I’m Sorry

30 09 2011

Apologies have been a discussion in PR and crisis communication for years. When do you apologize? How do you apologize? Through what communication medium do you apologize?

Recent news has brought this topic into mainstream discussion once again. One example is Netflix CEO Reed Hastings and how he is trying to muddle through the thousands of complaints Netflix customers have about its newest business operations. A recent Washington Post article, The Science Behind Saying Sorry, discussed how Hastings’ effort to address his angry customers is following a familiar script.

In the past individuals have reacted differently to  apologies. Some are effective and some crash and burn. Is there a specific formula for the perfect apology? How do you repent while managing the fact that you are confirming blame? Personally, I would appreciate a sincere apology; one that doesn’t utilize scapegoats. According to a leadership text-book when leaders fail and lose credibility the 6 “As” of leadership accountability should be utilized. Accept responsibility, admit mistakes, apologize, take immediate remedial action, make amends or reparation and pay close attention to the reactions of your followers. This is where Hastings’ apology failed. Although he did say I’m sorry. He was apologizing for not explaining his recent business decision to charge Netflix customers more, but customers were mad that he did not make any remedial action to solve the problem. He did not pay close attention to the reactions of his followers.

Another recent example includes College of Charleston Student Body President, Ross Kressel. Kressel faced impeachment from office for tweeting offensive comments about gays, women  and some of his colleagues. After surviving impeachment he issued an apology via email to the student body. Below is the email sent.


This letter is an apology from my heart for the actions you may have recently read about.  As Student Body President I acted inappropriately and for that I apologize.  I apologize for whatever embarrassment, pain, or suffering I may have caused any of you in my capacity, because that is obviously not why you elected me your Student Body President.  I pledge to continue to work for you, represent you, and create the College environment you desire.  I as well as my colleagues in the Student Government Association welcome your call or email in the future to let us know how we can better serve you.  In the coming days, I will contact you to inform you of some of the major issues that will be addressed during the school year. 


Ross Kressel, President of the Student Body


After receiving this apology by email I began to question if this medium was the most effective means to deliver an apology for such an offensive act. How should apologies be delivered to their publics? Does delivery medium have an effect on the perceived effectiveness of the apology? I would argue that the medium does have an effect of the perceived effectiveness of the apology. As a communication master’s student I can’t help but apply a media theory to this example. According to media richness theory, individuals should match the communication channel to the content of the information. The second major consideration of this theory is the nature of the message that needs to be sent. The scholars that created this theory centered the nature of the message on ambiguity – the possibility of multiple interpretations or confusion. Therefore, the more ambiguous and sensitive the message the richer the medium that should be utilized (with face-to-face being the richest medium). I would argue that Hastings and Kressel should have used a richer form of media to communicate their apology. Would their apologies have been perceived differently if a richer medium were chosen? Do you think email and social media sites are effective mediums to deliver apologies? Does if depend on the situation?

Email Marketing Campaigns 101

27 04 2011

Last week I went to a Constant Contact Informational session with Anissa Starnes, the regional development director for Constant Contact.  For those of you unfamiliar with Constant Contact, it is marketing tool that helps you create email campaigns, surveys and event marketing campaigns.  At this event Anissa spoke about how to create a successful email marketing campaign and how to increase the number of times that your brand touches a potential or current customer. Below are my take-aways.

Email marketing can not be thought of as simply selling a product.  It should be used to connect with your audience and build connections with them.  This takes trust. You should use email to inform, educate and share something with your audience.  Email campaigns that simply try to sell a product will be deleted from inboxes.

Why do I need to use email marketing? What id my clients are not using email? Email campaigns can be used by any business, no matter the subject matter.  Statistics show that 147 million people across the country use email and most of them use it every day.  Therefore, your audience is using email and so should your business! Email marketing is also cost-effective and easy to measure.  When using an email campaign site like Constant Contact or Mail Chimp you can get reports on every email you send. 

Building your Email List

Step 1 to starting an email marketing campaign is to build your email list.  There is no magic number necessary to start a campaign; start where you are and keep adding emails to your list.  Remember, that email marketing is permission based.  You MUST gain permission from someone before you start inundating their mailboxes with email.  Also, after you add them to your list confirm that they wish to join by sending a welcome email.  In this email list how frequently they will receive emails and what they will consist of.  Example: monthly newsletter. Here are some ideas on how to build and add to your list:

  • Add a “Join My Mailing List” link in the signature of your email.
  • At networking events and meetings ask people if they would like to be added to your mailing list. 57% of consumers said that they would fill out a card to receive email alerts when asked by a small business.  It doesn’t hurt to ask!
  • Have sign up on your website.  Make sure it is on the front page so people can access it quickly.
  • Add a sign up on your Facebook.  The new business profiles on Facebook allow you to add a tab where fans can also sign up to receive emails. 

Anatomy of an Email Campaign

Your email should inform, promote your company and relate. Only 30% of the content should be promotional material.  The other 70% should inform and relate.  Please make sure that your content is concise.  Included links where people can opt to read more on your website, blog, Facebook, etc.  The email should be short snippets of information.  If it is too long or wordy it will just get pushed down to the bottom of in boxes or deleted. Here are some content ideas:

  • Think of the top frequently asked questions (FAQ) for your business.  Pick one and write about it.
  • The information you choose doesn’t always have to be about your company.  If you find something that applies to your field of work or even something that you think your audience might enjoy, include it.
  • Look at other newsletters for content ideas.
  • Add information tips and inspirational quotes.
  • Be personal!  Tell about yourself in your newsletter.  Your audience will want to get to know the person behind the company. Include information about yourself, your family, your interests, etc.  Also, include information about your staff.
  • Add videos, pictures and customer testimonials.

Email etiquette

Here a few things to note when sending emails.

  • Be aware of when you send emails and the frequency of emails. Never deliver an email blast on Monday or Friday.  Studies show that Tuesday or Wednesday have the highest open rates. Also, make sure that you are not flooding in boxes with emails.  I would recommend no more than 2 blasts a month.
  • Have a ‘from line.’ Studies recommend that the e-blasts should come from someone at your business.  This makes it more personal.
  • Subject lines are very important!  This can often be the reason someone deletes or opens your email. Subject lines should be short and sweet!  5-8 words is sufficient.  Make them interesting. The subject line should be a teaser of what is inside the email. If you have trouble writing subject lines, write the email first then come back and write your subject line. Punctuate and spell everything in your subject line correctly.  This will help to ensure that your email is not marked as spam.
  • When sending an email, personalize it with a first name.
  • When sending an email to more than one person blind copy the email addresses to protect the privacy of all in your list.

Tips for Finding a Job

2 02 2011

Today’s job market is not the easiest place for recent graduates who are looking for a job.  I have a few tips and suggestions that I feel are helpful.  Please comment and let me know if you have any other tips.

  1. Network, network and network! This is the most important thing that I learned in my college career.  Knowing someone can help give you that push that you need when finding a job. Most employers hire someone who has interned for them or someone they know. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. Set up an informational interview with an employer or ask if you could set up a time to ask them a few questions about their career because you are interested in pursuing something similar.
  2. Perfect your resume.  Make sure your resume is one page and is free of gramatical errors.  Choose a format that makes it easy for an employer to scan.  There are numerous online examples and tips for perfecting resumes.
  3. Join your college of university’s local alumni club.  Most schools have these and this is the best way to network with local professionals in your area.  These people will be willing to help you in any way possible because they too are alumni.
  4. Become active on professional social media sites like Twitter or LinkedIn.  I highly recommend starting a LinkedIn account.  This site allows you to create a virtual resume and connect with people who are also on the site.  It gives you the opportunity to list skills, past employment history and acquire recommendations from other LinkedIn users.  Twitter is also a very effective way to connect with future employers and make connections that may be helpful down the road.
  5. Be professional!  Make sure that the phone number you give out to employers has an appropriate voice mail/answering machine message. I would recommend not having a ring back on your cell phone if you give this number to employers or list it on your resume.  They do not want to listen to your music, especially if it is obscene. Clean up your Facebook.  Remove pictures or wall posts that are inappropriate.  You have complete control of how you portray yourself online.  Although Facebook is a social site, it is being used more and more by businesses to keep in touch with employees. Last, ditch the cute email address or email signature.  When looking over your resume a serious employer is not going to want to email sccutiepie@aol.com for an interview. How you conduct yourself via email is just as important as how you would conduct yourself in an interview.
  6. Get involved in your local community.  Join a club, organization or volunteer.  This is a great way to network and meet people.

Social Media Best Practices: PR Group Project

29 11 2010

This semester my PR class is working for a client, Safe Harbor.  In addition to the Pepsi Refresh Project, the class has split up into groups to produce deliverables for our client.  My groups is working on a social media best practices guide including a calendar of when to post to Facebook, Twitter and the blog and a section on how to launch a social media campaign.  We are also creating a document with recommendations for their website including the addition of a press room and a discussion forum.  The first step in completing these deliverables was research.  We looked extensively at Safe Harbor’s Twitter, Facebook and blog.  We also looked at other nonprofits and specifically domestic violence shelters to see how Safe Harbor compared to the competition.  We found that the American Red Cross was a great example for nonprofit organizations hoping to get involved in social media.  This organization is very active with social media and even has a social media plan and how to for its branches.  We are using this organization to help us give suggestions to Safe Harbor.  Safe Harbor is doing a fairly good job with social media.  We have just a few suggestions on how to make their Twitter, Facebook and blog more effective and align them with each other.  We think that these social media sites need to be more conversational and work as a team to promote Safe Harbor and domestic violence.  Many of our tips include marketing their social media accounts, how to make posts on these sites more strategic and how to increase followers, friends and comments.  We hope that our suggestions help Safe Harbor to become more involved and a better networked nonprofit.

Update on our Pepsi Refresh Project

22 11 2010

In an earlier post I mentioned the year-long social media campaign Pepsi has launched tiled the Pepsi Refresh Project which will donate more than $20 million to charity projects.  My PR class has applied to win a $25K grant for our class client Safe Harbor.  Safe Harbor is a domestic violence shelter in upstate SC that provides shelter, counseling and other services to abused women and children.  The 2 Safe Harbor shelters are in desperate need of revitalization as more than 500 women and children sleep and stay in their 2 shelters a year.  If Safe Harbor wins the grant they will use the money to purchase new mattresses, playground equipment and carpet for their 2 shelters.

To help Safe Harbor win this competition my PR class is leveraging all of our individual social networks as well as Safe Habor’s social networks.  We set up a plan to strategically post on Safe Harbor’s Facebook and Twitter 3 times a week.  We have also asked Safe Harbor to post on their blog about the project and tell others through their email networks.  Individually we have sent emails to our networks, posted on our Facebooks, Twitters and blogs.  We have also tapped into to Clemson University’s networks by emailing departments, campus organizations and even the president to ask them to support our effort and vote daily.  In addition, we sent press releases to local media.  Our press release was published in The Tiger, Clemson University’s newspaper.

So far our efforts have been successful.  We have moved from number 207 to number 85 and continue to climb.  We have to be in the top 10 by November 30th to win the grant.  Please visit our page on the Pepsi Refresh site to vote!  We need your help!

Governing Through Networks

22 11 2010

This is the final chapter of The Networked Nonprofit.  In this chapter the authors talk about governance and how it is critical to organizational success.  However, often governing boards represent only the view points of the elite and don’t seem to get much done.  This chapter outlines ways that social media can open up governance and make it more representative of the communities that the organization serves and to better guide the organization.  Here are some ways that governing boards can worked in networked ways:

  • Create a place where board members can share information online and have conversations with each other outside of the board meeting room.
  • Join a public online social network like Facebook.
  • Create an open invitation to meetings on your website and other social media sites you may have.
  • Post agendas online so others can see what the meeting will be about and offer suggestions.
  • Train board members how to use social media.
  • Share information and data from the meetings with other audience members.  If they are well-informed, audience members can better provide assistance.

I think these tips are excellent points.  Being a networked nonprofit means breaking down the walls and being truly transparent.  When I served as a board member of the Clemson chapter of PRSSA we implemented many of these suggestions.  Before member meetings we would post agendas and during our meetings we live blogged and tweeted so that people who could not attend the meeting could follow along from home.  Live blogging is very easy to use and could be a great way to broadcast what occurs in meetings without streaming video.  Nonprofit organizations like Safe Harbor could benefit greatly from implementing a few of these strategies.  Some organizations are still wary of being completely transparent, but things like posting agendas and minutes from meeting could be the start for these organizations to break away from their fears.

Turning Friends into Funders

22 11 2010

Online fundraising has been growing quickly over the past couple of years.  For example, after the earthquake struck Haiti the American Red Cross reported that it raised $22 million through a text message campaign.  Social media fundraising must begin with relationship building, however this takes time.  According to the Networked Nonprofit building an online community of supporters who may want to donate can take 6 to 18 months.  In this chapter Beth Kanter and Allison fine (authors of The Networked Nonprofit) outline some tactics to help make your organizations fundraising successful.  Some of these include:

  • Establish trust and credibility with potential donors.
  • Make sure that your message is simple and compelling.
  • Build urgency around your fundraising effort.
  • Spread out the giving: request small dollar amounts
  • Recognize donors publicly and personally.  Be thankful throughout the whole effort, not just at the end.
  • Use stores to put a face with your fundraising effort.

An example of how an organization has used social media to fundraise is the Jingle Bells Run/Walk for Arthritis.  This campaign utilized social media to raise funds that sponsored teams in the run/walk.  All the money went to fund research.   The Arthritis Foundation (the sponsor of the event) had a Facebook, video on their website a kit with ideas for raising funds and even a fact sheet on how to utilize social media.  The social media fact sheet contained sample Facebook statuses and Tweets.  I thought something like this would be very useful for our client, Safe Harbor.  If they choose to launch a campaign to raise funds this website would be extremely beneficial.  Check out their website for more useful information:  http://www.arthritis.org/jingle-bell-run.php

Learning Loops

16 11 2010

This chapter discusses learning loops and how nonprofit organizations can use this to help them elicit social change.  Learning loops monitor and analyze a process as it unfolds.  Learning loops involve tracking, monitoring and reflection of a project.  There are different steps in the process of learning loops.  These include:

  1. Planning: Organizations should carefully consider their goals and objectives for using social media prior to beginning a project.  They should identify a specific target audience and decide what key questions they attempt to learn about their use of social media throughout the project.
  2. Measuring Engagement and Connections: In order to build relationships an organization needs to connect and engage with people.  Blogs have multiple options for measuring engagement.  The number of subscribers tells the organization how many people have made a commitment to reading the blog.  Monthly trends of the most read posts are helpful for helping the organization to understand what readers are interested in.  There are also many free online tools to measure engagement.  Comments are the most obvious way to measure engagement.  Last, influential blogs link to other blogs.
  3. Reflection:  This is the last step in the learning loop process.  Organizations need to reflect on what happened and how they can move forward.  Analyze the successes and failures of the project to help make the design of the next project more helpful.

I found this chapter particularly helpful.  My group is designing a Social Media How To Guide for Safe HArbor.  In this guide we are including tips for Twitter, Facebook and blogs.  The section that discusses measurement and engagement on blogs is very helpful to organizations that are just getting their feet wet in the social media world.  I am going to incorporate these tips into our How To Guide.  Also, I found this blog post on generating comments, which the chapter states is the easiest way to measure engagement, very helpful.  Please visit this post to learn more about increasing comments and online engagement.

Working with Crowds

16 11 2010

This chapter discusses how nonprofits can utilize crowds to inexpensively lift some of the weight off the shoulders of staff members.  This process is known as crowdsourcing or the process of organizing people to participate in a joint project, often in small ways.

The chapter discusses 4 different types of crowdsourcing:

  1. Collective intelligence or crowd wisdom: This is the concept that more heads are better than one when it comes to problem solving.
  2. Crowd creation: crowds can help create original works of knowledge or art
  3. Crowd voting: crowds love to vote for their favorite things
  4. Crowd funding: Crowds have a collective pocketbook and can help to fund ideas that benefit others

Working with crowds takes practice and trust.  The organization should break their strategic goals into smaller pieces that the crowds can help with.  First the organization must make it clear what they want their crowds to accomplish/do. Second, Organizations need to connect with the right crowd for the job.  Last, the organization needs to make it clear to the crowd how their input will be used.

After reading this chapter I realized that my Communication class serves as a crowd for Safe Harbor.  They have given us small goals that they would like accomplished and then have given us the freedom to expand and add to these goals.  Safe Harbor has a lot of trust in our class and has allowed us to act as free agents on their behalf.  I would categorize our crowdsourcing as collective intelligence, crowd creation and crowd voting.  We are creating content for them to use, collectively solving problems on their behalf as well as voting for them to win a $25,000 Pepsi Refresh Grant.  This semester Safe Harbor has benefitted greatly from crowdsourcing.

Pepsi Refresh Project: Do Some Good

8 11 2010

The Pepsi Refresh Project is a single year-long marketing campaign that was launched January 2010.  Instead of participating in Super Bowl advertising, Pepsi has allocated that money to embark on this project.  By the end of the year Pepsi estimates that it will have given $20 million in grant money to winners of each monthly competition.  I think this has been a bold and successful strategy for Pepsi.  It has used this online campaign to build new relationships and strong ties with the groups who have received the grants.  To read more check out this article.

Our class is competing to win $25,000 for Safe Harbor, our class client.  We are utilizing all of our social networks to ask friends, family and acquaintances to vote for our project.  If we win we will use to money to purchase new mattresses, carpet and playground equipment for the 2 shelters located in upstate South Carolina.  To learn more about our project and to vote please visit: http://www.refresheverything.com/studentsforsafeharbor