Empowering leadership

I have spent much time lately contemplating what makes a quality leader.

I was recently awarded a scholarship from Woman & Leadership Australia to undertake the eight-month Executive Ready program. This course comprises 25 percent of the Master of Leadership at Monash University. The program starts in May and I’m super excited about it.

As my friends know, I’ve been considering a plethora of postgraduate courses recently – everything from psychology to counselling to leadership. But there’s nothing like a scholarship to make a woman’s decision!

It is such a wonderful privilege to be selected, supported and developed as a female leader. I’m hoping this program will enable me to contribute more value to my team.

Across the globe right now, it seems the future is, indeed, female. There are incredible women who inspire me every day. Emma Gonzáles, Penny Wong, Jacinda Ardern, Michelle Obama, Rosie Batty, Reese Witherspoon, Meryl Streep, Oprah, my mum… to name but a few. I’ve admired Ita Buttrose for many years and was thrilled to meet her in 2011.

“In the future, there will be no female leaders. There will just be leaders.” Sheryl Sandberg

But the most influential leader in my professional world is Shirley Leitch. In my experience, quality managers are rare in the corporate life, but Shirley is brilliant. She remains the best leader and manager I’ve experienced my entire career.

I worked for Shirley as a PR Executive at Swinburne University seven years ago. We’re still friends today. Shirley developed me through trust, fairness and integrity. She supported, encouraged and empowered me. I try to lead people in the same way. Despite being a Professor of Communications – far more qualified than me – Shirley genuinely respected my expertise. As a result, she valued my advice and was willing to take risks. And because she trusted me, and believed in me, I worked extra hard to ensure her success.

Empowered women empower women.

Shirley supported me to attend the 2012 International Social Media and PR Summit in Amsterdam, which took my career to the next level. She even dedicated an academic book to me – after asking me to contribute a section, which I never did – a lovely gesture that touched me beyond words. Shirley is one of the kindest people you will ever meet. But her gentle presence is powerful and commands respect. I am grateful to have experienced what quality leadership feels like as a team member.

In my scholarship application, I was asked to respond to this question: What does effective leadership mean to you, and why is it so important in organisations today? This was my answer:

Effective leaders inspire people to follow their path and come on the journey. They are egalitarian, respectful and empowering. They lead by example. Great leaders come from love, not fear. They treat people fairly and equally, regardless of position or title. Good leaders command respect, rather than demand it. They create and enable a high performing team by bringing out the best in people. Effective leadership is important today because research shows employees leave managers, rather than companies. Poor management can have a negative impact on overall performance, team morale and employee wellbeing. Quality leadership enables higher team performance, job satisfaction and personal fulfilment.

All this I learned from you, Shirley. Thank you. And I hope to do you proud.

Five tips for managing a crisis on Twitter

We all want our good news to go viral. But sometimes it’s the information you don’t want shared that actually gets traction.

Your business is closing retail stores. Your call centre is going offshore. Your company is making redundancies.

Social media is not just word-of-mouth – it’s world of mouth. So, how do you manage that conversation on the social web? Here are my tips for managing crisis communications in 140 characters.

Be transparent

Resist the urge to bury your bad news in the last paragraph of a media release. It is not traditional media that has storytelling power today – it is consumers. You can’t control the message or the messenger. You can only be the most active, informed and useful participant in the online conversation. People will tell your story, whether you like it or not. You have to break your own news on Twitter and be honest about the facts. Share real-time updates via your official Twitter account and share key information on your Facebook page.

Be fast

When news breaks, people head to Twitter. Be prepared. Set up a monitoring station in Hootsuite, or whatever platform your company uses, to monitor and respond to conversation. Draft tweets with key messages and vital information. You may want to use a hashtag for the conversation. Reply to comments and questions as quickly as possible. Re-post your reply as a public tweet in case other followers have the same query. Respond to incorrect information with the facts, so misinformation doesn’t spread. Post a tweet every 15 minutes alerting people to follow your official Twitter handle for updates.

Be loud

You need to be the loudest person in a very noisy room. Post a tweet with key information every five minutes. Repeat the facts. Post new information, as it unfolds, as fast as possible. Share important information using as many mediums as possible – video, podcasts, images and words. Use your other social platforms to direct people to your official Twitter account for updates.

Be useful

There is no point making excuses and not offering a solution. Just saying, ‘we’re sorry, we’re experiencing technical issues right now’ isn’t useful. How can you help? You need to be customer-focussed. If your website is down, can you share information via your Facebook page? If your phones are down, can you provide customer service via social media instead? Social communications are human-to-human – you need to be helpful, empathetic and useful. If you are trying to find the answer to a question, let the person know you are getting an answer for them. Go above and beyond for the consumer.

Be responsive

Use real-time consumer feedback to determine how your business needs to respond. Do you need to establish a hotline? A dedicated support team? An alternate website? You need to be customer-focussed. Wherever possible move distressed customers into direct message, out of the public domain, and talk person-to-person. Give the person your full name, email address and your role at the company. Be accountable, authentic and helpful. The crisis will end, but the impact on your company’s brand and reputation will be lasting and determined by how you respond. Use the crisis as an opportunity to be exceptional.

Do you have any tips to share?

My reverse bucket list

What’s on your travel bucket list? Volunteering in Africa, teaching English in Prague, eating pasta in Rome? We dream of the next adventure, the next achievement, the next thing… but what about reflecting on the life we have lived?

Here’s my reverse bucket list – my top 10 most unforgettable travel moments in Asia.

1. Watching sunrise over the Ganges in Varanasi, India’s oldest living city, with dolphins diving around our tiny boat and pilgrims descending on the water’s edge to begin their ritual morning dips.

2. Snuggling under a rug at dawn, surrounded by Tibetan monks chanting mantras to celebrate Buddha’s birthday, in Dharamsala.

3. Walking past an Indian slum during monsoon and seeing a mother and daughter leaving their poles-and-plastic home, with a puddle for carpet and mud for a bed, with grins on their faces, laughing together.

4. Sitting on a bus travelling to Ladakh, climbing the last peak to reach the Tibetan Plateau, and suddenly the Himalayan mountains are rising abruptly behind us and a vast desert is stretching out before us.

5. Lazing in the refreshing mint-green pool at Potato Head watching the sunset over Seminyak Beach in Bali.

6. Sitting in the open doorway of an Indian train, with the wind blowing in my face and camels galloping in the distance, crossing the deserts of Rajasthan.

7. Huddling in a sleeping bag around an open fire with a Nepalese family, drinking hot pepper chai, with a blizzard raging outside and Mount Everest in the distance.

8. Singing on a hill-top on Gili Trawangon, with Indonesian men playing guitar, admiring the view of Gili Air and Gili Meno forming stepping stones in an expanse of turquoise sea to the lush coastline of Lombok.

9. Meeting the Dalai Lama at his home in Dharamsala and being awe-struck by the presence of this physically tiny man with a beaming smile and an immense glow, as if lit up from the inside.

10. Dancing in a sari at my future brother-in-law’s wedding, in the remote village of a Himalayan hill tribe, surrounded by the picturesque snow-covered mountains of Nepal, seemingly so close you could reach out and touch them.

Eat, pray, love Bali

I visited Bali last year for the first time in two decades. I travelled with my new partner (at the time) and our four teenagers (one mine, three his). It was wonderful to escape the bleak Melbourne winter in June for 10 days of tropical heat.

Bali has changed in some surprising ways during the last 20 years. One delightful change is how the dogs are treated now. When I was there in 1993, sick mangy dogs were everywhere. Now the Balinese care for them as pets. We’d go for an early walk along Seminyak Beach before the kids woke up and it was reminiscent of Australia, the sand dotted with owners and dogs enjoying a morning walk.

I understand this significant change is due to the hard work of I Love Bali Dogs.

As a typical Melburnian (read: coffee connoisseur) I was pleased to discover you can now get a decent flat white! Last time only Balinese coffee was available – strong, granular, black coffee in a glass. If you asked for milk, you got sweetened condensed milk floating on the top. Now virtually every cafe has a coffee machine and the quality is (gulp) almost as good as Melbourne.

I was also surprised by the absence of Bali belly. You couldn’t drink fruit juice or eat salads outside five-star hotels 20 years ago. Now you can eat fresh food without fear – purified water is used everywhere. The variety of cuisine is amazing. We ate beautiful food every night, but one of the more memorable venues was Biku Restaurant. With its book store, antiques and beautiful cake selection, it seemed more fitting of France than Bali. But the down-side of all this international cuisine? I only found Gado Gado, my favourite traditional Indonesian meal, at one cafe in Seminyak.

The shopping in Seminyak is famous, but clothes that translate into Melbourne attire are limited and expensive. I did buy a cute black-and-white shift dress from Mister Zimi that I wear often with tights and boots. I also bought some high-quality silver jewellery from Kapal-Laut.

We spent a week in Seminyak and three days in Ubud, with a road trip every other day to explore the island. We visited the Bukit Peninsula starting at Ulu Watu – Padang Padang and Balangan Beach are both lovely – and ending with fresh seafood at Jimbaran Bay. We went to Elephant Safari Park Taro (highly recommended) and caught a boat to Nusa Lembongan, spending the day swimming at beautiful Mushroom Bay. Ubud has grown tremendously in 20 years, but has retained its charm and I would have liked to spend more time there.

But the ultimate highlight for all of us? Potato Head Beach Club. It was so good, we went twice. Picture this … lazing in an eternity pool overlooking Seminyak Beach all afternoon, watching the sunset from a pool-side lounge bed while sipping mocktails, then eating dinner at one of three international restaurants. This is the Bali experience of your holiday dreams. Simply perfect.

What’s your theme for 2014?

I love Twitter. I get so many ideas, insights and inspiration from the people I follow. I met @trevoryoung in 2008 and he has since become both a mentor and a friend. Trevor posted his three words for the year, and a theme, over on his PR Warrior blog this week. I’m poaching the idea to share here.

My theme for the year is:


I’m undertaking a postgraduate course this year. It’s a 12-month Diploma in Digital Marketing starting in March. It took seven years to complete my degree and it’s taken me this long – nine years – to consider doing formal study again! I’ve completed short courses over the years, but I’m looking forward to the challenge and commitment of a longer course.

I want to learn through books still waiting to be read, including Trevor Young’s Microdomination. I want to keep practicing photography, guitar and singing. Oh, and learn more about web development, social media and management through experience…

My three words are:


I am a control freak master planner. I’ve had five year plans for as long as I can remember. Then I set one year goals to achieve my master plan. This approach to life has served me well because it’s helped me to achieve stuff. Like a degree. But it hasn’t really allowed for new – and dare I say better? – possibilities. So this year I’m going to attempt to plan less and trust more. Take more risks. Let go a little and see what happens. Although, I must admit, I’ve already booked flights to Italy for later this year. Grande!


Last year had a strong focus on personal development and this theme continues in 2014. It’s my seventh year of sobriety and maintaining emotional sobriety is the next frontier. I do regular meditation now and I want to expand this practice. I hope to continue developing Sun on my Parade and its community of women. I want to keep growing personally, professionally and spiritually.


I want to create more healthy, honest and respectful relationships. I’d like to have better boundaries, with less people-pleasing and fewer expectations. I need to start listening more and talking less. I hope to develop more humility and let go of some pride. I’d like to practice better self-care, get more sleep and exercise regularly. I want to become a better work colleague, manager, mentor and friend.

What are your three words for 2014? 

Reflections on 2013

It’s New Year’s Eve tomorrow and it’s been a huge year! Here are my highlights…

I conquered my fear of public speaking.

I was a keynote presenter at the Social Media Marketing in Tertiary Education Conference in Sydney. It was a tough gig – I was the final speaker on the final day. I was so nervous in the lead-up. But when I got on stage, I actually enjoyed it. I received wonderful feedback about my presentation ‘Managing organisational change in 140 characters’ and now I’m not afraid of public speaking at all.

My son finished school.

Forever. It’s been an epic 13 year journey that started at Hilton Primary School in Fremantle and finished at Caulfield Grammar School in Melbourne. He’ll go to University of  Melbourne in 2014 and I’ll figure out what the hell to do with myself now my child is raised.

My team won an award.

Swinburne achieved the second-highest Facebook engagement in Australia’s education sector (Social Pulse Awards 2013).  We also made the top 10 of largest brand pages. Not bad for a core social media team of two – Chris Wong and me. Chris undertook a 12-month Industry-Based Learning placement as Swinburne’s Social Media Officer in 2013. He is a talented, creative and hard-working digital and social media professional. He will complete his degree in 2014 and I cannot recommend him highly enough. Connect with Chris on Linked In or email chriswongstar@gmail.com.

I conquered my fear of performing music in public.

Overcoming my fear of public speaking inspired this. A community organisation I’m involved with held a talent night and I took the opportunity to conquer another fear. I played guitar and sung ‘Mad World’ by Tears for Fears and ‘Your Ghost’ by Kristin Hersh, on stage, to an audience of about 100 people. I don’t know if I’ll do it again, but it ended up being fun and I felt elated afterwards. Feedback was lovely – in fact one person described my performance as ‘mesmerizing’.

I launched Sun on my Parade.

After several years of wanting to do it, I launched a digital magazine for women celebrating the second half of life. Sun on my Parade is a work-in-progress, but I’m proud of myself for giving it a go. So, this post is also to let you know I’ll be busy building that platform in 2014, so I won’t be blogging as much in Summer’s notebook. I’d love you to join the Sun on my Parade community – we’re @sunonmyparade on Facebook,  Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest, And if you’re inspired, I’d love you to share a story.

Best wishes for a very happy 2014.

6 reasons PR pros are perfect for social media

In 6 PR and social media predictions for 2013 author Sandra Fathi says public relations will win the battle over which corporate discipline “owns” social media. Hear, hear!

Digital and mobile technologies continue to transform the PR practice. The lines separating PR, marketing, branding, advertising, and customer service are blurry indeed in social media. Do PR professionals have the right skills for the brave new social world? Absolutely – and here’s why.

We are experienced storytellers.

Social media requires us to create, curate, and share engaging and relevant stories. Brand journalism, otherwise known as content marketing, is not new to us. PR pros have always told stories using a range of communication styles and media. Many of us are former journalists. We can turn rocks into newsworthy features (true story). Social media is another way to tell and share our stories.

Just as we have practiced our written and digital communications, we need to develop our skills in social and visual content. Videographers, photographers and graphic designers are having their 15 minutes of fame right now. Businesses have become media companies and talented digital storytellers are essential for social success.

We are expert communicators.

While visual storytelling skills are important, writing skills are essential for social media. Conversations happen in words. Several colleagues have told me that writing was not the focus of their marketing degrees. As a journalism student, I lost 50 percent for every error in my news reports. My copy had to be clean. It only took one zero mark to make me a candidate for Grammatical Pedantry Syndrome.

PR pros are experienced writers, editors, and proofreaders. These skills transfer nicely to blog posts, tweets, status updates, and conversations.

We always aim to be relevant.

Social media is about being timely, interesting, and relevant. PR pros are experienced in creating content relevant to a specific audience. Whether we are pitching to a journalist or producing a newsletter for staff members, our audience determines the type of content we share.

Social media provides us with excellent tools to better understand our publics and communicate with our stakeholders. Become part of your social networks and get to know what your customers need and want from you.

We are experienced in relationship building.

Relationships have always been the focus of PR practice. Whether we are building relationships with journalists or stakeholders, we use communications to maintain good relations. Our professional contacts are often developed via phone and email— and now social media—without meeting face-to-face.

Social media is all about relationships. We are experienced in managing relationships with people we have never met, accustomed to finding information fast, and highly skilled in customer service.

We know crisis communications.

PR pros are trained in issues management and crisis communications. These skills are vital in successfully managing a social media crisis. In my experience, the same principles apply. You need to get your company’s voice into the conversation as fast as possible, respond to any questions, correct misinformation, and be as helpful as possible. Our skills in relationship and reputation management are well-suited to handling viral activity.

We have always sought feedback.

Gaining feedback about our company’s profile and reputation was always a challenge. We would run surveys and focus groups to gain insights into stakeholder concerns and public perceptions. Not anymore.

Social media is like an instant focus group. We can ask questions, gain feedback, and have conversations in real-time, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We can draw on social feedback to inform future communications, create positive organisational change, and improve our customer experience.

This post was originally published by PR Daily. Here’s the original post: 6 reasons PR pros should manage social media



Seven reasons why companies should decentralise social media

Is your organisation truly social?

This was one of questions raised at the 2012 International Social Media and PR Summit in Amsterdam. Edelman Digital‘s Marshall Manson presented three models for creating social organisations.

The first was the centralised model we are all familiar with. Social media is managed by a central division and provides the official voice of the organisation in each channel. We like this model because it’s relatively easy to manage. But let’s face it – it’s not very social. Too often social media is seen as a channel for promoting key messages (yawn).

I think the centralised model has become out-dated. As Marshall pointed out, we now live in a world where regular employees and ‘a person like yourself’ have more credibility – and therefore influence – than CEOs. So, let’s empower our regular employees to have a corporate voice.

Marshall presented two decentralised models – and it’s this type of model that really intrigues me. Imagine the central division being surrounded by employees who are building social relationships and online communities. There is two-way flow between central division and these trained brand ambassadors, who are blogging and tweeting and engaging people with the brand in different ways.

Disney uses a decentralised model and Disney Destinations’ social media director Thomas Smith said all Disney’s senior managers blog. One manager is in charge of floral arrangements at Disney. So she blogs about flowers. And guess what? She has built a social community of people who love flowers and now engage with the Disney brand because talking about flowers has made it relevant.

What are the benefits of a decentralised model?

More brand noise

How does one official twitter account compare with 25 brand ambassadors tweeting? Enough said.

More compelling content

With employees blogging regularly about their areas of expertise, your company will produce more diverse, interesting content. Content is still king. With two-way flow between central division and your brand ambassadors, imagine all the fresh, compelling content available for your marketing strategy.

More relevance

A decentralised ‘many voices’ model enables your brand to connect with people who may never have engaged otherwise. Relevance is key in the social world. Disney makes a great case in point.

More savvy employees

Social media training is critical to this model. Dell’s Simone Versteeg said the company has two types of employees – those who are official brand ambassadors and those who are just plain social. Employees choose what they want to be and there are guidelines and training for both.

More speed in a crisis

We no longer have the luxury of time in crisis communications. What happens if the employee responsible for the official account is at lunch when the 140 character news breaks? Your trained brand ambassadors will be monitoring social networks too and can quickly be the voice of your organisation.

More feedback

A recent survey found 70 per cent of social media complaints are ignored. Using a decentralised model enables employees to engage in direct social dialogue with consumers. Why do we want to respond to feedback? To improve the way we do business.

More innovation

Employees may have very creative ideas for social media. Dutch airline KLM, for example, has introduced an opt-in service enabling passengers to select their seat based on shared Facebook profiles. Imagine all the social ideas your employees have right now that you can experiment with.

What are your thoughts about using a decentralised social media model?

This article was originally written for Trevor Young as guest post for his PR Warrior blog. Here’s the original post: Seven reasons why companies should decentralise social media. I recommend you follow @trevoryoung on Twitter because he’s awesome.

Eight ways to create refrigerator journalism

I recently heard a term that has really stuck with me: refrigerator journalism.

It was used by Ragan Communication’s CEO and publisher of PR Daily Mark Ragan at the 2012 International Social Media and PR Summit (SMPR2012) in Amsterdam.

During his opening presentation on brand journalism (aka content marketing) Mark said the Holy Grail is when our content becomes part of people’s daily lives.

If your company is recognised as a respected news source – journalists come to you rather than you chasing them – you’ve made it. @PRDaily is an excellent case in point.

@MarkRaganCEO said our goal as company reporters is to create refrigerator journalism.

What is refrigerator journalism? It is content so engaging you want to make it part of your daily life. You want to share it with your friends. You want to talk about it. You want to take it into your home. It is content so compelling, so relevant and so brief you want to stick it on your fridge.

There were many other useful take-outs from the two-day SMPR2012. Learning about the strategies of global brands like Microsoft, Dell, Edelman and Disney was awe-inspiring. Notes to self: do more planning, more monitoring, more video.

It was reiterated by all presenters that content is still king – in fact, engaging content is more important than ever. So the question I’ll now ask myself each time I publish is simple: Is this content so compelling my readers will want to stick it on the fridge?

So, how do we create refrigerator journalism? Here are my top eight take-outs from SMPR2012:

1. Your new role is Senior Content Creator. Your job description includes content producer, company reporter, conversation starter and community manager.

2. Plan your editorial activities like you run a media company. You own a daily newspaper (blog), magazine (website), TV station (YouTube channel), radio station (podcasts) and a broadcast network (social media).

3. Don’t be afraid to re-package compelling content and cross promote.

4. Great content needs a great headline (hint: readers love lists).

5. Engage your whole company in social media. There are brand ambassadors throughout your organisation who are passionate about their area of expertise. Find them and get them blogging.

6. Social content doesn’t have to be slick – in fact, if it looks too much like an advertisement people won’t share it.

7. If content is king, then listening is queen. But why are we listening? To make changes to the way we do business if necessary.

8. No one is an expert in social media, we are all experimenting. Don’t be afraid to try new things and make mistakes. We are only limited by our imaginations and our creativity.

This article was originally published by the Public Relations Institute of Australia (PRIA). I was the only Australian delegate at this international conference, so I wanted to share my key take-outs with other PR professionals. Here’s the original post on the PRIA blog: Eight ideas for creating refrigerator journalism