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Monday, March 8, 2010

Lessons Learned

Welcome back, friends.  Big weekend just passed and I'm feeling chipper.  We held our first PR/Social Media Toolbox Seminar at the Avenue Theater in Denver Saturday morning, and I think it went well.  It's so frustrating, though, because there is SO much information to give to small businesses and non-profits, we just can't fit it all into just four hours. 

With that said, I wanted to go over a few things that came to light during the seminar that I think are important to pass along to you.

First, don't be afraid:  Public relations and social media are tools, just like the cash register, pamphlets and a car.  Sure, you might have had to take a little bit to learn how to drive a car well, or how to maneuver throught your new Point of Sale system, but you learned because you had to.  PR and social media are the same.  These tools will help you grow your business in this hyper-competitive market.

Second, these ARE legitimate business tools:  Facebook isn't just for Mafia Wars or Farmville or clever status updates.  Twitter isn't just for telling people what you're buying at the grocery store.  Public relations isn't just for telling bad news.  These are real tools that can help you spread your message and attract more customers or donors.  More importantly, these tools can help you stay in touch with them.  Your customers, volunteers, donors, the media, they're all online, they're reading the paper and watching the news broadcasts. 

If all of these individuals, so important to your bottom line, went to a Starbucks every day, wouldn't you want to also be at Starbucks to meet them, talk to them, get to know them?  Social media and PR is the same way.  That's where these people are, in varying degrees, so that's where you should be.

Third, don't let the little things get to you:  When I worked as a journalist, it used to bother me when a colleague would do something stupid.  Or when another news outlet showed supreme insensitivity or broke the unwritten ethics of journalism.  I felt it reflected so poorly on my profession.  At some point, however, I realized that news serves an important function in today's society.  It's much the same way when it comes to social media. 

We heard from seminar attendees that one of the reasons they don't get onto Facebook or Twitter very often is because of all the "little stuff" that gets in the way.  You can ignore all the stupid games that people play on Facebook, as well as the inane Twitters that come across your phone every now and then.  But there are tools that you can use to ignore or hide the kinds of posts you don't find useful.  It's easy and takes no time at all.  But here's a though to consider before simply dismissing these things as totally useless.  These are things your customers or potential customers might be involved in.  It's part of pop culture now and being able to speak the same language and about the same things that interest potential customers can only help you in the long run.  Listen, I had no love for the "Pants around your ankles" song, which exploded after it debuted on American Idol.  But I listened to it.  I learned the backstory, I came to know it, just so I could talk about it if I had to.  Much like spouses who learn sports because their significant other is a football or baseball fan, at least knowing about these social media games puts you into the conversation, even if you don't play them or have interest in them yourself.

Fourth, ask for help:  You know you have to go online.  You know you have to expand your outreach footprint.  And you're wading into unfamiliar waters.  There will be things you don't know and these are the times to go looking for assistance.  The wonderful thing is, you don't have to pay thousands of dollars for a PR firm to come to your rescue.  You can use the same tools you're using to grow your business.  Ask for help from others online.  Tweet a question, post it to your Facebook, find a group online that specializes in solving social media problems.  Heck, find blogs like this one that are designed to help you out.  The knowledge is out there, you just have to ask for help.  And today, that's as easy as spending two minutes changing your status.

Fifth, be aggressive:  When it comes to dealing with the press, or with social media, it's okay to take some risks.  Certainly you don't want to stalk reporters, or annoy them to the point of dismissing you. But making the phone calls, having confidence enough to send a pitch email, even if you don't think the story will be covered, is getting your name out there, being aggressive, taking risks.  The same goes for social media.  As always, don't post anything online you wouldn't want repeated in public, but don't be afraid to post several times a day if appropriate.

This space is for you.  Please feel free to ask any questions you may have about social media or public relations.  Also, and this is important, because I've said it before and I'll say it again; dont' be afraid to make mistakes.  Hey, during the seminar, we had our screen fall down three times.  Yes, it's embarrassing, and a mistake we can easily fix the next time.  Your efforts are the same.  Maybe your screen will fall down, or you'll trip.  What matters is that you learn, get up and go at it again. 

And we'll be right here to help you along the way.

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