Pulling it All Together: The 360 Degree Marketing Communications Strategy

We’ve seen several distinct stages in the association sector’s journey into and through the world of social media.

At first, the evangelists spread the good news, and a few eager souls experimented. Early adopters followed their example, and soon, the growth from seed concept to mainstream was amazingly rapid – three or four years, depending on how you count.

At each stage, there were successes, failures, and lessons learned. Most of us are continually refining our objectives, strategies and technologies. And we’re learning from each other, which is absolutely AWESOME. As somebody said at an ASAE Annual session in Chicago, we’re all figuring this out together.

I'm speaking at the ASAE & The Center 2010 Annual Meeting in Los Angeles, CA!These days, we’ve seeing another branch of the conversation emerge and begin to dominate: How does everything fit together in a single, cohesive marketing communications ecosystem?

For every association, every community, and every audience, the details of the answer will be different. Each of our communities has different inclinations, biases and preferences. There are great limitations to what we can crib from each other. But there are some universal principles, I think.

  1. There is no magic pill, and no killer app. No single channel will get every job done.
  2. Nothing goes away; every tool has value. This is a corollary to #1. I used to think that perhaps fax was an exception to this principle, but if you’ve recently bought property or had a major medical engagement, you can’t avoid the fax.
  3. They all have to work together. Each of our tools can, and must, work together. Remember that our members and audiences don’t relate to us through our technologies, but through the experience we provide them. So our platforms and channels must support the same brand proposition.
  4. The marketing funnel is still relevant. It’s evolved some, but it’s still relevant. I think marketers’ biggest mistakes occur when we apply the wrong tools to the wrong parts of the funnel.
  5. Know thy communities. Unfortunately, there is no short cut to obsessively learning about your members and your members’ communities. Your community of engineers acts very differently from my community of doctors. Even different communities of doctors have differences.
  6. Experiment and learn – quickly and cheaply. An old principle, but it still applies. There’s still no playbook, no “Ogilvy on Advertising” to rely on. We’re collectively writing today’s equivalent of that book as we go along.
  7. Communicate to your outposts, and bring them back home. Our members are playing all over the digital landscape. Find them, and show them the way back to your website and your blog.
  8. Prioritize and focus. You can’t do everything well, so don’t even try. Your member research should tell you where to focus.
  9. Measure, measure, measure. It’s the only way you’ll know if you’re succeeding.
  10. Warning: This WILL disrupt your business. This project will make silos teeter, and encroach on long-existent turf. Be prepared to deal with this. Do it well, and it will be an exhilarating experience!

My colleagues Jaime Nolan, Nan Dawkins and I will discuss these and other issues at our Learning Lab at the ASAE Annual Meeting this coming Sunday, at 1:30 p.m.

Our combined handouts are here. (.pdf)

My own slideshare set is here.

We hope to see you there!

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Core Competencies for Communications Professionals: Join us at ASAE Annual

Photo by TOMTEC, via FlickrFor the past year, the ASAE and the Center’s Communications Section Council has been working on a list of core competencies that communications professionals in associations should master today.

As I mentioned in a post a few months ago, we were updating a document that was only four years old, but already badly out of date. Two things have changed dramatically in the last 10 years: How people learn about the world around them, and how everyone can now be a publisher as well as a consumer of information.

It would be easy enough to update the toolset for this brief moment in time, but tougher to craft something that would have a longer shelf life than a loaf of bread. What we concluded was that the basic skills still occupy a very large amount of shelf space: writing, pitching stories, research, planning, speaking, etc. Without those skills as a foundation, no one could be called a complete communications professional.

By the same token, many of the newer social media technologies are also fundamental to our skill set. But how do we capture these when the tool set is evolving so quickly? (One shouldn’t assume everything around today that’s new will persist.)

First, by acknowledging the volatile nature of the business. I mean, there’s no way the golfer Stewart Cink would have a half million followers on Twitter a year ago, even if he had won the British Open in 2008 instead of this year. Tiger Woods, maybe. But Cink? He’s hardly a household name. But that’s how quickly our business has changed.

Second, take our best shot at identifying the dominant tools today – and we defined dominance as those which seem to command the great volume of conversation. The operative term here is core competencies. Others arise every year, but in our judgment some aren’t core yet. Next year, who knows?

Finally, recognize that as the tool set grows, few things are going away, with the possible exception of faxes. Everything else still has a place – a different place than before, but still a place.

So here’s our effort. What do you think?

After you review it, we want to hear from you. We have two questions, to start with: Is there anything you would change? And how can ASAE use this document to develop new education and training programs?

Two ways: You can comment here.

And/or, you can come and talk to us at the “un-session” we’re holding at the ASAE and the Center’s Annual Meeting on Monday, August 17, (corrected) from 12:15 to 1:00 p.m. in Room 802A of the South Building of the Toronto Convention Center.

We hope to see you there!

What We Need to Know

The Tree of Knowledge. By Knilram, via Flickr.I saw this post on the ASAE’s communications listserv last week:

“ I would like to hear from other associations on how they are using social media (blogs, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) – Which ones? Benefits? What’s worked?”

Wow … how many days do you have to listen? There’s no bigger question in communications today.

I sense stratification in our professional community. At a panel that I moderated at the ASAE Annual Meeting this summer, it was possible to pick out the genetically encoded early adopters from those who were struggling to catch up. You could almost tell by the body language.

The early adopters were foraging for ways to exploit what they had already mastered. The others were still learning. They seemed frustrated and fearful.

It was demonstration of what Seth Godin meant when he wrote in his new book, Tribes, that the cost of innovating too early is small, compared to the cost of acting too late.

But not everything new today will prove useful tomorrow. I think we can count on that. Since time is our most precious commodity, what must people know today?

That’s the challenge that the Communications Council for ASAE has taken on. We’re updating a document that outlines today’s core competencies in communications. No offense, but the current version, written only a few years ago, is badly  out of date.

Still, the basics are the basics. You gotta know how to write, pitch stories, research your markets, plan campaigns, etc. But of the new social technologies, what is now fundamental? And if you can’t experiment freely, what can you safely observe from a distance, for now?

We’ll take our best guess, because we can only guess at the future. No one on our team is clairvoyant, as far as I know. Maybe through the wisdom of our little crowd, we’ll get it right.

We hope the document will be a career roadmap for new communications professionals, and a learning menu for experienced pros. It will evolve rapidly and often.

We could use your thoughts. Among the new technologies, what is already a must-know? Conversely, if you must choose your experiments carefully, what is OK to watch for a while?

Crisis Communication Planning Now Includes Social Technologies

Stuti Sakhalkar, via Flickr.

The terrorist attacks in Mumbai last month were Twitter’s coming out party, according to the New York Times. Eyewitnesses used Twitter and their personal blogs to describe what was happening, both to the outside world and to their fellow citizens locally. It was citizen journalism in its purest form.

A few days later, Jeremiah Owyang of Forrester sounded my wake-up call: Now that social technologies are becoming mainstream, do your crisis communications plans account for them?

For us, the answer was no. It’s time to change that.

In the aftermath of September 11, I led a team that drafted a new crisis communications plan for the Massachusetts Medical Society. It covered every scenario we could think of, from the beginning of the crisis to the post-crisis follow-up. Some time later, another MMS team created a comprehensive business continuity plan.

Both plans employ the communications technologies that we had seven years ago: Mainstream media, websites, e-mail and phone. But today, we also have blogs, twitter, Facebook, SMS, and more. As Mumbai demonstrates, these tools cannot be ignored.

So what would crisis communications look like with those tools? Here are two glimpses of what that world could look like.

When floods devastated farmland in Iowa this spring, a web design firm in Iowa created iowaflood.com. It aggregates all sorts of RSS feeds into a single portal. Even today, five months later, you can read Twitter updates, videos, blogs, and so forth. It’s very cool, and it’s possible to replicate this if you have the chops to pull this off in the heat of a crisis.

Kate Skegg, via Flickr.

When Hurricane Ike barreled into the Galveston, Texas, last September, the Texas Medical Association’s county medical societies worked with the state to fill resource needs, and the TMA became the communications platform between the doctors in the middle of the mess, and the rest of the state.

Steve Levine, TMA’s communications director, created Voices of Ike, a compelling blog that now reads like a hurricane diary in the doctors’ voice. To prepare, he recruited several doctors beforehand to e-mail him regularly about what was going happening during the preparation, mid-storm, and cleanup. He posted their running commentary on the TMA’s blog, its Twitter profile, and other vehicles.

Steve did the publishing because he knew his doctors didn’t want to learn about blogging technologies during this crisis. He was more interested in getting an authentic, real-time a record of what their eyes, ears and hearts were experiencing. He took care of the rest. “I did only a little editing,” he told me.

It served three benefits, he says. First, it informed people about what was going on. Second, it was a real-life opportunity to show the public what doctors do. Third, it was an outlet for doctors who wanted to share their experiences. As we know from Forrester’s social technographics research, not everyone is interested in doing that. But those who do so provide an incredible service.

So we’ve got some work to do on our crisis plan. Among the considerations:

  • It has to encourage two-way communication. We need to use every vector to get the word out; that’s a given. But there’s another new domain. We need to open up these same vehicles for people in the field to describe what’s happening, what they need, and to anticipate where the next problems will be.
  • We need to carefully choose the vehicles that our members will be using. Economy of effort is important when a crisis strikes. There will be little tolerance for wasteful action.
  • It’s clear that mobile technologies will be at, or near, the top of the list. We’re not particularly well prepared for that.
  • What if there are malicious posts, or well-meaning but erroneous posts? What if these posts harm people? I cannot ignore the legal issues.

Things to think about. Your thoughts?

How Bad Was Motrin’s Response, Really?

motrin-ad1Well, not that bad all.

So you probably know the story. Motrin posted a video ad on the web that had an attitude. It poked a little bit of gentle fun at moms who carry their babies in slings, and said Motrin could help with any resulting back pain.

Pretty quickly, the ads provoked online outrage. The aggrieved stoked their outrage on the social networks, and pretty soon Motrin was in damage control mode.

By Sunday night, the ad was pulled. By Monday night, tons of social media commentators were tsk-tsking about what a crappy job Motrin did.

Really? Let’s look at the facts. Motrin tried something different. It used a new medium, and employed a slightly different creative approach. (It kept my attention, which says something.) When things got out of control, Motrin pulled the plug. Super-quick. No excuses. It apologized and walked away.

As we used to say in the old media world, “one-day story.” The echo chamber went quiet, leaving us communications geeks to sort it out.

So what exactly is the problem here?

motrin-apology-1Some commentators scoffed that Motrin’s apology wasn’t genuine, but I have no clue how you can tell. It seems OK to me, and anyway, authenticity is in the eye of the beholder. The follow-up message was even better.

If Motrin did screw up, it was in how it conceived and executed the ad. But once the mistake was made, its response was just fine.

P.S. Brian Solis has a good overview of the crisis communications counseling in the social media world. Keep it at your bedside. Sooner or later, you’ll need it.

The Best Post Mortem About Motrin Moms and Social Media

1032_1117motrinad385255_panel-385x255From Jeremiah Owyang:

  • Always test your campaign with a small segment first
  • Always have staff on hand to be prepared to respond during the weekend
  • Don’t launch a campaign right before the weekend unless you’re prepared to respond
  • The participants have the power, so participate
  • For better or for worse, more influencers are talking about Motrin than ever before
  • This is PR today, folks. Read, learn and remember.

    What’s it all about? Read Jeremiah’s post to catch up.

    Newspapers: That Giant Sucking Sound

    black-holeWe are witnessing , before our very eyes, the utter collapse of the giant American newspaper.

    I never thought its demise would be this fast, or so deep. The layoffs, the incredibly fast drops in circulation – 6% in just six months. It’s unbelievable.

    The newspaper business model is dead, but journalism is not. Really – we need good journalists more than we ever did.

    And traditional media isn’t dead yet.

    I am currently reading Paul Gillin’s new book, Secrets of Social Media Marketing. Early (on page 24), he reminds us that social media is not well suited to several important marketing projects:

    • Branding
    • Channel relations
    • Direct marketing
    • Business to business
    • Targeting audiences over age 50
    • High ticket items

    Sure, social media could help here. Gillin’s not arguing that social media is totally ineffective for these projects. He says social media is currently insufficient to get the whole job done.

    So in the middle of this newspaper Armageddon, let’s not get carried away with the “social media is everything” thing. It’s not. Traditional media still has a job to do, even if part of its role now is to feed the insatiable social media beast.