Leading Chicago Companies are Doing Social Media Right

Last week, Crain’s Chicago Business took a look at which companies in the Chicagoland area are doing the best job of effectively leveraging social media to reach consumers, increase brand awareness and ultimately rise sales. As I was reading the article, it came to no surprise that leading companies like Kraft Foods, McDonalds and Sears Holdings were among the top (my guess is due to the ability to hire teams to develop and manage these digital campaigns).

The rankings were determined the by key factors, such as audience strength, content sharing, conversation strength and topical alignment. Kraft Foods was ranked No.1 on the list, receiving the maximum “very high” remarks in two segments: audience strength and topical alignment.

So what did Kraft Foods do to win the top spot for running its social media campaigns effectively? For starters, Kraft has what every company can easily achieve; a presence on social media channels like Facebook and Twitter. The catch? They’re actively updating and engaging with their consumers via these portals and responding to comments regarding its more than 70 product lines.

While many businesses might think that having a presence on social media channels is enough, the truth is it all depends on how well they are engaging, educating and sharing with customers, and in turn, how well customers are responding. Sometimes nothing seems worse than finding a company page on Facebook that is blank. Then again, not finding the company on Facebook at all triumphs a company page that contains limited engagement and information. A simple way to overcome this is by setting up a company page that contains a brief history description, logo and a list of services and/or products. Best of all, this can be achieved in a matter of minutes.

Even more important in determining Kraft’s social media success is its creativity when it comes to offering consumers recipes. All of its more than 30,000 recipes are in both English and Spanish, and receive 80 million visits per year. These recipes are also frequently discussed and shared among Kraft’s 770,350 fans on Facebook.

If your business doesn’t have the immense brand awareness that Kraft does, you might think that an active social media audience isn’t achievable since you might not have 30,000 recipes you can share. However, if you have a corporate blog, a few white papers and expert opinions, a little can go a long way by repurposing content.

So after looking at the list of the Chicago companies that are using social media effectively, did you think of a couple new ideas to try in your 2012 social media campaigns?

-By Christine Westendorf

Posted in Christine Westendorf, Social Media | 193 Comments

Social Media: Figuring out Facebook Timeline, Sorta

To claim I’m on the cutting edge of social media would be a stretch. Sure, I have an iPhone with too many apps. I check Facebook daily, if not compulsively throughout the day. And safe to say I know my way around and often contribute to sites such as Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube.

But what separates those of us who are active on social media from those who are “cutting edge” is the time and/or desire to try new features, functionalities and platforms. I’m a social media follower, not a trail-blazer, and I’m perfectly fine with that … or at least I was until Facebook unveiled its latest offering, Timeline.

By loose definition, Timeline is Facebook’s new profile design that compiles a user’s history (i.e., status updates, photos, etc.) and displays it in a collage-esque page layout.

For ex-Myspacers, the ability to have greater control of page design isn’t that impressive, however, the “smarts” behind Facebook Timeline and the fact Facebook is catering to approximately 800 million users, makes this new initiative just shy of revolutionarily.

Based on my assessment, here are five FYIs that might help you on your Timeline journey.

1) You’ll be asked to choose a “cover” photo. Facebook will take this photo and blow it up banner size and place it at the top of your profile page. It will be the first thing people see (certainly can’t miss it) when they click on your profile. Because the image is so enlarged, pick a photo you’re really comfortable with. Or, opt for shots of pets and/or kids since they don’t seem to have – or mind having – bad hair days.

2) The whole point of Timeline (besides improved integration with apps such as location-based, entertainment, etc.), is the ability to scroll back and see at a glance your activity from previous years. I joined in Jan. 2005, so all the good, bad and ugly during those years is readily viewable. Consider this your warning to delete any content that might not reflect you to your best advantage.

3) When logged in to your account, the Timeline preview site will show you how many of your friends are trying Timeline. (Note: 55 of my 350+ friends had already tried Timeline before I did. Guess I’m not cutting edge even when I try.) The fact of the matter is Facebook is going to roll-out Timeline to everyone eventually. There’s really no point in holding out. Might as well get a jumpstart on customizing your profile to weed out any memories you don’t want to relive.

4) Facebook is offering a 7-day preview period of Timeline where only you can see your Timeline-d profile until you click “Publish.” This allows you to get comfortable with Timeline, make any required changes and customize to your preferences before your friends see your new, revamped profile.

5) The Browser Question – When I was testing out Timeline on 12/21, it wasn’t displaying quite right on Internet Explorer (IE). I reached out to a few of my social media guru friends, including a Social Media Editor for NBC, and after scolding me for using IE in the first place, he recommended I try Firefox instead. Another friend recommended Chrome. Case in point, be willing to try different browsers during the Timeline discovery process.  

-By Kristen Rose Miller

Posted in Kristen Rose Miller, Reviews, Social Media | 159 Comments

Tech Industry: It’s Still Rock & Roll to Me

In one of Billy Joel’s hit songs from the 80s, he jabs the music industry for its penchant for fad & fashion:

It´s the next phase, new wave, dance craze, anyways,
It´s still rock and roll to me.

I hear ya, Billy!  That’s the way I often feel about the tech industry. I’ve worked in technology for more than 15 years and run the gamut – from monoliths (EDS, now part of HP) to start-ups (Isix, a software firm you’ve never noticed because it fizzled in less than 3 years, though you can still find an outdated website.) So, as you may imagine, I’ve seen a lot of the same old ideas “revolutionized.” Consider this progression: Data Warehousing to Data Mining to Business Intelligence to Predictive Analytics. Yes, the propeller heads will argue the technical distinctions between each iteration (and so will I when pitching my clients to industry influencers) but all we ever have been discussing on this subject is gathering data and analyzing it. That’s not a revolutionary concept; that’s just good business. Sure, the technology for collecting, parsing and scrutinizing information becomes better and better at a faster and faster pace. But hey, it’s still rock & roll to me.

That’s why, when I read the latest McKinsey & Company survey on social technologies in the enterprise (McKinsey Quarterly, November 2011) Billy’s lyrics started rolling through my head. McKinsey asked more than 4,200 global executives across sectors, geographies, company sizes, tenures, and functional specialties how organizations deploy social technologies, which are defined in the study as social networking, blogs, video sharing and microblogging. Now, McKinsey understandably avoids brand names, but essentially we’re talking about LinkedIn, Facebook, tools such as WordPress, YouTube and Twitter.

What McKinsey researchers found was not surprising to any of us inside – and probably outside – the tech industry:  

  1. The use of social tools and technologies in the enterprise is on the rise;
  2. The more networked an organization is, the better it is at reaping rewards from social tools and technologies;
  3. But, deploying them at a scale to make a difference isn’t necessarily easy or permanent.

Hmmm, as a 25-year strategic communications veteran those conclusions sound familiar. We’re talking about principals of corporate communications here. As tools and technologies for communicating become better and faster, the companies that invest in communications infrastructure – i.e., connect more and more people, employees and customers alike – see the business dialog increase and feel the benefits. But if an organization doesn’t work to keep the conversation going, having more and more functional communication channels doesn’t help a company achieve its goals.

Just like achieving success in the music business: You can plug into the latest tech industry craze and ride the wave for a while, but if you can’t carry a tune nobody will be singing your lyrics for the next 30 years.

Everybody’s talkin’ ’bout the new sound,
Funny, but, it´s still rock and roll to me.

-By Bob Dirkes


Posted in Bob Dirkes, Technology Industry | 157 Comments

Are Your Networks Anti-Social?

I’ve founded three clubs in my lifetime and all suffered the same fate. They would start out strong and quickly acquire members. Then a small group of members would volunteer to produce content for our newsletters and events.

By year three, all three of these clubs were on life support. The original volunteers (including me) were sick of producing content and were frustrated that more members weren’t stepping up to the plate to contribute more than dues to the club.

Bitterness would begin to erode my enthusiasm and all of the clubs inevitably died.

I didn’t understand why this phenomenon occurred until I read Groundswell by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff. The book introduces the Forrester Social Technographics Profile Tool, which classifies consumers into seven overlapping levels of social technology participation. You can check it out for free by clicking on the link.

By entering the basic demographics of your organization into the tool, you’ll immediately have a benchmark for estimating how many of your members will contribute material, “like” or forward content, and even consider engaging with your organization through social outposts like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

In practical terms, let’s say you are considering creating a private portal for 100 male CFOs who are in their 50s. About 13% of your members may be creators, the types willing to blog or contribute content. Less than a third will be critics, the folks willing to post comments and contribute to online forums. More significantly, the majority of your members (66%) will be spectators, which means they may appreciate the content but won’t contribute squat to make it successful. Unless you develop an alternate content strategy, there is a very good chance your private portal will not succeed.

When I applied this tool to the demographics of the three clubs I founded, it became painfully clear why none of the organizations gained traction. We never attracted enough members to be sustainable. My small cadre of organizers were the creators; that’s why we were doing all of the work!

This little nugget of knowledge would have saved me a lot of aggravation and maybe one of two of those clubs would be around today.

-By Mike Nikolich

Posted in Mike Nikolich, PR and Marketing, Social Media | 288 Comments

Getting in the Holiday Spirit with SmithBucklin

One of the cool things about being a business unit of SmithBucklin is our parent company’s commitment to giving back. Take the “Charity Makes Sense” program in which we’re all participating.

Earlier in the month we had something called “Penny Wars.” You know how annoying it can be to end up with a pocketful of pennies. Well, in Penny Wars each floor downtown was competing against the others to collect the most pennies. I, of course, held up Tech Image’s end since I seem to be a penny magnet. One of the other fun things about it is if you threw in silver to another floor’s jar, they LOST that amount in their total. So there was a lot of competition.

This week Charity Makes Sense is collecting school supplies for needy children in Chicago. I imagine the Walgreens across the street has seen a nice bump in sales of school supplies the past couple of weeks. (Note to self: go to Walgreens today.)

The big event, though, is an online auction of some very cool prizes. When you work for the world’s largest association management company, hotels, resorts and other suppliers love to curry favor. So there are plenty of weekend get-aways and other prizes to be had. Some of the top management folks are contributing prizes too, such as a movie night at the home theater of CEO Henry Givray, a poker night with CFO Al Koob, a home-cooked gourmet French meal and other fun stuff.

One I might bid on is golf at the Stonehenge Country Club with Tech Image president Mike Nikolich. If I win I will invite managing director Tim Boivin along too. Neither of us is any good at golf, so we’ll be able to drive Mike crazy as he waits for us to give up on finding our balls in the woods, or we creep along 10 yards at a time.

The final auction winners will be determined at the company’s holiday party on December 16 – where admittance usually requires a donation of canned or boxed food. Looking forward to all of it.

-By Ken Krause

Posted in Company News, Ken Krause | 161 Comments

Review: What PR can learn from Moneyball

I recently saw the movie Moneyball, starring Brad Pitt (which of course made it one sports movie my wife thought was “OK” – not great, mind you, just OK). Based on the best-selling book by Michael Lewis, it offers a great lesson for the PR community world as well.

Whether we want to admit it or not, doing more with less is a way of PR life today – and that means not continuing to do things the way we’ve always done. There is a great scene in the movie where Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) gets increasingly agitated with the “old school” scouts and front office folks who don’t want to admit that the way the rest of baseball does business no longer works for a small market team like Oakland. He brings in Ivy Leaguer Peter Brand (Jonah Hill, in a very good performance), who explains how new metrics – known as sabermetrics – need to be used to judge the performance of players.  Oh, and by doing that, there is also a way to win games by spending less.

This is the field PR has been playing out on during the economic downturn of the past five years. Clients understand that the traditional metrics no longer work, and really don’t add much value that they can use with their C-level executives to justify their PR budgets. Ad equivalencies, placements, even click-throughs don’t mean a thing – unless they can be tied to lead generation through inbound marketing metrics such as page views, visitors, returning visitors, downloads and Website grades. (More insights on that can be found in this article on the 10 Most Commonly Used Internet Marketing Metrics.)

Smart PR firms today are leveraging the power of partners such as HubSpot to help drive that community engagement over the wall. PR is not just about notching a high batting average with coverage or hitting homers with cover stories to raise awareness anymore – it’s about working long into the pitch count through repeated customer engagement, so your clients can get on base with their prospects whereever they are and whenever they are interested, and then drive those leads home. That’s the PR Moneyball game that clients are looking to win.

-By Tim Boivin

Posted in Marketing & Public Relations, Reviews, Tim Boivin | 243 Comments

RSNA 2011

I had the chance to attend RSNA 2011, the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America in Chicago this past week to provide media support for Tech Image client NEC Display Solutions. I’ve been to RSNA several times now, and what’s amazing amidst our age of instant communication and virtual reality is the necessity for people to still connect in person. 

More than 70,000 people attended the show, which is spread out over five days. The conference is filled with technical presentations, symposiums and several large exhibit halls chock full of large and small companies with all sorts of technologies and equipment for the industry – from diagnostic displays addressing the needs of radiology, mammography, and ultrasounds to basic office furniture. In good economies and bad ones, the show marches on and demonstrates the need for human beings, especially people sharing the same profession and having built relationships over a lifetime, to still get together physically to broach the issues and have some fun in a great city like Chicago. RSNA proves that the traditional trade show is not dead yet – and can survive in a world gone virtual. Just to be sure, however, RSNA did provide a virtual meeting option for people who couldn’t get to our fair city!

-By Philip Anast

Posted in Philip Anast, Reviews, Technology Industry | 245 Comments

Tech Industry Hunting for Job Hunters

National unemployment figures continue to hover around nine percent. The information technology industry has fared better than most, with estimates showing that the number of IT jobs available in the U.S. is between 200,000 and 400,000.

What’s different in the IT industry? Employers say they can’t find people with the right skills set to fill their job vacancies.

Tech Image client, the Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA), is trying to do something about that. The association’s Creating IT Futures Foundation has announced a new program that will help the unemployed and underemployed gain the skills they need to fill these job vacancies and to start new careers in IT.

Known as the IT-Ready Apprentice program, it will launch in five cities across the country over the next couple of months, including Cincinnati, Houston, Kansas City, Minneapolis/St. Paul, and San Antonio.

Individuals who sign up to participate in the IT-Ready Apprentice Program will receive free training and get certified to provide help desk, call center and technical customer support. After completing their certification, participants will be placed in six-month long apprenticeships at qualifying organizations that sign up to be part of the program. Payment for the apprentices will come from the Creating IT Futures Foundation.

The IT-Ready Apprentice Program is placing a special focus on recruiting individuals who have been hardest hit by the lack of jobs, including military veterans and their spouses, as well as African-Americans and Hispanics.

I wanted to bring attention to this great, worthwhile program because the Foundation is seeking organizations in the five launch cities to support the program. They need businesses that will agree to provide apprentice programs for the candidates that successfully complete their training. Since the Foundation covers the costs for the apprenticeship, supporting organizations have a great opportunity to find new talent at no cost to them.

Individuals are not guaranteed jobs at the end of the program, but the hope is that employers will see the value the apprentice brings to the organization and hire them on full time. If not, the participant would still have valued experience on the job that they can use to find work elsewhere.

Companies that are located in one or more of the five target locations that want to get involved should contact the Creating IT Futures Foundation’s IT-Ready Program Manager Amy Spear at aspear@comptia.org or (630) 678-8411.

-By Dan Green

Posted in Dan Green, Technology Industry | 187 Comments

Cell Phone Tracking – Opt In or Opt Out?

If it seems like Black Friday is “earlier” every year, there is certainly some truth to that. Major retailers are beginning to turn the day into Black Thursday, as they are opening their doors as early as 10:00 p.m. But that’s not the only change shoppers will see this year.  As reported on CNNMoney, two U.S. malls will be tracking shoppers’ movements by monitoring the signals on their cell phones.

While it’s said the data will be collected anonymously to merely show where shoppers are spending most of their time, the article says that shopper tracking is nothing new. In the past, malls have used heat maps, security cameras and other forms of technology to track shoppers.

But given that this involves cell phone tracking, and people are already concerned with companies like Apple and Google being invasive, this is definitely an area for valid privacy concerns. While phone numbers and other personal data aren’t collected, unique phone ID numbers are.

Sure, shoppers can turn off their cell phones if they don’t want to be tracked, but that’s giving retailers a run for their money after several have begun promoting smart phone apps to aid in the Black Friday shopping frenzy.

Many smart phone apps today, like Shazam, provide users with the choice to opt in or out of certain location tracking services. I’m sure information is still being tracked and stored, yet it seems to me there should be an option for shoppers to turn off a tracking element without having to power down their phones.

So what are your thoughts on shopper cell phone tracking? Do you think it’s a great way for retailers to build relationships with customers, or is it just another form of Big Brother spying?

-By Christine Westendorf

Posted in Christine Westendorf, Technology Industry | 273 Comments

Where, oh where, to post?

Still wondering which social media channel is the right one for your status update? In this post, The Breaking Copy copywriting blog provides a tongue-in-cheek flowchart to help even the most uncertain social media poster child out there. There’s a lot of truth behind the humor. And yes, I’m addicted to likes, so please like my Facebook posts (as long as it’s not going to be too awkward for your parents or your boss!).

-By Tim Boivin

Posted in Social Media, Tim Boivin | 303 Comments