Category Archives: Public Relations

The News Cycle Shortens, Ebbs and Flows

How do blogs and social media affect the news cycle? We all know it’s getting shorter, but what are the implications as we develop media outreach strategies and try to balance our attention between high profile blogs and mainstream media outlets?

A recent New York Times article discusses the results of a new Cornell study where researchers analyzed how news spread between blogs and mainstream media during the 2008 presidential election:

The researchers’ data points to an evolving model of news media. While most news flowed from the traditional media to the blogs, the study found that 3.5 percent of story lines originated in the blogs and later made their way to traditional media.

As Twitter becomes an increasingly popular tool for reporters to source news and collect information, we’ll continue to see a shift in the direction news moves. Although we’ve already seen this happen a few times with breaking stories and liveblogging press events, it will be interesting to see how more controlled announcements are affected.

What do you think? Has your company shifted its communications strategy based on the rise of social media?

Graphic: MemeTracker.org

10 Social Media Tasks for Summer Interns

internIt’s that time of year when companies are looking to hire interns to do the menial tasks typically relegated to its entry level employees. When I visit many companies, the interns do little more than flip through magazines (“coverage searches”), cold call media (“pitching”) or conduct multiple Google searches for their clients (“research”).

But what if a communications team actually used its interns to learn more about this social media thing everyone’s talking about? Here are ten ways I might consider putting summer interns to work:

1. Social Media Overviews: Instruct each intern to create a 30 minute presentation on the social media platform of his/her choice that includes an overview, how its used and how your business might participate. There’s a good example here.

2. Competitive Analysis: Ask an intern to build a full social media profile analysis of a competitor or client. This might include what platforms they use, how they participate and some metrics do determine how they are successful. There’s a good example here.

3. Account creation/customization: If college students learn anything during their four to six years of higher learning, it’s how to create a social media profile that will attract attention. Allow them to create and populate some of your executive’s social media accounts. Then, set up some time for the intern to teach the executive about the platform. For example, if it’s a Twitter account, the intern could select a user name, fill in the bio, create a custom background and begin following relevant people in your company’s field. This post from TwitTip has some important considerations for building a business profile on Twitter.(NOTE: The intern should not participate on behalf of the executive, but set up the account and introduce the platform as appropriate).

4. (Social) Media Research: Which social media platforms are your main media contacts using? Are they blogging? Using Twitter? Do they want to be contacted through any of these by your company? This is a long term project, but might be really helpful to some of your colleagues who are apt to “pitch first and ask questions later.”

5. Template creation: If your intern knows Photoshop or another design program, it might be fun to have him/her create customized templates for your firm’s Twitter pages or a logo/avatar for your company’s employees. You can find Twitter background templates here and here are some awesome Twitter backgrounds for inspiration.

6. RSS building: I’ve said before that an RSS feed is one of the most important tools for any communications professional. If you’ve never taken the time to set up an RSS reader to monitor social media activity around your brand, your client or your industry, this is an awesome task for an intern. Once it’s set up, though, you have to use it! Here’s a good place to start.

7. Blog monitoring: There are hundreds of millions of blogs, and probably hundreds that reference your brand or industry. So how do you choose which ones to follow? I’ve written about this before, but perhaps your intern can conduct some research and report back about the most important blogs in your niche.

8. Blogging: As you may have heard, Pizza Hut is hiring a Vice President Twitter intern for the Summer. While I wouldn’t necessarily entrust an intern to develop my company’s social media strategy, I might like them to post about their experiences on my internal or external blog. Not only will it showcase another side to your company, namely that you’re empowering your interns, but it also provides your team with important feedback about the internship. It gives future interns insight into what they can expect as well, which could be good or bad depending on how you treat your interns!

9. Web Analysis: When it comes to e-commerce, usability and design, my guess is that most web savvy college age students have seen their fair share of websites. Invite your intern to provide an in-depth analysis of your corporate site. Is it easy to find your press room? Are their high resolution product shots easily available? How many clicks does it take to make a purchase? These are just some of the factors that consumers are interested in. A fresh set of eyes from your target demographic might be useful.

10. Video: The communications professional of the future will have a very different skill set than many of us have today. They will likely be well versed in most type of online media, have some ability to manipulate images in Photoshop or Illustrator and most likely know how to edit video. If these are skills your company values, then let them start by recording a couple of interviews with executives and editing them together. Even if they’re not perfect, the point of an internship is to learn, and these are already proven skills that will benefit both the intern and the company.

Finally, I’m going to add getting coffee to the list. Yeah, it kind of sucks. But if they’re already doing even one of the above tasks, is it really too much to ask for a good cup of coffee as well? It’s just part of paying your dues.

So what types of tasks do your summer interns perform? Would you trust them with your social media research or activity?

Photo credit: adpowers

ANALYSIS: The Skittles Social Media Experiment

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I like Skittles. When I’m at an airport or a gas station, Skittles is ALWAYS my second choice if I can’t find a pack of Starburst (another Mars Company product, apparently). So of course I was interested in the brouhaha that erupted after Skittles replaced their website with a little widget linking visitors to several social media platforms. If you want to learn more about how it works, you can read this post from Russ Adams .

HISTORY OF THE SKITTLES WEBSITE

The Skittles website over the last couple of years has not evolved much, so while this is a wild departure from its past efforts, it didn’t have much to lose.

The site primarily relied on Flash from almost the beginning, so it never had great Search Engine Optimization (SEO). As you can see, the site was geared towards a younger audience and it looks like the brand tried hard to not only look cool, but to appeal to a younger demographic.

The new site (or interactive engagement) is resonating right now with an older demographic more interested in the tech than the candy.

ADVANTAGES

It’s different. I like that Skittles (through their vendor Agency.com) took a huge chance entrusting the brand to the community.  The "community," in this case, is not just the people who  like the candy, but the people that are most active on these sites. Initially we’re going to see a lot of negative comments as people test whether Skittles will maintain this  model .

First Mover. Here’s the new case study you’re going to see at every social media related event in 2009. Consultants, brands and their agencies are going to watch this experiment closely to see how the community reacts. If it’s embraced, there will be many companies that try and replicate their success. Just look at brands that were among the first to establish a Second Life presence, build a Twitter presence or find success on YouTube. Skittles will get a lot of additional juice out of this simply by being the first to try it.

CHALLENGES

Modernista was the first company to experiment with using a social media platform to tell the brand story. But at the time, there were many that criticized them for using a social platform for brand advertising and marketing purposes. Many critics (and there were many) argued that the agency was hijacking a social space and using it for ways other than they were intended. I expect we’ll see the same arguments made for Skittles experiment.

As I said at the beginning, the only time I think about Skittles is when I’m at a gas station or the airport. I don’t think about them when I’m sitting in front of my computer or on my phone. Ultimately, this may prove to be their undoing.

PR and Marketing can get along. While the Skittles social media website is likely the work of the marketing team, the resulting conversation and response should be driven by the communications team. I haven’t found any Skittles reps commenting yet, but I hope they seize this opportunity to talk openly with a new community. If representatives only talk to the media, then Skittles doesn’t really understand what they’ve done.

WHAT YOU CAN LEARN

As a communicator or marketer, there are some lessons you should take away from this:

Learn as much as you can about social media platforms, then do something with them that’s radically different. The 40th company to join Twitter is not as memorable as the first, second or third. And the companies that are lauded have found unique ways to enhance their customer’s experiences on these sites.

There is a distinct difference between marketing on a social site and communicating on it. Understand that when you do anything with social media, there will be people that react strongly in favor and against your participation. Some people just don’t like the idea of brands trying to market or advertise to them on social platforms.

When your brand experiments with social media and the community reacts strongly, learn and adjust. Don’t recoil. Relationship building takes time.

CONCLUSION

This is only the Skittles website,  not the corporate website of its parent Mars&Co. Brands that wish to emulate the Skittles model should remember the distinction and understand why this won’t work for everyone.

This is version 1.0.  I think it will be interesting to watch what other consumer packaged goods companies like beverage companies do to "one-up" their competition. Currently most companies appealing to the same demographic leverage Facebook fan pages, quirky YouTube videos they hope will go viral and meat smelling perfumes. There’s a lot of room to disrupt this space. It’s going to be exciting for us to watch.

For more interesting conversations on the Skittles experiment, check out this post on Mashable and this one from Pistachio Consulting .

For a more contrarian view, read this one from B.L. Ochman and this one from Adrian Chan .

YOUR TURN

So what do you think? Do you like what Skittles did here or do you think it was a stunt that will ultimately fail?

Twitter Case Study: Motrin Moms

This weekend, there was a bit of excitement on Twitter as outraged moms around the world responded to this advertisement by Motrin:

The tone of the ad is conspiratorial. It’s supposed to be a mom talking directly to other moms who can identify with the the pain caused by carrying around her baby in various types of slings attached to her body.

I have not carried around a baby so I have no idea whether or not it hurts. But so far, I’m convinced by the ad. I mean, an extra 7-15 pounds (is that what babies weigh?) attached to my hips, my front, my back…I would imagine that would hurt after a while, no matter how ingenious the contraption.

Apparently, I’m wrong. And that, my friends, is where the value of market research comes in. And if you don’t do the research, that’s where the true value of social media comes in.

Apparently, there are many moms who have carried around multiple children on their back, their hips, their front. They were not in pain. In fact, quite the opposite. They are not happy with the Motrin ad campaign, and they want you to know about it.

Over the weekend moms on Twitter united in voicing their displeasure with the Motrin ad . They used "#motrinmoms" as the tag for the threaded conversation, making it easy for people to follow.

In less than 24 hours, this video was created as a response to the ad that intersperses the Twitter conversation with images of moms carrying their children in many of the states mentioned in the ad. It’s pretty powerful:

Also, you can see that the story was picked up by mainstream media as well and will likely appear in print tomorrow or the day after.

Motrin’s website was crashed by the traffic, and has yet to recover. Not good.

What’s surprising to most people is not that there was outrage over an ad that didn’t resonate with its target audience so much as the lack of response from Motrin (or its parent company — Johnson & Johnson). Either they are not monitoring some of the most important conversation channels for their target audience (mommy bloggers) like Twitter, Facebook and the blogosphere, or they have not empowered their advertising, public relations or communications teams to respond immediately.

This is far from played out. There are probably some who will argue this is being blown out of proportion. In some ways, I might agree. But let’s look at some initial lessons:

LISTEN : People are talking about companies and brands every day on a variety of platforms. It is the responsibility of the marketing and communications team to monitor these conversations, whether or not they choose to participate. While its not possible to follow everything, even the most simple tools (RSS, Google Alerts) will catch things like this.

BE TRANSPARENT : When you make a mistake, apologize to the community and learn from it. This is an opportunity for Motrin to better understand its audience and to begin a conversation that probably should have started long ago.

There are many more, and I’m sure we’ll all learn from how Motrin handles this in the coming days.

Further reading: Mommy Bloggers Assimilate Johnson & Johnson , Forbes , Pistachio

The Ultimate Guide to Twitter for Communicators

ultimateguide.jpg Today I’m leading a webinar for the IABC on Twitter for Business . As part of that process, I created a handout for participants with some of the most useful Twitter resources I’ve discovered in the last few months.

I’m going to share an expanded version with you. I’ve included a some great introductory videos, my favorite applications for brand mention monitoring, participating and graphing data. There are also links to some blog posts and mainstream articles discussing corporate adoptions of Twitter.

Here’s a list of the categories:

  • Videos
  • Getting Started
  • Desktop Tools for Updating Twitter
  • Create Your Own Twitter Background
  • Applications
  • 90+ URL Shortening Services (via Mashable)
  • Listening/Finding Conversations
  • Twitter Directories
  • Tutorials
  • Twitter on other social networking sites
  • Other Microblogging Platforms
  • Case Studies
  • Journalists on Twitter
  • Following Conversation Threads
  • Statistics
  • Recent Articles/Posts Worth Reading

Ultimate guide to Twitter for Communicators

If you have any feedback on these links, please share them in the comments. And any links to examples of companies using micro-blogging in an innovative way are certainly encouraged.

An Introduction to Search Engine Optimization for Corporate Blogs

Photo credit: elblogdeffuentes

Photo credit: elblogdeffuentes on Flickr

If you’re not yet thinking about Search Engine Optimization (SEO) when you’re writing your blog posts, then you’re missing a simple way to help promote your content in search engine results.

It’s something I didn’t give a lot of thought to until recently, and I can see it makes a difference.

The use of SEO often falls to the marketing and web teams, who, among other tactics, buy Google AdWords to boost the visibility of a company’s website when users search for certain related keywords. I’m simplifying here, but stay with me.

A whole industry has developed around the use of SEO for advertising and marketing, and much of this is now employed in the blogosphere as well. Since PR wasn’t part of this process in the past, it’s not necessarily something we think about when we launch a blog, but it should be a priority.

A Few Quick Tips

If you’re going to invest the time to create great content, you should make sure people can find it as well. Blogs with dynamic content are indexed by search engine bots much more frequently than static webpages, and these bots are looking for certain clues in your posts to tell them what’s important on the page.

Here are a few quick ways to boost your blog’s page rank in search results:

  • Hyperlink to relevant text: “This post is about SEO for corporate blogs.” The way many search engines work is that as they index a blog, they give more weight to the words that are linked via hypertext. So let’s say I wanted to link the previous sentence to another popular blog about SEO, which words should I choose to hyperlink? Either “SEO” or “corporate blogs” would be good choices since that’s what this post is about, but words like “post” or “about” would not add much value. The best advice is to make sure you’re linking to the meat of the content (a blogger’s name, the title of another blog post, etc.) and not the more generic words in the sentence.
  • Link to other blogs in your industry/niche: if you want to raise your blog’s profile in your niche, then make sure that you’re linking to conversations on other blogs in your industry. Search engines look for related content, which is why it’s important that your blog posts stay on topic and focus on one subject as much as possible. If you’re talking about your weekend plans in one post, the economy in another and your company’s product in another, it will take a lot longer to build up your ranking in one area. This will also help keep your blog focused on one topic.
  • Link to more popular blogs: The more you can link to posts from blogs with more traffic than you, the more likely you are to receive traffic from that blog. Also, search engines will count this as an endoresement and boost your ranking as a result. Remember, you need to link to more popular blogs in your niche to achieve these results.
  • Make your headline count: Search engines give extra weight to the titles of each post. The logic here is that if you are emphasizing those words visually for your visitors, then those words are probably key to your site’s content, too.

Tools

I’ve found these tools useful for determining how to structure posts using SEO:

  • Google Keyword Tool: make sure to click on the “website content” button on the left side, then search your own blog or that of your competitor to get a sense of keywords based on the content of the webpage/blog. You can use this to then make sure you integrate the right words in your post to return improved results.
  • Google Insights: this is my favorite new tool because the options are just limitless. Play around and find out interesting information about your niche, including where searches for certain words originate, historical statistical data or even keywords within your own industry. Google has a useful tutorial to get you started.

SEO Blogs

The two that I’ve learned the most from are Search Engine Land and SEO Chat, the latter of which is more of an aggregator of SEO conversations where I’ve found a tremendous amount of useful information lately. In the PR/Marketing space, I recommend reading Lee Odden, who posted a bunch of SEO case studies last month.

Free SEO Webinar and Podcast

This podcast posted by Eric Schwartzman from On the Record Online features an interview with Russell Wright, where he offers some quick tips on SEO. If you have an hour, it’s worth the listen. Otherwise, you can skip to the parts that you’re most interested in via the notes Eric provides.

Finally, Nathan Gillatt points to an upcoming free webinar hosted by Visible Technologies titled, “Is Your Search Engine Reputation Helping or Hurting Your Brand? Why Online Reputation Management is Critical for Brands and Individuals.” The webinar is on September 30. I don’t know anything about the presenters, but the topic sounds like it’s on target.

If you have more questions about how to optimize your blog using any of the above SEO techniques, please include them in the comments. And if you have any other resources you’ve found useful, please share those as well!

PRSA T3 Conference Wrap-up

Yesterday I sat on a panel at the PRSA T3 Conference with my buddies Paull Young from Converseon and David Bradfield from Fleishman-Hillard. Our session was called, “Tech PR & Social Media: New Skills & Opportunities for PR Pros.” There was quite a back channel of conversation on Twitter.

What made our session stand out, in my opinion, was the use of actual case studies (B2B, B2C, etc.) that actually illustrated how our clients are using social media platforms. Too often, you see the same four or five case studies (Dell, Blendtec, Boeing, Wal-Mart, etc.) so it was refereshing to talk about something else.

At the end of our session we forgot to direct attendees to the list of Delicious links we created, so check it out. There’s even an RSS feed OPML file you can download there to get you started if you don’t currently use one that features links to the blogs from most of the speakers.

I was most looking forward to Brian Solis’ session “Return on Participation: Measuring Social Media Strategies in Tech PR.” It was a bit discouraging, in that Brian’s main recommendations seemed to require heavy manual search, web analytic software on your own website/blog, the implementation of widgets and of course,  checking your Facebook/Twitter numbers. These are all absolutely important, but also already adopted by many social media practitioners.  I hoped to hear more about how to actually develop the strategy with measurement in mind.

I was running late, and I forgot to bring my camera, which means I have no pictures to put up on Flickr or to include in this post. Also, I recently bought a larger memory card so I could use my camera to capture video as well, and it would have been really useful to be able to interview a couple of the people I met there. Stupid!

Anyway, I’ve said it before, but conferences are an important way to build meaningful relationships offline with the people you interact with online for the majority of the time. If anyone reading this attended the conference as well, please share your impressions or any key takeaways with us!

The Corporate Blog – 10 Community Building Tips

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You can continue your social media education without leaving your desk (or cube, or office, or favorite coffee shop).

On September 17, I’ll be leading an IABC webinar titled “The Corporate Blog: Ten Community Building Tips.”

I recently recorded a podcast with Neville Hobson to share a bit about what participants can expect to learn.

If you were to listen in, what types of questions about corporate blogging would you like to have answered? Share your thoughts below and I’ll try and incorporate as many of the comments as possible!

How to Measure Social Media ROI for Business

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My post on Mashable today is about measuring social media ROI for business. This was a difficult post to write for several reasons.

First, I know there are a lot of smart people already talking about this and I wanted to make sure I added to the conversation. It’s hard to do that when there hasn’t been a ton of progress or much movement in the last 12 months. In the research I conducted, I found the same themes in blogs tackling the subject today as I found in those from a year ago.

Second, there’s still no answer. It depends on the tactic, the audience, the objectives, the measurement tools and the department (i.e. PR or Marketing) conducting said measurement. That’s just one of the reasons I feel in large organizations, social media fall under the guidance of the PR team. I’ll address that in another post.

Finally, communicators or experts in this space need to come up with a set of measurement guidelines for the value of a conversation. In the absence of any proposed guidelines for social media measurement, we’ll see the regurgitation of the same points time and again. For example, PR firms generally agree that the value of an article placed in a newspaper is three times that of the value of an advertisement in the same paper of roughly the same size. I’m sure there’s some sort of study out there that supports it, but it seems pretty arbitrary as a rule of thumb. But it’s something.

So here’s my question: who should be tasked with developing standards for social media measurement? What organizations are already working on it? How do you measure social media success for your company?

3 Up and Coming PR Bloggers You Should Read

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My buddy Josh Dilworth, who works for Porter-Novelli on all things social media, added me to a list of new bloggers worth reading. I really appreciate the consideration, and I figured I’d spread the love by adding a couple of bloggers I’m paying attention to these days that you might be interested in following as well (in addition to Josh, who always shares links to stories days before others are talking about them).

Since my interest lies at the intersection between communications and social media, I thought I’d focus on blogs in that space as well:

  • Adam Metz over at MetzMash is a young PR specialist who produces exciting content about social media and public relations topics, as this recent post illustrates. What I like about his writing is that it’s direct, it’s challenging and it’s passionate.  This is a new blog that I only stumbled upon recently, but I’ve enjoyed it, including Adam’s willingness to take a contrarian view on popular topics and help us to think about them differently.
  • My former colleague and dear friend, Georg Kolb, recently launched a blog titled Corporate Communications Compass. However, this is a blog in appearance only. Georg is one of the smartest PR practitioners that I’ve ever encountered and his posts address overarching changes and challenges facing our industry. The content is extremely rich and well researched, making this essential reading for anyone interested in the future of communications. Georg recently relocated to Europe, so it will be interesting to see if and how this affects his writing.
  • Ed Lee’s blog is called Blogging Me Blogging You. I’ve always been impressed with the caliber of his writing as well as his ability to summarize and produce content at an analytical level beyond his years in the industry. Although we started in PR around the same time, Ed’s blog is a source of inspiration as to the type of thinking we need to support from young PR people to prepare our companies for the next phase of social media communications.

So what about you? Are there any up and coming young bloggers (young in terms of time blogging, not age) that you recommend reading?

If so, please share them in the comments or on your own blog and link back to this post.

Photo credit: john_a_ward on Flickr

Alltop Adds Category for PR Blogs

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The blogosphere by its nature is unstructured, messy and disjointed. This often makes it difficult for newcomers to find blogs that reflect their interests. Of course you could do a Google Search for “PR blogs” or try the same search on Technorati or Ice Rocket.

But there’s a much simpler way thanks to Guy Kawasaki and Alltop. Alltop doesn’t require you to test a bunch of keywords to find the most relevant results. Instead, it employs a social algorithm to identify the top blogs divided by category.

And recently, they added a category for PR blogs.

I’m not included yet, but hopefully I can crack that nut in the next 12 months with your help.

(Hat tip to my buddy Josh for the head’s up on this.)