Brand Ambassadors Leading the Brand

The more and more I work with large hospitals working to integrate a social media strategy, educate the organization, and build a community of social media communicators…the more I am learning that the only way you can eat an elephant is one bite at a time. Not as social media communicator, but as a practitioner.

The next task on my agenda, work with a department outside within a “service line”. I had an appointment and met the director and a nurse. What I realized, they had already built a solid strategy for this department’s social media approach: build a community. They just used technology to connect and share branded information that allowed the patients to trust and learn more about the organization.

I sat back and thought…large organizations have so many tentacles, so many messages, so many “brand ambassadors.” We as practitioners need to be careful when implementing a social media strategy before evaluating a the communication strategy. A communication strategy with the organization’s audiences and with the organization’s “brand ambassadors.”

More and more large organizations are talking about a huge social media issue, they have tons of “brand ambassadors”! This is a good thing and can also pose a challenge. If you take a large hospital that has lots of service lines, departments, and thousands of employees that represent the face of the organization…there are probably lots of active social media accounts that are not a part of the strategy.

We are social creatures and we are also technology creatures as well. We want to use something that will connect us with other people that share the same ideas and conversations. It may be a receptionist in a doctors office of a major medical university. The front line relationship for that office because they are the ones who meets the patients on a daily basis. they might think, hey…start a Facebook group to connect with patients and offer them some information that might help them. Connect with them daily and build a relationship with them. The reality, they are one of many people out there doing the same thing, inside an organization.

What comes of this can lead to some interesting conversations. Right now, hospitals across the country are scrambling as fast as they can (especially in marketing departments) to not only understand the social media’s but also create repository of all the accounts and set-up some best practices. Their is a brand identity conversation and for hospitals, a HIPPA conversation.

So…what to do? COMMUNICATE!

You now have “brand ambassadors” within your organization that you can work with to build a Social Media strategy for the whole organization. They are the front line people meeting with those who use the organization’s services. Empower and engage the “brand ambassadors.”

First step…build a team! Empower those “brand ambassadors” in your organization and engage those who are the tentacles to all of the service lines and departments. Build an advisory team and meet regularly.

Second…do a social media assessment of the organization. Spend time finding all of the social media accounts that have been created and identify those who are managing these accounts.

Third…after you have built a list of all the social media accounts within the organization (or someway represent part or whole of the organization), do a message analysis of these account. Learn what messages they are transmitting, what conversations are taking place, and the frequency of these messages.

Fourth…identify the audiences each one of these social media accounts are engaging. Be as specific as possible, drilling down to the very core of this group.

Fifth..compare notes between the messages of the “brand ambassadors” and the organization’s brand. Find the consistencies and the discrepancies.

Sixth…write a social media mission statement for the organization and all the tentacles that fall under the brand. Engage your “brand ambassadors”.

Engage, Communicate, and Tell the Stories.

Video in Blogs: more than the brain dump!

Video production is one of the most time consuming efforts one can take on when trying to create content for online media. It is not only one of the most time consuming but can be one of the most labor intensive and cost prohibited methods to engage an audience via a message. Now, I know that it has become easier to take that small video camera, shoot some video, upload it to YouTube, and post it to the site. But there is a balance: when to use professional based services/equipment and consumer based services/equipment.

As this is one of my areas of offering…I understand the market is shifting with online video content being created and offered by more consumer based models. But, with that said…this leads me to my argument. There are times and places when to use video content for the blog. There are times and places when to use consumer based equipment and when to use more professional based services. Bottomline…it comes down to MESSAGE. Yep!

Regardless of how and why you approach the production, video for the blog can be POWERFUL…Yes, if used the right way! Now, I am not an expert, just a person that understands user-centered applications of video content. I did get my graduate level education based in user-centered design and audience analysis and I been working behind the camera since 1992 with numerous awards for broadcast television excellence. That was the credibility spin for you…but it was to let you know I am not just shooting you a line of bull.

Here are some thoughts to consider when creating video content for your blog:

  1. Do not put all of your eggs in one basket. Basically, no need to feel like you have to record an eight minute video about your thoughts when you can spread out the topics to multipurpose the content.
  2. Multipurpose the content. You are going to invest in time in setting up the equipment to shoot the video, shot lots of short video segments that can be used not only in the blog but in other areas.
  3. Keep the video content to around a minute, and no more than minute and a half. Remember, the attention span of a quick clicking web browser can only engage in video content so long.
  4. Create multiple short video segments within one shoot. I worked with a client and we shot a whole years worth of content in one day, enough to release one video on his blog once a week.
  5. Know that the video content for the blog must either take the complimentary position to the written content or the reverse. Know which is the most important content and shape the post based on this concept.
  6. Research a good technical set-up for the shoot, if you are a one man show. DO NOT sit in front of a mirror or window…the camera will not like that. You can also use a household standing light as your “key light” filling your face to make you not look so dark.
  7. Make sure you have a good audio set-up. This means invest in a microphone that can record you; so you not sound like you are standing across the room.
  8. Consider hiring a video producer/message creator/videographer for this production. This person will help you formulate your message and keep you on task with the message and delivery. They will also help you with the technical side so you can focus on the delivery and not if the camera is going to tip over.
  9. Use the power of YouTube. It helps you with SEO and also with that big homogenous linkage system that powers Google. Plus, it can play on almost all the mobile devices so anyone can view your message within your blog.
  10. If you want to consider private hosting, consider someone that deliver to mobile devices via HTML5 or other javascript based applications. I use Sorenson360 and it has great user analytics from viewership to length of video watched.

So…take with a grain of salt. Give me your thoughts and ask questions.

Remembering A Fallen Hero from Iraq: Memorial Day

When I was working in Special Projects for WCNC-TV back in 2006, we were putting together a special show for fallen heros during the Iraq Conflict. A story came across our radar, one that was done for the News Department on a nightly turn around. This story touched my boss Allison Andrews and she came to me to see if I could re-edit the story, add some touches to it for a special show she wanted to put together.

Some of you do not realize, but in larger television markets; some stations have Special Project/Investigative Units staffed specifically to take stories that had more layers to investigate and invest for in-depth review and production. These stories had a little something different that was worth the extra time and effort. The News Department was tasked to find stories to find and produce within the same day. Sometimes they needed more attention. This story caught our eyes, ears, and hearts. This takes a lot!

You see, I have visited more houses during my time as a journalist, interviewing families who have lost loved ones serving our country. I have conducted more interviews, edited more stories about loved ones lost during their service. More stories than I choose to remember. But I should remember, because it is their service that provides the mere freedom and luxuries that I take for granted during my daily life. I am the only male on my father’s side of the family that did not serve his country. I was a mathematics major at Clemson and should have been in the Navy flying jets. But, I had asthma and the armed services threw up a red flag. Because of this…I try to find some way to honor those who have served in my place.

This Memorial Day, I remember a story from 2006. Marine Staff Sergeant Jason Ramseyer from Lenoir, North Carolina lost his life in a road side bomb in Iraq. It was April 20, 2006 to be exact when his mother and wife received the news that he had past away. He had two girls. I remember you Staff Sergeant Jason Ramseyer, and I am forever grateful for your service to this great nation. You have laid down your life in front of this altar of freedom, more than I could ever do for this great nation.

Here is the story we produced in his honor.
Marine Killed

Here are some links to learn more about Staff Sergeant Jason Ramseyer:
Arlington National Cemetery
Fallen Heros Memorial
Military Times
Black Five
Palm Beach Post

What does it really mean to tell a story? Finding the Zone!

What does it mean to really tell a story? What does it mean to be in the zone? To feel totally connected with the idea you are trying to reach into, understand, taste, smell, iterate? What is the zone…that common place that we feel extremely connected to something not beyond our reach, but beyond our discourse, the language that describes.

Telling rich stories is finding the zone of understanding, comprehension, imagination…and turning that realization into pieces translated so others with like minds comprehend and give language. Language is symbolic. Opposing arguments create connected drama.

I am always in search of a good story. One that puts me in the zone. I am in search of people that want to tell their story, regardless if they admit it or not. I am in search of people and organizations that have a story to tell but yet have no discourse by which to translate so others can see their viewpoint through their lens.

I am looking for layers. Stories with layers engage and are memorable. It is easy to tell the beginning, middle, and end…but what about the stories that are not that simple. Stories, layers, richness that require thought, context, and multiple viewpoints to bring the audience into the zone of complete and utter comprehension. Connection.

What is the zone…the true commonplace. The space that is closed between your idea of comprehension and the place where the orator brings you to see his/her viewpoint. You know that place. It is the place similar to the movie theatre when slowly but surely you loose your peripheral vision and you are totally and completely engaged with the storyline. You forget your surroundings so much that you can almost smell the flowers in the screen, you can feel the water around you. Have you been there before. What does it take to create you own theater? An emotional connection.

The zone is the place where the author/orator meet the audience and they dance to this merry little song where you can recite the words just the way the writer meant for you to sing. That moment at a concert where the singer on the stage pauses during a common part of the song and the audience sings without skipping a beat…you know the zone. The place where audience and author/writer/orator are in complete cadence.

What does it mean to tell a story? Well…it is helping the audience find your zone, their zone and see the same red-string, the same theme in complete agreement.

So you want to have video in your blog? STOP, DROP, & ROLL

So you want to start using video in your blog? You either have a camera, know someone with a camera, or willing to hire someone to produce it professionally? OK…stop, drop, and roll! Seriously, the fire is raging and you better take a chill pill before you pull out the camera!

First…ask yourself this question, why must you use video in your blog? Are you doing it because every other Tom, Dick, and Harry blogger is doing it and the peer pressure to keep up is so overwhelming that you can’t stand it anymore? Are you doing it because you feel like it will bring value to your audience, your customers, or your prospects? Why do you want to do a video blog?

Second, ask yourself…what is your vision for the video blog. Is it going to be this five minute monologue tyraid of you standing in front of the camera re-iterating the very same thing that could bring more value if you just wrote the darn post, and you were too lazy to write it in the first place? What do you really want to communicate? What is your vision?

Third…how do you want this video message to really impact your audience? Do you want to engage the audience with some educational piece that can bring value to their business or life? Or do you want to try to fill them with more useless knowledge that will add to the video noise currently out there competing in this vast space of social media.

Fourth…will the production quality of the video message(s) match the quality of the content? If you hire some jam-up production group to make it look awesome, provide you with high quality deliverables that will look awesome, but the content stinks…atleast they will say it looks good.

OK…now let’s get away from the sarcasm. Before your start a video blog…step back and think about what you really want to communicate and why are you choosing this medium. The video blog needs to bring value to the audiences’ experience and can compliment current content, especially if you have built a readership. The video in the blog needs to be short and sweet and give a true reason why someone will stop and watch. It should be no more than a minute and half! Really 1:30! For it to be effective, you need to do it consistently and provide some sense rhetorically why this blog post warrants a video to accompany the post.

Some of the most successful integration of video in blogs are ones that are unique in content, provide quick usable pieces of information, or shed some light on a subject. They are used on a regular basis where the audience knows there is a reason why someone is talking to them.

I worked with a lawyer where we used a video blog as a means to provide a series of FAQ’s or tid-bits about the law that inform individuals about specific legal statutes. We produced enough video content for close to a year where each video was released once a week. They had a branded introduction and we stored them on YouTube, embedding them on the blog. This provided great SEO especially since we used appropriate tags within YouTube and each blog post. Each one was no more a minute long and we positioned each of them with either a topic, event, or a case.

A great use for video in a blog can be a series of interviews. You can interview a subject and split each video up based on an individual question and response. This will allow an individual to have multiple videos from one interview, then you can spread out a series of post to promote your blog and the topics covered.

So…before you pull out that camera and try to one-up the next person; STOP, DROP, and ROLL. And do not roll the camera. Sit down and plan out the strategy for the video. Think audience, message, and delivery!

You have to be aligned: head, mouth, heart, feet!

After spending two days attending the InnoVenture Southeast Conference in Greenville, SC…I started to think about one of the speakers from the CHPRM’s Conference I attended last week. OK…let’s back-up for a second. Two different conferences, how in the world am I relating these two totally different topic areas: healthcare marketing and innovation/entrepreneurship?

CHPRM’s is the Carolina Healthcare Public Relations and Marketing Society who puts on two conferences each year, one happened this Spring. The opening speaker was a man by the name of Scott Regan who was talking about how to build a better brand. He said one thing that stuck out in my mind,”Be authentic! You have to be aligned: your head, your mouth, you heart, and your feet.” Hmm…makes sense. He then charged us with seven questions:

  1. Who are you?
  2. What is your product?
  3. How is it special?
  4. How is it different from others’ similar offerings?
  5. How can I demonstrate it’s trustworthiness?
  6. How can I demonstrate I am contemporary?
  7. How can I demonstrate cool?

As I walked through the InnoVenture Conference this past few days, I was surrounded by entrepreneurs, medium size to large companies, non-profits, etc. giving 15 minute presentations. These were more than just presentations but more like pitches. Each had to tell what made them special and what they needed to be successful, their elevator pitch. Some real good, some not so articulate. As I sat there…I thought about those seven questions and Scott’s quote: “Be authentic! You have to be aligned: your head, your mouth, you heart, and your feet.”

Creating messages with groups, whether it be a video message, direct mail piece, web landing page, or even a print piece…you have to think as it being a mini-elevator pitch for that particular situation. You have to get rid of the clutter.

I compare writing and executing a 30 second television spot and even 140 character tweet the same as an elevator pitch, asking myself those seven questions. It is easy to sit down and write a presentation for a pitch knowing your time is unlimited or even more than 30 minutes. But imagine having to to trim it to 5 minutes. It is just as hard as writing that same message in a 30 second spot or even a 140 character tweet. You have to be aligned, head, mouth, heart, and feet.

I was writing a script for a small business the other day and one of the first things I asked them to do is write out a one page description of their company’s message. From there, I sat down and spent time talking with them, challenging thought, presented opposing view-points, and began extracting a message. I am looking for that pitch, that memorable piece that if you were riding the elevator with Donald Trump, you would shake his hand, tell him what you do…enough so that you leave him with a taste in his heart to want to ask you to jump off the elevator and talk more.

I would much more prefer writing a memorable pitch, a memorable script, or a memorable piece of marketing that can achieve more in 140 characters (or 30 seconds) that two pages of boring non-sense. OK…I have written 2 hour documentaries and produced long form work that warranted story development, but the principal is still the same.

So what is my point here in this long drawn out madness? We have to be memorable, authentic to survive in this crazy game called business. It is healthy for us to ask ourselves those seven questions and not only apply it to our message, but how we do business. From state supported universities to major big box companies to small businesses…we are trying to leverage what we can to succeed. We have to be aligned in-order to be authentic.

I was talking with Russ Davis from Sandler Sales Institute today as he was explaining how he helps groups become successful. I felt like he and I were speaking the same language, helping people define their objective, understand their audience and goals, and refine the message…drill it down until it is memorable. That Russ Davis…he is a smart guy and so is Scott Regan and John Warner of InnoVenture. Where do you want to go and what do you need to get there? Ask yourself the seven questions and remember to “Be authentic! You have to be aligned: your head, your mouth, you heart, and your feet.” I need a dose of my own medicine!

Pubs are great places to find stories!

I was in Columbia, SC last week doing some work…and going to a conference. I was staying downtown at the Hampton Inn, and as I was finishing up an email when my stomach started the “I want food!” growl. So I thought, I will just take off out the front door and see where I will end up. A half of a block later, I found the Liberty Tap Room…neet bar and restaurant atmosphere. I entered through the side door, and as I made my way through the tables with families, friends, and various people laughing an chatting…I spotted the bar off in the distance. My destination, a quality brew, a small appetizer, and maybe listen for a few stories.

As I climbed up on the bard stool…I noticed the remnants of renovation, innovation.  This old building was transformed into a gathering place, once of industry…now a place to bring industry together for after hour food and spirits. After my first Mighty Arrow, I ordered a plate of chicken nachos to fix the fussing of my inner growl.

After the first brew…it was time for a change, so I asked the waiter for the beer surprise. Give me a pale and do not tell me what it is…but it’s your choice. I have no idea what she brought me…but it was damn tasty. Right as she laid it down in front me, a lady made her way beside me…placing an indecisive order for a drink and a beer. She wanted a cocktail and her friend (her husband) wanted a manly beer. They were looking at this fresco sculpture behind me, commenting on the detail and craftsmanship.

After a few minutes of listening, I piped up and said hello. I noticed they were somewhat quite yet looking around almost like they felt out of place. What did I learn, after three kids and running a small tile laying business, this is the first time they had been out alone to have dinner in probably five years. This was their five year anniversary. They were lost without their kids, their business, and the other things in their life. So I bought them a round of drinks and we talked…well they talked and I listened. These two were totally in love, with each other, their life, their kids, and most importantly, their Clemson Tigers.

I thought I hit the jackpot in Columbia, SC…we were surrounded by Gamecocks. My bar companions that night re-affirmed with everything that was right with the world. Being a small business owner, the desire to have children, having a lovely wife, and our Clemson Tigers.

You never know who you will meet? You never know what connections you will forge. Sometimes it is fun just to go grab a beer in a place where you have never been before, and let the listening ear guide you. It was nice to meet this couple. They had a story to tell…it was fine by me if I meet them again.

Everyone has a story to tell…are we listening?

How political candidates use video to tell their story!

New media is a great new tool that has helped political candidates reach out beyond the traditional outlets, and tell their story. We witnessed history as the first African American ran for the highest political office in America, and he used the power of new media to reach his target audiences…his masses.

He engaged with YouTube, email blasts, Twitter, and other means to distribute his message. He coordinated this video message with television advertising. Then he used all of this connection points to bring the masses to watch a one hour television special from the eyes of his audience, telling their story. He was the host.

The one thing I have noticed when he used online video messaging, it always came from him looking directly at his audience. It was not these taped interviews where he was looking off camera, submitting to q&a from media outlets and pre-produced interview sessions. He had a script, it was well crafted, short and obtainable in one sitting, it was phrased in active voice, and he looked at his audience directly eye to eye, face to face.

He distributed these video messages with that same strategy that they were crafted. He used email blasts with embedded images that gave the illusion that someone was going to click the video and it opened up a landing page where the video would rest. Lots of times it was a place to sign-up to donate, sign-up for a newsletter, or commit to attending a rally or function.  He made this process easy…his team programmed and planned for the user interface to be easy and mindless.

He drove traffic to his YouTube site which housed all of his messages, this done by embedding the YouTube video within the landing page. This helped with SEO and creating digital connection points so that the keywords (the issues) where found easily when people used Google to find information. He created the illusion of the digital conversation.

We as business owners can learn a lot from this campaign, this practice, this initiative. People want to here from us, our story! They want to see us say it. They want to know what we look like, our expressions, our emotions, our passionate delivery. If you have listened to the critical analysis’s of his presidency, they spend a lot of time talking about his expressions. This conversation comes from digital penetration…he has made all of his emotions available but showcasing them on a regular basis for the world to see. Wouldn’t we be so lucky to have the same effect? These tools are out there for us to use! What is your story?

Building a campaign using the “Red-String” of Storytelling

So what is the Red-String when it comes to telling a story? Hmm…well it is the underlying theme that connects all the layers within a story. Bob Dotson of NBC’s American Story talks about telling a good story. A good story is one that is memorable…one with layers. Layers of individual stories bound together by an underlying theme or story-line, hence the “Red-String.”

Think about the best book you have ever read, or one of your favorite movies. It is a bigger story built around little micro-stories connected together by a “Red-String.” Each little scene or story is placed ever so appropriately at the right place, at the right time, in the right sequence to build and “argument” or thought.

Let’s take a look at the “Red-String,” as it is shown here graphically. This is the only way I know how to explain this concept.

As you notice the relationship is somewhat of a linear relationship between the audience’s engagement and time. Over a period of time, the story-line is moving along as the audience engagement increases during each micro-story or plot. As the story-line moves along, the audiences engages with some intensity during the rising and falling actions of each plot. As the story progresses through each plot, from one to the next, it is held together and connected by the “Red-String.”

At a specific point, at the right time…the author brings all the plots together with a reveal or rising action. This is where the “Red-String” ties the knot bringing all the story-lines together reveal the bigger picture, the main plot-line.

So this translates directly to any marketing campaign. It is my opinion that any effective marketing campaign capitalizes on building relationships with target audiences, delivering small messages over time. These messages build to a bigger “reveal” or “call-to-action.” These messages are little stories, micro-stories connected by the underlying theme of the campaign, or the “Red-String.” The point where the main “call-to-action” is placed is at the right time when the “Red-String” ties the knot.

Social Media Technologies are just another technology that is added to the bag of tricks; but what they really are….they are just distribution points. Some professionals refer to them as connection points, a point that allow users to interact with distinct audiences. Social Media outlets are just a bit different because they carry one inherent value that closely relates to word of mouth marketing, they use relationships as driving force. To build engagement, your must build trust…to decide to become a “friend,” “fan,” or “follower.”

The “Audience Engagement” axis is extremely important part of this discussion. Lots of professionals create Social Media “accounts” and immediately start marketing the goods/services. Unless you are “Hot” brand…you need to spend time building audience engagement before implementing an effective “call-to-action” campaign.

This is where the idea of “listening” is so critical. As in any relationship, trust has to be gained and the relationships have to be forged. As the trust builds, and the conversation increases, the audiences grow. And slowly over time, the stories can be distributed to create an awareness for the campaign. This is where the true effectiveness of the “Red-String” ties the knots of the stories, the campaigns, the message.

So in the world of storytelling, are you telling those stories that are connected by the “Red-String?” Is your campaign relevant or just a bunch of little messages with no direction, purpose, of relevant placement. What is the “Red-String” in your campaign?

Listening…the lost art?

When is the last time you went to dinner or went to grab a drink by yourself to listen? You know, take the time to walk down to the ole watering hole and enjoyed a good drink to listen? Sat down with the sole purpose of listening to the stories around you? There are so many stories to be shared at the local watering hole. People enjoying conversation, ole times, catching up, beating their chest, war stories…ones that connect and make us feel real.

Listening…the lost art.
Sometimes while on trips, I like to find a bar, pick a stool in the middle, order a brew, and listen. Instead of facing straight ahead or looking right at the television, turn sideways and engage in a new conversation. How do we listen? We read body language and listen to the stories that we can relate.

Asking questions…inquiry.
The easiest way to listen is to find someone you can relate and ask questions. Empowering your audience to share. Putting the people you can relate in a position to share and empower you. Asking questions provides connection and willingness to engage.

Stories from questions…empower our audiences.
Questions come from listening and listening comes form questions. We all like to learn and we as humans are social creatures. We connect with those willing to share the stories and that inspire emotion. Quality questions come from those who listen to their audiences. When we want to hear rich stories, we ask, we inquire, we explore, and we search for the red-string that connects our stories to theirs. This empowers our relationships.

When is the last time you have gone into a public place, a bar, a meeting, a networking event…and spent more time asking questions than answering? When is the last time you have inquired about others experiences than filling the void of the conversation with your own? It is amazing who we can meet, what we can learn, people we can empower, and relationships we can build.

Storytelling is not a lost art!

Storytelling is the art of listening…to tell others stories. Our stories get old after a while especially when we have told them so many times they get to old to find the new iteration to make people engage. Telling others’ stories is lot more fun when we listen and tell others stories. Are you a storyteller or are you one that just tells your own story? Our own stories gets old after a while…take a few minutes to listen.