My last post was about earning my Social Media Marketing Certificate. As I mentioned in that earlier post, besides getting a snazzy certificate with your name on it, your name is also included in a directory of people who are Podium certified. So I searched the directory to see if I had any company in Switzerland. I wanted to dig into my PR roots and send out a hello, maybe invite someone nearby out for coffee. My search turned up nothing, nobody, niemand.
So, I thought I’d go the traditional route, send an email to my alma mater (because I’m a graduate, right?) and find out if there might be some other peeps in Switzerland to connect with.
My suspicions were (pleasantly) confirmed. I am officially the first person in Switzerland to be Podium Social Media Marketing certified!
I received recently an email invitation to take an online course offered by Hootsuite’s Podium, and decided to go through the course materials before taking their certification exam. The curriculum consisted of six courses and some 40-plus videos.
A few days after completing the course, I took the exam: A one-hour “social media marketing” exam to see if I could demonstrate “competency and proficiency in the tactical applications of the essential elements of social media marketing”.
And I passed. 🙂
Were the online courses helpful?
Personally, I found the inside tour of each social media tool (LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.) most helpful. Some of the under-the-hood explanations about how each application can most effectively reach the widest possible audience helped me separate the wheat from the chaff when it comes to discerning which communications strategy could be more effective with which social tool, without falling into a “copy cat” trap.
Some of the content was easy for me, because the strategic elements of effective communications haven’t really changed since I received my degree in 2002. Communications is still about establishing measurable goals and objectives, understanding your audience(s) and creating messages that jibe with both.
A lot of the course materials included general lessons in communications strategy, which I still use today; so, it’s possible that I might have passed the exam without having followed the course material. But I’m a believer in life-long learning, so I don’t object to sitting through classes and taking in knowledge.
Overall, taking the course and the exam reminds me that my Master’s degree and what I’ve learned is not irrelevant, and is, in fact, the basis for the popularity of the apps we integrate in our communications plans today!
Ready to get certified? Or, at least, be certifiable?
I think it’s important to note that Podium in no way encouraged me to write this blog post, nor are they paying me to endorse their courses. But I am more than happy to do so.
As I mentioned before, the course curriculum is free, so you can take the courses without taking (and paying to take) the certification exam at the end. The curriculum is divided into six content modules, which are further broken down into bite-sized videos (no longer than three minutes each). Each module also comes with some course materials that you can refer to for more detail–or for your own projects.
The way the course is structured, you can decide to go it slow and spend no more than 15 minutes on learning each day — or you can power through all the content in one weekend. I went for something in between. (My plate’s pretty full.)
Landmines. Fresh reminders of an old conflict, a war tactic that destroys enemies and friendlies indiscriminately, they are a recurring nightmare for those who live in former war zones. It’s definitely no laughing matter, but even a cartoonist can handle a serious subject deftly.
When I worked at VVAF, a former Washington-based organization founded by Vietnam veterans that addressed “the causes, conduct and consequences of war”, landmines featured in some way in each of our “Cs”. Among other things, the organization conducted landmine clearance activities in such countries as Vietnam, Cambodia, and Angola, through its Information Management and Mine Action Programs, called iMMAP.
“Funky Winkerbean” explored the all-too-real consequences of post-conflict environments: abandoned landmines and unexploded ordnance.
I collaborated with VVAF’s iMMAP team to tell the story of their work. iMMAP was active in Afghanistan–a particularly hot location given the political climate in 2005–developing actual maps, and marking those areas known (through word of mouth and other means) to be strewn with UXOs (“unexploded ordnance,” or in plain speak, landmines).
Around that time, we learned that a U.S. syndicated cartoonist, Tom Batiuk, was figuratively sending one of his characters to Afghanistan in his regularly published series, “Funky Winkerbean” to help with these efforts. VVAF’s iMMAP and I were more than thrilled to collaborate with Batiuk to promote this storyline of his comic strip and also to raise awareness of iMMAP’s landmine clearance efforts.
So, if a comic strip can raise awareness, imagine what you can do (even if you aren’t royalty)!
Okay, so I’m not royalty, and my accomplishments aren’t as grandiose as those of Prince Harry or the late Princess Diana–but reading that story made me feel good about the work I have done and collaborated on. The many people I have worked with aren’t royalty either, and I know that they have accomplished big things to help make our world a little bit better.
Since 1975, land-mines have exploded under more than 1 million people and are currently thought to be killing 800 people a month. There seems little prospect of any end to the carnage. In 64 countries around the world, there are an estimated 110 million land-mines still lodged in the ground—waiting. They remain active for decades. As one Khmer Rouge general put it, a land-mine is a perfect soldier: “Ever courageous, never sleeps, never misses.”- UNICEF
Maybe writing isn’t exactly your thing
The power of storytelling can make positive change, but maybe writing and raising public awareness ain’t your thing. You can also call your legislators and local community leaders and let them know these things matter to you; you can share this information with your peeps through social media; or you can always donate to organizations (try iMMAP!) that are known for getting things done; or you can skip the news and head straight to the comics in your local paper!
As I have mentioned before, I am working on a novel. I thought I would come to my blog to brag about the fact that I finally passed the 50,000 mark on my word count. It’s a first draft, so we’re not talking polished text here, but it is still part of one cohesive story. And it’s also right around the middle part of the story line, so I’m pretty much on track.
I’m supposed to be going to choir practice, but I’d much rather get back to writing!
Around this time of year in 2009, my husband announced he wanted to cycle cross country. At the time, we were living in Northern California. I was freelancing and he had wrapped up a contract with a company there. So, we were free to choose any destination we wanted.
It so happened, I had a bloggers’ conference to attend in Atlanta. The timing for arrival by bicycle was tight, but do-able. So we decided to make Atlanta our destination. Since I was heading into a bloggers’ conference, I figured, why not set up a blog of our own? So I set something up in minutes at crosscountrychef.blogspot.com and got to posting!
As a communicator, I love experimenting with media other than text. Don’t get me wrong: I love writing. But there are things you can communicate with photos and video that are a slog with words on a page.
Armed with a wi-fi dongle and a snapshot camera, he and I packed up all our belongings and headed east. He, by bicycle, and I, in our car. Together we traversed California, New Mexico, Arizona, and other states. When I look back on our blog now, I have to giggle and roll my eyes. We were nuts!
Here’s a little video clip I shot and edited in while on vacation in Mexico a few years back. It was a lot of fun. I scraped by with my Spanish to learn about the process, leaned over folks with my snapshot camera to get the shot, and then sat on the balcony of my hotel room editing the different shots. (Any video pro will note I used iMovie and one of its templates to make quick work of the project. I think it took me about four hours to edit.)
My husband, a cigar aficionado who stumbled on this factory in Cancún, spent a day rolling cigars with some of the best. I remember them saying their best guys roll between 80 – 100 consistently good cigars a day. My husband managed to eek out 10 in eight hours. About seven in ten rollers were Cuban–real pros who practically grew up in the trade. The others were Mexican. (In the video clip, only one of the four was Mexican–and he was competing in cigar-rolling events.)
What I love most about communications is the storytelling aspect involved. I like to share something I learned.
When I was working at Akaku: Maui Community Television, “How-To” videos were often used to teach the filmmaking process. Because it has clear steps, like a recipe, it’s easy to determine a beginning, middle and an end, much like a good story.
In journalism and creative writing, figuring this out can actually pose a bit more of a challenge, but it is essential to communicating effectively no matter what the medium.
Most of the time when people write email newsletters, they freeze as they sit in front of their computer screen. Their writing gets stilted and jargony. (It happens to me, too.) 🙂
When this happens to me, I believe it is because I do not have a clear image of what I want to accomplish with my communiqué.
A friend of mine — an executive coach — who was pulling together a leadership workshop in Zurich, turned to me for a little editing assistance.
But as she talked to me some more about her idea, I began to consult with her on using the email as an opportunity to develop a better understanding around her communications strategy.
Why does what I do matter to the people I’m reaching out to?
We defined her primary audience for this workshop as people who were already familiar with her work: current and past clients, or people connected to clients (referrals). These are people who are willing to invest the time and resources to work on their own growth — to optimize their leadership situation. Because the bottom line is: people don’t relate to “businesses” as such, they relate with the people that build those businesses. (In the case of brands, they relate with what those brands personify.)
Our main goal was to make sure the email represented my friend (and therefore her business) The email was only the first step in what has grown into a clear path. Today, I can see how our conversations about communications strategy has anchored all her materials with images and language that reflect her business authentically. (Check out her website and see how she uses images symbolizing height and depth to communicate her areas of coaching speciality.)
Tactics Rooted in Strategy
First, we used an email management tool (MailChimp) so we could create an email piece that would reflect her professionalism and also provide valuable information about how her contacts engaged with her material. We wanted her contacts to not only:
learn about the workshop, including time, date, and location,
understand how such a workshop would address their problems and fulfil their needs, but also to
have all the details right at their fingertips. (They could download important sign-up forms, or share with other friends and contacts, or send an email by simply clicking a button.)
Understanding how people engage
More importantly, on the backend of the mailer she could see how people engaged with the material. And engage they did. Yes, some people clicked on a hyperlink or a photo, but several people actually took the time to write emails… to her personally.
Several people emailed her with their own experiences of rising to a leadership position and feeling disconnected with their teams and coworkers. They were providing her with important insight about what issues they wanted to address. They were reaching out to her for two-way communication.
They were demonstrating they felt her email missive reached out to them directly.
It’s no secret that photographs are extremely effective communications pieces. I knew that my client enjoyed snapshot photography. We found some of her photographs that symbolized some of the problems we were addressing (“Lonely at the top”?), as well as the solution to that problem (an image of my friend among a group of friends on a ski slope).
In the end, we had developed an emailer we both felt authentically represented who she was and what she offered.
And that’s what marketing communications is really about — it’s stepping away from the mask of jargon and presenting oneself clearly and authentically.