Transparency is a must…Even in Interviews?

Honesty, transparency, truth—Three words that we ingrain in our minds when it comes to business ethics and relationships. I have decided to relate this topic of transparency to the interviewing process as it pertains to my life right now.

This whole idea of selling and marketing yourself to a company has me questioning my personal level of transparency. I am continuously instructed to turn any negative into a positive. You never want to show a potential employer a weakness, which I don’t necessarily see as being a transparency issues. What I disagree with is this concept of contrived responses to generic interview questions:

Interviewer: “What is your greatest weakness?”

Interviewee: “ Well I tend to be a bit of a perfectionist. When working on a project it might take me a little longer to finish because I have to make sure it is perfect before handing it over.”

If I was interviewing a person and that was their response, I would assume that they turned their negative, which could be procrastination, into a more positive response: perfectionism. To me, a formulated response is not transparent and to be honest, shows a lack of confidence in that person’s capabilities.

I was thinking of what my “ideal” response to the weakness question would be and I came up with something nontraditional that, in all reality, might get me into trouble but would be 100 percent truthful.

Interviewer: “So Mariah, what would you say is your biggest weakness?”

Me: Hmm…Well that would have to be my left hand lay-in! (hopefully get a laugh or I might be screwed.) As a PR professional I find that question interesting because I probably have a contrived response: We, as PR pros, should always be prepared with our own personal crisis communication responses. However, I can tell you that I know I am not perfect but I am a dedicated and determined individual. Whatever it is that I might lack superior skills in I make sure to seek out a mentor to improve on them.”

I, if you don’t know me, tend to be a very upfront and honest person: I tell it like I see it. I like people to know, when appropriate, what I am thinking. I also feed off of other peoples thoughts and ideas, which often times leads me to ask the question why: the slightest bit of healthy cynicism. I ask the question, why do we feel the need to make our selves sound even better than we already are? As a society, we tend to discredit ourselves when we feel inferior.  I have learned that my talents combined with an approachable personality can speak a lot for my work ethic and I (as well as you) should have confidence in those abilities and skills.

To me, giving a potential boss an elaborated response seems to be the opposite of transparent in an ever-evolving transparent industry. I certainly don’t want to revert to the “spin doctor” days. I want a company to hire me because of my creativity, personality and talent, which I do have, not because I was able to give perfectly contrived responses to a set of standardized interview questions.

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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?

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.

Skills PR students need to know

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It is becoming more apparent that the future of communication belongs to the Internet. Newspapers are on the way out, and the majority of reporters and journalists alike are moving forward toward the world wide web.

As a student, during this time of innovation and rapid change, it is easy for me to notice the shift. If not, I would be putting myself at risk of being irrelevant and outdated. 

Companies are expecting to work with public relations firms that are relevant and innovative. Agencies expect young PR professionals to know the ins and outs of social media. PR pros need to be able to manipulate the tools to achieve success in social media initiatives.

Adam Singer outlines skills that all PR professionals need to know:

Understand HTML, PHP, CSS, MySQL: These skills are not only necessary for techies, they are simple and when you start to get good they easily allow you to present content exactly how you want.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO): Placing content on the web and utilizing keywords, tags and external links will help your chances of being placed higher on search engines like google. Have large goals in mind for your company or client website.

Ability to work in WordPress, Durpal, Expression Engine etc.: As a PR professional you need to be able to work with all communications tools. Learning to work with CMS will allow you to easily work on a client’s website, networks and blogs. 

Understanding of what defines successful content: As businesses start to see the benefits of using social media, there will be less of a need from PR professionals to get them into the tools, but the real challenge will be helping them create content that gets shared. 

“A blog needs to be written and kept by a company, not by their PR agency. But, companies will increasingly turn to their PR agency for consulting and creating content, which drives relevant traffic/links and builds a subscriber base.”

Proven ability to build a successful blog: Create a personal blog on content that you are passionate about. It is important to show you embrace the medium, understand it and can be insightful and interesting.

Understanding of RSS and how t use feed creatively: As a PR professional understanding RSS, using it to read content and knowing how to use syndication is vital. Use RSS to your advantage to build a fanbase, spread messages and get content deep within the social web.

Understanding microblogging: Twitter, FriendFeed and other services are a great way to share content and interacting with customers. PR and communications people should be at the forefront of this and closely study the relationships formed and the way people discuss and interact with content.

Ability to process and understand site analytics: Learning to interpret site analytics, see trends and make recommendations is a vital skill for PR people. It is also important to be able to explain to clients how you can measure the success of a social media campaign. 

Understanding of what is possible with web apps: Businesses are looking to their PR firms to help them build creative web apps that attract thousands of users across social media platforms. You need to know what is possible to create with these applications to be able to create and complete a successful strategic social media plan. 

Hopefully these tips will help you in your preparation to become a public relations professional.

Building and Maintaining Online Communities

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I am fortunate enough to be a part of Kelli Matthews, Strategic Social Media class, in which we discuss new technologies and study how to utilize web 2.0. We often have visitors and we were lucky enough to listen to Matt Neznanski, Hannah Smith and Katie Pontius-Stansberry. The three speakers discussed how to build online communities, as well as the future of journalism in the web 2.0 world in which we live.

Many companies have succeeded in building and maintaining an online community, take Dell for example. On the other hand, there are thousands of companies that have failed. Ed Moran, a Deloitte consultant who just completed a study of more than 100 businesses with online communities, believes the problem is that

“Businesses are focusing on the value an online community can provide to themselves, not the community.”

Building:

There are some important questions to ask before deciding to create an online community. Will people want to join?  Why should anyone care? What do users get from participating? Adding value to participants is one of the main goals for creating a community. If you add no value it is likely that the community will fail. It is also important to fill a need for the people who are going to use the product. This means, before you start the community, research topics of discussion around your product to figure out what drives people’s interests. Once you decide that a community would add value to members, it is important to provide an area where members can create and share content that is visible to everyone.

Starting a Community:

When you create a community, members work together to create content. The ownership is then transferred from the individual to the group, and it is important to acknowledge and reach out to opinion leaders, creators and influencers.

Stansberry presented the process in a simple format:

  • Determine and reach out to your opinion leaders (creators and influencers).
  • Start with a few features and then expand outward as the community grows.
  • Integrate with other marketing, advertising and public relations activities.
  • Reward contributors with recognition (link-backs).

Maintaining a Community:

  • Stay engaged with your community. Monitor and quickly respond to comments.
  • Integrate your community with real-world events.
  • Cross-pollinate with existing social networks.

Growing a Community:

  • Update regularly.
  • Use social marketing tools to promote brand.
  • Give your members something of unique value.
  • Create ambassadors.

The most important thing to remember when building and maintaining an online community: Give power to the hands of the community. Embracing two-way communication is vital to the success of a company’s online presence. People don’t respond well to contrived responses and advertising campaigns; if you open up a discussion and allow members to voice their opinions, most likely, the community will be successful.

Other Blogs:

There are many opinions and tips on best practices for creating an online community. I encourage you to check out

Jeremiah Owyang’s diagram on The Life Process of a Successful Community

Ryan Buchanan’s, Chief Marketer’s, article on Building Your Brand by Creating Community

Kami Huyse’s, Communication Overtones, article Start Small to Make Big Waves in Social Media

Mark Collier’s, The Viral Garden, article Six Reasons No One Likes You Online

Yay I graduated, now what?

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For many college students, graduation is just around the corner, and the thought of entering the workforce is terrifying. Not to mention the constant reminders that we are in one of the worst economic situations. Searching for a job can be exhausting, scary and daunting. I am currently on the hunt for an internship: You know it’s bad when people aren’t looking for free help because they don’t have enough staff to support training and mentoring interns.

Although I am just a junior, I feel the heat and pressures of the job search. I recently went on four informational interviews to figure out where in PR I wanted to start out. Along the way, I learned some valuable tips for students.

Skills:

Every person I talked to emphasized the importance of writing skills. Without hesitation, all four women told me that if there is only one thing that I take away from the University of Oregon it better be the ability to write. Most everything else that you will do in a job can be learned on-site, but writing is something that must be known and continuously worked on to be successful.

Volunteer:

If you haven’t secured a job or internship, offer your free time to a non-profit and ask if you can help with their communications department. Offer to do tasks within your field of “expertise.” Having multiple internships will show employers that you didn’t just sit around waiting for a job to come to you, but rather you were proactive and continued to use your PR skills while searching for a job.

Network:

I emphasized in my first blog the importance of networking: Believe me it’s crucial. Every time you meet with someone ask them if you should get in contact with someone they know. By doing this you can create a large network of potential employers and referrals, the more the better.

Acknowledge:

When a professional meets with you or you talk with someone at a function, write them a thank you note. Instead of thanking a person via e-mail, handwrite them a note. A friend of mine got a job because she hand wrote a thank you note. Since hearing her story I have adopted the practice in the hopes I will be as lucky.  Every time you meet with someone and they provide advice, make sure you acknowledge that you appreciate their time and insight.

Talk:

Let it be known that you are looking for a job or internship. Do this through social media networks. You never know who will read you tweet, blog, status update or Linkedin profile and have a job or know someone who has a job you would be interested in. Word of mouth is not just successful for businesses; everyone can benefit from these tools.

To find more tips check out:

5 Ways to Land Your Next (PR) Job

Tips for young PR Professionals

Tips for finding a first job in PR

Also check out UO Alum Beth Evans she writes about finding a job abroad really interesting check her out!