Monday, January 23, 2012

Anchoring Your Audience

One of the great things about social media [and there are so many!] is giving people the opportunity and the venue to interact-whether it's with a certain brand, a celebrity, a product, or a college/university. It gives people an outlet to compliment on a job well done or recommend a great product, to ask questions of the company or other followers, and to voice their concerns over an issue or problem they've had and feeling as though the company/brand/school will listen.

Getting a less-than-personal response from the company/brand - or no response at all - is exactly what people who engage with social media DON'T want. They don't want to be ignored. If I'm spending the time to [kindly] point out a flaw, issue, or negative experience I've had or ask a question, I expect a relatively personal response to my specific issue; not some generic, "Thanks so much for your feedback" or "We're always trying to improve! -[insert initials of social media manager here]". On the flip side, when I compliment you, a little personal post/tweet to me goes a long way and builds my allegiance with you and your brand. It makes me feel what I had to say was as important to you as it was to me.

In today's digitally-driven world, many still yearn for/need that personal touch - yes, even when we're sitting behind a desk and staring at a computer screen. Making it personal only creates, builds and strengthens current relationships at any level between brand and consumer.

Recently, I found one of the better examples I've seen of this in one of the most peculiar places: a news agency. I was text messaging my younger sister and after a lull in the conversation, I got a message:

"Monica Pearson tweeted me!"

My sister doesn't tweet all that often and her use of Twitter is minimal, but she had recently started following Pearson, a news anchor at WSB-TV in Atlanta. Not only did Pearson thank her for the follow [a number of celebrities-or their PR staffs-send these types of notes], but she personalized it just by reading my sister's 160-character Twitter bio, taking something from that and mentioning it in her reply. Instant fan for life.

Pearson [@MonicaWSB] appears to use her account for both personal and professional use. But I checked out her feed and was fascinated that she responds to all of her followers in this way.

Dig a little deeper and she regularly interacts with them, answering questions, and agreeing/disagreeing with their point of views.

Is she a mega-celebrity or brand? Nope. Is she getting thousands of follows a day that could possibly inhibit her from doing this? Uh-uh. BUT, she is engaging [my #oneword2012!] with her followers - who are also her viewers [I'd argue many of those people following Pearson are in the Metro Atlanta area]. And by doing this, when they turn on the news and she's staring back at them, they might feel a little bit more of a connection.

Just because she spent 30 seconds going the extra mile.

What she's doing for her own personal brand and for WSB-TV is impressive. After an encounter like this, I'd be more inclined to listen to what she has to say over another anchor. All of the sudden, I like her. Not as an anchor, but as a person. And that means a lot more to me.

In higher education, we're always looking for good content and great strategies to engage our prospective students, parents, and alumni, but at the end of the day, it's [still] all about being personal and making that connection. We could have the best bloggers, the best Web design, the best YouTube videos, and award-winning fundraising publications- but if we're not taking the time to get to know those who want to engage with us, then we're missing the boat.

The bad news? If we don't take the time to interact with them, there is a Monica Pearson out there who is ready to do so on behalf of their college and university [or in the case of advancement and development professionals, there's always another charity or organization looking to get that alum to give to their cause].

And just like that, those 30 seconds you didn't think you had time for before? They become invaluable and critical.

With the Web becoming more social with each passing day, is it expected to make it as personal as Monica does with each follower or each person who posts something about you and your institution? I would argue it's not, but I think it's important to define what is 'personal' at each institution and add a level of personalization to your social media efforts that fits into your budget and time. And maybe someday, not too far in the future, we'll use the words "engagement" and "personal" far more when we're developing our overall marketing and PR goals and strategies.

Monday, January 16, 2012

A New Year, New Blog, & #OneWord2012

I used to think I was keeping up on all things tech-y. After all, in 7th grade it took an after-school meeting with my teachers, my parents and myself to get me off AOL for hours on end in between school and swim practice just to do my science homework.

In high school, I was one of the only one of my friends to have a blog, which I'm also confident none of my friends actually read. In college, I was all over AIM until Facebook entered my life on Thanksgiving 2004. After that, things were never quite the same. Today, I'm constantly checking my iPhone, reading my Twitter feed, and stalking casually searching perusing Facebook. [My boyfriend can attest to all of this, I assure you.]

But even with all of this, I'm nowhere close to being 'in the know' when it comes to the Internets. Today it's not about keeping up, it's about staying ahead of the curve-at least in my line of work it is. The day you decide to learn something tomorrow instead of today is the day you fall behind. And, unfortunately, I'm guilty. So very, very guilty.

I'm sure we all are to an extent - there's just so much 'new' out there. I'm fortunate enough to have a job in a field I've been extremely passionate about my entire life - education - and doing something I truly enjoy - PR, marketing, and writing at an institution of higher education. But in order for me to be valuable in this line of work, it's up to me to keep up and do my best to know how best to muddle through it all and decipher what I need to know in order to be my best Meg, something that has always been important to me.

So this year, in 2012, I have a lot of resolutions [okay, who doesn't?]. One of them is to start blogging. I'm aware I'm 16 days late, but in my defense, I started writing this post on January 4th. [The other resolutions got in the way and yes, I am that critical of myself.]

What will this blog be? Well, it'll be mine. I don't want to define it because I know that will only confine me. I know I've been doing a lot of listening these last 18 months or so, especially within the higher education community. I've gotten some great ideas, developed my own opinions, and started thinking outside the box. There are so many people I've connected with, primarily via Twitter, who have motivated me to be a thinker rather than just a doer. And that's where I find myself today.

It took a bit of time to find my #OneWord2012. There were so many to choose from, but I think the one that defines me best in this year with the goals I have in mind is engage. This year I'll begin contributing to the higher education community in ways I haven't before. I want to engage with those who have inspired me in a meaningful way, whether that's through this blog or elsewhere.

I want to fully engage with my work. I love what I do and want to continue taking the extra time to make something great into something even more extraordinary. This will undoubtedly involve exploring professional development opportunities that don't cut into work and don't require a ton of travel [and hopefully a few that do!]. This will involve a lot of reading and continuing to listen. But it will also involve me putting my thoughts out there, being criticized, being commended and... well, just being out there.

I want to engage more in my personal life. Sounds a bit lofty, but I have things I want to do that I haven't yet and really should be doing. I want to stay in close touch with friends who are far away, and just as important, I want to stay in close touch with friends who live nearby. Sometimes in our technologically-driven ways those who are closest in proximity seem just as far because we interact in the same ways - texting, Facebook, Twitter, email, etc. I need to make a conscience effort to be with them - IRL.

This is just the beginning. I'm really looking forward to 2012 and the changes I'm making. It's going to be a great year (and then some)!