Facebook Like it’s Your Birthday

In my Facebook career, I’ve always made it a point to respond to every birthday wish I receive on my wall. When I had my birthday not long ago, I was repeatedly chided by my girlfriend for ignoring her (in her mind) and the Miami sun to respond to my birthday wishes. Imagine my chagrin when, as @eliciaeler at RWW pointed out, the new Timeline made it so very difficult to respond to each post.

This feels like part of an existing trend to me – one in which we all are sacrificing relationship and uniqueness for efficiency. We see it in everything from mass-produced furniture to fast food to, now, our friendships.

I will point out that I beared the brunt of my chiding and still responded to each post, even though Facebook made it a pain. I hope that the 81 of 552 friends I have who chose Facebook as the way to wish me a happy birthday appreciated that.

To my grandmother, the only person who chose the ancient method of sending a card (she’s not on Facebook), your birthday wish is also on my wall – the one in my kitchen.

 

 

 

 

Advice to PR Newbies: Where You Sit is Where You Stand

I’ve seen a lot of folks blogging with lists of the most important things for you public relations professionals to do while looking for or starting their careers. I agree that it’s very important to blog, brand yourself, stay current with the news, etc., but I feel it’s necessary to bring in one reminder about PR and personal beliefs.

I had a professor in grad school who had one oft-repeated saying: Where you sit is where you stand.

As young public relations pros enter a tough economy, we might see them becoming less choosy about where and with whom they accept positions. Yes, it is understandable for someone to make sacrifices in salary expectations or location desires at this point. But it’s important for all of us to remember who we are as we consider what organizations we want to be a part of.

That’s where my professor’s motto comes in, because where you sit truly is where you stand. Think about it — it’s important for you as a communicator to work for an organization with a message you’re comfortable with communicating. Imagine if you were an environmentalist in the PR department at BP in 2010. If you’re a republican, MoveOn.org probably isn’t a good career move. Remember that you’re going to be a spokesperson for every business decision and every campaign your organization takes on. It’s important that you be comfortable with the messages you will deliver. Also remember that this position will be on your resume when you choose to leave.

Where you sit is where you stand. Make sure the chair is comfortable for you.

Take a deep breath – Montel is breathing incorrectly

Those Montel Williams commercials for Money Mutual really annoy me.

It has nothing to do with predatory lending or anything like that, though it certainly is a field worthy of  disdain. It has to do with Montel’s shoulders.

His shoulders.

I looked for the commercial on YouTube but I can’t find it. If you really want to see what I’m talking about, turn on Spike TV for five minutes or so and the commercial will come on at least twice (love those Star Wars marathons). Every time Montel inhales, his shoulders come up. Violently. No big deal, right? Actually it is. It’s a sign that Montel has no idea how to breathe.

Your lungs aren’t in your shoulders and neither is your diaphragm. That’s one reason not to breathe with your shoulders. Another is that your shoulders aren’t strong enough to help you breathe. Watch how quickly Montel’s shoulders fall once he starts talking; it’s immediate, but he keeps on talking after they fall. That’s because his shoulders aren’t helping at all.

What’s the big deal? This: Breathing is an essential part of life. You can last a lot longer without food or water than you can without air. Aside from that, proper breathing is also a tool to help you relax, which is especially important is stressful situations.

So, to do it properly, you just emply different muscle groups — most important being your abdominals. Here is a simple drill:

Sit in a chair with your back straight. Now grip the sides of the seat of your chair with your hands and try taking a breath while maintaining your grip. You should notice that, since you can’t lift your shoulders, your stomach will expand as you inhale. That’s what you’re looking for. Breathe deeply and hold it, then exhale slowly. Do it all very very slowly.

For you aspiring broadcasters or anyone looking to improve their resonance, incorporate this drill with some stretching. Take a deep breath and hold it, then open your mouth a little and tilt your head to one side so your ear comes close to your shoulder (don’t open your mouth wide and don’t raise your shoulder to your ear). Then return to center and repeat to the other side. Try going forward and backward as well. This will help stretch the muscles in your neck and your oral cavity, making your voice a little more resonant.

And next time you feel stressed, take a deep breath the correct way. You’ll notice a difference.

Today’s Virginia Tech shootings proved what we already knew

First, like everyone else, my heart goes out to everyone at Virginia Tech, especially the victims of the tragedy and their families.

I was kind of late picking up on the story, so most local websites covering the event had already crashed. I started following the Collegiate Times, Tech’s student newspaper, at around 2:30 pm EST, when people were tweeting that it was a good way to receive breaking news. Then, it had about 12,000 followers.

At 4:44 EST, it had 20,993 followers.

It’s a tragic way to gain that many followers, but congratulations to that group of students for excellent and responsible reporting throughout the situation. I believe it played a valuable role not only in informing the public about the event, but also informing students about what to do and where to go in order to stay safe.

This jump in followers again proves how important social media is to how we receive information nowadays. That reporting kept me glued to my phone during the office Christmas party.

I will be interested to see how many folks stay following the account now that the situation seems to be resolved.

Again, my hearts go out to everyone affected by this tragedy.

Hokies.

Helping the community: The college basketball rivalry edition

Sometimes it’s easy to forget that basketball is a game.

That’s especially true when alma mater is involved. To keep perspective on a heated rivalry and give back to the community, the Lexington-area alumni clubs of UNC and UK have agreed to a fun bet on Saturday’s game.

The stakes: community service. The winning team’s alumni club gets to pick an organization/event for which members of both alumni clubs will volunteer together.

Rivalry aside, two of the greatest college basketball traditions in the country face off on Saturday. As far as we’re concerened, the community will be the ultimate winner.

We’re all proud alumni and we wish both of our teams luck on Saturday. But since this is my blog, GO HEELS!

Personality in social media: The college basketball rivalry version

In honor of Saturday’s game between the noble Tar Heels and the evil Wildcats of Kentucky, I would like to comment on something at which the University of Kentucky is really schooling UNC.

A little more than a year ago I wrote a post about a journalist named Lucy Kellaway and her opinion that the somewhat recent trend of personalizing organizations was making it easier for stakeholders to hate corporations when they made mistakes. A really smart social media guy named Mark Schaefer (@markwschaefer) put up a post not long ago disagreeing, pointing to a study that says, “being human sets thought leaders apart.”

I’m with Mark.

Look, people don’t relate to lawn mowers and they don’t relate to news aggregators; they relate to people. As painful as it is to admit it, the University of Kentucky (@universityofky) has totally figured that out. UNC (@Carolina_News) has not.

Did you take a campus tour at UK? Wondering about the status of your admissions application? Thinking about becoming an organ donor? Tweet about it. UK responds to this kind of stuff every day. Even when I wrote a somewhat antagonizing post about UK last year, @universityofky responded (antagonizingly).

For the university community, in which institutions are competing for the love of 18-year-old applicants and 30-year-old alumni alike, the UK Twitter account is a cool, responsive friend (or rival) with lots of info behind it.

Now look at UNC’s Twitter. First off, good luck finding a link to it on the UNC homepage. The account is a great aggregator of news about the school, but there’s no personality. It’ll tell you UNC men’s soccer made the Elite 8 (congrats) or the results of a new campus study, but there aren’t RT’s from applicants or fans. There’s no playful banter about athletics or food. Even the name is a drawback; it’s not the university itself, it’s news about the university. If you toured the campus, would you feel comfortable tweeting “I toured @Carolina_News today!”? Of course not. It sounds dumb.

More proof? Look at the followers. The schools’ websites show UNC and UK have similar enrollment numbers (UNC-29,000; UK-28,000) but UK’s account has almost twice as many followers (12,235 to UNC’s 6,708 as of Dec. 1).

Perhaps the most damning proof: me (sorry). My UK alumni friends would be glad to tell you I’m one of the biggest haters out there. I’m not a UK fan, I’m not a Calipari fan, but I do follow @universityofky. It’s entertaining. Sure, you may argue that I’m following UK because I live near it, but I live closer to Eastern Kentucky University and Berea College and I’m not following them.

People appreciate the fun that comes with following an account like @universityofky and I think other schools, including UNC (of which I am an alumnus), could learn something from the way UK rolls on Twitter.

Now, let’s just hope UNC rolls over UK in basketball on Saturday. Go Heels!

Planes, Banks and Stupid Fees

I’m late. I know.

OK, so last post asked why the airline industry has been able to get away with fees on just about everything but Bank of America wasn’t able to pull off a five dollar monthly usage fee on debit cards. Well, I figure there are four reasons: options, necessity, anger and commitment. More than one of those reasons explain a lot of the way the airline industry works the way it does.

First reason: Options. Pretty much every airline has added pretty much the same fees. Baggage fees were first, then charges for snacks and drinks, charges for not notifying that you’re bringing a carry-on, charges for seat selection, so on and so on. The airlines that don’t have as many fees are smaller than the major carriers and don’t fly everywhere. That means you don’t have options. Pay the fee or go on a road trip.

Second reason: Necessity. You don’t have to fly, but you do need a bank. That means more mad people. Simple math.

Third reason (maybe most obvious): Anger. People are mad at banks. Multi-billion dollar bailouts will do that. In BoA’s case, the animosity is exacerbated by layoff announcements and foreclosure increases. Airlines didn’t get those same bailouts. Now, one might argue that people’s anger at big banks couldn’t have gotten any worse than it already was (a similar argument is grounds for defense in libel cases), but there’s just no limit to some people’s anger, especially in a down economy.

Fourth reason: Loyalty. Frequent flyer programs be damned – there is little loyalty in air travel. If there were, sites like Expedia and Travelocity wouldn’t exist. Hell, there isn’t even loyalty to travel sites. If there were, Kayak wouldn’t exist. People want to fly cheap and choosing an airline for a specific trip has but a short commitment. Next time you fly, you’re welcome to switch airlines with no extra work. Banks require more commitment, especially for those of us who have direct deposit. Switching is much more labor intensive.

The way I see it, that fourth reason explains a little about how airlines behave. This isn’t based on in-depth research, but my opinion of airline customer service has gone way down. I imagine many would agree. Well, if loyalty is at such a low, why go the extra mile?

Next post: I explain ways to make air commuters happier.

Veterans Day ’11

Last time I posted something about Veterans Day was in 2009 and I was behind on posting an entry about a different topic. More of the same this year.

I’ve had the privilege to take part in two Veterans Day ceremonies this year. Today I got to speak to a group of folks in town about my experiences since I joined the Army. On Wednesday, I got to hear a retired major general give a speech at a local base. Our speeches could not have been more different.

Like I said two years ago, saying “Happy Veterans Day” doesn’t cut it. What’s happy about it? It’s a day of remembrance and thanks, not celebration. It also isn’t a day to talk about the U.S. being the best country in the world, or to defend our involvement in wars, or to talk about politics, like my esteemed fellow veteran did in his speech earlier this week.

It’s called Veterans Day, folks. Veterans Day. Not OIF/OEF Day, not America day – Veterans Day. Today we honor the people who signed up – for whatever reason – to serve in uniform. Remember to do that today. Forget the primaries, forget the exit strategies, forget the companies that will try to use patriotism as a marketing tool all day; just remember to thank a veteran and shake his or her hand.

One day, Nov. 11 will return to its original meaning: a day to celebrate peace. Until then, remember that the reason you sleep well at night is because an elite group of men and women is willing to forgo the ease of civilian life to fight on your behalf. You may not agree with the justifications behind the fight, but sometimes neither do we. That’s part of the sacrifice and that’s part of what makes it such a special group.

Also, go Tar Heels!

Bank of America – Duh!

Bank of America announced today that, “in response to customer feedback and the changing competitive marketplace, Bank of America no longer intends to implement a debit usage fee.”

That got me thinking two things: First of which, could BoA not have predicted what the customer feedback would be back in September when it announced the debit card usage fee?

I just don’t know where to go. Are BoA executives living in such a Versailles-like separation from reality that they thought customers would be kosher with a new fee to access their own money? If this decision were run by the senior director of of corporate communication (making the assumption that said person were competent at his/her job), he or she would most certainly have gone ballistic in trying to prevent the fee from being implemented. Of course, any competent senior manager in communication could have seen how stakeholders like the media, the general public, the government, other regulatory agencies and your own customers react to news of fees after the bank received a corporate bailout and announced 30,000 layoffs.

But…

A quick look at the Bank of America list of corporate officers shows that BoA’s director of corporate communication isn’t on the senior management team.

And there’s the rub.

Another organization that shows a disregard not only for the importance of seeing public relations as a management function takes an action to protect its bottom line without looking at the effects it would have on its most important stakeholders — those that keep the organization in business.

I’m not a genius, but I’d bet my car and my very cute and well behaved dog that, even with the announced repeal of the fee, BoA still sees a precipitous decline in its customer base and its already tarnished corporate reputation.

I’ll address the second question that came to mind tomorrow: Why is it that BoA couldn’t pull off this small five dollar fee when airlines have been able to pull off fees for everything from baggage to potato chips?

Dust in the Wind… and the Humvees

Last week. the president announced that the troops currently in Iraq will be home by the end of the year. That’s a big statement.

This post isn’t an endorsement or a criticism of that decision, but more of a caution about communicating huge promises like that.

When I got back from Iraq in 2004, I brought my camera to a friend of mine to see if he could clean it. “Can you clean all of Iraq out if it?” I asked.

“It depends on how much of Iraq you brought back in it,” he said.

And there’s the problem, folks. You maybe happy or angry about the fact that President Obama has promised to pull out the troops by the end of the year, but you probably have no idea what that means as far as logistics go.

If you’ve ever been to Iraq, you know that “sand” is barely the correct word to describe what’s on the ground there. Forget what you’ve seen at the beach in the Carolinas, folks. Iraqi sand is brown baby powder. Soldiers don’t follow one another closely while walking because the clouds that kick up with choke them if they do. Tissues turn black when you blow your nose. You have to shake your socks out at the end of the day – regardless what boots you wear. And, yes, even our poor cameras are full of sand after a couple of weeks. I remember the stores on base couldn’t keep cans of compressed air on the shelves…

So, that said, imagine what a Humvee looks like, or a Bradley, or an MRAP, after years of duty. In order to bring that stuff back, it needs more than a drive-thru car wash. In order to prevent the spread of invasive species and whatnot, all that sand has to be removed. All of it.

Plus, have you ever seen a helicopter get shipped? Pilots don’t fly Apaches home from Iraq. Those are washed too, then each one is shrink-wrapped. That’s not a five-minute process.

The president made a big promise to a group of stakeholders that doesn’t deserve any broken promises. I’m not a logistical genius, but I know that what the president promised requires more than a few thousand plane tickets. If he doesn’t deliver on this promise, it’ll be a public relations nightmare.