Compliance team looking over your shoulder, include some empathy.  Then make sure someone in charge knows you’ve made that promise and follow up fairly quickly if you don’t hear anything back.  Complainers will normally be patient — but not two-week patient.
  • Identify the common complaints you see on social media (and in your other customer-facing platforms — and create guidelines for responses.  Not hard-and-fast answers necessarily — use them enough and they can look like bots — and that’s a whole other problem.
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Jan 21 2014

Celebrating the “Death” of (Crappy) Guest Blogging

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"The less garbage there is, the less hard our audiences have to work to find the good stuff."

“The less garbage there is, the less hard our audiences have to work to find the good stuff.”

As my company’s primary advocate for a guest-blogging strategy to drive thought leadership (awareness, consideration) on social media, I was initially dismayed to hear that Google’s Matt Cutts had basically called for the death of guest blogging.  I could hear my in-house advocates for a broadcast approach — those guys who focus on SEO and ego metrics like Impressions and Reach — being even more difficult to deal with.

But upon further reflection, this is actually a good thing.  This is great news for the people who prioritize spending precious budget dollars on creating helpful content over buying followers and Likes.  This is great news for people who push their agency and in-house teams to reach out to influencers for comments and shy away from relentless promotion of their products to create content that helps customers and prospects research their next purchase (i.e., the content creators who buy into the Corporate Executive Board’s research that customers will contact a sales rep only when they independently complete about 60% of the purchasing decision process).

There’s a lot of discussion right now about Content Shock and the future of content marketing.  If Matt Cutts discourages people from posting self-serving crap across the Internet, that’s a great thing for the rest of us who want our voices to be heard in a responsible and helpful way.

I’ve long believed that the best way to build followers on any social-media platform is to give them great content.  Chasing followers is fool’s gold. I think Matt has reinforced the importance of creating better content that is helpful to customers and prospects rather than giving them dreck that assumes the sheep will blindly click on the Call to Action.

Chris Penn made the point today that “the less garbage there is, the less hard our audiences have to work to find the good stuff.”

It’s a point worth reinforcing to the businesses you support and to the agencies and marketing partners that support you.

 

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