Monday, January 17, 2011

Today's Post brought to you by the word: Transparency

I'm a football fan.  I also happen to be a native of Colorado; born and raised.  I learned how to ski at a young age, I remember when LoDo was a dump and spent my formative years cheering for the old "Orange Crush" Bronco defense when before Lyle Alzado went all Raider on us.

To say I'm a fan of John Elway is like saying Russians like their vodka.  So you can imagine my delight when old No. 7 took over the reigns of my beloved Broncos.  For one, it signaled the true end of the disaster that was Josh McDaniels.  But more importantly, it meant that the team I grew up loving was returning to its roots, its traditions. 

And yet, oddly enough, even as the team was starting to return to it's rich history,  a new, fresh image was being born.  Suddenly the secrecy and closed door policy that is so often a part of NFL culture was giving way to a more open, honest and transparent culture not seen in these parts since Red Miller prowled the sidelines and Tom Jackson was calling John Madden "The Fat Man."

What, you might ask, does this have to do with small business and non-profit PR and social media?  In a word...everything.

A Modern Culture:

It's often been said that knowledge is king.  In today's world of instant gratification and constant information overload, it can seem like secrets are a thing of the past and everyone knows what everyone else is doing.  But look closely and you'll see that the organizations that have the most success with social media are the ones that not only use it regularly, but they're also the ones who know exactly the kind of information to release.

Success with social media isn't just about making regular postings, daily tweets and maximizing your groups, friends and followers.  Certainly those are important, but no matter how efficient and active you are, if you don't provide the RIGHT kind of information, your campaign will ultimately fail.

We've discussed in this space before the need to make your posts informative, fun and interesting.  We've talked about adding value to your posts across all of your platforms.  But there is another element of social media content that most organizations simply overlook, an element that can help you build a massive following.

Pull Back the Covers:

I've always thought that some enterprising local TV station ought to place cameras in their newsrooms and conference rooms and let the world see the day-to-day operations.  Of course, that is nearly impossible.  But why not stream the daily news meetings?  Let the world take a peek into the workings of how news decisions are actually made.  I think people would be surprised at how passionately stories are debated. 

While that hasn't happened yet, and probably won't for many years, some local TV stations ARE using Twitter to let their followers know which stories are being discussed for later broadcasts.  I follow these newsrooms every day so I can get a jump on pitching a client if they're a right match for a story being considered. 

Clearly, some newsrooms get it.  They understand that times have changed and it's no longer just 20 people sitting around a table making news decisions, separate from a majority of public input.  Today, there is an interactivity never before seen in news.  Producers and editors are constantly updating stories, producers are using social media to gather feedback, track down guests, and dig for information.  At the same time, the public has more access to journalists through Twitter and Facebook giving them a feeling of being part of the news that impacts their daily lives.

The covers have been pulled back a bit, letting anyone who's interested see a bit of the process that takes place in newsrooms everyday.  In a similar move, Elway and the Broncos have started using Twitter to reconnect to the thousands of fans that felt betrayed and disappointed by the Josh McDaniels era.

Last week, before I heard it on the radio, before I saw it on SportsCenter, before I caught in on my local nightly newscast, I heard about the hiring of Denver's new head coach, John Fox, through Twitter.  But this tweet didn't come from a friend in a newsroom or someone who heard it through the grapevine.  No, it came from John Elway himself.  It was short, simple and to the point.  "The Denver Broncos have hired John Fox to be our next head coach."

The next day, this quote from Patrick Smyth, the Broncos' executive director of media relations appeared in the Denver Post: (click on the link to read the entire article)
"It was important to us to reach our fans directly and in the most personal way, and it was important to restore some of the credibility in our organization that might have been lost in a challenging season," Smyth said. "We owe that to our fans."
As a fan, I felt closer to my team than I ever have before, and this is coming from a guy who stood on the field of old Mile High Stadium covering the Broncos Superbowl celebration for local radio, rubbing elbows with the players and coaches, the Lombardi trophy just a few feet away.  Such is the power of social media.  It has the ability to inform, entertain, and most importantly, connect.

Reality Social Media:

With the popularity of reality television, more and more people want access to the inner sanctum of their favorite organizations.  They not only want that access, they feel they deserve it.  So why not give your customers, potential customers and supporters that access?

Remember, your business, like most small businesses, is rooted in the neighborhood in which you operate.  Your organization is more than just a name over a door and a collection of individuals.  You are, hopefully, a trusted entity in your neighborhood.  If you're brand new, you want to reach that status as quickly as possible.  One of the best ways to let potential customers or supporters get to know you is to let them see you in action.

I'm not necessarily talking about setting up cameras all over your office or store and streaming live video 24/7.  But why not tell your story online?  Why not let the world see the interesting and fun characters you have working for you?  Why not allow them access to your decision making processes so they can understand the effort you put in to make your customers happy?  By posting this kind of information, you achieve a couple of things:

1.  You build trust - People can see that you're not skimping on product or effort.  They can see exactly what they're getting for their money or time.

2.  You build familiarity - The more the public knows about you, the more likely they are to view you as someone they are comfortable with.  The old adage, you do friends with people you like" holds true. 

3.  You build interest - If your posts are interesting enough, you'll start to attract followers, friends and supporters based solely on the strength of your content.  Your existing friends, followers and customers will tell their friends about you and direct them to your pages, thus growing your base.

Elements of Transparency:

Again, transparency can be easier said than done.  But you CAN be more transparent and open to your constituency, and without divulging your trade secrets or putting your customers at risk.  For example, if you own a bakery, why not post a video once a week that shows you making one of your special sticky buns or perhaps an easy to make holiday treat for kids?  It's like your own little cooking show, only without the commercials.  You don't have to show your baking secrets, but parents would likely appreciate seeing you make your bread or sweets, so they know exactly what is in them.

If you're a dry cleaners, why not offer tips on removing stains, something special that only your shop does.  Bars can show virtual tours of their kitchens or let folks see how they decide on what beers to serve.  There are a million things you can post that gives the public more insight to your operation, letting them feel like they know you a bit better and in turn attracting their business.

Yes, this means you have to shoot some video, and do some minor editing.  It also means you have to post regularly and really make sure your content is valuable, entertaining and informative.  But really, if you plan on having a successful social media campaign, you should be doing these things already. 

What we're talking about here is the KIND of content that you're putting up.  To that end, let's look at some of the elements you'll need to run an effective transparency campaign.
1.  A good story - Just like putting together your release, you want to make sure you're pointing out the most interesting and unique parts of your story.  Unlike your press release, this isn't about telling your history, but letting folks know how you operate on a day to day basis.  What is happening in your office?  What kind of decisions are being made and how will the general public benefit from these decisions?

2.  A good character - This isn't absolutely essential, but it helps.  If you have some colorful characters in your office, let the world see them in action.  Do you have an employee that sings?  Someone who is a great artist or a whiz with computers or machinery?  Highlight them and let the world see the talent you have on your staff.

3.  Video - You can write all you want, but people really want to watch interesting video.  For example, we have a video shoot for a client coming up that shows a day at a veterinarian clinic through the eyes of a dog that is visiting for a day.  People will get to see the dog get checked in, go through the grooming, get neutered, receive follow up treatment and then go home.  It will be split up into a series of short videos.  This kind of video takes a day to shoot and a day to edit, but you get weeks worth of video out of it and it lets the world see how this clinic cares for the cats and dogs brought in for treatment.

4.  Follow the rules - Just like before, you still have to make your posts worth something.  They have to have value, be entertaining, fun, informative.  This is where a lot of businesses fall short.  So often businesses use their social media platforms to just talk about an upcoming sale or special.  That's talking TO the public.  This doesn't open the door for conversation, and a conversation is what makes a good social media campaign so effective.

5.  Be personal - One of the things that makes social media so special is that it can give people a window into the feelings, thoughts and actions of others.  I can read about a daily deal or about how the weather sucks anywhere.  But I CAN'T read about how the weather makes you feel, or how happy you are that your organization just received a prestigious award.  Don't just tell me that you got the award, tell me how you feel and what you're going to do to celebrate.
I understand that this will be harder for some than others.  Being open feels risky, particularly in this age of scammers and hackers.  And you certainly need to be aware and cautious.  You don't want to go telling the world about your trade secrets.  But you DO want the world to feel as if they know you better than they know your competitors. 

It's this kind of openness and familiarity that can truly have a positive impact on your bottom line.  So get out there, beat your chest and bang the drum and pull back the curtain.  Let the world see you in all your glory.  Take a hint from Elway and be more transparent.  You'll be surprised at how freeing, and successful, it can be.

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