451 goes 1-on-1 with Rick Clancy, former SVP at Sony Electronics, Inc.

As part of our latest installment in our 451 Heat Q&A series, we had the pleasure of speaking with Rick Clancy, the former Senior Vice President of Corporate Communications for Sony Electronics, Inc.

Rick first began his career at Sony in 1990, and over the course of two decades, was instrumental in overseeing the public relations and corporate communications efforts for the entire electronics division. His role encompassed media and analyst relations, and product marketing and promotions, as well as executive, employee, environmental and crisis communications initiatives. Rick was also one of the first communications executives to embrace the web as a new channel for brand communications and customer support. He now lives in the San Diego area and remains a communications advisor and social media advocate. You can find out more on Rick’s LinkedIn page.

We spoke at length with Rick about his career at Sony, and in particular, his pioneering work in implementing social media and online community management into the company’s external communications and PR and marketing campaigns.

Q: Tell us a little bit about your career in corporate communications at Sony. What were your PR and marketing duties like when you first started with the company and how did they evolve throughout the 90’s?

As part of the corporate communications teams at Sony during the early days our focus was primarily on media relations. Obviously the basics, press outreach, press releases, product reviews and the like. Eventually, this evolved into more of a focus on stakeholder outreach and management—the analyst community—and then global communications planning. With the emergence of social networking, our focus turned to corporate public relations from a much broader perspective. The bigger, faster, more integrated world forced us to become much more customer centric and conversational.

Q: Do you miss the days when traditional media outreach, ad placement and tradeshow marketing were the be-all and end-all of a sound communications and marketing strategy? Do additional channels create additional challenges that outweigh potential benefits?

I don’t miss the old days at all. There is a tremendous opportunity for PR professionals to be at the forefront of engagement through direct communications with customers. All PR pros should feel passionately about this evolution because the returns and rewards will be great.

Along those lines, this groundswell of channel development has certainly provided plenty of benefits. We can break down several internal walls and be more communicative with all of our different departments—human resources, legal, customer service. Externally, companies should recognize the importance of engagement and embrace a commitment to responsiveness over other potential challenges or issue.

Q:  When did you first recognize the role that the web could have in facilitating the way you communicated with the media, customers and employees?

Well to set the stage, about four years ago was when we first noticed an increasing amount of online conversation were taking place about Sony that we were in no way involved in. These conversations discussed our technology, products, customer service and even management. At this point, we were just monitoring and not engaging. Over time, our communications team began to recognize that there was no value in remaining silent, and if there were areas where we could effectively engage with people, and provide some help, we should give it a shot.

Q: How did your team begin to put the wheels in motion with an online engagement plan? Was their hesitancy from management about this approach?

Our approach transitioned from initial monitoring and tracking to assessment of the conversations. We actually incorporated assessment because there was hesitancy from both upper management and our customer service team, so presenting this information helped us to demonstrate why we needed to respond in the first place. It took a few presentations, but it became clear that Sony was ready to step up and address this stuff, engage and just become more involved online.

Once we were approved, we began to engage certain third party communities—message boards, sites like EndGadget and TechCrunch, Consumerist, green blogs, “mommy blogs”, and all sorts of tech blogs. We then started our own blogs (I volunteered to become Sony’s first corporate blogger), and eventually created full-fledge communities around our product line through micro-sites Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

Q: How did you specifically interact with these communities? Did you put protocols in place that dictated who would engage, and how they would do it?

At first, we interacted with the external communities by engaging with editors. Eventually, we took the gloves off, introduced ourselves and responded via comments, message board posts, etc.

These decisions were generally made on a case by case basis—sometimes the communications team would address an issue directly, but on occasion, we would bring in other experts from different areas of the company to offer their take. Since our team was more experienced with third-party communications, and we did not have the experience of communicating directly with consumers, it was also helpful to involve the customer service team. That said, we quickly realized that you need to treat these conversations the same way you would treat a face-to-face interaction with a customer.

Q: Tell us about the launch of Sony’s first community blog. Was there a lot of management push-back and confusion with this move? Did you notice immediate results? Any highlights?

I made a point of it to infuse my personality into the blog. I introduced myself as Rick Clancy, not just a Sony representative. There was some sensitivity involved with a flack serving as the face of the company, but I was very upfront about my role and with my intentions for the blog. Over time, management gave me full reign to develop the blog and use it as I saw fit. I began blogging about a wide range of industry issues that I had an interest in, and had experience dealing with but I would also bring in guests from across Sony to get them involved. This kept things topical when I didn’t quite have the expertise to cover something myself.

I also made a point of it to develop trust through the blog. I recall blogging about Sony in comparison to Microsoft and Apple and other brands. I compared and contrasted products, and addressed their competitive sensibilities. It wasn’t all just all Sony, all the time.

One of the highlights was definitely the Sony blog tour. I would travel to different Sony retail stores across the country to set-up shop and meet with customers, answer questions, communicate produce updates, and assist where necessary. Each store visit turned into a great post. An event like that really represents the total integration of social media, PR and direct marketing.

Q: So, did you first foresee these new forms of communications (your community blog, Twitter, YouTube, etc) as forums for customer service and collaboration, or for PR/Marketing? Where do you see them now?

I certainly viewed these channels as a forum for PR/Marketing professionals, but the more we conversed with people online, I began to recognize the enormous potential for customer service professionals here. Customer service-types should embrace the opportunity to step up and blog, engage with customers like they would offline, and merge with PR pros to create a multi-faceted partnership based on responsiveness and added-value.

Q: Then who should lead the way with “social media strategies?” Should it be left in the hands of specialists, or should PR and marketing practitioners excel at understanding these channels and deploying the techniques necessary to optimize them for communications?

Because in the end, the message is still the most important component of these conversations, PR people are in a great position to lead the way in the online space. While customer service pros can definitely redefine their roles here, it’s the PR pros who have an awareness of the issues, a sensitivity to them, and an understanding of their relation to the firm as a whole. In PR, we’ve learned to listen, reflect on different points of view, and advocate on behalf of our company and client, and those fundamentals are all in play on the web. We’ll see these channels open up a bit more across a company, but PR teams, as well as agencies will play the lead role in monitoring, providing guidance for structure, strategy and authenticity.

-Jeff Benanto (@jbenanto)

It’s now a bird-eat-bird world

I am hopeful that 2010 is going to bring much prosperity to all of us in business. This past year has been one in which many of us (including myself) have learned a great deal. Personally, I have seen competitors rise and fall, our own agency evolve, and many great advances in social media marketing, public relations, and mobile marketing.

With the launch of our new website, and the current marketing initiatives we have in place, I know Q1 is going to be a busy one. One of the lessons learned from 2009 is that creating partnerships between non-direct competitors can be very fruitful. We are entering the time of “co-ompetition,” where agencies are joining forces to strengthen combined service offerings to win larger accounts.

Now, I am not saying that competition between firms isn’t still fierce. However, maybe now it’s more of a “bird-eat-bird” world instead of a dog-eat-dog one.

bird

(In case you are wondering, yes, this is a picture that I took of a bird eating another bird with my iPhone. Yes, it is gross, but I can imagine a picture of a dog eating another dog to be 1000 times more disgusting).

What do you guys think? What are your plans for 2010?

-AJ Gerritson @ajgerritson

Top Social Media Strategists to Watch in 2010

The 451 Team compiled the following list of the top social media strategists. We admire their work and look forward to what they’re going to come up with in 2010. This is not a comprehensive list of the great social media strategists out there, so we invite you to contribute with the names of any strategists you admire with a brief description of their work for us to post!

ahead of the pack

Chris Abraham (@chrisabraham) is the President and COO of social media marketing firm, Abraham Harrison LLC. He focuses on how memetics and emergence affect culture. Abraham specializes in Web2.0 technologies including content syndication, online collaboration, blogging and consumer generated media. He also works as an internet analyst, web strategy consultant, and adviser to the industry’s leading firms.

David Armano (@armano) is a senior partner at Dachis Group. His personal blog, “Logic + Emotion,” was ranked by Advertising Age as one of the top media and marketing blogs. Armano’s previous work includes leading creative strategy for agencies such as Digitas and Critical Mass.

Josh Bernoff (@jbernoff) is the SVP of idea development at Forrester Research. While at Forrester, Bernoff created Technographics, a system that groups customers by their use of technology. He is the co-author of “Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies.” Bernoff also contributes to the Forrester blog, Advertising Age and Marketing News.

Rohit Bhargava (@rohitbhargava)is a founding member of the 360 Digital Influence group at Oglivy. He wrote a guide called, “Personality Not Included,” which details how to use personality to reinvent marketing strategies. He continues to write the “Influential Marketing” blog, ranked in the top 50 marketing blogs in the world by Advertising Age.

Toby Bloomberg (@tobydiva) is the founder of “Diva Marketing Blog,” a fun and exciting outlet focused on marketing and social media. Bloomberg serves on the board of Atlanta Interactive Marketing Association, and is on the advisory board for DivineCaroline, an online women’s community.

Edward Boches (@edwardboches) is one of the original partners of Mullen and the founder of the blog/online magazine, “The Next Great Generation.” Boches is currently the Chief Creative Officer and Chief Social Media Officer at Mullen.

Jason Breed (@jasonbreed) is the senior director of business development at Neighborhood America, a consulting agency that focuses on social media strategies in business. Breed leads social media and online community initiatives on a corporate, media and government level.

Chris Brogan (@chrisbrogan) has been working with social media to build digital relationships for businesses, organizations and individuals for the past 10 years. He is currently President of New Marketing Labs, a new media marketing agency that hosts Inbound Marketing Summit conferences and Inbound Marketing Bootcamp educational events. He helps large and mid-sized companies improve their marketing, PR and business communications through the use of social software, community platforms, and other emerging web and mobile technologies. Brogan’s blog, “chrisbrogan.com,” is among the top ten of Advertising Age’s “Power150.”

Christopher Carfi(@ccarfi) is the co-founder of Cerado, Inc, which helps companies understand how to reach their customers with marketing and social media software. Carfi was also one of the first members of the RosettaNet Board of Directors. He regularly writes on his personal blog, “The Social Customer Manifesto.”

C. C. Chapman (@cc_chapman) is the Co-Founder and Managing Partner of Advance Guard, a media consultant group. He creates radical marketing programs using emerging technology and community platforms. In his podcast and blog, “Managing the Gray,” Chapman provides new media strategies and information on technology in simple terms.

Adam Cohen (@adamcohen) is a partner at the digital agency, Rosetta. He currently works as the leader of the Search, Online and Social Media unit at Rosetta. For the past couple years, Cohen has tackled topics such as interactive marketing and social media in his blog. His blog, “A Thousand Cuts,” also discusses how businesses leverage technology to drive and sustain value, and provides tips on team building.

Mack Collier (@mackcollier) is actively engaged with social media as a consultant, trainer, and speaker. His blog, “The Viral Garden,” highlights his position as an expert on social media as it continually has a monthly readership of 175,000.

Angela Connor (@communitygirl) is the Managing Editor of User-Generated Content at WRAL.com. Her job includes managing day-to-day content direction, long term planning strategies and driving user engagement. Connor is the author of the book “18 Rules of Community Engagement: A Guide for Building Relationships and Connecting with Customers Online.”

Todd Defren (@tdefren) currently works at SHIFT Communications. The company is a hybrid PR firm in Boston that works with clients such as Club Med, Virgin Mobile, Bing and Wells Fargo. Defren is a co-founder and Board Member of the Social Media Club and an Advisory Board Member for the SmartBrief on Social Media. He is credited for creating social media releases and social media newsrooms, and his blog, “PR-Squared,” is a regular in the top 20 of Advertising Age’s “Power150.” Defren is also a “40 Under 40” honoree, a Fellow of the Society for New Communications Research and a frequent speaker on the topic of social media.

Dave Evans (@evansdave) is the co-founder of a strategic marketing service and specialized software application that supports social business strategy called Digital Voodoo. He is also the co-founder of HearThis.com, a podcast service firm focused on social media and marketing. Evans is the author of “Social Media Marketing: An Hour a Day,” which defines guidelines for using and measuring social media as part of an integrated marketing plan.

Sally Falkow (@sallyfalkow) created the POWER branding formula, and is an accredited member of the Public Relations Society of America. Falkow is the author of the books “Your Brand of Expansion – How You Can Use PR Strategies to Expand Your Business,” and “WebSense: Effective Website Marketing Strategies.”

Jason Falls (@jasonfalls) gained his experience as a new media specialist by leading a national advertising agency’s interactive and social media efforts and working with various Fortune 100 brands. He is a social media strategist and an independent consultant in the social media industry. He is the Co-founder and President of Social Media Club Louisville, and currently serves an advisory role for Network Solutions, a leading domain name, web hosting and online marketing company.

AJ Gerritson (@ajgerritson) is a founding Partner at 451 Marketing (full disclosure, we work for AJ, but we truly believe he belongs on this list) and has been in the interactive strategy space for 12 years. In addition to overseeing the sales and marketing team at 451, AJ is a frequent speaker on the national circuit for social media marketing, social media strategy development, online lead generation, and search marketing. We expect him to lead 451 to big things in 2010!

Nathan Gilliatt (@gilliatt) is a Principal at Social Target, a consulting group focused on social media practices. Gilliatt is the author of the “Guide to Social Media Analysis,” a how-to on the tools and importance of listening to social media. Gilliatt also created the business blog, “The Net-Savvy Executive,” as a means for companies to explore new media strategies.

Paul Gillin (@pgillin) is a Research Fellow and a member of the advisory board of the Society for New Communications Research, as well as a co-chair of the social media cluster for the Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council. He is the author of “The New Influencers,” and regularly writes for BtoB Magazine and Ziff-Davis Enterprise. Gillin is currently in the process of writing his new book, “Secrets of Social Media Marketing.”

Seth Godin (@sethgodins) is the CEO and creator of Yoyodyne, a leader in interactive direct marketing. Along with being an accomplished writer and the author of ten bestselling marketing books, Godin is a successful public speaker. He was ranked as one of the “21 Speakers of the Next Century” by Successful Meetings. Godin is a contributing editor for Fast Company Magazine, and created his own marketing blog, “sethgodin.com.”

Phil Gomes (@philgomes) is the SVP at Edelman Digital, where he advises on social media. He is also the Senior Advisor at the Society for New Communications Research. Gomes is considered the first person in the PR field to start a blog.

Beth Harte (@bethharte) is the Community Manager for MarketingProfs. She not only maintains a blog of her own called, “The Harte of Marketing,” but also she regularly contributes to Marketing Prof’s “Daily Fix.”

John Hingley (@crushdirect) is the founder of Andiamo Systems, a brand and media measurement company. He is also the CEO and founder of Crush Direct, a marketing and advertising agency for both B2B and consumer related services.

Jackie Huba (@jackiehuba) is the co-founder of the Society for Word of Mouth, which encourages members to embrace the power of word-of-mouth in business.  She is the co-author of the books “Citizen Marketers: When People Are The Message,” and “Creating Customer Evangelists: How Loyal Customers Become A Volunteer Sales Force.” The blog, “Church of the Customer,” which Huba co-writes, is one of the world’s most popular business blogs.

Tom Humbarger (@tomhumbarger) is a social media and community strategy consultant. He gained his expertise in marketing, by working as the community manager for Catalyze Community, a B2B group for professionals who design software applications and websites. Humbarger has his own blog, “Social Media Musings By Tom Humbarger,” which he updates regularly.

Shel Israel (@shelisrael) is a senior fellow of The Society for New Media Research, and is on the advisory board of the Social Media Club. He is the author of “Twitterville, How Businesses Can Thrive in the New Global Neighborhoods,” and the co-author of “Naked Conversations- How Blogs are Changing the Way Businesses Talk with Customers.” Israel also started the consulting firm SIPR, which he ran for several years.

Mitch Joel (@mitchjoel)is President of Twist Image, an award-winning Digital Marketing and Communications agency. His book, “Six Pixels of Separation,” named after his successful blog and podcast, is a business and marketing bestseller. He is also a blogger, podcaster, passionate entrepreneur, and speaker on digital marketing and personal branding.  In 2006, he was named one of the most influential authorities on blog marketing in the world. In 2008, Mitch was named “Canada’s Most Influential Male in Social Media,” one of the top 100 online marketers in the world and a “Top 40 Under 40.”

Max Kalehoff (@maxkalehoff) is currently the Vice President of Marketing at Clickable. He is credited for starting the blog, “Attention Max,” and writes a weekly column in MediaPost. Kalehoff gained his marketing experience at Neilson BuzzMetrics and comScore Media Matrix.

Christina Kerley (@ckepiphany) is the Founder of CK Epiphany. She regularly contributes to MarketingProfs, an outlet that targets 270,000 marketers and professionals. Kerley created the first-ever marketing book club and her blog, “ck-blog.com,” ranks in Advertising Age’s “Power150” as well as in Viral Garden’s “Top 25.”

Peter Kim (@peterkim) is the Managing Director of the North America division of Dachis Group, a social technologies firm. Kim previously worked as an analyst at Forrester Research, where he won an award for his work on social technologies and marketing plans.

JD Lasica (@jdlasica) is president of SocialMedia.biz, and the co-founder of Ourmedia.org. He is also a member of the Intel Insiders social media advisory group, and a board member of the Media Bloggers Association. Lasica is the author of “Darknet: Hollywood’s War Against the Digital Generation.” He regularly contributes to SocialMedia.biz, Darknet.com, and Real People Network.

Justin Levy (@justinlevy) is currently the General Manager of New Marketing Labs, a new media marketing agency that specializes in helping businesses learn to use social media tools, blogs and community platforms. At New Marketing Labs, Levy teaches businesses about new media marketing and explains how to utilize listening tools to drive business value. Levy is also the General Manager of Caminito Argentinean Steakhouse. He routinely speaks and blogs about how new media has contributed to the success of the restaurant.

Charlene Li (@charleneli) is the founder of Altimeter Group, a consulting firm focused on new technologies and digital strategies. Prior to this she served as a vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research. Li is the co-author of “Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies.” Her next book, “Open: How Leaders Win By Letting Go” is due for 2010.

Valeria Maltoni (@conversationage) is an expert blogger at Fast Company, a magazine focusing on the conversation between marketer and customer. She also contributes to websites such as Marketing 2.0, Social Media Today, and The Blog Herald; as well the eBook, “The Age of Conversation.” Maltoni’s marketing blog, “Conversation Agent,” is regarded as one of the best of its kind.

Ben McConnell (@benmcconnell) published two books on the strength of customer loyalty: “Citizen Marketers: When People Are The Message,” and “Creating Customer Evangelists: How Loyal Customers Become A Volunteer Sales Force.” He is also the co-founder of the Society of Word of Mouth, and the “Church of the Customer” blog, which has a daily readership of over 120,000.

Marc Meyer (@marc_meyer) is a leader at Digital Response Marketing Group and co-founder of “hashtagsocialmedia,” a series of Twitter chats with social media gurus. Meyer consults with myriad of consumer product companies on how to achieve enhanced business results through marketing, sales and online efforts. Meyer previously worked as Director of Internet Marketing and Director of Social Media at Emerson Direct where he gained his background in social media.

Scott Monty (@scottmonty) is currently employed as the Global Digital and Multimedia Communications Manager at Ford Motor Company. Monty shares his knowledge about advertising, marketing, and PR in both his blogs, “The Social Media Marketing Blog” and “The Baker Street Blog.” Recently, Monty was named one of iMedia’s “25 Top Internet Marketing Leaders and Innovators.”

B.L. Ochman (@whatsnext) leads the creative team of whatsnextonline.com, and publishes the “What’s Next Blog.” She also created the blog, “Ethics Crisis,” which explores corporate ethics and global business practices. Ochman is the author of the books “What Could Your Company Do With A Blog,” and “Press Releases From Hell and How To Fix Them”.

Lee Odden (@leeodden) is the CEO of an online marketing blog called, “Top Rank” that serves companies with online marketing strategy, consulting, implementation and training services. In 2008, he was named #15 of “Top 100 Online Marketers.”

Jeremiah Owyang (@jowyang)is a strategy consultant for emerging technology at Altimeter Group and previously worked as a Senior Social Media Analyst at Forrester Research. He writes a regular column for Forbes Magazine and regularly writes for his own blog, “Web Strategist.”

Shannon Paul (@shannonpaul) is the Communications Manager for PEAK6 Online, a parent company of OptionsHouse.com, OptionsNewsNetwork (ONN.tv) and WeSeed.com. She manages the integration of social media communication into PR and marketing strategies. She gained her experience in communications by designing the social media strategy for the NHL’s Detroit Red Wings. She currently has her own blog, “Shannon Paul’s Very Official Blog,” which she updates regularly.

Christopher Penn (@cspenn) is the Founder and Producer of the multi-award winning “Financial Aid” podcast and co-founder of the PodCamp New Media Community Conference. He currently holds the position of Chief Technology Officer at the Student Loan Network.

Jeremy Pepper (@jspepper) is Director of PR and Social Media at Palisade Systems. Pepper has spent over a decade working in integrated communications and has won two Silver Anvils. His personal blog was named top PR blog in 2006 by an advertising blogging network.

Joel Postman (@jpostman) is currently Principal at Socialized, a consultancy that helps companies make effective use of social media in corporate communications, marketing and PR. Postman is also the author of “SocialCorp: Social Media Goes Corporate,” a handbook targeted to corporate executive and large companies that want to adopt social media strategies.

Mike Sansone (@mikesansone) works as a ‘blog coach,’ by helping companies and individuals create and maintain successful websites. Sansone previously helped build various online communities such as America Online and the Real Fans Sports Network. He currently works through his blog, “ConverStations: Blogs and Social Media as Conversation Stations.”

Robert Scoble (@scolbleizer) currently works for the IT hosting company, Rackspace, where he created Building 43, a community for people who love the Internet.  He is the co-author of “Naked Conversations: How Blogs are Changing the Way Businesses Talk with Customers.” Scoble regularly writes for his personal blog, “Scobleizer.com.”

David Meerman Scott (@dmscott) gained his experience and familiarity on social media by working as Vice President of two publicly traded companies. He currently works as a marketing strategist, keynote speaker, and seminar leader. Scott just completed his fifth book, “World Wide Rave.” His third book, “The New Rules of Marketing and PR” was a BusinessWeek bestseller.

Peter Shankman (@skydiver) is the founder of Help A Reporter Out (HARO), the largest free source repository in the world and the CEO of the boutique Marketing and PR Strategy firm, The Geek Factory, Inc.. Shankman regularly updates his blog, “shankman.com,” and is the author of “Can We Do That?! Outrageous PR Stunts That Work and Why Your Company Needs Them.”

Brian Solis (@briansolis) is a Principal of Future Works, an award-winning PR and New Media agency in Silicon Valley. Solis is also the co-founder of the Social Media Club and is an original member of the Media 2.0 Workgroup. Solis writes for his own blog, “PR 2.0,” which is among the top 1.5% of all blogs tracked by Technorati, and regularly contributes to TechCrunch, BrankWeek, and WebProNews.

Liz Strauss (@lizstrauss) is a social web strategies and community builder and works with businesses, universities and individuals to help them understand the world of the social communications. She is the Founder of the business bloggers conference, SOBcon. She was featured in the “Top 100 Social Media & Internet Marketing Bloggers,” the “Top 100 Most Influential Marketers of 2008,” the “50 of the Most Powerful and Influential Women of Social Media,” and NxE’s “Fifty Most Influential ‘Female’ Bloggers.” In addition, her own blog, “Liz Strauss at Successful Blog,” is listed on Alltop Social Media and Alltop Twitterati.

Greg Verdino (@gregverdino) is currently employed as Chief Strategy Officer at Crayon, a group that specializes in strategic marketing. Previously he served as the VP at both Emerging Channels Digitas and Aribitron NewMedia. Verdino produced studies on consumer online media usage behavior and the impacts of convergence of traditional media channels. Verdino’s blog, “gregverdino.com,” is known as being one of the most influential marketing blogs on the Internet and his book, “Micromarketing: A Breakthrough Approach to Building Brands by Thinking and Acting Small,” is set for release this summer.

Tamar Weinberg (@tamar) is a freelance writer and internet marketing consultant specializing in blogger outreach, viral marketing, and social media. She is also the author of “The New Community Rules: Marketing on the Social Web,” a primer to social media marketing. Tamar is also Mashable’s Community and Marketing Director.  She has been recognized as one of the top most public influencers of the web in New York City by NowPublic, one of NxE’s most influential bloggers, and was featured in the “Top 100 Online Marketers” list. She blogs about her thoughts on social media at her personal blog, techipedia.com.

Lena West (@lenawest) is the CEO and chief strategist at xynoMedia, a web-development and consulting group dedicated to assisting women-led companies with social media and Internet based objectives. West has been honored with several awards, including The Network Journal’s “40 Under 40,” and the “Entrepreneurial Champion for Women” by The Women’s Congress.

Dan Zarrella (@danzarella) is a communications specialist with expertise in web development, social media and blogs. He is currently the Inbound Marketing Manager of HubSpot and considers himself a social, search and viral marketing specialist. He is in the process of finishing the book, “The Social Media Marketing Book.” Zarrella shares his comprehensive understanding of social media by contributing regularly to blogs such as “Mashable,” “Copy Blogger,” and “ProBlogger.” Zarrella is also credited for developing applications such as Link Attraction Factors, TweetPsych, TweetSuite, and TweetBrandSponsers.

Linda Zimmer (@lgzimmer) is president and CEO of MarCom:Interactive. She sits on the Advisory Board at Web Wise Kids and is a consulting council member with the Gerson Lehrman expert network. She regularly updates her blog, “Business Communicators of Second Life,” where she discusses topics such as social media and ethics for marketers, communicators and agency professionals.

Add your picks for top social media strategists below!

Managing PR in a Crisis: An exclusive panel discussion produced by AMA Boston

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“Two experienced divers die mysteriously in the tunnel from Boston to Deer Island. Archdiocese of Boston officials cover up an insidious scandal that spans decades of sexual abuse. U.S. forces invade Iraq while longtime American allies howl in protest.

Only well-prepared, quick-thinking PR experts with prolific backgrounds in crisis management could manage—and succeed—in defusing these controversies. Our distinguished panel of experts are looking forward to sharing their experiences addressing these and other crises through the application of proven PR tools and techniques.

While most businesses have an emergency plan to protect their staff and office systems in the event of a natural disaster, few have developed a communications plan to address public crises such as lawsuits, improper behavior by employees or product recalls. The power of the social web and 24/7 news coverage can amplify public perception and corporate crises can quickly spiral out of control. Today, more than ever, it is imperative for companies to be prepared.”

Sign up for this great opportunity to hear Tom Lee and other PR professionals discuss how to prepare for and manage PR in a crisis:  http://pr-crisis.eventbrite.com

Sending your child to school for the first time

Recently, I was speaking to an industry group that hasn’t really done much with social media as a whole. It’s really not the group’s fault; this industry just happens to be heavily regulated when it comes to its communication to investors and end-users. But not surprisingly, as end-users have become increasingly active on these channels, the industry is now being dragged head first into social media and confusion seems to be fairly rampant.

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At the event, I fielded many questions about the concerns these people had about social media. As most of these questions revolved around strategy, and how to avoid any number of potential disasters, I couldn’t help but think how managing your company’s first social media campaign was just like sending your child off to their first day of school.

I know at first this may seem like a stretch but try to think of your “brand” as your first born child. As a marketer or public relations professional you protect it and you try to strengthen it with the right messaging, all in the hopes that your brand will grow to become something special. Of course, you are also nervous about sending it off to the public and losing complete control. It’s a scary world out there, and people can sometimes say things about your brand that it may not want to hear (like the first time your child comes home from school crying)!

Now, I am not the type of person to say that you have nothing to fear about social media. Running a social media campaign without a sound strategy is as foolish as sending your child off to school unprepared. The reality is though, that letting go of some of your control might be exactly what will strengthen your brand, as long as you take the necessary precautions, act intelligently, and monitor it closely.

By venturing into the social web with the right frame of mind and purpose, your brand will begin to learn things about itself that it may have not known before. By allowing your brand to be surrounded by open discourse and direct engagements with end-users, you will uncover new opportunities, and current brand reflections, that will only stand to benefit your marketing initiatives over time.

Remember, as your brand interacts with others, it has the ability to grow. Home schooling is rarely the best option.