Posted by: beckyjohns | May 18, 2010

I’ve moved!

Thanks for visiting, but please head over to to see my new blogging home. All future updates will be posted there.


Posted by: beckyjohns | April 28, 2010

4 Rules for Social Media Success

Last week, PR professionals from across Michigan attended the PRSA 2010 Michigan Conference, PRevolution. Attendees heard a keynote by Peter Shankman, a successful entrepreneur, author, PR firm owner and founder of HARO, one of the biggest game-changers in public relations in recent years. Peter has been starting businesses, working in PR and navigating through the social media space for years and shared four simple rules to remember when communicating on the social web.

Rule 1: Be Transparent. Since content started living online, information has decided it wanted to be free. Traditional media outlets no longer control news and the dissemination of information is happening in real-time, shared via social media channels. The concept of a company successfully hiding less-than favorable news is no longer plausible, so it’s more important than ever to be out in front of sharing both good news and bad. If you screw up, get in front of it, admit it, apologize and move on. The quickest way to get a negative story blown up into a bigger deal and spread to a wider audience is to try to hide it.

Rule 2: Be Relevant. Information is coming at us in so many different ways, it’s a huge challenge to stay relevant. As PR professionals, it is our job to tell our company’s or client’s story to the people that need to hear it. Only the interesting tidbits will stand out in the constant stimulus stream, so finding creative ways to share a message is key.

Ask your customers how they want their information. Plain and simple. Social media offers an opportunity to talk directly to them, so use it to find out how they consume information, how they like to experience content and then give it to them that way. People love to be “finders” online and when we discover something cool or interesting, we share it with our networks. Be relevant by providing good stuff to talk about.

Rule 3: Be brief. Attention spans are short, and the window of opportunity to grab that attention is somewhere in the neighborhood of two and a half seconds. Yes, 2.5 seconds, about the amount of time it takes to read a tweet, status update or text message. These short messages are teasers, meant to hook a reader and bring them in for more. The key to success here: learn to write.

No matter how much things change, a well-written message is still going to be the most important tool for telling a story and sharing accurate information. PR professionals need to be great writers and have the ability to give information completely and concisely. Even more, much of the world is reading everything via mobile devices, so brevity is even more important on a few-inch screen. Don’t clutter your messaging with links and corporate when all you really need to do is get to the point.

Rule 4: Be top of mind. This is simple to do and fundamental for success. We remember the things we experience that are interesting, easy to understand and relate to what matters in our lives. Remember, social media is still a means to talk to other human beings, so we’ve got to remember to relate to each other that way. Staying top of mind is as easy as staying in touch, wishing a happy birthday on facebook and talking to your audience rather than at them.

The best relationships between PR professionals and reporters are those that are ongoing and mutually beneficial because both sides feel they can reach out at any time.  If you’re practicing good media relations, you know what your targeted reporters are covering, what’s happening in your industry and making yourself or your clients available to be  helpful sources for stories. By simply keeping in touch and nourishing a relationship, you’ll be top of mind when that reporter needs information you can provide.

At the end of the day, online relationships are merely extensions of real-life relationships. Social media is about trust. If you become a source people care about, followers and friends will read and share what you post.

Additionally, I want to address one more thing. A post popped up over at PR Cog’s blog earlier this week, taking some out-of-context soundbites tweeted during this presentation and doing its best to take them and turn it into an example of bad or misguided advice for PR professionals at the conference. The author titled it “No More Kool-Aid” and seems to think the attendees drank a little too much. I left a comment, asking the author to read the solid information and helpful reminders that were really shared by Peter and not just the quirky sayings with “tweetable” rhetorical impact. The post made a good point about thinking critically about the things we hear and read and not to consume information as truth simply because it comes from a popular name like Peter Shankman.

I got a little frustrated reading the post for several reasons. First, in the interest of transparency, Peter is a friend of mine and I think he’s proven through success in business and an incredible social media following that he does know what he’s talking about. Second, because I talked with a lot of people the rest of the day at the conference and they all had positive takeaways from Peter’s keynote. Each speaker I saw in the breakout sessions that followed mentioned specifically “you heard about this from Peter earlier, and here’s an example of why that works” in examples of successful PR case studies. And, third, because this post was put together based on PR Cog’s evaluation of what Peter must have said based on following a twitter stream with limited use of a hashtag from a presentation he didn’t attend in person.

This point is important because maybe the collective we (conference attendees) need to be better about sharing the solid information, not just the witty soundbites. Let’s remember that if we’re going to share what we’re hearing with those not in attendance, we have to paint an accurate picture of what is happening and give context for and explanation of the information. I’ll take this challenge upon myself for next time and hope others will too.

I believe I’m among the attendees of this conference that felt like I received value from this speech. Or, maybe I just like the Shankman kool-aid. Even if that’s the case, I thought it was delicious enough to share.

Posted by: beckyjohns | April 26, 2010

One mouth, two ears, use accordingly

I’ve been fortunate enough to hear some of the leaders in the social media game speak about what has made their companies successful in the digital space. One thing is clear, the way customers use social media to share opinions has created a business opportunity for gathering more insight than ever from the public.

A little more than a week ago, I attended Future Midwest, a technology and knowledge conference in Royal Oak. Among the amazing lineup of speakers were two in particular that focused on listening as a key step in successful use of social media in business. Scott Monty, head of social media at Ford Motor Company is widely regarded as a leader in using the social web to share information about products, the Ford brand and engage with customers. In his presentation, he shared some advice that stood out to me: “You have one mouth and two ears. Use them in that order.”

We’ve heard it from our mothers, and it most certainly applies to everyday life. But a good social media strategy should work this way, too. People are already talking, sharing, complaining, being brand evangelists, really doing all kinds of PR for companies via the social web. Part of Ford’s success has come because Scott and his team decided to listen first and talk later. When they talk, they educate. They share useful information, the kind of information the community is asking for (which, naturally, was discovered by listening).

Ford communicates how its products and services can solve a problem or meet a customer need. Sometimes customers are seeking features that already exist in Ford products, but just haven’t been discovered by that customer.

There are a few big things Scott said Ford does in the digital space.

  1. Targeted reach. The idea is to get to a person, not a website. Transparency is so important with social media and part of doing that is giving someone the opportunity to talk to a human being and feel like they’re being heard. No one wants to talk at a logo.
  2. Impact experience. Companies need to create good, interesting, sharable content. Giving a user a positive experience and an opportunity to share that experience is key. Happy customers will tell others about the brands they love.

Later that day, Chris Barger, head of social media at General Motors shared a similar notion. In his presentation, he talked about what GM’s corporate communications staff values when dealing with the “haters” online. His first point: listen to your audience. Next: once you’ve listened to the concerns of your critics, then engage by reaching out to have a personal conversation and see what information you can share to help resolve the problem. If you can have a conversation, you can learn from each other.

When you open up your ears and listen to what the customer has to say, the customers will help you point out issues with your product and service offerings. Then they will help drive the image of the brand by sharing what they learn with their networks. This is much better than broadcasting a message, something many people are resistant to.

Chris said marketers and communicators need to build relationships with the influencers. They need to be transparent, and be willing to fail publicly. At least that way, the customer can see the process of the company trying to learn from its mistakes, willing to take risks, willing to go out on a limb for the people that will be buying its products.

By listening first and understanding what needs to be communicated, communicators have the opportunity to share relevant and useful information. And that’s what it’s all about, right?

Scott and Chris are expert communicators, leading the social media teams of two major auto companies. These guys are smart, and we’d be wise to follow their advice.

So, listen first, then talk.

Posted by: beckyjohns | April 21, 2010

Future Midwest: now what?

In the days since the Future Midwest conference ended, I’ve been impressed with the continued use of the #FMW10 hashtag on twitter, following the conversations people are having about this awesome event and the things they experienced there. There is a consensus among attendees that this was a top-notch conference. The speaker lineup was outstanding, everyone seemingly left with pages and pages of notes, awesome ideas and made meaningful connections. As we’ve all come down from the high of those great two days, I think we’re now at the point of reflecting on what really took place in Royal Oak.

A group of passionate, innovative, creative and smart people got inspired together. After Dateline ran its story about the ruin of Detroit, twitter lit up about how the report missed the mark and failed to recognize positive stories like the fact that Future Midwest took place. Watch the official Future Midwest video, I think you’ll feel the sentiment behind the attendee’s passion to revive Detroit.

So now that we’ve made these connections, feel the fire to make change, how do we do it? Because this event took place in metro Detroit, and many of its attendees are members of that community, it’s easy to get caught up in a Detroit-focused mindset of change. I came over from Lansing. Many others made the trip from across the state, or even the state lines. Let’s not forget that this event was called Future Midwest, and let’s start to think on a broader scope of what we can do to improve the entire region. Here’s some food for thought:

  • The Midwest is home (more or less) to the Great Lakes. It won’t be long before these are perhaps the country’s most precious resource. How can we better maximize our proximity?
  • How do we get college students to stay in the region after graduation? Recent polls say most graduates plan to leave within 2 years of receiving a degree. How can the Midwest invest in these students to keep them around and utilize their talents and educations to better our businesses?
  • We need to encourage entrepreneurship. Make the Midwest an attractive place to start and build businesses. How can we position the region as a hub to get an idea off the ground?
  • Encourage our elected government officials to stop worrying so much about party vs. party and start thinking about what’s best for everyone. Every political system has its flaws, but how can we be the drivers of long-lasting positive changes focused on moving forward?
  • Get healthy. Michigan and Ohio in particular regularly appear on the lists of America’s “fattest” states. How can we utilize our agricultural industry in the region for better health and food education for our children? If we lead the way on making a commitment to healthy lifestyles, could the rest of the nation be to follow?

These are just a few ideas running around in my head. I learned a lot at Future Midwest when it comes to integrating technology into business, but I also learned that when a passionate group of people get together and get inspired, they can become capable of big things.

TIME Magazine’s Detroit Blog ran a story in February, talking about the upcoming conference called Future Midwest. Take a minute to read it (and watch Henry Balanon‘s video at the bottom) and think about whether the conference lived up to this description and in what ways it exceeded or failed to meet your expectations.

What was your biggest takeaway from Future Midwest? What ideas do you have to improve the region and its future and how can you use what you learned or who you met at the conference to start making a difference? What are your hopes for next year’s conference?

Posted by: beckyjohns | April 16, 2010

Why I’m at Future Midwest

Tomorrow I’ll be attending Future Midwest, a technology and knowledge conference going down in Royal Oak, Michigan. The conference speaker lineup is jam-packed with interesting and talented people from iPhone app developers to heads of social media for the world’s biggest auto companies to the former CEO of Digg, one of the social media world’s most prominent tools. The community of attendees are among the most creative, smart and connected people in the region.

This post is coming at you fresh off the tails of Detroit’s first #TechCocktail event, part of the lead-in to Future Midwest. In just a few short hours of mingling, I have felt the energy around this event and I’m excited to learn and connect over the next couple days. Much of the metro Detroit community is present and active in using social media to make connections and using events like this to connect in real life and create meaningful relationships beyond just what happens online.

I made the trip over from Lansing because I believe events like this are important for mobilizing this active community of innovators, creators and do-ers. To my knowledge I was the only person from Lansing there tonight. I got some shocked expressions when I told folks I made the trip, but I think it’s important to represent the Lansing area at events like this. Lansing has one of the most active social media communities I’ve seen and there are some amazing things happening in the Capital City. Detroit’s image to most of the rest of the country is bleak, but when I talk to the people investing time, energy and their businesses into reviving Michigan’s biggest city, I am confident they are going to be the ones that put the state back on its feet.

I made the choice to stay in Michigan after graduating from college and start my career here, doing my small part in helping revive the mitten. Events like Future Midwest bring awesomely smart and creative minds together to learn, share and connect with each other. I’m excited to be here and hope to soak up as much as possible to see if I can help myself, my employer and my network improve their businesses and projects. So, Future Midwesters, if you see me, come say hi, tell me about the awesome things you do and talk to me about the great things we can learn from each other.

And just for fun, here’s my Future Midwest “bucket list.” I hope to have photographic or video evidence of completing each task to show for it:

  1. Make a cameo on “hello hello” with Charlie. I’ve looked up to this guy for a long time and had an inspiring conversation with him this evening. I’ve long admired this blog and would love to contribute to it.
  2. Snap a dailybooth photo with Henry Balanon. I met Henry through twitter and we’ve become friends over the past months. His crazy expression in his photos always cracks me up.
  3. Get over my stage fright and sing a karaoke duet with Brandon Chesnutt. Brandon is a regular on the #TechKaraoke circuit and is quite the performer. If there is a place to duet, the place is on a stage with this guy.
  4. Buy Scott Monty a birthday beer. Scott has been one of my social media influences since I first started using Twitter, and I can’t say enough about how great Scott is at being a social media leader in business. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting him a few times, and his birthday was a few days ago, so I’d like to buy him a brew, catch up with him and inevitably learn something from this super-smart guy.
  5. Talk to 10 people I follow on twitter but have never met in person. I believe it’s important to expand on these connections offline to create something meaningful, and this is the place to do it.
  6. Meet 10 new people and start engaging in conversation and sharing knowledge with each other.

So there it is, my personal goals for what I’d like to get out of this conference. For those of you attending, what would you like to do while you’re here? Who do you want to meet? What do you want to learn?

Posted by: beckyjohns | January 29, 2010

Twitter is the canary in the coal mine

Last week, I had the chance to view Ragan’s Webinar, a case study on Best Buy’s Twelpforce. John Bernier, social media manager at Best Buy presented a lot of great information about the widespread success of Best Buy’s presence on twitter and its strategy to provide helpful information to customers (sometimes even non-customers) everywhere.

John spoke about how customer interaction has changed because of the social web. Customers don’t want to be spoken to; they want to be spoken with. Traditional advertising has become less effective in many ways because of this notion. Customers want to have input on product development. They want to dictate the way customer service is managed. They want companies to listen to their feedback, and they want changes to happen because of it.

Twitter, for example, is a place to listen to real-time conversations happening about your brand. John suggested searching for “wish + company name” and see what people are hoping your company will do. Twitter in particular is a social media outlet designed to be conversational, and it’s one of the easiest places to connect with others. If your customers are speaking up, make sure they’re heard. Respond. Eavesdropping alone doesn’t count.

John likened Twitter to “the canary in the coal mine.” Canaries were used in mine-shafts as warning systems of danger. Poisonous gasses would kill a canary before it would kill miners, so keeping an eye on the songbird was an important safety measure. Perhaps by no coincidence at all, the twitter bird can be just as vitally important to brand monitoring.

If something is going wrong, you’re likely to hear about it through tweets. Sitting back and hoping problems with your product or service won’t be shared through social media will often become an even bigger problem. News travels fast online, and the last thing companies should be doing is ignoring the information they can discover simply by engaging in conversations with customers.

What companies do you think do a good job of listening and interacting with customers? Do you think Twitter and other online networks are critical elements to effectively doing business with customers?

Posted by: beckyjohns | January 15, 2010

Networking is not about keeping score

One of the hardest things to do as a young professional is learn to how develop and nurture a network. Business contacts, new friends, potential future employers and college buddies are all integral parts of a network because you simply never know how life will play out and how each person might affect your life in the future.

For many young people, there is a stigma attached to the word “networking” that implies it is some kind of impersonal way of collecting contact information for the sole purpose of finding a job or internship. It can be scary to ask strangers for help or to attend events with professionals in your industry. But it can be even scarier to think about sharing your contacts with others, perhaps even competitors for the same job or internship you might be after.

I felt this way for a long time. Until I read Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi. This book changed the way I looked at networking. It made me realize that networking is just a fancy word for creating meaningful relationships with people. Creating relationships is difficult, but maintaining mutually beneficial relationships is even harder. Many people have a tendency to keep score when it comes to networking, thinking there is a finite amount of equity in each relationship and that you might use up your chance at receiving help from a contact by connecting them with someone else. Keith explains:

Connecting is a constant process of giving and receiving—of asking for and offering help. By putting people in contact with one another, by giving your time and expertise and sharing them freely, the pie gets bigger for everyone.

A network functions precisely because there’s recognition of mutual need. There’s an implicit understanding that investing time and energy in building personal relationships with the right people will pay dividends.

You have to stop keeping score. You can’t amass a network of connections without introducing such connections to others with equal fervor. The more people you help, the more help you’ll have and the more help you’ll have helping others.

As a recent college graduate, I have many friends looking for jobs and internships right now. I enjoy doing what I can to connect these friends with people in my network, regardless of whether I might want to try to work for some of those contacts later in my career. If I can play some small role in helping two people find a good match and help them benefit each other, then I’ve done the best thing I can do for everyone involved, including myself. It would be foolish to think I should tell my friends I will not put them in touch with a business owner I’ve met through my own networking efforts because I want to reserve the ability to contact that person only on my own behalf.

In the book, Keith sums up this point nicely.

My point is this: Relationships are solidified by trust. Institutions are built on it. You gain trust by asking not what people can do for you, to paraphrase an earlier Kennedy, but what you can do for others. In other words, the currency of real networking is not greed but generosity.

In a time when employment is hard to come by and internships are more competitive than ever, it’s important to remember that generosity can go a long way toward creating a meaningful network. Thank your mentors for investing in your future. Help your friends connect with people you know if they can benefit from knowing each other. Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help in your endeavors, but more importantly, don’t be afraid to help others in theirs.

Posted by: beckyjohns | December 31, 2009

Reflections on 2009

It always seems that New Year’s Eve is a good time to reflect on the past year, re-evaluate what is important in life and think about what to prioritize in the coming months. As I look back on the last year of my life, I realize it’s been a whirlwind of changes, firsts and excitement. I’m sharing my year in photos, offering a glimpse into my life and what 2009 held for it.

I rang in the new year in East Lansing, celebrating with great friends, like Nick Lucido. Just a few days later, I left my job at The State News, a place I’d worked for about two and a half years. It was the first time I made the big decision to leave a job I loved to pursue the next big opportunity in my life. I began my final semester of college at Michigan State University, still feeling like graduation was in the distant future. For my final college spring break, I was able to go snowboarding in Sun Valley, Idaho and enjoyed a week in the mountains with a good friend and good boarding.

When spring rolled around, I watched my Spartans play their way into the Final Four, feeling excitement for my school’s basketball team during my senior year. I got to see the team play in Detroit at Ford Field in the National Championship game. Though the green and white fell to North Carolina that day, I witnessed the overwhelming sense of pride in the state of Michigan and rejuvenation of Detroit inside that building.

In May I graduated from Michigan State University with a BA in Advertising and specialization in Public Relations. Finishing college in four years with a degree I’m proud of was one of the biggest accomplishments of my life. Shortly after, I landed an internship with Delta Dental of Michigan, working in corporate communications and starting down my path to becoming the communications professional I prepared to be in school. My boss was Ari Adler and he’s become a tremendously great mentor and helped me get excited about my future in Lansing.

During the spring and summer I focused on my internship, but found a little play time, too. I got to spend quite a bit of time at my family’s cottage on Hubbard Lake in northern Michigan and was able to celebrate my 22nd birthday with friends and family during a visit to Chicago.

For the first time in years, most of my family was together for a family reunion. We all gathered at our cottage to celebrate Grandma’s 80th birthday and everyone having a chance to get together. In August, I traveled to San Francisco for my first consulting gig. An old friend of mine works for Clixtr, a Silicon Valley startup that created an iPhone app around the ultimate social camera. The idea is innovative and I believe in the vision of the company and what location-aware photo sharing can mean for social networks, businesses and marketers. I helped with creating a PR and social media strategy and was proud to use my knowledge and experience to help the company start off on the right foot after its TechCrunch 50 launch.

This fall I made a decision to have knee surgery, attempting to fix problems that have plagued my leg for years. The procedure had a fancy name (Tibial Tubercle Transfer) and with some luck and physical therapy, the outcome should be exactly what I hoped for. Despite the knee brace and difficulty of travel, I was able to visit my parents at their new home in Colorado this Thanksgiving. After my Dad’s retirement, my parents relocated to Castle Rock, CO and our family was able to gather to celebrate the new life they’ve started. My younger brother lives in Seattle, so it was a joy to see him since I get so few chances to do so.

I’m ready to start 2010 and embark on the exciting journey ahead of me. I will be starting my new job as Communications Coordinator at Delta Dental in January and look forward to the challenges of becoming a full-time professional. Here’s to a wonderful new year!

Posted by: beckyjohns | December 23, 2009

The blog is back.

A few months ago, I decided to take a little break from blogging. I’ve been reading posts by others, actively commenting on great conversations happening across the Web, sharing awesome content via social networks and taking in the many exciting things happening in the world around me. Until recently, I was perfectly content doing things this way.

Until a few days ago, when I cornered my boss and mentor Ari Adler with Flip in hand and asked him point blank: Why should I start blogging again? Here’s his answer:

Clearly, it didn’t take much convincing. I’ve been encouraged by friends and colleagues to pick things up here on the ‘ol blog and share my point of view with the world. Today, I read this post by Jonathan Morrow on copyblogger about his courageous triumphs in life and online. In his story, he said:

“You have to realize that your blog is more than just a collection of ones and zeros floating through cyberspace. It’s more than the words on the page. Your blog is a launchpad for your ideas, and you are the rocket fuel that lifts them off the ground.

So burn it up, baby.

Your ideas are counting on you.”

So here I am. I’m ready (in the words of my father) to get back on the horse and ride. I have ideas that I think can add to the conversation about social media, public relations and all things communications.

This is my first step, and here’s where you can help me and others like me. Did you ever hit a point where taking a break from your blog seemed like the best idea? What brought you back? What words of encouragement can you offer other aspiring bloggers that get stuck in a rut?

Posted by: beckyjohns | September 24, 2009

The Unsung Heroes of PR

Today the PRSA Chair & CEO Michael Cherenson spoke to the Central Michigan PRSA chapter about the PR profession, ethics and issues facing PR professionals in today’s industry. He shared stories about the evolution of PR and his experiences watching the profession change as he grew up around it, watching his father practice public relations.

During his presentation, Michael said something that really resonated with me: PR pros know how to say no. There are no awards for saying no. We don’t get media coverage for saying no. We don’t generally get praised by executive management for saying no. But we do know how to identify which ideas, opportunities or messages could be detrimental to our brands. We do know how to discuss the impact of negative stories with different audiences. We do understand that the media likes to cover bad news and doesn’t care what crazy stunt a company might be willing to pull to get attention for good news. We are the unsung heroes, protecting our organizations’ reputations.

In many cases, knowing when to say no is just as important as knowing when to say yes. The beauty of brainstorming is that there are no bad ideas, just the free-flow of creativity. But when ideas from the drawing board need to be implemented, it is often up to the communications professionals to identify which plans could be detrimental to the organization. By nature, communicators have audiences in mind with every choice they’re part of making and they understand that the idea of “no such thing as bad press” is a myth.

It’s important to take chances and it’s important to push the boundaries of creativity. But it’s even more important to remain conscious of the brand identity at all times and stay away from the kinds of messaging that could destroy it. PR professionals already fight stereotypes of being “spin doctors” and shameless self promoters. By keeping what’s best for our organizations and clients in mind and knowing when to say no, we can instead be the guardians of our brands. We are the unsung heroes.

What do you think? When have you said no because you knew it was the right thing to do? Why do you think saying no is often so much harder than saying yes?

Image credit: DJ Bass, Flickr

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