Rosemary Plorin

In A Crisis, You Need These 8 Communication Tools

By Rosemary Plorin

Crises, by definition, happen without warning. Without proper foresight and preparation, what might normally be a manageable hiccup can quickly escalate into an existential threat to your organization.

The good news: crises have tested private and public entities since the dawn of specialized labor, so there are a lot of lessons already learned. The bad news: the nature of those crises is changing faster than many organizations can keep up.

When things head south, there’s no substitute for professional crisis management. But you can also take sensible steps to arm yourself against the unknown — and prepare for any blowback that comes your way. These eight clutch crisis communication tools need to be in your organization’s arsenal.

  1. An Authoritative Spokesperson

While it may seem logical – even simple – to say that an organization in crisis should have a single point of contact to provide public comments, many organizations fail to lay the groundwork to ensure it actually happens. As a crisis is unrolling is not the time to look at your team and realize that no one is on first.

This trap is completely avoidable. If you don’t have an in-house PR person, tap into an experienced outside firm. If you’re confident in your internal team’s ability to handle a crisis, designate an appropriate spokesperson and equip them with the training and tools they’ll need to mount an effective response.

  1. Well-Defined Roles & Communication Guidelines

While the public spokesperson is a very important role in a crisis, it’s certainly not the only player in the cast. Executive leadership, legal, risk management, HR and other subject matter experts are also likely needed – as is a team leader to help organize and direct the effort. Identify a core response team as part of your “before the crisis” preparations and tweak the membership as you better understand what kind of expertise is needed to manage the issue at hand

With that team in place, you’ll need to quickly begin communicating with internal and external stakeholders. WIthout exception, “no comment” sends the message that your organization is unprepared. It has a chilling and frightening effect on both internal and external audiences and serves as an aphrodisiac to reporters and plaintiff’s attorneys.

Avoid the “no comment curse” by developing a comprehensive set of communication guidelines.  Consider how you want your audiences to perceive your organization after the crisis: decisive? caring? safety-minded? customer focused? transparent? Use that goal as a guide when crafting your messages and delivering them to your stakeholders.

  1. Internal Lines of Communication

A strong crisis response requires a clear chain of command and well defined roles. It also requires uncompromised (and uncompromisable) lines of communication between relevant internal team members. If you haven’t already, invest in an internal messaging system like Slack, which helpfully doubles as a communication log (see next point). Draw up a flow chart indicating communication priorities and reporting hierarchies. And if your issue deals with market sensitive, proprietary, or confidential regulatory information, make sure everyone involved in the response is covered by an NDA.

  1. Listening Services and Social Media Savvy

In addition to an authoritative spokesperson, you need at least one employee — for larger organizations, multiple employees or an outside consultant — to monitor and direct your social media ecosystem.

In good times, social media is a great marketing and branding tool. In a crisis, it’s a crucial real-time window into the public’s evolving perceptions, not to mention its reaction to your crisis management efforts. Online news coverage and commentary can also provide an important barometer into how your news is being received.

Certain social properties, notably Twitter, are also high-ROI media monitoring and outreach tools. According to TechCrunch and Medium contributor Haje Jan Kamps, something like 25% of Twitter’s top users are journalists.

  1. A Detailed Communication Log

You can’t manage what you don’t measure, right? A detailed internal and external communication log provides a clear timeline that keeps your response focused, timely and relevant. It can also help you see if some part – or all – of your response efforts are spinning off the rails. Once the acute phase of the crisis has passed, a communication log provides a great big-picture look at the entire response — a valuable educational tool that helps you determine what went right, what went wrong, and what can be done better next time.

  1. Feedback Loops

Speaking of communication: your organization needs to be able to receive, process, and react to public input (and vitriol) promptly, if not in real time. After all, communication is a two-way street, especially in a crisis.

As you develop crisis-management roles, assign coordinators for every major inbound communication channel: email, social channels, phone, office, and so on. Similarly, make sure each key stakeholder group – investors, employees, customers, suppliers, etc. – has a champion to ensure relevant outreach and feedback. (These coordinators likely already exist in your organization; it’s just a matter of formalizing their roles in a crisis.) Ensure that these team members have the resources necessary to respond, and that the protocols for their responses are clear and unambiguous. Don’t neglect either element: a rapid response does no good if it’s inaccurate or off-message.

  1. Simple, Straightforward Fact Sheets

Quite literally, crisis fact sheets keep everyone inside and outside your organization on the same page. Your fact sheets should provide clear, concise talking points on the most pressing matters at hand, as well as an objective accounting of the relevant background and facts — however you define them — of the situation. Draw up one fact sheet for members of the media and one for your crisis response team. Consider releasing a separate fact sheet (or, simply, your media fact sheet) on your website and social channels. In all such efforts, avoid legal speak and industry jargon.

  1. Scenario Plans

It’s not possible to plan for every type of crisis, but you can probably game out a few vulnerabilities your organization might face.  Banks get robbed.  Food makers face ingredient recalls. Plains states experience tornadoes.

Before a crisis hits, conduct an analysis of your company’s strengths and weaknesses; consider the crises you might experience and how they would adversely impact your work. For each vulnerability, create scenario plans covering best, median, and worst-case outcomes, along with outlines of your responses to each.

If that sounds like a lot of work, it is. But if you’ve ever watched a crisis play out in the news and thought the company involved managed the issue well, you can be sure they were prepared before crisis struck. And if you’ve ever seen an organization crash and burn amid a flurry of “no comments” and media speculation, you can bet they were caught unprepared.

Soooo … Are you missing any of the tools on this list?

Before Putting Your Best Foot Forward, Wipe Your Shoes

By Rosemary Plorin

If you’ve ever put your house on the market, you know a thing or two about staging a home. Before you invite prospective homebuyers across your threshold and show them around your — or perhaps, soon to be their — domain, you need to make sure every square inch is in tip-top shape. No stains on the carpet, no scratches on the walls, no strange odors wafting up from the basement — heck, no dust in the corners, even.

Branding a business, nonprofit or government entity isn’t all that different from selling a house. Audiences don’t actually get to peek into your organization’s closets or sift through the dirty laundry, to be sure. But, if they’re paying attention, they’re likely to get a pretty clear picture of what your organization stands for. That, in turn, provides them with a frame of reference — a benchmark by which they can compare your organization’s public face with its actual actions and outcomes.

Image Follows Culture

The key is to align your internal culture with your external brand — or, more accurately, design an external brand that reflect your internal culture. If you want to be authentic with your organization, customers, and prospects, this requires a hard look at how you’ve been running the place up to this point — prior to the start of your public-facing campaign. And of course, it requires “walking the talk” and living the brand on a consistent basis moving forward.

Here’s how to create an internal culture that’s worthy of your public brand — and how to get your team on board without making perfect the enemy of the good.

Invest in Good Governance

Like most organizational initiatives, effective branding demands support and buy-in from leadership — otherwise, it won’t get out of the gate. This isn’t news.

What may be news: effective branding also demands leadership that leads by example. Executives who merely pay lip service to a revamped communication strategy or public-facing brand can fool their teams and the public for only so long. Leadership needs to walk the talk, and boards that care about their organizations’ futures need to hold them accountable. No matter how well they’re performing on other fronts, leaders who refuse to buy into a consensus branding and communications shift are a liability to their organizations.

Put Core Values in Writing

It’s easier to follow instructions, and to hold folks accountable for following instructions, when they’re in writing. Before launching your new branding and communications strategy, put your organization’s best minds together (with or without the assistance of a communications agency) and devise a core set of values and principles that guide your organization’s activities.

Even if you’ve never taken the time to do this, you can probably think of some choice inclusions right off the bat. Concepts like “integrity,” “inclusivity,” “accountability,” “teamwork” — among other corporate buzzwords — will likely come to mind. Start the effort out on the right foot and ask your employees to share their thoughts as well – through facilitated discussions or a simple-online survey.

As you refine and perfect the words and phrases that reflect who you are and how you operate as an organization, be sure to hardwire these concepts into your day to day operations and processes. Remember, they form the core of your brand now.

Communicate Transparently (Whenever Possible)

I admit: transparency may not be appropriate in all places and at all times.  A period of crisis may require a tightly controlled communication strategy, and detailed financial discussions are rarely appropriate for all-inclusive groups.

But transparency is crucial to a healthy organizational culture.  Study after study shows that employees who feel informed about their employer’s’ goals are more engaged, positive and loyal. Rank-and-file employees want to understand their organization’s “big picture” and deserve to know about management decisions that affect their work and well-being.

The beauty of transparency is that it’s undisputably a two-way street. When transparency is the norm, it’s much less problematic to hold employees accountable for opacity — even when the lines between “transparent” and “opaque” aren’t bright and clear.

Hold Employees Accountable for Cultural Expectations

Transparency isn’t the only measure on which your tightly run ship of an organization can hold employees accountable. Your core cultural values — the concepts you’ve drilled into your internal communications from interview to orientation and evaluation — should all be non-negotiable.

Recognize and reward employees for living your culture, and make it clear that employees who choose not to embrace your values are likely not on a long career path with your organization.

Test Brand Elements & Communications Strategies Internally

It’s never a good idea to roll out a new public-facing brand or communications strategy without extensive testing. Fortunately, your internal housekeeping efforts can be a great opportunity to dive into the brand-building process and test any strategies about which you may not feel certain.

For structural elements of your brand and communications architecture, such as website layout and marketing automation tools, A/B testing can be a great way to try new ideas in parallel. This kind of research allows marketers to see what design schemes, words, offers, etc. appeal most or best elicit the desired behavior you want from your target audiences.

If you don’t have the time or material resources for a full-on A/B testing campaign, simply asking employees for honest feedback is a solid fallback. There’s nothing like a bracing round of candid criticism to dispel preconceived notions about how your brand should look, feel and operate. Of course, there’s no guarantee that your employees will respond like your clients and prospects, so this internal work isn’t a full substitute for traditional market-testing.  But it can go a long way toward identify a marketing misfire before you fully load your cannons.
Are you prepping for a public communications campaign by getting your own house in order?

Internal Communication: Don’t Let What Happened to Enron Happen to You

By Rosemary Plorin

An effective internal communications program is an integral component of any productive organization. Look at any top 10 business list and you are almost guaranteed to find companies with robust internal communications programs and strong corporate cultures.

Look further down those lists and you’ll find companies that fail to implement internal communications programs that fully tap into the benefits of a well-planned system.

Effective communications allow business leaders and company employees to share insights and knowledge in a two-way dialogue. Successful communication strategies encourage collaboration and teamwork, promote a company’s goals, provide education and motivate employees. They help reinforce the “true north” of a company’s strategic plan and provide an important feedback loop from the bottom of the organizational chart to the top.

Internal communications are particularly important during times of change or crisis. It’s imperative that organizations have an efficient, comprehensive and relevant communication program in place before a crisis occurs.

Social Business Meeting
Social Business Meeting

Internal Communications: The Building Block of Success

The Business Dictionary defines internal communication as “The sharing of information within an organization for business purposes.” It sounds simple but it’s not as easy as it sounds. Clear communication between departments, team members, managers, executives and employees is difficult enough when an organization is in one building. Add in factors such as field locations, mobile workforces and telecommuters and communication becomes even more complicated. Fortunately, there are new tools and tactics you can put into place now to connect with everyone, from the traveling sales rep to the off-site call center operator to the CEO.

Plan and strategize. If there is no internal communication plan in place, develop a strategy that meets the goals you want to achieve. If you already have a plan, look at what works and what doesn’t. Conduct an audit to identify how and when employees prefer to receive information and what they need to do their jobs well. Strengthen what’s working, identify barriers, define improvements. Work out a budget. Keep in mind that high employee turnover, low employee morale, misunderstandings and lost revenue are intrinsically connected to a lack of or poor internal communication.

Choose simple tools. Make communication easy. Implement an instant chat system, such as Slack or Yammer. Utilize cloud platforms like Google Drive to bring everyone in the company together, regardless of physical location. Use online project management tools and a single platform for email, documents, files and calendars. Employees won’t use communications tools if they’re complicated, redundant or time-consuming.

Provide a forum for employee feedback.  Provide a forum for team members to share ideas, supply feedback, brainstorm, discuss problems and voice suggestions. Bringing employees, managers and leaders together in a relaxed, comfortable forum, whether it’s a chat channel or cloud-based service, promotes camaraderie and innovation and shows you care about what they think.

Inform and inspire. Electronic newsletters can be an effective form of internal communication. but many organizations miss out on the opportunity to inspire and motivate in their newsletters. A newsletter is the ideal place for sharing motivational quotes or rewarding customer experiences, reminding everyone of the company’s goals and mission and offering praise. If used correctly, an electronic newsletter spurs actions and raises morale.

Measure the effectiveness of internal communications procedures. Determining the success or failure of an internal communication program won’t happen overnight. But, there are early indications to show where your newly implemented program is going. Indicators include changes in profits, sales and productivity, differences in staff retention rates and shifts in employee happiness and job fulfillment answers on surveys. Gauge your program’s effectiveness through regular, annual or biannual, surveys using your audit results as a benchmark.

Adapt. As you analyze the results and communicate with users, adapt your internal communications procedures to fit the needs of the organization and individuals. Be purposeful to ensure your communications tactics stay relevant and useful. But …

Avoid overload.  Information overload is a real threat to effective internal communications. Avoid overloading team members with too much information, too many emails or too frequent newsletters. Make sure your communications tools have clearly defined purposes and editorial calendars.  Resist the urge to layer in too much “feel good” info (work anniversaries, birthdays, recipes) that can water down the tool’s effectiveness. Be brief and to the point and always try to add-value to the employee’s work day.

A Cautionary Tale

A lack of internal communication is a recipe for disaster. The rise and fall of Enron, an American energy company, is a prime example of what can happen when internal communications fail. Clearly, many factors played roles in Enron’s demise, but an academic analysis conducted by Matthew W. Seeger of Wayne State University and Robert R. Ulmer of the University of Arkansas – Little Rock, placed much of the blame on poor internal communications.

According to the abstract, Enron management did not utilize “adequate communication to be informed of organizational operations.” Executives were able to hide the true state of the company’s finances, confuse shareholders and analysts with a convoluted business model and practice unethical accounting methods to misrepresent earnings because no one else in the company knew what they were doing.

We’re seeing a similar scenario play out in the Flint, Michigan, water crisis, in which several high-ranking officials appear to have been unaware of a crisis brewing in the city’s water system for almost two years.  Had the lines of communication been more open, more relevant, more accessible to employees on the local and state level, could the crisis have been averted?

Don’t let a lack of or poor internal communications be your Achilles’ heel. Isn’t it time you reviewed your organization’s internal communications program?

Try These New Approaches to Measure Customer Satisfaction

By Rosemary Plorin

Industry success, whether you’re operating in healthcare, professional services, not for profit, education, hospitality or any other sector, depends on the satisfaction of shareholders, customers, donors and regulators.

Effective branding, social media engagement, marketing and communications all point to one goal: to gain customers and keep them. Customer satisfaction is the key to attaining and keeping customers, but to get the most benefit, it must be accurately measured.

Here are some new approaches to measure your company’s customer satisfaction and tips for how to use what you learn to take the client experience to the next level.

How to Create Effective Customer Satisfaction Surveyscustomer satisfaction survey_ Rosemary Plorin

Online surveys can be useful tools in providing detailed, relevant and actionable information to gauge customer satisfaction, identify new product ideas or uncover barriers to sales and success. But in today’s world, online surveys are old hat. We’ve taken them a hundred times and feel like we know the next question before we hit enter. And most often, we’re eager to hit that button so we can complete the survey and move on to more pressing matters.

Survey fatigue is one of the biggest challenges to running a successful online research effort. Survey participation rates in 2015 fell to an estimated 2 percent. Saturation is certainly part of the problem, but time-strapped clients and short attention spans are also to blame. What can you do to encourage participation? Here are three formatting tips to encourage participation:

  • Offer incentives: Research indicates that offering free value-added content, a discount off purchases, cash rewards or other incentives can increase response rates 10 to 15 percent. Keep in mind that the more highly compensated the research target, the greater the value of the incentive.  CEO incentives (in the form of luxury items, gift cards or charitable donations) may need to be $250 or more to secure participation.
  • Make surveys suitable for mobile: It’s projected that in 2016 more than 50 percent of surveys will be conducted on mobile devices. Smaller screens mean videos are out, graphics, if used at all, should be small and the survey should not force users scroll too much. Avoid complicated tools, such as dropdown menus and matrices.
  • Format questions to encourage participation: Keep questions short and concise, ask no more than 20 questions per survey, begin with the most important questions and include open-ended questions to give the participant a chance to explain details.

Formatting the survey is only part of the equation, however. Before you begin developing questions, determine your target audience. Will you ask for feedback from existing clients, potential customers, sales leads or some other group? Keep in mind that one size rarely fits all. Once you’ve identified your target audience, think about the data you’d like to acquire.

Effective customer satisfaction surveys utilize multiple choice or ranking questions, asking the respondent to rate an experience (usually a single, recent event), if the product or service was of the quality expected, three or four specifics about the purchase and how likely the customer is to recommend the product or service to others.

The most important questions in the entire survey are open-ended questions about how the experience could have been better. Ask how the customer would improve the product or service: what one thing would they change about their recent experience and why? Questions like these give measurable indications about your company’s performance and actionable feedback, which is invaluable. The goal of a survey should never be to secure a pat on the back. You’ll learn more by listening to what you did wrong than what you did right.

The advantage of asking recent clients to respond to a survey immediately after a purchase or interaction is twofold: it helps demonstrate your genuine interest in understanding what customers think, and it gives customers who may have had a less than favorable experience the opportunity to voice a complaint in a timely, productive way. You have the opportunity to fix the problem, the client feels valued and, because they had a forum in which to voice their displeasure immediately, may refrain from posting a negative online review. It’s a win-win.

Surveys can be used to impact customer satisfaction in indirect ways as well. For example, creating an internal survey using Survey Gizmo that targets team members on the customer service front lines can bring valuable feedback about what is and is not working. A survey also gives team members a forum to suggest ways to make improvements.

Measuring Customer Satisfaction: Beyond Surveys

Although well-done surveys are an essential tool in every marketer’s toolbox, surveys shouldn’t be the only measure of customer satisfaction. Customer loyalty is a hard numbers measurement that provides valuable insight into client-based behavior. Compiled data can be utilized in a number of ways: improving sales and service, tracking promotions, enhancing human resources and refining marketing efforts. High levels of customer loyalty equals accelerated business growth.

Keep in mind that customer loyalty can be measured both in objective and subjective frameworks. Objective customer loyalty measurement, like the multiple choice survey questions discussed above, uses system-captured data to provide hard numbers about customer behavior. Historical records, purchase records, time spent on the company website,buying frequency and whether or not a customer purchased recently can expose problems and define patterns.

Subjective is a type of soft number measurement. Answers to open-ended survey questions, feedback from inbound service calls, customer recommendations, and online comments, engagement and reviews can be softer indicators of customer loyalty and satisfaction (or dissatisfaction).

Use a combination of subjective and objective methods to create a road map to take your customer satisfaction to the next level.

Beyond Profits: Today’s Tips for Measuring Your Company’s Success

By Rosemary Plorin

Measuring a company’s success is rarely a one-dimensional process. Bottom line numbers are still important, of course, but a company’s success in a global economy and a virtual world is no longer defined strictly on a numbers basis.

The changing demands of both shareholders and the public combined with the importance of social media means that business leaders must blaze new trails to achieve success and find alternative methods to assess results. PwC’s recent annual CEO survey found that CEOs are concerned with not only the traditional drivers of success, such as risk and innovation, but also the more emotional aspects that revolve around purpose and values. Clearly, respondents recognized that our rapidly changing business environment requires new measurement tools.

How to Measure Business Impacts on Society

Most companies publish financial reports. Increasingly, however, companies also report the company’s environmental impact, methods used to promote sustainability and an outline of ongoing environmental initiatives. Shareholder and public concerns about climate change, air and water pollution and rising sea levels have led to an increasing emphasis on a corporation’s impact on the earth and in the community.

Other new measurements of business success include a corporation’s participation in social investment, workforce diversity, improved working conditions and promotion of a high quality of life. Ethics is another area of greater importance as businesses become more transparent. CEOs who can focus on both financial and nonfinancial corporate performance facets improve shareholder value in the long term.

Social media measurement_ Rosemary Plorin

Taking the Measure of Social Media

Social media success — how can it be measured? Marketing professionals have long espoused that using social media can help build a loyal customer base.  The science and measurement of social media is bearing that out.  AdWeek reported last year that nearly 81 percent of consumers research online before buying. Three in five businesses gain new customers through social media. Another 57 percent of small business sales funnel through social media. But, how do you know if your own social media efforts are paying off?

If you already use social media or are getting ready to jump in, consider the following:

  • Who is your target audience? Social media provides an easy way to reach a targeted audience as long as you know who that audience is. What demographic is most likely to buy your product or service? You can target age groups, gender, residents of specific locations, those with defined careers, interests, educational levels and/or incomes. As has always been the norm for effective marketing, be specific about who you want to reach and choose the platform that delivers your core audience.
  • Which platform best meets your audience demographic requirements? Each social media platform reaches a different segment of society. For example, Facebook has the largest number of users with a demographic mix across the board, from virtually all age groups and income levels. Twitter on the other hand, has a user base that is predominantly 49 years of age or younger, with slightly more male users than female. The majority of Instagram users are under 29 years of age and females outnumber males. LinkedIn members are typically 30 to 64 years old, have a college degree and are split evenly between men and women. Pinterest users are overwhelmingly female with varied educational and income levels. Choose one or two platforms with your targeted audience and focus your efforts – and measurement – there.
  • What is your social media objective? Will you use social media primarily for customer service? Are you looking for user-generated content, such as testimonials and reviews? How often do you plan to publish content? Do you have a team in place to take on the responsibilities of monitoring and responding to social media posts? What are your goals? Create goals you can monitor, such as increasing the number of likes on Facebook and how many people visit your website from a social media post.

Measuring Content Distribution Success

Content is king, right? Right. But the challenge of measuring the success of a content management and distribution marketing campaign is that the usual measurement tool, Return on Investment (ROI), doesn’t work for digital content. ROI is based on a formula that demands initial investment provide a measurable return. Content distribution, along with most digital marketing segments, is focused on brand awareness and customer engagement, and not necessarily on transaction.

So while a well-managed content distribution campaign increases awareness, it may not directly provide a measurable financial return. A more accurate measure for content is the Return on Advertising Spending (ROAS) formula. The beauty of ROAS is that it analyzes the revenue generated from every marketing dollar spent and matches it to a specific channel (direct mail, social, outdoor, search. etc.). Though ROAS does not factor in how one channel impacts another, it facilitates an interesting (if siloed) analysis how marketing dollars are spent in a tactical sense and provides a helpful tool in measuring a company’s overall success.

How to Provide Old-Fashioned Customer Service in Our Digital World

By Rosemary Plorin

Henry Ford once said, “It’s not the employer who pays wages. Employers only handle the money. It is the customer who pays the wages.” Customers not only pay employee wages, but determine a company’s profitability. As phone trees and online commerce have virtually removed the human connection, it’s all the more important to find ways to make each relationship count.

Marketing and customer service departments have traditionally been separate entities with an organization. But that’s changing as company execs realize customer service is not the domain of a single department, but includes every single person in the company who interacts with customers. In today’s world when a customer service nightmare can go viral – and global – in a matter of minutes, you can’t use advertising memes like “customers are our priority,” unless they really are.

Happy Customers Mean Higher Profits

Customer service_ Rosemary PlorinA lot of work goes into finding new customers, but turning first time customers into loyal customers is even more important. Returning customers make more purchases, buy more frequently, are less expensive to serve and more profitable than new customers. Loyal customers almost always mean higher profits.

One of the most important influencers of whether or not customers return is the level of satisfaction they feel when they interact with company representatives, no matter what the reason. Those interactions with real people are the relationships that count.

Taking Customer Service to the Next Level

Great customer service is more than lip service. It’s a philosophy that starts at the top and is emphasized in every aspect of training and employee performance. Here are the core principles that comprise excellent customer care:

  • Empower Team Members: Team members, particularly those who take customer calls or are responsible for answering client emails, must be empowered with enough authority to not only work on behalf of the customer, but resolve the problem without passing it on to someone else.
  • Practice Empathy: Train responders to put themselves in the customer’s shoes. It’s easy to feel attacked by the words of an angry caller, but team members must learn to put emotion aside and hear what the customer is actually saying and feeling. Staying calm, reviewing facts and exhibiting sympathy and understanding are key to defusing a situation and building rapport.
  • Apologize When Necessary: Humans make mistakes. Orders arrive late or are shipped to the wrong place. A simple “I’m sorry” goes a long way toward building trust between the company and the customer or client.
  • Fix the Problem, Add a Perk: Remedy the situation as soon as possible. Adding a perk, perhaps a percent off coupon for later use or providing a free item, is a proven method of service recovery and building loyalty after something goes wrong.

When They Don’t Call: Building Customer Loyalty Through Social Media

Of course, not every customer or client will call you. How can you build a connection without actually speaking to a customer?  That’s where social media comes in. Used correctly, Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites put the “personal” back into doing business. If you don’t do it right, however, you can make frustrated customers more angry.

Customer are increasingly more likely to contact a business through a Facebook page than call on the phone. Facebook is a great way to build customer loyalty, engage current customers and find new clients. But if you leave the customer hanging, without acknowledgement or reply, you’ll pay for it in a public way.

A recent study found that customers expect companies to respond to a tweet in less than an hour. If they don’t, 38 percent experience negative feelings toward the organization and 60 percent of those will voice their displeasure online for the world to see.

On the other hand, when companies actively and quickly respond, 34 percent make purchases, 43 percent promote the company to family and friends and 42 percent use social media to recommend the organization. Social media is the word-of-mouth of the digital age. It can’t be placed left to chance.

To take full advantage of social media, assign a well-trained customer service team to respond to customer posts. Unless your team is on 24-hours a day, specify times staff is available to respond. Train team members to use the opportunity to build long-lasting customer loyalty. Make it personal: use names when provided; comment on specifics; fix problems. Issues resolved through social media are out there for everyone to see (whether it’s on one of your own social media assets or someone else’s). Make sure your team creates positive experiences.

Traditional or virtual, customer interaction is always personal. Be sure to make superb customer service the core of your marketing strategy.

How’s Your EQ? Here’s How to Give Yours a Boost

By Rosemary Plorin

Emotional Intelligence. The term has been bandied about since Daniel Goleman published his groundbreaking book of the same name in 1995. Goleman’s work was based on research of the leadership and workplace environment of nearly 200 global organizations. Emotional intelligence quickly became a hot topic, with the Harvard Business Review calling it “a revolutionary, paradigm-shattering idea.”

Still, more emphasis was placed on academic achievement and “smarts” than emotions. It’s difficult to change years of tradition. That trend is evolving, however. Why? Because study after study has supported Goleman’s findings. In fact, emotional intelligence, also referred to as emotional quotient, or EQ, is just as important if not more important than IQ in the workplace.

What is EQ?

A person’s emotional quotient is considered to be the sum of three parts. The first is your ability to be aware of and manage your own emotions. The second is your ability to be aware of and understand another person’s emotions. The third is your ability to relate to others in a personal, professional and effective way. Emotional quotient_ Rosemary Plorin

In other words, you know how you feel, you perceive how others feel and you have the ability to work efficiently with others based on that knowledge. Think about it — a team with highly intelligent members that compete, snipe and argue with each other is dysfunctional.

A team with members who work well together, understand each other, support one another and get along is much more productive. Developing a workplace atmosphere with a high EQ can mean the difference between average and excellent performance.

The Signs of Low EQ

What happens when you have leaders and employees with low EQs? Here are some of the signs there may be a problem:

  • -Individuals blame others.
  • -People shift or shirk responsibility. “He didn’t get the information to me in time.”
  • -Differing opinions are not valued or encouraged.
  • -People work in silos and lack a shared commitment to “get things done.”
  • -Aggressive, passive or nonexistent communication patterns are the norm.
  • -Leaders and managers lose touch with those they lead.

Improving Your Own Workplace EQ

Is there a way to increase EQ and create a more productive workplace? The answer begins with you. Some people are born with a high EQ but others have to work on one or more aspect. Here are five suggestions to help you improve your EQ.

Improve your self-awareness. Work hard to understand what drives you, what upsets you, what your weaknesses are and define your strengths. True self-awareness is a realistic view of who you are and how you react. Recognize your feelings throughout the day and think about how they impact your interactions with clients, colleagues and co-workers. Learn to regulate your emotions and avoid sarcasm and knee-jerk reactions.

Accept the fact you will experience disappointment and frustration at work. Don’t let feelings of failure take over; learn to think optimistically. Some people are born optimists, others have to work at it. If you don’t feel it at first, fake it. Optimism becomes second nature over time.

Increase your capacity for empathy. Empathy is the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and understand their feelings and viewpoints. It doesn’t necessarily mean you agree with the way they feel, but you understand where they are coming from. Empathy is crucial in conflict situations. It requires listening to the other person’s viewpoint, validating their feelings and valuing their opinions. Empathetic communication is respectful and comprehensive, even if you don’t agree with the other person’s conclusions.

Actively listen. Challenge yourself to say less and listen more in your next meeting. If you find it frustrating to hold your tongue, you may need to work on your listening skills. Be sure to maintain eye contact while listening and be responsive with your gestures or expressions.  Ask questions to clarify and confirm what you are hearing and show appreciation for the other person’s perspective. Listening actively to others helps boost your EQ as it requires you to understand both your own feelings as well as those with whom your are speaking.

Understand people’s differences. Improving your capacity for empathy and actively listening both require refining your social skills to better manage work relationships. Realize that people have different personalities and come from diverse cultures. And sometimes, people just have a bad day. There is no one correct method to communicate with all people all the time. Interact with people based on their individual personalities and the relevant issues at hand.

Decision makers increasingly see a high EQ as an asset when looking for new talent. Leaders, managers and team members with emotional intelligence are more committed, happier, engaged and productive. A high EQ doesn’t mean that intelligence and education are less important, it simply means that effective communication involves both the brain and the heart.

What Makes a Great Leader? It Starts With This Essential Trait

By Rosemary Plorin

Great corporate leaders have one thing in common. They are great communicators. Inc. Magazine has reported that poor communication costs large companies approximately $26,000 per employee. Even when corporations spend millions on leadership training, the results are often temporary. S what does it take to become a great corporate communicator? And, how can you improve your style and become more effective?

A New Way of Thinking

It’s easy to get caught up in the emotional and mental ups and down of developing a successful business. There is always an opportunity to pursue, a hurdle to manage or a problem to solve. Countless studies have shown that successful leaders refuse to think negatively, choosing instead to focus on positive outcomes. They believe they and their team can manage and grow from whatever comes up. Confidence and positive thinking trickles down through the organization, giving everyone a more focused and assured outlook.

If you find yourself feeling anxious, unsure or inadequate, try drawing on your mind’s capacity to deliver positive results. Learn to think and speak in affirming ways. For example, if someone asks how a project is coming along, begin with a positive statement. Opening with a positive statement, also known as a power lead, sets the tone for subsequent discussions.

Ask then listen_ Rosemary Plorin

Ask, Then Listen

Communication is not a monologue. It involves speaking, asking questions and actively listening to what others say. There is an art to the question/answer give-and-take that successful leaders use to not only gain valuable feedback, but also to impart a sense of engagement. People are motivated by leaders to whom they feel they have a relationship.

Leading questions, such as asking team members to share a recent success, also motivates, enhances morale and inspires team confidence. Asking a simple, open-ended questions of the old standard why, where, when and how variety typically results in the right answer.

Listening is often the more difficult part of the communication give-and-take. If you find yourself waiting to jump into a conversation, looking at your watch or otherwise zoning out when others are speaking, you have work to do. Actively listening is an often overlooked skill that most every successful leader knows how to do. Here are some tips to develop your listening skills:

  • -Maintain eye contact.
  • -Respond appropriately with gestures, nods, smiles.
  • -Sit forward and give the speaker your full attention.
  • -If something a speaker says is unclear, try paraphrasing back to indicate interest and make sure you understand what the speaker is saying.
  • -Think about what is not being said. Watch the speaker’s body language. Ask yourself if there are underlying emotions or difficulties the speaker is not conveying in words.
  • -Let others finish speaking before you take the floor.

The Way You Say It

The words and tone you use when you speak has an immediate impact on the listener. Effective communicators know how to get their point across without making a team member feel defensive, hurt, angry or inadequate. For example, instead of saying, “You haven’t finished this project,” try, “I understand there is still more to do.” Remember that people are motivated when they feel they are part of a team, so avoid using the word “you.” The listener feels singled out – even attacked – and automatically becomes defensive. Accusing, blaming and sarcasm are deadly practices that kill motivation.

More Than Words

We touched on it earlier, but effective communication is more than the spoken or written word. The best corporate communicators know how to create a working environment that encourages creativity, passion, innovation, motivation and a genuine desire to work toward the company’s success. Creating such an environment involves making team members feel like they belong and drives employee engagement. It means that corporate leaders and managers ensure a nurturing culture where members feel safe, without the fear of bullying or favoritism.

A recent Training Magazine study found that only a small portion of respondents reported receiving praise at work in a given month. Clearly, empty praise is just that – empty. Most people can tell a phony. But genuine appreciation and praise for a job well done builds confidence, loyalty and morale. Leading communicators publicly praise their employees’ work and share big and small successes often to keep teams motivated and strengthen bonds.

Pulling It All Together

Effective leadership starts and ends with purposeful and finely honed communication skills. Listening, foreseeing affirmative outcomes, being truthful, using the right tone and showing appreciation combine to create an environment in which team members feel valued. It’s never too late to refine your communication skills, motivate your team, influence customers and benefit your organization. Today’s great communicators weren’t born with communication skills, they’ve learned and prioritized them. You can, too.

It’s a Virtual Revolution: 5 Big Ways PR is Changing in 2016

By Rosemary Plorin

Looking back, it seems that PR was easier in the old days. Print, radio and television ads ruled.

The world changed at the end of the last century, and we all rushed to shop – and date and advertise – on the Web. And then just a few years later we went 2.0. Suddenly, our neighbor’s opinion of a product or service had as much (or more impact) on our shopping, dining and lifestyle decisions as a well-placed ad.

On top of the constantly changing current of the Internet, our access points to the web have also changed and diversified.  We access ads, news, reviews, reports and research on smartphones, smartwatches, tablets and computers – and don’t forget we still have print, radio and television. Change appears to be the constant.

Because change both comes from and leads to innovation, PR is changing – and in a revolutionary way in 2016. Here’s how.

PR trends_ Rosemary Plorin

Content Again?

It was 1996 when Bill Gates told us “Content is king.” It’s remained true for two decades, but this year’s content PR strategies take it to a whole new level. Great content – without great discovery – doesn’t bear value. Getting the message out in a variety of different ways and engaging viewers to get more eyes on it is crucial in 2016.

How do you engage viewers in today’s distracted world?  With interactive content and content amplification.

Just like before, you begin with high-quality content. No hard-sells or frivolous, keyword filled texts that don’t mean anything. Meaningful and value-added information remains the key to successful content.

Because today’s audiences expect content that’s more personal and immersive, the time for interactive multimedia content is now. Interactivity doesn’t mean simply adding a clickable link to your website (though you still want a clickable link to your site), viewers truly want to engage. Include an interactive infographics where viewers play a game or take a quiz. Bake in a relevant survey question and provide an instant aggregated tally. Give the audience a chance to have fun and fully experience what you have to say.

Done effectively, interactive content gives viewers an incentive to take action and increases audience interest and awareness of your brand. It also increases the likelihood of Facebook and Twitter sharing – add Images and video and increase the odds even more.

Content amplification is important this year. Adding new content to lead generation strategies, articles, white papers, marketing newsletters and emails are a few of the methods you can use to amplify your content in 2016.

Deal With It

Your online reputation is everything. Because it’s so easy for anyone with Internet access to post disparaging reviews or comments, it’s vital that business professionals take control of their company’s online reputation. It’s no longer possible to ignore the haters. When a potential customer searches for your company on Google and the first thing they see is negative, that’s it. They’re moving on to the next provider on the list.

Of course, the best way to avoid negative customer comments online is to prevent negative customer experiences. Leaders should empower team members to effectively handle customer concerns and develop procedures to deal with problems in a positive way.

But even spectacular customer service can’t completely preclude the negative comment. Someone somewhere for some reason (valid or not) will likely post something negative about your company. You can’t stop them. What you can do, however, is combat the negative by consistently creating and publishing high-quality content. Actively engage with customers on social media. Maintain a professional presence and prove your expertise.

Paid Promotions Pay Off

Not much in the online world of PR is argued over more than the use of paid promotions. Many argue they just aren’t that effective and a waste of money. Others disagree, saying paid promotions are an important part of an overall campaign to reach new audiences. The naysayers used to be right. They’re not anymore.

According to the Content Marketing Institute 2016 benchmark report, PR professionals’ use of paid promoted and social media ads to distribute content has increased and, in a switch from previous years, they’re seeing a higher return on their efforts. This is the year to start taking paid promotions and social ads seriously.

Influence and Thought Leadership

Thought leaders are the informed experts in their fields, the go-to people, the oft quoted movers and shakers. Thought leadership consists of building an online reputation as an expert and becoming an industry influencer. As a PR strategy, thought leadership has consistently gained traction in recent years and is a top priority in 2016.

Thought leaders frequently publish expert content on their own blogs, industry blogs, industry publications and in interaction with customers, colleagues and other industry professionals on social media. Thought leaders don’t just give out useful advice, however, they often voice their professional opinions, as in commentary on a relevant industry news site. Stated in a thoughtful and professionally relevant context, a strong opinion increases respect.

Realize, however, that not all thoughts and opinions will land in print. Thought leaders are known for their quotable quotes. For example, Colin Powell famously stated, “There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work and learning from failure.” While there’s no guarantee you’ll become as famous as Colin Powell, if you earn the reputation as an opinion leader and expert in your field, you gain trust.

Prepare for Emerging Technologies

Smartphones have already impacted PR. Content has to fit smaller screens and look good doing it. Wearable watches are a hit with consumers and other wearable Internet-connected devices are on the horizon. Device-tailored content is even more important in 2016. Increasingly, consumers expect instant information on all of their devices. Companies have to include plans for meeting those expectations.

Another PR trend beginning to take hold is virtual reality. (Don’t believe me, checkout Google’s VR shop – and don’t miss the cool new Mattel View-Master VR Starter Pack). Although it may not be right for small business yet, its time is coming. Big companies, like The North Face, use virtual tours to engage customers. Real estate professionals use virtual home tours to attract buyers. It’s just a matter of time before virtual reality makes its way into the mainstream.

2016 is going to be an exciting one in public relations and marketing. It’s time to get the creative juices flowing.

Starting a Business? Don’t Make These 10 Rookie Mistakes

By Rosemary Plorin

By some measures, there’s never been a better time to start a business. Whether you’re starting a business in the hottest industries around or taking an incremental approach to your lifelong passion, there are plenty of tailwinds working in your favor.

Interest rates are still low, so capital is cheap. Though the labor market has tightened somewhat, wage growth is subdued, so labor costs – particularly for non-executive salaries, are fairly manageable. Smart cities and states are falling over each other to offer tax breaks and fiscal incentives to new or relocating businesses. And consumers are reaping the financial rewards of the lowest gas prices in more than a decade, meaning they have more cash to spend.

In short, it’s a favorable environment for many budding entrepreneurs. (Well, it feels that way, at least. Things can always be better.)

A favorable entrepreneurial climate doesn’t mean all pain and no gain for entrepreneurs themselves, though. On the contrary: Starting a business is a major challenge in any economic environment. The first few years of any company’s existence are a veritable minefield, replete with pitfalls that can spell disaster (or at least a serious setback) for business fortunes. If you’d like to traverse this “danger zone” and escape with your company (and life savings) intact, make sure to avoid these 10 common rookie mistakes.


Starting a business_ Rosemary Plorin

1. Trying Too Hard to Sell Yourself, Not Your Product

Reality check: Investors, customers, and even prospective employees don’t necessarily care about you. They care about your product or service — and your ability to deliver and improve it. Many entrepreneurs find it hard to suppress their egos and admit this. The sooner you turn your focus to selling your product, not yourself, the sooner you’ll find the traction you always knew was right around the corner.

2. Trading Time for Money

What’s more valuable: time or money? Most people assume the latter. But, for entrepreneurs, time is very much the prime variable. Whenever you’re presented with (or create) an opportunity to save time without compromising quality, take it. Saved time is scaled time — and that’s great for your bottom line.

3. Making the Perfect the Enemy of the Good

Whether it’s actually true that Thomas Edison failed 10,000 times before his first success, the moral here is clear: If you don’t try, you won’t succeed — no matter how many attempts it takes. If you tinker with an idea until it’s absolutely perfect, someone else may beat you to market with a good facsimile.

4. Skipping Market-Testing

This is a walk-before-you-run type deal. If you don’t do your due diligence on your target audience, you could set yourself up for a huge belly flop when it comes time to release your product or service. That’s not just humiliating. It’s also very, very costly.

5. Playing the Waiting Game

Successful entrepreneurs know they can’t expect opportunity to fall into their laps. They need to create opportunity. They also know how to be opportunistic and seize the day – even if that day comes unexpectedly. Put another way: if you sit around waiting for the “right moment,” whatever that means, you’re likely to be disappointed.

6. Failing to Secure Your IP

Whether your business is built on a black-box process or a simple product, it’s ultimately dependent on intellectual property. Before you take your idea to market or even real its details to investors, do a thorough patent search and, if you’re not stepping on anyone else’s toes, apply for a patent of your own.

7. Trying to Do It All Yourself

When you’re in startup mode, it’s entirely possible that “you” and “your company” will be one and the same. But as soon as conditions allow, you need to delegate and scale — even if that means working with a rotating cast of contractors or tapping the internship markets for some free labor.  Remember that you’re the CEO: try to focus on strategic matters and business growth (not buying supplies and going to the post office every day – if you can avoid it.

8. Going to Market Before You’re Properly Capitalized

You might not have a rich uncle, but that shouldn’t stop you from finding the funding you need. If your idea is compelling, pull out all the stops: crowdfunding, angels, traditional banks, credit cards, you name it. Just don’t go to market before you’ve got enough dough to make a real go of it.

9. Straying from Your Wheelhouse

If you’re not comfortable with the rules, you probably shouldn’t play the game. Translation: stick to what you’re good at, and if you’re not good at whatever your company is supposed to do, hire someone who is.

10. Suppressing Your Sense of Urgency

There’s no better time like the present. Strike while the iron’s hot. Make the most of today.

Whichever metaphor you prefer, the point is obvious: Urgency beats complacency any day of the week. Successful business owners aren’t satisfied when things are going “good” or “fine.” They want things to go great — and get better.

And One Important “Do”

A long list of “do nots” can seem a bit preachy. We all make mistakes, after all. Surely one or two rookie errors from a first time entrepreneur won’t upend a lifetime of ambition?

That’s probably true. Ultimately, the most important rule that any business owner can follow — far more important than any single “don’t” on this list — is an uplifting, affirmative one: Believe in yourself. You may not have all the answers — but, if you have belief, you’ll go farther than you ever thought possible.

Any do’s or don’ts to share from your own experience?

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