Exercise should be a vital part of anyone’s life. And you don’t have to be a gym rat to get inspiration from your workout or from what happens while you’re exercising. As we have seen in other instances, exercise is just another vehicle for inspiration if you look at it that way.
In order to maintain good health, you need to get up from your computer or chair on occasion. And you need to work out in some manner. Of course your decision as to what to do depends upon any number of factors. Maybe you’re elite and can train for a triathlon. However, for beginners, getting around the block might present difficulties. And if your area is sometimes an unsafe one, you might end up working out inside. So that can mean a gym membership or a pool or mall walking or even just equipment in your home.
Hence one factor is your environment. As you observe it, consider your characters. Would the chipmunks you see on a nature trail amuse them? Or would they fight off demons while jogging in a less than savory part of town? Maybe they see exercise as a meditation (a lot of people do).
Your Characters Working Out
Your characters can get in on the action, too. Action and fantasy characters would fight or train. Romantic characters could go for walks. Science fiction characters might work out as a part of military training or even as a health requirement in low gravity.
Getting outside means you can overhear conversations. You can people watch, too.
Writer’s Block and Depression
First of all, I want to make it clear that, if you feel the need for medical intervention, please go ahead! A lot of writers can experience certain levels of depression and so by all means, care for yourself. However, I am also suggesting that exercising can help. For example, if you experience seasonal affective disorder, you will need full-spectrum light. Hence you need to either mimic it with a special light or go out in the sunlight. And here in New England, the winters are full of days with very little sunlight. Hence I have learned to get myself outside and to shovel snow if I have to (I’ve got to watch my back these days, so I do not make the kind of fast progress I used to) or walk carefully to avoid slipping on ice. Good boots are a lifesaver.
If that’s not in the cards for you, a gym membership or mall walking can at least help. Because you will also need to get up, get dressed, and get outside in order to do either.
Exercise: Some Takeaways
Everybody needs to take a break from writing. Your eyes will thank you! So you may as well get up and get some exercise. Live long enough to finish your series! Do it for your fans!
The Future of Lonely Writer and Adventures in Career Changing
The future? Well, more specifically, I mean the future of the Lonely Writer website.
So as some readers may recall, I started that website as my capstone project at Quinnipiac University. I needed the project in order to graduate with a Master’s in Science in Communications (social media). Well, graduation happened in August of 2016. However, I had paid for the domain until the end of March of 2017. It seemed silly to try to cancel early.
But now it’s March of 2017.
Hence I want to change things up. My life has gotten considerably more busy since I graduated. I currently hold down four part-time work from home jobs, all centered around various tasks having to do with blogging. I also podcast every month and I blog for that podcast and for its parent podcast. Furthermore, I still blog about social media and even about fan fiction.
In addition, I still write and still work. I always try to get more of my work published. As a result, I just plain don’t have the time for yet another domain. Most noteworthy, I’d also like to save a few bucks. This project does … okay. Yet Adventures in Career Changing does better.
Therefore, I realized: I should combine the two.
What Will Happen?
The Lonely Writer YouTube channel and Facebook groups will both live on. And the Twitter stream won’t be going away, either. They do not require as much work as a separate blog. Plus, they are also free of charge. I am only talking about the other domain and those particular blog posts.
So, where are they going? Why, they are coming here!As a result, the blog URLs will change, and the blog posts themselves will be removed for later re-posting. I will change them up, too, so they will be more up to date. That’s all. So don’t worry, okay? That advice and that work will not go away. It’ll all just move here, down the street. I am excited about the move. I think it will help to freshen up Adventures without losing the focus, which is altering my career and also embracing social media. And the writing-related posts, of course, will give that more of a writing bent. That’s all.
With all due respect to the late Marshall McLuhan, the medium is still the message, but the message is now also the medium and the two are now joined at the hip, at least when it comes to social media.
As Smith notes on page 172, the communication process can be divided into three types –
Information – press agentry and public information
Persuasion – asymmetric advocacy and attempts to influence
Dialogue – symmetric, rooted in relationships
Information is a one-way street. E.g. I tell you that the world is round. You hear my message and either agree or disagree with it, or perhaps you request further information or even a second opinion. However, the relationship is not a symmetrical one, as I am feeding you data but you aren’t responding in kind and I am not getting information back from you.
In the persuasion model, things are even more asymmetrical. I’m not just informing you of the roundness of our planet; I’m making a case for it, whether it’s with photographs taken from space or images of the shadow from eclipses over the moon, or even the results of a public opinion poll.
For the dialogic model, however, the information and persuasion both flow, and in both directions. I might put forth the premise of the earth’s roundness; you might counter with personal observations or even your own survey. The entities in communication can trade opinions or information or both. On page 173, Smith refers to dialogue as a “deeply conscious interaction of two parties in communication.” This is give and take.
Our messages are not just verbal or written ones; they include our tone, our word choice, and our body language, according to Smith, pages 212 – 214. There is a measurable difference between referring to the same medical condition as shell shock, battle fatigue, or post-traumatic stress disorder, as George Carlin famously said.
This is the kind of doublespeak mentioned by Smith on page 211 that seems to embody the worst parts of public relations.
Messengers carry different degrees of weight as well. Astronaut testimony of the roundness of the earth should carry more credibility than a raving madman on a street corner somewhere. As the Vocusarticle puts forth on page 3, “Not all online conversations carry the same weight. Many will have no impact on your company and not every mention of your company or brand will require the same amount of attention. The trick is to understand what does and does not matter. While a discussion on the latest product release or customer feedback may be worth engaging in, other discussions may be trivial and will not require your participation.”
Social Media Message Strategic Approaches
The Vocus idea to pay selective attention is good advice. It offers a model for cutting through the noise. As social media professionals, strategic planners need to listen to their publics but also discriminate intelligently among the many messages being promulgated.
Vocus also mentions creating and maintaining a steady and consistent presence and not just dabbling (Page 3). This dovetails well with the Smith idea (Page 182) of familiarity adding charisma to a speaker, where personal charm enhances a message and gives a public a feeling that it is more likely to be correct or helpful. The message and the messenger can only be familiar if they are consistent and not dilettantish.
This is perhaps the most important tip from Vocus, to not give up when social media becomes dull or burdensome or the ideas have run out. There has to be a commitment there.
As Mundy 2013adds, on page 387, “Social movement and public relations research share similar goals: to investigate communication practices that develop collective understanding between organizations and publics, and to examine how organizations position issues as legitimate in the eyes of diverse stakeholders.” This development of collective understanding – dialogue – brings an organization closer together to its publics. Once the publics see why supporting the organization’s positions is worthwhile, they will need far less persuading. The equal, bilateral dialogue will do all the work.
Applications of this reading to our client
The most obvious application to the Institute for Life Sciences Collaboration (ILSC) is that adding a social media presence means preparing for the long haul. It means budgeting for at least a part-time Community Manager to research strategies, keep up with industry trends, listen to the public’s concerns and questions and weed through the noise, and help the ILSC to demonstrate thought leadership. As I had mentioned last week, Rick Flath has got to be a master networker (which was confirmed by Professor Place), as a tiny company doesn’t get the ILSC’s opportunities unless an individual is very charismatic. Now the ILSC needs to translate some of that networking, and charisma, and thought leader power to social media.
This week’s readings were all about pulling strategy out of the theoretical realm and into the practical, real-life one.
Going back to Smith (Pages 93 – 94) “Strategy is the organization’s overall plan.”
Smith further divides strategies into proactive and reactive. A proactive strategy allows an organization to start and offer its communications on its own timetable. It’s everything from generating publicity to spreading germane news, to being transparent about goings on in the organization, to addressing crises even before they hit the press.
A reactive strategy responds directly to external pressures and influences. While it can be preemptive action (e. g. addressing crises in their nascent, pre-press stage), it also includes press responses, diversions, corrective behaviors, commiserating, and even strategic inaction. Sometimes, it’s best for an organization to wait and see, and maybe even do nothing at all.
Social media strategies that not-for-profits incorporate and how they apply to our client
According to Nah & Saxton (Page 297) “In nonprofit organizations the ultimate strategic goal is fulfillment of a social mission − the creation of public value (e.g., Lewis, 2005).” To tie it to Smith, the ILSC and other nonprofits can achieve their social missions by engaging social media both proactively and reactively.
Per Nah & Saxton (Page 297) “a focus on donors, as indicated by fundraising expenses, can be a defining strategic decision (Graddy and Morgan, 2006). Charities following a donor-focused strategy traditionally use mail and telephone solicitations, professional fundraising firms, and special events in order to raise funds. Social media have also recently become a popular fundraising vehicle (Nonprofit Technology Network, 2012). We argue that organizations more focused on acquiring funds through external sources are more likely to adopt and utilize technologies, such as Facebook and Twitter, that enable them to reach and interact with a broader set of potential donors.”
This proactive strategy gets a nonprofit organization into potential donors’ computer rooms and smartphones, by providing information or soliciting funds or drawing donors’ attention to applicable political and social conditions. For the ILSC, a Facebook page with regular updates, tied to a blog, could be a meaningful and feasible means of reaching out to the donating public. President Rick Flath has said that the organization needs donors; this could be the ideal vehicle to attain them.
Further per Nah & Saxton (Page 297 – 298) “Another way nonprofits seek to fulfill their social mission is through lobbying. … Organizations following a lobbying strategy may have different communicative needs; we expect politically active nonprofits to be more motivated to use social media, given their interest in mobilizing − often rapidly − a broad external public to take action. To a large extent, the emphasis on a particular strategy is embodied in the amount of resources allocated to that strategy.”
While the ILSC is less lobby-focused, they might have to do that anyway, particularly if political conditions change in Ghana or the government of the United States changes parties in the next election. For an organization like the ILSC, lobbying efforts could come about if the Ghanaian government collapses and workers become endangered, or the American government cuts off diplomatic relations. On the domestic front, lobbying could become necessary if the Small World Initiative is questioned as a vehicle for teaching evolution. If the United States government turns sharply conservative, this could prevent the SWI from getting into more high school classrooms. If that were to occur, however, the ILSC’s best strategy is probably a reactive one, whereby detractors would be directed to information on the good work that the initiative has been doing, in both the scholastic and medical fields.
One other nonprofit social media strategy, according to Nah & Saxton (Page 298) is, “A third approach to effecting social change is to concentrate on market-based program delivery. Instead of generating revenues through grants or donations, organizations that concentrate on programs generate revenues through market-like fee-for-service transactions, and are thus what Hansmann (1980) calls ‘commercial nonprofits’. With a strategy that centers on market-like transactions with clients, we hypothesize that such organizations have a greater incentive to reach out to both current and existing customers through social media.”
These fee-for-service nonprofits are organizations like the YMCA, which is a not-for-profit organization, yet they sell services such as gym memberships. The ILSC does not appear to have embraced a fee-for-service model at this time. If they were to do so, it might be in the areas of either small charges for Ghanaian medical care, or for textbooks and other study materials via the Small World Initiative. Particularly in the domestic realm, the ILSC could utilize social media platforms such as Twitter or Facebook in order to inform school districts, parents, and educators about the costs of lab equipment and the like and maybe even use social media as a conduit to sales pages where interested customers could conduct transactions online.
For the ILSC, keeping off social media has been a strategy of inaction, and it has not been an effective or seemingly well thought out one. To better reach their publics and execute their fundraising and lobbying, and maybe even future fee-for-service strategies, the ILSC has got to proactively and deliberately enter the social media fray.
Key Concepts – Goals, Objectives, and Position Statements
For all three readings, the main thrust of what we learned this week is that you have to be specific when defining what you want, and where you want your organization to go.
Instead of having a vague, crystal ball-style idea that things will somehow improve, the jello has to be nailed to the wall.
Smith says it rather concisely: (Page 95) “… goals are general and global while objectives are specific.”
Goals are a kind of global idea of how a problem should be solved. E. g. if the problem is world hunger, then the goal is to either feed more people or have fewer people to feed. There aren’t a lot of other ways you can go with that. But an objective is far more specific, so an objective is more like educating 20% of all women of childbearing age in ten countries about birth control and marrying later, and doing so by the end of calendar year 2019.
For the Institute for Life Sciences Collaboration (ILSC), the organization’s mission and goals are twofold, to spread the Small World Initiative (SWI is a learning program whereby students gather soil samples in order to help discover new sources for antibiotics) to more schools, and to test, track, and treat cases of pediatric HIV in Ghana. These are more like task or relationship management goals (Smith, page 96), as opposed to relationship management, with the task goal being to treat pediatric HIV and the relationship goal being to spread the reach of the SWI.
With reference to the Small World Initiative, an awareness objective could be to foster and maintain contacts with fifty decision makers in key high schools by the end of 2016. Whereas an action objective could be to spread the Small World Initiative to high schools in ten states by the end of 2016. Both types of objectives are explicit, time-definite, and challenging yet attainable (Smith, Pages 101 – 103).
For Ghana, the awareness objective could be to foster and maintain contacts with fifty decision makers in key hospitals or towns by the end of 2016. An action objective could be to gain access to test newborns in ten towns by the end of calendar year 2016. As with the SWI objectives, these are goal-rooted and measurable activities.
The ILSC either meets these objectives, or it doesn’t. There is no in-between. This is why objectives must be meaningful, reasonable and quantifiable – this way, you know when you’ve succeeded. Or if you still have a ways to go.
Positioning statements are different. Per Smith (Page 95), “A positioning statement is a general expression of how an organization wants its publics to distinguish it vis a vis its competition.” For the SWI, the positioning statement can be loftier, and look a lot more like, “With the Small World Initiative, your students can be the change you wish to see in the world of discovering new antibiotics.” For the project in Ghana, it could be, “Stopping the spread of HIV in sub-Saharan Africa begins at birth. The ILSC aims to test, track, and treat every child at risk, until all children are well.”
Social Media-based recommendations
The Barbaric reading, in contrast, was strictly about social media goals and objectives. As Barbaric says, “Here are some examples of marketing objectives to get you started:
Develop Stronger Relationships With Stakeholders”
The strength of this article is that it looks at social media for what it is. Organizations usually need to sell a product or service. Social media can be directly tied to that, but Barbaric is right to focus more on what social media specifically does. Likes, shares, comments, and followers do not necessarily directly lead to sales, but they do lead to increased reach and credibility, all of the earlier parts of the top of a sales funnel. Social media may also help with conversions. One of social media’s biggest strengths is that it is mainly objective and measurable. If a goal is increased awareness, then an objective can be to increase reach by 15% by the end of the next calendar quarter. This is a yes or no question when the time is up – did the organization make it, or not?
“Objectives create a structure for prioritization.”
“Objectives reduce the potential for disputes before, during, and after the program.”
“Objectives focus resources to drive performance and efficiency.”
“Objectives help create successful programs by identifying areas for prescriptive change and continual improvement.”
“Objectives set the stage for evaluation by making it easier for sponsors and team-members to determine if the PR program met or exceeded expectations.”
“Objectives link the PR objective to the business objective.”
Anderson, et al seem to be more focused on specifics than Barbaric. Even with social media’s objectivity, there are still some nebulous concepts being put forth by Barbaric. After all what does it mean to “develop stronger relationships with stakeholders”? That is not a measurable statement at all. Stronger relationships are a matter of some interpretation. Does it mean that funding comes more quickly, or there’s more of it? Are jobs secure?
At the same time, the Anderson, et al reading was about any sort of objectives, not just those tied to social media. The readings all work well together – Anderson, et al and Smith give the reasons for setting clear objectives, and then Barbaric defines them in the context of social media and public relations.
Goals are where the organization wants to go; objectives are the roadmap.
I confess that’s the first thing I thought of when I finished this week’s readings, because it’s all about the slicing and dicing.
For the typical strategic planner, the universe of possible listeners, publics, customers, etc. does have its limits. Unless you’re talking about oxygen or water, most products and services don’t apply to everyone. And even if they do, there are geographic limits. Selling snow tires to Eskimos, or discussing John Stuart Mill with folks in Venezuela, is hardly practical if you’re in Kansas City. Hence there must be divisions. This is how publics are defined.
According to Smith, (Page 57) “A public is a group of people that shares a common interest vis a vis an organization, recognizes its significance and sets out to do something about it.”
He further adds, “A public is like your family. You don’t pick them; they just are.”
While a public might simply exist, defining its parameters is well within the strategic planner’s purview.
Tuten & Solomonmention that there are several ways to segment markets and publics, and they are often based on psychology or characteristics (e. g. demographics or benefits). Geography, demographics, psychographics, benefits, behaviors, and technographics are all ways to divvying up people.
A public isn’t meant to be a random sampling of individuals. Rather it is a consciously measured slice of the populace. To go back to the bass mentioned in the Aykroyd quotation, a public isn’t the puréed fish, an undifferentiated mass whose sole characteristic is that it was fish at one time. Instead, a public is the intact tail or the fins. It’s a defined piece of the whole.
Applicable current events or timely organizational challenges; theorizing “publics”
One well-segmented website is Wattpad. Wattpad is a large self-publishing platform whereby anyone can post an original book. Rather than simply dumping all submissions into one big pile, Wattpad instead divides them by genre and by some sub-genres. For example, Fantasy, Horror, and Paranormal are more generalized genres, but Wattpad also offers sections on vampires and werewolves. Works can and do cross genres, but the site will only allow one genre to a work. The author must choose or, if he is she makes an error, the moderating team will correct matters. Furthermore, there is another slicing of the submissions with respect to a ratings system. The author selects an age range for the piece. Again, if the age range is incorrect (e. g. a book with explicit sex scenes is in the bucket for all ages), then the moderating staff will correct the oversight.
Because individuals can be members of several different publics, Wattpad doesn’t make anyone choose where they go on the site. Within the confines of the Canadian (the site is based in Toronto), American, Filipino, and other legal systems, members who are over eighteen years of age are free to investigate whatever they choose. However, within each genre, there are specific moderators who handle those works and make some choices to promote certain works over others, based on quality and not just read counts and other quantitative measurements.
A twenty-one-year-old French woman searching for books that she likes can potentially be a member of the Chick Lit-reading public, the French public, the female public, and the eighteen-to-thirty-year-old public, all at the same time. If Wattpad is looking to get her to join the site, e. g. she’s at the stakeholder stage as is defined by Kim, Ni, and Sha (Page 753), then their mission is decide which problem she needs help in solving. Is it a lack of good French novels? Is it a desire to read books written by people like her? Is it an appetite for Young Adult or Chick Lit publications? As Kim, Ni, and Sha add (Page 753), “In most cases, publics approach organizations hoping to gain organizational acknowledgement of their concerns and proactive corrections to the problem.” If other sources of literature are ignoring our hypothetical user’s problems, then Wattpad can be well-positioned to provide a solution. And if this woman’s public turns out to be large, e. g. there are thousands of similar young French women searching for new reads, then Wattpad can do well by positioning itself as the solution for these problems.
How do the different approaches compare and contrast?
In comparing Smith to Kim, Ni, and Sha, and Tuten & Solomon, the approaches are pretty similar. The idea is, at essence, to whittle the population down to manageable, homogeneous chunks. Kim, Ni, and Sha (Page 758) talk about segmenting across problems and issues. For our young French woman, if her problem of finding her favorite kinds of books is shared by other people then, under this approach, those people could be Japanese, or male, or middle-aged. All they have to share is their desire to read a particular type of novel.
For Tuten and Solomon, the problem is more of classic and semi-classic demographics. They look at the social technographics research as shown by Forrester Research as one way of understanding a particular kind of public. Our young French woman might be defined as a Joiner (a person who maintains a profile on social sites) or a Spectator (a reader of the content on social sites).
Smith, instead, looks at (Pages 61 – 63) Categories of publics, dividing them as follows:
Secondary customers (e. g. customers of customers)
Shadow constituencies (no direct link to the organization but can still affect perception of it)
Producer – providing input to the organization
Enabler – groups serving as regulators by setting norms or standards for an organization (e. g. professional organizations of governmental agencies)
Limiter – competitors, opponents and hostile forces.
In Smith’s view, the French reader is a customer and perhaps not much else. Smith further subdivides publics into their relationship with issues (Pages 74 – 76). A nonpublic public is “a group that does not share any issues with the organization and no real consequences exist to or from the organization.” A latent public (also called an inactive public) “shares an issue with the organization but does not yet recognize this situation or its potential.” An apathetic public “faces an issue, knows it and simply doesn’t care.” An aware public “recognizes that it shares an issue and perceives the consequences as being relevant, but is it not organized to discuss and act on the issue.” And finally an active public “is discussing and acting on the shared issue.”
Our French reader is probably somewhere between aware and active, depending on how diligently she tries to solve her problem of not having books to read.
The key takeaways from this week’s readings
Possibly the most applicable takeaway is that a public has got to be clearly defined. As Smith says (Page 60), publics are –
This is not jello that we are trying to nail to the wall. Instead, publics are well-defined, no matter how the strategic planner slices them. They are readily recognizable, which makes them far easier to reach, whether the public is composed of French bibliophiles or high school science students or donors looking to make a difference in the instances of pediatric HIV in Ghana.
Publics are the fin, the scales, the tail, or maybe just the top half of the fish, and not the purée.
Smith, on Pages 47 – 49, refers to the following players who are external to an organization:
Advocates – you stand in the way of their goal
Dissident – opposition to positions you hold or actions you have taken
Anti – a dissident on a global scale
Activist – similar to anti (is also seeking change) but tactics go beyond discussion
Missionary – self-righteous activist
Zealot – single-issue activist with a missionary fervor
Fanatic – a zealot without any social stabilizers.
Williams, however, was more concerned with how SWOT can be applied internally, particularly with reference to communications. For Williams, it’s more about looking at company goals and objectives, or at specific internal and external issues. Then the question is about the second step of SWOT analysis, which is to apply it to how that would be communicated. E. g. if a company is applying an analysis to its overhead, its strength might be in owning a building, its weakness might be that the building is in an area that is in transition and losing its cachet, that could potentially also be an opportunity, but the threat could be that customers would not visit the building in person if they felt the neighborhood was unsafe. Communicating those findings presents the strength of being able to quickly pinpoint the issue, the weakness of perhaps not being able to act decisively until external factors play out some more, the opportunity could present itself in the form of investing in an area where rents are suddenly taking a nosedive, whereas the threat could be that too much investment in a possibly dying area might hurt the company’s reputation.
Applicability to Current Events
The more I read about SWOT and PEST analyses, the more I realized they can apply to pretty much anything. I decided to take a look at Quinnipiac in the context of the White House’s College Scorecard, which was released on September 12th, and is thereby current although not really an ‘event’, per se.
The scorecard puts together basic data on various collegiate characteristics, including size, location, and the programs offered. Then the program pulls out colleges and compares them. I looked up Connecticut four-year-programs and found Quinnipiac is third-best listed for salary after graduation. The program could potentially be the subject of a SWOT analysis, that Quinnipiac shows strength in how its graduates earn after they leave, but a weakness in terms of price, as QU is listed as third-most expensive. Opportunities include showcasing the school as coming up better than U Conn for salary after graduation. Threats are from schools like Yale, which comes out as less expensive but with a far better graduation rate and a better salary after graduation. The point of the exercise is that the data are mixed, as they are for a lot of organizations. If you dig deeply enough, most organizations will have something that can be placed into each of the four buckets. No organization is perfect and without threats or weaknesses.
As for a PEST analysis (politics, economics, social-cultural, and technology), the scorecard remains applicable. Politics applies because of not only how the scorecard itself was put together (deciding what to emphasize could very well have been at least partially a political decision), but also because of how public institutions are funded. Quinnipiac is a private institution, but it can still be affected if public universities are funded (or not) due to political dealings. This can determine whether public institutions can compete effectively with Quinnipiac. Economics certainly applies in terms of budgeting but also due to financial decisions such as how much to charge for tuition and what to pay professors – and whether to offer more expensive full professorships or instead pay adjuncts. The social-cultural part applies as Quinnipiac is a part of Hamden itself. How the school conducts itself makes a difference in the fuller community. Is the campus safe? Does it recycle? Are the students loud? Finally, the technological aspect applies as the school cannot adequately function without working, up to date technology. Even for students who go to the campus and attend classes in person, there is a dependence on technology for everything from interlibrary loans to how tuition is calculated and collected.
Internal versus External Environments
I see the two as being equally important to analyze and research as an organization can be affected in either manner. For the ILSC, for example, because part of their work is done in Ghana, external threats include the possibility that the government of Ghana might not be as stable as believed. Internal weaknesses include the fact that the organization’s website doesn’t seem to have been set up for regular updating. Both can affect the very existence of the organization. A strategic planner should be researching both kinds of problems (and positives as well) as they can decide the fate of an organization.
Organizations looking to thrive – or at least to stay in business – need to look at both. No one can afford to ignore external in favor of internal, or vice versa. And no organization can afford to ignore PEST and SWOT analyses.
Strategic Planning, Formative Research, and Issues Management
Key Concepts in Strategic Planning
During the course of this week’s readings, a lot of concepts were thrown out, with several definitions. These were words that we use in common, everyday parlance, but they have special meanings in the world of public relations/strategic planning.
Smith covers increasingly difficult positions for a strategic planner to be in. First there is the fairly neutral situation, which is basically just a set of circumstances facing an organization. It neatly divides into opportunities and obstacles. After all, when the lights went out during the 2013 Super Bowl, Oreo could have sat tight like everyone else. Instead, ‘you can still dunk in the dark’ was born. Oreo didn’t just tread water – they scored a major victory. And it all happened during a situation that could have gone either way.
A step more difficult than a situation is an issue. Now, concern to the organization is baked right into the definition. There is more potential for problems when it’s an issue. And finally the definitions move to risks and then to crises.
The job of the strategic planner is to minimize and address the risks while, at times, dealing with out of control crises.
In the Reitz reading, a ‘dialogic model’ is mentioned (Page 43), where there is “a ‘communicative give and take’, where the process is open and negotiated between an organization and its publics.” This, in a way, is the essence of social media. It’s less of organizations dictating terms and paradigms to various publics. Instead, the publics are talking back, and it’s up to the strategic planner to carefully listen.
Formative Research’s Role
On Page 15, Smith mentions formative research, denoting three pieces of it, to analyze the situation, the organization, and the publics.
In order to evaluate matters intelligently, the strategic planner must take a look at what’s happening. For a financial services company, it could be anything from a worldwide sell-off to crop failures in Argentina to an employee engaging in what might be insider trading. For a car manufacturer, it could be recalls or new safety regulations or the applicable news from the United States Patent Office.
The organization must be assessed. Is there an opportunity? Is the organization vulnerable? Could this even be fatal to the organization? When Tylenol was laced with cyanide in 1982, there was a very real possibility that the fatal dose could be to Johnson & Johnson as well as the victims of the poisonings.
As for the publics, it behooves the strategic planner to consider how receptive they will be to any actions taken (sometimes the action to take is inaction, e. g. do nothing). For Johnson & Johnson, they were dealing with publics who were used to trusting drug manufacturers, and who felt that trust had been betrayed. If the organization had opted to do nothing, the publics might not necessarily have blamed the organization for the poisonings, but they might have saddled the organization with a reputation for not caring. Seeing the connections between caring, purity, and trustworthiness, the organization built its response around addressing safety concerns immediately. Probably a lot more product was removed from shelves than was necessary. It’s possible that some of the safety precautions added were redundant and/or unnecessary. But the organization spent the time and the money and the brainpower and it paid off with dividends. Johnson & Johnson is still roundly praised for its response to the crisis. It’s hard to see how they could have handled it better.
On Pages 49 and 50, Reitz talks about issues management. On Page 49, Reitz defines issues management as quoting, “Cutlip, Center, and Broom define issues management as ‘the proactive process of anticipating, identifying, evaluating, and responding to public policy issues that affect organizations’ relationships with their publics’ (2000: 17).”
A crisis is, by definition, unpredictable, but certain crises can be anticipated. If an organization prepares for inevitable crises, over half of the battle is already won. Here are some instances wherein an organization should prepare, as it is not a question of if, but rather one of when any of these will occur:
Automobile manufacturers and recalls
Product manufacturers and product liability claims
Maintenance companies and snow removal or trip and fall claims
Transportation carriers and lateness and accidents
If any of these organizations is unaware that such crises could happen, and that they could escalate, then those organizations might want to rethink their business plans.
Life does not come without risk. It’s a foolish organization that doesn’t at least make an effort to plan for it.
“Effective and creative planning is at the heart of all public relations and related activity.” (Page 1, Smith)
Social media has a reputation for being a ton of ‘just in time’ communicating. But the reality of public relations is that it is all about the planning. Which days do you post? What times? What does your ideal audience look like? What are the demographics for your buyer personae? What kinds of things do you post?
One thing I have learned in my internship work already is that there is an abundance of riches when it comes to ‘wow’ images from wedding, engagement, and wedding modeling photo shoots. After all, these are professional stylists working with superior equipment and artistic talent. It is a far cry from the cosplayers I see for the podcast I work for, with their homemade costumes, where most of the images are taken by amateurs with cell phone cameras.
Hence for the wedding blog, it’s not about finding ‘good’ images like it is for the podcast’s blog and Pinterest boards. Instead, it’s a matter of jettisoning anything at all ‘off’ or that does not stand out. For example, the owner of the wedding blog made it clear that she doesn’t want to see images of dresses on plastic hangers. Wooden hangers or padded ones? Sure, if the image is otherwise good. But plastic? Nope. It’s a small detail, but it means something to her and to the blog’s clientele (wedding merchants and service providers) and its future clientele and to the brides and grooms looking to the blog for inspiration and ideas.
These are details, and this is planning.
MacNamara and Zerfass, on the other hand, have found that there is a decided lack of planning in the public relations sphere when it comes to the social media arena.
“Examination of the types and forms of policies and guidelines informing social media use in organizations revealed that only 31% of European organizations and slightly more than a third (35%) of Australasian organizations have specific social media policies and/or guidelines—and even fewer appear to have social media strategies. This means that around two-thirds of organizations do not have specific policies or guidelines in relation to social media.” (Page 298)
For organizations that pay attention to every last detail, e. g. fast food franchises that require similarity between Boston and Berlin and all parts in between; or automobile manufacturers that sweat out the angle of the roof of next year’s model; and fashion designers who agonize over perfect shades and the correct hem length down to the millimeter, why is social media so often such a domain of whatevz?
Strategy and Perspectives
For Smith (Page 5), transforming obstacles into opportunities is at the heart of strategic communication, which is –
“… planned communication campaigns. … [I]t is the intentional communication undertaken by a business or nonprofit organization, sometimes by a less-structured group. It has a purpose and a plan, in which alternatives are considered and decisions are justified.”
This perspective, to me, makes a great deal of sense. For company (and nonprofit) communications, it can’t just be ‘letting it all hang out’. Instead, there are any numbers of limitations, whether it’s FINRA for financial services organizations; or the FCC for media companies; or Sarbanes-Oxley, where companies have to justify their actions to shareholders. Or maybe it’s just all too rare common sense, or good taste, or ethical considerations, or the legal department’s requirements or, at the barest minimum, a pledge to not offend others?
Gone are the days off handing over passwords and telling a high school junior to go and have fun with things. Organizations without strategic planning and communications are like hikers without maps. They are essentially just asking to get lost. Who will bring in sniffer dogs to find an organization that has lost its way?
Module Four was about the Ad Astra Star Trek fan fiction writing community. Module Nine was about the Facebook page that my partner, Kim Scroggins, and I created for our ‘client’, the as-yet undiscovered Rhode Island rock band, J-Krak. Module Ten was about the creation and growth of the Twitter stream that we made for J-Krak. And Module Eleven was all about our less than successful experiments in spreading the gospel of J-Krak to MySpace and Google+ (the former was a particularly abysmal showing. At least our client’s presence on Google+ assured better placement in overall search results).
The class was great fun, and I could not get enough of studying for it. I have never, ever had a course like this before, where I was so into it that I could not wait to study, and I did all of the extra credit because I wanted to, and not because I necessarily needed to. That has never, ever been my experience with a class before this one. This overwhelmingly positive experience has given me the incentive to not only finish my Social Media Certification training, but I am also rather seriously considering going on and getting my Masters’ Degree in Communications, with a concentration in Social Media.