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In his book Powers of Two,” Joshua Wolf Shenk argues that the chemistry of creative pairs — of people, of groups — forms the primary basis of innovation. He makes the case that creativity is most commonly the result of two people interacting in a variety of ways: complementary collaboration, mutual inspiration and creative rivalry.

The publication of this book gave us the explanation of why our decade-long professional pairing had continually kept us moving forward together to seek the next interesting way or place to innovate on behalf of our clients. As a duo or creative team, we were more capable of pushing the envelope, challenging the status quo and breaking the mold on healthcare communications than we were on our own. Now it’s time to bring that philosophy to life again and pair our creativity with the innovators at W2O.

A little background:

We met in the communications department at Amgen and subsequently moved on to head the H+K Strategies West Coast Healthcare team.

But while there, we felt the ground shifting. We realized there were new ways to reach the healthcare consumer that involved the entertainment and media world that no one in healthcare was exploiting. Many of these companies and opportunities were in our backyard – Hollywood.

Although we were learning, growing and leading, we felt that we lacked the freedom to explore a new phenomenon — the blurred lines of PR and marketing. We knew we were missing an opportunity to reach audiences vital to the business objectives of our clients.

Therefore, we struck out on our own to form ARC2 Communications & Media. We had many supporters and mentors as we made the transition from employees to entrepreneurs. One of those was Jim Weiss, a name synonymous with bold entrepreneurialism and innovation in healthcare communications. From the beginning, Jim was both a supporter and a mentor. We wanted to be like Jim. In fact, one of ARC2’s first blogs thanked Jim for his amazing advice and friendship.

Our three years at the helm of ARC2 gave us the opportunity to create and execute award-winning leadership programs and take pharma companies into territory previously only leveraged by consumer companies. We will save details of that for another post!

We have stayed in touch with Jim and his leadership team and have watched as they have expanded beyond their roots in healthcare to bring innovation in data-driven insights and content creation to technology, financial and consumer clients. We admire the way W2O continues to evolve and challenge the status quo and to do things differently. Jim and his team are not afraid to experiment and take risks. And that’s why this “Power of Two” has decided that it’s time to exponentially expand on what we’ve created by joining the Power of the W2O Group.

Andrea Rothschild & Christine Cassiano

 

Grandpa has a stomach ache.  He does not use the internet much, but Grandma does.  She even knows how to post photos of her grand-kids onto Facebook, much to the envy of her Bunco group.  Confident in her web savvy, she springs to the laptop.

If Grandma is like most internet users, however, she will only visit the top 10 returns following her search for “stomach pain” on Google (yielding M_Twainapproximately 15 million options).  And those coveted top spots are no guarantor of sound counsel.

In my last post I considered the overall quality, or lack thereof, to be found on the internet when querying health-related information.  The broad and somewhat intuitive conclusion; some of it is good, much of it good enough, and some of it dreadfully misinformed.

So how can one determine if what they’ve found is any good?

In the broadest sense a website is judged on three criteria: the accuracy of information, how current it is, and the completeness of that information.  A search of the professional literature reveals that a number of tools have been proposed to evaluate different aspects of these criteria using a variety of schemes; at least 273 such tools, and counting.1

The oldest of these tools is the Health on the Net (HON) Code of Conduct, an 8-point code of conduct established in 1995 by the Health on the Net Foundation.  Approved websites can display a badge that looks like this.  Rather than signifying accurate information, however, HON_Codethe “HONcode” certification means that a site adheres to a specific code of ethics in regards to such issues as content attribution and transparency.  It is better than nothing, and does speak to noble intent.

Another interesting tool, DISCERN, has been designed to help consumers of health information rate what they have found without the need for any specialized knowledge.  The site itself (http://www.discern.org.uk/) provides a stepwise questionnaire to help evaluate the quality of a webpage.

Across all of these tools, common themes emerge that may be used as a quick gut-check when perusing web-based health information:

  • Says Who:  Are statements or claims supported by referenced sources, such as a research study or an expert opinion?  Are those references listed somewhere (often near the bottom of the page)?  If you do not find citations, your confidence should be diminished.
  • Since When:  How old is the information?  Does the website give a date, or perhaps a date of last revision?  If there are references given, when were they published?  Content that is trailing many years behind the state of the art should be regarded with caution, as should something of indeterminate age.
  • Slant:  Does the content seem focused on the advantages of a single therapy, without any mention of alternative approaches?  Seldom is medicine one-size-fits-all, and well-balanced information should acknowledge gaps in understanding.
  • Hyperbole:  Claims of a 100% cure rate should immediately raise red flags, as should alarmist language.  If what you are reading seems designed to frighten you, or speaks to a secret that “doctors don’t want you to know!” it is probably best to find another source.
  • Looking Good:  None of the most accepted tools consider items such as layout and graphics.  It is a common finding that visual appeal of a site is no guarantee as to its relative accuracy, though in some cases it might lend unearned credibility in the eyes of the user.  Even site domains such as .gov or .edu are imperfect as indicators of quality.2

Concerns about health-related content on the web have been present since the days of dial-up, when sites were comprised largely of static text, and maybe a link or three.  Today, an internet user is bombarded with an amalgam of text, audio, video, photos, and newsfeeds, all of which combine to form a nearly impenetrable jungle of facts, conjecture, opinion, and ads.

Is it even possible to untangle all of that?  The problem seems intractable to the extent that some literature states, “The time has likely come to end our Byzantine discussions about whether and how to measure the quality of online health information.”2

That feels a bit pessimistic, but in a way, it also acknowledges a reality; that the quality of content rests firmly in the hands of its creators.  There is a singular layer of control, at the source, and ideally, a certain sense of responsibility ought to come with that.

As generators of content, particularly in the realm of healthcare, our standards for quality should be exacting.  The timeliness and rigor of our work must always be top-of-mind.

Anything less seems irresponsible.  After all, Grandma might be reading.

References:

  1. Fahy E, et al. Quality of patient health information on the internet: reviewing a complex and evolving landscape. Australas Med J. 2014;7:24-8.
  2. Deshpande A. Trying to measure the quality of health information on the internet: is it time to move on? J Rheumatol. 2009;36:1-3.

On my first day in PR, there was no rest for the newly initiated.

“Great to have you here – can you do some pitching today?” I was asked within an hour of being shown my desk.

This was the moment I had been dreading. After spending 13 years as a journalist, having PR people cater to me, now I was the one who had to sweet talk reporters into taking meetings with clients or ginning up interest in announcements and news.

But funny enough, it didn’t seem that different from what I had already been doing – in fact in many ways it was more enjoyable. Now that I’ve been doing this PR thing for half a year, I can say there are a lot of parallels between the professions (even if some journalists would be loathed to hear that). In particular, three areas stand out: cold calling, pitching and social media.

1) Cold calling: journalists cold call new sources all the time. Sometimes you’re working on a breaking story and need to just get a quick quote from anyone, other times you’re trying to match what the competition has already published. Just like PR people are tasked with harassing journalists until they get a response, so too do journalists have to continuously bother PR people as well as executives, analysts, companies and others to confirm news, get a quote or feel out if a potential scoop has legs.

These types of calls inevitably lead to awkward exchanges. Sometimes you don’t really know what you’re asking about – an editor tells you to make calls ASAP for a breaking story off of your beat. Or you call someone you don’t know and ask what seems to be a relevant question and they shoot back – “don’t you know who I am and what I’ve done?” Other times sources just aren’t saying anything useful or quotable, so you try ask them the same question over and over again in a variety of ways, hoping to get a sound bite.

Then there are the situations when you’re calling about bad news and have to ask personal or private questions – such as: did they have an affair with a subordinate? Or cheat their company out of money? The worst interviews are when you have to contact someone that lost a loved one. I’ve covered 9/11, military funerals, school shootings and other horrible events in real time. Understandably, it’s not uncommon to be hung up on or called horrible names.

When it comes to cold-calling journalists as a PR person, you don’t always have a deep knowledge of the company you’re pitching, or the journalist you’re contacting. We work as a team, so when my teammates need help getting press for a client with breaking news, we flood the zone with calls and emails to dozens, if not hundreds, of media people.

There’s usually a spreadsheet with names of reporters broken down by segments such as national news, local news, bloggers, industry reporters, trade pubs, TV and radio. We’ll all take a page of names and get to work. Sometimes the information about the journalist or outlet is outdated and a lot of times they don’t respond. Occasionally people will berate you for not knowing that they don’t cover what you think they do. Frankly, it’s a lot more pleasant talking to journalists, even the disinterested ones, than questioning a source that’s media-shy or even hostile.

2) Pitching: PR people aren’t the only ones pitching stories. As a reporter, I constantly had to pitch my features internally to get them published. It’s not always good enough to find a trend or feature idea that either hasn’t been written by the competition or tells readers the story in a new way. It also has to be deemed worthy of space.

At Bloomberg News, where I worked the past seven years, this meant features were often subject to many layers of approvals, from an editor, team leader, bureau chief, feature editor, managing editor and potentially others. It wasn’t unusal for each editor to take a stab at rewriting the story to reflect what they thought should be the focus. Other times they wanted more reporting, sometimes a lot more (one time a feature editor emailed me more than 80 questions on a 700 word feature).

And after all that time and work of rewriting, re-reporting and winning over numerous editors, someone high up could express skepticism on the newsworthy-ness of the story, effectively killing it. That was always a bitter pill to swallow.

If, on the other hand, the story did get published, the next step would be pitching it to editors at the magazine, radio and TV departments, to get it more airtime. I’d also try to bring it to the attention of industry leaders other experts outside of the company, with the goal of being invited on TV, or included in a forum or panel, or having someone else point to the story as important. That also could be a fruitless and frustrating process.

Same goes for PR. One of my favorite activities here is to continue doing what I did as a journalist, but for clients. So I’ll spend a day at a company, interviewing scientists, engineers, executives, and touring the facilities looking for feature ideas and anecdotes that normally wouldn’t make it out of a marketing meeting. I then come up with story lines and ideas of how to position a company as part of a trend or affecting the world in a unique way.

These are ideas I honestly think are interesting and news worthy, but they still need to get approved by several divisions at the client company before I can approach journalists with them, including their own communications department, legal and regulatory, and whoever manages the executives themselves.

Some clients are excited about these ideas and give me the go ahead to pitch them to the media. Other times, even relatively simple story lines get nixed or dramatically changed because of concerns over any potential of a negative or less than favorable article. It’s less frustrating than getting a story killed as a journalist, but it’s still not fun.

Once these story ideas are approved, I then have to do my main job and get journalists interested. Some reporters like the pitches and take meetings with my clients and write articles about them, while others don’t bother to even respond.

3) Social media: As a journalist, I felt constrained in what I could say on Twitter and other social media sites. For years, I never posted anything political or items that hinted of a personal opinion about subjects I wrote about, even on my non-public profiles. I felt free to tweet articles from colleagues and competitors and tried to spur conversations around the articles I wrote. But most of the time I felt like I had to bite my (digital) tongue.

In PR there are other concerns. My social media output has become much more opinionated about a wide-range of subjects, from sports, parenting, health topics, and politics, as I’m trying to build my influence, actively engage people and retain an audience that mostly followed me because I was a reporter at Bloomberg. But I’ve also felt much more constrained in terms of discussing industry news.

You want to be authentic in what you say on social media, but now that I’m in a client-serving role, I don’t want to be seen as endorsing anything that puts a client in a negative light or something that says a competitor is better. Many times I find myself ready to tweet out a good feature but hesitate at the last second, wondering “will any client be offended if they see I’ve tweeted this?”

These are just a few of the parallels I’ve found between the two professions. Despite my concerns that a career as a communications pro would be completely different from that of a journalist, I’ve found the opposite to be true.

In the wake of Twitter’s I.P.O filing, Nielsen, the industry standard for TV ratings measurement, announced Nielsen Twitter TV Ratings, the “the first-ever measure of the total activity and reach of TV-related conversation on Twitter.” The timing of this announcement is no coincidence. Nor is yesterday’s announcement of a first of its kind Twitter/Comcast partnership.SocialTV Social TV tumblr getglue trendrr nielsen twitter facebook

According to the New York Times, the prospectus for Twitter’s I.P.O mentioned television 42 times. It’s safe to say that after testing the waters the past couple years, Twitter is jumping right into the shark tank with the television networks, each hungry for more and more of the chum that is advertising dollars.

As an advertiser, it’s great to have access to more and more data about consumers, but you always have to ask the same question “When do I feed the sharks and what do I get in return?”

In the majority of reporting on this news, there is a significant point made: social TV ratings do not equal broadcast ratings. The Wall Street Journal included this informative visual in their article:

The Wall Street Journal

 

This is not new information. In fact, to take one step back, Nielsen is not the first to report social TV ratings; they are just the most established company to do so. Approximately five years ago, social TV measurement companies like Bluefin Labs, Trendrr, GetGlue, and SocialGuide started appearing. (Twitter has since acquired the first two, and Nielsen acquired the last one.) During that time, I was working on the digital side of the television industry, so I have personal experience with the data that was generated.

For the entire run of TBS’s Lopez Tonight (2009 – 2011), I was the New Media Producer. I am proud to see that the show was one of the most talked about cable shows on social media. At many points, we also rated higher in the social space then the kings of late night, Dave and Jay. Yet, in August of 2011, our show was canceled due to low broadcast ratings.

Trendrr

 

That’s why social TV ratings don’t matter. Here’s why they do:

Before social media, the best way networks discovered their die-hard fans was when they threatened cancellation of the show. Their mailrooms would then be filled with peanuts, Tabasco sauce, and eye drops, among other things. With the advent of social TV ratings, networks and advertisers now have access to the people who are most vocal about a show.

These are the fans that will participate in your sponsored sweepstakes to win a set visit, that will RT and show content branded with your product on their social channels, buy the branded apps, and engage with the show’s website that happens to be skinned with your messaging.

It was a month too late for Lopez Tonight, but in September of 2011, sales executives at TBS made this their major selling point for Conan. A tactic the CW network was already using for its youth-oriented lineup.

So, yes, social TV ratings do matter to advertisers. Like all big data, we must dig deep though, to find that killer insight that will match your messaging with the right audience in the right place.

I am very interested to see how social TV data lines up with streaming views but could not find that data. If you have that, please share.

Also, I would love to see a Freaks and Geeks reunion movie.  Would you? If not, what canceled show would you like to see return? Tell me in the comments.

With the changing media landscape, the concept of Thought Leadership has become, and should be, an integral part of every organization’s communication strategy. Most executives consider themselves Thought Leaders, and why not?

Thought Leaders are influential.

Thought Leaders have clout.

When Thought Leaders talk, people listen.

So here’s the problem; most companies are doing it wrong. Whether the goal is to be an internal or external Thought Leader, here are a few rules to help you navigate your way to influential success.

1. Don’t talk about Thought Leadership
Just like Fight Club, the first rule of Thought Leadership is to never talk about Thought Leadership. Like picking out your own nickname, designating yourself a Thought Leader makes you immediately lose credibility among your peers. I’ve seen multiple instances where brands have “Thought Leadership” sections on their websites or even title blog posts or other material “(Product Category) Thought Leadership”. Please stop. If you want people to read your opinions, call them that. Insights, trends, points of view, etc., there are lots of options that can be customized to fit your business. Start your original thoughts with an original title, and begin influencing your followers organically, not because you’ve told them that’s what you’re trying to do.

2. Have a Unique Point of View
In order to be a true Thought Leader, you must have a thought that is worthy to lead with. Seems easy enough, right? Wrong. Just Google something like “Trends in Cloud Computing” and you’ll see what I mean. Dozens of bylines will come up, most likely ghost written by well-meaning PR people, from different executives and they will almost be completely identical. Don’t be afraid to put a stake in the ground and say something to really differentiate yourself from the crowd. Who could forget Larry Ellison’s classic 2009 speech at the Churchill Club about cloud computing, calling it, among other things “water vapor”. Sure, he was wrong, but at the time, he believed that and he said it with conviction. Now Larry has done enough right that this little hiccup is excusable, but it doesn’t work that way for everyone. People will stop listening if your predictions never come to fruition.

3. Thought Leaders are Individuals, not Corporations
Wikipedia defines a Thought Leader as “an individual or firm that is recognized as an authority in a specialized field and whose expertise is sought and often rewarded.” I would argue that a firm can’t be a Thought Leader. There needs to be a human element that remains relatable in order for true influence to occur and be effective. Whoever emerges as the Thought Leader, and many times it’s by chance, needs to be visible, relatable, accessible, opinionated, and even more importantly, at some point they will need to be right (see above). Otherwise, they’re just speculating like everyone else.

4. Be Known Outside of Your Circle
In order to be a true Thought Leader, you’ve got to get out there. Speak your truth, and do it where people will hear you. There should be a constant stream of communication coming from you in some form, whether that be regular blog posts on an internal or personal blog, or sharing your content and engaging with others via Twitter, LinkedIn or other social channels. Speak at conferences, on panels; write bylines, guest post on other influential outlets. But more importantly, being a Thought Leader is not a one way street. Not only must you be seen and heard, you must also see and hear. Engage with others. Debate. Be approachable. A Thought Leader is someone that others want to discuss their ideas with, and therefore, truly walk the talk. This is does not just happen, this is built over time. Start small with your circle, and once you begin to influence others in their ideas and thinking, they will share your thoughts with others.

The term Thought Leader seems to be synonymous with visionary, the smartest person in the room, a true trailblazer. In some cases, yes, but not all. The secret to success is being opinionated, transparent, and above all, different from your peers. It’s a commitment to the story, and the ability to successfully share that story across several mediums. PR cannot create a Thought Leader. Stay transparent, be bold, be different, and most importantly, be thoughtful.

 

Here’s a scenario I’m guessing happens pretty regularly: a reporter contacts a PR firm to ask a client some questions on a mundane topic, but the company doesn’t see any “upside” in it, so it decides to pass. Groans heard all around the PR firm.

Why is this so hard, people? While reporters expect companies to be hesitant to comment on a sensitive subject, a “no comment” on a non-controversial topic raises alarm bells. All of a sudden, the reporter is trying to guess the motivation behind the decision. Is the company hiding something? Is there a bigger story I’m missing? Who can tell me what the reason is?

Trust me, I was a reporter for a long time – the downside to not talking is that the reporter will talk to other people who will tell your story but perhaps in ways you don’t like. Since there are tons of people who do want to get their name out there – investors, analysts, industry experts, competitors, authors, detractors – finding others to say something about your business isn’t that hard.

Even if the news is terrible, journalists do want to get “both sides” of the story in their article. It not only makes them look good to their bosses, it also makes for a better story. At the very least, answering questions will give you a chance to hear ahead of time what sorts of things are being said about you.

One reason I heard on occasion for withholding interviews was that companies feel a certain reporter or outlet is biased against them. Maybe a previous interview went amiss, or the quotes used didn’t fully flesh out the company’s point of view. I can honestly say I didn’t know any reporters that were out to “get” companies. Sure, we all had our gripes with certain entities – usually because we felt snubbed by them at some point. But this doesn’t mean we were actively trying to make the company look bad.

A little engagement goes a long way to offset this perception – which is why ignoring that call doesn’t help your cause. In fact it’s much better to be proactive in your outreach and regularly schedule meetings and calls just to stay on their radar, say once a quarter. I personally got a lot of feature ideas this way. That mundane subject you rather ignore? It could turn out to be part of a larger story you’re missing out on – so take the call.

As a schoolboy, like many other kids, I played Little League baseball. In high school, I ran cross-country and track.

I was never a star athlete. My baseball career ended when I was too old for Little League. And my long distance running times were mediocre, at best. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy myself or get a lot out of the experiences. I’m still a baseball fan, and continued running recreationally into my adult years, including competing in a half-dozen marathons.

Aside from the fun of competition, the lessons I learned from participating in sports were deep and have stayed with me to this day. It’s why I feel strongly that children should compete in sports – aside from the obvious health benefits.

Lesson number one is the importance of preparation. Second is tenacity. Lastly, there’s also what we learn in being a member of a team.

Preparation

The best ballplayers in the Major Leagues are the ones you see on the field before every game taking batting practice. Even the veterans. Especially the veterans. They take multiple swings. Meanwhile, the best infielders will field countless grounders in practice.

In my brief high school career in cross-country and track, our best runner always ran before school and after school – even in the off-season. When we finished our after-school practice, he’d keep running. The rest of us were too exhausted from our workouts and never felt the urge to join him in his extended runs. He was singularly dedicated.

As a senior, he won both the California state mile and cross-country championships. I wasn’t surprised, though I was certainly impressed.

The same holds true in business. We do our best work and feel most confident when we know what we’re talking about – and I mean really know it. Conversely, when we come into a meeting without previewing materials, without preparing, without thinking through the purpose of the meeting and our role, we often make fools of ourselves. Worse, we waste other people’s time.

It’s a lesson we learn in Little League, and other youth sports. If you showed up for a game having missed practice, chances are the coach was not going to let you play – not as punishment, but because you weren’t ready.

Tenacity

Being involved in sports also teaches you to be persistent. Clearing a given height in high jump or pole vault is an immediate goal. After failing on the initial try, true competitors don’t stop. They give it another go. Same with the miler, the shortstop, or the running back when their efforts fall short.

I would take third place (or worse) in the mile at a track meet, running slower than I knew I was capable of. My coach spoke encouraging words after such performances and helped me appreciate my true abilities. I came away with a desire to go back the next time with renewed determination, a resolve to practice harder, and a yearning to push myself harder during the next race through the pain that had held me back.

Again, it’s an important lesson for business, where we may fail to win an account, or fall short of performance metrics. We don’t quit. Instead, we carefully examine what we did that led to the less-than-satisfactory outcome and make appropriate adjustments for future such endeavors. And that generally means putting in a more strenuous effort and, likely, more time.

Contributor

While the foregoing lessons are valuable, perhaps the most important one learned as an adolescent team member is one’s role as a contributor to a larger entity. Though every team has its standout members, the collective unit, as a whole, succeeds on the sum total contribution of all its members.

Superstars in team sports cannot beat the other teams alone without his/her teammates and their varied contributions.

Similarly, no business succeeds on the genius and drive of its founder and/or leadership team. Instead, it depends on the collective genius and efforts of many people at all levels of the organization, each doing his/her job well, each striving for excellence in their own area of responsibility, each focused on business goals.

Our individual knowledge and awareness of our unique role and responsibilities as part of the larger operation is critical to the organization’s succeeding or failing. The best leaders are those that not only communicate the importance of the individuals’ contributions and the significance of their excellence, but also really comprehend and appreciate its value, and lead the team accordingly, identifying and addressing overall weaknesses.

In the end, aren’t we all striving for the level of performance we sought as young sports enthusiasts? Isn’t our role as members of a business team ultimately an extension of the roles when we played on a Little League team? Those were valuable lessons we learned as kids, and we’d be wise to think of them not only as nostalgic memories but also as life lessons to be held dearly.

This summer I embarked on a crazy road trip adventure.  I left New York headed to Los Angeles (solo) where I’m living for the summer, before turning around and driving back home; this time with my family in the car.

Along the 3,900 mile journey (I took the long way, through Austin) I had a lot of time on my hands to reflect; here are the top lessons learned, applicable to business, while driving west:

1)      Undivided Attention is Key

OK, sure – you could say I was driving and talking, but when you’re on long stretches of roads with no cars anywhere (hello Route 10), it was the perfect time to have 1-on-1 calls with clients and staff.  Too often in meetings I’m constantly interrupted by incoming emails or other distractions; rarely do we unplug entirely and devote  100% attention to person on the phone.  I did some of my best thinking and provided the best counsel/advice when all attention was on the person I was talking to, and I vowed to myself I will do more of this more often when I’m back at my desk.

2)      Face Time > FaceTime

I’m very fortunate to work for a company with multiple offices; plotting the drive where offices are stay-overs turned out to be a great decision.  I spent quality time with my team and “pop in” visits with extended teams who have nothing to do with my business.  I learned about things they were working on, immediately saw how their thinking could be applied to my line of business.  Too often we’re caught up in our own worlds; going outside our comfort zone can result in great new POVs and incremental business.

3)      Go the extra mile

I’ve done this x-country drive before (4 times, actually) and even the best plans require a change when opportunity strikes.  In my case,opportunity to meet a new business prospect was a 200 mile detour, which was not only a scenic drive, but could result in more business.   In this example, I literally drove the extra mile, but it reminded me that going the extra mile for current clients is what it’s all about in a service industry.   With nothing but asphault ahead of me, I pushed myself for new ideas that no one else is thinking about and looking at things from a totally different POV.  Back at my desk now, I keep asking: what more can be done to go that extra mile?

The journey back to the east coast begins in a couple of short weeks, with the wife and the kids in the car together.  I can’t wait to learn what my family teaches me along the 3,500 miles home; it may prove inspirational for part 2 of this post.

Jessie Frank was having a horrible day. Frank, who was trying to get home to pick up her daughter from a special camp for type 1 diabetic children, had been waylaid by weather, mechanical issues, rerouting and other delays, as a two-hour flight had turned into an all-day slog. Listed as eighth on standby for a flight with no extra seats, a glimmer of hope appeared when a Delta flight attendant waved her down the jetway, only to be stopped at the door. That’s when a mysterious passenger gave up his seat for her. That person turned out to be Richard Anderson, Delta’s CEO, who sat in the jump seat for the trip. Frank was so thankful to see her daughter on the last day of camp, she wrote a letter on Facebook about her experience.

“Thank you, Richard Anderson. As a result of your leadership and the actions of yourself and your employees, I had my special day with my special child,” Frank wrote. “You and your employees gave us both one more day of happiness, and for that, we are both very grateful. I have always been a loyal Delta customer, but Thursday solidified that loyalty for life!”

Her posting was shared thousands of times, and more than 100 news outlets covered the story, including CNN, UPI, Daily Mail and The Huffington Post. Why is this relevant? Because it shows how valuable social media can be in earning traditional media – a fact many companies don’t recognize. If Delta had pitched me a story as a journalist about how its CEO gave up his seat for a passenger, I would have shrugged my shoulders. “So what – it would only be interesting if he didn’t give up his seat,” I would have thought. Yet once the customer has told her version of things, and it started popping up on blogs, twitter and on Facebook pages, then it becomes interesting to the media.

If you hadn’t already noticed, customers are turning to social media to praise good service and air their grievances. They also expect an answer – within an hour. Many companies aren’t sure how to approach these comments – if at all. One study found 70 percent of corporations ignore customer complaints online. This is a huge mistake. There are plenty of examples where turning a blind eye to swelling online gripes can lead to ousters of executives, falling stock prices and unwanted changes in business plans, not to mention bad press.

Here’s a good example – when The Gap changed their logo a few years ago, it drew outrage online from some customers. Now at time, I personally didn’t see what the big deal was – yeah, sure, it looked like a 1990s clip art project, but it didn’t affect my life in some profound way like it seemed to have others. Either way I didn’t see a story in it – logo changes aren’t big business news. Until, that is, the complaints got more traction, more attention and eventually, reporters couldn’t ignore it anymore. I ended up writing two articles about it, along with NPR, CNN and other major outlets around the globe.

Imagine if Coca-Cola Co. could have listened to customers’ thoughts on New Coke in real time, instead of waiting for passionate people to write letters and mail them to the company (hard to fathom nowadays when you can just tweet your thoughts in seconds with no significant time or effort).

What’s even more unfathomable is ignoring those complaints now. Think of the blowback Netflix received for it’s suddenly announced plan to split its DVD and streaming business into two separate entities and charge customers 60 percent more. More than 12,000 people complained on its website, and the move, along with other decisions in 2011 sent shares down from nearly $300 a day before the announcement in July to $65 in November. A year later the Huffington Post was calling the incident “One Of The Great Tech Blunders.”

Not every complaint is at this level or requires drastic action. Many times, people complain about bad customer service or issues not controlled by the company, such as weather or traffic. Sometimes complaints aren’t even about real issues – like when people thought Instagram’s change of service notification meant the company was going to sell everyone’s photos.

Companies should have a plan in place to how they will react to such online situations before they happen. Being paralyzed for hours as lawyers, executives and communications people debate a response will only make matters worse. Journalists waiting for a statement will definitely hear from detractors happy to give interviews, and the longer the lag time, the greater the perception becomes that the company was caught off guard or isn’t competent enough to figure out what they’re doing. Of course, just reacting quickly isn’t enough if the message is bad — see what happened with Geeklist as a prime example.

Small efforts to help or alleviate the problem can turn out positive. An easy response to complaints can simply state: “Sorry to hear about this – let me look into it for you,” and leave an email where the person can contact you directly – and privately. People who receive this type of help often turn into positive commentators online. More than 80 percent of customers who received a response from a company “liked or loved” the fact they were paid attention to, according to a study. Knowing who the main influencers are in the online communities that discuss your company and its products and services can also help quell online storms, if you can reach them quickly and offer them your view.

And sometimes, knowing when to laugh at yourself can be the best reaction. Bodyform’s reply to a guy posting on Facebook that periods aren’t as fun as the company’s ad depicted is hilarious – and won a lot of positive media.

So companies – listen up – don’t ignore what’s being said about you online, because journalists certainly aren’t.