Doing Your Homework

Image: David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Do you remember how you became familiar with the whole concept of “homework”?

I remember there was a time, maybe when I was in grade school, that I looked forward to having homework. I believed it was a hallmark of being a “grown-up” student if I had the privilege of taking my workbooks home with me after school.

Fast forward to high school and the concept of homework took on a completely different meaning to me.

I’m sure it did for many of us when we went from doing multiplication charts and spelling tests to trigonometry and English literature.

Homework was officially a chore—it was something that stood between us and our freedom of being young and carefree with our friends after school.

But I learned that homework is not something that ends with the school bell or even after you get your college degree. 

Homework can come about as a result of simply doing our jobs as communicators.

For instance, I was tasked with helping my supervisor draft a proposal about integrated marketing communications in the higher education setting.

I had no prior knowledge about how marketing communications works in a higher education institutions, let alone how it would look as an integrated model. What did I do?

Luckily, I have access to my university’s library. I rolled up my sleeves and thought like a student again—what has been written or studied on this topic before? What do other universities do to integrate their communications? Has anyone presented best practices at any of the major higher education conferences?

With a little help from the library journal library and Google (because let’s be honest, we all Google things to kick-start our research), we were able to draft a well-informed proposal for our department leadership’s review.

That research, or homework, helped inform a better proposal because it was based on current data and facts that supported our claims.

Image: nuttakit / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

As communications professionals, we do this sort of homework all the time without thinking about it.

We research best practices or prior institutional accomplishments to establish our benchmarks for our strategies. We can’t simply pull random numbers out of the sky (although that’s been known to happen…admit it!)

Homework can also come about as a result of voluntary action on our parts.

The past few weeks, I’ve been preoccupied with homework from a graduate course I enrolled in this semester. And I’ve also had homework for a supervisory development course I’m taking as part of an HR professional development program.

My homework in this sense was actively sought on my part because, personally, I simply craved a scholarly outlet to stretch my thinking and to learn something new.

It’s no secret that as we age, our minds and the way we remember things change, but that doesn’t mean we cannot learn new things.

Homework can help reinforce learning and cause us to stretch our mental muscles to develop new ways of thinking about problems or issues as they relate to our professional and personal lives.

I’m learning more about this concept as I have started taking classes toward another graduate degree in adult and organizational development. And it’s been interesting because I am learning how adults learn as a learning adult myself!

Homework might not be the same tedious process it was when it was fraction tables and vocabulary lists.

It can actually be an important component of our daily professional lives and also help enrich our personal lives, whether we recognize it or not.

What kind of homework do you do in your job? Have you taken on any non-work related classes or projects that have required homework as well?

April 11, 2012. Tags: , , , , , , . Career. 5 comments.

What Is Your Plan of Attack?

Have you ever noticed how the daily corporate vernacular takes on war-like characteristics?

“Let’s divide and conquer this project.”

“It’s time to take a deep dive into this story for better content.”

 “Be ready to hit the ground running when the corporate announcement goes out.”

Don’t worry, I’m not going to complain about corporate speak again.

(But seriously, I could do a “part two” of that post in a millisecond…)

No, this post is about a little piece of paper I have kept taped to my cubicle or attached to a bulletin board for more than five years now.

What is this little piece of paper, you ask?

It’s a photocopy of a Power Point presentation handout from a “Lunch and Learn” by one of the partners of a communications agency where I worked previously.

He presented about how a pharmaceutical product comes to market, from research and development to marketing and launch. But the part that stuck with me during his presentation was his explanation of objectives, strategies and tactics.

He explained the objective-strategy-tactic relationship like going to war in one slide and then in more real-life healthcare marketing terms in the next.

And sometimes, creating a strategy document to a challenge or an opportunity is a lot like creating a plan of attack.

Here are the combined examples with the partner’s definitions of objectives, strategies and tactics:

Objective: Goal with a measurable endpoint

Ex 1: Take the bridge over the river from the enemy by noon tomorrow.

Ex 2: Convince 75% of opinion leaders to participate in product trials within 12 months.

Strategy: Means used to achieve the objective

Ex 1: Persuade the enemy they will die if they don’t surrender.

Ex 2: Use peer influence to persuade opinion leaders they will not be on the “cutting edge” unless they participate.

Tactics: Tools used to execute the strategy

Ex 1: Parachute in elite troops beyond the bridge overnight; constant sniping; frontal assault in the early morning; rear assault by elite troops once the frontal assault has the enemy’s full attention.

Ex 2: Invitational advisory boards chaired by regional authorities; white papers; direct requests by known experts; solicitation by patient advocacy groups.

See how the battle escalates through the stages from objectives to tactics?

A lot of myadjustment to working in alumni relations has been about thinking about this new line of work with the same mindset I developed working in PR and corporate communications for many years.

The first step I learned when approaching a project has always been with asking myself—what are the objectives? What is the strategy? How will we reach those goals?

Then, I consult my little piece of paper with the two slides from that partner’s presentation that I have memorized over the years.

It’s like my corporate “baby blankie”— I usually review the slides a few times before starting a document, and often, check my drafts against the explanations for verification.

But whether we’re writing a new product launch proposal or an outline for an alumni speaker series, the guiding principles of these three pillars remains the same.

We should always have a goal in mind and determine what we want to accomplish from the start.

Then, we can build a plan of attack (or simply a plan, if you’re not partial to the military jargon) to achieve those goals.

That’s not to say strategies or tactics may be off in reaching our goals. And that’s okay. You can look at your objectives again and design new strategies and tactics around it.

The idea here is to keep challenging ourselves to build better plans and to keep challenging ourselves not only as communicators, but as strategic thinkers.

Sometimes, just knowing we are capable of reaching real, tangible goals is what it is all about.

And knowing is half the battle….sorry, I just couldn’t resist throwing that in at the end here!

What do you think of this presentation of planning? How do you approach a project and set your objectives, strategies, or tactics?

February 1, 2012. Tags: , , , , , , . communications. 13 comments.

WWE Lays the Twitter Smackdown

There’s a brewing Twitter trend on televised wrestling I feel will soon reaching a tipping point.

(Sidebar for new readers—yes, I am a wrestling fan and have written about it in a fun context before.)

This post is an elaboration on a comment I left on Mike Schaffer’s always impressive blog, where he wrote about the increasingly overt incorporation of Twitter into the WWE’s programming.

To abbreviate Mike’s post, the WWE has taken several measures to include Twitter into its programs: featuring wrestlers’ Twitter handles on screen, promoting hashtags, announcing when a wrestler is a Trending Topic, and even reading wrestlers’ tweets as a continuation of their storylines.

Here’s brief video that shows just a fraction of the WWE Twitter-mania:

All of this in-your-face Twitter use on the WWE didn’t seem to faze me at first, neither as a fan nor as a communications practitioner.

But then, as I watched Monday Night Raw this week with my husband, I saw the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.

Dolph Ziggler, the United States Champion and one of the more prominent wrestlers currently on the program, had a Twitter hashtag printed on his trunks.

(Summoning inner heel for rant)

To quote The Miz—really, WWE? Really?

I get that the hashtag (#HEEL) works with Dolph Ziggler’s Twitter handle (@heelziggler) and it’s also an indication of his wrestling character.

But to print the freaking hashtag on his ass in order to push a trending topic is a little bit much in my opinion.

And I’m not alone in this criticism, as the WWE’s Twitter and social media madness has drawn the ire of some wrestling fans and has also evoked sarcasm directly from some of the WWE’s talent like CM Punk and Evan Bourne.

O rly, @CMPunk?

*facepalm—seriously, you guys, seriously.

(Queue classic face turn in defense…)

Or am I being too critical of a genius move on the part of WWE’s marketing team?

As much as Dolph’s hashtag trunks and Michael Cole’s endless harping on Trending Topics irks me as a wrestling viewer, the communications pro in me can’t help but think it’s also the mark (no pun intended) of a smart company.

You can’t fault the WWE for capitalizing their brand on every media channel available, especially social media.

Think about it—they can dominate social media at least two nights a week when their programs air and even have their talent like The Rock command Trending Topics, as he did with the hashtag #bootstoasses.

Social media star - you know it!

I even stand by my suspicion that Zack Ryder is in fact a WWE-manufactured “social media star” that effectively integrates multiple social media with the fan experience, leading them to believe they are getting what they wanted. How many publicly traded companies can boast that?

And let’s give the WWE some credit for using social media to promote philanthropic campaigns, like the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

My only criticism of the Twitter overload on the WWE is that it detracts from the organic nature of a social medium.

Fans have been talking about their favorite and not-so-favorite wrestlers for years, even in the days before social media. The only difference is that today, like any consumer, they can simply make their opinions public for all to see on Twitter, including the WWE itself.

So why should the WWE try to force or steer the conversation?

Perhaps they are just ahead of the curve, as Twitter and social media become more ingrained into our everyday lives.

I only pray the WWE does not go the route of streaming tweets live on their programs, like their competition Impact Wresting has taken to during their broadcast. I don’t need to read some other person’s random thoughts on a program I am trying to enjoy because it doesn’t add any sort of value to it.

But then again, that’s just my opinion…

What do you think? If you’re a wrestling fan, how does the Twitter integration strike you? Even if you’re not a regular WWE viewer, any communications pro’s have a different take on this trend?

December 7, 2011. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , . social media. 2 comments.

A Little Birdy Told Me…Week of 11/28/11

Happy Friday, everyone! I hope your Thanksgiving holiday was festive and fun. It’s too bad that it lasts one day, but at least there’s the December holidays to look forward to. And that means it’s time to break out the various holiday decorations, lights, candles, and sweet treats. So, if you’re taking a break from decking your halls this weekend, here are a few links and articles of interest to share–enjoy!

Five Marks of a Great Writer (by @geoffliving):

This was a good post to find while sifting through my more than 200 missed posts from the holiday weekend. As writers of various media, we can always find something to improve upon or to strive for.

Mr. Livingston has been at this writing game for some time, so it’s helpful to read what he suggests are the hallmarks of a great writer, regardless of the medium. I especially liked the fourth hallmark of how a fun sentiment will keep readers coming back, since that is what I find true with most any writer I’ve consistently read over the years.

What Makes a Good (Giving) Website (by Susan T. Evans via @mStonerBlog):

Working on a new website design or overhaul is hard work—and when it’s done within an educational institution, it’s even more work, as I’ve discovered this year.

Yet, there are some universal tips to keep in mind when creating an ideal website, be it for philanthropy (as with the “Giving” website) or for an institution itself. Ms. Evans clearly articulates what makes for a compelling Giving website in this post and provides some great institutional examples to illustrate her points. Her post is also helpful for anyone reconstructing or redesigning websites, so it’s worth a read if you need some inspiration or a fresh idea.

Getting Strategic with Content Planning (by @karinejoly via University Business Magazine):

Here is an article that made me want to stand up from my computer screen and start clapping this week (I usually have about two or three of those a month).

The blog post links to an article Karine Joly wrote for University Business Magazine, so it will require a little more time to read but it is well worth the effort. Time and time again, I have tried to communicate the need to organize communications strategically and this article spells out the reasons why that approach can be successful, especially in higher education institutions. But it’s also applicable for large organizations with multiple communication outlets.

Either way, content must be considered from a strategic viewpoint, otherwise we’re all just out there aimlessly shooting and not hitting any targets.

And for my fourth item of interest, I have to share that I found out that the Cinematic Titanic featuring Mystery Science Theatre 3000 is coming to a theatre nearby Philadelphia.

If you’re as big a geek for MST3K like me, then you’ll appreciate this compilation of their best bits of bad movies:

December 2, 2011. Tags: , , , , , , . communications. Leave a comment.

Common Social Media Questions

Remember when MTV played music videos?

I may be showing my age here, but one of my favorites was “Once in a Lifetime” by the Talking Heads.

Maybe it was David Byrne’s spastic dance moves or the song’s uniqueness, but it drew me in.

That song pops into my head when I think about questions people often ask before starting a social media strategy.

Now, I am by no means a social media expert. I’m a novice at best and currently work in healthcare and pharmaceutical communications, an industry that has yet to fully embrace social media.

But I’ve found from my personal research that there are a few common questions that surface among those interested social media:

You may ask yourself…why should I care about social media?
Like it or not, social media is becoming mainstream. It’s a powerful medium through which consumers can take their opinions directly to businesses. Companies like Southwest Airlines and The Gap have felt the ire of social media.

While your company may not have a logo debacle in the near future, it’s worth taking the time to explore social media as a potential component for your overall marketing or communications strategy.

You may ask yourself…where do I start in social media?
Consider conducting research into the classic “W” questions before embarking on a social media blow-out. You should find out who is talking about your company/client/products. You may also want to find out where conversations take place—it is on Twitter, Facebook, Quora, or a prominent blog? Additionally, it helps to listen to what is being said.

All this information will help inform you on what social media platform best suits your needs in order to make the most of your customer connections. If you are unsure of how to monitor social media noise, there are several free and paid social media monitoring services out there that can help.

You may ask yourself…can’t I just have a Facebook Page?
A Facebook page will only be helpful if you have determined that your customers/stakeholders are using Facebook already. From your initial research, you need to find out what points of entry in social media make the most sense to connect with your audiences. In many cases, it’s not just one but a combination of social media platforms that complement each other.

But don’t feel pressured to use the social media platform du jour just because everyone seems to be doing it—make sure it works for your company or products.

And you may ask yourself…can I ignore the negative comments?
The nature of social media is the fact it is conducive to two-way direct communication between companies and their customers. But, as with any business, there are unhappy campers who can take the Internet to vent their frustrations. Ignoring them on social media runs the risk of amplifying them and making them worse.

But there is a silver lining to the negative comments–you can take them into account as valid customer feedback to your products/services or you can respond to them via social media as a method of customer service. Comcast did this quite well via Twitter and has since elevated social media as a means for direct customer service.

So before engaging in social media for your company, it’s important to take your time, listen to what your customers are saying and doing, and structure a social media strategy that best suits your company’s needs and brand. Don’t do it just because everyone else is.

If we keep copying what others have done in the past, it’ll be the same as it ever was.

Okay, that’s the last I’ll quote the Talking Heads in this post. (Aren’t you glad I didn’t use “Psycho Killer” instead?)

What are some common social media questions you run into? Do you have any recommendations for companies curious about social media? Any other favorite Talking Heads songs?

January 18, 2011. Tags: , , , . social media. 9 comments.

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