I just returned from the NewComm Formum 2008. It was great to see old friends like Todd Defren and Richard Binhammer, who were both so kind as to attend a session that Geoff Livingston and I put on, even though they already knew about everything we said. I couldn't even begin to name all of the people that I saw there with whom I have built strong relationships over the years.
But part of what I love so much about the NewComm Forum are the new people. Unlike some of my friends who grow tired of the same old focus on tactics, I find that newcomers often challenge the way that I look at the practice of public relations.
One of those new people is Chris Turner, the author of the Corporate Communications blog, which launched earlier this year. I started reading him almost immediately and loved his take on modernizing his decidedly traditional corporate communications department at LifeWay Christian Resources. Chris was featured in a newcomers panel and presented his passion for what he was doing well (he is one closest to the camera).
Chris is also a former journalist, so he understands how social media can help him to connect with people in a way that is impossible in other media forms.
And he can really write, which honestly is in short supply.
I thought I would share some of his insights with you in an interview we did while at the NewComm Forum.
What led you to launch the Corporate Communications Blog?
I launched Corporate Communications Blog because there are a number of well-qualified experts like yourself blogging from what I would consider a consultants’ perspective – I draw from them every day – but I hadn’t found any blogs from “inside the bubble.”
I wanted to take the struggles of a very traditional corporate communications office and give a glimpse behind the curtain…. My hope is that others in the same boat will hopefully learn something from what we are trying to do and along the way offer ideas as to how we can transition more efficiently. Another reason was personal: to document the journey and create a record over time of [our] transition.
Case Study: Reaching the Under 40 Crowd
Have you launched any social media projects as part of your overall communication strategy?
Our denomination was/is struggling with younger leaders (under 40) not staying engaged with the denomination at the national level. Our president/CEO at the time was a highly respected man with much national influence. He traveled to 10 locations around the country meeting with younger leaders, listening to their concerns and personally inviting them to an event he was hosting for them in June at our annual convention. I was contacted in early May by the coordinator for that event and told they were seriously considering canceling it because registration was stalled at just over 100 and they’d exhausted their marketing initiative.
I was shocked. I believed our president’s reputation – and that of our organization – was at stake! How embarrassing to cancel an event for which he’d personally been bush-beating for months. I begged him to hold off on canceling for two weeks. Here were the steps we took:
1. The coordinator had a static discussion board that had had some activity, mostly from three guys who would briefly comment then go out to their blogs and host a huge conversation on what we were doing. The conversation was happening but not in our forum. We needed to tap that. I tracked them down and called them.
2. Based on those conversations I realized we needed to get our president in the blogosphere and off the discussion board. He, at 70, enthusiastically embraced the idea and in two days we had a blog up with his first post, encouraging participation by younger leaders and inviting them to the event.
3. The three bloggers were enthusiastic supporters gladly pointed their large readerships toward our president’s blog and traffic increased dramatically. They also supported and endorsed the event encouraging participation.
4. Even though our president turned out to be a sporadic blogger, the effects of those first posts were significant. Younger leaders commented that for the first time they felt like a denominational leader had met them in their world.
Results: within 10 days registration jumped to over 300; six weeks later we had more than 500 at the event (and were very pleased the fire marshal didn’t show because we were way beyond capacity at the venue!).
What do you hope to accomplish online over the next year with your communication strategy?
Short answer: Increase social media proficiency among our staff while expanding internal influence for change.
Two years ago we made a commitment to transition our office from being very traditional to a mix of traditional and social media woven together for an overarching strategy. We’ve added a number of elements that can be socially networked such as podcasts, news blog, incorporation of Flip video, etc. These are all new ideas for our staff so the learning curve is significant. Thankfully, buy-in has been awesome. …From a management perspective, there is a lot of evangelization that needs to be done for the purpose of hopefully influencing the attitudes of our executive management.
How would you recommend that other organizations proceed with social media?
I am a big fan of exactly what you and Geoff Livingston (link this) preach: Listen, participate, contribute, evaluate. It is practical and foundational advice.
First they need to monitor what is being said about them. I deal with at least one reputation management issue a week and that has increased steadily over the past year. Next they need to build personal relationships with those bloggers they identify as influential in whatever realm the organization operates. They need to ask questions and start conversations with those bloggers and do what I’ve done: let those people educate me on how to converse with them in their medium. Once there has been listening and conversing, I’d say start a blog, tell stories and give others the opportunity to tell their stories. Most religious organizations are service oriented so they have a great opportunity to expand their service to others through mediums that are socially oriented.
You work for a Christian organization, how does that line up with what you are trying to accomplish online?
If anything it intensifies it because I feel a deep commitment to represent Jesus Christ in the absolute most professional way I can. The Bible says, “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). Eating and drinking are two of the most mundane things an individual can do. How much more then should I glorify God by the way I communicate our organization’s mission which is to create biblical resources that spiritually transform lives and cultures.
That said, one of the things I struggle with is the way Christians too often isolate themselves from the culture around them. I want us to be a participating member of the community. Part of that is me personally relating to peers in corporate communications at all types of organizations. I want to add value to the way people do their jobs and I want to help them succeed. I hope there is something my blog will contribute to somebody’s struggle who finds themselves in a similar position – charged with transitioning their approach from traditional to one that is more socially oriented.
What is the most important thing you have learned about social media over the six months?
Participation is not an option. That’s more a solidification of a growing realization than something new. Social media is so pervasive and rapidly expanding that organizations no longer have the luxury of passing it off as a fad. Also, if organizations don’t participate they are in danger of rendering themselves irrelevant to younger generations who have never known a world without the Internet and who increasingly communicate this way. Finally, if you desire to make a living in the field of communications, you better get this stuff or you’ll be obsolete and out of work.
When Chris isn’t writing about corporate communications you can find him watching baseball and listening to the blues, especially SRV and the Allman Brothers Band. He also loves coloring, riding bikes with his five-year-old daughter and taking the day off with his family.
The photo of Chris at the NewComm Forum is by Leticia Magalhães Gomes, who in my view took some of the best photos at the NewComm Forum this year