- The annual South by Southwest Interactive Festival is ground zero for the social media scene.Kerry Gorgone shares her six takeaways from SXSW 2013, including the need to empower employees as brand ambassadors. I think this is a big one, and a missed opportunity to extend social reach for a lot of companies.
- Here's a useful infographic on building the perfect Tweet– including the need to stay under 120 characters so folks have enough characters to retweet!
- The Wall Street Journal reports Facebook is looking at adding #hashtags to make keywords and topics searchable. "Bring 'em on," said Natalie Burgwin, senior manager, public relations at 1-800-Got-Junk? "Visibility is the name of the game on social media and hashtags are going to increase that," she notes. I agree.
- At PR Daily, Rebecca Benison gives us eight phrases to eliminate from press releases, and I could write a 5,000 word blog post with many more candidates. My shortcut tip: eliminate almost every adjective in your press release, and you’ll be much better off.
- Lego recently announced stellar 2012 results – 25% growth. But even a brand as successful and beloved as Lego has its PR challenges. Forbes interviews Lego Group communication manager Jan Christensen about those PR challenges, including accusations of sexism in its Lego Friends line and charges that its Star Wars Jabba the Hut Palace is too similar to mosques in Beruit and Istanbul. Global brands face unique challenges as products create different meanings in different cultures.
- McDonald’s kicks off an innovative mobile campaign rooted in the photo-sharing app Instagram. Innovative stuff and a unique approach to driving brand engagement via smartphones. its pushes to extend its reach in the photo app.
This just in: Apple is pretty good at marketing.
But even Apple can make a PR mistake.
Last week, Samsung launched its latest iPhone competitor, the Samsung Galaxy IV. Apple put together a couple of initiatives in an attempt to drain away some of the hype. On one front, Apple attacked Samsung. That went poorly, as competitive attacks often do for category leaders. On another front, Apple talked about its product leadership and did very well.
(By the way: You can argue that the iPhone isn't the category leader, because there are more devices running some form of Android out there than iOS. But when you make 70% of the profits in the smartphone category, you're the leader.)
A public relations misstep for Apple
In an unusual move, Apple marketing VP Phil Schiller gave an interview to the Wall Street Journal just before Samsung's announcement. The first sentence written in the story?
Apple is on the defensive.
Schiller's attack backfired, because his attack was the story. His message points were completely lost because the PR move was so out of character for Apple. When a leader attacks, it sends a message that it is feeling jumpy about a competitor. Apple lost the narrative.
Framing the conversation on its own terms
Then Apple did something well, something that marketers for category leaders can learn from. They crafted a page on their web site called "Why iPhone?" It's a textbook example of how a leader should respond to competitive messaging to lead the conversation in an advantageous direction.
The page launched on the heels of Samsung's announcement of the Galaxy IV smartphone, and stole some of the buzz away from Samsung at a time when Apple doesn't have any new products to announce. Just releasing the page gave the press something else to talk about besides Samsung. It worked.
Evidence of leadership
Apple doesn't just claim it offers the world's best and most popular smartphone. Instead it reinforces its position with data points throughout the page, such as:
- Eight straight J.D. Power and associates awards for customer satisfaction
- The top three cameras used on Flickr: iPhone 4S, iPhone 4, and iPhone 5
- 800,000 apps
If you're the category leader, then you have evidence of that fact. Use it to add credibility to claims.
Framing the conversation
Apple uses the page to frame the conversation from its point of view, not to respond to specific competitor messaging points. You won't, for example, read a lot about technical specs on the page -- and specs are something heavily emphasized by competitors. In Apple's view, customers only care about features and benefits, not things like specific computer chip speeds.
So when Apple tells you about the iPhone 5's chip, it doesn't talk about clocking speeds. Instead you read about the benefits of the fast and energy-efficient chip: smooth games, fast browsing and better battery life. Competitors like to tout their latest spec advantages over the iPhone; Apple refuses to play that game and stays focused on customer benefits instead. That's the conversation Apple wants to have and believes that's what customers really care about.
Category leaders and the critical importance of how a conversation begins
Being in front comes with privileges and responsibility. A leadership position affords you extra attention which must be used wisely. What your company does will drive the conversation for the space -- for better or for worse. Apple showed us two great examples of that. When the company acted out of character and attacked the #2 player, it came off looking defensive, nervous and unsure of itself. But when it framed the conversation in its own way, focusing on the benefits of its products and supporting its leadership position with evidence, it received much more favorable coverage -- the kind of coverage a category leader wants.
No, marketers and PR pros don't own the conversation anymore. Which puts even more importance on the way a conversation is started by communications professionals.
Weekly Roundup #4: LinkedIn adds a news reader as Google announces it will shutter its own, sharks and ships in distress, and more.
- LinkedIn continues its push into the content publishing with the acquisition of the news reader Pulse. Hard to tell what LinkedIn is up to just yet, but they have been adding premium bloggers to publish content directly on LinkedIn's site, and now Pulse is the another piece to the puzzle they are putting in place.
- Speaking of news readers, Google its shutting down its reader service July 1, to the dismay of many journalists and communication pros. Feedly says it will import your RSS feeds seemlessslyfrom Google Reader. If you don't like Feedly, Danny Sullivan has other alternatives.
- Shel Holtz has an excellent post this week on the importance of cultivating brand ambassadors as part of your social media strategy. As Facebook and other services make it more difficult (read: more expensive) to reach your whole audience via your corporate brand pages, employees will be needed as part of a more diffuse reach strategy.
- It's PR crisis time at K-Mart after a shark dies on the set of a commercial shoot.
- Speaking of PR trouble, the crisis team at Carnival is put on another pot of coffee after a ship left Tampa, had engine issues, and had to start a return to port.
- Carnival continues to do an excellent job with news updates on its Twitter feed, setting the gold standard. (Though I bet the team would admit they've had too much practice lately.)
- Samsung revealed its new Galaxy S4 smartphone with a press event that included a dance number and other oddities. And what phone announcement shouldn't have musical and dance accompaniment?
- The new phone allows you scroll your screen with your eyes. It's about time. As Americans, it's just too physically taxing for us to actually touch the screen. We need our hands free to eat french fries and stuff.
- Ben Woods at CNet says it is getting hard for phone manufacturers to create and message points of differentiation. But that doesn't excuse a Samsung event that was "shockingly sexist," says Molly Wood, also of Cnet.
Do you dread giving or receiving performance reviews? Some argue performance reviews should be banned altogether. Reviews are career and financial milemarkers, a signpost to where an employee has been and where she is headed, and the high stakes adds drama and tension.
Reviews can be productive. Really. Bosses, try using these simple communication strategies to give better reviews.
And employees: if you're boss isn't doing these things, be proactive and suggest them. It's in your best interest to get clear direction and feedback in your review. These strategies will help.
#1: A review should be a recap of communication that took place throughout the year.
If you're leading well, you laid out clear goals and expectations at the beginning of the year. You've reviewed the goals and progress against them with your team member periodically throughout the year.
Constructive criticism needs to be delivered as events unfold -- not just at review time. It should be delivered kindly but honestly, without over- or underplaying the problem. And it should be followed with a clearly defined corrective path and expectations for going forward.
If you didn't do these things throughout the year, then your review will reveal suprises to your employee. This is what a bad review process looks like, and you're failing as a leader.
If you're uncomfortable giving constructive criticism, read Crucial Conversations, which has excellent strategies for navigating important and difficult discussions.
A badly conducted review reveals new truths and other surprises. An actually, that means your failing as a leader. You may be j comfortable giving constructive feedback, or maybe have an issue giving prsise. Good communication doesn't happen once; it happens systematically, over and over. If your employee is surprised -- good or bad -- you've failed as a communicator.
#2: Tell a story for the year ahead.
Reviews aren't just for looking back -- they are a perfect time to look ahead, too. Metric-based goals are the foundation for evaluation. Numerical markers ensure parties can agree on success or failure without bias (or at least get you reasonably close!).
But I tried something new with my direct reports this year -- three words. I gave each team member three words that represented themes for them to focus on in the year ahead. In essence, I wanted them to build the story of a successful year in their minds. Stories have become an important part of business communication because stories are the best way to persuade people. Using the three words as your story elements, help your team member picture a successful year ahead that aligns to your expectations, your employee's career development, and, obviously, the needs of the business.
For example, you might have a direct report that isn't getting enough credit and recognition in your company. They need to step out a bit and better demonstrate the value they are delivering. In this case, visibility can be a theme. Challenge them to think about ways to raise their profile, like volunteering on a committee, or heading up a new cross-departmental project. Help them envision their own character arc in which they become more visible.
The three-word technique is a simple way to focus your employees and you should come back to your employee's story elements throughout the year (see rule #1).
#3: Use real examples to illustrate your points.
This one is simple: evidence builds your case, so use real examples to support your points in your review. If someone excelled at a particular goal throughout the year, use an example to support that viewpoint. If someone needs to improve in an area, use a real example of where they fell short -- and provide a clearly corrective path to help the employee grow.
If you can't think of any real-world examples to support a position, then is that position really correct? Challenge yourself. Providing real examples isn't just good for the employee -- it's an exercise for you to think through your opinions and ensure they accurately reflect what took place throughout the year.
#4: Rehearse ahead of time.
Performance reviews are emotional and personal. Employees want to know how they measure up not just in your company, but in your personal viewpoint, too. Your words carry weight. They will resonate emotionally and resonate long after the conversation ends. So do yourself and your team member a favor and take a few minutes in advance to plan your key message points.
#5: Be selfish: Listen.
Bosses tend to focus only on what they want to say to the employee during a review.
But you need to be more selfish that that. Ask questions that make you a better leader.
What do you want to know about the employee's state of mind? What do you want to know about their career goals? Does the employee have the tools and support they need to succeed? If not, what resources are missing? Get actionable information you can use to make your team more effective.
Performance reviews can be a valuable tool for employees and bosses. These rules can help you communicate more clearly, demonstrate concern and leadership and set the stage for a successful year ahead. And isn't that the point of good leadership -- to help employees grow, be happy in their work and be more productive? Make reviews an important tool for you, not an experience to simply be endured.
- Brian Solis and Chenting Li put out a terrifc report this week on The Six Stages of Social Business Transformation.
- Shel Holtz shares useful tidbits from the Ragan Communications Best Practices in Internal Communication Summit this week.
- In travel, Christopher Elliott, travel writer and noted pain-in-the-rear to the TSA, tells us that America likes the TSA and its processes. Really, America? Really??
- Oh by the way, the TSA let a federal agent carry a fake bomb all the way to Terminal B at Newark Airport. But at least you got a thorough pat-down because you left your belt on.
- Speaking of travel, the @linkedintravel Twitter feed is a good one for business travelers to follow.
- Business Week has an interesting piece on how Disney acquired LucasFilm (Star Wars). Disney CEO Bob Iger's strategy is to add high-value franchises, like Marvel Comics and Star Wars, to help it compete in an era of infinite entertainment choices. Iger's quote about Disney's strategy is true for marketers, too: "It’s a less forgiving world than it’s ever been. Things have to be really great to do well.”
- GigaOm has a good reminder for us: Facebook isn't a platform for you to use, you are a platform for Facebook to use. True of almost all social media services, right? Google, too. We are not the customer -- we are the product.
- Speaking of Facebook, the company announced a big news feed redesign is coming. Prepare for mass outrage and declarations of pending Facebook exits by your friends. Then, in three weeks, all that will be forgotten. It sounds like Facebook is going to emphasize visual elements like photos and video, and reduce the focus on text. Sounds like a move toward the Google + layout, and that would be a good thing.
- And finally, a double-header on Foursquare, a favorite app of mine. It's getting better all the time at making good recommendations for me, based on my check-in history, when I'm on the road. Here's why: Foursquare updated its app to directly take on Yelp! in the recommendation space. And it's easier to check-in now, too (just hold down the location and you can check-in with one click). Meanwhile, TechCrunch asks if the check-in is dead. (I don't think it is.)