Social media in a disaster

September 16th, 2014

by Carol Lundberg

In the aftermath of recent severe storms, the two most popular questions in the Detroit area were: is your power back on? And what’s open?

It’s a common occurrence in Michigan. Whether it’s “Snowmageddon,” a massive ice storm that makes commuting treacherous, or a summer heat wave that wipes out electrical service, from time to time weather makes business-as-usual anything but … well … usual.

During the severe weather this month and the subsequent power outages, many businesses shut down for part or all of the weekend, and in some cases, into the following week.

But even without power, we all still had to go to work, and send our children to school. In some cases, we had to know if we could keep previously made plans for everything from haircuts to dinner reservations to banking and grocery shopping.

Some business owners impacted by power outages simply posted signs on their doors, stating that they were closed. Others had elaborate processes for calling customers, broadcasting on social media channels, and posting up-to-the-minute updates on their websites.

But most businesses (and local school districts and governments, for that matter) affected by the storm were somewhere in the middle, or closer to the “sign on the door” approach. And even among those who communicated by way of social media, some were simply better at it than others.

What does it take to effectively use social media to communicate with followers, customers and clients during natural disasters? A few tips:

  • Start with a plan. If you’re anticipating a storm that has the potential to knock out power or cause other problems, discuss with your staff how you’re going to handle social media. What kinds of questions will your customers have? Who will be in charge of making the announcements and responding to questions from curious or even angry and inconvenienced clients?
  • There are no excuses. You may not have power, but someone, somewhere in your company does.  There is no reason to not use social media or communicate with customers and followers who are seeking information.
  • Use all your channels. Be sure that your message is incorporated across your social media channels, on your website and in your marketing emails. If there are clients and customers who have appointments with you, and those appointments cannot be kept due to the disaster, be proactive and call to cancel or reschedule.
  • Look for new opportunities that others may miss. If your business is not impacted even though many others are, be sure to communicate that too. Customers will be looking for places that are open for business. You may also consider monitoring social media to find people who are in need of service. For example, a quick search on the hashtag #poweroutage or #snowmageddon may lead you to customers who need goods and services.
  • Be responsive. Monitor your social media accounts and do your best to respond as much as possible. Engage and interact with people posting on your accounts and pages.
  • People turn to social media first. Marx Layne learned one summer during the popular Arts, Beats & Eats festival just how powerful social media can be when the weather turns suddenly nasty. There were thunderstorms and tornado warnings. We quickly took to social media. Because we are connected to so many news media professionals, we were able to share information instantly about where festival-goers could take shelter, and when the event would re-open. Despite the festival shutting down for a few hours in the afternoon, the headline musical act that night attracted a huge crowd because they learned through social media that the show would go on.
  • Be sympathetic. No matter how diligent you are, there will be people who feel inconvenienced and possibly angry. Don’t ignore them, and don’t delete their comments. Respond in a sympathetic and helpful manner. Let them know that you understand how frustrating it is to not be able to carry on as usual, and give the best and most accurate answers about when business will resume, and how to manage in the meantime.
  • Debrief. After the emergency has passed, and business has returned to normal, gather the team of people who handled social media and communication during the crisis. Honestly evaluate what was effective, and what was not effective, and what should be part of the plan during the next natural disaster or power outage. Be thorough and put the plan in writing.

One important thing to remember is that during a natural disaster, people are increasingly turning to social media to get the most up-to-the minute information. The better you are at using it, the more informed your customers and clients will be.





Social media – for good or evil

September 3rd, 2014

by Michael Layne

These are exceptional and, often, bewildering times, as social media encircle our virtual globe.

We have the leaders of ISIS, whose thievery and butchery masquerade as political causes, exploiting social media and video to shock and taunt the world, while recruiting followers among the world’s disenfranchised. ISIS is pursuing a  cruel agenda of hatred and destruction, the burning of mosques, the slaughter of those who share a territory — including women and children.

The group horrified the world when it released video of a masked ISIS member beheading 40-year-old American journalist James Foley, and two weeks later, 31-year-old freelance journalist Steven Sotloff. The only transgression of these two men was that they worked, tragically until their deaths, at exposing the truth. For that they were brutally murdered, and the video footage of their deaths was shared via social media with their grieving families, and with those of us in the world who feel nothing but deep sadness and sympathy for them.

There is clearly evil in this world, and it’s on display on social media.

But simultaneously, social media can be a force for good, spreading far and wide loving kindness and empathy for all of mankind, as we are witnessing with the wildly viral ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Spurred on by the example of others, participants have raised in excess of $100 million toward research to quell the ravages of this terribly disabling disease. The only motives for Ice Bucket Challenge participants are love, sympathy and hope for a better world.

The participants have agreed to share and give to not only people they know who have been stricken with ALS, but to complete strangers. Those who took the challenge didn’t care where those strangers might live. They don’t care how old they are, what their race is, what their religion is, or what their political leanings are. They just know that people are suffering and in need of support, comfort, and ultimately a cure.

What are we to make of this dichotomy in the use and power of today’s instant, participatory communications? Evil has always existed in this world—and always will. We can only hope that the cruel manipulation of media backfires on its evil progenitors as often as possible.

Regardless, I choose to believe in the inherent goodness of mankind and doing whatever we can, each in our own way, to leave the world a better place than when we were welcomed into it. In that pursuit, social media has much to offer.

Ice buckets: The hottest social media marketing campaign of the summer

August 29th, 2014

by Carol Lundberg

In public relations and marketing circles, summer 2014 will for years into the future be remembered as the Summer of the Ice Bucket Challenge.

That’s because it’s a social media marketing campaign that’s so good, so effective, and so downright fun that most of us wistfully sigh, “Well heck, I wish I would have thought of that one.”

That’s in part because the campaign in which people dump buckets of ice water on their heads to raise money and awareness for ALS research so quickly reached “viral” status.

But that’s only part of it. The most impressive thing is that not only was everyone talking about it; they were doing something about it.

The result has been astonishing. By Aug. 29 the challenge had helped to raise more than $100 million in donations for ALS research.

There have been other effective social media marketing campaigns:

  • In 2013 The Human Rights Campaign changed its logo to red to raise awareness and support of marriage equality as the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments surrounding California’s Proposition 8 ban on same-sex marriage.
  • Back in 2010, Old Spice enjoyed a 16 percent bump in sales, which the company attributed to humorous YouTube videos going viral.
  • The 2014 #yesallwomen Twitter campaign grew quickly after a gunman killed six people in a shooting rampage near Santa Barbara in May. The gunman stated in a video he made before the shootings (including his own death by his own gun) that his intent was to punish women for not being attracted to him. The campaign was a statement about a society that the protesters said teaches men to feel entitled to attention by women.
  • And there was the highly effective awareness campaign, #bringbackourgirls, after 273 schoolgirls were kidnapped in Nigeria in April 2014.

But the Ice Bucket Challenge is different. The challenge works because it’s visual, it’s fun and noncontroversial, it’s shareable, and it requires publicly challenging others to take part, ensuring that it continues to grow bigger until it fizzles.

What it does better than other viral social media campaigns is that it has a clear call to an achievable action. Participants are called upon to make a donation to ALS research or douse themselves with a bucket of ice water. Or even better: Make the donation and dump water on themselves.

It wasn’t too long ago that this campaign never would have worked. That’s because it would have reached the tipping point of “too much work.” Not only do people have to get ice and a bucket, but they’d have to shoot video, edit it and post it to social media. So while people do have to go to the trouble of getting ice and a bucket, social media tools and the ease of making video have made the timing of this campaign just perfect.

No matter which option participants choose, it’s all doable. (Just ask our very own Michael Layne, who took the challenge and followed up with a donation.)

Other equally popular campaigns have been effective in raising awareness. But unfortunately, no matter how much we want to bring those Nigerian schoolgirls home, no single person is capable of doing so. And if you’re of the mind that all Americans should have equal rights to marry, solving that problem is bigger than a hashtag.

But everyone can spare a few bucks to send to a cause like helping to fight a terrible disease. So while the campaign grows, so have the donations.

8 Tips for Using Social Media for Business

April 9th, 2014

By Bree Glenn

Social media is an important part of every business’s marketing strategy. For business owners who have yet to jump into the ever-growing, ever-changing sea of social media, it can seem a bit daunting at times.

Eight key tips for using social media for business are…

  1. Planning is key. Benjamin Franklin once said, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” This couldn’t be truer when it comes to social media. You’ll save yourself a lot of time and headaches by planning out your strategy and content and sticking to that plan.
  2. Post regularly, post often. The frequency of your posts depends to which social media channel you’re posting. On a fast-paced channel such as Twitter, you’re going to duplicate posts within greater frequency than on Facebook or LinkedIn.
  3. Be accurate, be transparent. You know what “they” say… the Internet is forever. So before you post, make sure you have all your facts straight. The last thing you want is to put something untruthful out there. In the event that you do, be transparent about it. Admit your mistake, apologize for it and correct it as soon as possible.
  4. Be creative. There are millions of companies using social media to market themselves – including your competitors. Using creative copy and artwork in your posts will make you stand out from the crowd.
  5. Know your audience. Knowing your target audience and which social media channels they use will aid you in prioritizing and managing your time. If your target audience isn’t on Facebook, don’t waste your time on Facebook just because it’s the “in” thing at the moment. Go where your audience spends time online, seek them out and start a conversation (or jump into a relevant one that’s already happening).
  6. It’s all about give ­and take. Social media is just that – social. It’s not about promoting your company’s products and services 24/7. You want to share useful information as well as sell your wares. It’s all about balancing marketing with conversation.
  7. Know you measurement tools and use them. Measurement is how you learn if your social media efforts are working. Are they converting into sales? Website visits? Which brings us to…
  8. Know your goal. You can’t measure your efforts, if you don’t know your goal. Do you want to amass a large following? Drive traffic to your website? Increase sales? Whatever your goal is, make sure it’s clear from the beginning. It will dictate your strategy, as well as content.

For more than 25 years, Marx Layne & Company has delivered results-focused communications counsel to a broad spectrum of clients. We have a thorough understanding of digital media and the two-way dialogue it demands, implementing interactive tactics for our clients by leveraging digital capabilities across marketing campaigns. Our social media, digital marketing and communications teams. The Marx Layne approach is specifically tailored to meet the needs of the products, services and brands we represent. We track, measure and optimize the “buzz” that is being generated as part of an effort to respond and engage audiences.


5 Tips for Effective Crisis Communication

March 25th, 2014

By Al Upchurch
Senior Vice President, Marx Layne & Co.

Nearly every company is going to face a crisis that attracts media attention. And the media scrutiny demands that you communicate effectively in these situations. If you don’t tell your story, others will tell it for you. That’s the last thing you want during a crisis.

The goal of crisis communications is to lessen damage to your company’s reputation during a crisis. As with anything in life, preparation is the key. Here are five steps you must take to prepare for a crisis:

  1. Identify a crisis team and two spokespersons: one main spokesperson and a backup. Make sure everyone in the company knows who the members of the team are, and that any interaction with the media will only come from the team and spokespersons.
  2. Create a crisis communications plan; keep it updated. The crisis team should meet on a regular basis, to make revisions as necessary.
  3. Compose a comprehensive media list; make sure the names of key reporters are highlighted. The director of communications and other spokespersons should meet with and get to know the reporters before any crisis occurs.
  4. Develop key messages in advance of a crisis. The team and spokespersons should understand the company brand and be prepared to talk about it.
  5. Consider professional media training to improve presence and confidence if you don’t have experience dealing with the media.

Al Upchurch is senior vice president of Marx Layne & Company. He has 24 years of experience as a television news producer and manager, and 10 years of experience working on media relations and crisis communication initiatives for a variety of organizations.

For more information on crisis communication and media relations, visit MarxLayne.com.

These are exciting times: For those who want to work for something better.

December 17th, 2013

By Michael A. Layne
President, Marx Layne & Co.

Incredible technologies and powerful, near-instant communications are enriching our lives with the added potential of bringing people together as never before.

Just pick up any magazine or browse the Internet. I recently read about Korean automaker Hyundai showing off a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle at the LA auto show as electric vehicle technology continues to advance. Elsewhere, we are working to more responsibly harness more-developed energy sources like nuclear and natural gas, while finding better ways to add solar, wind or geothermal to the mix. We can chart a path to a nation less dependent on imported energy sources, as well as cleaner air and water for this generation and the ones that succeed us.

Move over Tom Cruise from Minority Report. Take a peek at soon to launch Google Glasses, a wearable computer with optical head-mounted display. A transparent, high-resolution display equivalent to a 25-inch screen at 8 feet away. Camera and video recorder, personal assistant, direction-finder, schedule-maker all controlled by touch or voice command. We will be able to “see” better, faster and farther.

Yes, we are still subject to horrendous natural disasters like Typhoon Haiyan that devastated so much property and took so many lives in the Philippines. However, with modern communications—from CNN to social media, news of the disaster spread across the globe instantly and so did the response of generous and concerned governments, corporations and individuals.

Another great example of technology and communications bringing talented, creative, positive people together was featured in a recent issue of Time magazine. The issue: each year, Americans waste about $165 billion in food that goes uneaten, representing almost 40 percent of the food purchased in the United States. Meanwhile, nearly 50 million Americans live in households identified as food-insecure. The solution: entrepreneurs and nonprofits teaming up to identify and re-distribute excess or unsold food, especially perishable, but highly nutritious items like milk, fruits and vegetables.

These groups are using today’s most advanced systems for inventory management, shipping and distribution, pricing, consumer behavior and marketing. As they do, they are steering this otherwise wasted food to food banks, as well as selling it to individuals who love a bargain and are not scared off by a slightly bruised apple or overly crooked carrot.

We are clearly at a tipping point in human history. With more powerful technology, greater access to knowledge and new ways of collaboration. Instead of consuming us, these new modes can liberate us. They can help us find and work with like-minded and like-motivated individuals who are interested in a safer, saner and mutually enriching world. It’s our call.

Tesla Motors: When A Crisis Requires Going on the Offensive

May 14th, 2013

by Michael Layne

As Tesla Motors stock climbed to its all time high today, from a public relations and crisis communications perspective, we ask the question, “When does it make sense for the CEO to go on the offensive when there is a crisis resulting from negative news coverage?”

It was just last February that the nightmare of nightmares occurred for Tesla CEO and product architect, Elon Musk. After putting his heart and soul into building a new kind of electric car company, he was slammed with a scathing review in the New York Times.

Musk is no shrinking violet. When the review was published stating that the car’s 300 mile promised range was bogus, Musk took an aggressive strategy in what we would clearly call a crisis communications situation. He publicly took the New York Times to task on the accuracy of the article, which had caused Tesla’s stock to drop precipitously wiping out millions of dollars in value not to mention the tremendous damage that a negative article in the New York Times can do to a company’s brand equity.

Nowadays, it is most common in a crisis situation for a PR agency to advise their clients on a defensive position, rather than launching an aggressive offensive campaign. At Marx Layne, we ask our Fortune 500 clients who are not facing a crisis, and clients referred to us by their attorneys who are in a crisis the following questions:

  • How are you prepared for these situations?
  • Is your messaging prepared for a negative eventuality?
  • Do you have product video that speaks to the quality of your brand?
  • Who is your spokesperson and has she been properly trained?

As with Tesla Motors, at Marx Layne we believe first and foremost that the product has to be top notch; whether it is a health care service, manufacturing product, food product, or other. A crisis communications event can happen at anytime to any private, publicly held company, or nonprofit.

Elon Musk clearly believes in the product he painstakingly helped to design, manufacture and market. He took the rare approach to aggressively go on the offensive against the New York Times.

At Marx Layne, we acknowledge Elon Musk and so did the stock market as Tesla’s shares have raced to an all time high.

A Thank You to Those Who Serve

November 12th, 2012

As an annual tradition on Veteran’s day, ceremonies and celebrations take place across the country recognizing and thanking Veterans and their families for their service and their sacrifices.  This weekend members of the Marx Layne team joined our nation in a show of admiration and respect for the brave and dedicated Veterans of the United States of America armed forces.

Fighting for freedom, protecting our nation and responding to disaster are only three of the many tasks within the job description of those who unselfishly serve in the military. Because of these courageous men and women, Americans are privileged with the rights to vote, voice their opinion and work to achieve the ‘American dream’.

We at Marx Layne are thankful to our nation’s Veterans for providing us the ability to come to work, raise our families and contribute to our communities. As we approach the holiday season and the new year we will continue to keep the Veterans and their families in our hearts.

In Defense of Facebook Advertising

May 16th, 2012

Jennifer L. Cherry
Patrick Sullivan

From the Wall Street Journal to WWJ-AM in Detroit, the entire world knows that GM doesn’t think Facebook advertising is worthwhile. And, for GM’s needs, the company’s strategy is correct.

However, it’s important to note that for millions of other small-to mid-sized companies Facebook advertising is a tool that can make a significant impact when properly leveraged.

But how can that be? Facebook ads allow one line of text and a small image. Not exactly compelling stuff. It takes more than that to convince me to spend $20,000+ on a new vehicle. I might, however, be convinced to buy an inexpensive widget that’s a low risk purchase where I have little to lose.

If I’m looking for a new vehicle, I’ll likely seek them out in the research phase of my search. In fact, it’s impossible to avoid them. It’s easier to tune out an ad for a brand I know and ignore the message.

When crafting a Facebook ad, the organization has the ability to hone in on a particular demographic, including age, location and event-specific characteristics such as “wine connoisseur” and a desire to “travel.”

The ad exposes an audience to a brand to which they have no familiarity. The viewer may be attracted to the ad by the catchy one line slogan, eye-popping image, or because their “friend” likes it already and with one simple click, they’ve agreed to receive updates from a new company, or In short, they’ve become a “fan” of the businesses page.

The truth of the matter is that there are two Facebooks waiting for organizations on the social media site. The first Facebook is populated with well-established companies and everyday household brands. These pages have tens of thousands of fans and a buzzing stream of content. If you don’t know who these companies are, you probably don’t have a computer. As a century-old global automaker, GM clearly falls into this category.

Then there’s the other Facebook, comprised of the vast majority of company pages in existence. Many of these pages struggle to break the ceiling of 10,000 (or even fewer) “fans.” Their content stream often stagnates due to a lack of user engagement and new “likes” eventually cease all together. These are the pages that can benefit the most from Facebook advertising.

For unknown and smaller businesses, this control and subsequent exposure enabled by Facebook goes beyond what they could achieve from traditional advertising. The demographics are much narrower allowing businesses to reach their key audiences and minimizing wasted impressions. THERE ARE ACTUAL METRICS, offering the ability to adjust ads to meet the needs of their audience and optimize traffic, while providing the C-Suite an understanding of the consumers the ads are reaching.

When a “new” potential consumer “likes” a Facebook page as a result of the ad, it is then up to its parent organization to provide compelling content to engage them adequately with the brand and convert them into a paying customer. No one sentence and a photo ad can do that. It’s totally unreasonable to think it could convert an individual into a buyer or brand advocate.

As I’ve said GM is a recognizable entity. If you don’t know them, you probably also don’t own a computer. The needs of this global company are very different from the needs of millions of others. People will seek GM out. They know the brand and want to be / or don’t want to be associated with them already. As such, the automaker doesn’t need Facebook to help them and traditional advertising channels still offer a wide breadth of opportunity to share one-way compelling content and hit home the company’s key messages that resonate with those in the automotive market.

So while Facebook ads may not be right for GM, they help millions of brands/organizations get their start and build their visibility without expensive campaigns. Don’t count Facebook ads out just yet.

Employees Save $1,000 for Simply Passing a Health Screening

July 26th, 2011

If someone offered you $1,000 a year to take better care of yourself, would you accept the proposal? That’s the question we asked our employees in a recent meeting with our health insurance provider and, not surprisingly, they said yes.

Our new Health by Choice PPO plan goes into effect Aug. 1 and calls for everyone at the agency to have some skin in the game. Submitting to a comprehensive health assessment with a physician and taking steps to improve body mass index, cholesterol, blood pressure and other general health indicators reduces the deductible for the employee-only plan from $1,500 to $500. (The family plan offers even more savings.)

And the move helps reduce the risk of preventable diseases, which means fewer sick days and lower health care costs when employees exercise, eat right and maintain a healthy lifestyle.

At Marx Layne, we’re focused on overall wellness, so we’ve created workplace opportunities for our employees to get fit. Many of our people sit on inflatable fitness balls at their desks, eat fresh organic fruit and drink purified water provided by the agency every morning, and find ways to weave exercise into their day like biking to work. Some even avoid the microwave at lunchtime, warming their food in a toaster oven instead.

But we thought an additional incentive – saving money – would help manage waistlines and escalating insurance costs. Since we launched our firm in 1987, we’ve absorbed annual increases in insurance premiums for our employees. But as costs rise and employees’ medical needs grow, we decided everyone should take responsibility for their own health. We’re pleased our employees are willing to get involved, playing an active role to make things better for all of us.

We know the journey to wellness won’t be easy. The road is littered with temptation. But now, we’re working together to keep one another on track.

Join us online at www.marxlayne.com/blog as we trot along to physical and financial wellness.