Failure or Forward? The competing frames in the 2012 presidential campaign

Today's blog is posted by Jerry Johnson, executive vice president at Brodeur Partners.

You may have noticed there’s a presidential election underway. It is a contest between two candidates and two political parties, to be sure. But it’s more than that; a contest between two “frames” of how we view the current political and economic landscape.

The frame that Governor Romney and his campaign would like you to see through goes something like this:

The current presidential policies have failed. They have not produced the employment and economic growth that was promised and that we need. Worse, they continue the nation and society down an unsustainable path of big government and even bigger government deficits. The reason the President’s policies have failed is because they don’t follow the principles that historically have made our country and society strong – capitalism and free enterprise.

The campaign slogan for the Romney campaign is “Believe in America” but – arguably – the frame is “failure”. President Obama promised renewed growth, reduced unemployment, and reducing the deficit. That hasn’t happened. If you look at the presidency and politics from this vantage point, the bet is that you’ll vote for Governor Romney.

The frame President Obama and his campaign would like you to see through goes something like this:

We are slowly rebuilding from one of the worst economic crises in recent history – a crisis brought about by policies that favor the few at the cost of the working middle class. Now is not the time to go back to the policies that got us into this mess in the first place. We built our nation based on the principles of fairness and equal opportunity. That means moving forward with policies that invest in people.

The campaign slogan for the Obama campaign is “Forward.” This is also – arguably – the frame. Tax reductions for the rich only increased the gap between rich and poor. Indiscriminate deregulation led to the corporate hijinks that taxpayers ended up paying for. Given the struggles of the middle class and precarious state of the economy, now is not the time to slash investments in things like infrastructure, education and the environment. If that’s your frame, the Obama campaign is betting you’ll vote to re-elect the president.

Framing is not unique to politics. It is intrinsic to being human. It is how our brain organizes or “fits” what is going on around us in a manner that allows us to make sense of the world. The concept was made popular by cognitive linguist George Lakoff in his book Metaphors We Live By (later amplified for political communication in Moral Politics). The latest in neuroscience and behavioral research confirms this basic theory – that people are pattern seekers. We look for patterns and frames that help us make sense of both ourselves and those around us. Science writer Michael Shermer, in his book The Believing Brain, puts it this way:

The brain is a belief engine. From sensory data flowing in through the senses, the brain naturally begins to look for patterns, and then infuses those patterns with meaning.

Great communications is the perfect balance between tapping into existing people’s patterns and frames while identifying and introducing new ways of looking at things. Key to that is identifying personally relevant factors that can “change the frame.”

Sometimes it can be as simple as marrying two seemingly disparate elements that get people to rethink an old way of looking at things. A good example is the current American Cancer Society campaign (which Brodeur is part of) that frames the organization not around the disease of cancer but the ultimate goal of the organization – giving people more birthdays. Another example is a campaign recently launched by Pfizer with the surprising tagline “Get Old.” Together with nearly a dozen advocacy organizations, it is reframing the whole notion of aging and what it means to be “old.”

Most times, framing focuses on identifying an underlying feeling or emotion that can trigger or crystallize an action that you may already be predisposed to do. Rather than confront, the frame nudges you towards a desired behavior. In the case of the two presidential campaigns, the ultimate behavior is a vote on November 6th.

The winner will be more than just one of the two candidates. Beyond the candidates, the contest is between two different frameworks for political and economic action.

It will be a plebiscite on which frame is the most relevant and meaningful to voters.

To differentiate, don't make these 7 mistakes

Most companies make the same mistakes when trying to differentiate their brand, products and services:

  1. They look inward, not outward – Differentiation isn’t about “making up” your company’s difference, it’s finding what objectively, authentically sets it apart. Understanding what customers / consumers need and discovering how your product / service fulfills them (or not) is the best place to start. Successful brands spur conversations and build movements.
  2. They don't engage – Despite all the lessons learned from social media, only 16% of companies fully integrate social media. Actively engaging with customers/consumers in a two-way dialogue differentiates brands from static, one-way communicators.
  3. They aren't bold – They pay homage to the God of Safe. Don’t speak colorfully. Never take risks. Don’t invest time expressing visually (with video, infographics, images). Why tell stories when you can recite facts? Always be business-like and never reveal a human side.
  4. They shy away from competition – This one always surprises me because at the C-level – and in the sales trenches – companies constantly sweat the challenges of competition, winning and losing deals. But instead of acknowledging the existence of competition, most companies shy away, acting like theirs is the only candy in the shop. Facing up to competition doesn’t mean companies have to name names or be arrogant. There are many ways to communicate differences in a professional yet more meaningful way.
  5. They aren't relevant – To become (and remain) relevant, brands need to fully engage sensory, social and emotional elements ... not just the rational. When something is relevant, the brand, product or cause becomes part of who we are. We self-identify and move from passive to involved, from indifferent to eager, and are willing (and eager) to act (buy, vote, recommend, etc.).
  6. They don't prove it – It’s one thing to convey competence; it’s another to offer up proof. Getting customers/consumers to express their views about your company/service in first-person language has a profound impact: it enables prospects to relate because they interpret your brand through a more personal lens.
  7. They don't focus on one thing – As companies attempt to zero-in on their customer-centric benefits, they compile long lists of capabilities and attributes. But they often fail to whittle all this down to one believable, sustainable advantage. Less is more – standing for one thing creates memorability.

Do these 10 things to improve thought leadership

Companies create thought leadership to forge a differentiated position for themselves. By developing compelling high-level ideas, the organization creates competitive advantage because the marketplace perceives its creator as a visionary seer and interpreter: a company shaping the agenda vs. responding. Great thought leadership campaigns create an offensive vs. defensive position and build brands.
 
Here’s what you need to know to become a thought leader:
1. Look outward, not inward – Begin by creating a big picture idea with relevance to targeted stakeholders. The idea isn’t myopically focused; it has appeal to others outside your company. While it doesn’t have to speak to a vast universe, it must resonate with a relevant market or market segment. Pervasive thought leadership platforms cleverly rise above (A) a company, (B) its products, (C) its technologies, and (D) its services. Ways you can develop thought leadership include: (a) talk to consumers/customers and uncover what they’re worried about/thinking about; (b) study your competition to find untapped content zones; (c) share what you know including lessons learned, marketplace insight and even a little IP; (d) discover the “unmet need” and forge a viewpoint on how to meet it; and (e) conduct original research.
 2.Take a stance – If your organization is trying to get noticed, don’t be boring. Color and controversy are good things; you’re trying to catalyze an active, recurring conversation.
 3.Create forward appeal – Memorable thought leadership isn’t a rehash of where things have been, it’s a brilliant definition of how things should be and where they should be headed. It’s a desired state with emphasis on benefits. It’s a new, fresh idea.
 4.Have a long life – You’re not creating a short-lived advertising tagline or a bumper sticker …it’s a definitional stake-in-the-ground for sustained corporate messaging. IBM’s Smarter Planet is a great example – it has topical and distribution “legs,” and thus can last a long time.
 5.Create compelling content regularly – Today’s effective thought leaders understand the power of creating a steady flow of original content that’s clever and can be distributed across traditional and social outlets. Look no further than McKinsey…they publish five journals on a regular basis including the McKinsey Quarterly. Content should be diversified…from video and blogs to events and website to images and advertising to research and published articles.
 6.Push the ball up the floor – Great thought leaders don’t sit back and say, “Give me a call when you want to talk about this idea.” They’re bold, aggressive and in-your-face. They leverage social media and digital platforms to proliferate ideas, stimulate conversations and build community.
 7.It’s people, not just ideas – Compelling thought leadership involves ideas and content, yes, but also people. Carefully chosen spokespersons personify thought leadership ideas and help gain traction. Klout.com made noise with its “Klout Scale” which measures online influence. People personify ideas, and in today’s digital age, they come in a wide variety:

 

 

  8.Be open to envy – Effective thought leadership ideas are embraced (sometimes readily) by others. The ideas are so strong and compelling that direct competitors may overtly or indirectly respond to and co-opt the idea.
 9.Make a difference - For the bold and socially minded, there’s an even higher state of thought leadership. Companies can rise above their own market niches (and self-interests) by authentically making their world a better place to live. Cases in point: TOMS Shoes, Stonyfield Farms and Brighter Planet. These for-profit entities give back and make a difference. Consumers, in turn, endorse these brands with their pocketbooks, preferring to do business with companies supporting a broader vision.
 10.Don’t forget natural search and lead gen – Thought leadership is cannon fire; lead gen is rifle shot. As your organization is increasingly perceived as a thought leader, people will seek out your perspective and will be open to registering for content access. The two feed off each other.

CEOs who make PR programs great

I've collaborated with over 300 chief executive officers, from the world's largest global brands to established independents to VC-funded startups.

What jumps out is how few of them were personally instrumental at positively transforming communications and public relations programs.

The 80/20 rule holds true. 80 percent of my CEO experiences were middle of-the-road from the point of view of “making the PR effort better.” These middle-of-the-road CEOs didn’t do anything horrific, they just never put real skin in the game. They did what we needed them to do, nothing more, nothing less.Ten percent were dreadful. They paid lip service to public relations, never got genuinely engaged and expected miracle results without investing any effort. They’re the easiest to recall because they were often self-absorbed and sometimes arrogant, myopic and bullheaded, belligerent and autocratic. Some of these CEOs ruined their own companies. Others lost their personal reputations -- visibly and publicly -- due to fundamental personality flaws. Cases in point: one was arrested, prosecuted and ended up in prison. Two were profiled on the front page of the Wall Street Journal in scathing exposes.
 
The remaining 10 percent stand out in my mind’s eye as clearly as the dreadfuls, but for a better reason. These CEOs were enlivening, vigorous, catalyzing leaders who worked hard to take public relations programs to a new level.
 
My six best CEOs shared similar attributes: enthusiasm, personal humility, straightforwardness, class, and a belief that great reputations are earned, not deserved.
 
One of my favorite CEOs was an engineer by training. I call him Mr. Engage. He was most comfortable hanging with his software development teams, but once we pulled him out of the R&D labs, he lit up the room with his technical and competitive knowledge. He made PR programs better by becoming intellectually engaged. He didn’t just go through the motions, he shaped discussions. He disagreed, pushed back, offered refreshing points of view and always kept the discussion lively. He didn’t suffer fools lightly and was a great match for the toughest bloggers, reporters and analysts.

Mr. Credibility has endeared himself to customers, employees and media because he tells it like it is, the good and the bad, and isn’t myopic. When something isn’t right with his own product, he shares this. Conversely, when his company and/or products are clearly better than the competition, he isn’t shy to say this either, but does so in a way that proves his opinion is rooted in fact, not hype. Mr. Credibility sees the competitive forest clearly and doesn’t live in a “my company is always great” world. He made the PR program great by keeping the company vigorously focused on earning customer trust by delivering products that exceed expectations.

Ms. Social made an early intellectual leap to the emerging world of social media, then took bold action. Even though her company sells B2B vs. B2C, she understood the potential impact of building a grassroots following, especially with her customers. She figuratively jumped off the cliff, opening up her company’s brand to two-way conversations with newly forming online communities (which she helped create). Ms. Social embraced Twitter when everyone wondered if it was a fad. She  made sure her company blogged at a high level with non-myopic issues, trends and topics that people would search on naturally. Ms. Social made the PR program better by taking risks and trying new things that had never been done. While some panned out and others didn’t, the net-net is she created competitive advantage over others acted slowly or failed to seize the opportunity. 
 
Ms. Caring understands how great brands are built by going beyond solid products, profit and revenue. By creating an empowered culture of giving back within her organization, Ms. Caring has transformed her company's brand. She makes the PR program greater by increasing relevance with consumers, customers and other stakeholders who prefer buying from (and dealing with) companies who make the world a better place.

Mr. Focus is disciplined. Unlike many CEOs who want it all (or are satisfied for only a brief period of time), this particular executive continually pushes back to make sure PR efforts deliver needed value. While he’s passionate about focus, he’s also one of the most energetic and engaging CEOs I’ve ever worked with. He listens with excruciating patience and his expectations are adjustable. He makes the PR program better by truly understanding how public relations works, getting personally involved, pushing back, and focusing himself -- and us -- on the most important things.
 
Mr. Genuine headed a Fortune 50 company and personally made tens of millions of dollars but never let this consume him. He didn’t have a large ego, and was amazingly serene and genuinely personable. He made each individual feel like they were the only person in the room. He was patient and a great listener. He transformed his company from highly political to open and fair. He made the PR program great by subsuming his own ego and being able to take advice from his internal communications team and external PR firm.
 
If you have the opportunity to collaborate with a truly great CEO, enjoy the ride and remember to leverage this asset to the fullest. It’s a rare moment in a career, one that will remain as indelible as an early morning run down a fresh powder trail.

The 6 mistakes companies make trying to differentiate

There aren’t many B2B companies that wouldn’t be delighted with a more differentiated brand position.
In an era where markets and technologies are zippily becoming commodities, the ability to authentically (and persuasively) spotlight a corporate difference remains a salivating need.

Why is standing out so difficult? Putting aside (major) issues like inferior products or insufficient market demand, most companies repeat the same common mistakes:

  1. They look inward, not outward – Differentiation isn’t about “making up” your company’s difference, it’s finding what objectively, authentically sets it apart. Understand what your customers/consumers want and discover how your product/service fulfills them (or not).
  2. They refuse to focus on one thing – As companies attempt to zero-in on their customer-centric benefits, they compile lists of attributes cutting across multiple vertical industries and product offerings. But they fail to whittle them down to a believable, sustainable advantage. Less is more – standing for one thing creates remembrance.
  3. Their messaging is neutral – Most B2B companies sound remarkably alike. They rely on an impersonal second-person voice; focus mainly on capabilities and product attributes; and share   too much detail. What happens? They convey a competent, but neutral, persona.
  4. They aren’t bold - This philosophy of brand neutrality pays homage to the God of Safe. Don’t challenge (Yikes!). Don’t speak colorfully (what if it turns someone off?). Never take risks (lest you offend). Don’t reveal human emotion (we’re a company!) Avoid expressing visually vs. textually (it’s so much work!) Recite facts vs. telling stories (safe!). Always be business-like, never lighthearted (they’ll think we’re not serious!).
  5. They shy away from the competition – This one always surprises me because at the C-level – and in the sales trenches – B2B companies constantly sweat the challenges of competition, winning and losing deals. But instead of acknowledging the existence of competition, most companies shy away, acting like theirs is the only candy in the shop. Facing up to the competition doesn’t mean companies have to name names – they can also successfully communicate differences indirectly.
  6. They don’t prove it – it’s one thing to convey competence; it’s another thing to offer up proof. Getting customers to talk about your company/service in first person language has a profound impact: it makes prospects and customers relate because it’s through their lens, not yours.

5 reasons why "polymath" people & E2.0 technology are fueling a PR renaissance

Vinnie MirchandaniWednesday I experienced a cool one-two punch: Enterprise 2.0 & Vinnie Mirchandani.
If you’re not familiar with Enterprise 2.0 (E2.0) it’s an annual event focused on online collaboration/ social media tools that engage and transform people at work. (Full disclosure: one of our clients, NewsGator, is a leader in this industry).  
If you’re not familiar with Vinnie Mirchandani, he’s a former Gartner analyst, active blogger and author of “The New Polymath.”
What’s a “polymath?” It’s the Greek word for Renaissance Man (Vinnie needs to integrate an equivalent word for women). From DaVinci to Franklin, polymaths innovated the problems of the day; as Vinnie said, “they are good at many things.”
Vinnie was presenting at E2.0 because it’s a place where technology polymaths and polymath organizations hang out. Smart companies understand how a unified, communicative workforce outmaneuvers a fragmented one. Instead of keeping employees in the dark, or relying on outdated technologies like email to communicate, they’re embracing tools that foster meaningful collaboration. 

Vinnie said the characteristics of E2.0 organizations are these:

  • Ambitious community from day one – aiming for “enterprise” not a single tech category
  • People, more than machine, centric
  • Early adopter of social networks
  • Well connected around globe
  • Ethical – advocates for transparency
  • Media/PR savvy
He believes “polymathing” (if I can turn it into a verb) is the key to innovThe New Polymath by Vinnie Mirchandaniation because it encourages curiosity and “an openness to accept ideas from left field.” It also triggers the “building of widely-rounded enterprises” that are more adept at discovering new markets and technologies. Polymath thinking is helping our world tackle and resolve the “grand challenges” of our day.

Vinnie believes the world of E2.0 is creating a need for more “black swan” public relations as crises reveal themselves instantly and spread more virally than ever before. “Look no further than BP and Toyota,” he said, “it could happen to any of you.”

For communications professionals, branding gurus and PR experts, there are five takeaways:

5.  Good communications starts internally, not externally. Engage and empower your employees first – start there. Adopting new enterprise 2.0 technologies will help. 

4.  The functions of communications/branding/PR no longer reside within the confines of a “department.” These walls are breaking down and should keep breaking down.

3.  Communications 2.0 must be holistic, embracing the entire organization and all stakeholders. Communication experts can strategize, monitor and help shape, but “non-communication experts” will positively contribute to brand enhancement when properly engaged.  

2.  Transparency remains a vital idea, not a cliché. Top-down autocracy is dead. Two-way communication triggers curiosity and fresh ideas.

1.  Public relations is in an ideal position to catalyze this historic change. Remember what Vinnie said: the world of enterprise 2.0 is defined by organizations that are “people-centric,” “globally well-connected,” “advocates for transparency” and “media/PR savvy.” That’s us, right? 

Six branding lessons from "Lost"

I already miss “Lost.” Arguably, no TV show since “The X Files” was as gripping within the sci-fi genre (or whatever pseudo category Lost fit in).
 
There are lessons to be learned from “Lost” for communications professionals trying to build memorable brands:
 
Character development hooks – “Lost” grabbed us because of its fully-developed cast of believable characters. The writers gave us plenty of time to get to know them, building complex, multi-dimensional views. And not just in the here and now. We cared about these people, we hated some, we felt bad for others. They were our friends; we knew them.
 
Take risks – “Lost” was about plane crash victims stranded on a mysterious desert island. But its writers stripped it of clichés, envisioning bizarre happenings – from time travelling to polar bears to marauding black smoke. Major characters were sacrificed. A paraplegic could walk again, was killed off and later became death personified.
 
Keep it fresh – “Lost” was a giant onion with layers & layers of interconnections across all characters. It wasn’t enough to tell the tale of Ben leading ‘the Others’ or Sawyer as a former con man, they kept adding new dimensions. Just when you thought you had a character figured out, a new angle emerged. Jack was good, Jack was a leader, Jack was confused, Jack was angry, Jack was scared.
 
Connect the dots to build understanding – Every episode introduced confounding elements. But in the end, their writers brought most of it together, explaining why dead guys were walking around the island, what “Smokey” was all about and how Jacob came to be. They made creative zaniness work. They gave us enough information to form our conclusions without forcing a rigid interpretation.
 
Tell great stories – It’s harder to recall facts, but we remember interesting stories. They have beginnings, middles and ends. Stories have challenges and conflicts followed by struggle and resolution. They feature memorable characters. And they grab us. “Lost” personified classic storytelling elements.
 
Carve out a distinct position – How many reality, medical and law enforcement shows are there on TV? Certainly enough to exceed two hand counting. “Lost” stood out. It was the only show of its type on the air. It wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but it became one of the best of all time in part because it was so distinctive.
 
We can apply these same lessons to our communications, branding and public relations efforts. A little “Lost” can get a company or organization found.

7 proof points validating the Dali Lama is right about our growing social consciousness

The Dalai Lama visited the Today Show yesterday, his first visit to an American morning news show. It was surreal.
After making his entrance in a black limo, he greeted Ann, shook hands with Meredith, Al and Matt, and settled, sandal-free-foot-tucked-under.
Ann asked him if the world is getting better or worse. His Holiness quickly said “getting better.” 
The spiritual leader of the Tibetan people contrasted the 20th century with the 21st, saying there will be “much change in the human experience,” and there will be much “more compassion” during this century. He discussed how positive action, vision and motivation will continue to manifest itself and why the right attitude can reduce man-made problems.
As one of millions involved in social responsibility, I instinctively agreed. The facts seem to bear it out.

Consider: 

  •  Plenty of data supports the growing humanization of our planet. Corporations that previously donated money and then considered their job done, now have a deeply and authentically ingrained giving-back ethic. They’re no longer posturing, or just being philanthropic, but working hard to solve society’s problems and genuinely make a difference.
  •  According to the 2010 Deloitte Volunteer IMPACT Survey, more than eight in 10 companies (84 percent) believe volunteerism can help nonprofits accomplish long-term social goals. Corporate managers believe the top benefits of workplace volunteerism include alleviating a social issue (36 percent), helping nonprofits function more effectively (31 percent) and serving more clients (31 percent).
  • On the individual level, 84% of Americans believe their ideas can help companies create products and services that are a win for consumers, business and society, according to the 2010 Cone Shared Responsibility Study.
  • Bob Gilbreath, chief marketing strategist at Bridge Worldwide and author of “Marketing with Meaning,” reported that 71% of consumers are giving as much or more now as they were before the economic downturn. He reported 87% of consumers would switch brands based on association with a good cause and 50% of consumers would pay more for products from brands that support causes. The Cone Roper survey has validated this trend for years. 
  • Chris MacDonald, who’s #61 on Ethisphere’s list of the 100 most influential people in business ethics, recently called this “the golden age of ethical business.”
  • The 2010 Corporate Citizenship Report, a collaborative project of the Entrepreneurs Foundation and the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, said, "Sustainability, the integration of people and planet into a company's purpose,” is on the radar for 73% of the respondents and becoming more important. “Environmental initiatives are saving money for companies and consumers, while environmentally conscientious companies are favorably perceived both in the marketplace and by prospective employees."
  • Dave Stangis, Vice President of CSR and Sustainability at Campbell’s Soup said, “The emergence of the VP of CSR and VP of Sustainability titles seems proof of the growing strategic business position of CSR.” As validation, SustainableBusiness reported the posting of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) jobs increased 33% in 4Q09.
The Dalai Lama said news media tends to “highlight negative things,” and we “take positive things for granted.” But media is beginning to transform too; the major network nightly news programs, for example, often end with an upbeat making-the-world-better story.

5 reasons CEO's hesitate to adopt social media

With so much talk about social media (especially in the PR/communications/branding industry), you might think every company is excited about it and actively participating.
Well, that’s still not the case.

According to the 2009 Business.com B2B social media benchmark study:
• Only 22% of B2C companies use social media to produce webinars or podcasts
• Only 36% of B2B companies use it for recruiting
• Only 55% of B2C companies host blogs
• Only 50% of B2B companies upload content to social networks
• Only 49% of B2C companies are using Twitter

While many not-for-profits, consumer-facing and B2B companies are all over social media, many remain laggards, hesitant to take the dip.

Why the fear, uncertainty and trepidation (or lack of belief in social media)? 

Here are the 5 most often heard misconceptions some CEO’s still have about social media: 

5. “It’s too time consuming” – Many companies are hesitant because they know it takes time – and talent – to do it right. Social media isn’t a start-stop thing; consistency is the key to ROI, proof and returns. The companies who hold this view typically don’t have the infrastructure to Tweet, blog, comment, refine and search. While it’s not a good idea to start writing a blog and then stop (leaving black holes for weeks or months), it may be – arguably – even worse to never begin at all because measurable opportunity is lost. The more companies experiment with social media and learn from it, the more corporate confidence will grow.

4. “It’s still early days” - YouTube just celebrated its 5 year anniversary. LinkedIn has been in widespread use since 2005. Blogs have been mainstream since 2004 and over 5 million are being created monthly. Despite this ample evidence, many companies have the misconception that social media is still emerging. They’re waiting for more … evidence. 

3. “Where’s the proof?” – Some executives of small- to mid-size companies look around their immediate ecosystem and draw wrong conclusions. Employees aren’t using social media for the business, but it’s because management isn’t advocating it. Traditional marketing campaigns may appear to be producing meaningful-enough results, but that’s because the superior measurement data generated by social media isn’t being generated. The CEO also isn’t feeling the heat from any … competitors.

2. “My competitors aren’t doing it” – Some companies compete in markets where nearly all the players parody each other. Differentiation is non-existent. Price is the only edge. Everyone sounds the same; they all co-opt each other’s messaging. Companies lead with feature-laden product discussions. There’s no brand personality. Everyone’s stuck, afraid to make a move in a new direction, worried about risking a misperception from … customers. 

1. “My customers don’t use it” – This is the most common refrain of all from CEO’s. “My customers aren’t on Facebook. They don’t buy products after watching YouTube videos. They don’t read blogs. So why should we use social media?” While this may be the reality, today, the truth is it’s another Catch-22: customers aren’t using social media because the companies they deal with aren’t using it. Social media is transformational: once companies start using it, their customers get engaged.  Individual voices come alive within a previously personality-free corporation and create brand personalities that yield competitive edge. You have to build the bridges first, then people cross over, communities get built and results follow.

Seven social media lessons from Nestle's reputation crisis

If a company still doesn’t "get" how social media has changed the rules of branding by empowering consumers, look no further than the ongoing Nestle firestorm.
 
Nestle has been in trouble for awhile, mostly related to its continuing use of palm oil in its products. Palm oil is linked to environmental nastiness, including deforestation, greenhouse gas emissions and endangered species loss.
 
Caroline McCarthy of CNET News shared a balanced post about the Nestle brand crisis, triggered by ticked off consumers on Facebook. Nestle was clueless about the power shift enabled by social media and acted in an old-school authoritarian “we own the brand” way. It not only didn’t work, it backfired.
 
There are vital lessons from the Nestle debacle for professional communicators advising their execs or clients: 
 
1.     Before diving into social media, make sure key decision makers who think they want to go social media truly “get” how the game is played. It’s not a press release.
 
2.     Make sure they understand how Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. aren’t one way vehicles (where the brand dominates the message), but an invitation to a never ending dance with constantly changing partners, some of whom are never your friend and may only want to dance if they can slap your ego and try to make you a better dancer.
 
3.     Don’t go social media unless the brand is willing to take the risk of jumping off the cliff, giving up control to customers and consumers who will express their viewpoints, both positive and negative.
 
4.     If your company or client wants to control the message, then social media isn’t for them. Look at how Nestle tried to tell people not to post their logos. It will incur a wrath not unlike "It’s not OK for people to use altered versions of your logos but it’s OK for you to alter the face of Indonesian rainforests? Wow!"
   
5.     Creating LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter accounts is just the first step. The goal isn’t to tweet or post, it’s to build an active community and an authentic two-way relationship based on trust. It’s easy to get started in social media, but time-consuming and challenging to remain engaged and build a following.
 
6.     Remember that even if your company or client decides not to engage in social media, this won’t stop rants, rebellion and revolution. People will find a way to express themselves and let it be known they’re disturbed, upset, confused, disappointed or whatever the view. The train has left the station, so be prepared.
 
7.     As we’ve learned from Nestle (and so many others), people don’t want to be scammed, ignored or mistreated. It will come back to bite you. So if your exec or client wants social media to become a positive tool, the brand must be a concerned good listener prepared to take action to correct situations that aren’t right.

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