My Top 3 Picks for the Next GOP Debate Format

family fuedAs a PR practitioner, I’m looking forward to tonight’s debate. I always find it interesting and insightful to study candidates’ brand messaging and presentation skills. I’m also looking forward to the debate because it’s being held in Cleveland, my hometown.

However, the biggest reason I’m looking forward to the debate tonight is that – I have to admit – with Trump in the mix, I believe it’s actually going to be a lot more entertaining than the average presidential debate.  Entertainment, after all, is what presidential debates are missing.

Most TV viewers and folks in general are not debate watchers (I have no statistic to back this up with, but it seems pretty logical, right?). If viewers could choose between America’s Got Talent and a typical political debate, which one do you think they would choose to watch? Right.So, Shouldn’t we play at the people’s level?

It’s actually already happening – viewers are trying to make the debate more fun by devising drinking games for tonight’s match up. That sounds fun but I have to work tomorrow.

I say we marry the sobriety of the average presidential debate with the entertainment value of some sort of reality TV or game show.

My top picks:

1) Real World

2) Family-Feud

3) Jeopardy.

Are you in?

138045-realworld

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Another Social Media Fail – Brought to you (Again) by Malaysia Airlines

It’s a given that 2014 has been a very bad year for Malaysia Airlines. Just about as bad as it can get in the airline industry. In two separate incidents – the crash of flight MH17 in Ukraine and the disappearance of flight MH370 – 510 passengers lost their lives.

In addition to the tragic human loss, the company is now riddled with financial losses that began even before the ML370 “crash” in March. Of course the two tragedies caused an even larger snowball effect as the company is currently faced with insurance payouts, lost planes and crews and a not surprisingly decline in bookings (in the 2nd quarter, average weekly bookings declined 33%).

But heck, thank God they have a marketing and social media team to take passengers’ minds off of things as well as to take the brand to new heights. Right?

Well…not so much.

Just last week, the social media team for Malaysia Airlines had to apologize after sending a very bizarre tweet that was an attempt to promote last-minute holiday travel deals. There’s no need for further set up – here’s the post:

“Want to go somewhere, but don’t know where? Our Year-End Specials might just help.”Malaysia Airline Tweet

Oh dear. Probably not the best slogan if only 8 months ago, you lost a plane that just disappeared without a trace.   Well, one could chalk it up to a possible loss in translation I suppose. But that certainly doesn’t explain another big faux pas that occurred just in September.

Brilliantly trying to devise ways to inspire and incentivize consumers, the marketing department created a dialogue and contest where it asked folks what types of things and destinations are on their “bucket list.”

Oh yes they did. Not as obviously offensive as the most recent Tweet, but this one is pretty inappropriate too.

I am going to take the high road and blame it on another poor translation. But if that is the case, I would strongly advise Malaysia Airlines, and all global brands, to ensure that they use only native speakers as community managers for their social media channels. I know doing so can be costly, but it can greatly help to reduce these types of incidents from happening.

However, this still wouldn’t necessarily get rid of careless and poorly thought out marketing strategies, would it?

What do you think?

 

 

 

Why History Matters if You Work in Marketing

Did you hear about American Apparel’s social media snafu last week? Apparently one of the social media managers was attempting to be festive for the July 4th holiday. Did he or she provide the obligatory patriotic image of the Stars & Stripes, the Liberty Bell or fireworks bursting over a city skyline? Nope. What about any images of baseball, hot dogs and apple pie? Nope, nope and nope.

A recent social media blunder by American Apparel

Instead, this person chose to use what he or she thought was a cool photo and re-blogged on the brand’s Tumblr account an image of the space shuttle Challenger exploding. You know the photo – it’s the one of the white trail of smoke that loops around against a deep blue sky. Accompanying the photo were hashtags with “smoke” and “clouds,” and the blue sky was changed to a red background.

#Fail. The image was immediately recognized and triggered a deluge of shaming responses that lit up Twitter as American Apparel was called out on such an egregious American error on the most American of holidays. Here’s the company’s response:

“We deeply apologize for today’s Tumblr post of the Space Shuttle Challenger. The image was re-blogged in error by one of our international social media employees who was born after the tragedy and was unaware of the event. We sincerely regret the insensitivity of that selection and the post has been deleted.”

Okay. I accept the apology. What I don’t accept among younger people today is what I have often observed to be a lack of iconic historical knowledge, accompanied by a blasé excuse that they truly believes gets them off the hook: “That happened before I was born.”

Really? No seriously, really? That attitude would be akin to me – born in 1967 – not knowing or caring to learn anything about WWII and its significance today, just because WWII ended 22 years before I was born.

I’m not suggesting that everyone in business have a history minor. But I do think that advertising and PR executives should realize that knowing key social, economic, and historical events and trends of years gone by is an advantage for them now for three reasons:

Geico ad with Lincoln

Geico ad with Lincoln

1) Being informed and well-rounded makes for more a marketable job candidate. It gives an edge to those that are able to draw from the past in order to help solve current business challenges and to generate creativity today (most of the best Creative Directors I know have a keen understanding of history that they have successfully incorporated into great client work – think of the Geico ad with Lincoln and his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln to be exact).

2) It prevents future offenses like the American Apparel one – or something even worse – from occurring in the future.

3) It helps you do your job better. As a marketer it gives you a better understanding of your target audience, and to me, that’s what it’s all about. Your target audiences’ past experiences have played an important role in shaping their buying habits and purchasing power today.

Think about it. You could be missing a game-changing opportunity to engage and truly resonate with your target audience; all because you weren’t born before “Friends” originally aired.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

6 Social Media Customer Service Tips for Small Businesses

"The Scream" by Munch

“The Scream” by Edvard Munch

We’ve all been there.  That moment we become so utterly frustrated and incensed over a product or service mishap that we angrily dial the phone to reach a live person for help.   If we survive the exasperating labyrinth of automated phone hell, we may finally connect with someone who – after all that – may or may not (“I have to check with my supervisor”) be able to help us. Argh!

Well, it seems that phone complaints are becoming passé.  The often profane-laden phone tirades, accusations and pleas have yielded to a new medium through which to get a company’s attention: Social media.

I believe there are several reasons for this. First, social media correspondence has taken over for many as a preferred method of communication, especially among millenials.  Second, today’s  automated customer service phone systems are designed to work more as a moat surrounding the corporate castle, and only the fittest and those with too much time on their hands can steamroll past the murky water to reach a representative. Third, consumers have realized that the last thing a brand wants is to be shamed on Twitter or Facebook for all their customers to see.  In my experience, consumers posting problems via social media channels have typically led to companies resolving matters fairly quickly.

Large brands employ a social media community manager whose job is to create awareness and engagement for the brand as well as observe and respond to customer inquiries and complaints.   However many small and mid-sized companies don’t have the time and resources for a full-time community manager.  So what happens in many instances is that monitoring the social channels becomes an afterthought.  Companies double up social media duties, throwing them into the lap of a sales executive, administrative assistant or even (gasp) IT.  And, I’ve seen many times with small businesses, the CEO/owner takes the helm of the social media channels.

If any of those scenarios are the case for you, here are some tips to effectively address customer complaints within social media channels:

1. Regularly monitor your social media sites – I believe one of the biggest assets of social media (particularly Twitter) is listening.  It’s not glamorous or edgy, but it’s one of the most important things you can do to help understand your customers’ wants and needs. You don’t want to hear it second hand that someone has dissed your brand on social media; you want catch it first.  Be active in monitoring brand mentions and complaints so that you can swiftly react and rectify the situation and nip situations in the bud. Jetblue social media

2. Respond quickly – but not too quickly – Waiting five minutes before addressing a complaint can help eliminate the possibility of a hot-headed response from a gut reaction for which we are all capable.  Just as you should think before you speak, think before you tweet or post and avoid the possibility of making the matter worse. Here’s a great example (left) of the airline Jet Blue responding to a customer’s frustrated tweet.   Brands that do it right respond to a complaint in four hours or less.

3. Don’t be defensive or condescending – Look, you and your brand are never going to come out ahead in a name-calling match, so try your best to avoid that scenario.  And, keep in mind that while most complaints are valid, there are a group of folks out there who simply like to stir the pot just for fun.  Make sure you can tell the difference between the two.

4. Acknowledge their problem – Customers – whether in-store, on the phone or online want to know that their voice is being heard.   Respond initially with something like “I’m sorry to hear your [product] is not working/broken/missing a part, etc.  I can help you.”  Then as a next step:

5. Do your best to get them offline – You don’t want the dialogue to go on publicly through social media, especially when the customer is very angry.  I recently voiced my frustration via Twitter about – of all things – the phone system maze at my bank.  Within an hour, I received a response from a point person at the bank who gave me her direct number and I was able to get the matter resolved.  If you really can promptly and effortlessly solve the problem, it’s alright to do so publicly – just be careful not to appear as self-serving.

6. Use humor when applicable – I’m not advocating that you make light of any complaint.  But, In some cases when the problem is not a grave or serious one, adding some friendly humor can help disarm some egghead who is ranting and raving without due cause (remember those folks who love to stir the pot). Sometimes the best way to silence them is with an unexpected, cheeky response.  Use discretion as this can be a tricky line to cross.  A great example of this is a recent letter written from BIC pens UK, in response to what we infer was one man’s outrageous and profane complaint about his new pens (strong and explicit language here so read at your own risk): http://www.brandwatch.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/bicletter.jpg

In most cases, acknowledging a customer complaint and responding quickly and purposefully will be enough to resolve matters.   As with all of us, customers appreciate being heard.

Are all the Social Media tools available to us now making us more efficient and less stressed, or the opposite?

 Can we achieve a decent work-life balance in today’s world?

Last week, Business Week published an article featuring a number of high profile executives who do not use email (http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2013-07-16/mlb-s-bud-selig-proudly-joins-the-executive-no-email-crowd ).  Yes, you read that correctly.  They do not use email.  Now I can understand if they don’t use social media tools such as Twitter or Facebook – but email?

These old-school communicators include among others: Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig; secretary of the Department for Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano; and billionaire landowner Brad Kelley.  They are all successful in their own right.  And they have achieved that success with only the use of “old-fashioned” means of communication and most likely, a healthier set of boundaries when it comes to work spilling over into their lives.

Now granted, most of the individuals named in the article are in in their late 60s or 70s.  However, Napolitano is only 55, certainly an age where she could have adapted well to using email.  She claims checking email sucks up too much time (We all know how true that is, especially when you’re helplessly on an email thread that won’t stop).  While she may be right, it’s certainly not practical or feasible for “the rest of us” to scrap email altogether as a means of communication.

This got me to thinking:  all of these modern means of communicating at our fingertips – especially the burst of social media tools available – were invented to help us do so more efficiently and more quickly both personally and professionally.  Yet, in the end, are they doing the opposite and just bogging us down to create more stress, work and interruptions, and to sabotage any chance we have of a healthy work-life balance?

As Napolitano and Selig did, is there a time when the current generations can begin to say “no” to any or all of our modern channels of communication, or have we forever passed that threshold?

Before cell phones (yes, there was a day), I used to love driving in my car because it was the only place where no one could get a hold of me.  There was something to be said for that peaceful and uninterrupted respite where one could focus on the day’s matters at hand with more clarity and without interruption.

Most Millennials have never had that experience and I’m actually not sure they truly ever want to be ‘off-line’ from the world.  In fact, it seems as if it’s quite the opposite that is true – they feel naked without their smartphone and access of being connected to the outside world.  Their angst is certainly palpable when they are in meetings or other places where they cannot check their text messages, Tweets and emails.

I’ve occasionally had that feeling myself and to be honest, I don’t’ like it.  Sometimes I have to literally take a step back and realize that my world and work will actually be just fine without monitoring my emails and social channels every 15 minutes.  So why do I feel guilty when I’m offline?

I get it, in the fields of public relations and marketing, we need to be connected to our devices and to our clients and their customers as well as the media and outside world.  And, we have to test every new social media communications tool in order to best counsel our clients.  The challenge is there is a new tool emerging every day and it’s not only social media managers that need to understand and test these tools. It’s PR folks too. As a PR practitioner, stress is a normal part of the job; it’s just that this modern era of social media seems to be creating more stress and not taking as much away.

I just want to know if anyone else is struggling with when to draw the line at being continuously accessible and connected (and I mean beyond being reachable when a client might have a real emergency situation that needs immediate damage control).

Do you feel guilty or stressed when you’re not emailing, tweeting or trolling on Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube or Pinterest?

How do you manage to detach from work mode to personal mode?

Any tips or insights are much appreciated!