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July 2014

Stronger decisions = stronger leaders

Dr. Christi Hegstad is a Certified Executive Coach and President of MAP Professional Development Inc.

Imagine you have a bright, talented employee who has all but checked out: He does the bare minimum, contributes little in meetings and displays a sour attitude. He’s not officially doing anything wrong but, as a leader, you know his behavior negatively impacts your culture.

He also happens to be the best at his technical skill.

What do you do? How do you decide?

If you’re like many, you might weigh pros and cons, seek group consensus, or research all possible solutions, become overwhelmed, and end up doing nothing.

All common. None optimal.

Decisive - bookIn their latest book, Decisive: How To Make Better Choices In Life And Work, Chip and Dan Heath strive to help us make stronger decisions more consistently. Through extensive research and case studies, they entertainingly teach us “four villains” standing in our way of effective decision-making and provide a new “WRAP” model – Widen your options, Reality-test your assumptions, Attain distance before deciding, and Prepare to be wrong – to improve. While perhaps not suited for split-second decisions such as those an ER doctor or firefighter might make, the strategies provided in Decisive can support leaders in continuously improving and staying consistent – an important but often overlooked component of positive leadership.

Three key takeaways from Decisive that can help your decision-making immediately include:

1. Honor your core priorities. You must have a clear understanding of your vision, values, and priorities in order to make strong decisions. Your calendar and bank statement typically serve as your most accurate scoreboard: Where you place your time and money reflects what matters most to you.

Decisive reiterates Jim Collins’ advice to create a stop-doing list. Imagine receiving a phone call that you’ve inherited $20 million, no strings. Moments later, you learn that you have only ten years left to live. What would you do differently and, just as important, what would you stop doing? Reflecting on this scenario can help you clarify your priorities.

2. Consider the opposite. “If you haven’t encountered any opposition to a decision you’re considering,” the Heaths assert, “chances are you haven’t looked hard enough.” Assign someone the role of devil’s advocate, or honestly ask, “What if our least favorite option were actually the best one? What data might convince us of that?” We often confuse research with simply fishing for support; considering an opposing possibility heightens our effectiveness.  

3. Set tripwires, or signals that boost you out of autopilot. For example, Zappos offers new employees $2,000 to quit if they realize the company isn’t a good fit. This may seem pricey but, compared to the cost of a disengaged employee, it’s a bargain. The monetary offer removes any nagging uncertainties (“Is this job right for me?”) and guides employees into a clear decision-making opportunity. Tripwires protect against the dangerous “We’ve Always Done It This Way” syndrome, too.

Your Turn: What decision are you currently mulling over? Make a hypothetical choice, then apply the three above tips: Lay out your core priorities to determine if your choice supports them. Look for opposition and see if you’re truly convinced. Finally, create a few tripwires that will signal if a different or modified decision needs to be made.

“Being decisive itself is a choice,” the Heaths remind us. “Decisiveness is a way of behaving, not an inherited trait. It allows us to make brave and confident choices, not because we know we’ll be right but because it’s better to try and fail than to delay and regret.”

What helps you make strong decisions? What other decision-making books have you enjoyed? Share your comments below!

Dr. Christi Hegstad, Certified Executive Coach and President of MAP Professional Development Inc. Find more book reviews & coaching tips on Facebook and Twitter.

Fallout from Iowa public pension shortfalls

Gretchen Tegeler is executive director of the Taxpayers Association of Central Iowa.

Public pension funds around the country have fallen trillions of dollars behind in the amounts that should be set aside to pay pension benefits when they come due.  Such shortfalls have arisen from many years of inadequate contributions, compounded by huge investment losses. Because benefit payouts are guaranteed no matter what happens with investments or prior funding, the shortfall becomes a debt that must be covered by you, the taxpayer.

Like a mortgage, taxpayers are now scheduled to pay off this debt over the next 25 to 30 years.  This is being accomplished through higher pension contributions on the public payroll.  Here in Iowa, payments on the debt are about $380 million per year, just for debt service on public pensions.  This is on top of the cost of the new benefits that accrue each year, of which taxpayers are financing another $380 million.  In total, Iowa taxpayers are spending about three-quarters of a billion dollars each year for state and local defined benefit public pensions.

The increase in public spending for pensions has impacted the ability of our state and local governments in Iowa to pay for other services.  The result is a decline in the quality of public services and an increase in property taxes.  For example, all Des Moines libraries have closed an additional day each week just to help cover the cost of police and fire pensions.  Urbandale is raising property taxes.  Some have questioned whether it’s worth the substantial public cost to pay such a generous benefit to so few individuals.  Police and firefighters in our largest 49 cities can retire at age 55, and receive 82 percent of their highest salary each year for the remainder of their lives.  Almost all of the retirees in this system will have a higher standard of living post-retirement than they did during their highest earning years.

Now there’s an additional cost associated with public pensions in Iowa.  Moody’s Investor Services has changed the way it evaluates municipal credit risk, now giving explicit consideration to the amount of public pension debt a government entity carries and its capacity to fund it.  Using the new methodology, Moody’s has downgraded 8 of the last 12 cities it has reviewed in Iowa.  Lower ratings mean higher borrowing costs for these entities.   Cities with rating downgrades by Moody’s are shown below in red.

 

Rating

City

Pop Rank

Last Update

AAA

Iowa City

5

04/29/2014

West Des Moines

9

07/24/2014

Aa1

Cedar Rapids

2

05/06/2014

Ames

8

03/21/2014

Urbandale

12

07/24/2013

Marion

14

10/21/2013

Aa2

Ankeny

11

04/16/2014

Des Moines

1

06/19/2014

Dubuque

10

04/11/2014

Waterloo

6

05/30/2014

Sioux City

4

02/25/2014

Cedar Falls

13

03/03/2010

Bettendorf

15

03/27/2014

Council Bluffs

7

03/13/2014

Aa3

Davenport

3

02/05/2014

Moody’s uses its own methods and assumptions to estimate the amount of pension debt carried by each government entity.  State government’s Iowa Public Employees Retirement System (IPERS) debt is estimated by Moody’s to be more than twice as much as is reported by the system.  And while the Municipal Fire and Police Retirement System of Iowa (MFPRSI) reports a funded ratio (ratio of assets to liabilities) of 77 percent (with 100 percent being fully funded), Public Financial Management estimates the funded ratio to be only 55 percent – a truly alarming figure -- using Moody’s methods and assumptions.  In this plan, taxpayers are already paying 30 percent on top of salaries for pension contributions, with the associated budget and service impacts, but should probably be paying much more. 

Moody’s understands the crowding out effect that a heavy debt burden can have on city budgets.  Heavy debt means less is available to sustain city services, which can, ultimately, lead to a downward spiral as people leave and the tax base erodes.  They have seen it happen in Detroit and elsewhere, with the result that bondholders and pensioners both lose.  In recent reports, a typical comment from Moody’s would be, “The downgrade is a result of an elevated debt burden, due in part to retirement pensions for full-time firefighters and police officers.  City XYZ has moderately elevated exposure to two statewide cost-sharing pension plans.” 

Besides the additional cost of borrowing, Iowans should be concerned about the rating downgrades because they mean an independent entity is basically waving a red flag.  Will we see it in time?  

Recycle your roof

 

Roofing 1Rob Smith is a principal at Architects Smith Metzger

Last year before I sold my house I had to replace a section of the roof. The shingles came off and went into the back of a truck I assumed went to the landfill. You can now insist your roofing be recycled.

Commercial roofing is typically EPDM, which is commonly referred to as rubber roofing, and comes in big sheets. Two items can be recycled in this case. Most times the sheet is held down with rock which can be reused over the new roof or removed and used for many purposes: landscaping, driveways, etc.

The EPDM sheets can be sent to a manufacturer like Firestone and recycled to become the backing or walkway pads on the roof. Or turned into rubber crumbs for climbing walls.

Roofing 2Asphalt shingles can be recycled too. Nearly 10 million tons of shingles are removed annually. According to my semi-scientific calculations, that would fill 10 to 15 801 Grand high rises with shingles. Things like nails need to be removed with magnets at the recycler, but in my case half the nails ended up in my yard.

Asphalt shingles can be recycled for many other things such as new shingles, asphalt pavement, and pothole patches.

Next time you see a reroof project, pass the info along. Send your thoughts to rsmith@smithmetzger.com

How are you building your loyal community?

Drew McLellan is the Top Dog at McLellan Marketing Group

Long before there was all this talk about building a tribe or "viral buzz," there was the recognition that:

  1. There is value in existing customers because they're your most likely sale (resale)
  2. If they love you, they'll tell their friends and family and that endorsement lowers buying resistance
  3. People want a sense of belonging and exclusivity and you earn increased loyalty when you can create those things for them

So the idea of rewards or loyalty programs have been around forever. But honestly, most companies just call it in. They offer a few measly perks but it really just turns into a frequent buyers discount. There's nothing wrong with that.... but it can be so much more.

One of the best examples of how to make it more is Maker's Mark Straight Bourbon Handmade Whisky (I think it should have an 'e' too, but that's how they spell it.)

I joined their Ambassadors program several years ago and I continue to be impressed with how they court their loyalists. Every holiday season, there's a clever gift (gift bags for your whisky bottle gifts, fun gift tags, etc.) and throughout the year, they connect and share with their ambassadors in a way that feels very exclusive and privileged.

Earlier this week, I got a mailing that announced that the barrel with my name engraved on the name plate (a perk of becoming an ambassador) was finally ready.

Whenever they send something -- it's done with a lot of class. No cutting corners or plain jane communications here. (Think they're trying to remind us of their values -- handmade whisky). The stock is heavy, the photography is gorgeous and the message is very "you're the few and the privileged" kind of copy.

MM1

 

MM2

 

MM3

 

The final photo shows you the purpose of their mailing. My barrel is ready (note how I am already thinking of it as my barrel) and this is my golden ticket. Now I can visit their distillery and purchase/personally hand dip my very own bottles from my very own barrel.

And, they've created a special label for the bottles so everyone will know that the bourbon came from my own personalized barrel batch.

But if I don't visit by March 31, 2015 -- they will have to release whatever bourbon from my barrel that is left (insert gasp here) to the masses.  

Brilliant. I have no idea how many people actually make the pilgrammage to get their bottles (which you have to buy -- it's not like they're going to give it to you) but I am so tempted to find a reason to be in Kentucky just so I can make the trip.

If they go to incredible lengths by mail and email -- imagine what they might do if you showed up in person.

There's a lot for us to learn from Maker's Mark. Could they do it even better?  Sure... but they do it far better than most.

When I was writing this post, I wanted to find a list of the Ambassador perks. So I tried to log into the Ambassadors only section of their website, but I couldn't remember my log in stuff. (Note to self... for your password tool to work, you have to enter the password). I must have entered something incorrectly (I'm guessing zip code) and I got this message:

Screenshot 2014-07-24 10.50.21

Read the message. I love the fact that Jenny, not one of our customer service representatives, is going to contact me. So personal -- and again, makes me feel like I matter.  

What are your takeaways from Maker's Mark?  How could you either improve your existing customer loyalty program or create something that makes your best customers feel like they are vital to your success and you want them to be a part of a very exclusive club?

 

 ~ Drew McLellan, Top Dog at McLellan Marketing Group

 

 

How to Manage a #BashTag PR crisis

Claire Celsi is the Director of Public Relations at Spindustry Digital in Des Moines, Iowa.

Hashtags are all the rage, especially on Twitter. Using a hashtag to categorize a tweet is a great way to help people search for and discover your content. But what happens when your hashtag gets hijacked? It's a very real concern, as McDonalds found out the hard way. It paid an agency to come up with the campaign #McDStories on Twitter. The only problem is, there were more bad stories than good. Hashtag fail

How do you know when using a hashtag is a good public relations move for your brand? Here are a few things to ponder before launching a #hashtag campaign.

  1. Make sure you have allies who are willing to support your position. In the case of McDonalds, it became clear very quickly that McDonalds had more detractors than supporters.
  2. Are you prepared to monitor and tweet 24 hours a day? Hashtag campaigns are like newborns - someone's gotta be watching and responding all day. If the person in charge stops tweeting at 4 p.m. on Friday, the detractors have all weekend to fill up the tweet stream with all kinds of shenanigans. I suggest pre-programming a full set of tweets to appear when you are not actively tweeting by using Hootsuite or a similar product.
  3. Are you prepared to own, manage and monitor the hashtag for YEARS? Once the campaign is created, a monster is born. Even if you eventually abandon the hashtag, your detractors may use it to bash you for an indefinite period of time.
  4. Make sure your "side" is bigger than their side. In the case of McDonalds or WalMart - the detractors seem to outnumber the supporters by a large margin. They are better organized and have more to say than the agency who created the hashtag.
  5. Do you own the domain name of your hashtag? It's a good idea to buy it and use it as a call to action. Don't launch the #hashtag campaign until the site is done because you'lll lose valuable interactions with both supporters and detractors. McDStories.com lays unclaimed, making it vulnerable to hijack by detractors.

Creating a hashtag is a bold move, but I've rarely seen it succeed in the intended way. Some of the most successful hashtag campaigns have been created around non-controversial issues. One great example is the #ThisSummer campaign, which allowed user to tweet their summer plans and have the tweet turned into a dramatic movie voiceover.

Be careful when creating hashtag campaigns - you may unleash unintended negative consequences for your brand.

Treat every day like Christmas

Kelly Sharp is the owner of Heart of Iowa Market Place.

I've been writing in recent blogs about the importance of preparing early for the holiday shopping season, and I had one more thought before leaving the topic.

It certainly wasn't going to win any Academy Awards for acting … or screenwriting … or anything else, but the Will Farrell movie "Elf" did have a golden nugget that applies to specialty retailers. (Hint: it wasn't his quote, "We elves try to stick to the four main food groups: candy, candy canes, candy corns and syrup.")

Farrell's character, Buddy the over-sized elf, said, "Treat every day like it's Christmas."

That's great advice, especially this time of the year.

Everything seems special during the holidays -- from the special treats and music to the hustle and bustle and spirit of generosity. But what happens in the dog days of summer? No holidays, no special music and no special treats. Just plenty of heat and humidity.

When I see my customers come through the doors sighing with a relief of being inside and out of the summer heat, I think about how we can make them feel as welcome and special. And, you should, too.

Always greet them at the door to show appreciation and a welcoming atmosphere. Customers appreciate it when you have something special, whether it's product samples or displays. Be creative. Mix things up. Give them a reason to get excited about your store and products.

As regular readers know, I'm a big believer in putting out samples and letting customers judge products for themselves. The results are two-fold. Customers are always happier and sales of sampled products always go up.

Put a little music on to drown out the dreary heat wave; don’t be afraid to show your employees that it’s okay to have fun.

There's always a reason to celebrate, and to treat every day like Christmas.

The written word

Thank youDanny Beyer is a sales executive at Kabel Business Services. He is a serial networker and often speaks about networking tips to groups in the community.

A random stranger sent me an email in late 2012 asking for an opportunity to take me
to coffee. He wanted to connect and get to know me as well as share about his business. He also explained how he was newer to town and really trying to figure out how to connect with people. I happily agreed to meet him. We had a great discussion about his goals and dreams, what he did for a living, and how I could help him get more involved in the community. He asked me all the right questions and I left feeling like I had made a great new connection. I made a note to follow up with him a couple months later to see how his progress was going. 

Two days later I strolled into my office and saw a little white envelope sitting in my mail slot. I do not know about you, but I love getting mail. It is almost like Christmas morning every time I get a new letter. I cannot wait to rip it open and see what surprise rests inside. To say I was excited is a mild understatement. I rushed over and saw that the envelope was from the gentleman I had coffee with two days prior. My curiosity peaked as I opened it up and found a hand written thank you card inside. 

The card was nothing spectacular, just a simple printed “thank you” across the front. Inside the card he had taken the time to hand write a of couple sentences thanking me for my time and explaining how he was planning on implementing some of the things we had discussed. He concluded by thanking me one more time and emphasizing that he was excited for the next opportunity for us to connect. It was wonderful.

In this over connected world, it is so easy to make contact with people. My new connection could have just as easily sent me an email, tweet, text, or countless other digital messages which would have taken all of thirty seconds to compose and send. Instead, he took the time from his busy schedule to craft a hand written letter of thanks and that letter had an immediate impact on me and my day. It showed a genuineness that is often missing from most of today’s social interactions. It also made him stand out among a sea of emails. Here was someone different, someone who really cared about building relationships. 

I have tried to send a thank you card after every meeting I have since receiving that note in 2012. The meeting does not have to be business-related in order to justify the time to write a thank you note. A simple cup of coffee with a new connection, reconnecting with an old friend, or checking in with a business relationship all warrant thank you notes. They are just simple pieces of paper but they really do make an immediate impact on those that receive them. They show that you care, that you are not too busy to really let someone know how much your appreciate them, and that you want to build a long-term relationships with them.  

Meet new blogger Joe Benesh

Joe Benesh is an Architect with Shive-Hattery and President + CEO of the Ingenuity Company, a strategic planning, diagramming, framework development, and design thinking consulting firm.

During a presentation of one of my projects in college, I compared the approach I took my Joe Beneshbuilding design to two different types of sandwiches. As soon as those words came out of my mouth, I watched an expression of horror creep across my professor’s face. I got the impression that she felt I wasn’t taking things seriously or, worse yet, that I had lost my mind. But the simple truth is that I make analogies a lot. Probably more than I should. But relating different things together is how I attain clarity on an issue.

Architecture is like that. Architects take ideas and turn them into something tangible. For me, a client’s thought might become a set of windows, a childhood memory might help finish out a wall in bedroom. Then I noticed something over the years – in organizations I was getting involved in, I was drawing diagrams of what we were talking about doing. But they weren’t doodles; there was structure and purpose to each part – loose at first, but then with purpose to truly understand the complexity of the organizational ecosystem I was working within.

I did this again and again in different groups, before someone caught me in the act and asked that I share what I was doing with the rest of the group. That event changed the way I view what I do, and how I use the skills I have as a designer. Those diagrams helped people understand what we were trying to accomplish, what we were trying to build collaboratively and how we could truly synthesize an idea or group of ideas into action effectively.

Organizational change and development is very much like designing anything else – key stakeholders, a set (or not so set) mission and vision of what the group is trying to accomplish, and a shared desire to make this shared vision into a reality. But the key is to bring into harmony the many dissonant voices within a group, bring order to the seeming chaos of what are generally a collection of really, really good ideas. To prioritize. Take the strategic to tactical; take the visionary to operational. Build a holistic organization.

When you build a building (or a sandwich for that matter), you start with a plan. Then a structural framework. Then you add finishes. The successful design of an organzation uses these steps, but builds in institutional knowledge, experience, the input and opinions of many, creativity, innovation, and open mindedness about the future.

With this blog, I hope to share some of the experiences, strategies, best practices and organizational design concepts that we can talk more about as a community.

Email: joe@ingenuitycompany.com

Twitter: @ingenuitycmpny

The cover matters

Rowena (Ro) Crosbie is the president of Tero International Inc.

Don’t judge a book by its cover – so the saying goes.  Book_learntolead

Sage advice? Perhaps. 

Practical? Not at all. 

Recall the last time you were faced with a multitude of titles on a single subject. How did you cull through the mass efficiently to locate the resource that would serve your purpose? The advice proffered about not judging a book by its cover is not useful to you in this moment. It is not practical for you to read each book in its entirety, or even to speed read critical sections, to determine which resource contains the most robust, relevant information for your needs. 

You need a shortcut. You narrow the possible choices to a few based on book covers, familiar authors and recommendations from others. You further narrow your selection by perusing the book jacket where you can quickly decipher what critics have to say about the contents of the book. If the choices are still too many, perhaps the table of contents gets a look.

Why we take shortcuts

While few would argue with the beauty of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream of a world where people would be judged by the content of their character rather than by the color of their skin, our natural programming makes this unlikely. 

We do judge a book by its cover – literally and metaphorically. On the surface it seems unjust.  Practically, it is how we make sense of the world and how we quickly sort through the huge amount of sensory stimuli we encounter throughout the day.

In the business world

What relevance does this have in a blog about leadership? 

We can squawk all day long about the unfairness of being overlooked for a promotion at work when we perceive we are clearly more qualified. We can lament the injustice of inequalities we perceive in the workplace that seem connected more to gender, age, race, sexual orientation, disability or other differences than they do to workplace contributions.  

Or, we can seek to understand our natural filtering system that makes it possible for us to take shortcuts. We can embark on a journey to incorporate this critical knowledge into our leadership toolbox and into our day-to-day leadership practices. Through acquiring intelligence and wisdom about this all-too-human characteristic, we can ensure the shortcuts we take as leaders do not lead to negative unintended consequences.

In the next several blogs I’ll explore both research and experiences on this subject from a variety of perspectives. In the meantime, I invite you to think about your own leadership experiences in judging and being judged.

Clearing the first legal hurdle as an Iowa entrepreneur: whether to incorporate or not

Matt McKinney is an attorney at BrownWinick Attorneys at Law 6a00d83452ceb069e201a511ab4641970c-500wi

Entrepreneurs and small business owners across Iowa encounter countless obstacles as they dash out of the starting gate to pursue their business dreams. And regardless of how much they've "trained," one of the first obstacles they are likely to encounter is the sometimes dreaded legal hurdle of whether to form a formal legal entity, such as a limited liability company ("L.L.C."), or proceed in a less formal manner as a sole proprietor or partner in a partnership. Thankfully, this first, of sometimes many legal hurdles, is realtively straightforward, easy to clear, and generally inexpensive to overcome. This post briefly identifies some of the common advantages and disadvantages of operating a small business in Iowa as a sole proprietor.

Sole Proprietorship

A sole proprietorship is often referred to as one of the easiest and simplest business structures to create and operate. Sole proprietorships are run by one person and generally there is no "legal distinction" between the business and the individual owner. As depicted in the infograph below, some of the advantages include:

1.  Sole proprietorships are very easy and inexpensive to create. Indeed, unlike a limited liability company (L.L.C.) or a corporation (Inc.), a sole proprietor is not required to pay fees to the State of Iowa for filing articles of incorporation, certificates of organization, or biannual reports;

2.  A sole proprietor exercises complete control over the business and does not answer to other owners, such as shareholders in a corporation or partners in a partnership; and

3.  A sole proprietorship generally has one of the lowest tax rates of all business forms and is not required to follow corporate formalities.

While conducting business as a sole proprietor certainly has advantages, many drawbacks exist that, for some, far outweigh the advantages. Some disadvantages include:

1.  Sole proprietors are personally liable for business debts and obligations, including any liabilities arising from a lawsuit involving the business. As a result, if the "business" is assessed a fine or has a judgment entered against it, that fine, judgement, or other monetary obligation is, in reality, an obligation the sole proprietor may be required to pay out of personal funds;

2.  Sole proprietors find it difficult to raise capital (i.e. funds from investors) because, as referenced above, there is generally no distinction between the business and the individual - a blurred structure that investors shy away from; and

3.  A sole proprietorship has a "limited life" as it ceases to exist when the sole proprietor dies. In other words, unlike corporations where the corporation will long survive the death of its founders, a sole proprietorship ceases to exist the moment its founder dies. This issue is frequently a consideration for succession, estate, and retirement planning.

If you are an entrepreneur considering starting a new Iowa business or are currently running a sole proprietorship and are looking to avoid personal liability, evade the problem of "limited life," or hope to seek investor money someday, you should consider lacing up your shoes and taking a short run down to your licensed attorney's office to explore alternative business forms.

image from http://s3.amazonaws.com/hires.aviary.com/k/mr6i2hifk4wxt1dp/14071423/f22e94c6-22e1-43a8-a196-98d5e662700a.png
Image Credit: http://www.entrepreneur.com

 

To read more about forming an Iowa limited liabilty company, check out this post (CLICK HERE).

Legal Disclaimer and Terms of Use

The information on this website does not constitute legal advice and readers should not rely on it to solve problems or other matters.  Further, you should seek licensed counsel in the appropriate legal jurisdiction before taking any action.

Social customer service is free PR

Claire Celsi is the Director of Public Relations at Spindustry Digital in Des Moines, Iowa.

Recently, I had an unpleasant and rude experience with a couple of grocery store employees. I've shopped there hundreds of times and know what their normal service looks and feels like. So I'm an expert on how the wayward interactions should have gone. Social customer service

For a "social" customer like me, the next step is to complain. Not by writing a letter or calling, but by posting my thoughts on their corporate Facebook page. Which is exactly what I did.

Consumers are changing the ways they interact with companies. My dad would have sat down at his desk and written a letter to the store manager. My mom would have probably called. Some people would just tell everyone they know what happened, without telling the store manager at all. I chose to air my complaint with the store AND my friends.

This type of complaint can turn into a disaster or an opportunity for the company receiving the complaint.

What good can come out of social media complaints? How can a company embrace the fact that people use public social networks to air their grievances? Here are some steps the company can take to turn a sour experience into a PR win.

  1. Have someone monitoring your social channels during business hours - and checking in at least every 12 hours on weekends.
  2. Have a plan in place to react immediately. Here's a formula: 
  • Acknowledge the complaint and promise to investigate
  • Take the complaint "offline" if the person continues to complain loudly on the social network, but follow up publicly if possible.
  • Offer to remedy the complaint immediately if it is feasible to do so
  • Apologize if there has been a breach in normal service levels
  • Ask the person what would make it right
  • Follow up. Make it right.

When someone complains about your business online, you have a crisis on your hands. But you also have an opportunity. If you're not ready to answer social media questions and complaints, then you're not ready to be using social media. How can you prepare?

  • Monitor: Make sure you have all your social channels covered by staff.
  • Training: Teach your employees how to spot trouble and empower them to respond.
  • Have a plan and follow it.

It's a reality. People use public social networks to comment and complain about your business. Consider yourself lucky when they do it on YOUR social channels. They could use other means (like blogs or Yelp) and destroy your reputation. When they complain on Facebook and Twitter, at least you can learn about it and respond. Take my advice: do your best to respond. Deescalating the complaint and resolving it as soon as possible is your best bet. And THAT is good PR.

The truth about Facebook ads

Carl Maerz is a co-founder of Rocket Referrals, a startup company focused on helping businesses gain referrals from customers.

Like most entrepreneurs I am constantly looking for ways to reach new audiences. And, when growing our brand, my strategy needs to be very targeted and rather creative. Therefore, I try new approaches and measure the results. Recently I experimented with Facebook advertising. After all, everybody is doing it, right? Americans spend more time on social media than any other internet activity. So, how could it possibly go wrong?

Here’s how…

Screenshot 2014-07-13 23.55.07

Facebook allows businesses to pay to promote their page (obtain Likes) and boost their posts to expand their reach to new audiences. With 665 million active daily users it is an ocean of opportunity. But there is one very big problem - it is increasingly difficult to reach relevant audiences.

In return I got a $400 invoice, about 30 page Likes and 200 Likes of a sponsored post. At first I was smiling. But that didn’t last long. After scanning the people that “liked” my content I noticed that their demographics were nowhere near what I wanted. I targeted insurance agents and got forklift operators, nannies, and even a gumologist.

Naturally I was confused. I mean, what does Bubble Yum have to do with insurance? Why was I paying for random people to like my content? I did some research and discovered that this is a very widespread problem for Facebook.

Fake accounts

According to Facebook’s latest annual statement, they estimate up to 140 million fake accounts using their service. They break these accounts into three categories: duplicate accounts, misclassified accounts and "undesirable" accounts.

Yet there are two very relevant categories they fail to mention: bots and click farms.

In a nutshell, a Facebook bot is an automated software program that is designed to create and control a fake account. They mimic real people on Facebook to harvest private data from users, and expose them to other security risks.

A click farm, on the other hand, is a business that pays employees to click on website elements to artificially boost the status of a client's website or a product.

But I didn’t hire a click farm and I sure didn’t accept any friend requests from people I don’t know. So, why would they be clicking on my posts?

In response to the growing number of fake profiles Facebook has written an algorithm to weed them out. They are able to distinguish bogus activity from authentic engagement - at least to a point. To beat the algorithms, the fraudulent websites try cover their tracks by clicking the Like buttons on many honest pages as well. And because they have liked everything under the sun prior to me running my ad, they fall into my chosen demographic.

As a result I paid for fake Likes. They don’t really like me, after all. What’s worse is that my organic reach is significantly diluted as the content is spread across interested readers, and the fake profiles.

Ride the current

Which brings me to referral marketing. Perhaps a stretch, but this is just another example of how money could be much better spent to reach new audiences.

Recent studies show that people trust recommendations from close relations 7 times more than typical advertising or independent search. Even if your Facebook ads reach real people, they still don’t have the value of a referral. You need to win their trust first. With referrals, the trust transfers from existing clients. Moreover, your existing clients know your target market much better than Facebook does.

The catch - you must have loyal customers. But if you are a company that excels at making them happy there is significant opportunity.

Did you celebrate National Social Media Day?

Katie Stocking is the owner of Happy Medium LLC.

Last Monday was National Social Media Day! Happy Medium celebrated by hosting an event in the Kum & Go Theatre at the Des Moines Social Club. We had a great line-up of local social media gurus including the Iowa Nice Guy, Scott Siepker, Mike Draper, founder of Raygun, and many others. The event ended with a panel and was followed by a happy hour and networking at Malo.

It was incredible to see the variety of people that attended! Of course, there were people who manage social media for a living and those who work in various marketing departments, but there were also people just generally interested in social media, probably not for any particular reason, but because social media affects us all in some way. And in many ways social media is becoming basically unavoidable. (For better or worse!) My husband isn’t on Facebook, and daily we have discussions because I’m always referencing articles or things that happened on Facebook, and he doesn’t know what I’m talking about.

Although I own an interactive agency with a fantastic social media team, I always think it’s interesting when these situations happen, as it really makes you take note of the role of social media not only in our professional lives but also in our personal lives. Let’s be honest, social media is everywhere and there is definitely reason to talk about it.

Social Media Day Des Moines was a sold out event with over 150 people in attendance. Fun fact – our hashtag was mentioned 480 times and had a potential reach of 575,702 people! CRAZY!

Here are some pictures that prove how much fun was had – we hope to see you next year!

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To learn more about Happy Medium, follow us on Twitter and Instagram @itsahappymedium or find us on Facebook!

Tweet me your questions @klstocking.

--Katie

 

Marketing conferences -- which ones are for you?

Event BadgeDrew McLellan is the Top Dog at McLellan Marketing Group

I'm often asked which marketing conferences I recommend and I have to say, the list is pretty short.  

It seems like most conferences hire the same 8-10 speakers we've all seen over and over again or else they bring in brand managers from places like Coke or Harley.

Don't get me wrong -- I love listening to those speakers. But, they don't live in the same world as we do.  

As an agency, we deal with small to mid-sized ($20 million in revenue and below) companies and they definitely do not have a Coke or Harley marketing budget.

If I'm going to spend the money and time to actually attend a conference, I want to leave with a notebook full of ideas I can think about and implement right away.  

I want tangible examples that I can relate to because they're right sized for my agency and our clients.

Given that criteria, here are some of my favorite conferences:

BOLO Conference in Scottsdale, AZ in October

BOLO /boh-loh/, v. 1. Be On the Look Out. 2. Digital marketing conference in Scottsdale, AZ. BOLO brings together the thought-leaders and change-makers of the agency world. Experience authentic connections, audacious speakers, actionable ideas, and a helluva good time. BOLO 2014 is shaping up to be our best event yet. We like to keep things meaningful, so we allow just 250 of our friends to register before the doors close. Be on the lookout for additional information arriving soon!

Drew's note -- this is for agency folks, so if you're a CMO, this probably is not the right choice for you.  But if you work for an agency -- you will love this one!

Content Marketing World in Cleveland, OH in September

Content Marketing World is the one event where you can learn and network with the best and the brightest in the content marketing industry. You will leave with all the materials you need to take a content marketing strategy back to your team – and – to implement a content marketing plan that will grow your business and inspire your audience.

Drew's note -- this one is packed with speakers who will talk about budgets way beyond yours like Kraft Foods and SAP but because they're still trying to figure out content too -- it's relevant, no matter the size of your budget.

Marketing Profs B2B Forum in Boston in October

Are you armed and ready to meet the marketing challenges of today, tomorrow, and beyond? With technology and the way we live changing rapidly, B2B marketers have so many options and tools that it can be overwhelming. At the 2014 B2B Marketing Forum we will have inspirational speakers presenting on the hottest, smartest topics—giving you the knowledge you need to thrive in 2014, 2015 and beyond. Get ready to bullet-proof your marketing for the future and come out a modern marketing rockstar!

Drew's note -- This is a smaller conference (unlike CMW above) so you'll have lots of access to the speakers (most of them stay for the whole conference, so they're around and accessible) and networking.

And.... one of the best of all is right here in Iowa.  Yup, I said Iowa.

Social Brand 2014 in Coralville in September

The Social Brand Forum, a top 10 social media conference, again brings national social media and digital marketing thought leaders to Iowa for two days of impactful keynotes and interactive discussions. Social Brand 2014 is designed to help marketers at organizations small and large build better brands online through social media content, conversations, and community.

Drew's note -- This is a fantastic conference (created by Iowa's Nick Westergaard of Brand Driven Digital) that has been designed to give attendees incredible access to top notch speakers, built in networking opportunities and lots of tangible, use it now content.

So here is my challenge for you. Pick one and register this week. Surely you believe in lifelong learning right?

If you decide that Iowa's own Social Brand 2014 is the right one for you -- use the coupon code DREW and you can save a few bucks. (I don't get anything if you register other than the satisfaction that you're going to love it.) 

Attending one of these conferences this fall is the perfect appetizer to working on your 2015 marketing budget.

Go on -- get even smarter!

~ Drew, Top Dog at McLellan Marketing Group

 

To eat or not to eat?

FoodDanny Beyer is a sales executive at Kabel Business Services. He is a serial networker and often speaks about networking tips to groups in the community.

Most networking events will have some sort of food and beverage provided. The food can range from cheese and vegetable trays to full flung heavy hor d'oeuvres and everything in between. The beverages could include water, soda, wine and beer. It is the intention of the host for those attending to enjoy these refreshments.  They can be delicious and enticing. They can also be disastrous if not given proper respect.

I once attended an event with a full bar and full spread of some of the best food I have ever experienced while networking. I had done my research and knew some very influential individuals would be attending that I wanted to meet. They had not yet arrived so I piled up my appetizer plate with shrimp, meatballs, humus, and more. It was all delicious and I made sure to compliment the host on her taste. Everything was going well until I accidently bumped into the back of someone else attending and a meat ball rolled off of my plate and down the center of my white dress shirt. There is not a Tide Stick large enough to undo that kind of damage. Needless to say I did not meet the people I had hoped to as I hurriedly left the room to change. 

Another example happened shortly after that event. A friend and I were attending an after work social. We had both left the office early that afternoon to arrive at the event about fifteen minutes early. People began to arrive and we each grabbed a beer and made our way around the room. He had grabbed a plate of food and was standing in the corner when a lady walked up to him and introduced herself. He fumbled with the plate, trying to find a place to set it down, and as he was bending down to put it on a nearby ledge he tipped his beer down the front of the her blouse. I have never seen that particular shade of red on a person’s face before as he apologized again and again. She was very calm as she tried to sop up the beer from her shirt. They both left shortly after the incident, him out of embarrassment and her to change clothes. 

The food and drink at an event is typically a highlight. The host has gone to a lot of trouble putting in time and money to provide whatever they deem appropriate. It would be somewhat rude not to partake, but how to navigate a room, meet new people, and enjoy refreshments can be tricky. The best piece of advice I ever received on managing this – arrive early.

Arriving early, even five minutes early, can allow you the opportunity to enjoy some of the food and drink without the worry of how to shake hands, make small talk with a mouth full of food, or where to put finished plates and cups. It also gives you first choice at most of the items provided. Additional advantages to arriving early include being able to check out the name tags to see who else is attending, meeting the host and getting good quality time with him or her before other guests arrive, and the opportunity to talk with those who have had the same idea.

Another way to save yourself the hassle of trying to figure out what to do with a cup or plate is to only partake of one or the other at any given time. Instead of loading up a plate with food and grabbing something to drink, do one or the other. This will allow for an open hand to shake hands and also makes it much easier to navigate a room. Always keep one hand free because you never know when it may be needed.

The final pointer is to always enjoy in moderation. No one likes the person who has had one drink too many or walks around with a food plate piled to overflowing with food. The first impression is often the impression that sticks when meeting people for the first time. The food and drink provided by the host is meant to be enjoyed, so go ahead and enjoy it. At the same time, be sure to know your limits.

Meet new blogger Christi Hegstad

Dr. Christi Hegstad is a certified executive and leadership coach and the president of MAP Professional Development Inc. She specializes in positive leadership, employee engagement, career development, and meaningful work. 

How many leadership books have you read in the past year? Christi Hegstad

How many books sit on your nightstand, grace your office shelves, or linger on your Kindle while you wait for a few spare moments to read?

About eleven years ago, I felt a little busy: I was finishing up my doctorate, finding my way around my new hometown of Des Moines, mothering two toddlers with a baby on the way, and starting my executive and leadership coaching business. Not a lot of free time (that I didn’t spend trying to catch some sleep, anyway!).

But because of my lifelong love of books and my core value of growth, I continued to read. I’d finish a few pages while stirring the night’s dinner, wrap up a chapter while in the carpool lane at preschool, or sneak in a few pages before crashing in bed for the night. A day never feels quite complete for me if it hasn’t held some reading and writing.

Maybe you can relate?

Many of the leaders I coach want to read more but, with so many urgent needs and responsibilities, they feel at a loss for time. Again, maybe you can relate. But you might also find yourself staying quiet when a competitor shares how the concept of Level 5 Leadership from Good To Great has transformed her organization or a colleague mentions that the principles from Quiet have helped his previously disharmonious staff thrive. It’s not so much about missing out on a book discussion as it is being unable to learn and apply the key takeaways to advance your business, facilitate employee growth, and create a culture of leadership development in your company.

That’s where this blog will help!

I am an addicted avid reader of nonfiction and constantly share the tips, tools, and principles with my executive coaching clients. Now I’ll share them with you each month, too.

Rather than give you the basic back-cover summary of each book, I’ll share a few key takeaways that you can apply in your leadership role today. As someone who reads extensively (over 100 books some years), I’m quite selective about what I consider worthy of sharing. So rest assured, what you’ll gain from this blog are tips you can use – the best of the best.

We’ll start next month with "Decisive: How To Make Better Choices In Life And Work" by Chip and Dan Heath, and go from there. Feel free to share your experiences, additional takeaways if you’ve read the book, questions, or even suggestions for future books. Your contributions to the conversation will make this all the more valuable!

I look forward to this virtual book group where leaders can have an opportunity to learn, grow, and share with one another. As John F. Kennedy wisely stated, “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.”

Website: www.meaning-and-purpose.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/MAPIncFan

Twitter: www.twitter.com/DrChristiCoach

Facebook “research” marks a new low for the social giant

Claire Celsi is the Director of Public Relations at Spindustry Digital in Clive, Iowa.

I’ve been watching the rolling debate about Facebook’s latest flub. Some numbskull at Facebook decided it was OK to manipulate user’s feeds to prove that negatively spreads FB dislikefaster when people view negative posts. Guess what? It worked! Shouldn’t we all be grateful to have this bit of knowledge bestowed on us from our kind and benevolent Facebook overlords?

Stories like this make the social scientist in me very angry. It might be time to educate people on what “real” academic-type research looks like – and how much it differs from the head games Facebook is currently playing on its users.

Real research starts out with a hypothesis. It looks like Facebook at least got that right. They hypothesized that sadness and bad moods are contagious. Not a bad premise, actually. And it could be very useful information to have. But, unfortunately, Facebook went off the research reservation after the hypothesis was formed.

The next step is questioning the ethical boundaries of the proposed research. Anyone who’s ever majored in psychology will recognize these simple guidelines:

  1. Informed consent: Researchers must let the subjects know they are being observed or studied. Facebook hid behind their terms of service document (which absolutely no one reads) which apparently allows these kinds of shenanigans to occur.
  2. Professional fidelity and responsibility: Researchers have a duty to reconcile their “need to know” with their subjects’ “right to know” about the experiment. This goes to the very heart of a scientist’s job. They have to err on the side of caution.
  3. Upholding the dignity of the subjects being studied: The researchers simply assume that since their sample size was small and the experiment brief, that they didn’t cause any harm. That is dangerous and outrageous. No, we didn’t hear reports of people jumping out of windows – but the repercussions may never be known.

To make matters worse post study, the researchers gave a lame “apology” that felt more like excuses. “But, but but…we meant well. And we didn’t hurt anybody. And we’re Facebook. We care about people.” And, let’s get real. Facebook has had plenty to apologize for in recent years. They should be getting better at it, not worse. Sounds like they need a righteous PR pro at the table. I’m not available, but I heard Jenny McCarthy’s looking for a new gig. Oh wait, she’s not a professional. Nevermind.

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