Are you Happy and Engaged?

I found this video to be hilarious, but the not so funny part of it is that the strategies mentioned here for engaging employees are very real in many organisations, leaving a lot to be desired.

Engagement ends with management - How many times does your management team go on retreat to discuss strategic direction, and somehow the real meat of the matter never gets back to you? You're just told, "this is how it's going to be" and are expected to tow the line, no questions asked.

The email - Do you feel valued or engaged when important issues, which heavily impact your core functions, your team or your welfare are communicated via a company-wide email, which most times may get lost in your inbox and you only go search for it and read it after someone who has read it asks your opinion on it?

The ad - Do you know what's happening in your organisation before the wider world, or are you just another nameless face in the sea of nameless faces targeted by expensive advertising? Do you feel empowered to sell what your company is selling, because you have been fully involved in the process from conception to development to implementation?

The Power Point, with loads of clip art - Are you huddled into the staff training room and with your eyes taped open, confronted by a 100 slide Power Point presentation, with charts and tables and revolving text and clip art, which may be full of relevant information, but not dynamic enough to "fire you up" and get your buy-in?

"Noone says they're not". - Are you motivated? Do you feel like you're making a difference and that your work is appreciated and makes an impact on the overall operations and strategic direction of the organisation? Do you feel like getting up in the morning to go do what you do? But more importantly, does management care if you do? Do they ask? Is there any engagement initiative internally to gauge employee morale and solicit feedback?

I can't find HR - Is your well-being shackled to the people in Human Resources? Do you have to be depend wholly on them for any type of information that impacts you, or is there an organisation-wide tripe C structure of communication, collaboration and consultation, which makes giving and getting feedback painless?
Are you an important part of a well oiled machine or just one of a million screws trying to hold it all together? Is internal communications a vital part of your organisation's strategic plan or is it an "aside" that gets remembered when it's time to set targets and deliverables?

Are you happy and engaged?

Why I am not a Texter

Yesterday, my friend, Sandy referenced an article on text messaging monsters and I admit, I am not a texter. I am somewhat of an unresponder, though when I do respond I apologise for the delay. I will send a text now and then, if I am in a meeting or especially if I am abroad because roaming is not cheap. But I am not one of those people who set their phone in their sights, waiting to hear that tell-tale alert, or to see it vibrate, so they can...POUNCE on it - knowing it's a reply from a friend or colleague. In the same vein, I am not much of a BBMer. Sure, it's free but I cannot lock down my life to a mobile phone and some people really do it. You check their status updates and they change it everyday and their photos change everyday. It is their form of expression and self representation, sure, but my God!

So my friends don't send me texts because I am not a good responder to them, nor to BBMs. I am often on the road when I do have that valuable "phone/bonding time", so this is another reason I am not married to my phone's keypad. While talking on the phone while driving is dangerous as it is, what can be more hazardous than keypad punching and driving? I have tweeted while driving but it's usually in slow moving traffic (which is like every afternoon...hello?)

Don't get me wrong though. I am not a text hater. I do understand that the text or BBM may be urgent or maybe you have no credit or you're in a meeting and cannot call so you can only send a text or IM. So I will respond. But when you want to sit wherever you are, bored or obsessed, and want to hold an entire conversation about the state of your love life or the state of the world, via this channel, well...I am not interested. I have, on many occasions, once recognising that this is the road I am  being dragged down, just ended the text-a-thon and called the person. It's easier, it's more convenient for me and less annoying.

And I am guessing that there are other people who feel the same way. The above was just my personal take on text messaging as communication, but there are some very real issues around the keypad obsession.

For instance, a local union is now debating the resignation of one of its executive members. While the contents of the correspondence have not been divulged and I am not sure what was sent, at the centre of the argument is a text message.

The text message has made information readily accessible to persons, especially by way of B2C marketing. I regularly get updates from my mobile provider about new promotions and events, which I appreciate, once they don't start creeping across the thin line between useful information and spam. We have started using SMS to communicate with staff internally, sending updates on important issues and leading them back to the intranet or to an email, which as you know, tends to get lost in the daily maelstrom.

However, some people also believe that texting and now BBMing are ruining the way we communicate with others. We prefer to text rather than call. Our lingo and language have been impacted by the abbreviations which come with short messaging. Common courtesies seem to have flown the coop with previously face-to-face "transactions" such as job terminations and  Dear John/Jill "letters" being completed via mobile phones. The same is being said of social media, but is it really impacting our relationships negatively? I will admit, I do prefer a phone call over a text message for casual conversation and I don't text birthday greetings to friends either, preferring to call close friends. But I believe it is how you use it and how much of it you allow to pervade your life. The technology can be used to sustain relationships and make relationships more accessible, regardless of geography for example. But it does not have to be all consuming and that is just my overarching statement when it comes to any type of technology or new media. The control still resides with us as individuals.

So don't hate me cause I am not a keypad ninja! Are you though? Are you one of those text messaging monsters?

When Football meets Social Media

“Football is the world’s biggest sport, so the world will practically stop for the month of the World Cup,” Matt Stone, Head of new media for world soccer’s governing body FIFA. (CNN)

But while the world as we know it may stop, you can be guaranteed that the social networking will not. In fact, rest assured that the sites like Facebook and Twitter will blow up during the month-long footballing bonanza. Though I looked at the money side of this global event  previously, WC2010 is a great time for getting together and meeting up with people you may never have previously met. It's a great time for football and destination blogging, video and photo sharing, tweetups and meetups, virtual discussions, podcast shows and social media promotions and giveaways. During the last World Cup, while some of us (myself included) blogged our way through the Finals, there was no Twitter, and Facebook was still a proverbial infant. So this has been described as the first World Cup of the social media age and it's left to be seen just how huge the tournament will be this time around. But between you and me, I imagine it will be HUGE.

My profile on The Club. My avatar is pretty damn stylish.

FIFA has already attracted 1.6million fans (including myself) to The Club, which is an onsite social networking platform, which connects fans of the beautiful game and allows them to get up-to-the-minute news and interact with fans across the globe. Soon they will add Facebook Connect and official Twitter sites, with promises of tweets from high ranking FIFA officials. Of course as the tournament draws closer, the number and variety of channels will undoubtedly increase - both official and unofficial, but all ultimately lending a global space for passionate fans to express their views and opinions on the game. From the bars and pubs,  tv rooms and office kitchens, cubicles and coffee shops, the age of social media will bring the tournament to more people in ways that they may not have experienced before. Instant video replays, coach perspectives, fan accounts, player feedback (hopefully, depending on the level of restrictions imposed by home FAs) - straight to laptops and mobile phones across the globe. The football community will not only grow but will be more connected to each other than ever before, eclipsing probably any other event - sporting and non-sporting - which has preceded it.

Events such as the Olympics and FIFA also raise the level of awareness on social issues due to their mass global appeal and the attention which is placed on these events. So while there will be action on the field, from a CSR perspective, it is also what happens off the field which is important and 1Goal has already started to draw attention to the issue of education for all. With over 3.5million followers already, 1Goal is "a campaign seizing the power of football to ensure that education for all is a lasting impact of the 2010 FIFA World Cup". I'm happy to see this aspect of the tournament on social media as well, as it should be, since social media has the power to catapult these issues to an even wider audience than ever before, thus providing the opportunity for millions of poeple to understand and make an intangible contribution. I think more sponsors should use the opportunity, in much the same way Pepsi did for the Super Bowl, and not only focus on sales/marketing gold but also on playing a part in the way we, as fans, view the game and its impact on the issues which affect millions of people.

And who knows, maybe for one full month, Justin Bieber won't be a trending topic on Twitter! I do not think it's impossible! 43 days and counting...

Photo credit: CNN; screen shot of my profile on The Club. Feel free to add me.

Bo Obama - PR Superstar!

This weekend I discovered Bo. Bo Obama.

Now while I knew about Bo, what I did not know is that Bo had such a huge online presence. And I am not just talking about articles about Bo, but official and unofficial blogs and tweets and Facebook pages Bo is a social media superstar. Is it any wonder, considering that his master used the tools so skillfully in his presidential election campaign?

Ole Socks has nothing on Bo the dog! (rest his soul)

Now what I like about Bo, besides being a dog lover myself, and loving anything doggie, is that Bo is just another piece of the Obama brand and a piece that has not been forgotten. Of course all eyes are on the President when it comes to policies, both home and foreign, and all that other presidential stuff, but the President is also a regular guy, with a family and of course, a dog.  And say what you will about it, Bo is part of public relations gold, because there will always be an audience out there who is interested in the other parts of the president's life - what he likes to eat, read and what's going on with the kids, and the dog. While the parents may not want to open up the kids to such public scrutiny, I don't quite think Bo Obama minds being such a public sensation.

Politics aside, most people would agree that President Obama is a masterful communicator. Obama is really our nation’s first public figure to adeptly embrace the full power of the new media buffet. - Aaron Kwittken
It's just another part of the brand machinery behind the President, who has opened up the White House to the world as never before, and who has leveraged both traditional and new media to keep in touch with the public on both business matters and not-so-much business matters. Though there have and will be missteps where this is concerned, he continues to have a broad appeal and you can be sure that the peek into his everyday life has helped that.

In much the same way, customers want to do business with real people and though I hardly advocate pets' blogs in order to achieve this, the insights which can best be shared via social media should be encouraged. And whether it's sharing information on staff activities in communities, or creative peeks at the daily operations of the business, now is the time to start building communities not just around your products and services but around your people, ultimately humanising your brand. Brands should not be afraid to talk about themselves and of course there are still issues around employees and how they use social media to promote the brand, but the time to start not just thinking about it, but doing it is now.

I still love Bo though. He's such a star!

More Bo?

Official Bo photos from the White House
Bo on the official WH blog

As well as
Bo blog (too cute)
Bo videos

Who's managing your brand?

Yesterday afternoon, after a week of craving, I headed to this particular fast food outlet to just get it over with. What I saw when I got there was alarming to say the least. There was one girl at the counter, and she was both cashing orders and packing them. That is a problem in itself but that was not the issue. What struck me was her appearance! The young lady was wearing the company branded shirt, and it was riddled with holes. Not tiny pinholes but gaping wounds in the fabric. I looked at her in horror as she stood there, non-plussed about her appearance, casually serving people their artery blocking meals.

There was a huge hole, probably the size of a 50 cent piece in the front of the shirt and she simply wore a matching red tank under the shirt, in some lame attempt to disguise it? I don't know. I cannot fathom what purpose this was supposed to serve. There were holes at the back of the shirt, some sloppily patched up with black thread, which by the way, was a stark contrast. There was, what looked like a bleach stain on the back,  and the shirt's collar looked as though rats made a meal of it. But yet on the breast was the brand EMBLAZONED for all to see.

I am not sure what the managers of these outlets are responsible for, but I would hope they would be caretakers of the brand in the absence of a Marketing VP. It is NOT the responsibility of a Marketing VP or Human Resources VP to monitor how the brand is represented to the public. Did her manager not realise she needed a new polo? Was a request made for one? I shudder to think that a request was made and denied, or that they don't have extra polos lying around. It was pretty distasteful and I don't care if you're frying french fries or giving a speech on global television, there is something to be said about image and how your employees maintain the image of your company. Even if this employee could not give 2 hoots about her ratty shirt, someone else should have.

I was just rather stunned by this as you can tell. It reminded me of any evening, at happy hour, I saw a young lady, resplendent in her bank's uniform, going down low with glass after glass of spirited drinks in her hand. And I thought, "Couldn't she go home and change out of the people's uniform before she came to embarrass herself in this manner?" There is something to be said for engaging your employees about how your brand lives everywhere, even in their appearance and actions. Every individual in an organisation is a brand ambassador. It's not solely the responsibility of the people in the Board Rooms to protect and manage the brand. It starts from the frontline and goes all the way up. Clearly this escapes some.

I don't think this franchise is in dire financial straits that they cannot afford polos for their staff. The long lines on any given day, at any given time remind me that fast food is king in Trinidad and Tobago. And while not everyone may care about the image of your brand and just want their box of oily mess, good Lord...the employees should care. How much do you care about your corporate brand?

How Social Media has changed the way we travel

So I talked a lot about travel this week so thought I would just end the week with a travel round up.

Social media has changed the way we travel, in more ways than one. You can plan your trip using social media, meeting new people in the process, use it to enhance your tourist/explorer/adventurer experience and on the back-end, when things go awry, you can turn to your new media tools to rescue you from various levels of hell.

But it's also changed the way we travel on a basic level. We now have a larger audience at our fingertips with which some of us may want to share our experiences with, be it through photos or a blog, and be it with closest friends and families or the voyeurs of the cyberverse. Though we cannot pack our best friends in our bags and take them with us, through our images and our words, they are right there with us, no longer after the fact, but in the heat of the moment. The simple touch of a button on a phone, or on a Netbook has made MY experience, OUR experience, and that is something we did not have 5-10 years ago. Tweets and real time status updates (and BBMs) are the new check-in phone calls, without the static and long distance charges. Videos and digital images are the new living albums. And out of the newness are born photographers, videographers and authors of life - those who may not be published or recognised in the mainstream, but whose words and visuals mean a lot to someone out there, for one reason or another, creating an audience unique to them. No need to worry about spelling (unless I am reading it of course cause yes, I am anal about it!) or bad lighting (unless you are anal about it).

Social media affords us a window to our lives and the lives of others. The only thing you really have to do is decide if you want that window and how wide you're willing to open it.

Photo credits: Me

Social Media is Hot over Iceland Ash

The immediacy and community of social media benefitted many of the millions of stranded travellers across Europe and the world. Sitting around in an airport is never fun. I have had my share of long layovers and having access to other people rather than running amok in a terminal was really a Godsend. I was never as unfortunate (knock on wood) as the "victims" of the Icelandic ash vs flightplans, but I can well imagine how having a channel to the outside world, to tips and help would lend to maintaining one's sanity in the face of uncertainty, especially after several days.

The Survival Guide page was one such page created on Facebook, where already over 1600 persons have been offering tips, advice and using the space for frustrated discussion.

Not only was it an opportunity for travellers to connect with each other and share their experiences and gripes, but it also afforded many of them the opportunity to find accomodation and support from others. On Twitter, hashtags like #getmehome, #putmeup and #stranded have provided tweeters with dozens of links to available hotel rooms, guest rooms, people willing to put up the stranded in a spare room of their private homes, etc.

The uncertainty lately with flightplans, with strikes and acts of God have made it even more important for social media to play bigger roles in the tourism and hospitality industry. Their crisis management plans not only kicked into high gear but also took to the cyberverse in a big way. Communication in this instance needed to be immediate and ongoing, with so many people being affected and taken completely by surprise. Not knowing when you're going to be seeing your home, your dog, your 2.5 kids because you're stuck in a foreign country can only exacerbate an already tenuous scenario. Twitter sites from airlines and hotels lit up like flash bulbs when news of the ash cloud stopping flights first dropped. Tweets and DMs have been going back and forth between airline representatives and passengers, as one can imagine. Despite not being stranded anywhere myself, I still took time to tweet @British_Airways yesterday on something related to the ash and their tweeters are on the ball, though it must be an extremely tough time for them all at the moment - passengers and airlines alike.

This Facebook group is just one of many which was formed within hours of the closure of European airspace to offer solace to passengers stranded miles from home in New Zealand.

There have also been a number of people who have used the opportunity to blog about their experience, from sitting in an airport terminal, to looking for more comfortable accomodation, trying to reach family in other cities, and the long, convuluted journeys home. Nadia El-Awady chronicled her Icelandic ash "adventures" in her blog, Inner Workings of my Mind. There are many more and which would be excellent reading, I am sure.

The silver lining in this ash cloud is that we are reminded that community still exists and though we use social media everyday for idle chatter or for business/marketing, we only fully appreciate how powerful social media communities really are in times of crisis. The help which many of the stranded have been able to get simply by logging on to Facebook or Twitter or Roadsharing via their laptops or their mobile phones, is testament to how important social media has become in our daily lives and how it can connect us to people we never imagined we would need to be connected to. Had this happened back in the 90's or maybe even 3-5 years ago, when social networking had not yet gripped our senses, I can only guess that the chaos experienced by those left behind would have been multiplied by 10,000. Here's hoping everyone gets back home safely in coming days and weeks.

Here is a really cool story about a webcam wedding which happened as a result of the bride and groom being stranded. Congrats to them. Isn't it great?

Best Job Ever!!

No, not mine. But can I tell you how much I love these "Best Job Ever" promotions that have been popping up more often lately? They appeal to the littlest hobo in me and besides that, it's a great marketing strategy. How else to get people talking about your brand but to offer them an experience of a lifetime? The most recent BJE is the what CNN referred to as the Honeymoon Tester.

"Wanted: Luxury-loving couples available to globetrot for six months and get paid to test out the most romantic wedding and honeymoon destinations around the world....

...The winners will be asked to blog about their experiences a few times a week "when they can get out of the hammock after sipping a glass of champagne," Meleady said, and write for The Irish Times once a month.They will also be paid 20,000 euros (about $27,000). Hopefuls have until April 7 to apply for the "horrendous assignment" -- as the company teasingly calls it -- which starts mid-May."
This promo was born after the success of the BJE promo put on by Tourism Queensland, which was won by a lucky chap called Ben Southall, who has spent the last few months in isolated bliss, blogging about the wonders of the Islands of the Great Barrier Reef.

Both promos use social media heavily, with applicants being asked to create short videos introducing themselves and saying why they should be chosen. Then there is voting and online mania, and when the winner is selected there is blogging and photo taking and all that great promotional stuff - from the awesome minds and mouths of people NOT directly associated with the promoters. Because let's face it, tourism boards and travel agents are paid to sell and yes, the couples in this case will be paid for their "labour", but who better to sell to couples, than a happy couple? It's not rocket science but the promotions make it all the more exciting and attractive.

And there are others like 67 Days of Smiles, and even a winery got involved with the "Really Goode Job". What I love about it, and I think most people would love this aspect, is that you get real reviews from real people. It could be anyone. It could be a housewife, a student, your neighbour. It could be you. It is not someone with a marketing degree or someone with years of experience peddling hospitality, and selling dreams. It's the average Joe and Jane. It really changes the way we learn about travel destinations and emphasises the shift from destination websites with canned content, to social networking and user generated content. And as a traveller myself, I appreciate getting the traveller perspective over the canned stuff, and we already talked about my love for Tripadvisor and other such user sites. Not to mention, these promotions give the organisers brilliant marketing exposure. The couples have to promote Ireland and their videos are just the first step. The promotion brings a new audience of people who may never have considered Ireland as a honeymoon destination before. And paying a couple $27,000 vs paying an ad agency God knows how much to sell the destination - you don't need to be a math whiz to know that one is more cost-effective than the other. But it's not even about the money. The creativity of the couples and the personal accounts from the winners are worth their weight in publicity gold.

Hey, if I had seen these early enough, it could have been me! Shucks! Oh well...

This is one of the applicants' videos. I thought it was cute.

Check out the Ultimate Job in Ireland site and vote for your favourite couple.

Pedalling CSR to the masses

I heard about a great initiative this morning. The Crowne Plaza in Denmark is giving guests the chance to cycle their way to a free meal. The hotel has installed "two exercise bicycles hooked up to generators, so that when people start pedaling, they can produce some electrcity."

"Anyone producing 10 watt hours of electricity or more for the hotel will be given a locally produced complimentary meal encouraging guests to not only get fit but also reduce their carbon footprint and save electricity and money"
This is one of the most interesting initiatives I have heard about in a long time and I think it's great. Great innovation in corporate social responsibility. Not only can guests be encouraged to get fit, but it also directly links them and their actions to green issues and actively involves them in environmentally responsible activities. Though there are quite a few hotels which have green initiatives, how many of their guests actually support these? For example, show of hands, now:  Do you read the cards behind your bathroom door about the hotel's recycle/re-use policy when it comes to towels? How many of you actually know that a towel on the rack means you plan to use it again, and a towel on the floor or in the tub means that you would like fresh towels?

But, on the flip side,  how many of you actually take the time to hang your towel, and then the housekeeper changes it anyway? I cannot tell you how many times I have hung my towel up, with plans to use it again, and come back to my room and there are fresh towels waiting for me. I mean, sure we love fresh towels, but I don't change my towels at home after one use, and clearly there is no understanding or buy-in of the policy from staff.

And some people take vacation to the max. It's almost as though they go on vacation and their "green-ness", if they had any in the first place, goes on vacation too. Guests go out and leave the hotel room like a virtual disco ball, with all the lights on, the tv or radio on.

I like the innovation of this new green initiative. In the interview, the spokesperson for the hotel mentioned that the actual energy generated from the cycling does not really cover the cost of the meal, so the hotel in effect is not saving any money. But the impact it leaves is invaluable. I mean, it's fantastic for the hotel's CSR brand and shows they are willing to go the extra mile to do their part in reducing their carbon footprint. It also gives them something unique and creative to market, and for green-minded guests, it's a great selling proposition. It serves as an opportunity to sensitise guests to environmental issues. Guests can understand how much human energy it takes to power up a light bulb, or how their indifference can affect not only operations costs, but the environment. And the initiative gives these guests the chance to make a tangible contribution to conservation, totally independent of hotel staff who may not support or who may have no clue as to policies and initiatives (shame on you, housekeeping!)

I would probably be one of those who would take a go on the "power" bikes (once I am properly padded cause biking is not fun on the bum), because I usually try to work out on vacation anyway, and I know someone is going to take my towel against my wishes. The free meal is really to me, a bonus. So good job, Crowne Plaza!

What's the best green initiative you have come across on your business or pleasure hotel stays?

Content is king, even and especially during an election

There are three contentious issues most people tend to avoid, religion and a woman's weight being two of them. The other is politics. Though I have no comments on the election campaign at hand here on the twin island state, or the leaders or their parties, I stumbled across the Opposition Leader's Facebook page yesterday with over 5,000 fans. I immediately thought "Yes, She Can", in light of the Obama links running around.

The People's National Movement, in addition to their website, also has a Fan Page and a YouTube channel.
So, yes they are, but the question is CAN THEY?

Nothing really jumps out at me from either party's initiatives thus far. Photos from events, updates on meetings. The UNC page has some notes from meetings and news reports but nothing new. It's a social calendar as far as I see, and a space to post press ads and news articles.

I remember back in the day, there were a PNM and National Alliance for Reconstruction (NAR) manifesto on every coffee table, with the details of what each party hoped to achieve if elected.

Manifesto = what is my unique selling proposition?

Does the electorate even ask for this anymore? Do we even care? So while it is great that we are getting social and political parties reaching out, it's not that fantastic if it's the same old song and dance and nothing solid. I have not seen anything yet that will influence me in either direction. There is nothing really that I cannot access from picking up a paper or turning on the television. So far it's a lot of speech posting, ad posting, meeting schedules.

In much the same way that customers look to brands for rich content about what they do, about performance, new and upcoming initiatives, and look for brands to offer something different, especially when using the new tools, I think we should expect the same from our politicians and not get caught up in the tribalism. And this goes way beyond social media now.

I would love to see us get back to basics. Let's get the basics right - comprehensive information, information which pushes your political brand, your mission, your vision, your strategic direction. No sense upping the ante and using technology if we aren't really saying anything. Content is King, yet the content I have seen thus far is far from regal.

One thing I would really like to see happen one election year in the near future, though I doubt it will happen this time around (if ever) is the televised debate. Give us our leaders and their take on the issues and their plan for the country, minus the flag waving, minus the branded supporters, minus the campaign trail mudslinging. I really enjoy these. With an experienced, assertive and brilliant moderator, debates can be rich viewing.

The Brits had their first ever election debate this week and what is most interesting with this is that the televised debate has given Nick Clegg and the Liberal Dems in the UK greater visibility and perhaps a greater chance in the polls (not predicting that they will win eh). Nick Clegg, by most accounts was brilliant. The first past the post electoral system, which we chose to keep as a souvenir from the Queen, effectively maintains the "strength" of the two established parties. Nick Clegg possibly emphasised the limitations of this system in the UK's first ever televised debate, giving the traditional Labour and Conservative party leaders a run for their money and opening himself and his party to segments of the electorate he may never have necessarily been exposed to during the normal campaigning. The debate provided an avenue that the electorate would not have had before to hear the views of all the candidates, outside of the myopia of blind party allegiances.

I don't know about the rest of the population, but I want this type of debate, and this type of content from our leaders, not just the allegations and "in my back pocket" mysteries about candidates. These are the types of communication channels that we should tend to first, before we dabble in others, without giving us anything substantial to "feast on". Perhaps now that the election date has been announced we will get to the meat of the matter as far as manifestos are concerned. Let's hope so. If not, then I am not really interested in the myriad of communications channels available. They all mean nothing, if they say nothing.

As for a woman's weight, I will not even touch that...not even with a 15ft pole!

Nick Clegg on Facebook
David Cameron on Facebook
Nick Clegg on Twitter
The Conservatives on Twitter
Labour Party on Twitter

Funny review of the Brown/Cameron/Clegg debate here as well.

What we can learn from Rainy Days!

Ever been trapped in a rainstorm without an umbrella? It's not a fun experience, especially if you have just had your hair done, you're in a hurry and you're marooned under a building, just waiting for the rains to cease, or you are caught in an open area with no retreat!

Ever notice that in almost every "help me" scenario, there is usually a vendor selling umbrellas, and making a killing? Oh yes, I have had cause to buy umbrellas both home and abroad when foresight was lacking and rains caught me unaware, and I needed to get where I was going in a hurry and preferably as dry as possible.

Vendors are always ready for what life throws at them. Their awareness of their environment, their clients and market forces can make the most professional marketers hang their heads in shame. They are always ready to meet the relevant need at just the right time. New York street vendors have loads of scarves and gloves available during the nippier months (Thank God, says the Caribbean girl), but visit their stalls in July and you bet they have adapted to the change.

It's a lesson the shirt and tie, and high heeled wearing "vendors" can learn from the dude selling cold water on the highway in intense heat, during rush hour. I once was stuck in traffic and the Bobo Shantis who sell nuts approached me in the car to ask if I was interested in a pack of nuts. I am not a lover of peanuts, no matter how ravenous I am. So I told the dude this and explained that maybe he should expand his vending horizons and diversify. The next time I saw him, this particular vendor had indeed diversified and had gone into selling channa (fried chick peas for the Yanks), caramel bars and cheese balls. His primary product was still the small bag of peanuts but he took the feedback and walked with a few extra bags of other stuff, which I appreciated immensely. A lot of the other dudes have now gone into granola and other non-nut things perhaps for the same reason - not everyone loves peanuts!

So we have to be on the ball and be ready for any eventuality - ready for a rainy day, you can say - as well as not assume that what we have is what our customers want, and acting on feedback from the people we are targetting can more times than not, be in our best interest!

I have since started keeping a sturdy yet purse-compliant umbrella in my handbag, with the larger gale-resistant umbrella in the car. This post inspired by the thick black rainclouds circling Port of Spain and the rest of Trinidad today.

What type of podcasts do you love listening to?

I spent the first part of my morning editing a podcast (the rest of the day has been a virtual blur). But I don't download what I have painstakingly sliced and diced onto my MP3 player. I have other interests besides work, thank you very much.

MP3 players have not only changed the way we experience music, but also the way we travel and sightsee. The podcast. A serious traveller's best friend. There are shopping trips and there are trips that are made for the trepid explorer, the historian, the connoisseur, the adventurer. Travel podcasts are my favourite type of podcasts because travel is one of my favorite activities and they can really breathe life into a trip. Guide books and maps are cool, but sometimes when your head is stuck down the bad end of a guide book, you can miss the life, the action around you.

You can either "listen up" before you head to your destination by downloading podcasts from fellow travellers about their experiences in a city or from tourism sites. Or you can get free audio guides that walk you through your destination when you get there. The best part about my last European vacation was that I could explore the mastery, the architecture and history at my own pace and not be tied down to a tour guide or shackled to a band of confused looking tourists. The audio guide was awesome, and was vibrant and comprehensive and the history lover in me was fulfilled.

As I plan for another big vacation this year, I look forward to cramming my MP3 player with as many cool podcasts as possible and listening up on all the tips and tricks needed to have an enjoyable stay. I just downloaded one from here, though perhaps I should be on the airline sites first before getting too caught up in the experience! This - also very cool and these as well. And if you're a solo traveller, or just someone who really wants to enjoy the experience, without the hassle and expense, there has to be a free podcast out there to meet your needs!

So I ask again, what type of podcasts do you enjoy?

Photo credit:

West Indies Cricket: A Brand in Need of Help

Is it just me or does anyone else feel like the ICC Twenty/20 World Cup is happening somewhere else? Is it really starting in the West Indies in a couple weeks? Am I missing something? I mean, sure we are in the midst of election mania here in Trinidad and Tobago, but even before that, with the exception of the lone promotional video with Gravy or Blue Food or whoever, there seems to be quite a laid back feeling. That's in my world, anyway. It may be different for you.

So I decided to do some digging from an online perspective. What I found was rather disturbing to say the least. I decided not to go to the WICB's website first. I decided to see if they had a presence on Facebook. Why? Over the years, there have been those who say the sport is dying in the region. Test cricket is not sexy to young people. The idea of sitting watching the lovely game over a 5-day stretch does not appeal to them. One day cricket is still entertaining but the team's "prowess" has not been consistent enough to keep the interest, loyalty and support of some fans. In comes Twenty/20 which seems to have injected some new life into the game and has brought a new legion of fans - what I call the "instant" crew. Instant coffee, instant meals, instant cricket. Half day of cricket is perfect for them, not to mention exciting, with a faster pace and big displays of ego with the bat and ball. Maybe not beautiful cricket but popular cricket. But this is not about the game and where it's going. This is about the game and where it is from a marketing perspective especially when one thinks about this segment of the market that is disillusioned with the game and have turned to other avenues for excitement.

So I turned to Facebook. Before I even got to West Indies cricket, I checked these pages first:

- Chelsea FC
- Arsenal FC
-FC Barcelona
- Soca Warriors

Chelsea's Page is fantastic. Not only is beautifully laid out, with rich photos and video, but it is current, interactive and has exclusive content. Over 660,000 fans who are active and passionate about their love for the team.

FC Barcelona's page is stunning and has over 1.6million fans. Again, current info, great content.

And while the T&T Soca Warriors are not in the same league as their European club colleagues, their Page at least has some currency and hosts updates of our local ballers's activities in their respective clubs etc. We don't have much to boast of as a team these days, being out of the WC and all, but that does not mean the Page had to die either. Good job, Soca Warriors.

So after going to where a lot of the young people's interest lie these days, I looked for WI cricket.

(shakes head)

Goodness. The site has nothing! Nada! Nil! The hard part about it, is they have over 8,000 fans - people who have an interest and want to know what's up. The site is basically an online forum with just the fans contributing, hoping, waiting, praying that someone out there in WI cricket world will post a photo, a video, an article - ANYTHING. So while they are where their untapped market spends most of their day, they aren't REALLY there. Sad. Such potential for fans to get to know the players on a more personal level, get some insight into their coaching schedules, how they feel about upcoming tournaments, maybe excite some with some exclusive offers. But nope...there was nothing at all.

So then I said, maybe their website is so fab that the FB Page was unnecessary. Get there and the page has some potential. I see some video, some current content - news, ticket info, updates. Good. I wanted to learn more about the ICC T20 tournament so clicked on the banner ad. Before I start on that, let me just say, I know that the ICC probably does have rights over what the WICB can do or say as it relates to this tournament. Based on how the ODI World Cup went a few years ago, with all the restrictions, I can bet they are probably muzzled...

But...the WI cricket team is still yours and though I don't know to what extent the Board can promote the tournament (who knows, maybe they can, maybe they can't), they can still promote the team and their chances which, I am not hesitant to say, are good in this drive-by form of the game.

So clicked on the banner ad.Of course it goes to the ICC site, which is of course a general site with info on all the teams. There is an ICC Facebook Page and Twitter stream for the tournament, again, for the tournament as a whole. You can send your messages to your team, wishing them luck in their games and so on. But that's it. Nothing branded in the maroon and green. Nothing for the fans of the WI squad on the WICB's website.

No video from our infamous captain, or the coaches. Nothing from the young players who are the role models for the young people we so desperately need to attract to the game. No T-20 forum or discussion board for fans besides the fans-only FB page. Just a static page in this age of social internet platforms. It was pretty depressing especially when competing with the bells and whistles of a page like Chelsea FC. Cricket Australia's site, though not quite that current, still has some content with over 45,000 fans giving their feedback quite regularly. So it's not a cricket thing. It's a WI thing! Epic fail!

The performance of the team over the past few years has not engendered any hope and passion either, and is it any wonder that people will turn towards exciting games with high performing teams like Chelsea FC? At the same time, out of sight, out of mind. If we only hear about the team when they have either a strike or a loss, which is usually all we hear these days, then the brand is being denigrated. As marketers, the responsibility should be on building on the positive elements of the brand and the game and using it to the team's advantage, to the advantage of the WI brand and to the advantage of the game in the region, especially among those who did not grow up knowing about Viv or Des, or who have, because of such bad performance (and, even forgotten Brian.

Or have we just completely given up on this team and cannot be bothered to work on strengthening their brand, as best as we could?

Well, I will make my own plug here to my 10.5 readers. The ICC 2010 Twenty/20 tournament starts in the West Indies on Friday April 30 and will run until Sunday May 16. Good luck to the West Indies cricket team. Hope to hear from from you somewhere, from someone. I have bashed you in the recent past, but I am still a fan and it would be good if your Board would do some work on marketing and strengthening your brand, so that more of us know who you are, what you're up to and how you feel about the beautiful game - and not just about how horrendous your performances have been. Maybe then, I will not be so quick to judge you, your captain and your management because I would feel an affinity or...something.

Death by PowerPoint

I've churned out a few things already this morning and now I am on a presentation I am preparing as part of internal training on social media. Whoopity whoop.

I usually try to prepare presentations, keeping in mind, how I react to presentations delivered by others. Man, some people can really put the lead on your eyelids with their delivery. Your topic may not be the most exciting to some people, but you can make it exciting and downright interesting if you really work on it. Some presentation delivery no-nos I have come across in the more recent past include:

  • Slides with an encylopaedia of information - My eyes! My eyes! Why is there so much hard to read text on the screen? Do you think I really can read that? Do you think I really want to read it?

But what's worse...

  • Reading everything on the slides, verbatim - This is a peeve. You sit me down, put on your projector and then it's like a reading for kids session. If I wanted to sit and listen to someone read, I would have gone to a book reading. In addition, if I wanted to sit and listen to you read, then why the slideshow? Is it read along? Please don't do this. It's annoying.

Words really should be kept to a minimum because in effect your presentation is about you presenting. Remember, your PowerPoint is just the vehicle, but you're the driver. Catchy blurbs and sentences which encompass the meaning of a section resonate more than 3 paragraphs of technical terms, stats and jargon. Complement your words with compelling images, which leads me to my next point -

  • Clip art - Wow. Unless you're in high primary school, clip art really "dumbs" down your presentation. There are just too many stock photos available, and in a world of digital cameras and camera phones, too many opportunities to support your presentation with photos of your own, tailored just for what you want to say. And if you're doing a presentation for staff, then it is even easier because you can then incorporate relevant staff photos in your presentation, which is always a hit, because people are inherently narcissistic and love themselves, and ultimately love seeing themselves.
  • Animation - I don't mind if your effects are all fade ins, or fade outs, but when the entire presentation is a lesson in "How well I know PowerPoint animation", with words flying in from the left, dropping in from the top, slowly checkering in...oh save us! This is even worse when you add the sounds to it - swishing words and clicking photos. It just takes away from the sensibility of your content. Stick to one animation in your theme, and I am a personal fan of the fade in, if I do have to use an animation at all. Revolving sentences just don't seem to add credibility to what I am saying for some reason.

If you want to add some versatility to your presentation, minus the cheesey animations, why not embed a video or some relevant audio? A short video breaks up the tedium of your presentation and can bring another voice to the delivery. And it can also help if the next point refers to you -

  • Poor delivery - Not all of us are comfortable in front of crowds, be it a crowd of 5 or 5,000, but when you lack a certain aggression, your delivery can fall flat and cause heads to "bep". I am not the world's greatest presenter but though I do not imagine my audience naked (that is challenging enough), I do try to enunciate, project and present. Knowing what you're talking about and speaking from a position of knowledge and expertise is half the battle won. Don't surrender just yet if you're not an orator. Your presentation is your road map to what you're going to say, so be familiar with it and have an idea what you want to relay to your audience. I used to sit with one of my former bosses, because he admitted that he was not a good speaker. I would go over his speeches with him, make him rehearse them, let him stumble over words in the privacy of his office so that when the lights were on him, he would be less nervous, and less susceptible to a horrendous delivery. There is absolutely no shame in practising.  None.
The use of a video can lend another dimension to your delivery and save you from doing the entire presentation yourself. Of course your video must be relevant, interesting and short. Nothing can kill the buzz of a video presentation than dull content being crushed into the subconscious for what seems like forever.

  • And be yourself. So if you're not naturally a very funny person, avoid trying to be a comedian. Be aware of your body language and don't be a tree - work the floor. Interact with your audience. Ask questions. Take questions. Be a human and not a robot with a clicker in your hand. I have seen technical problems with a presentation totally derail speakers who use the slideshow as a crutch and are like headless chickens without them.

Your presentation should be straight to the point, should use clear language and not too many technical terms or jargon especially if your audience is not a technical one. It should be visual, clean, without too many bells and whistles and should be natural to you at the end of the day. When it is natural to you, it is more interesting to your audience.

So as I continue my presentation here, what other presentation missteps have you been subjected to and what other tips can you offer? Don't let me make victims of my audience.

I Can: Helping NGOs without breaking a sweat

Professionals, in any profession, are always looking to improve themselves and sharpen their skills to meet the needs of the dynamic job market. Few of us wait on our bosses to get into a training programme. If you really want it, you go out and get it, right? So, you don't have to wait for your company to get started on helping others either. I wrote an entry previously about how we can get involved in assisting in communities and with NGOs etc.

I had a chat with a friend and she is part of an NGO that I sometimes do work with, via work, and she was telling me all about the plans for the new year and taking the organisation forward. But I don't think she had a clue as to where to start. NGOs and CBOs, you have to remember, are made up of mostly of volunteers - people who are dedicated to a cause and donate their time to assist. It is not necessarily the people with the right skills sets for various functions. So though the organisation has a named PR and Marketing person, it's not something he does for a living. One may just be led to believe that anyone can handle the marketing function of an NGO but it does not always work like that. I saw the potential for getting the NGO to a wider audience but a potential vastly untapped.

So basically, as I said before, CSR is not just going to a home and painting it, or helping out at a fundraiser. It can be as simple as lending your expertise to a group that really could use the help in your professional area of expertise. So, in which areas can you as a PR or marketing professional assist?

  • Writing skills and presentation - I have seen many a sponsorship letter, and some of these letters miss the mark. A poorly written letter and a slipshod proposal can be the difference in getting financial support from a company or not.
  • Strategic Marketing/Communications Plan - They should have a strategic plan outlining what the group aims to do, but sometimes in the "how", the marketing comms strategy is left lacking. I realised in talking to my friend, that they were just not doing some basic things and not tapping into some obvious channels.
  • Website - Maybe you can assist with setting up on online presence via a website, assist with a content map, technical writing or advice, or...
...and this one was inevitable if you have been reading this blog frequently enough

  • Social media - It's more than just creating a group or a page. What does the NGO hope to achieve via this medium, who do they wish to target, what is the message, how do they intend to deliver and how regularly. Here is where you can help and really push them along to greater visibility...if done right, of course. I have seen many a dead Facebook group, started with good intentions but then, what's next?
  • Networking - Get others involved via your social network. It's amazing what a bunch of professionals with direct links to CEOs, CFOs and Sponsorship teams can do for a non-proft organisation. Help them get their vision out there!

The same applies if you're an attorney, an accountant or CFA or an ICT professional, in different areas of course, like governance, or accounting or technology. Don't be afraid to go out there and lend your expertise to a group you believe is doing a good job but could use a helping hand.

PR in the City: Dismantling the Fluffy PR model

Two things inspired my Friday post - my chipped nail polish, and the new trailer for one of my "Must see" movies for 2010. Simply fabulous!

Carrie Bradshaw made writing look fabulous and I think I started my first blog somewhere around the time the show first aired. Of course my adventures were not as fierce but I enjoyed it immensely. I still do.
But I wonder if it is any coincidence that Samantha Jones was always my favourite SATC diva. In case you did not know, guys (cause the ladies would know), Samantha is a publicist and PR diva in the city. While I do enjoy her escapades, I don't think I am very Samantha-esque. My friend (free plug here) Soyini discussed the bunny/bitchy phenomena and to some extent I mentioned how there is this misconception that PR is all about glamour here as well. There is this notion that PR is filled with elitist excitement and is essentially poofy and fluffy, with nothing more than planning parties and getting clients into swanky venues or magazines, or doing photo shoots and sipping cocktails at industry events. Samantha's brand of PR definitely was but has this hurt the way that PR is envisioned, and more specifically how women in PR are perceived?

Pop culture has continuously shown women in PR as glambots, in high heels, sporting designer bags and sunglasses in a glam world, jetting off to exciting locations, hob nobbing with beautiful people in beautiful accoutrements. They don't always show the work behind it. The time spent on research and devising strategy and campaigns relevant to different audiences; how the messages are crafted, worded, delivered; how communications programnmes are measured for effectiveness, how collaboration both internally and externally can be often mind numbing because you need to get over the first hurdle of getting buy-in. Add the social media element and you are constantly dealing with the perception that you sit around idling on Facebook or Twitter all day, when in fact you're trying to better understand the tools to get your brand out there and get closer to your customers.

My last PR job - I wore jeans and a polo and most days, and I would at least wear some pumps to keep some semblance of glam (failed), and if I was lucky, a bit of eyeshadow. I sat around tables with people who sometimes better understood obscene language than they did standard English. On busy meeting days, I would eat lunch at an outdoor table between meetings, or in my car, often out of a box with plastic cutlery. Sometimes I would be in meeings after hours, tired and hungry. Your office days were "catch up" days and meeting days about other things. It was hard work. Nothing glamorous about it.

It is not to be taken for granted yet communications teams and programmes are usually the first to go under the microscope when budgets take a hit for the worst. Collateral damage. But the role that they play both from an internal perspective in channelling information to employees and getting feedback and suggestions from them, as well as engaging the wider public and reinforcing the brand and reputation of a company is not to be underestimated nor is it a role which is carried out via luck and chance, or through good looks.

Don't let the movies and my girl, Samantha Jones fool you. It's a job like any other,with deadlines, bosses, naysayers, multi tasking and fatigue. I sat at my desk touching up my nail polish because I never have time to do it usually. It may be my one small contribution to the fantasy of the glam life, because Revlon Plum Attraction is very fab-u-lous, honey.

As I told Soy in my comment, I am a bitchy bunny, as per her definitions - a bit of the two because image is still important. Let's not get carried away now, folks. Let's keep our feet on the ground here. First impressions go a long way in ANY profession, so looking good, not necessarily glamorous or expensive is not a luxury. It's a must. And chipped nail polish is never a good look on any woman and these days, on any man (though I don't agree with that look!!). So being a serious professional, competing with a negative stereotype, does not mean you have to "go against". It may not be Gucci or Mahnolos but clean shoes, a pressed outfit, neat hair, appropriate accessories still are very much in style for the working man or woman, in any industry.

And networking is still important, so yes, we do attend events ever so often but so should anyone else. The demand and the competition in the job market means that you have to sell yourself now more than ever, and you have to go where the buyers are, don't you? That is something we can take away from the amazing Ms Samantha Jones. It is not however, all that we do - just keep that in mind.

But I am not hating. Come May 27, when SATC hits theatres (hopefully the same day here in Trinidad), I will be among the first to be there to take in the drama from Samantha and the rest of the SATC crew. I cannot wait!

Enough is enough: Annoying Company Facebook Activity

I logged on to Facebook this morning and there were 8 new messages, and knowing my friends use my wall more often than not, I was loathe to open my inbox to see what was in there. And sure enough, half of the messages were from one organisation I follow - a regular offender I must add, and the other 4 were divvied up between 2 others. So I ask of the main offender, why 4 messages in the space of 12 hours? Is that really necessary?

Facebook provides a great platform for businesses to interact with their target audience and engage them in new and innovative ways. Spamming is not new, innovative and in fact, it is annoying and a turn off. Even if you're still using the group you created eons ago, and have not yet gone the way of a Facebook Page (though you really should) have by now), sending repetitive messages to your group members is not the way to go, especially if the message was

1. already sent
2. says nothing new, and in fact, I have gotten the exact same message 4 times from one group. WHY?
3. is consistently pushing your product/service on the receiver

When you continuously send messages that say nothing and mean nothing, chances of me reading future messages from you are reduced drastically. In my role as an admin, I tend to  reserve group messages to matters that I deem interesting, relevant and sometimes time dependent.

The Fan Pages are great in that your updates appear in your fans' live feeds, so you don't have to bombard them with messages, which I must remind the offenders hit my inbox like all my other messages. Your fans will see what you have to say when they check their streams, in much the same way they see their friends' updates about their weekends or relationship statuses. Keep the updates interesting and dynamic though. Saying "Buy my product" 7 times a day does not enlighten me, engage me or interest me whatsoever. It becomes as useless and as annoying as friends' Farmville and Mafia Wars updates. That is not a good comparison, by the way.

On the other hand, you have those businesses who don't interact with fans or who say nothing at all. They invite you to follow and then you realise you have become the fan of a graveyard, where your dreams of brand interaction are laid to rest; where noone updates, noone solicits feedback; fans aren't given a voice and the Page is static like a website.

Find the right mix and use the right messages to be effective. Don't be labelled a spammer by updating too much or flooding the inbox population with irrelevant content. But being an inactive brand is just as upsetting to persons who may genuinely be interested in your company and what you have to offer. The platform which Facebook offers is excellent for hearing what your market thinks about your brand, so use it and the feedback you get can help shape your next steps in terms of message and delivery. Take a look at other Fan Pages to get an idea of what other companies are doing on the social networking sites to get closer to their fans. Take a look at what you are doing and ask yourself, is this working? Are my 240 messages a week on the same thing hurting my brand? Have I gotten the reaction I was going for from my audience? Chances are you may not be.

Perhaps you can frame the message in different ways. So while the status update repeated daily is just not effective in my estimation, think of maybe a short, fun video, or a podcast or a photo with a great caption. You can still take the message out there, but differently. It still appears in the live feeds, but may get a reaction because it is new, though not THAT new. Be creative about it and still be mindful of the timing.

The risk you run of not using the tools properly is sending the people you have captured already and the ones you may hope to capture running for the hills, away from you, your brand and your group or page. I am this close to getting out of certain groups because of the spam messages. So, please...don't do it!

Vacation: When social media is not work! Or is it?

Vacation is a time to relax, or a time to seek out adventure. It’s a way to let go of your stress and live out your fantasies. That is, if the stress and pain of planning the vacation doesn’t kill you first. - Mashable

Aint that the truth? It's vacation planning time again. Now, I am an organiser. An anal organiser. A paranoid, anal organiser! I think when planning a trip, one HAS to be organised especially if you're trying to stick to a budget. It is near impossible to save on hotels, tours, activities etc if you don't plan and research. The trip itself is not supposed to be military style, but having an idea what you're gonna do, and when is essential. And as a single female traveller, planning takes on added importance, for reasons of safety and comfort.

But for me it is maddening cause I know what I want and what I don't want. The internet gives you choice and it also can give you so much information that it can be an overload on the senses. I usually cross reference when planning, with my main info resources being

Tripadvisor (my #1 guide!)
Frommer's (great for getting a prelim list of hotels and restaurants)
Lonely Planet
WikiTravel (I love wikitravel!)

I think I can now add Twitter and Facebook to the mix. I like that Twitter allows me to compile all my travel tweeters in a list so now when I am ready to get on the road to relaxation, I can simply go to my list and start tweeting/DMing my questions, without having to go through all the noise. And I follow my favourite hotel chains on Facebook for news on the all important specials/discounts! There are also sites like Travel Chums, where you can talk to other travellers who may have visited your travel spot already and can provide info, or who are going on a trip soon. If you so desire, you can hook up with a travel buddy who is going to the same place at the same time you are. I am still, even in this age of social networks and tweetups and the like, a bit paranoid about meeting up with cyber people in a foreign country, especially as Super Solo Traveller. (S on my chest!) But many people do use them, to meet new friends, have a guide to take one around the place, go out with, and whatever else they want to do.

And most important about social media sites for planning trips is the user generated content. Hotel marketers for example are being paid to show the hotel in its best light, so websites are usually gems of fabulousness. White sheets, luxurious looking rooms, smiley staff. Looks good, doesn't it? But then before you commit yourself to the place, you visit Tripadvisor and read something like this:

I could not even stay there! Checked in, went to the room after riding in the smallest,nastiest elevator ever, looked at the room and bathroom and RAN out! People doing drugs everywhere! All you can hear is banging on the walls and people screaming at each other! The room was GROSS, the bathroom was even worse! Nothing was even close to clean! Complete SMUT HOLE!!! I have never never seen a hotel like this! It needs to be condemned! NOW!!! DO NOT NOT NOT STAY HERE!!!

A real traveller review. This greatly aids my decisions, though at the same time, it greatly adds to my stress. If generally the comments are negative, then I move on, but sometimes they can be 50/50 and you're stuck wondering what if...

But the feedback from travellers on these social networking sites is invaluable, believe me. After weeks of driving myself crazy I got feedback like this which sealed the deal on which hotel I would eventually pass over my Euros to.

We were all completely happy with our stay, especially with the breakfast! We spent a day visiting the palace at Versailles (I think you would have to dedicate at least one day to this), as well as the Louvre. Right across the street from the hotel is a good restaurant. As far as the hotel though, if you want to get a relaxing night of sleep, I would book a room not facing the street, because it can be a little noisy with all the people out front. The rooms were not large, but comfortable. I hope this information helps! Have a great trip!

I did ask for a room not facing the street though I can sleep through anything, and I did dedicate an entire day for Versailles, and I am glad I did. But, I love the range of choice which the internet has allowed me for making important travel decisions. I can honestly say I have not had a bad travel experience yet after all my research and planning. I know where to find info and use my discretion to make choices which suit my budget and my expectations. I can ask my fellow travellers for suggestions and vice versa. I am such a social animal, it kills me.
Now if only the internet could help me with the all consuming, and clearly impossible task of packing light!

Social Media Burnout - How much is too much?

I manage about 15 social media profiles (I really think it's more, but I have lost count...but 2 other blogs will add to this number), some professional and some personal. And it will keep growing, no doubt about that. How many do you manage?

And those are the ones that everyone else seems to use - YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, blogs, Flickr. When I went to a social media conference last year, and realised how many sites other people were using, it was almost like a shock to my system. Ning, Yammer, Posterous, Tumblr...blah blah blah...more and more and more.

I have however not jumped on to every social media train at the station for three reasons:

1. Relevance: I need to be where my audience is and quite frankly, I don't think Ning for example is that widely used (if at all) in Trinidad and Tobago...yet.

2. Repetition: Some sites offer the same features of another. Though I do have YouTube, I can also upload videos directly to Facebook. Photos too. I can post events on my Fan Page, and build a discussion and community around it, and don't necessarily have to create an event on Meetup. Some social media sites are basically a one-stop shop...for my needs anyway.

3. Sanity: I have not cloned myself yet and the interactions should not just be about how wide one's presence but also how rich one's presence is, and I think it's good to focus on the ones I do manage and build on the relationships I have there, before boldly and blindly leaping into the unknown. I see it almost as diluting the concentrate to let more and more people have the opportunity to drink, but in the end, noone likes the drink.

Working all week with social media (in addition to doing other things) can be tedious and social media burnout is real. It can become annoying if you let it. Sometimes it's good to take a load off. I don't do any "heavy lifting" on weekends to give myself a break from all this social media hoopla. I either log on just to engage in things I enjoy doing online, like vacation planning, brushing up on my foreign languages with online tutors, or catching up with friends. If I am online at all.

One has to spend a lot of time with it if it is to be effective. It's a commitment akin to a marriage. lol. But do we want "noise" or do we want "value" when we spend our waking moments with social media? A lot of people talk about the tools which make managing various profiles easier, and yes, this is great. However, how much is too much?

Some people like to rush the numbers. Build the follower base. Grow the number of fans. Bosses like to see numbers - lots and lots of numbers. Yes, that's all well and good but how many of these people are genuinely interested in the long run, in what you have to say? How many are really giving "tit for tat" when it comes to generating content that is beneficial to your business? I have followers on Twitter, who could not give two hoots about my tweets. It's for this reason that I don't just add any random follower. The noise is loud enough, without adding meaningless chatter/haggling to it.

Do we ever consider whether our audience is getting burnt out as well? Is it just too much, in too many places? And is it being managed in such a way that the human resources available can keep these sites fresh and exciting for the audience?

Not only that, but the attention span of contemporary audiences are getting shorter and shorter. I remember when Hi5 was THE THING. Then came MySpace and that was THE THING. Now Facebook and Twitter, among others, are running the scene, but for how long? And while the myriad of options means you can further segment your audience, as well as create opportunities for increased communication delivery, one has to be mindful that the myriad of choices does not begin to become stale and that interest/attention from your audience does not start to wane.

How do you manage your social media profiles, and avoid social media fatigue, both on your end and the audience's?

Hot Cross Buns go social in T&T

Yesterday afternoon when I left work, I did not intend to make any pitstops. But I had promised myself some ice cream. Then as I sat in traffic, the ice cream stop evolved into an ice cream/hot cross bun hunt. I am not sure why people make such a big deal about hot cross buns on Good Friday. Yes, I know all the stories and traditions, but it's really the same bun you can buy the other 364 days of the year, just it comes with an accessory. The icing sugar cross. So why all the hoopla?

This is what I asked myself as I walked into Hi-Lo and was greeted by about 15 people at the bakery counter haggling for buns. Great! But since I was there, I decided I could withstand the bumrush for a half dozen buns and in less than a minute, much to the chagrin of the dude next to me who seemed to have been there a while, I had my box of buns.

But then I read the paper this morning and was tickled to read that a bakery here used Facebook to control and build their sales of the sticky bunny goodness. Using their Facebook Fan Page, they managed to maximise their returns this year on their buns and build a nice little following, even offering free samples to fans. I think this is awesome and kudos to them for giving it a go. And fans I am sure were guaranteed of getting their buns instead of facing a literal beatdown and cut eye (the guy I out-bunned gave me dirty looks every time he saw me after that) from desperate bun seekers.

Happy Good Friday to my 3.5 readers! I'll have a bun for you.

Planning, Consistency and Results

I thought I would just mention consistency this morning. Firstly...

Every Good Friday, for as long as I can remember - since I was a child, there have been some constants

- Smoked salmon for lunch
- Ben Hur on television

It has become part of the Good Friday "brand" as it were. Consistent. Regular. Expected. I have come to expect it every Good Friday, and they are part of what makes Good Friday the day I have come to enjoy. (Okay, so I don't watch BenHur anymore cause I think I can recite the entire dialogue word for word by now)


Exercise. I have been having some knee issues lately so my active levels have gone from a high A to a low D in recent days and I can feel the difference. If I am not being consistent with my workout regimen, I know I will start to whine about not seeing results. But such is the scenario - steady as she goes equals results. And I have a plan as well. I do cardio every day and target various areas using weights on certain days, and know when I will totally mix it up to not only achieve best results, but also to avoid boredom and annoyance cause in my world, exercising is not fun. It's necessary.


Public relations must be consistent if it is to be effective. It has to be planned if it's going to work - the 4Ws and the H come to mind. You cannot expect people to know about your brand if you're not talking about it regularly and getting it out there, and you cannot hope to build reputation and trust if you don't stick to one message. Reputation and brand strength don't come by chance or luck. It's part action and part talking about the action in a consistent and clear fashion. I worked in an organisation that was not talking. At all. Lots of things happening but noone was talking. That in itself is a strategy of course, but is it a good one? Would you want to work for someone that noone else knew about?

Sadly (Good Lord!) I have also worked in an organisation where there was no plan. Hard to believe it but it's true, so the communications directives were random and often reactive. It often seemed like an after thought (public service) and there was no who, what, why, where, when, or how about it. Just "whoever, whatever, wherever, whenever, or however".

So ask yourself
  • Is my message out there regularly?
  • Is my message consistent?
  • Is my message vehicle the right one for my audience?
  • Is my audience reacting to my message positively (or negatively)?
A plan helps you stay on message and to be more strategic in how you craft and deliver that message. And like anything else, it needs to be reviewed and assessed regularly to ensure that you are indeed getting the results you are hoping for. If not, then you need to tweak the plan and fix the areas that need fixing so your messages are not outrun and outcommunicated by your competitors.

And this goes for internal communications as well. Inconsistency can lend to lack of trust and create misconceptions which can derail your entire communications strategy.

And just to add finally, with new media, one has to stay on course there as well. There are some organisations that tweet 2 days a week, then maybe once in the next 2 weeks, then 5 times the next week, and then maybe 3 weeks will pass again before another tweet shows itself. You just never know if you're going to get a response, or when you will get it. Blogs stay stagnant for days without an update, after promises of greatness from its owners. Simply because there was no plan or a contingency plan because let's face it, sometimes things happen and you just get swamped or someone goes on vacation or what have you. But this should not affect your customer, should it? Have a plan, darn it!

So my plan for tomorrow involves some Smuckers sugar free strawberry preserves for breakfast, with smoked salmon for lunch and maybe if I feel like it, an afternoon with Charlton Heston, coupled with some weight training. I expect excellent results! What's yours? Communications or otherwise?
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