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Haven’t you heard!? A lifeguard in Florida was fired for vacating his zone to save a man drowning in unprotected waters 1,500 feet south of his post. The young man worked for Jeff Ellis and Associates, an aquatic safety contractor.

Naturally, this decision has created a serious uproar online, sending Twitter and Facebook into public disapproval. In fact, if you search “lifeguard” on Twitter your timeline will be updated on a second by second basis with hundreds of tweets sharing the news story and opinions on the situation.

The overall consensus? The general public is outraged that a man who reacted on his instincts and training to save a dying individual would be reprimanded, rather than celebrated!

A spokesman for Jeff Ellis and Associates said in a statement that “We have liability issues and can’t go out of the protected area.”

This burst of social media presence is not uncommon. In fact, if the news is worth knowing, it will be shared. That is the brilliance, yet fear that all companies are aware of in today’s day and age. Or are they? Jeff Ellis and Associates should have considered this before they took action on Tomas Lopez, the lifeguard who was terminated. Before any decision is taken publicly, a company should always weigh decisions and strategy based on the potential viral reaction and impact.

Take the story posted by ABC News as an example. Less than 24 hours after the article was posted, it had over 1,400 Facebook shares, 392 Tweet shares, and 240 comments. You could also go to Fox News’ Facebook page to read about the story. In only four hours after posting, the story had received 694 comments and 432 shares.

As you can imagine, very few comments included terms of endearment and support of the aquatic safety company. Rather, people shared their outrage in the company, stating things like, “This is what happens when you put making money before saving lives.”

And if that wasn’t enough, news commentators and influential professionals started to comment on the issue. For example, Craig Button with The Sports Network tweeted the below message to over 20,000 fans:

Realizing the outcry through social realms and the backlash it was having on the company, Jeff Ellis and Associates attempted to save face by offering Tomas his job back. Tomas’s response was a big fat, “NO THANK YOU” that only fueled the flames of everyone who believed the man was doing the humane thing, backfiring again for the aquatics safety company.

The lesson learned for all companies, whether small or large? Take a step away from policies, rules and regulations and put yourself into the general public’s shoes. Ask yourself, “How could this be perceived by an individual who does not understand the legal jargon associated?” Even if the legality of the situation cannot be avoided, taking the precautionary step can at least prepare you for an adequate public address and response to critics. Because today, destroying a company’s reputation is as simple as 140 characters.

As a marketer who has been put in charge of several client’s Pinterest accounts I have dove head first into the pinning world. Glamour, recipes, and crafts galore! In fact, I am a more stylish and handy chef than I ever was before the social media site existed.

However, not only have I become a craftier individual since endeavoring in the Pinterest world, I have also become a better person. Yes, this social media platform filled with visual stimulation and motivation has empowered me to live a better life. Curious on how my life has changed since I have begun pinning? Continue reading to check out the 4 lessons I have learned from this social media giant.

1. Never underestimate the power of planning ahead.

In life, spontaneity can be a good thing. However, there are also times when planning is necessary. For example, a rehearsed speech would have been a great idea when I was the maid of honor in a wedding. Not only could everyone in the room hear me swallow because it was so quiet (my jokes did NOT incite laughter) but my stage fright pit stains showed in every picture taken that night.

This same philosophy can be applied to Pinterest. When creating boards, be strategic. Anticipate what type of information your customers would enjoy and think before you pin. I promise that the results of a well thought out board with a solid theme will be more successful than one you just decided on a whim would be a good idea.

2. Always credit your sources.

As Benjamin Franklin once said, “There is much difference between imitating a man and counterfeiting him.”

See what I just did there? Give credit, people… nobody likes a thief.

3. Connect with your community.

One of the best ways to gain more followers on Pinterest is by connecting with your fellow pinners. Not only will your audience increase but so will your repins. If you ask me, word of mouth marketing is the best approach and will only increase your like-ability. And isn’t this something we would all like in our personal life… to be liked?

4. Quit talking about yourself. 

We all have that dreaded friend who only talks about themselves. In fact, anytime you see their name on your cell phone caller ID you can’t help but roll your eyes. This involuntary reaction is a result of an annoying predictability that you friend presents. Don’t be THAT friend on Pinterest. Pin others away and I promise people will be engaged. In fact, some of my most interesting friends are those who tell great stories about OTHER people.

Have you gained any life lessons through Pinterest or other social media sites? We’d love to hear about them!

Yesterday we promised to discuss the 2012 eNonprofit Benchmarks Study’s findings on online fundraising. And here at Guest Relations Marketing we always provide on our promises.

As the economy has improved, general giving has increased. As a result, these numbers can be directly correlated to the incline in the number of online donations that most nonprofit organizations are witnessing.

However, it is important to understand the trends in how people are giving and through what mediums. Below you will find a synopsis of some of the important takeaways as we explain what these mean to your organization.

Courtesy of eNonprofit Benchmarks Study

Takeaway # 4

On average, 35% of online revenue was sourced to direct email appeals. The remaining 65% came from other sources, such as unsolicited web giving and peer referrals.

What this mean for you

A majority of online giving is coming from sources other than email. As a result organizations should NEVER exclude providing additional opportunities for people to donate. Consider unsolicited web giving and peer referrals as other great sources for fundraising.

How can you increase peer referrals? Social sites that promote sharing and make it easy for people to talk about your organization provide excellent word of mouth marketing opportunities. If you aren’t in these mediums (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) than you should consider doing so immediately.

Courtesy of eNonprofit Benchmarks Study

Takeaway # 5 

While one-time gifts remain the largest source of online revenue for participants, online revenue from monthly giving is growing at a much faster rate.

What this means for you

While one-time gifts are generally of higher value than monthly giving, keep in mind that the total dollar value for continuous donations will be higher. Consider establishing brand loyalty amongst your fans and provide opportunities for them to give over and over again throughout the year.

Maybe this is done through a series of events or establishing a monthly loyalty plan. Either way, keeping your organization top of mind will promote continuous giving.

Encouraging and promoting online fundraising isn’t always an easy task. Thankfully social media has enabled organizations multiple channels to spread the word.

Interested in how most nonprofits stack up in the social realm? Check in tomorrow when we summarize the benefits of having a strong social media presence.

Curious at how your nonprofit organization stands up against the rest when it comes to online messaging, fundraising and social media?

Thankfully M+R Strategic Services and the Nonprofit Technology Network have analyzed 44 nonprofit data sets to analyze the average performance in 2011, measuring email messaging, list size, fundraising, advocacy, social media and mobile programs. The results were compiled into the 2012 eNonprofit Benchmarks Study.

However, we realize that many of you are way too busy to sit down and analyze graph after graph or even understand the significance of the findings.

Here at Guest Relations Marketing we have interpreted the data for you. Over the next few days we will roll out important takeaways from the study and explain what is means for nonprofit organizations.

Today, we discuss email messaging!

Courtesy of 2012 eNonprofit Benchmarks Study

Takeaway # 1 

When sending emails, advocacy messages had the highest open rates, click-through rates and response rates – as well as the lowest unsubscribe rates. In contrast, fundraising emails have the lowest open rates and highest unsubscribe rates.

What this means for you

On average people don’t enjoy being asked for money, even if they are a Zealot for your organization’s cause. Keep this in mind and consider providing fundraising news within other email messaging.

Want to put a heavy emphasis on the fundraiser? Then be sure to use a crafty subject and headline that will capture the recipient’s attention. Directly stating that your email is requesting they contribute could send their cursors directly to the delete button.

Courtesy of 2012 eNonprofit Benchmarks Study

Takeaway #2 

With only a few exceptions, almost every organization in the study saw their email subscriber list grow from 2010 to 2011, though the increase in growth rate appears to be slowing (environmental groups grew their lists at the highest rates).

What this means for you

Remember that every day people’s inboxes are flooded with random emails that most consider spam. It’s easy for an individual to get frustrated at the constant stream and quickly hit the unsubscribe button. More relevant to this topic, it is easy to assume that many people are hesitant to even sign up for email newsletters out of fear of how their inbox will be filled.

Finding a solution to this problem on the surface is two-fold.

First, whatever the cause that your organization is working for, it is important to make it relevant and trendy to the general public. Environmental concerns has been a general growing topic of interest over the last few years and it can be assumed that this would have a direct correlation to the large increase in email subscribers.

Second, you must provide incentive for people to want to receive emails from your organization. Maybe this is subscriber only updates, or behind the scenes looks. Whatever the news, make it clear for people that the only way they will get certain information is by signing up for your email newsletters.

Courtesy of 2012 eNonprofit Benchmarks Study

Takeaway # 3

Between 2010 and 2011, the email fundraising response rate held steady at 0.08%, with a negligible growth of 2%.

What this means for you

Online fundraising has steadily increased in popularity for nonprofit organizations. This should not be news to you. However, what is important to take note of is that email fundraising rates are generally low and should not be the only way your organization pushes to raise money.

Interested in what other methods generally show success at fundraising? Then tune into our post tomorrow where we will highlight some of the study’s findings of online fundraising.

Instagram has turned everyone into professional photographers. Click, focus, select one of the 18 pre-set photo filters, and share with your masterpiece with your friends. It’s Twitter in visual format, allowing users to share snippets of their everyday lives. Simple. Beautiful. Fun.

Not only is Instagram popular with the general public – and the GRM office – but many businesses are jumping on-board as well. From behind-the-scenes shots to glamorous product sneek-peeks, Instagram is perfect for sharing beautiful images from the retail world.

The fact that Facebook recently spent $1 billion to acquire Instagram is beyond intriguing. For an app that currently creates zero revenue, (the app is free and there are no ads) change is most certainly in-store. And with the Facebook connection and its introduction into the Android Marketplace, Instagram’s average 1.6 million new monthly users is sure to increase.

Have you downloaded Instagram yet? Get snapping.

The biggest single myth surrounding social media is that it is a replacement in some form for other advertising or marketing channels. Social media destroys traditional linear marketing communications models. At heart, social media is an engagement point that can be started by customer, company, competitor, or onlooker. Anyone.

Online & social media is a two-fold communications addition:

1. An exploratory touchpoint prior to sales

2. A follow-up, referral and word-of-mouth to prospective customers and to enhance repeat purchases

As this chart demonstrates, social media is a new touchpoint. One of research initiated by prospects. It is a new step in the purchase cycle, not replacing any traditional element.

Zealotry actions (referral, reviews and other engagements) are extremely valuable, but they work best as authentic elements within this new stage of exploration.

As you know, Facebook announced last week the rollout of Timeline for Brands. We have scoured the internet and really feel that Mashable has some of the best tips and know-how, so we wanted to share them with you. We’d love to know what you think about this new change for Facebook.

From Mashable

1. Updated Look and Feel


What’s new: The format of Timeline for brands is quite similar to Timeline for personal profiles. It employs a cover photo at the top of the Page, and the Page is separated into two main columns by a dividing line, which represents the passage of time. This format provides brands with new options for self-expression: They can outline their corporate history with milestones (such as product launches, store openings, etc.) to construct a narrative for their audience.

Recommendation: Milestones present an important and dramatic opportunity to educate the public, humanize the brand and remove a perception of corporate anonymity. Our analyses of Page engagement have continually shown that brands posting content that depicts behind-the-scenes activities, exclusive updates or promotions encourages user interactions and promotes higher engagement rates. Using interesting milestones to craft the story of the brand over time (and updating the Timeline with new milestones as they happen) can help to stimulate conversations around major achievements.


2. Reduced Tab Visibility


What’s new: The new Timeline format does not have the left-side panel of links, which could include hundreds of different tabs. While applications still exist, they’ll display differently, in rectangular panels underneath the cover photo. The width of the Timeline and the space allocated for native apps like Photos means that only three tab panels are viewable at any given time. To see more, users must expand the tab panel by clicking a drop-down box.

Recommendation: For marketers, this major change means that the three above-fold tab apps need to be considered carefully — this will be one of the first things users see when interacting with your brand on Facebook. Brands will want to switch up which tabs are visible “above the fold,” according to current company objectives or project popularity. A good Page analytics tool will be useful for determining which tab to promote on a day-to-day basis.


3. No Default Landing Page


What’s new: With the new Timeline Page format, you will no longer be able to set a default landing Page, a favored feature for many savvy brands. The option was one of the primary ways to control the first (branded) impression a user encountered. Since there are no more tab Pages, there is no way to set one as a default. This will drastically change user impressions when they first visit a brand’s Timeline Page.

Recommendation: You will need to apply new and careful attention to all the top messages in the Timeline, as they will be the first objects seen by visiting users. Likewise, Facebook ads for brands will become ever important, as ads will be one of the major ways brands on Facebook can control a user’s experience. Setting up an advertising campaign for a Facebook promotion or new application will be the only way to guide new and clicking users directly to that application (as landing on this Page cannot be achieved by default).


4. New Way to Feature Content


What’s new: One major new feature that marketers will love is the ability to “pin” certain posts to the top of the Timeline. Similar to marking a blog post “sticky,” so that it remains at the top of a blog for a specified period of time, pinning a post to the top of Timeline allows it to precede any other content. A pinned post is distinguished by a small, orange flag. Brands can pin only one item at a time, and the pinned item then exists in two locations — as the top item on the Timeline itself, as well as within its chronological place. Once unpinned (which happens automatically when a new item gets pinned, or the item has been pinned for more than seven days), the post remains in the chronology of Timeline posts, but there is no visual history that it was pinned in the past.

Recommendation: Since you can no longer create a default landing Page, pinning items to the top of the Timeline will become every marketer’s go-to strategy for highlighting new and interesting content. We will begin to see savvy brands design posts specifically to be pinned, whether images, a well-designed call-to-action, a statement about brand value, or a message calling for the user to click one of the tab panels under the cover photo.


5. Current Tab Content and Applications Become Outdated


What’s new: The new Timeline layout displaces Facebook’s existing Page tab configuration (including a tab’s 520-pixel width), and replaces it with a new 810-pixel layout. As a result, existing Page tab content will look centered in the middle of the 810-pixel layout without any adjustments. All applications that remain on a brand’s Page will need new application icons (the new dimensions are 111×74).

Recommendation: The most pressing updates for brands will be to update the images and tab functionality of the above-fold two apps. As these are the first tabs users will see, they will likely be the first to be interacted with, or entirely ignored if not optimized for the new experience.


6. Private Messages Between Brands and Users


What’s new: Finally, brands will be able to send and receive private messages with users. This allows for much deeper consumer interaction, and will also enable Page managers to take extended customer inquiries off the Timeline and into a private message.

Recommendation: Be mindful of noise in the Timeline. Since the real estate allocated to each post depends on how engaging it is or how much interaction it has received, it can be easy to clutter your Timeline with customer inquiries. When these inquiries can be better serviced in a more one-on-one manner, reach out to the consumer with a private message and resolve her question. It’s a good opportunity to yield both a happy user and a clean Timeline.

Timeline for brands will certainly shake things up for social media marketers who seek to make an impact on Facebook. One thing is for sure though: The way content is shared and viewed within a Timeline Page is incredibly important. Brands that constantly create engaging updates and share important milestones will stay at the forefront of users’ attention. Create and rotate new apps for engagement, pin relevant and timely content, and update the feed with user-friendly dialogues to stay relevant in this new space.

Will you or your company do anything differently, right off the bat? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

3. Timeline leveraging history

Dating back to 1878, Manchester United can use Timeline to honor its rich history. This photo shows the club’s league championship from 1908.

Here are some great examples:

1. Cover photo potential

Here, Coca Cola uses snazzy design to make a strong visual impression on visitors.


2. Cover photos for teams

Manchester United uses its cover photo to reflect the inherent passion, camaraderie and joy of sports.


3. Timeline leveraging history

Dating back to 1878, Manchester United can use Timeline to honor its rich history. This photo shows the club’s league championship from 1908.


4. Timeline for callouts

Here, Manchester United leverages Timeline’s strong visual elements by starring a specific current post, making it appear twice as wide.


5. Coldplay cover photo

Coldplay’s Timeline cover photo hints at the wealth of potential the new format holds for bands and other performers.


6. Ben & Jerry’s cover photo

Ben & Jerry’s cover photo further illustrates Timeline’s potential to make a strong first impression on Page visitors.


7. Ben & Jerry’s Timeline

Ben & Jerry’s timeline itself showcases the new brand platform’s strong visual elements.


8. Ben & Jerry’s milestone

Here, Ben & Jerry’s uses the new format to call out an important company milestone — its introduction of several new flavors in 1999.


9. Timeline makes Pages more social

When you visit a Page, you see how many of your friends have liked the company, as well as friends’ relevant public posts. Here, Ben & Jerry’s serves as an example.


10. Different cover photos for different Pages

Restaurants can leverage the new design by showing off what they serve. Here, Starbucks flaunts its coffee beans.


11. How many of your friends like Starbucks?

Further evidence of how Pages are more social with Timeline.


12. A local twist

Here, the Page of Manhattan’s Magnolia Bakery shows how, for local businesses only, a map appears

in the row of apps below the cover photo.


13. ESPN’s cover photo

ESPN’s cover photo is an intriguing shot from the set of its iconic Sportscenter show.


14. Baby’s first show

Here, ESPN highlights its first Sportscenter broadcast with a doublewide photo in its timeline.


15. Livestrong’s cover photo

Livestrong chooses to make its logo the central theme of its Page cover photo.


16. Starring an important message

Livestrong starred this post that provides resources for people under emotional duress as a result of cancer.

Starring it calls extra attention to the post by making it twice as wide as others.


17. A Livestrong milestone

Organizations similar to Livestrong can highlight specific milestones, such as the opening of new services.

This post celebrates the debut of Livestrong’s Cancer Navigation Center.


18. Meet the admin panel

Timeline introduces a new format for administrators of brand Pages, and one that should be simpler to use.


19. Getting to know you

The admin panel features notifications, analytics, messages and, yes, a help menu to ease your transition to the new set-up.


LL Bean has about 3,600 people answering its phones, and 10 “wading boot-deep into social media,” according to the New York Times. They further report: the retailer typically fields about 100,000 phone calls a day, but records only about “50,000 social-media mentions on Twitter, blogs, Facebook and YouTube” a month.

Social Media is not easily “slotted” into existing company organizations, limiting impact and effectiveness. It is more than simply “outbound” marketing. It’s also customer service. It’s media relations. It’s a branding vehicle. In short, social media can be a tool for several departments. This cross-organizational function is the primary reason many companies are not pro-active in social media.

Guest Relations Marketing can help establish a work plan and training that allows correct implementation inside your company. We also consult on best social media practices for your business and resources. Of course, we handle social media in a turn-key manner for clients as well.

Regardless of whether you engage us or another firm, we highly recommend an internal strategic plan that identifies where and how you plan to engage in social media. As the New York Times article pointed out, “in many ways, these digital conversations are not all that different from those by phone, which can be chats about favorite Bean products, and speak to the company’s 99-year tradition of warm-and-fuzzy customer service.”

As the holiday season approaches, retailers plan for one of the biggest shopping days of the year – Black Friday. Brand Zealots stake their tents and line up to experience the rush of this chaotic day of shopping. It’s not just about the deals – it’s about the experience.

However, not all Zealots are created equal. For those not cut out for braving the mall with the masses, there’s another day. A day called Cyber Monday.

For a retailer, Cyber Monday is a godsend. Advertising your business’s promotions digitally is relatively inexpensive. And oftentimes free. By integrating a cohesive marketing plan through all digital outlets – including social media – your brand Zealots help spread the word for you. With a simple click of the “share” button, your message has fallen into the laps of hundreds, if not thousands, of your Zealots’ closest friends.

According to ComScore, online sales on Cyber Monday were up 22% from last year, coming in at a record $1.25 billion. When compared to 2010, some of the largest online retailers, such as eBay, did not see as drastic of an increase in sales. However, smaller online retailers have been booming. In fact, most smaller merchants have seen better year-over-year growth on Cyber Monday, compared to Black Friday.

Swoozie’s is one of these success stories. Going in to Cyber Monday, Swoozie’s implemented a cohesive digital campaign to promote all of their online sales specials. By promoting different Cyber Monday specials throughout the day – through social media – Swoozie’s was able to keep the buzz going and encourage their Zealots to not only interact with their brand, but also share the specials with their network of friends. By the end of the day, Swoozie’s had exceeded their online sales goal by 49%.

This proves that a strong digital campaign – with a heavy emphasis on social media – works.

CURE Childhood Cancer’s Annual “CURE’s Kids Conquer Cancer One Day at a Time” campaign just completed its third year. This year was the most successful year yet, inspiring hundreds of donors to join the fight against childhood cancer.

During the month of September, CURE Childhood Cancer honored and remembered children affected by cancer; these children representing the 12,700 children diagnosed each year. The money raised from this campaign is directed towards children’s cancer research, in hopes of someday finding a cure.

This campaign, promoted through Social Media and Online, raised $263,000 this year alone, and more than $640,000 collectively in the last 3 years, while at the same time almost doubling database numbers.

Just another example of the power of tapping into the Zealots for your brand (or cause), in combination with an emotionally driven fundraising campaign.

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