Using Social Media to Accomplish Your Communications Goals

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With an emphasis on how to effectively leverage Twitter and other Social Media channels to accomplish your communications goals, Larry Parnell, Program Director, and Jeanine Guidry, a May 2013 graduate of the online SPR program, will discuss strategies for reaching your target audience, improving your overall impact, and how GW’s online Master’s in Strategic Public Relations Program provides PR professionals the strategies and tactics to be leaders in the field.


Amanda Walter: Okay, let’s go ahead and get started. I know we’ll still have some people joining us for the first few minutes here but we can go ahead and at least get things started. I wanted to start by introducing myself. My name’s Amanda. I’ll be your moderator for today’s webinar, which is focusing on effective social media strategies and best practices. And we’re hosted by GW’s Online Masters and Strategic Public Relations Program.

Before I do get started, I wanted to just quickly go over a couple key logistics for today’s webinar. The webinar will last about 45 minutes to an hour at most. We will conclude with a live Q&A session at the very end of the webinar, so feel free to submit questions to me at any time during the webinar by using the chat window on the right hand side of your screen. Those can be directed to me, Amanda, again, your host. And at the very end of the session what I’ll do is I’ll read people’s questions out loud for our panelists to respond to.

If we’re not able to get through everyone’s questions within the one hour timeframe we’ll certainly respond to those afterwards by having an advisor reach out to you to follow up. And we’ll reach out with a recording link as well for everyone if you have to leave early or if you missed any part of the webinar.

I wanted to quickly introduce our panelists. We have two people today, Larry Parnell who is an Associate Professor and he’s also the Director of GW’s Masters and Strategic Public Relations Program, both on campus and online. And then Jeanine Guidry is a recent graduate of the online SPR program. She graduated this May. And she also opted to participate in the optional thesis part of the program where she focused specifically on social media and Twitter in particular.

Really quickly I’m just going to go over the agenda. Larry will start by providing a quick overview about the online program and then we’ll get into the meat of the presentation today about social media, most of which will be presented by Jeanine. And she’s going to be going over social medial best practices, some of the common social media channels as well as obviously talking us through her thesis and a number of conclusions that she drew based on her research.

We’re also going to conclude with some suggestions and strategies about effective use of social media. And then finally, as I said, we’ll have a Q&A session at the very end of today’s session.

So thanks again. We really appreciate you taking the time to join us. We hope you find the webinar informative and look forward to obviously talking with everyone shortly. And I’ll start by turning things over now to Larry to go over some information about the program. Go ahead, Larry.
Larry Parnell: Thank you very much and I appreciate everyone joining us this evening. I know there’s many demands on your time and to take some time out to hear from us is very much appreciated. I think you’ll find what Jeanine has to say very informative. We’re very proud of her in her work and we’re glad to share it with you this evening.

My role is to talk a bit about our program which I’ve been in charge of now for five plus years. It is a straightforward Masters. It’s the same Masters degree you would receive were you to be coming to us on campus. There’s 33 credits which is 11 courses, 10 of which are core courses so to speak and one is a capstone project; there’s three credits for each one. Most of our students are able to complete that program in two years and it is delivered 100 percent online so you don’t need to be in the Washington, D.C. area to get a Masters degree from George Washington University.

Our focus in this program is more on the practical application side of things. This is not necessarily a program, although Jeanine is an example of that exception, for people who are going on to get a Ph.D. It is more, in many cases it’s a terminal degree for our students who are looking to step up their level of experience and background in public relations and get a credential from a major school like GW.

We focus on skills development, enhancing the ones you have and bringing you new ones. We are very anxious to be relevant and current so we focus a lot on social media as well as traditional media relations and research and those sorts of things. We’re looking at trends in the marketplace and in PR and moving those and reflecting those in our course work. And it’s really primarily, as the title implies, a strategic focus to our course. We say that our bottom-line intent is to take very good mechanics and turn them into PR strategists.

So as I mentioned, our curriculum is current and topical. It is something we focus on and revise on an ongoing basis. Our faculty, with the exception of myself, are all adjuncts. They work in the profession and they work as researchers, as public affairs and public relations professionals. They’re in the marketplace so to speak every day and they bring their know-how and experience to the classroom and to the online experience, bringing to you their own experience and the battle-tested practices that they’ve developed over the years that are shared with you and you can make your own and enhance as you see fit.

Obviously this is a goal of our program, to enhance your career and your professional development, and there are a number of ways we do that. And there is, as you might imagine for a university like George Washington, a tremendous network of people who are current and former students; the alumni number 250,000 people around the world. And I’m sure that Jeanine will talk a bit about the value of that going forward and we count on her being a very effective and strong ambassador for our program going forward as one of our successful graduates.

So I’m going to introduce Jeanine and I mentioned that she is an exception and she’s exceptional. We’re very proud of her work and her background. Most of our students do not pursue a thesis but Jeanine from the very beginning was very committed to the task and she’ll tell you more about herself and her background. But we felt that her work and her research is something that would be topical and current and give you an indication of the kind of people in our program across the spectrum. So I’ll turn it over to you, Jeanine.

Jeanine Guidry: All right thank you, Larry. Thank you, Amanda. And thanks everyone for joining us tonight. I was born and raised in the Netherlands and I, in a previous life, my first academic life, got a Master of Science and Health Sciences from Maastricht University. I moved to the U.S. soon after that and have been really involved in non-profit work and community development ever since.

A tiny little plug for our non-profit, it’s called Arts in the Alley and you see the website on the slides there. We take rundown city alleys and streets and we turn them into bright outdoor art galleries by painting murals in them with all volunteer paint-by-numbers projects. I started the program about two and a half years ago and I graduated in May. You see a picture of myself and my co-pilot, [Loa], our dog who got her very own mortar board for graduation. And I am now pursuing a Ph.D. at Virginia Commonwealth University.

So a little bit about, and I was thinking about some of the highlights of the online student experience through this particular program and I think one of the most amazing things for me was that first of all it’s easier to fit it into your daily schedule. A lot of people that were in our class were a little ways into their career; that meant two or three years or 10 or 15 years. And because you can do things at times where it works for you, that’s just a wonderful convenience.

But, surprisingly in a wonderful way, that did not have any type of negative effect on the classroom environment or the peer collaboration. And honestly, the connection with my classmates, both in classes, working on projects together as well as just personally, is one of the wonderful takeaways from this program. And I can truly say that when I graduated in May and you have the opportunity to walk in D.C., on the mall, which was an amazing experience. I did that with several of my now closest friends and that really was built all through this online program.
I think in some ways we got closer and we worked closer together than if we had been on campus. And maybe it is because we’re more intentional about it. Maybe it is because it’s the only way you have to connect. You’re not sitting in a room together. But it was one of the highlights.

I don’t have much to add to the curriculum except the fact that I came in, and I would highly recommend this to everyone coming in, and that is I came in coming from a specific part of our community, non-profit community. And I think one of the great things about this program is that it really fits. Communications is huge. PR is not just an area, a very specific area of communications. PR is something that touches all of our lives.
And I think what this program allows is it allows all of us to become better professionals, but it also allows us to explore some of the areas that maybe we haven’t explored before. And in my case, it allowed me to do a thesis. Like Professor Parnell was saying that that’s a little bit of an exception but it’s a possibility and for me it was a hard but wonderful experience.

And some of the unique opportunities, again, you do the program online, you don’t have to come to D.C. but you get to come to D.C. when you graduate. And that was an experience that I will never forget. And there’s something about closure when we do things like that and it definitely was a step from one program into the next part of my life.

I’m going to talk to you a little bit about social media. And here’s the thing; I am assuming that everyone on this call to some degree is using some form of social media. I’m also assuming, maybe not entirely correctly, that not everyone is using every channel and not everyone is using every channel professionally. And so I’m just going to go over an overview, some best practices.

And one of the beautiful things about social media is that it’s such a new development. You look back, I mean 10 years ago Facebook was barely starting to be conceived of by Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter didn’t exist yet and Instagram was still seven years away.

So we’re in the middle of a communications revolution that doesn’t just touch communications. It touches really every part of society. And the better we learn to use it together the more effective we’re going to be in all of our lives. And that can be professionally, it can be personally, it can be in a professional communications role or in any professional role that you may have. First I’m going to talk a little bit about Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, I’m going to lump Google Plus with Facebook and then Instagram. And since my thesis was on Twitter I’ll loop that into that part.

Let’s start with Facebook. And the basics are really that there’s three ways to use Facebook; personal profiles, and just remember that this the basic profile you started when you started using Facebook. You have the ability to make that private or “private”, because things – and this is something to keep in mind with social media – things really never are completely private, even if the system tells you it is. That’s nothing to be afraid of; it’s just something to be aware of. Don’t put things on Facebook or on any social media profile that you would mind getting out, that you think could get misinterpreted. It can be an incredibly powerful tool. It is a very powerful tool to reach basically worldwide.

So that’s your personal profile. And Facebook still requires you to have a personal profile before you can do either one of the following two, and that’s Facebook groups and Facebook pages. Facebook pages are profiles for organizations, for businesses, for educators, for schools, for non-profits, basically for an organization as an entity. And it looks much like a personal profile but it has additional functionality.
The problem with using a personal profile for a business, which I still see quite often, is that you then have to Friend people. They have to Like you. They have to request your friendship on Facebook. And there a lot of times are limits to the number Friends you can have.

A page, there are no limits to how many people can Like your page. And there is no approval required from you. Say you are starting a page for your organization or your business; people can connect with you without having to be approved by you. And that, for your business, your organization, that is a good thing.
Now the other thing that I often still see is that people use a Facebook Group for their organization. And that works as long as it’s meant as a networking group, as long as it’s meant for interaction. Groups work well for organizing committees, for departments in businesses or for groups of friends trying to put on an event. But they don’t work well as the business card on Facebook for an organization.

So really, you want to make sure you have a personal profile. You want to make sure your business has a page or, if you are say an educator or you are a teacher on public relations, create a page for you as a professional and have that. You’ll see my page later. I have a personal page. I have a page for Arts in the Alley. I also have a page for myself professionally and it’s Redhead Academic.

Okay, now let’s keep going. So Facebook best practices, social media is all about conversations. It’s about the ability to not just talk to people but also have people talk back at you, to actually be in whatever level of conversation that we can get to. Now it is limited in a lot of ways, but that doesn’t make it any less real.
And I’m going to bring this up over and over again; when you’re on social media and you’re doing it professionally, don’t use it like quintessential, what we tend to think of press release public relations. It is more than a one-way megaphone and it should be more. The unique ability that we have through social media is to reach to people and for them to communicate back to us. And if we don’t use that we’re using a large part of the functionality.
And the reason why I’m saying this is when I did my thesis research, which was on non-profit organizations, the vast majority, and these were large non-profits, used social media as a one-way communication channel, basically getting information out there but ignoring anything that would come back at them.

Post regularly; you really have to be active on social media. No one can tell you the exact frequency. I usually tell people on Facebook you want to at least post twice a week, three times a week. If you can post daily, that’s even better. On a blog once a week is a good frequency. And Twitter you really have to be active daily.
But more than anything else, if someone comes back to your page, they take the effort to come back to your page, make sure that they actually see something new. Because if they don’t they’re likely to just not come back and wait to see if maybe something comes by on their news feed, and you don’t want to count on that.

Two next things; always respond and never remove. And there’s exceptions to that which is why I say almost to both of those. If someone is interested enough, even if it’s a negative interest, and they respond on your Facebook page, and this goes to Twitter as well, if they leave a comment, if they comment on a post you make, if they comment on your photos, respond back. Answer the questions. You have a very easy way to do that, especially on Facebook. It’s easy to do. Respond back. If nothing else, say ‘Thank you so much for commenting. Yes, we were really impressed with that too.’

If someone says something negative, the temptation a lot of times is to remove it because as PR professionals we really want to control the message that gets out there. My recommendation and the recommendation of pretty much everyone in the field is don’t do that. You do give up a little bit of control of your message but what you get back for it is absolutely priceless.

And what I’ve seen every time that someone’s put something negative on say my non-profit’s Facebook page, is if I just hold back – first of all, if I respond kindly, sort of dispassionately, ‘I’m sorry you feel that way. Can you contact us offline? Can we help resolve this?’ number one, often there is a conversation that helps resolve the situation.

Number two, a lot of times people will come to your aid and they’ll say ‘Well’, if it’s truly unreasonable, ‘that’s not who these people are. That’s not what this business does. I have a good experience.’ But you’re allowing people to express frustrations. And always remember that if that happens, they’re saying it anyway, the advantage of social media, if they put it on social media, is that you actually are aware of it.

One of the – actually, I’ll tell this in the Twitter department. I’ll tell you a personal story about this. So don’t remove posts unless it’s something that’s completely inappropriate. If it’s something indecent, if it’s something inflammatory then you look at considering removing it, and the same thing with responding.
Again, if this is an indecent post, if it’s a troll, yes, you can feel free not to respond. But if it is an honest response from someone who might not be so happy with what you’re doing, respond back. At least they’re talking to you. And if they’re talking to you, you can head off some of the issues.

Very simple; use photos. Use photos on your Facebook post because if you look at a photo you’re going to be more engaged. Post information and not just marketing. And these things actually come out of academic research.
It’s very tempting for us to post things about our organization, our business, ‘Look at this new product. See what we’re doing here. Join us for this’. But if you balance that with information in your field that doesn’t directly promote what you’re doing but that is related to it, you first of all profile yourself as an expert in the area and you gain trust from the people who Friend you or follow you.

And finally, people have often a knee-jerk response to if they just get marketed at. ‘Well all they want is they want me to sign on the dotted line.’ Be interested in the people that connect with you. And as long as you are authentic in that and as you give people information they can use; say you are a pharmaceutical business and you produce medicines, don’t just get the information out about your medicines.

For example, it’s getting flu season right now. What are some simple things people can do to prevent getting sick? Washing your hands, using hand sanitizer, don’t touch your mouth with your hands, take Vitamin C. There’s a number of things that are general good-advice things you can give together with, ‘Hey, we make Tylenol and, if you do get sick, that may help you feel better and be able to function’.

Fall-back posts, because sometimes, and this is especially so if you’re a small organization or if you’re a one-person organization which really our non-profit pretty much is, inspirational quotes, facts, polls. Have some fall-back posts so that if you don’t have a lot of time in a particular week or particular time to come up with original posts with stuff that’s engaging, have some fall-back posts that you can post that are in line with who you are as an organization or as a business and that don’t take you a lot of time.

All right, let’s move on to LinkedIn. LinkedIn, I am assuming here everyone is on LinkedIn. If you’re not, you should be. But the good news, if you are tending to get a bit overwhelmed because there’s no many channels, but LinkedIn, it’s your business card online. It is your sort of a cross between a CV and a business card.
You can get very involved on LinkedIn. There are all kinds of professional development discussions on certain topics. You can be a part of groups. But, if all you do is create a good profile, you can use it to introduce yourself to people that you need to meet. Others can do the same thing. And a lot of prospective employers will look at LinkedIn before they hire someone. So have a profile.

And if you are overwhelmed with all the other responsibilities, you don’t have to jump into this one with lots of activity every week. If you create a good profile and respond to the communication you get in through LinkedIn. If you have time, definitely get more involved. Let’s move on, Amanda.

Okay Twitter, and I think we may – was the thesis slide in there somewhere or am I at the wrong spot?
Amanda Walter: We can go over some of just the very basics on getting started with Twitter first and then we’ll go into more information about your thesis.

Jeanine Guidry: All right, perfect. Okay so Twitter, 140 characters, but really know that when you get on Twitter and, really, as a business or an organization, you should be on Twitter. A few years ago it was like ‘Well you know what? If it works for you, if it’s appropriate’. I think at this point we’re getting to the point where I would recommend every business to be on Twitter, if nothing else, so you can listen. And I’ll talk a little bit more about that.

A hundred and forty characters, that is your magic number. That is how many characters you have to send a message. Really, keep it under 120 because what that will allow you to do is for other people to retweet your tweet and put a little comment in front of it. So your gold standard is do not go over 120 characters.

The tools of Twitter, just very basically, Twitter has developed really good tools that actually other social media channels have adopted. And Twitter adopted these or invented many of these because of the limit on characters. So they have to do something to make sure that people keep track of posts and could relate to each other without a lot of extra characters.

The pound sign, also known now as the hashtag, is a way to organize information. So #fluseason or #flu, if you search for that you’re going to get all kinds of tweets about people tweeting about the flu or about flu season. You should have a hashtag for your organization or your business. You should consider having a hashtag for a special event.

Having a hashtag, creating a hashtag is sort of a balance between what are the hashtags people are using in general so that a lot of people will see potentially your information, and then there should be a few hashtags that you create. Not a lot of people, if you’re a small organization, will see those, but the people who want to see them can.

And they can actually keep track of a conversation about, for example, a mural project we did last weekend. And it was very helpful for people to be able to see who was tweeting out photos about the event, little anecdotes about the event, little updates about it. So even though we had probably 60 people participate in Twitter on that; that was incredibly helpful.

The “at” sign is called the direct reply or to mention and those are two different things. Twitter, your user name is a handle. So my handle for my non-profit’s @artsinthealley. If for example if I want to talk to a large non-profit say @Unicef, for them to see it I should say ‘Hey @Unicef, love the work you’re doing, would like to connect’ because that automatically will show up in their feed as opposed to ‘Hey Unicef’. So that’s what’s called a mention. You actually mention them by their handle and that handle is going to get notified, ‘Hey, somebody just mentioned you, you should reply back’.

When you put a mention in the beginning of a tweet it’s called a direct reply. It’s sort of addressing someone directly; ‘Hey Jane, would you like to get together this week?’ And if a handle is at the beginning of a tweet it’s only visible to that person or that entity and the people or organizations that follow them. So it’s more targeted and it is less far-reaching but very, very useful, and I’ll get into that in just a minute.

The retweet is basically your forwarding function. The direct message is a private message that’s sent on Twitter. And then there are link shorteners if you want to include a hyperlink. You know most hyperlinks have 75 characters and most of them look pretty ugly. There are several services, tiny.url is one of them, is another one, that allow you to shorten any URL into probably about 12 to 14 characters, which of course helps you greatly on Twitter since you have those 120 characters you want to watch out for.

Getting started, create a user-friendly Twitter handle. Create something where you can say ‘Hey, follow me at @artsinthealley’. Try to make it something that’s not too long but try to make it something that people will easily remember and don’t have to worry about the spelling.

One of the reasons why I’m using @redheadacademic and not @jeanineguidry is people never know how to spell Jeanine or Guidry for that matter; they put an extra E or they leave an A out and then the handle doesn’t work anymore. Add a photo. And that goes for Facebook as well. Have a profile photo. Don’t have the Twitter egg.
Find people you already know and find people in your geographical area. And realize that your geographical area may be known by a certain hashtag. I live in Richmond, Virginia. Our hashtag is #RVA. New York is #NYC. Usually your area will have a shortened version and you just have to do a little research to find out what it is.
Find organizations or businesses in your field. Get a desktop or mobile client. And I would recommend HootSuite. We don’t have time to go into this but, if anyone wants to know more about it, ask me a question later or contact me later. But something like HootSuite allows you to handle a number of Twitter handles in one window and it gives you a very easy system for tracking hashtags, tracking mentions. It makes your life on Twitter easy and it saves you a ton of time.; it is free unless you use a lot of different handles and then it’s something like five bucks a month.

Add your Twitter handle to all your signatures, e-mail signatures, websites and business cards. It should be on everything that you get out, provided that you use it of course because if you put it on there and you don’t use it – but it really should be a part of how you present yourself, just as Facebook. But Twitter is easier. It’s easier to just remember find me at @artsinthealley.

Read the bio, if you have time, of people who follow you and find out who they are. I recommend that you follow back the people who follow you on Twitter. And listen. By listening I mean that you find out what is being said about your organization on Twitter. You do that through hashtags. Or, if your organization is small, find out what’s being said about the topic that you focus on.

Okay my focus is the non-profit world so most of my examples are going to be from that. But if you are a local food bank, search for #hunger, hunger relief, poverty, and find out what people are saying. What are the discussions that are alive on Twitter?

Now there is a lot of junk on Twitter. There is a lot of junk on Facebook. There is a lot of junk on TV, if you have turned one on lately. So don’t throw away the baby with the bathwater. Realize that, while there is a lot of junk on there, people telling you what they ate for breakfast and how much they love Justin Bieber, no offence there if there’s any Bieber fans here, but use these channels for your benefit. And hashtags are going to help you do that. Hashtags are going to help you filter out some of the let’s say less helpful tweets.

Instagrams; an Instagram, this is something that was started in 2010, has been around for three years, is incredibly popular. If you don’t know what it is, you basically with your Smartphone take a photo and then you have a number of pre-developed filters that you can use to sort of edit that photo, make it look older or brighter, and then you post it. Instagram is a full social media network.

But the big advantage is that, number one, people are there. Even if you don’t use it privately, people spend time on Instagram. Also, Instagram uses hashtags really extensively. Facebook is trying to but isn’t using it as much yet. Instagram is easy to post, especially if the work you do or the business you have has a level of visual interest to it. Instagram is a great way to create content for your Facebook page or for your Twitter handle.
Also, try it out. You do use Smartphone. It is available on iPhone and on Android. It’s supposed to become available on Windows they say this week, but I would definitely recommend you check it out. Like I said, I use it as an easy way to provide content for my other social media channels.

All right, here we go; the work that took a year of my life. It’s called Tale of Many Tweets and it talks about how stakeholders, how people who have an interest in a non-profit organization respond to that organization’s tweets. So that can be people who work in the same field, who are beneficiaries. Stakeholders can be your customers. Stakeholders can be people related to your customers.

What I ended up doing, and this is the beautiful thing about social media, it is so new. There is so much that we don’t know yet. One of the things I really appreciate about the program is that I was allowed to pursue two of my passions, non-profit work and social media, and research something that no one had researched before. And that is, non-profits use Twitter and there’s a fair amount of data available, but no one had really looked at what do the tweets look like that get the most responses.

So if a tweet gets retweeted or is a part of a conversation or is favorited, which really are the big response mechanisms on Twitter, you want people to retweet your tweets. And ultimately, again, a conversation, interaction, that’s your holy grail. So what should those tweets look like? Should they be long? Short? Should they have hashtags? A lot? A few? Maybe? Mentions? What should they do?

I basically analyzed almost 3,500 tweets from 50 large non-profits over what’s called a constructed two-week period. So it’s over the course of two months I picked randomly two Sundays, two Mondays, etcetera so that if there was a big scandal like there was with Livestrong when Lance Armstrong had to resign, not every tweet was relating to that.

And out of that information, here are some of my main findings and that is you can, if you want a tweet to be retweeted, tweets that are retweeted – now this is in the non-profit realm. We don’t if it works this way in the business world. Maybe one of you can figure that out. We don’t how it works in the government world. Maybe somebody else can figure that out.

But, tweets that are retweeted look like this; they are longer. They are more complex. And by more complex I mean
they have more stuff in them, hashtags, mentions, all those little tools that make tweets look different than regular text; shortened hyperlinks. They are focused externally, so that means they have a mention to another entity in it, not to yourself, because people do do that. And they have an external hyperlink, a link that doesn’t link to your own website. Those tweets are most likely to be retweeted and favorited.

Conversations, our holy grail; well those tweets look like an exact opposite of the tweets I just mentioned. They should be short, the shorter the better, and they really shouldn’t have any stuff in them. And the only exception is tweets that have a direct reply, that handle at the beginning of a tweet, those are pretty much off the chart.
And what that means is so simple but also what I think is very helpful. If you try to talk to people on Twitter you’ll end up in a conversation. And that to me was one of the big findings, that if, you know so many things we don’t know, but if we really are intentional about reaching out we actually will get responses back.

And what I want to tell you here is a 30-second brief story and that is a few years ago my mother-in-law passed away and my husband had to fly to Texas. And he came back and there was a hurricane happening in Virginia, and then he had to fly back for the funeral. The only ticket we could get was out of D.C. We live in Richmond. He had to rent a car and drive up to the airport. And the car he rented to get back to Richmond he rented out of Dulles. And as he was leaving the house to fly to his mom’s funeral I realized that his flight was out of Reagan National.

So I called Dollar Rent a Car and I said “What do we do”, explained the situation. And obviously I was emotional that I couldn’t go with him. We had a hurricane going on and all kinds of stuff happening. After 25 minutes of basic unhelpfulness the agent says “Oh by the way, I can’t even talk to you because you’re not the one on the contract’, at which point, after 25 minutes, I got so frustrated that I said “Well thank you for your help”.
I hung up the phone, I went to Twitter and I tweeted “@dollarrentacar”, or whatever their handle is, “you guys really could have made our lives easier today and instead you added to our grief.” And within 90 seconds, less than 2 minutes, I had a tweet back from Dollar saying “@dutchinrichmond”, which was my handle at that point, “we are so sorry. How can we help?” We tweeted back and forth for a bit then they asked me to e-mail them. And within the hour I had an apology e-mail and I had certificates for free car rentals. It was never about the free car rentals or a certificate; I just wanted someone to listen.

So instead of me saying ‘Dollar Rent a Car sucks because they really weren’t able to help us’, I now tell this story to you to say Dollar Rent a Car rocks because someone made a mistake, they didn’t handle something perfectly, but they made it work. Someone tweeted ‘I’m sending you a virtual hug because this must be hard’, you know? I remember that, three years later. This is a powerful tool. Twitter social media is a powerful tool.
A few more things out of my thesis; when you tweet don’t use videos. Don’t tweet out videos. Tweet out photos. And it sort of makes sense because we get tweets a lot of times on a mobile device. We get it quickly. It’s 140 characters. It’s not something that we spend a lot of time on and videos take time. They take time to load. But we do like seeing photos.

And again, like with Facebook, if you tweet out information use public information in addition to marketing information. It doesn’t mean that you can’t send pure PR about the things that your business is doing, but also send things that are relevant to people about the field that you know something about. Become a thought leader. Worry about the response, worry about your business but don’t worry about it so much that no one’s going to listen to you, because people value authenticity. Be human. Be professional but also be human. All right, next slide.
Okay here’s the good ones. What does a good tweet look like? These are from my study. And I couldn’t get the screen shots because they’re from a year ago and Twitter doesn’t go back that far. But here’s two tweets from Livestrong. And here, as you see, the first one, someone actually tweeted out and said “My childhood friend just got diagnosed with terminal cancer. I don’t know what to do.” I remember this tweet very well.
And this is what they responded. They got a link. They got a phone number and say “We have information”. That information doesn’t go, it’s not their info. They just pass it on, for hospice care, for all kinds of end-of-life and how can you make that period as good as possible. Getting information out; monitoring cancer pain, rate your levels with an app. This is something very, very practical that they sent out.

The Red Cross, what they do very well is when there is an emergency they tweet out “We have shelters open. Here’s a link to where you can find out”. If someone tweets in and says “I don’t know where to go. We have no power” they will tweet back and say “Here’s a link to areas where there’s shelters. How can we help you further?”
Asking questions; asking questions is a great way to get people’s interest. Human Rights Watch does this wonderful. They ask questions and they get people’s attention with that. And a lot of times people start answering those questions. They start responding in some way and, boom, you have a conversation. World Vision responds here to an actual question, something very practical, it was I think an internship application and like, oh, here’s how you do it.

What these all have in common is that they are connecting with people. And some of it benefits them directly but most of it really doesn’t. And that’s what makes it so powerful. All right, next slide.
Here’s the bad one. Twitter gets misused a lot of the times but there’s two things that you should know and that is, number one, be sensitive and realize that no one sees your intention. They only see what you post. In the middle of Arab spring two and a half years ago, Egypt is changing before our eyes but we don’t know what’s going to happen. We don’t know the end result at that point.

And so Kenneth Cole, in the middle of Arab spring, the middle of Tahrir Square, tweets out “Millions are in uproar in #Cairo; rumor is they heard our new spring collection is now available online at” such and such link. And the worst thing is it has KC, which means it’s supposed to be coming directly from Kenneth Cole. And as you can tell, two and a half years later I’m still highlighting them as please don’t ever do that.
The other thing that is just as bad but inadvertently, if you schedule your tweets, and if you’re ever going to use HootSuite you can schedule your tweets. You’ll find out that’s a very helpful thing. If there ever is an emergency, there is a shooting, there is a hurricane, there is a disaster, anywhere in the world that it reaches your desk, disconnect the auto post.

The afternoon of the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut the NRA tweeted out a tweet that went something like this: ‘Hey, are you ready to get your shooting on this weekend?’ They didn’t mean to send that out. That was an auto post. They had planned to send it out and they didn’t realize that it was about to go out and of course was perceived as horribly insensitive.

So if there is a large emergency or a not so large one but it really affects your area where you live, disconnect auto tweet. And really, don’t tweet anything except support for the victims. That’s all you have to say at that point. And you know that’s just basic good PR. When there’s a hurricane and people are losing their lives and their homes and their livelihoods, there is no space for us to promote our businesses. There is space for us to help and to say ‘If we can’t help we’re sorry, we’re thinking of you. We’re burning a candle. We’re praying.’ whichever way you want to express that. Next slide.

Jeanine Guidry: Okay, effectively leveraging social media. The biggest thing, we’ve gone over a lot of best practices. One of the big things is choosing the right channels for your audience. And I think that means – that doesn’t mean that you should be on Facebook and not on Twitter but realize that you reach different audiences through that. There’s different people who are going to use Instagram. There’s different people who are going to use Facebook.

Now, there’s lots of other platforms. Google Plus is one of them. It has a lot of similarities with Facebook but it also has additional functionality like Google Hangouts and of course a system with Google Docs and Gmail that can be very helpful for collaboration. You have YouTube to do videos. You have Tumbler as an easy blogging system. But all of those platforms are going to target different types of audiences to some extent.
So, post different ways. Do not, and this is another best practices thing, or it’s a worst practices thing, let’s put it that way; don’t cross post. So don’t take your Facebook posts and post them to Twitter, because what happens is your Facebook post is going to be longer most of the time than 140 characters. And usually it’s not going to have hashtags. In other words, it’s going to be written for Facebook.

When you cross post back to Twitter it’s going to look like a truncated tweet that’s shortened. It’s going to look like someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing. Same thing for the other way around; don’t take your tweets and automatically post them to Facebook. And there is another reason and that is, hopefully you’re going to have a core audience that is going to follow you on Twitter and Like you on Facebook and so you want to make sure that you provide a bit of different content.

And the thing is these platforms are made for different purposes, so use them for their purposes. On Facebook you can put videos. You can put more text on there. You can use polls. On Twitter you have limited real estate but people are going to be responding mobile a lot more. So make sure you find your way, what is best for each channel and for each audience.

As far as content development and execution, a very helpful thing is to create a social media calendar. And especially, I have never met a social media manager that’s not overworked and doesn’t have too many other things to do. And that includes people like myself. I’m the Executive Director for Arts in the Alley, I’m a Ph.D. student and I also run all the social media for Arts in the Alley. So there’s not that much time in my day and in my week. The more I can streamline it the better.

And so putting a schedule out and saying on Monday, in general, I’m going to post a photo. On Tuesday I’m going to post a profile of one of our staff members. On Wednesday I’m going to post an inspirational quote. On Thursday I’m going to post such and such. That doesn’t mean that that’s the only thing you post, but if you have sort of a system it makes sure you can take advantage of holidays. Hey, Thanksgiving is coming up. Halloween is tomorrow. Can I post something that’s related to that in some way?

And keep track of what’s happening. So in Facebook, when you are the admin of a page there is a wonderful panel that allows you to track how many people are Liking the page, what type of posts are Liked the most, are responded to the most, are commented on the most, what post was shared the most. Because Facebook only shares your post to a limited number of your Likes and there is some kind of system to that but they’re not telling it what it is. But you will start seeing a little bit of a pattern on the type of posts that get you a lot of Likes, that get you a lot of exposure, so look at that.

For Facebook, because when Facebook assigns you a user name it looks like something ugly like; as soon as you have 25 Likes on your page you can choose a username. Now be careful, because when you choose it you can change it once as long as your Likes are not over 100 I believe and after that it’s set in stone. So choose that username wisely. But, what it allows you to do is the same thing as with Twitter. “Hey everyone, find me on Twitter at @artsinthealley and on Facebook at artsinthealley.”

And that brings me probably to my final, because I think I’ve been talking for way too long, my final point is try to have the same username through all social media platforms. You won’t always be able to do that but try. And try to find one that works so that on Facebook I’m artsinthealley, on Twitter I’m @artsinthealley, on Instagram I’m artsinthealley. Unfortunately, on our website we are because is taken. We weighed that and we figured it was worth going for a shorter username. But try to get usernames for your channels that are all the same.

And then finally, grab profiles on all of these channels. If you don’t use Pinterest, still create a profile because you don’t want somebody else to get the profile and, in six months when you’re ready to use it, it not be available. So start, if you’re starting out, start with Facebook, start with Twitter but grab the other profiles.
Make sure you have YouTube. Make sure you have Instagram. Make sure you have Google Plus. Make sure you have Pinterest. I would go for Foursquare as well and maybe for Tumbler. But you don’t have to develop them all at once. Take it one step at a time, but make sure that when you want to use them you can.
Amanda Walter: Thank you very much. So we’re starting to get some questions coming in, so we’ll go ahead and obviously open things up for the Q&A. We’ll start by asking obviously those that have come and anyone else can obviously submit theirs to us in the chat window.

One thing that you had mentioned, Jeanine, was creating two Instagram accounts. And someone’s wondering why specifically creating two versus just the one main one.

Jeanine Guidry: That’s more like maybe a personal preference but, for me, I have a personal one and then I have one for my organization. And what it allows me on a personal one is I can try things out. I get used to the system. I get used to using Instagram. And I also can post some things that may not be of interest to my organization, like that beautiful sunset that I saw today, and being more targeted with your professional accounts.

Amanda Walter: Okay, thank you. Also wondering, in terms of for some smaller or smaller organizations, there’s a lot of social media channels these days and certainly obviously they can create the different accounts. But what would you recommend as a scalable approach that people can take to kind of starting a social media strategy and rolling that out while managing it themselves or with a small team and small budget?

Jeanine Guidry: The beautiful thing about social media is that you can do it with few people and with a low budget. I would recommend that you start with Facebook and Twitter. Those are sort of your go-to that you almost have to be active on. Create the other platforms, get familiar with using, finding your voice for your organization or your business on Facebook and Twitter and then slowly add another channel to it.

The other thing is, there might be someone in your organization, it might be a volunteer – and there’s some disadvantage to using volunteers or using interns because they might not stick around for a long time. But if there’s a volunteer who absolutely loves Instagram or there is an intern in your department that is fantastic at Pinterest, consider getting them involved. Just make sure that you get the usernames and the passwords.

And make sure you train them properly as far as what do you want to tweet about. What do you want to post about on Pinterest? What are some of the things? Have them post some sample posts, submit them to you and do some coaching and tutoring.

And you should have some level of a social media policy. Even if you’re a tiny organization with one person on staff, create a simple social media policy about being polite, about keeping things professional but yet reaching out personally. There’s good examples of that online.

And don’t be too panicked if you make a mistake or if an intern makes a mistake. If you’re Kenneth Cole and you make a mistake it gets repeated two years later. But if you’re a smaller business, if you make a mistake, someone posts something that wasn’t the best, the best thing you can do is say ‘Sorry, we messed up’. People respond pretty well to that.

Amanda Walter: Okay, thank you. For people who work in public sectors or work in schools, how can they leverage social media but also be protective of their students and facial-recognition software?
Jeanine Guidry: Oh ouch. Well first of all, follow the directions. Most school systems have guidelines for this. They have policies. Some schools don’t allow you to Friend students. Some schools do allow you to Friend students. I know teachers that say “I will Friend a student after they graduate.”

A lot of times when you’re dealing with a public organization or you’re dealing with a school or anything in healthcare, you’re dealing with confidentialities. And so I think one of the best things you can do in that case, especially if you’re not operating as a person but as the entity, as the school or the organization, is provide people with good information.

If you’re a school, you can provide great information about education, about new educational strategies, about helpful tips for homework. There’s all kinds of things you can do without getting too personal. You’re definitely going to have to be, in those areas you’re going to have to be very careful and go with the guidelines that are given to you. And even if you do allow a level of personal contact, stay very safe with that.
With photo-recognition software obviously, if you take a photo you can’t publish it unless you have permission to do so. So if there is an event at your school and you want to post a photo, a lot of times the school will have a release form that parents will have to sign so a group photo can be posted. Just make sure that you know what the guidelines are.

And when we do a big event like we did last weekend, we ask people to sign a photo-release form. And we’ve never had someone say no but, if they do, we say ‘Hey, we totally understand. That’s not a problem at all.’ I think most of the time just be careful and when in doubt, especially with photos, don’t post them.

Amanda Walter: Excellent. And let’s wrap up by turning it over to Larry just really briefly. One question is people are wondering how the SPR program incorporates social media into the curriculum, you know obviously all the different channels and then other types of information about crisis communication and leveraging social media there.

Larry Parnell: Well I think what, we’ve gone back and forth as to whether or not we should have a dedicated course to social media per se, or if we should have it be part of every course that we do. And we’re currently in the camp of putting it in as a tactic or strategy to be leveraged and discussed and covered in every course. Media relations, how do you use social media to get your media message across, whether it’s pitching the media or reaching out directly to the public? Research, how do you manage and measure return on investment for social media? Issues Management, how do you use Twitter, as Jeanine’s indicated, crisis situations to get the message out?

So it becomes a topic that is pretty much in every one of our courses with few exceptions, rather than a dedicated course. And that we think is the most effective way to show how it’s part of the strategy that you’ll have to have as a communications professional going forward.

Amanda Walter: And would people be expected to have a certain level of knowledge with social media? Or will there be some assistance for those that are a little bit more experienced in the traditional realms?

Larry Parnell: Absolutely. I think all of us have a lot to learn and there is no prejudice for someone who doesn’t know much of anything and not that active. The beauty of an academic environment is it’s a chance to try something new and learn something not in the business setting. So you’re there to learn so it’s our focus to take you, wherever you are personally in your level of awareness about not just social media but any of the tactics or skills or strategies we cover in our program, and move you forward to the next level. So it’s not about know as much as the next person, it’s about knowing more about something when you finish the program than you did when you started.

Amanda Walter: Okay, excellent. And we want to just go ahead and wrap things up here. I did want to point out that the program is currently accepting applications for the upcoming spring 2014 term. Classes begin in January so if you haven’t spoken with your Enrolment Advisor yet you certainly should reach out to them at your earliest convenience to open an application.

I wanted to also point out that if you’d like your Advisor to follow up with you at a specific day and time, I’ll leave the webinar open for another five minutes or so, so you can submit that specific information and your name and contact information through the chat window so I can connect you with our Recruitment Team.

Likewise, if you’re not already aware, the GRE is no longer required for admission. So if you have a GPA below 3.0, certainly talk to your Enrolment Advisor about that and they’ll provide you more information on what you can submit in lieu of taking the GRE to be considered for acceptance.

And as I mentioned, I’ll leave the webinar open yet for a few minutes. Certainly feel free to continue submitting questions to me. What I’ll do is I’ll coordinate with our team here and with the panelists and we’ll put together some FAQs or get some answers for you and get that back to you within the next few days, just to follow up on those questions we weren’t able to get to.

And again, just a reminder that today’s webinar is recorded. It will be available within the next few days and we’ll be sending an e-mail out with the link to that recording for you.

So thanks so much again. Obviously we wanted to thank all of you for taking the time to join us tonight. And of course, we also want to thank our panelists for taking the time to put everything together. So, we appreciate it very much and hopefully we can welcome you in one of the upcoming terms.