The last few nights I’ve watched news stories about Herman Cain and the National Restaurant Association (NRA). I can’t help thinking about the whole ugly situation through an association management lens. I’m not going to dive into the details or the political ramifications, and I certainly don’t intend to express any political opinions in this post. I’m assuming the best and the worst to get a complete picture for purely hypothetical reasons.

Imagine, instead of the NRA, this is your association. A never-ending story about one of your past CEOs (or elected volunteer leader) ends up on the nightly news. I’m sure it’s happened before, but I doubt the past CEO was running for president.

I feel bad for the NRA staff. You know everyone there is getting the third degree from their family and friends. Even though they’re in the spotlight dealing with a haunting situation from the past, work goes on — trade shows, educational sessions, publications, lobbying, research, event planning, member service – it doesn’t stop.

The story is still unfolding but I can’t wait. I keep thinking about all the issues it raises. It provides an opportunity to step back and say, “What if this was us?”

Crisis management

Above all, it’s a story about crisis management and communication. I haven’t been paying close enough attention to know how the NRA has handled that, but I’m not writing about them, so it doesn’t matter for my purpose. Every PR professional and CAE candidate knows you need to have a crisis management plan, just like you need disaster recovery and business continuity plans.

You also need to be out in front when a crisis hits. With social media, it doesn’t take long for a rumor to turn into a full-blown disaster. Even if you’re not participating in social media, you better be monitoring social media. You’d think everyone would know this by now, but I’m sure there are some organizations that don’t even have Google Alerts on their name.

I can only imagine the tension at NRA. I’m sure the HR and executive teams are in constant meeting mode. How stressful. I hope, for their sakes, they’ve been as open and honest as much as their confidentiality agreements allow. We see how Cain suffered because he didn’t appear as forthcoming and transparent as he should have.

Make sure your staff is informed about their roles and responsibilities during a crisis and they know what’s at stake for the association mission and members. At NAHB we had an ugly episode: someone on staff was hounded by an angry group for his part on a non-profit board – a board completely unrelated to the homebuilding industry. We expected protests and media at our front door. I don’t recall anything awful occurring, but we were ready. Everyone was informed enough to understand the situation and reminded about what to do if approached or contacted by anyone.

Brand management

I got really peeved off by some of the coverage of the NRA, especially when a ratings-hungry commentator portrayed the NRA only as the representative of national corporations, like McDonalds and Pizza Hut. He called for viewers to boycott NRA members while showing a dozen member logos (mostly fast food) and a headshot of NRA’s CEO. I guess he doesn’t care about all the employees whose earnings depend on those chains. I’m sensitive about this because I know from personal membership experience that NRA also represents, assists and educates smaller restaurants, like the independently-owned one I used to manage.

No matter what you think about the NRA, brand identity is the issue here. Is it clear from your homepage and other online outposts who your members are? What they contribute to the economy and community? Could you appear more human? Relatable? Likeable? Don’t be an easy target for rabble-rousers.

Culture and counsel

Innocent or guilty, the fact that there were three allegations of sexual harassment has to give you pause, even if they’re all baseless. I can’t help thinking, what type of culture leads to this? Or maybe all was well and this is just a case of three messed-up work relationships and the resulting misperceptions. One commentator asked Cain if he was the kind of CEO who made awkward comments to employees and didn’t know it. For the record, he did say “no,” but seriously, would he even know?

If those allegations were true, why didn’t anyone say anything to him about how others perceived his behavior? Because he’s the boss? Bring in the board chair to counsel him.

It’s an ugly situation. Maybe someday a brave soul from the NRA will do a conference session about how they handled it and lessons learned. Yuck. I wish everyone over there a hasty return to business as usual.

What other association management lessons are you seeing in this story?

association crisis management Herman Cain NRA national restaurant association

Where the NRA CEO probably wishes she were right now (photo by Ryan Kozie/Flickr)

Social media dwellers, yes, that’s me, throw the term “listen” around as if everyone knows what we’re talking about. Listening in a social media context means using tools to monitor the mentions of your name, your username, your company and other keywords. When you listen, you become aware of these mentions and therefore any conversation about you or aimed at you. You have the opportunity to be part of the conversation, instead of being oblivious.

Sometimes when I tweet to an infrequent or untrained Twitter user, it’s like tweeting into the void. I never hear back from them, or I hear back a week later and by then I can’t remember why I tweeted at them in the first place. They’re not listening.

This problem is complicated by Twitter’s technical bugs. I heard that Twitter missed many Mentions this past weekend — tweets mentioning your username or directed to your username. Twitter’s API, the programming interface allowing Twitter to talk to applications like Hootsuite and Tweetdeck, had problems again – growing pains. If someone directed a tweet at me this weekend with the @ symbol or mentioned my username, it might not have shown up in my Mentions column. I would have never known that someone tweeted me or that I was a subject of conversation unless I was listening, which I was.

It’s hard to have a conversation when the other person’s not listening. There are dozens of monitoring tools out there – basic ones are free and more sophisticated ones come at a price. Here are some free tools that work well for individuals or for organizations just getting started in social media.

social media monitoring listening

Google Alerts

Even if you don’t use social media, I recommend you create Google Alerts for your name, company name and other keywords like the name of your blog, products, events and publications. You’ll be notified when your name shows up in blog posts, tweets and websites. If you use Twitter, create Google Alerts for your Twitter username. If you have a commonly misspelled name like mine, create searches for the frequent misspellings. In Google Alerts, select the option for real-time (as-it-happens) search results to be delivered in Feed format to your Google Reader.

Twitter Search

The first step to listening on Twitter is reading your @Mentions tab on the Twitter site or, if you use Tweetdeck or Hootsuite, reading your Mentions column. Keep this column where you can see it. Do the same for your Direct Messages tab or column. I also set my UberSocial mobile application to alert me when I get a Mention or Direct Message.

Twitter search is not what it used to be. At times it only goes back a few days. That’s why it’s better to get real-time search results sent to you instead of relying on the web page to show you results. Go to the advanced Twitter search page and create searches for your name and other keywords. Then click on the orange RSS icon to create and send a feed for each search to your Google Reader.

Comments

Lots of conversation happens in blog comments, possibly about you or your organization. I use these tools to keep up with mentions of my name and blog:

URL Twitter Mentions

You could set up a Twitter search or Google Alert on your blog’s domain but it won’t capture any tweets that use a shortened URL, like a bit.ly or ow.ly address. My favorite URL Twitter search tool is now Topsy. You can register your domains with Topsy and it will alert you when a blog post with your domain has been tweeted. It’s a great way to find all the tweets mentioning your posts. I find tweets via Topsy that other tools don’t catch. A similar tool is Backtweets but I’m not as in love with that one.

Twitter Favorites

If you’re curious to see which of your tweets are being Favorited by others, create an alert with favstar.fm to have alerts sent to your Reader.

Want to Learn More?

Here are a few additional resources to get you started.

Listening is just the first step. Now that you’re aware of the conversation about you or your organization, what are you going to do?

Your Turn

I’ve shared the free tools that I use, what about you?

  • What other free tools do you use to monitor your name?
  • Do any of these tools have shortcomings that bother you?
  • What about tools that search discussion forums or boards, like BoardTracker or BoardReader? Do you use them?
  • Do you use any Facebook-specific tools?

I started reading blogs many years ago when I worked in associations. Back then it was a time-consuming process to go through my bookmarks and check each blog for new content. I had some bookmarks on my work computer and some on my home computer; it wasn’t very organized. My blog reading, as much as I enjoyed it, remained haphazard.

Then one day I discovered Google Reader and my life changed. Instead of clicking on bookmarks to see if a blog had any new posts to read, I sat back and blog posts came to me. I read them whenever I had time and didn’t have to worry about missing anything. I became a regular reader of association management blogs, learning something new about my profession everyday. I felt smarter and more motivated. Was I smarter than my boss? Who knows, but he was happy I was bringing new ideas to our chapter colleagues and to our association.

Soon I saw more and more references in these blogs to Twitter. I decided to try it out and started chatting to the association bloggers I’d been reading. Then I began to read blogs about social media and learned even more. I started commenting on blogs. And then in the spring of 2009, I became a blogger myself. It all started with Google Reader.

What’s in it for you?

A peek at the folders in my Reader will give you a sense of its benefits.

  • My Google Alerts and Twitter search results are sent there, as well as alerts from other listening tools, so I can keep up with mentions of my name or work. I can be responsive to others and participate in conversations that interest me. Even if your organization doesn’t participate in social media, please, at least set up Google Alerts.
  • Folders for blogging and writing, social media, marketing and association management keep me up to speed on my professional development.
  • Many of my friends (both near and far) blog about topics outside of my professional interests. By reading their blogs I get to keep up with their lives and expand my universe.
  • I subscribe to a lot of blogs about cooking, food and craft beer that are just plain fun and give me lots of recipes to try.
  • If you read a blog regularly, you’ll soon find yourself commenting regularly and feeling like part of the blog’s community.

How do you find good blogs to read?

  • My blogroll (down the sidebar to the right) is a good place to start. Check out their blogrolls too.
  • Alltop calls itself the online magazine rack of the web. Find new blogs by browsing through its topics.
  • If you’re on Twitter, check the profile of those you follow. Do they have blogs? You’ll also discover new blogs in the links shared by others. If you follow people with Twitter lists, see if any of the lists refer to experts. “Experts” usually have blogs.
  • If you see a thoughtful or helpful comment on a blog you read, click on the link embedded in the person’s name; perhaps they have a blog worth subscribing to.

Subscribing to blogs is easy.

Commoncraft has two videos that explain the process well – RSS in Plain English and Google Reader in Plain English.

It’s easy:

  • Click on the orange RSS icon (example to the right), feed burner icon (example to the right) or text similar to “subscribe to RSS feed” or “subscribe to Atom feed.”
  • The next window will display buttons for several types of readers. Select Google. Eventually you can set this as your default.
  • You’ll be given two options, “Add to Google Homepage” and “Add to Google Reader.” Select the Reader option.
  • Your Google Reader will open up. You may have to log in first, meaning you will need to set up a gmail account. In Reader, click on the drop-down for Feed Settings. Select whether to sort posts from this blog by newest first or oldest first, and select a folder for its posts.

Google has a bookmark bar button that makes it easy to “Subscribe as you Surf.” In your Reader, go to Settings, then Goodies, to find it.

 

bad filters

flickr photo by Jake_Spurlock

 

Organize your Reader.

Create folders by topics. You can do this as you subscribe to blogs by selecting the New Folder option in the drop-down Feed Settings menu. You can rename folders and blog subscriptions anytime. You can also reorder your folders so that your priority folders are up top.

Use keyboard shortcuts.

Google Reader has many keyboard shortcuts. Go to Help and search for “keyboard” to see the full list. Here are the ones I use most frequently:

  • v – opens up the original blog post in another tab
  • j – moves you to the next item in feed
  • k – moves you back to the previous item in feed
  • s – star – favorite or unfavorite (toggle)
  • m  – marks as read or unread (toggle)
  • e – emails item
  • ? – displays guide to all the shortcuts (toggle)

Manage your Reader.

You will soon find that you are subscribing to everything. You groan as you open Reader because you have 1000+ unread items. Don’t stress. Accept the fact that you will never read everything and that’s okay. Skip through posts (using the “j” key shortcut) and only read the ones that really pop out at you. Become friendly with the “mark as read” option.

If you want to clean up your Reader but don’t have time to read all the posts you wish, save some for later by adding a star (located at the bottom left of each post). You can access your starred posts from the top right of your Reader.

Every now and then, view your Subscription Trends to see which subscriptions you are ignoring and can easily delete.

There are some Firefox add-ons that may help with the “read later” process, but I haven’t tried them yet – Read It Later and Feedly. If you use these, I’d love to know how you like them.

That’s how I use Google Reader. Do you have any other tips to share? Does anyone use the Tags feature? Or share items regularly?

UPDATE: In response to this post, Maddie Grant shares several Google Reader tips on the SocialFish blog.

In Part 1 of this series I looked at some ways in which social media can help increase brand awareness and enhance and spread your company’s reputation. In Part 2 I discussed how good content and conversation on social media platforms can lead to the relationships that lead to business. Check out those earlier parts of this series if you haven’t yet and meet me back here when you’re done.

Social media is an online real-time focus groupmarket research at your fingertips. By setting up listening tools — alerts and searches that automatically are sent to you – you can know what people are saying about you and your organization, your products or services, your industry or profession, your competitors and any other issues that concern your customers or members. You can listen and be well-positioned to participate and perhaps even influence the conversation.

Once you have cultivated a community of fans, followers or readers, you can test new ideas on them and get valuable feedback. You’ll be more in touch with their needs and preferences.

You can find prospects through listening if you set up searches on keywords pertaining to your products or services and their needs. You’ll be in the position to answer their questions, give some advice and lead them to resources. When they’re ready to purchase, who will they think of?

 

Flickr photo by woodleywonderworks

 

Social media can be your early warning system. If you are listening, you will most likely hear about problems with your product or service as they occur and have an opportunity to fix them quickly, rather than read other people discussing them later. Silence is never a good option. You can solve these problems off-line or you can take advantage of the public platform and solve them publicly, demonstrating your responsiveness.

If you have a crappy product or service, social media won’t help you, instead it will expose your failings in an unpleasant way. I’ve seen many companies (good and bad) ripped to shreds on Twitter or their own Facebook page because of lousy service. This can go one of two ways. The smart companies — good social media citizens who already have an engaging and helpful presence — reply immediately and make great efforts to fix the problem. As a result, their efforts are noted and lauded by those who were witness. The less fortunate companies – those whose social media presence is solely promotional with no interaction – are obviously not listening, never respond and leave a bad taste in the mouths of all who witness that silence.

In social media, people choose to be part of your network — to follow you, subscribe to you, like you. You’re not pushing your way in, as in traditional push marketing like advertising, e-newsletters, emails or direct mail. People have limited attention spans. You want to be in that select group that they have let into their lives. The tools are free. The cost is your time.

Social media does require regular attention. Ideally you give it attention daily, or at least every work day. But a little time each day to listen, respond and post valuable content is often worth more in quality referrals and leads in the long-run than many traditional (and sometimes expensive) marketing campaigns. It won’t happen overnight. It takes time to build a network and reputation in real life; it takes time online too. But unlike in real life, the history of your online life is there for all to see if they search for it. They’ll see the investment of your time and effort in conversation and knowledge-sharing. They have something on which to judge your value and character, something on which to base their trust.

Why You Should Give Social Media a Chance – Part 3 

In Part 1 of this series I looked at some ways in which social media can help increase brand awareness and enhance and spread your company’s reputation. In Part 2 I discussed how good content and conversation on social media platforms can lead to the relationships that lead to business.
Check out those earlier parts of this series if you haven’t yet and meet me back here when you’re done.

Social media is an online real-time focus group – market research at your fingertips. By setting up listening tools — alerts and searches that automatically are sent to you – you can know what people are saying about you and your organization, your products or services, your industry or profession, your competitors and any other issues that concern your customers or members. You can listen and be well-positioned to participate and perhaps even influence the conversation.

Once you have cultivated a community of fans, followers or readers, you can test new ideas on them and get valuable feedback. You’ll be more in touch with their needs and preferences.

You can find prospects through listening if you set up searches on keywords pertaining to your products or services. You’ll be in the position to answer their questions, give some advice and lead them to resources. When they’re ready to purchase, who will they think of?

In social media, people choose to be part of your network — to follow you, subscribe to you, like you — you’re not pushing your way in, as in traditional push marketing like advertising, e-newsletters, emails or direct mail. People have limited attention spans. You want to be in that select group that they have let into their lives. The tools are free. The cost is your time.

Social media can be your early warning system. If you are listening, you will most likely hear about problems with your product or service as they occur and have an opportunity to fix them quickly, rather than read other people discussing them later. Silence is never a good option. You can solve these problems off-line or you can take advantage of the public platform and solve them publicly, demonstrating your responsiveness.

If you have a crappy product or service, social media won’t help you, instead it will expose your failings in an unpleasant way. I’ve seen many companies (good and bad) ripped to shreds on Twitter or their own Facebook page because of lousy service. This can go one of two ways. The smart companies — good social media citizens who already have an engaging and helpful presence — reply immediately and make great efforts to fix the problem. As a result, their efforts are noted and lauded by those who were witness. The less fortunate companies – those whose social media presence is solely promotional with no interaction – are obviously not listening, never respond and leave a bad taste in the mouths of all who witness that silence.

Social media does require regular attention. Ideally you give it daily attention, or at least every work day. But a little time each day to listen, respond and post valuable content is worth more in quality referrals and leads in the long-run than many traditional (and expensive) marketing campaigns. It won’t happen overnight. It takes time to build a network and reputation in real life; it takes time online too. But unlike in real life, the history of your online life is there for all to see if they search for it. They’ll see the investment of your time and effort in conversation and knowledge-sharing. They have something on which to judge your value and character, something on which to base their trust.

Last week I spoke to the Georgia Society of Association Executives about how to use social media for their associations. Here’s the session description:

Don’t create that Facebook or Twitter page yet! There’s prep work to be done. Learn what to do before diving into social media, or, if you already jumped, how to ensure a good return on your time investment. You’ll learn to plan, monitor, measure and use the tools effectively.

I posted my PowerPoint presentation along with a PDF of the presentation including explanatory notes on Slideshare. I also created this handout for the attendees that covered some best practices and supplementary resources. Although the presentation was created for an audience of association executives and staff, the same principles apply if you manage a for-profit business.

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On Tuesday, I gave a ten-minute presentation — Do I Really Need Social Media? — to the Garner Coffee & Contacts, a weekly networking group for women who own small businesses in the Garner NC area.

Social media is all the rage right now — just look at all the national brands advertising their Facebook and Twitter pages. But does it make sense for a small business? Isn’t it another fad that will pass? It’s not a fad, but it is a shift in how we communicate with our customers, prospects and community. We’ll look at some of the benefits and outcomes you can expect if you use social media tools effectively.

Good reads about Facebook sharing, inbox-friendly emails, productivity, finding your customers online and Facebook privacy…

Brian Solis shares some interesting findings in his 7 Scientific Ways to Promote Sharing on Facebook. He says to write like a second grader on a Saturday with action verbs and numbers, ask “why” and “how” a lot and make it positive with some learning and sex thrown in the mix. I’d read that!

We all know that email is still a useful tool so it’s critical to get your newsletter past the spam filters while heeding CAN-SPAM regulations. Rebecca Leaman from Wild Apricot provides lots of advice and resources on how to do that in Keep Your Nonprofit Safe from Spam Complaints. Her advice applies to businesses too so please give it a read.

I haven’t read Entrepreneur’s new series, 200 Ways to Be More Productive in Life … and in Business, but I really should since there never seems to be enough time in each day. Know the feeling?

Jay Baer is one of my favorite bloggers. He consistently provides really thoughtful and practical guidance on all things social media. His recent post, Four Ways to Find Out if Your Customers Are Active With Social Media, is a must-read if you are thinking about diving into social media. Do these things before creating any profiles or pages.

Facebook continues to aggravate with its continual changes to privacy settings. Once you think you have everything set the way you like, they add a new feature that’s usually in their best interest but not yours. Nicholas Carlson at the Business Insider gives us a step-by-step illustration, How To Put Facebook On A Privacy Lockdown, showing how to ensure your privacy settings are set where YOU want them to be. Some go a little over the top for me, for example, I want my friends to be able to write on my wall, but for the most part it’s good guidance.

Have a good weekend!

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