My Life as an Intern

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Disclaimer

*  For confidentiality purposes I am not going to talk about specific clients. I will write about things that I learn and share certain experiences that will help fellow or future interns. I hope you find this information helpful and possibly entertaining.

As I entered the building on my first day I was drawn to the catchy slogans and eye-grabbing décor. I didn’t quite know what to expect as I walked in at 8:14 a.m. Monday morning.  I noticed that I was the only person there– I was 15 minutes early. So, I sat down in the waiting area trying to appear composed and self-assured, while in reality I was sweating bullets and was trying not to forget my advisors name. I usually don’t get nervous when meeting with people, but this was my first day as an actual public relations intern and I felt like this was going to be eight weeks of interviewing; in addition to making copies, answering the phone, making coffee, and editing. In this economy it is in your best interest to network like hell and work above and beyond the bare minimum, so people remember you and are willing to refer you, and if you’re lucky maybe they will even hire you.

The first week was a little slow. People were still getting used to the idea that they had someone they could push their tedious work onto. Week one was filled with media contact lists and sitting in on strategy meetings. I am not complaining, but I was getting nervous that they might not have work for me. Wrong! Week two came, and all of a sudden people where asking me to join meetings with new clients and write news releases about  an upcoming grand opening. I was ecstatic! Then I had about 10 minutes to think about all the jobs I was given, and the amount of responsibility the agency was entrusting in me. I started to hyperventilate (not really, but my brain felt like it was). I completed a lot of research for new clients, which included looking into possibilities for special events, searching for potential sponsors, and brainstorming ideas for promotional event activities. Soon it was time to write the news release. I am confident in my ability to write a catchy news release, but this was not an assignment I could get back from my teacher and correct the suggested edits. I was told to write it and send it to the client for their comments. I went back to the basics and just started typing. I sent it to the client and to my surprise he loved it! My boss came up to the receptionist- who sits right next to me- and said: “We got a good one this time. I am going to use her for a lot of projects, she is talented!” Not to sound arrogant or pat myself on the back, but I have to give myself some credit. I passed the pop quiz and was now a trusted intern! You have to trust that you have the skills and be confident in your work; otherwise, they might regret hiring you.

Words of “Wisdom” from a fellow Intern

For the record, my daily tasks do not involving getting coffee, answering phones (mostly because I don’t know how) making copies or anything like that. This is a misconception, or at least it is at this agency. I actually do “work” for clients. I would suggest, to any of you who are interning while not getting paid and doing things like getting coffee, to talk with your advisor and ask for more challenging tasks. If they are not willing to help you I would question why they hired you as an intern.  Interns are there to help the office but also to learn. This doesn’t mean if there is no coffee that you can’t make some, or if there are copies that need to be made you refuse to do them, I am just saying that if you are not given the chance to work on projects then you are not gaining any experience and are basically volunteering to be an assistant. Most places are more than willing to help; sometimes it might require you stepping up and asking for work. Internships can be scary, but if you don’t take full advantage of the opportunity you might miss out on a future job, or a great reference.

Lesson # 1

Do your research. To help in figuring out the writing style of both the agency I intern for and the client I went through the company files and read old releases and material. As an intern you need to be able to figure out basic tasks on your own. The advisors are busy and having an intern requires a little extra work on their part, so constantly asking questions is not a good idea. That is not to say that you should never ask for help; you are an intern for a reason, if you don’t know how to do something definitely ask someone for help. The advisors are more than willing to help; you just want to demonstrate that you can be an independent learner as well. Good luck and I would love to hear about other internship experiences.


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Pay Me for My Work, Please

798745_33936431As the end to spring term of my junior year draws near, I am faced with the realization that the beginning of my professional life is upon me. I have one year left to repeatedly sing the phrase “I love college” until I am released into the “real world.” In preparation for this transition, I decided to get an internship with a public relations agency for the summer. I assumed that finding a position would be easy enough: I couldn’t have been more wrong. People are resorting to internships because of the horrific job market. I decided that I would write about turning an internship into a full-time position for all of the soon-to-be graduates.

MAKE A GOOD IMPRESSION

As an intern, it is your responsibility to show your supervisor that you deserve to be there and you have what it takes, both personally and professionally, to fit in with the fast-paced environment.

SET GOALS

I was asked by my soon-to-be supervisor to identify goals that I want to accomplish during my summer internship. I think this is a great way to improve skills and gain experience in a variety of areas. Also, it lets your co-workers know what projects to include you in on to help you achieve your goals. Internships are designed to prepare students for future jobs and careers.

MAKE CONNECTIONS

Once you have identified your responsibilities and you understand what is expected, demonstrate your initiatives and your ability to work both independently and as part of a team. Developing connections while you are still in school will give you a jump start in developing a professional network.  Once you develop a strong networking group, you can develop a better sense of what it takes to thrive in the industry.

BUILD A STRONG WORK ETHIC

Let the office know that you can get the work done at all costs. Remaining positive will give your employer assurance that you will become a valuable member of the team if hired as an employee. Not every aspect of your dream job is going to be glamorous, especially in the first few years after college, but hang in there.

ASK QUESTIONS

Talking with employers about your performance opens opportunities for improvement. Feedback and input can be crucial in helping you to improve your job performance. It also lets the company know that you care about your performance and that you value their opinion.

DEAL WITH THE GRUNT WORK

When you first start, your employer will confront you with tedious tasks: deal with it. Once your employer trusts that you can handle more responsibility, you will be able to work on more challenging projects. Make sure you demonstrate that you can handle the small stuff first, or you might not receive the more challenging projects.

SHOW INITIATIVE

Illustrating your interest in developing new knowledge and skills relevant to the position will boost your employer’s confidence in your willingness and initiative to do a good job. Attend field-related seminars offered in or around your city; it will improve your knowledge of the business and show your coworkers you are serious about your professional life. Also, join a professional association if possible. They provide an excellent opportunity to meet people currently working in the field.

GO ABOVE AND BEYOND

If you do not have enough work to do be sure to check with your supervisor to see if there is something you can do. There will always be more work, so don’t be afraid to ask. Don’t wait around for projects, be proactive and ask if anyone needs help or has an extra project you can work on.

FIND A MENTOR

Having a mentor will help to make the internship experience less stressful. A mentor can provide you with someone to learn from and a place to get your questions answered. Seek out someone you trust and don’t be afraid to ask questions on ways you can improve your performance.

WORDS OF ENCOURAGEMENT

The first few years after college are going to be tough. Stay positive. Employers know that this is a difficult time, so prove yourself and don’t get discouraged. People are more willing to help than you think; ask for help when needed. If you show initiative and interest in the company, you have a better chance of turning the internship into a career.

Good luck, and congratulations to the graduating class of 2009.

“No Comment” is No Longer Enough

3547780062_7e27a4454aAll organizations are susceptible to crises. If the company is serving a community there are very few ways, if any, to get out of being subjected to situations involving lawsuits, accusations of bad behavior, and other volatile situations that stakeholders and the media that serves them often focus on. Jonathan Bernstein, a crisis management guru, believes: “The cheapest way to turn experiences into future profits is to learn from others’ mistakes.” With that in mind, I will outline how to deal with crises. Below are what Bernstein outlines as “What NOT to do when your organization is faced with a crisis.”

If you want your crisis to flourish, you should

  • Say nothing and do nothing for as long as possible.
  • Hope that no one hears about it.
  • Assume you will have time to react.
  • Treat the media like the enemy.
  • React to the situation.
  • Use a lot of jargon.
  • Ignore your stakeholders.
  • Address just the issues and ignore feelings.
  • Make only written statements.

If you do the above actions, you can guarantee that when a crisis arises it will flourish. As cheesy and over-used as it may seem, it’s better to be safe than sorry. To prevent and diminish crises,  remember the three Rs: research, response, recovery. Adapted from Kami Huyse’s presentation onCrisis Communication: The Savvy Communicator”

Research: Use resources to gather accurate info quickly: Never speculate. Know every possible crisis that could arise, have a set plan, and know all of the ins and outs of your organization’s operations. Anything can blow up, so it is important to be prepared for all possible situations.

  • Relationship building: Know your stakeholders to gain their trust and approval.
  • Emergency personnel: Create a team that consists of a spokesperson, a phone crew, a researcher, a writer, a business continuity, a decision maker, and if applicable, legal council.
  • Notification procedures: When a crisis emerges know who you are going to notify, the personnel team, the board of directors, employees, and any other stakeholders.
  • Communication procedures: Know what platform to implement the strategy, who and what is your priority and know the company policies or have the manual on hand.
  • Practice: Run through possible crisis situations to be as prepared as possible.

Appoint a specific spokesperson who can demonstrate interest and authenticity. Also, the spokesperson needs to be responsive, proactive, and open to criticism. This person should only provide the media with pre-approved statements. Remember that the best thing the spokesperson can do is be accurate, and it’s fine to reply to reporters with the responses, “I don’t want to speculate. I will find out and get back to you once I know more information.”

Response: Once the crisis hits, go through the steps created during the research stage and implement them.

  • Emergency Notification: Call everyone who needs to be involved and “in the know.”
  • Gather Information: Find out every bit of information about the crisis and ways to best relay the info to the public.
  • Releasing information: Prep the spokesperson so they can go on air as soon as possible. The earlier a company explains the problem the more likely it is that people will forgive and understand the situation in your favor.
  • Stages of the crisis: The steps are from Kami Huyse’s Crisis Management: The Four Emotional Stages of Disaster.”

1. Heroic Phase: This phase usually occurs directly after the crisis, when “heroic” actions are taken to help people (or companies) recover from and/or survive a crisis.  The media may be just arriving on the scene or not yet arrived at this phase.

2. Honeymoon Phase: In this phase people draw together to solve problems in an intense showing of community. Media interest is intense during this phase.

3. Disillusionment Phase: People begin to get a mentality of “everyone for himself” when delays and other issues common with crises set in. About this time media interest begins to fade and blame is assigned. This phase could extend from two months to one or more years.

4. Reconstruction Phase: People start to pull together again to get things done, delays in the process continue to garner negative feelings and reactions. The media may revisit the crises at this time (one-year anniversaries, etc.)

These stages are geared toward more extreme cases, but organizations can apply them to any type of crisis or disaster.

Recovery: Follow up with media, stakeholders, employees, and all others concerned. If you have provided accurate information in a timely manner  the better chance your company has of recovering from the crisis.

Remember one of the keys to successfully derailing a crisis is the news media. Get them inside the crisis, brief them as often as new information becomes available, and give them an insider’s perspective of how it is that you handle a crisis. It sounds like a bad idea, but it works. According to Clarence Jones “Winning with the News Media”

  • Reporters are, by nature, gossips.
  • Being inside gives journalists special knowledge, power and prestige.
  • By watching your decision-making process, reporters can better understand the options.
  • They are more likely to report you were the good guy who did the right thing, and made the best of a bad situation.

Read other articles about crisis communication:

“The Seven Biggest Mistakes in Crisis Communication” by John Bradfield

“The Moral (and Economic) Value of Saying You’re Sorry,” by Gerald Baron

“7 Must-Have Elements in Every Crisis Communication Kit” by Don Crowther

Nonprofits and social media, do they mix?

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I recently asked the CEO of a community foundation if  her organization used social media, and if so how. She replied, “Well, we have a blog.” Granted, the blog was one of the first breakthroughs that let citizen journalists create their own content, but if blogs are the only channel your organization thinks about for social media, think again.

In my previous blog posts, I talk about Twitter, building online communities, developing a social media plan, and how to measure social media initiatives. These strategies apply to all companies, including nonprofits.

As the nonprofit sector becomes increasingly complex and money grows tighter, it’s more important now than ever to brand your organization, programs and campaigns. This requires conveying credibility and value in a way that’s easy to remember and repeat. In doing this, your organization can build long-lasting relationships with donors, volunteers, community members and the media.

Beth Dunn writes about the pressure that nonprofits may be feeling amid the social networking phenomenon:

“Nonprofits all around us are making decisions right now about how to engage in social networks, and many of us in the field have to fight a desperate feeling of running hard just to keep up – the overwhelming conviction that everybody else is winning friends, donors, hearts and minds through the savvy use of social networking sites, and that we are missing out.”

Nancy Shwartz outlines how to brand a nonprofit organization through social media:   

1.   What a nonprofit brand is not:

  • A nonprofit brand is not what your organization stands for in the mind of your network.
  • A nonprofit brand is not your organization’s self-image, mission or logo.

2. What’s a nonprofit brand?

The intersection of…

  • What’s unique about the way your organization does its work and its impact.
  • The interests and needs of your network.

The brand that represents your organization must be authentic, or you run the risk of undermining everything your organization is trying to accomplish. Most people can sense when an organization is being fake and lacking transparency.

3. Branding is…

  • The art of creating a consistent, recognizable and clearly unified voice or personality that conveys your organization’s focus, credibility and unique contributions.

This is important when engaging with audiences, because it allows them to put a “face” to the organization. It helps build trust and promotes long-lasting relationships.

4. Why branding matters:

  • More and more nonprofits are looking to secure contributions, volunteers, board members, clients and customers.
  • The shortage in resources creates a heated competition.

If your organization doesn’t participate in the conversation through social media channels, competitors and people who are against your organization can fill that space with the wrong information. If your organization is present and engaged, people can ask questions and receive valid information.

5. How branding works:

A strong brand makes a substantial difference in developing and maintaining strong relationships with a network.

  • Strengthen or design your brand to ensure you stand out.
  •  Generate action and build loyalty with your audience.
  • Be consistent with your brand to build recognition and avoid confusion.

Now that you have an understanding of how to brand your organization online, it is imperative that you go out and find the tools to effectively market your organization. In some of my earlier posts you can read about how to create a community online, how to measure effectiveness, and how to develop a plan, and find links to other helpful sites. 

Social media is a good idea for any organization as long as it is committed to listening, learning and adapting while remaining transparent and authentic. Also, don’t be afraid to let go of control: become a participant.

Read Lisa Barone’s “Outspoken Media” for a list of social media channels that are useful for nonprofits.

Transparency: How to Become a Transparent Organization

2910831531_67dcd2bac5“ Transparency often leads you to the right path. What is the worst-case scenario with transparency? You’re being honest and saying things that are real — the right outcome is eventually going to come out of that.”Dave Balter, Founder and CEO of BzzAgent

I was inspired by a discussion we had about transparency in my Strategic Social Media class with Paull Young. Young believes that transparency is important because, “Trust is too important to play around with.” That statement should resonate with all businesses, and people for that matter.

Businesses are fighting for trust from their intended audiences. Shel Holtz and John Havens, authors of “Tactical Transparency,” state that the realities associated with doing business in today’s “business environment have emerged as the result of recent trends: Declining trust in business as usual and the increased public scrutiny under which companies find themselves thanks to the evolution of social media.” It is important, now more than ever, for organizations to use tools successfully to be sincerely but prudently transparent in ways that matter to their stakeholders.

Tactical Transparency adopted the following definition for transparency:

Transparency is the degree to which an organization shares the following with its stakeholder publics:

  • Its leaders: The leaders of transparent companies are accessible and are straightforward when talking with members of key audiences.
  • Its employees: Employees or transparent companies are accessible, can reinforce the public view of the company, and able to help people where appropriate.
  • Its values: Ethical behavior, fair treatment, and other values are on full display in transparent companies.
  • Its culture: How a company does things is more important today than what it does. The way things are done is not a secret in transparent companies.
  • The results of its business practices, both good and bad: Successes, failures, problems, and victories all are communicated by transparent companies.
  • Its business strategy: Of particular importance to the investment community but also of interest to several other audiences, a company’s strategy is a key basis for investment decisions. Misalignment of a company’s strategy and investors’ expectations usually result in disaster.

Transparency is no longer an option. No matter how hard you try to hide something, the truth will always be revealed. It is in the company’s best interest to behave ethically and talk openly.

Companies should be well aware that no organization can avoid implementing the tools that will help create better dialogue with customers, partners, and employees. While using these tools, especially online, it is imperative to remain transparent and honest throughout all initiatives. To ensure that your company is transparent the first thing you need to do, as an organization, is assess the situation.

Assess:

What communication tools are in place that can capture employee ideas? It is important to create an environment that invites and encourages internal dialogue. Do employees feel that their opinions and concerns matter and are there tools that easily allow employees to communicate thoughts and ideas? These questions are important in gauging how near or far an organization is to providing a welcoming and open environment for employees.

Adjust the Culture:

Transparency within an organization takes time and must involve every employee. This meaning that the CEO doesn’t need to be the one blogging or creating interactive media, but they do need to condone the process and be open to allowing employees within the company to produce these materials. Teaching executives how to feel comfortable with sharing information that previously was not talked about is a difficult task but a necessary one.

“I think the thing people really need to know about this is that transparency is sort of a long-term cause. It is not “flip the switch tomorrow morning and everybody gets what the reality needs to be.”

How Open is Right for You?

According to J.D. Lasica, cofounder of Ourmedia.org and the Social Media Group, there are three levels of transparency that an organization should consider when trying to achieve tactical transparency.

  1. Operational Transparency: That involves creating or following an ethics code, conflict-of-interest policies, and any other guidelines your organization creates. Check out WOMMA for a list of questions and recommendations.
  2. Transactional Transparency: This type of strategy provides guidelines and boundaries for employees so they can participate in the conversation in and out of the office. Can they have a personal blog that discusses work-related issues?
  3. Lifestyle Transparency: This is personalized information coming from sites like Facebook and Twitter. These channels require constant transparency and authenticity.

Most importantly, identify areas of the organization that shall remain private. Things kept private should only remain that way to maintain confidentiality. Typical examples of items that companies should not reveal include

  • Financials
  • Proprietary information
  • Personal information

Establish Your Voice:

Tactical Transparency lists varied views on both objective and subjective journalism. Whatever your organization adopts as its communications “voice,” it needs to be consistent. You need to demonstrate to employees and customers that you’re speaking truth and not just saying what people want to hear or what you want them to believe. “If you are not honest about where you’re coming from, customers will know it and likely never come back.”

Create an Action Plan:

Holtz and Havens outline specific situations where tactical transparency can transform a business:

  • Crises
  • Major change initiatives
  • Financial matters
  • Media interaction
  • Employee interaction with the outside world
  • Accessibility of management to strategic publics

For each situation, figure out how to incorporate a plan of action while remaining transparent.

Monitoring a business’ reputation can be a great opportunity to listen to those impacted or interested in your business. Whether it’s negative or positive feedback, it gives your business a chance to react quickly.

Tactical Transparency outlines in detail how to achieve transparency in an organization. This  relevant and pertinent topic will continue to be of great importance.

Interesting articles to check out:

Social media transparency: How realistic is it?

What Happens When Transparency Goes Wrong?

Twitterized: How to Tap into Twitter

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Who would have thought that only 30 years after the Internet was invented, there would be a tool that allows a company to broadcast information to millions of people in a matter of seconds. That same tool also allows companies to listen in on discussions about how people are using their products and what they think of them, allowing a continuous two-way conversation with customers when they have a problem or concern.

If you can’t figure out what I was talking about in my above description I will give you a hint, “tweet, tweet.”

Most, if not all, social media connoisseurs are aware of Twitter and its many applications. I’ll break it down for those who are not familiar. Twitter’s microblogging platform allows its users to stream very short posts or “tweets” (140 characters) that others can follow and respond to. It allows companies (and individuals) to have conversations with influencers who are willing and eager to share what they learn with their friends and many followers. For businesses specifically, Twitter offers genuine interactions with the people who choose to use the company’s products. Twitter is literally a social media tool, but more specifically it is a large community.

Twitter is a great way to connect with customers, but it is not a tool to exploit and bombard people with news releases. There is a strategic way to approach Twitter. I will outline a few steps that advise businesses on how to get the most out of Twitter.

Purpose:

Have a clear purpose and objective in mind to guide your use of Twitter. Figure out whom you want to reach. Do you want to reach key influencers within your field? Or do you want to engage customers? The way you use Twitter will be different for each target audience.

It is important to remember that you are creating an online persona for your brand or company. If you have more than one purpose you might want to create multiple accounts: One to relay news, one to respond to customers complaints, and one to take part in conversations surrounding your field or product.

Following:

Using tools like Twitter take time and patience when you first start using them. Another important thing to remember is, listening is more important than talking, especially when you are first getting aquainted with the tool. There is a search tool built into Twitter that allows you to find people who are tweeting about your company, competitors and any related topic pertinent to your business.

While searching, you can start to follow key commentators and influencers and observe what people are saying. Eventually include yourself in the conversation, but only respond with relevant and informative information. Following influential members will show them, and the tweeting world, that you are interested in what they have to say; in return, it will encourage them to follow you.

Maintain Interest and Engage:

Twitter will only prove beneficial to a company if it offers something of value with every tweet, whether that’s news about the company, advice for consumers of products or insight about a niche market. Twitter users are not receptive or welcoming to blatant attempts at manipulation. It is not a good idea to use any type of obvious self-promotion, advertising attempts, or spin.

Encourage your followers to talk about themselves by asking them questions related to your mutual interests that you think they will want to answer. Show interest in the people who use the company’s products.

When given the opportunity, people show loyalty for companies and products that they feel represent them and people like them. Being real and approachable, as well as taking part in the two-way conversation on Twitter, goes a long way toward showing people what you have in common and that you are willing to engage.

Explore tools:

The Twitter Web site is okay to start with, but once you get the hang of it explore the many different tool options available. I personally like Tweetdeck, which allows you to open multiple searches or groups that update in real time. There are many tools available to make using Twitter easy. This list might be helpful.

If you go slow, observe before jumping in, and know why you are there then your Twittering days shall prove successful and beneficial.

Pistachio is another great reference to use for all Twitter-related questions.

Developing a Social Media Plan

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As I uncover new information about social media, I become more enthralled by all it has to offer. Web 2.0 is quickly evolving and a growing number of businesses are showing interest and wanting to get involved. In a few of my classes we discuss the social media faux pas committed by companies, followed by a discussion about what could have been done to prevent the unintended outcome.

In my Strategic Social Media Class we discuss how to develop a social media plan. I thought this was a relevant discussion for students about to enter the work force, as well as all public relations and marketing professionals.

When creating a social media campaign or any type of marketing campaign, it is a good idea to check its relevance, ethical nature and likelihood to be accepted by the intended audience. Companies often get into trouble when they rush through the planning process without combing through the specifics and discussing any areas that might garner negative attention. If you create a concrete campaign, it is likely that you will prevent a crisis and diminish negative attention.

Once you have the idea and content for the campaign, you need to structure a strategic plan to get some attention. Great content without a plan might garner some attention, but an effective plan can maximize the traffic volume and help you reach a more targeted audience. The plan should outline what type of content to develop, the audience you want to attract, where to promote it, and how to keep people engaged. Here is a worksheet from the Social Media Conference NW: The New Word-of-Mouth Marketing.

Kelli Matthews outlines the steps involved in Social Media Planning:

1. Analysis of the Situation: Know the company’s background and history as it relates to social media. Figure out certain staff expertise, availability and willingness to participate. This is important because it allows you to structure the plan around the time commitments. Research external factors like industry trends, built-in communities and willingness and likelihood of participation. Survey the channels of communication the company is currently using and what degree of success it is receiving.

2. Groundswell P.O.S.T. method:

People: Find out who your audiences are. Use Groundswell’s Social Technographics Profile to figure out what type of social media consumer your customers are.

Objectives: Figure out what it is that you want to accomplish in the “Groundswell.”

Strategies: Listening, talking, energizing, supporting, embracing.

  • Listen to your potential audiences. Before your company can be a part of the conversations, you need to know what people are already talking about so you can determine how your company can best contribute. Setting up tools to monitor conversations is easy. The difficult part is choosing keywords that will return the most usable results. Use tools like Social Media Firehose: Kingsley Joseph used Yahoo Pipes to create one RSS feed that aggregates results from Flickr, Digg, YouTube, FriendFeed and other social media sites.
  • Start leaving comments (talking) on blogs and building a community on Twitter and/or Facebook to further help the discussion and illustrate your company’s commitment to developing online relationships.
  • Energize your audience and your initiative. Figure out who your key audience is, see what their issues are and capitalize on them. Pick a channel that fits with the demographic and stick with it.
  • Support your audience with valuable information, easy access and open conversations.
  • Embrace your audience. Give them a place to discuss issues, provide suggestions and provide feedback on new products. Embracing customers’ ideas is a great way to build and retain relationships.

Technologies: Pick the communication channels that will best reach your audience like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and blogs.

Timeline: Include timelines for both short- and long-term objectives. Answer questions like, “What do you want to gain? How many people do you want to attract?” Remember that it takes time but if you allow the online community to grow and continuously monitor and engage with customers, you should be satisfied with the results.

Companies that develop a plan and create a social media initiative will have a better sense of how they are perceived by their target audiences. They can establish a two-way dialog with key members and they will empower their customers to speak with them, not at them. But, without a strategic approach to social media, it’s difficult to succeed.