Content Strategy for the Web by Kristina Halvorson, a Book Review

Content Strategy for the Web by Kristina Halvorson

Kristina Halvorson has really got something here.

Content Strategy for the Web is a short, snappy read that combines information about Content Strategy as a discipline with tips and tricks for throwing a lasso around your own company/site’s content.

Kristina Halvorson
content-strategy-burger (Photo credit: raphaelle_ridarch)

Kristina Halvorson is essentially the doyenne of Content Strategy. Her main ideas:

  • You probably need less content and not more.

Figure out which content you’ve got and archive whatever isn’t working for you, e. g. fulfilling some sort of purpose. Good purposes include building trust and expertise, answering customer questions and facilitating sales. Not such good purposes are things like get some content out there because we’re naked without it!

Archive that Stuff!

  • For whatever currently published content that does not fulfill a good purpose, either archive it or get rid of it entirely. It does not help you, and it may very well harm your company.

Get Organized

  • Get someone in charge of content. Not surprisingly, a Content Strategist comes to mind but definitely get someone to steer the ship.
  • Listen to the customers and the company regarding content. The company may be setting out content that’s confusing to the users. The users may be asking for something that can’t quite work. It may or may not be in the company’s best interests to fix either problem, but at least you’ll know what the issue is and,
  • Start asking why content exists out there in the first place.

This process begins with a content audit, e. g. know what you’ve got out there. Then talk to the users. And, once these processes are completed, one can start to think of a strategy.

Yes, it’s really that much time before actually creating any content. Why? Because doing the ramp-up now will save a lot of headaches later. Think it’s a bear to audit and check every single piece of content on your site now? How are you going to feel about it next year?

I bet you’d be thrilled to only have as much content to deal with as you have right now, at this very moment. So start swinging that lasso now. It’s time to audit.

I have to say, while I can see where Ms. Halvorson is coming from. Furthermore, there was also a large chunk of the book devoted to, essentially, justifying the Content Strategist’s existence. And perhaps this is necessary with a new discipline — I don’t know. But it does make for an edge of defiance, e. g. this discipline is good enough!

It is. Don’t worry.

Rating

4/5

 

Feeding the Content Monster

Feeding the Content Monster

Content Monster?

I don’t mean the happy, contented monster. Because that one wouldn’t need any feeding.

I mean the concept of adding content regularly.

Content Monster

I enjoy writing about as much as, perhaps, any blogger. But sometimes the words just don’t come. And, in the meantime, you need to be pumping out content! C’mon, chop chop! What the devil is wrong with you? Why aren’t you yammering, 24/7, like you’re supposed to?

Egad, it’s enough to put you off your feed. Or, at least, put you off blogging.

Case in Point

Content Monster
Write (Photo credit: spaceamoeba)

I used to write for the Examiner. Here is a nice recent post I wrote. I like writing, and I enjoy writing about my weight loss. However, there are days when I’m just not feelin’ it. It does not help when I have gained some weight (a perfectly normal part of weight loss maintenance, I might add).

I was supposed to post every month. And I do so. I liked having an active status there, even if it was fairly marginal by the end. It’s not like I was buying groceries with my big earnings from there. And, truthfully, they did pay me one time. It thrilled me at the time. These days, I want an actual salary for my musings. Hence a pittance from the Examiner, while considerably better than a kick in the teeth, stopped cutting it.

And it was not enough for them, anyway. Instead, they would send me a reminder every two weeks.

Whining

This being constantly reminded never gave me content ideas. Going to their content idea bank never gave me ideas, either, although I knew they tried and did not fault them for that. I tend to zig when I should be zagging (or perhaps it’s the other way around). And, in the meantime, being prodded every fortnight never made me a happy blogger.

Instead, it made me feel like I was listening to a spoiled, petulant child who was dissatisfied with what I had provided, and only wanted more, more, more!

I gave you a Honda. And now you want a BMW? Cripes. Leave me alone.

Solutions

So far as I’m concerned, there are three real solutions for feeding the monster.

  1. Make a list, brainstorming, of everything that could possibly, ever, be associated with your topic. This list will change as time goes by, as you evolve, as the sun sinks slowly in the west, etc. etc. Refer to the list often, and record when you’ve written about a particular subtopic. Let’s take my old weight loss column, shall we? The list included things like carbs, aerobic exercise, running 5K races, shopping for clothes, etc. If I last wrote about clothes shopping in 2010, then I could write about that activity again. If I last wrote about it last week, though, then forget it. So I would need to cast about for something else. Keep updating the last, even splitting out larger topics if that’s appropriate. The subject of clothes shopping could divide by season. Or write one post just devoted to buying a swimsuit.
  2. Strike while the iron is hot. That is, if you’re feeling inspired, don’t just write the current  blog entry. If you’ve got the time, write the next five. Just go until you run out of gas.  Any blogging software worth its salt provides the ability to schedule posts in advance. Take advantage of this.
  3. Repurpose, repackage, reply, rethink. Go online. Look at others’ takes on your topic. There are few new topics under the sun. Someone has written about your topic – I can practically guarantee that. And that’s fine. Just don’t out and out plagiarize. But I don’t see any laws against referencing someone else’s blog or article on a topic and then expanding on it.

Upshot

Nourish the beast when you can, for there will be fallow times, and you must prepare for them. And, when it works for you, even silence can be golden. After all, if you’ve got absolutely nothing to say, who needs to hear that?

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Social Media Marketing by Liana Evans, A Book Review

Social Media Marketing by Liana Evans

Social Media Marketing by Liana Evans was a book that I might have read a little too late in the semester. In all fairness, I read this book toward the end of my first social media class at Quinnipiac (ICM 522).

KD Paine and Liana "Li" Evans Liana Evans
KD Paine and Liana “Li” Evans (Photo credit: wordbiz)

Hence it felt like I already knew a lot of what was being written, but that was likely more a function of timing than anything else.

Sorry, Li.

Been There, Done That

The book is interesting. However, I had just read a ton of other works about very similar work, strategies, and ideas. Therefore, it ended up being maybe one book too many. And it ended up an optional read, anyway. Furthermore, other works seemed to have said it better. And these days, books just do not get published fast enough to take proper advantage of trends and new insights. Blogs, in general (although not always!) end up more current and relevant.

Possibly the best takeaway I got from the book was when Evans talked about online communities, particularly in Chapter 33 – You Get What You Give. And on page 255, she writes –

    • You need to invest your resources
      • Time to research where the conversation is
      • Time and resources to develop a strategy
      • and Time and staff resources to engage community members
      • Time to listen to what they are saying, in the communities
      • Time and resources to measure successes and failures
    • Giving valuable content
    • It is similar to a bank account
    • Don’t bribe the community
    • Rewards come in all fashions
      • Research who your audience is
      • Give your audience something valuable and/or exclusive
      • Don’t expect you’ll know everything
      • Listen to what your audience says
      • Admit when you are wrong
      • Thank your community

Finally, much like we’ve been telling people for years on Able2know – listen before you speak!

Rating

4/5

Groundswell by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff, An Updated Book Review

Groundswell by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff

This is something of an updated review of Groundswell by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff as, by the time I got to the ICM 522 Social Media Platforms class at Quinnipiac University, I had already read this seminal work.

Cover of "Groundswell by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff
Cover via Amazon

But no matter. Because this is still a terrific work by Josh Bernoff and Charlene Li, and it remains more than a little relevant.

And in fact, I think I understand it better than I ever have.

Changing the Way You Think about Online Marketing for Good

For Li and Bernoff, the online world is a rich and diversified community. And in that large umbrella community, there are several smaller communities. But unlike Matryoshka (Russian nesting dolls), there is an enormous amount of overlap.

Above all, they put forward the idea of a system called POST.

  • Personae – who are your potential buyers? Who are your readers? And who makes up your audience?
  • Objectives – what do you expect to get out of going online, and continuing online, or going in a different direction online?
  • Strategies – how will you implement your ideas? What comes first? In addition, what must wait?
  • Technologies – which platforms will you use? How will you use these differently as your strategy begins to click into place?

So the last time I read Groundswell, I suspect that I didn’t really understand POST.

And now I know never to start a social media campaign without it. So thanks to Charlene Li and John Bernoff! This work is a classic for a damned fine reason. It really is that good. Because you need this book in your social media library.

Rating

5/5 

The Deal Behind Online Community and Social Media Job Descriptions

The Deal Behind Online Community and Social Media Job Descriptions

Social Media Job Descriptions! This is a shout-out to Blaise Grimes-Viort, Community Manager extraordinaire. His older blog post still rings true today.

So in 2010 (it was his most popular blog post), Blaise outlined some differences in Social Media job descriptions.

The Deal Behind Online Community and Social Media Job Descriptions

Blaise’s Theory

His thinking is: there are internal and externally-facing types of jobs. And the internally-facing ones tend to look more like Community Management, e. g. what I do for Able2know. Those tasks include pulling spam, making peace among the users, interpreting site statistics and measurements, or scrubbing graffiti tags. Furthermore, they can also include adding correct tags to topics, and working on that site’s Help Desk. Those jobs tend to be called Community Manager, Head of Online Community, etc. Content Strategist and Content Curator seem to fit into this bucket as well. However, those other jobs can be more about promoting content rather than serving those who make it.

On the other hand, externally-facing jobs are more like what I did for Neuron Robotics. Because in that role, I attended events on behalf of the company, conducted product demonstrations, did outreach and sales, communicated with potential customers, etc. Hence those jobs tend to have words like Marketing or Marketer in their titles.

Blogging seems to be either external or internal. However, it all begs the question, though: what happens when you’ve got skills in both areas? Must you choose one or the other? See, this is what’s been bothering me, all along, about the whole Social Media career-changing experience. There seems to be a requirement that a person drop themselves into one pigeonhole or another.

And I say, why can’t I be in both?

So for more information, check out Blaise’s February 8, 2010 blog entry and make please help to make it even more popular. Kudos to him!

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Book Review: Read This First: The Executive’s Guide to New Media-from Blogs to Social Networks

Executive’s Guide to New Media-from Blogs to Social Networks

Executive Alert! I recently finished reading Read This First: The Executive’s Guide to New Media-from Blogs to Social Networks by Ron Ploof.

Like most books on Social Media, it’s a bit behind the times, but that is to be expected, as the time from concept to print is often longer than the shelf life of many Social Media initiatives and news items.

Now, I would like to be fair.

Book Review: Read This First: The Executive's Guide to New Media-from Blogs to Social Networks

Since I have read a number of Social Media books, I already know a lot of this. The main thrust of this book is to get to corporate executive types. That is, this is for people who have no time, and little desire to actually learn much about Social Media, but they still want to be up on things. Okay, so far, so good. However, I think that the medium of a book is, perhaps, misplaced. After all, if busy execs are too caught up in other things to really get into Social Media, then how are they gonna find the time to read a book? And this is a short one — it’s only about 150 or so pages, but still!

Seriously, when I was doing rate analyses at a larger insurer, I was told to make them so short that the execs reading them wouldn’t even have to use their vertical scroll wheel (you’d be surprised what you can do with small print and graphics). And that was back in 1999. In the over ten years since then, muckety mucks have only gotten busier.

Be that as it may, it’s a fairly breezy read. Like I said, I know a lot of this stuff already, so to me it’s mainly skimmable, but it could be of use to a person with limited familiarity with them new fangled things like Facebook. I mean, it explains that Twitter is a microblogging service, etc. Certainly this is true, but I do hope that the intended audience for this book has read a few articles in the NY Times, The Wall Street Journal, The ABA Journal, Fox News, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, CNN.com or the like and so has probably already learned that nugget of information from one if not all of them.

For me, the most vital bit of information came at the end of the book (why is that always the case? For a book intended to be a cut to the chase for executives, putting this at the end is rather self-defeating). Essentially, it came in the form of an overall strategy, referred to as a New Media Plan, but really, this is decent advice for any sort of a corporate undertaking:

  • Set goals with timelines – well, yes. It makes sense to not just go blindly into things, plus budgets and patience are not infinite. However, I would say, there often needs to be more patience with this type of marketing than one might think. Yes, it’s fast and easy to get things out there — but it’s often not so fast and easy to reap what you have sown.
  • Develop a measurement plan – how else would you know whether anything was working? Ploof is careful to note that this might not just be raw numbers, and the items you’re measuring need to be germane. As in, if post a funny LOLcats Youtube on your site, you might get lots of hits but, unless you’re selling LOLcats tee shirts or the like, is anyone going to stick around and actually purchase your product? Plus, what if your market is B2C and only consists of five companies? Having three readers, and have them as major influencers in three of those companies is a home run, a rousing success, a touchdown, a hole in one, you get the idea and I’m tired of the sports metaphors. Having a million readers and none of them from the five all-important companies is one of those things that looks lovely on paper but means diddly.
  • Create a Content Creation Engine – this is vital and it really needs more play, not just here, but anywhere. Creating a blog (like mine, even) means a commitment to the readership. It means, you intend to be there for the long haul. And so that means finding ways to get good content, make it, polish it, etc. For someone like me, I look for books like this, and news articles and other things that I think my readers might like and that fit in with my vision of Social Media marketing. For a large corporation like Coca-Cola, content could be generated in lots of ways – say, recipes, or commercial archives or news stories just to name three off the top of my head.
  • Align with traditional marketing programs – absolutely. There should be a symbiotic relationship between the two.
  • Participate within the community – this means, figure out (use Google Analytics for this) which key words your customers and readers are using to get to you, and use those same key words to go out into the ‘net and see what else it is they are seeing. Which blogs and communities are they getting to? Which Flickr photo streams? Which Youtube videos are up? Add comments, like on Facebook, etc. And do damage control if you have to — as this is a way to find the bad with the good, too.
  • Learn how to help community leaders – which bloggers really get your company? Maybe you’re a role-playing game site and there are fan fiction writers – so, who’s really good? Who are your fans? The ‘net has a lot of positives with the negatives. It’s not all about putting out fires. It’s also about promoting the good stuff.
  • Build your own online community – this can be through forums, it can be a Facebook page, it can be getting Twitter followers, etc. and,
  • Analyze and Adjust – but of course! If you’re about to hit an iceberg, you might wanna change course.

 

All in all, it was a decent read, but the strategy piece at the end, for me, was the part that really made it worthwhile. Otherwise, I would suggest reading

Avinash Kaushik or Shama Hyder Kabani.

Rating

2/5

Quinnipiac Assignment 14 – ICM 527 – Real World versus Academics and RPIE

Quinnipiac Assignment 14 – ICM 527 – Real World versus Academics and RPIE

This week, the focus shifted to the practical application of the academic readings. The emphasis was placed squarely into the real world.

Key Concepts of Strategic Planning – Industry versus Academic Readings

Perhaps the most industry-related reading of the week was Ashkenas, Four Tips for Better Strategic Planning. Unlike the RPIE (research, planning, implementation, and evaluation) approach covered in the academic readings, Ashkenas leads with a kind of off-shoot of implementation and evaluation, wherein he insists on first field testing to evaluate assumptions.  While the academic readings, such as Smith, seem to save the evaluative process for either the end of a campaign or the middle of one (say, after a major milestone or after an iteration), Ashkenas pushes for a form of evaluation to happen even before a campaign gets off the ground. As Smith notes, on page 331, “Program evaluation is the systematic measurement of the outcomes of a project, program or campaign based on the extent to which stated objectives are achieved.” Outcomes, by definition, come at or near the end.

Smith goes on further to say (page 331), “The key to creating any program evaluation is to establish appropriate criteria for judging what is effective. This research plan considers several issues: the criteria that should be used to gauge success, timing of the evaluation and specific ways to measure each of the levels of objectives (awareness, acceptance and action). It may prescribe the various evaluation tools, and it also should indicate how the evaluation would be used.” Yet the timing in Smith seems clear – the campaign has to be complete or near completion or at least running on all cylinders and then it’s time for an evaluation. Not so with Ashkenas, who gets it out of the way early in order to prevent the creation of a campaign based on faulty premises.

Another Ashkenas tip is to ‘banish fuzzy language’, e. g. to torch weasel words like ‘leverage’ and ‘synergy.’ For Ashkenas, a campaign plan needs to be straightforward, such as laying out clear and unambiguous goals and relating them directly to an organization’s stated mission. Similar to Anderson, Hadley, Rockland & Weiner’s objectives, e. g. “(a) clear and shared sense of purpose distills program tactics and focuses financial and human resources on those areas on which they have the greatest impact.” (Page 5), Ashkenas seeks to narrowly focus an organization’s campaigns. The plan is not much of a plan if its language is impenetrable. HootSuite, on page 2 of their Guide for Social Media Strategy, voices a similar call for clarity, where they say, “(a)ll business planning should start with defining clear goals, and social media is no exception. One of the biggest reasons why social media strategies fail is because goals aren’t aligned with core business values. For long term success on social media, choose goals based on traffic, leads, and sales.”

Wilkinson’s Four Steps – Relating them to the Academic Readings

Turning to Wilkinson, he outlines four major steps in what he called a Driver’s Model for strategic planning.

RPIE
SWOT analysis diagram in English language. Français : Matrice SWOT en anglais. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The first step is to perform a situational assessment, which is a lot like a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis. As defined by Williams, “(a)t its most functional level a SWOT analysis will help you obtain information and assess a situation.” Wilkinson adds some specifics to this basic form of preliminary analysis, wherein he provides fairly universal questions for a strategic planner to use when assessing an organization’s customers, competitors, industry trends, performance trends, and more. Wilkinson provides more of a roadmap in this area than Williams does.

The second step is to investigate an organization’s strategic direction. Here, Wilkinson drops the specifics and turns to broader organizational data such as vision statements, mission statements, goals, and objectives. These are far more organization- and industry-specific, so a generalized statement about them would not be of much help to a strategic planner. Smith, on page 41, defines a vision statement as looking, “to the future. It is a brief strategic description of what the organization aspires to become.” And a values statement, according to Smith (page 42), “is a set of beliefs that drive the organization and provide a framework for its decisions.” Hence, again, Wilkinson’s methodology is congruent with the academic readings from this semester.

The third step is implementation planning, whereby Wilkinson performs a somewhat modified PEST Analysis. While Wilkinson does not look at all Political, Economic, Social, and Technological factors, the implementation plan he touts is similar. He urges the strategic planner to investigate the barriers to achieving an organization’s vision. He also suggests developing key conditions (between two and seven) that must be met in order to consider a campaign to be successful. The roadmap combines the two, as the strategies “must drive achievement of the strategic direction by controlling the critical success factors and overcoming the barriers.” The implication, also, is that a conceived strategy which does not address either side of the implementation plan needs to either be changed of jettisoned from the plan.

The fourth step is the monitoring of progress, much as is included in the Smith and Anderson, etc. readings, and in Dr. Place’s paper, although Place notes an ethical element must be included in evaluating campaign plans, on page 129, where she states, “(t)he role of ethics in public relations evaluation, according to participants, is to guide practitioners as they conduct truthful, effective evaluation and weigh an organization’s needs with its publics’ needs. Ethics’ role appears to be most salient during the reflection or reporting phases of program evaluation.” For Wilkinson and the other readings, evaluation is a crucial step. Otherwise, how is an organization to truly know a campaign’s effectiveness? And, more importantly, evaluation is the only real way for an organization to be able to intelligently determine whether a campaign should be budgeted for another year, or if it should get the axe.

Relating RPIE to Business, Social Media, and Communications Industries

RPIE (research, planning, implementation, and evaluation) relates directly to all industries, it seems.

In the business world, particularly in light of Sarbanes-Oxley, which requires financial accountability and transparency, clear and well-defined research and evaluation are paramount requirements. Corporations cannot simply throw money at a problem; they have to have a plan and that plan has to demonstrate a reasonable chance of success. While not everything works, a campaign plan with germane and well thought out research has a far better chance of success than one where the dice are rolled. Sarbanes-Oxley, it seems, would require at least the R, P, and E portions of RPIE, and probably implementation as well.

In the case of social media industries, research and planning can make the difference between staying in business, or not. For a social media organization such as Facebook or Twitter, to not understand their buyer personae or how their platforms are used is a recipe for a platform going under. In a way, this seems to be what has happened to Myspace. For a social media organization which was originally heavily social and popular, Myspace missed the boat, did not realize that its public was growing out of usernames and becoming interested in real name-style authenticity, and did not plan beyond its own website. According to Jay Baer of Convince and Convert, Myspace also fell down because it never made itself particularly business-friendly. Planning and evaluation could have helped Myspace keep Facebook from eating its lunch.

In the communications field, implementation is perhaps the most vital of the four pieces. Communications is obviously all about messaging, as is strategic planning, and these organizations are often adjudged – fairly or unfairly – based upon image, message, and look and feel. In communications organizations, research and planning have to cross the implementation finish line. Understanding what a communications organization’s publics are interested in, and planning to give them what they want, is not enough if a communications organization (such as a newspaper online) falls short on implementation

In the real world, RPIE does not just apply to strategic planning. It can apply to nearly every aspect of a business or nonprofit organization.  So much of what we see online was tossed out there with little thought to how it would look in a year or in twenty. So little of it is altered or updated when new information or technology mandate that changes be made. An organization of any type can set itself apart by following RPIE principles in all aspects of its existence.

Quinnipiac Assignment 13 – ICM 527 – The Center for Science in the Public Interest

Quinnipiac Assignment 13 – ICM 527 – The Center for Science in the Public Interest

This week, I decided to look at the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

Background

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) describes itself as “a strong advocate for nutrition and health, food safety, alcohol policy, and sound science.”

Strategies and Tactics

The CSPI mainly uses proactive communications strategies in an effort to present a positive image to its publics. As Smith, on pages 130 – 140 writes, one proactive strategy is newsworthy communications. And on page 113, Smith indicates that a proactive strategy enables an organization to launch a communication program under the conditions and according to the timelines that seem to best fit the organization’s interests. E. g. this includes generating publicity, presenting newsworthy information, and developing a transparent communications process.

For the CSPI, one significant communications strategy is to showcase their past accomplishments. Making a case for future donations, the Center outlines how it has been fighting for consumers since 1971 (although the listed accomplishments only date back to 1973). Current communications are made on the organization’s blog, FoodDay.

Tactics include the existence of an online community, which a visitor to the site is urged to join every time they refresh the page. However, it doesn’t seem to be forums (which would be expected). Rather, the community might be the Facebook page or the Nutrition Action Health Letter, which is the organization’s newsletter. It’s hard to say; the site is unclear about whatever this ‘community’ is supposed to entail, and what sort of power they might wield, if any. It seems that their tactics encompass organizational media as outlined by Smith on page 229. A community should be able to engage in a degree of give and take, but the Facebook page doesn’t seem to have much in the way of responses to posters, and the newsletter is an even more one-sided method of organization communication.

If I were strategic counsel for the organization, the community would be a real community, with actual give and take. Tweets would be answered, as would Facebook posts. The public would not be ignored.

Main Publics

The organization’s main publics are people concerned about food safety for themselves and for their children. Hence parents are a component but not every communication is geared toward them. A side interest for the organization’s publics is an overall concern about health, as the front page of the website has links to articles about supplements, dieting (a huge online interest – just Google the word ‘diet’ and you get nearly half a billion hits), and rating coffee house foods. All three of these articles seem to be targeting nonparents, whereas articles on school lunches, candy at checkout counters, and children’s restaurant menus seem to be squarely aimed at parent publics.

Effectiveness

Effectiveness seems to be mixed. As noted above, urgings to join a community reveals that there really isn’t a community to speak of. The Facebook page and Twitter stream both spew content but don’t answer community queries or engage with the community (although, in all fairness, there was a November 26, 2015 tweet wishing everyone a Happy Thanksgiving.

The Pinterest profile is a bit better in that a lot of the pins come from offsite or are repinnings. The Healthy Thanksgiving pinboard is colorful and attractive without being overly busy and precious like Pinterest pins can sometimes be. It did not look like a lot of impossible to re-create craft items, and instead was filled with practical recipes.

Quinnipiac Assignment 13 – ICM 527 – The Center for Science in the Public Interest
English: GMO cultivation 2008 Deutsch: GVO Anbauflächen 2008 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The CSPI’s image does need some help, though. While their rating on Charity Navigator is a respectable 3/4 stars, a quick Google reveals two significant criticisms of the organization. AlterNet reveals that the CSPI is against labeling GMO foods as such. A PDF on the CSPI site bolsters this statement, wherein the CSPI appears to be endorsing a statement that GMO foods are not harmful and thereby don’t need any form of special identification.

The other, and more significant critique, comes from AlcoholFacts.org. In a well-researched (albeit seemingly slanted) article, Alcohol Facts states, “Center for Science in the Public Interest distributes its reports without peer review, contrary to the way real science operates. … Without peer review, an advocacy report full of erroneous and misleading statistics can be passed off to the public as a scientific report. That’s exactly what Center for Science in the Public Interest does.”

The CSPI does not seem to have reacted to either criticism. Could this be the deliberate inaction strategy as outline by Smith on page 145? Or did the Center just drop the ball?

Tying it back to the ILSC

For the Institute for Life Sciences Collaboration (ILSC), the Center’s website provides some lessons on how to proceed. For one, when mentioning a community (and mentioning it ad nauseum, as the prompt to join their community comes up with every single page refresh), the Center is writing communications checks that it is not cashing. Why say something is a community when it so clearly is not? The ILSC needs to pay attention to its communications promises to its publics. Calling something a community does not make it so – communities are defined by shared bilateral communications. Weinberg & Pehlivan (2011), on page 277, define a community’s (and other social media) objectives as including “Conversation, sharing, collaboration, engagement, evangelism”. That does not happen when a public is talked at.

The ILSC can also take away the idea of developing a means of reacting to online criticism. The AlterNet and Alcohol Facts critiques of the Center are not going away. Not addressing these criticisms does not do the Center any favors. Instead, the Center looks as if it does not care about what is said about it, and its ignoring of the posts by its own Facebook and Twitter followers bolsters that impression. In order to stand out and better serve its own publics, the ILSC has got to not only listen to its followers, its fans, and its critics – it also has to answer them.

Added Applications of the RPIE Strategic Process

For the RPIE process (e. g. Research, Planning, Implementation, and Evaluation), the review of the Center’s website and their other online presences reveals that implementation cannot be overlooked. All the research and planning in the world does not amount to much if an organization does not seem to do anything with the available information out there.

The Center is shouting. Its community does not seem to be a community at all. Imperfect implementation is to blame, but at least that can be fixed.

Quinnipiac Assignment 12 – ICM 527 – Strategic Campaign Plan Formatting and Differences

Quinnipiac Assignment 12 – ICM 527 – Strategic Campaign Plan Formatting and Differences

This week, we looked at some more campaigns, from InScope, Toms Shoes, and the Century Council.

Comparing InScope, Toms, and the Century Council Plans

InScope, is a “user-friendly search engine is dedicated to finding peer-reviewed, academic research among Belcher Rollins’ publications, back-dated to 1960. This equates to 27 million document entries.” (Page 4) Note: Belcher Rollins is a publisher.

The campaign for InScope focused on planning. The idea was to become and remain an online solution for librarians and academics. Enumerated goals (Page 9) were:

  • “To generate substantial interest in InScope from academic librarians, in order to support sales: positioning it as the best in the market and ‘a new generation in research’
  • To generate understanding and support for InScope among industry influencers and opinion leaders
  • To strengthen Belcher Rollins’ position as the brand leader in international academic publishing, underpinning its reputation for innovation and quality
  • To manage communications around contentious issues within scholarly publishing: (a) pressure on academic financial resources and criticisms of profiteering by publishers, (b) the lobby for open access publishing and (c) international censorship”

Events were planned with an eye toward attracting media coverage. There were a large number of internal communications planned, in order to keep the key stakeholders informed, e. g. librarians, academics, academic budget holders (the people with the money), and the media. The budget exceeded £2M, which currently converts to over $3.8M.

Strategic Campaign Plan Formatting and Differences
TOMS Shoes (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Toms campaign, in contrast, had a markedly different look and feel. InScope was traditional and felt conservative, whereas Toms felt somewhat casual and even crunchy and hippie. Toms is a shoe creator and seller (they also sell other accessories such as purses and necklaces). The company’s mission is to donate a pair of shoes to charity for every pair purchased. The donated shoes are sent to children in countries such as Argentina. As the plan itself noted, on Page 30, “When a customer interacts with the TOMS brand, it is more than just buying shoes.”

The Toms objectives were to increase sales and repeat purchases, and to boost brand awareness. For Toms, the tactics included using the opening of new stores as events, although, in contrast to InScope, these events were not touted as a means of involving the media. Further, the Toms plan acknowledged the organization’s nontraditional stance in the media as being an opportunity (Page 15). Other tactics were even more grass roots, involving an email list, a shoe drop, and even posters. The Toms budget clocked in at a far more modest $17,420, although a lot of the biggest ticket items (such as the use of a plane for the shoe drop) were not enumerated among the planned expenses. Planning seemed looser, perhaps in keeping with the organization’s more relaxed overall philosophy.

For Century Council, the main goal was to kick off a new website to reach collegians in particular and help change attitudes about drinking. A further goal is to reduce underage drinking and drunk driving. The plan emphasized segmentation, whereby college students were divided by age and by activity (e. g. athletes, members of Greek letter organizations, etc.). The website would be specially tailored for each participating school. The tailoring was broken down further for age groups, as the message differed, being zero tolerance for those under 21 years of age, and responsible drinking for those over. The budget was in excess of $8.9M. In some ways, this campaign split the difference between InScope and Toms, at least in terms of presenting a strict and staid presence like InScope did, yet relying less on traditional media (one of the ways Century Council was looking to reach its publics was through a pizza box advertisement), like Toms did.

Each plan had a lot of the components of what we have been studying all along, from careful research into publics to clear-cut goals and objectives. Budgets were carefully laid out, although the one for Toms was incomplete. The timetables for all three campaigns seemed realistic.

Reading the Plans and Recognizing their Components

There were some language alterations between the plans as presented and our readings. InScope in particular used a lot of synonyms. Goals were enumerated as aims, for example. All three campaigns laid out their SWOT analyses clearly, using an easy to follow grid format. Evaluations for all of the campaign plans were clearly labeled.

Formatting and Stylistic Takeaways applied to the ILSC

The Toms plan in particular took advantage of a stylistic look and feel which mirrored the organization’s view of itself. The plan contained images of the founder, Blake Mycoskie, in Argentina, with children that the organization has helped. These images helped to add an emotional component to the campaign plan that was missing from the other two plans.

The Century Council plan was more generic-looking which seemed to reflect almost a PTA budget kind of communication. This tied in fairly well to the campaign being related to what happens on college campuses. By having the formatting look this way (and it may not even have been intentional), the campaign called to mind straightforward academics and straight talk.

The InScope campaign, in contrast, was poorly formatted. Word allows for headings which make navigating a document a lot easier – the campaign didn’t have those. The spreadsheet denoting the timetable was a bit wide and threw off other formatting. It was walls of text with little formatting or emphasis, and no imagery to speak of. Word also makes it easy to create a dynamic table of contents whereby a reader can click on a part of the table and be taken directly to the desired section of a document. The campaign did not take advantage of these simple yet powerful formatting tools – the campaign’s typist could use an intermediate course in Microsoft Word!

For the ILSC (Institute for Life Sciences Collaboration), the website is already rather bland. They are doing interesting things, such as teaching youth around the world, possibly finding cures for all kinds of fatal diseases, and potentially saving lives in Ghana. This is exciting stuff, yet the walls of text make the site look industrial, sterile, and unfeeling. There can be stylistic symmetry between the campaign plan and the look and feel of what the ILSC website should be all about. The ILSC needs to show its heart.

Visual impressions matter, particularly online. There is no reason why the ILSC cannot get started by making the campaign plan easy to read, well-indexed, and visually appealing.

Quinnipiac Assignment 11 – ICM 527 – Continuing Program Evaluation

Quinnipiac Assignment 11 – ICM 527 – Continuing Program Evaluation

This week, we continued studying the evaluation of public relations campaigns.

Ethical Issues Regarding Evaluation

As is true for any presentation of numbers, there are ways to spin findings which can lead a reader to believe one thing or another. Numbers can be used to make a case, and some numbers, if suppressed or deemphasized or just plain omitted, could alter organizational decision-making. This only gets into telling the truth with numbers. All bets are off if a strategic planner or any sort of analyst out and out alters the figures they have to present, or if they weren’t given accurate or truthful numbers to begin with.

But even if the analyst is completely honest about results and figures, there are still issues with emphasis and language. For the Cans Get You Cooking campaign, the initial purpose had to have been to increase the sale of canned goods. Instead, the campaign was labeled as a success for leading to an increase in awareness of canned foods. While awareness is a perfectly legitimate (and objective) goal for a campaign, the goal of increased sales seems to have been swept under the rug in favor of the one, demonstrable, favorable outcome – a boost in awareness.

On page 125, Place notes, “The role of ethics in public relations evaluation was described by participants as inherently associated with truth and fairness. For some professionals, this meant conveying evaluation data accurately and truthfully to organizational leadership or clients. For other professionals, this meant measuring whether the most accurate story or brand image reached an organization’s publics.”

Professionals, fortunately, realize that their words can be misinterpreted, even if they are reporting accurately on the numbers. If a campaign increases, say, signups for a class by five over an initial figure of five, then how is that reported? Is it a report of a new five signups, or does the professional state that signups have doubled? Both are mathematically correct, but there is an exciting spin to the latter which may be making it look more significant than it truly is.

The Real Warriors and Okay 2 Talk Campaigns

A review of both campaigns revealed good attention to detail. Both campaigns seemed to be rather carefully planned.

The Real Warriors Campaign was designed to encourage active armed services personnel and veterans of recent American military campaigns (since 9/11) to seek psychological counseling and other help for post-traumatic stress disorder, e. g. ‘invisible wounds’. Primary research included focus groups and key informant interviews. All of the campaign’s goals were awareness-based. The goal was to decrease stigma felt by veterans seeking mental health assistance.

The measurement of the effectiveness of the campaign included the distribution of campaign materials, website visitors, and social media interactions, plus news stories. This is good for an awareness campaign, but where are the actions? Where are the increased numbers of veterans seeking help? A far more germane measurement would be to show an increase in personnel hours for armed forces mental health professionals. Or perhaps there could be a measurement of the hiring of more counselors, or agreements with more civilian counselors. Without naming names or otherwise violating privacy, the number of patients being seen could be readily tallied, as could the number of appointments made, even if some of the appointments were never kept. Another objective measurement of success would be a decrease in suicides and fewer calls by veterans to suicide prevention hotlines. The campaign shows none of that.

Continuing Program Evaluation
Tumblr dashboard (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As for the OK 2 Talk Campaign, that campaign’s goals were to create awareness and also to launch a safe social media space. Tumblr was the chosen platform as it allowed for anonymity. It seems to have also been chosen for a demographic match although that is not spelled out.

The measurement of the effectiveness of that campaign was a lot more closely aligned with its initial goals than the Real Warriors report showed. For example, the OK 2 Talk report gave objective figures regarding engagement on OK2Talk.org. The page views are not necessarily indicative of much. It is the content submissions which seem to better reflect engagement. On the Tumblr blog, visitors are encouraged to anonymously post about how they are feeling. The blog makes it clear that not everyone’s writings will be posted. However, there are several well-written or illustrated posts showcasing various viewpoints. OK 2 Talk intelligently shows all kinds of posts, even those where the writers clearly need help or are just reblogging messages put together by creative professionals.

The campaign report shows the number of content submissions and the number of clickthroughs to a ‘get help’ screen. There is also a statement regarding ‘thousands’ of comments but no specifics; that could have been more clearly shown. But that does not truly matter. Showing the number of clickthroughs to the ‘get help’ screen was an objective and direct measurement of how the campaign is going. It answers the question, ‘did it work, or was it just a colorful and fancy waste of time?’ with ‘yes, it did’, and far more effectively than the distribution of materials ever could. As Smith notes on page 335, “Guesses aren’t good enough; Hard work and cost aren’t measures of effectiveness; Creativity isn’t, either; Dissemination doesn’t equal communication; Knowledge doesn’t always lead to acceptance; and Behavior is the ultimate measure.”

In particular, Real Warriors should have remembered that dissemination does not equal communication. After all, the distributed campaign materials could have gone right into the trash. Without some demonstrated actions (yes, the campaign’s stated goal was awareness, but it could only really be measured with some form of observable action), Real Warriors seems more like a lot of paper redistribution.

The two campaigns have similar goals, and both have the valiant ideal of helping the mentally ill. But it’s only OK 2 Talk which is showing objective and relevant results.

Relating it all back to the ILSC

For the Institute for Life Sciences Collaboration, deciding what to measure, and to make sure it is being accurately measured, are important steps to take. While it is pretty easy to count website visitors using Google Analytics or the like, a better measurement is actual engagement like blog comments, Facebook comments and shares, and LinkedIn comments. This will tie directly to awareness objectives.

For objectives regarding adding high schools to the Small World Initiative, good measurements include the number of times that educators click through to a ‘get information’ page which should be added to a revamped website. Such inquiries could also be expected in the comments and messaging sections of a possible future Facebook group devoted to the ILSC. A similar vehicle for obtaining such inquiries could be a possible future LinkedIn group for the ILSC, and its topics.

Measurements of the campaign reaching donors could be a look at the number of visits to a donations page. It would also be the percentages of site visitors who went all the way through the online donations funnel. Knowing where they stop (if a visit does not lead to a donation) would be extremely helpful information to have.

For the website, Google Analytics should be used to tie back to visitor acquisition. If Facebook turns out to be the most popular place for visitors to come from, then the ILSC should be concentrating their efforts there. A surprisingly small amount of money (e. g. $20.00 or so) can boost a post and reach even more people. This measurement is useful for all types of objectives, as it helps to define where the ILSC’s social media time should be best concentrated. There is little use in devoting hours and hours of time to LinkedIn if the publics don’t come to the website and don’t donate any funds. Awareness needs to be related to action, for it is action that will get the SWI out of its funding gap and help keep the ILSC going for years to come.