Monday, February 22, 2010

Want vs. Need

In case some of you have been living in a cave for the past four days, I'm here to fill you in on what's been going on.  Let's see, it snowed in Denver all weekend, USA beat Canada in Hockey, oh, and Tiger woods apologized to the world.

My last entry took a look at his apology and dissected what he did right and what he could be criticized for during the admittedly emotionless prepared speech.  Immediately following the speech, the internet, talk shows, television analysts exploded with their take on the press conference, what he said, how he said and why it mattered.

One of the most prominent complaints or criticisms I heard on Friday, and into the weekend, was that the entire rigamarole was a huge waste of time.  Reporters, producers, editors, photographers, all news veterans lamented that the press conference was broadcast live on network and cable stations, live on the radio, streamed live on the internet.  "Why was this 'news'?" they cried.  This cry was echoed by many in the general public who missed a chance to see Drew Carey be accosted by an 80 year old woman because of the apology.

Millions complained, millions watched:

I had my own theories as to why news networks devoted so much time to Tiger's conference.  I chatted with some friends of mine still working in newsrooms and got their take.  Many agreed that while it wasn't an earth-shattering or life-changing event, it still presented news value to their audience.  Simply put, they felt it was something that held interest for the viewing, listening and reading public.

I was curious, so I asked for the viewing numbers from the press conference.  According to Monday's rating numbers, as provided to me by a local television station, the televised press conference received a rating of 13.6.  This equals approximately 210,000 households viewing the event (note - this is out of an estimated 1.54 million potential viewing households in the Denver market). 

Put another way, this is a larger group of viewers on average than watches the late night, 10pm news broadcast on the leading station.  A 13-share is pretty darn good for any time slot on just about any day.  Salespeople can make a lot of money selling advertising for a show that continuously gets a 13 share.

Also keep in mind that this number does NOT include cable viewers in Denver at the time, which was estimated at about 60-percent during the press conference.  This means it's likely that 210-thousand number could jump considerably when those viewers are included.  It's not unrealistic to imagine that the number could double.  This means it's likely that nearly one third of the potential household viewers could have been watching Tiger read his statement on live television.

But does this answer the question as to "why" it constituted news?  No, not really.  Remember, I've gone over the general characteristics of what defines news.  Proximity, timeliness, impact, relevance and wow factor.  I'm not going to go through each characteristic and apply it to Tiger's apology.  But I am going to look at this from the point of view of want vs. need.

A cautionary tale:

When I was producing talk radio, I worked with a talk show host, Erin Hart, who was solid, but sometimes had a hard time grasping the difference between what her viewers needed to hear and what the viewers wanted to hear.  I remember one day when she was adamant that we spend the day talking about the mass starvation and genocides taking place in Africa.  At the same time, there were had been a recent police shooting, a news report about the failing DPS system and, of course, her favorite target, conservative Colorado Governor Bill Owens was still in office.

I insisted that any of those three topics would generate more interest, more conversation, it was talk radio after all.  No, she just KNEW that people would care if she could just tell them what was going on half a world away.  She was determined to MAKE them care.

We spent three hours with one phone call and received a stern lecture from our program director at the time.

Certainly news carries an aspect of information you need to know.  For instance, you need to know if the car you're driving will stop when you apply the brakes.  You need to know if there's a toxic dump in your neighborhood.  You need to know if there is a dangerous person prowling around your area.

But in reality, these are stories that are covered in a very quick, basic reporting style.  Just the facts, ma'am, and then you're informed.  But news covers a lot more than just those types of stories.  They cover stories of interest, stories of the odd and unusual and stories that the viewers, readers and listeners will find interesting.

These are stories of want, not necessarily need.  Tiger's story was a story of want, that much is clear.  Network executives believed that there was enough interest in Tiger's first public statement since the incident that they pre-empted regularly scheduled programming to carry it.  But I believe the decision went far beyond just the wow factor element of the story.

I believe they looked at this through the same prism they use when making decisions about news programming in general.  There was interest in the story, first, because it was Tiger.  He's a celebrity, a major celebrity.  But more than that, there was timeliness and relevance and, in some cases, impact.

Many, many Americans struggle with marriage infidelities.  To see a person like Tiger go through the same issues, it makes him seem more human, more relatable.  This adds relevance to the story.  There is timeliness, obviously, because it was happening right then.  Then there's the impact.  There is an economic factor to take into consideration.

According to AP, trading on the stock market took a huge dip during the apology.  Then, right afterwards, it ticked up again.  Sponsors who depend on Tiger's endorsements are struggling to figure out what to do with him and his now tarnished image, while others have already dropped him.

You see, this story mattered.  Sure it was one man and it didn't involve any heinous crime.  But it still mattered to millions of Americans.  In this instance, the people determined what was news, not the networks.

There's a reason why shows like American idol gets so many headlines.  It can turn a song like "Pants on the Ground" into an overnight hit because people watch it, and people talk about it.  Because of this, your local news and the networks will devote time in their coverage to shows like Idol.  It will bring in viewers and that's important to stations struggling with budgets.

What this means for you:

Let's face it.  If news covered only the important, need to know only, stories that many define as news, would you watch?  Maybe you would, but many, many others would not.  This isn't the age of Edward R. Murrow anymore.  It's the age of the internet and news takes on a lot of different faces today.

As a small business or non-profit, you have to weigh this want vs. need issue when deciding on what to pitch to a news organization.  Sure, your event may be for a good cause, and it is worthy of news coverage because people SHOULD know about your efforts.  But is it something that the public is really interested in?

You have to look beyond just the "what people should know" aspect and find something in your story that will really interest people.  You can do this by listening to what people are talking about in grocery store lines, listen to talk radio, read the papers and watch the local news.  Look up the most popular Twitter subjects, check in with some pop culture blogs and see what is being talked about.  In order to successfully catch the attention of the public, you have to know what they're talking about and what they're interested in.

Because in the end, news is rarely about what the public needs to know, it's almost always about what people want to know.  Call it "infotainment" if you want, but it's the world we live in and it's not going to change.  If anything, the advent of the internet makes it easier for people to bypass what they see as dry and boring news and go directly to the sites that feed their desire for something interesting.

This is what you're competing with and if you pitch only stories that feed the need and ignore the want, you're going to struggle to raise the profile of your organization.

Friday, February 19, 2010

There's no crying in golf!

It's 9:31 am, Friday morning, February 19, 2010.  Tiger Woods finished his nationally televised apology about ten minutes ago and now the talking heads and pundits are clamoring all over themselves to judge his words, actions and decisions in the wake of, what appears to be, the biggest sports story of the day.  Click the link above for a full transcript of Tiger's apology, courtesy of KCAL news in Los Angeles.

I'm not here to judge Tiger.  Nor am I here to judge his apology.  To paraphrase a great writer,  I come not to bury Tiger, nor to praise him.

Instead, I come to analyze.  Small business owners and non-profits should have watched the Tiger press conference.  If you didn't see it, you missed public relations magic in the happening, along with a ton of other behind-the-scenes activities that made today's apology even more fascinating than it already was.

Before I go further, I have to offer up a disclaimer or two.  First, I am a Tiger fan.  A big Tiger fan.  He is a compelling athletic figure, and the best golfer in the world we have seen in over a generation.  I also never felt he owed anyone besides his family an apology, public or otherwise.  He didn't break any laws, he didn't cheat the game, or its fans, to quote several pundits online.

But as pressure mounted from fans, the media and, particularly, his sponsors, he and his handlers from the IMG agency apparently felt the time had come to publicly grovel and ask forgiveness.  And again, I'm not here to judge the apology, just to analyze it from a public relations perspective, and hopefully take lessons from this circus that you can use should you ever find yourself in a situation where you have to make a public apology.

And don't think this could never happen to you.  Small businesses and non-profits are in the arena of public trust.  If you lose the trust of the public, for any reason, your organization will fail.  It's that simple (unless you're a bank, then the government will prop you up, but that's another issue).

Tiger is a polarizing figure.  Many love him, or at least loved him, before this scandal broke.  Many hate him, for his arrogance, for his immaturity, for his game.  Unlike the McGuire apology, who's apology was also handled by IMG handlers, Tiger will have a chance to put this all behind him by being a stellar performer again on the links.

But what about the apology itself?  Minutes after the apology, online writers and journalists were hammering Tiger for being too stiff, for being too unemotional, for being too rehearsed.  Tiger didn't break down, he didn't cry, which has become so expected at many athletes' apologies.  For just over ten minutes, Tiger stood before the cameras and a select group of reporters, and read from a prepared statement.

That's not to say he didn't show ANY emotion at all.  He seemed genuinely angered when he addressed the media's treatment of his wife and child, and when addressing what he calls false allegations his wife ever hit him or that he ever took performance enhancing drugs.

This anger dump, seemed to rub many in the media the wrong way, noting that it wasn't the right time to go after the scribes.  I ask, though, if not then, when?  Sometimes you have to attack a situation, even in a public relations and crisis communications setting.  Had he gone overboard and made personal attacks or truly lost his cool, then I might agree.  Listen, as a former journalist, I nearly always come down on the side of the media.  In this case, however, Tiger had to address these issues and allegations, and showing a little anger is only human, and it's something I think many in the general public can, and will, relate to.

The body of his speech was pure crisis communications 101.  

Admit - He addressed the problem.  He admitted he had a problem.  He pointed to himself, his immaturity, his flaws, his drifting away from his Buddhist teachings, his own poor decisions.  He didn't throw his wife under the bus.  In fact he defended her in glowing terms.  He made it clear that the only issue involved his infidelity, that he felt he was above the rules of marriage and that he was wrong...period.  He did a good job of bringing himself down to earth and appeared humbled, something which, I'm sure, greatly pleased many.

Apologize - He apologized.  He said "I'm sorry," several times, and directed his apology specifically to several groups, from his fans, to his family, to his sponsors, and to families and children who viewed him as a role model.

Correct - He followed that up by saying he has already undergone treatment, sex therapy treatment, and would undergo more treatment to ensure this never happened again.  He spoke of his Buddhist teachings and admitted he had drifted away from those teachings.  He added that a big part of his recovery will involve that spiritual element.

In words and structure alone, Tiger hit a home run in terms of classic crisis communications.  He requested privacy for his family, and even addressed the lack of public appearances or answers by saying the issues facing him and his family were private.  Again, this is something I think most in the general public will understand.  Another check in the positive box for Tiger.

Emotion Motion:

But, what about the lack of emotion?  Is it necessary in 2010 to be overly emotional when making a public apology?  Everyone's doing it.  Politicians, athletes, high school students, convicted criminals, Bank CEO's, everyone.  So maybe we were just shocked that Tiger didn't break down, or trickle a tear down his cheek.

Personally, I didn't mind that he didn't cry, or almost cry, or choke up even a little bit.  As I said earlier, Tiger appeared humble.  He seemed human.  People watching his apology could relate, even if just for a moment, to Tiger in a way they never could before.  We didn't need tears to make him seem cuddly or a more tragic figure.  And here's a thought; in today's cynical world, sometimes the tears come across as fake or as a person simply wanting pity, not real forgiveness.

As a small business owner or non-profit director, keep this in mind.  People, by and large, WANT to believe, they want to forgive.  The really only unforgiveable thing is lying.  Tiger hadn't lied up to this point, and so his apology didnt' have address a false statement or anything else other than this personal indescretions.  If you ever find yourself in a crisis, the one thing you have to do, the most important thing you'll ever do, is don't lie.  If your charity misplaced a million dollars, if your business caused an e-coli outbreak, people will forgive you if you own up to it immediately.  Try to lie your way out of it, or cover it up, the public will never forget or forgive.

Also, don't point fingers.  Don't try to blame someone else for the problem.  Don't try to say, "the devil made me do it."  Accept the blame, take your punishment, don't try to bring others down with you.

Media Backlash:

One of the fascinating aspects of today's apology involves the media reaction to Tiger's apology.  Tiger and the media have had a love-hate relationship for his entire career.  Tiger has maintained a private existence, something which often upsets the golf writers.  He has had an antagonistic relationship for years with reporters, answering questions in short, often edgy tones.  Let's be clear, the media is not Tiger's friend here.

And the media won't be your friend if you ever find yourself in a similar situation.  But Tiger seemed to aggravate the already shaky relationship by limiting the number of journalists allowed into the room, and then by refusing to answer questions.  These actions led to the Golf Writers Association of America to boycott the press conference.  A stupid move in my opinion and one that reeked of a spoiled child taking its toys and going home.  In fact, if anyone was crying today, it was the media, who has reacted in a way so childish, it makes me embarrassed for them.

I think the refusal to answer questions particularly riled the media, and I think that's why, in this case, while I believe the general public will warmly receive Tiger's apology, the media will be more skeptical and judge him more harshly.

Know this; the media feels it's an important aspect to all big stories.  They need to be able to ask questions.  Without questions, a red flag raises in the heads of journalists and we wonder what the person apologizing is trying to hide.  In Tiger's case, he's a big enough celebrity to get away with this kind of move.  You, however cannot.

If you ever find yourself in a situation where you're making a public apology, you absolutely have to answer questions from the media.  If you don't, it looks bad.  It looks like you're afraid of something.  Worse, it looks like you're trying to hide something.

Tiger isn't stupid.  He knows there will still be people out there who will never forgive him for his actions and infidelities.  But listening to his apology, it didn't sound like he was begging for the world to love him, it sounded like he was asking forgiveness from those that mean the most to him, his family, his fans and his sponsors.  And you have to understand that if you find yourself in a crisis situation, you will never please all the people all the time.  There will be those out there who will never forgive.  Don't try to appease the entire world, just those that matter most to you, your customers, shareholders, stakeholders, family, friends, etc.

Most importantly, you will have to work much more closely with the media than Tiger did today.  You will need their help to cast you in a positive light.  This means answering questions, and, more importantly, if the situation warrants it, allowing one-on-one interviews with reporters.  Because you don't carry the same cache that Tiger carries, your road back will be a longer one, but one that can be less bumpy if you grant some personal interviews to repeat your apology and allow yourself to be seen as a human being, a flawed human being, that is trying to make things right.

If it makes you feel any better, even Tiger will likely have to grant a personal interview at some point to ressurect his reputation as a role model, at least among one demographic.  Women aged 28 to 50 were among the most vocal and most angered by Tiger's actions.  Even after today's apology, he likely still has some major salvage work to do with that demo.  And, because he's Tiger, he'll target the one person who has the most pull with that group of Americans; Oprah.  Don't be surprised if he pops up on her show in the next month or so, probably right before his return to competition.

Sadly, you probably won't get the opportunity to go on Oprah to restore your credibility, but you don't have to.  Be sincere in your apology, don't point fingers, admit what you did, set a clear course as to how you're going to fix the problem, and play nice with the media, and you'll find forgiveness will be forthcoming, from most people anyway.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

'Net PR

There's been a lot of talk about the ever-changing world of mass media and, in turn, public relations in reaction to those changes.  Certainly, the internet has forced media entities to change the way they gather and disseminate information.  Just take a look at the Q n A entry with Marc Sternfield of FOX News, Denver, and you'll see how social media and the internet in general has forced television news to expand their efforts, even as their budgets are being slashed and burned.

From a small business and non-profit standpoint all this change can be confusing.  Worse, it can lead to a feeling of instability.  This might lead many of you to think that it's just better to wait until things stabilize to put your efforts into social media and public relations efforts.  I'm here to tell you that this is a bad idea.

Consider this:

1.  While the technology changes, the people remain relatively static.  In other words.  New platforms come and go, but the individuals working in newsrooms will still be there.  The faces may change, but their responsibilities and goals of a newsroom don't.  They still look for news of the day.  They still look for interesting and useful content.  They still focus on the audience desires as their primary job.  The changing technology simply represents tools, it doesn't change the whole paradigm of news.  This means your pitch will still be effective as long as you hit the key buttons of location, timeliness, impact, relevance and wow factor. 

2.  The changes will never stop coming.  If you're waiting for a more "stable" time to start your outreach campaign, you'll be waiting a long, long time.  Even before the internet, major changes impacted the news.  At one point, newspapers were the major delivery system.  Then came radio, then television, and now the internet.  Trust me, something else will come down the pike, likely sooner rather than later, that will turn the industry on its head again.

I do understand the confusion.  People in news and pr also have a hard time keeping up with all the changes and dealing with smaller and smaller budgets.  This is why it's so important to focus on the basics of telling your story, crafting your message, using the pr basics and, importantly, building relationships.

If you continue to work the basics, the technology won't make or break your pitch.  With all of that said, there ARE some advantages to the changing technology that you can use to help expand the reach of your pr and social media efforts.  Remember, you're not changing your basic pitch (at least no more than you would to tailor it for various "traditional" media outlets), you're simply taking your solid pitch and being more creative about where you pitch.

Going where no pitch has gone before:

When we talk about public relations, too many of us focus only on the traditional mass media we've all grown up with.  Everything else, in some circles, constitutes social media.  Sadly, in my opinion, this is a prominent way of thinking right now, and it does a disservice to not only small businesses and non-profits, but to the myriad of excellent sites that gather and report news.

When you are considering pitching your story or organization, you obviously send it to local papers and radio and tv stations.  You might even target a few magazines and some neighborhood publications.  But what about blogs?  E-zines?  Podcasts or Vlogs?  Chances are you probably haven't considered those as viable media outlets.  You should.

On any given day, the most watched news broadcast in Denver reaches between 80 and 100-thousand viewers; and that's being a little generous.  There are blogs right now that are averaging more than that a day.  Vodkapundit, a political blog, reaches nearly that many on a regular basis.  On the best day, the most a local Denver news station can hope to reach is a few million.  Of course, that's based solely on resident statistics for the Denver-metro area, and they will never, ever, ever reach that many at once. 

Online sources, however, can reach many times that by virtue of its global reach.  Online, you have access to billions of potential viewers, listeners and readers. 

Obviously, blogs, ezines, podcasts and vlogs fall into the social media category, but why not approach them as you would other traditional news outlets?  Think what you will about bloggers, but many of them are very passionate about what they write about.  Most of them understand that they have to be accurate and straightforward in their reporting or they will be called out on it almost immediately. 

As the internet and social media environment has become more powerful and sophisticated, online news resources have become, in many ways, a lot like the more traditional outlets they have maligned for so long.  They have an audience they have to feed.  They have to check their facts, they have to make sure they are accurate, they have to continuously search for interesting and useful content.

The biggest difference is a lack of editorial oversight, but many sites do a pretty good job of policing themselves.  There is still the element of opinion and editorializing on blogs and other internet sources.  But more and more, facts and actual news ends up being reported to go along with the opinions. 

On the side of my blog you'll see a list of blogs I follow regularly.  Take a look at Mashable.com.  It's a wonderful site.  It reports on the latest social media and technological changes and updates.  It mixes in some thoughtful insight and opinion and challenges readers to form their own opinion and respond.

The right platform:

If I had a new social media platform, you know I'd be sending a release to the creators of that site.  I'd also be on podcasts that focus on technology.  With a few well-placed releases, I could end up being covered in an ezine, being interviewed for a podcast or vlog and have my product discussed on a site like Mashable.  Those three hits alone will garner me two to three times more attention and coverage than a couple of major hits in more traditional media outlets.

Go ahead, google "Podcast networks" and you'll find there are networks out there talking about everything under the sun.  The same goes for ezines and blogs.  The point is, you shouldn't forget about these wonderful resources when putting your pitch plan together.

Pitching the 'Net:

The biggest question I hear, though, about these resources is how to reach them.  Well, there are a few ways, starting with building relationships.  But when considering how to reach out to these sites, consider that it's a lot like reaching out to traditional newsrooms.  When you think like that, the job becomes much easier.

1.  Know their content - Just like pitching traditional outlets, it benefits you to spend a little time on a particular blog or ezine, or listen to a podcast or two to understand exactly what the sites' focus is all about.  You wouldn't pitch a story about vintage cars to Vogue.  Don't pitch a story about a restaurant to a political blog (unless the point of the pitch is inherently political).

2.  Build relationships - Unlike traditional news outlets, the number of individuals you have to reach at an online site is pretty small.  Maybe even just a single writer.  While you're spending time checking out the site, link to it, comment on the entries, participate in the discussions.  The blogger or podcaster will come to recognize you on some level.  This means when you send them a release, it won't be coming from a stranger; it's coming from someone who is familiar with the site and someone who is active.

3.  Feed the need; treat them with respect - Bloggers, podcasters, ezine writers, etc, all want to be viewed as someone who is trusted and respected.  They have an ego, just as reporters, editors and producers do.  When you make a request or pitch, or send a release to any of these sites, do it the same way you would as if you were sending it to a traditional media outlet.  This tells them that you respect what they do and you see them as a site that is valuable and important.  This won't gaurantee that they will mention your story, or grant you an interview, but they will appreciate your respect and remember you the next time you pitch.

4.  Be aware of their platform - In other words, if you're pitching to a blog, make sure you add photos to your pitch.  If its a podcast, make sure you're available for interviews or have a sound file that can be played to enhance your pitch.  If it's a vlog, offer video.  In fact video, photos and sound files can be used by all three of these entities, so if you have them, use them in your pitch.  We're not just dealing with words here.  We're dealing with multi-media.  That's the magic of the internet.  Make sure you offer everything that can be used to help your pitch.  The creators and managers of these sites are often even more strapped for time and cash than traditional sites.  Anything you do that makes their job easier is just a plus in your favor.

In the end, the most important thing is to remember that these outlets are out there and that they're reaching millions of readers, viewers and listeners every day.  These sites aren't just social media platforms, they're information platforms; news platforms, if you will.  When you're putting together your pitch plan, you overlook these outlets at your own risk.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

New Seminar Announced

This is a big day.  If you are a small business owner, or involved with a non-profit, you'll want to sign up for this seminar!

Here are the details:

The PR/Social Media Toolbox - hosted by CG Communications
Saturday, March 5, 2010 from 10am to 2pm
At the Avenue Theater
417 E. 17th Avenue
Denver, CO  80203

Cost:  A special introductory offer!  Pay $50-dollars and receive access for two members of your organization.  Deadline for sign up is Thursday, March 4, 2010.  Sign up now and help your business GROW!

For questions or to register, contact Chris Gallegos at 720.260.3101, or email him at cdgallegos01@earthlink.net.  You may also contact the Avenue Theater.

I am hosting this seminar and it's for small businesses and non-profits who are handling or want to handle their own public relations and social media efforts.  In today's economy, it's even more important to keep you organization out in front of the public and on their minds.  Sadly, it's just too expensive to hire a PR firm, large or small, for a lot of us.  We're forced to handle our pr and social media ourselves.

The PR/Social Media Toolbox Seminar is designed to arm you with the knowledge and tools needed to successfully create and manage your pr and social media efforts.  Please contact me at 720.260.3101, or the Avenue Theater to register or if you have any questions.

I look forward to seeing you all.  Let's make this a great year and help your business and non-profit grow!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Q and A with an online journalist

Happy President's Day everyone!  I hope you all had a great Valentine's Day as well.  It's strange to have two back to back holidays like this, but I'm enjoying it.

I have a treat for you today.  Let me set it up.  We've been talking so much about social media lately, and, yes, it IS very important for small businesses and non-profits to take an active role in social media to raise their profile, attract new customers and shareholders and spread their message.

However, traditional media is still not only relevant but the primary source of information for most Americans today.  This means your public relations efforts need to be focused and smart.  With that said, online and social media strategies have changed the way traditional news outlets gather and disseminate information.

Marc Sternfield is the Senior Web Producer for FOX31 News in Denver, Colorado.  Marc is a consummate journalist and someone who I have worked with in the past and have much respect for when it comes to his news instincts and abilities.  As one of the individuals in Denver how is on the front lines of the changing face of "traditional news media" as it embraces new technologies and strategies to meet the public's needs and still maintain journalistic integrity, I thought he would be the perfect person to talk about how social media and the online medium has changed news.

Below you will see ten questions, some posed by me, and others posed by readers of this blog.  Marc has taken the time to answer them all.  This is an insight into how news, whether its a network or a local outfit, has been and will continue to be influenced and impacted by online and social media networks.

The questions are in bold, Marc's answers are directly below the questions.  I have not edited these answers or questions in any way.  Nor have I commented on the answers.  Any comments I add are at the end of the QnA.  By the way, if you would like to check out some of Marc's work, you can see the FOX31 News Denver website here: http://www.kdvr.com/

Please enjoy the insight:

You have been a producer in news for a long time. How is producing a daily news show different from producing online news content?

Marc Sternfield wrote - One has a lot more flexibility to produce different types of content online than on television. In a typical TV newscast, you try to pack a whole day’s worth of ‘hard’ news, along with weather and sports, into a limited amount of time. Then, the next day, you look at your overnight Nielsen ratings to see how you did. On the Web, you have real-time access to your metrics to see what people are clicking on, and can make the necessary adjustments. Hard news is important to deliver, but it’s not uncommon to find that off-beat stories or entertainment news draw more interest.

How has the integration of social media changed the local news industry?

Marc Sternfield wrote - Social media has turned what is traditionally a passive medium -meaning people sit back and watch or read the news- into an active one. Viewers have the ability to interact with the news product and contribute to it in a variety of ways, none of which were available when I first started in the industry 15 years ago. They can send us news tips, photos and videos electronically. They can communicate with the news staff via blogs and chat rooms. Social media, namely Facebook and Twitter today, also provide a variety of new marketing opportunities and ways to build viewer loyalty.

What have you seen to be the biggest impact social has had on the interaction between newsrooms and local viewers/the general audience?

Marc Sternfield wrote - See above.

How are you using the station website in an innovative way to reach out to attract new viewers while still catering to the longterm viewers?

Marc Sternfield wrote - We try to cast a very broad ‘net’ (excuse the pun) and produce content that will appeal to as many different people in as many different ways as possible. From the standard ‘hard news’ fare, sports, weather, traffic and entertainment, to alternative types of content like games, fun photo galleries, viral videos, etc. Since our web sites offer the ability to share links through email or social bookmarking, the station brands can spread and grow organically. Mobile products are important as well, since our audience is increasingly wireless. It’s important to stay ahead of the technological curve.

What kind of content do you see getting the most reaction/clicks/downloads/shares from your online viewers and users?

Marc Sternfield wrote - Politically-charged and bizarre news stories tend to garner the most national and international attention. Compelling photo galleries also get a lot of clicks.

Is the content you put online different from the kind of content/stories presented during the regular broadcasts? If so, how?

Marc Sternfield wrote - We post every reporter story online, but as I mentioned earlier, we supplement that with a variety of other types of content which either don’t belong in typical local newscast, or don’t really translate well outside of the online world.

What kind of changes do you think social media will have on newsrooms regarding news reporting and audience interaction in the future?

Marc Sternfield wrote - I think it will continue to evolve. One social media product will give way to another, and then another. Newsrooms will be chasing a moving target for quite some time. But I believe the focus should always be on improving the viewer experience, and not simply cluttering it in the name of looking cool or hip. We rely on our viewers now more than ever to help alert us to what’s going on in the community and, in that regard, simplicity is key.

Has social media/online news changed the way newsrooms communicate with important news figures and public relations professionals? If so, how?

Marc Sternfield wrote - I think the increasing use of email and online file-sharing makes it easier for PR professionals to send photos and video to a newsroom in addition to a standard press release. Depending on the type of content, one well-produced multimedia email can include all of the elements a newsroom needs to run a story.

As a journalist and an online news content producer, what word of advice would you give to small businesses and non-profits looking to use social media to garner earned media coverage?

Marc Sternfield wrote - Social media alone isn’t enough. Traditional methods of pitching stories and segment ideas are still relevant. 

Again, thank you Marc for taking the time to answer these questions.  For small business owners and non-profit directors, here is my take on Marc's answers, and what you can use to help you in both your public relations efforts, but in your social media efforts as well.

What this means to you:

1.  Newsrooms are still growing into this medium, just as we all are.  I agree when Marc says "Newsrooms will be chasing a moving target for a long time."  However, he also gets it right when he points out that the technology is really just the delivery vehicle.  In the end, the story has to be interesting to the audience you are trying to reach.  In a newsroom's case, the audience is most likely much larger than the audience for a small business or non-profit.  Regardless, focusing on having interesting and useful content is vital and will help you get your message out to the masses with the help of your local news outlet.

2.  Multimedia is essential as we move into the second decade of the 21st century.  Whether your pitching to a print outlet, a television station, even a radio station, you must have interesting and compelling visuals.  Whether its photos or video, every news outlet today is catering to readers, listeners and viewers who find them online.  This quote from Marc should stick with you as you put together your media kit.  "Depending on the type of content, one well-produced multimedia email can include all of the elements a newsroom needs to run a story."

3.  Finally, I just wanted to reiterate Marc's last statement.  Social media alone isn't enough.  It just isn't.  Just as a public relations strategy can be effective on one level, in today's world, it's about multi-level platforms.  When you put together your social media strategy, you HAVE to think about how your public relations efforts will help or hinder your social media plan.  PR pro's are starting to realize that social media is a great enhancer to solid PR strategies (even if marketers still don't seem to get it).  By the same token, social media "experts" need to realize that good PR can do wonders to enhance a smart social media plan.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Staying Connected

We've talked a lot recently about being interactive and starting a dialogue and using your social media tools in such a way that potential customers and shareholders are interested and involved in your organization.

Part of that effort, obviously, is posting useful and interesting content on various platforms and making sure you're involved in any ongoing discussions stemming from your efforts.  However, as small businesses and non-profit directors, it's likely you have a pretty busy schedule.  You simply don't have time to spend constantly monitoring your updates, retweets, blog comments and Facebook conversations.  I mean, let's face it, you have work to do, right?

Fortunately there are some tools out there that have been designed specifically to help you stay connected, even as you're on the go.  Again, I have to note here that I do not get paid to endorse any product or service.  These are simply tools that I have used that I have found useful and I think you will as well.

I'm also making an assumption that most, if not all, of you are using some sort of smartphone, which allows you to send and receive texts, check your email, go online, use Twitter and either take photos or video or both.  I know I'm constantly checking my email on my iPhone, and I'm betting that many of you do as well.  Besides texts, it's probably the best way to stay updated on your daily activities while on the road or out of the office.

Connectivity Tools:

We've seen some tools designed to enhance connectivity come and go, fairly quickly.  Google Wave is one such tool.  But Google seems to have gotten it right the second time around with their new "Google Buzz" tool, which, so far, has been a very effective mobile platform connectivity program.

Here is an article from Noah Mallin's Social Media blog on "Buzz" that gives you the basic outline of what it does.  For the entire article, click on the link.

Social Media: Is Google Buzz More Than Just Hype?
By: Noah Mallin
Posted: February 9, 2010 10:51 PM 
"What struck me about Buzz is that it is the connective membrane between several Google initiatives. It's geolocation feature which allows users to tag updates with their location ties together Google's push into mobile with mail, and the Buzz overlay brings in Google Maps functionality so you can see, for instance, folks posting about bad traffic ahead. It even ties into Google voice by allowing users to speak updates into their phones rather than typing them (soon to be a menace to drunk updaters and their contacts everywhere if it takes off.)"

I've been using it for about a week now, since it was first released, and so far, it seems to be very effective in terms of keeping me updated not only with my own conversations, but keeps me on top of what others are saying with their posts and links.  G-mail has become one of the most popular e-mail services in the world and continues to grow.  If you don't already have a g-mail account, get one.  It's free, and, unlike most of your other e-mail programs, g-mail tends to be more social media/networking oriented.  Google Buzz enhances this social media presence and is one way to keep connected with a minimal effort.

Another program I've been using is YooNo.  It's an add-on to your web-browser, and in a lot of ways does many of the same things that Google Buzz does, but is primarily focused for desktop use.  I'm online all day, every day.  I'm at my computer probably 10 hours a day.  During that time, I still manage to miss a number of Tweets that are directed at me or my clients.  The same holds true with blog comments and Facebook conversations.

Like Google Buzz, YooNo is a simple download and add on.  I added it to my Firefox browser and so far, I couldn't be happier.  It allows me to connect to nearly all of my social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Flickr, etc. 

Let's say you're on your computer, writing a proposal or editing paperwork.  You can't stop every five minutes to check your updates.  It's distracting, I know, because that's pretty much what I've been doing for a while now.  YooNo gives you two options for getting your updates.  You can open a sidebar on your web browser which is constantly updating so you can keep an eye on it as it goes.  The other feature, which I use more fequently, is the pop up window.  It's a little pop up window at the bottom of my screen that shows me updates.  They come and go fairly quickly, so they're not a distraction at all.

Rest assured, there are other tools out there and there will be more coming in the weeks, months and years to come.  I'll be keeping an eye out for you and let you know which ones work and which ones you probably should avoid.

Here's another quick tidbit I think you'll find interesting.  If you're like most small businesses, you're probably looking to tap into a variety of markets.  There's the ever popular 30-55 year old market, which TV networks and most broadcast media target as their primary audience.  But there's also the elusive "Tweeners" or "Millenials" market; the 15 to 25 market (give or take a couple of years in either direction).  Certainly reaching the 20-something market has proven difficult for even the most experienced pr and social media firms. 

And now comes this little tidbit of news from the Pew Internet Project Survey recently: (again, for the entire story, click on the link)

Study: Teens blog and use Twitter less than young adults

Posted by Leah McBride Mensching on February 3, 2010 at 5:01 PM

"Teens and young adults blog less today than they did in 2006, while older adults are blogging more than ever, according to a Pew Internet Project survey, out today. Teens are also not using Twitter in large numbers, with just 8 percent of Internet users ages 12-17 using the micro-blogging service.

Currently, 14 percent of online teens say they have a blog, while 28 percent said so in 2006. Comments on blogs are down too, with 76 percent of teen social network users saying they commented on friends' blogs in 2006. Today, that number is 52 percent. For adults, 24 percent of those ages 18 to 29 said they blogged in December 2007, while just 7 percent of those age 30 and older did so. By 2009, less users age 18 to 29 blogged - just 15 percent of Internet users - while 11 percent of those age 30 and older have a personal blog."

What does this mean to you?  Well, a few things. 

First, it means that teens and 20-somethings are finding other venues to start conversations.  They're more active on Facebook and participating in what is being called "Macro-blogging".  This is basically just posting short, focused comments about their lives, feelings and activities on their Facebook pages and similar platforms.  This means in order to find out what they're talking about, you really have to follow these "Millenials" where they're posting.  Kind of like trying to figure out what the latest dance music is, you have to go to the most popular dance clubs.  You may not like it, it may not be your "cup of tea" but you have to go where they are.  And right now at least, Millenials just don't seem to be spending a lot of time blogging about their lives.

Second, it means you should continue to actively post on your blog.  This might seem like a contradiction, but it isn't.  The study found that while these "Millenials" aren't posting to their own blogs, they ARE reading other people's blogs and then re-posting the most interesting stuff they see on their Facebook page or similar social media platforms.  If you provide interesting content that "Millenials" find useful or fun, they'll repost it, and that's a great way to gain traction in that market.

Third, it means you need to find other ways to capture the interest of "Millenials" by using the technology that impacts them the most.  This means podcasts and vlogs.  Video is perhaps THE BEST WAY to reach this market and so far, many small businesses and non-profits don't use it effectively. 

Reaching specific markets, such as the "Millenials," the Latino market, the baby boomers, etc., means finding out where they're spending most of their online time, and what they're doing while they're there.  So go ahead, spend some time on that Facebook, find the Digg sites they're talking about, visit Funnyordie, or CollegeHumor.com.  It can only help, plus, you'll probably get a good laugh or two while you're there.  And that's never a bad thing, right?

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

How big is your footprint?

I hope you all had a great Superbowl holiday weekend. I know mine was a little bit crazy, what with all the fun being had.  Somehow, in between the Friday night warm-up celebrations, the Saturday, day-before preparations and the pre, during and post game partying on Sunday, I managed to keep an eye on something that a lot of business and marketing experts were watching with keen interest.  I'm talking about the social media impact on the business of the Superbowl this year. 

For those of you who watched the game, but watched the commercials more closely, you probably noticed a distinct lack of Pepsi commercials.  That's because Pepsi chose to use their time and money in an all-out social media camapign instead of blowing a few million on a couple of 30-second spots.

Here is a quick review of Pepsi's efforts from the Miami News Times website.  The article also takes a look at all the other social media aspects surrounding Superbowl 44.  Click on the link to read the entire article.

"The MVP award in social media should go to Pepsi because the beverage giant chose not to spend $2.8 million on a 30-second spot. Instead, the company created the Pepsi Refresh Project, which will donate hundreds of thousands of dollars to individuals, small and large companies, and organizations with great ideas -- all based on crowdsourcing from its website and Facebook. People will probably be talking about Pepsi's "Refresh Everything" long after other ads are forgotten; never mind that Doritos bring football fans back from the dead, Google wants you to find the love of your life using its search engine, and Tim Tebow doesn't want you to have an abortion."

The Footprint:

Granted, this is really the first year something like this has been tried.  And it's way too early to determine the success, or failure, or Pepsi's plan.  But that's not really the point of this entry.

While the Pepsi campaign is innovative, even controversial even, it speaks to something that small businesses and non-profits handling their own social media have to concern themselves with; their social media footprint.

In today's post-Gore, energy-efficient, green world we live in, we're all familiar with our own energy footprint.  It involves some high math triginometry and physics, combined with a voodoo ritual and a pot of boiled hair of newt to figure out what our energy footprint is, I believe.  On the plus side, figuring out your social media footprint is pretty simple to understand.  Another happy note is that, while a large energy footprint is bad, a large social media footprint is good.  Really good.

In short, your social media footprint is a direct reflection of two things; the number of platforms your campaign is using, and the number of people responding to your efforts over a given period of time.  The first part is really easy to understand.  The second one takes a little more imagination, but it's still not as hard to determine than how many carbon units you use on a daily basis.

The Platforms:

When you're putting together your social media campaign, you have to look at the various platforms available to your organization.  This isn't new.  We've talked about this before in previous entries.  Social media doesn't live in a vacuum.  Its very purpose for being is to enhance interaction.  If you're only using one platform, say, Facebook, you are seriously limiting your interaction possibilities.  But if you start to connect Facebook, to YouTube, Digg, LinkedIn, FindIt, Meetup, etc., now you're reach, your footprint, if you will, is significantly increased. 

Think of it like starting a fire.  Not a forest fire, or a housefire, that would be arson, and illegal.  If you live in or near any kind of agricultural communities, you know that every year farmers and ranchers and land management departments start controlled fires to burn off excess weeds and grasses.  They often need to burn off hundreds or thousands of acres at a time. 

When they do this, do they take a torch to the middle of the field and walk away?  I suppose they could, and maybe, if they're lucky, the fire will grow, if its fueled by wind and fuel.  But there's also a good chance the single fire will die out, smothered by the vast undergrowth, unaided by friendly breezes.  Plus, a single, unmonitored fire can just as quickly grow out of control and cause major damage.  Neither scenario is positive. 

Instead, they start several small fires, knowing which way the wind is blowing, accounting for the thickness of the undergrowth in certain areas and make a plan to have these several small fires eventually combine to grow into one, large, controlled fire.  Your social media campaign is like that controlled fire.  Your research tells you where the heavy undergrowth is that might need some extra effort.  It also tells you which way the winds are blowing so that you can effectively plan your various platform campaigns to eventually connect, creating one, overall large campaign.

Take a look at the Pepsi campaign.  They are everywhere.  Facebook, websites, blogs, podcasts, videos, etc.  It's also interactive, not only alowing, but requesting feedback and input from, well, everyone, actually.  The Pepsi campaign is being carried out on a number of different fronts, or platforms, but their overall goal and message is essentially the same on each one.  The various platforms may sound that message out to different groups in different ways, but ultimately, all of the divergent individuals that find the campaign on the different sites, end up being funnelled to a singular location.  Pepsi's footprint is huge, and yes, some of that can be attributed to a costly and focused television ad campaign, but their social media efforts alone are vast.

Pepsi also uses that footprint wisely in a combined way.  They funnel all these different people to a singular location for a singular purpose.  One of the biggest mistakes I see small businesses and non-profits make is that they get scattered.  Too often they try to carry out multiple tasks with multiple messages over multiple platforms.  This gets confusing to potential customers and shareholders.  And this diminishes your overall footprint.  You can have 12 different platforms in use, but if they don't all work together towards a singular goal, with a singular message, then you really have 12 small footprints instead of one big one. 

Reach and Time:

This is where the second part of your footprint analysis comes into play.  Exactly WHO are you reaching with your efforts and over what kind of time frame are you reaching them? 

Taking a look at the Pepsi campaign again, there is a specific time limit involved with their efforts.  This is tried and true marketing 101.  Create a sense of urgency, something a time limit does.  Not every social media campaign you start has to have a time limit.  Sometimes, you'll just want to be out there, interacting, listening, learning from your potential customers and other shareholders.  But what we're talking about here is a specific, full blown campaign.  The kind that creates buzz and gets people's attention. 

to do this, your footprint has to be large, hence the various platforms and singular message and funnelling to a specific location.  The first part of this equation is reaching a large number of people.  If you're using various platforms, most likely, you'll meet this goal fairly quickly.  The second part is getting these people to understand your message and goal, and getting them to respond.  If you're just out on a lot of platforms, people are seeing you, but not reacting or responding, then your footprint is still not as big as you want it to be.

Here are some ways to increase the size of your social media footprint in a cost-effective way and without spending hours upon hours managing your campaign:

1.  Use various platforms

2.  Open dialogue with potential customers and shareholders

3.  Listen, and actively participate in conversations on your various platforms

4.  Have a singular mission or goal with a singular message

5.  Funnel the people you're reaching to a singular location 

6.  Create a sense of urgency - The time limit method works well for doing this.

7.  Support your campaign with low-cost advertising - Pepsi is using a high cost alternative with television, but you can be just as effective with google ads, online ads and even radio or print ads, which are both proven ways to advertise without spending a lot of money.

8.  Give the people you're reaching out to a reason to participate - Pepsi is asking for respondents to share their ideas, with the hope that some of those ideas will result in financial gain for those involved as well as helping planet Earth.  Your campaign doesn't have to be nearly as grand, but giving an incentive to respond is helpful and in some cases, necessary.

9.  Do some research to make sure your campaign is hitting the areas or reaching the hard to get shareholders.  In others words, set more fires where the undergrowth is thickest.  You're goal should be to bring in new customers or donors.  Simply talking to those already familiar with your organization won't do that.  You have to reach out to those who your other efforts might have already missed.

10.  Make it about the goal, not the product.  In other words, your campaign should be about something, not just about getting people to buy your product or use your service.  The idea here is to get people exposed to you.  They need to become familiar with your organization.  By simply getting them involved with something your organization is involved with, they'll become familiar with you and what you can offer them.  When they DO respond to your social media efforts, they'll take time to look around your website, talk to others about what you do and learn what they can about your organization.  This kind of effort does pay off.  But if you try to sell them something the first time they are funneled to your site through a social media campaign, you're going to lose them for good, making your efforts a waste of time.

If you do these ten things, your footprint will grow.  It will become less like a bunch of little efforts and footprints and congeals into a single, giant footprint.  This is the goal and it's reachable.  And remember, a giant social media footprint is a good thing.  Now if you can just do this without increasing your energy footprint, everyone will be happy.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Talk, talk...

Lately I've been spending a lot of time talking about social media as a powerful tool for small business and non-profit success.  For those looking for more specific public relations advice, don't worry, I have that covered.  I have two more interviews scheduled that will give more insight into local newsrooms, particularly, online news content and radio news.

In the meantime, I want to focus on an aspect of social media that I think many small businesses and non-profits overlook when putting together their campaigns.

In official terms, it's called a "conversation strategy," and it could be the most important aspect of your social media efforts; even more important than which tools you use.  I've written a lot about the "effective use of social media."  You've probably read that same line about a thousand times as well, if you've done much research on the subject online.

And, like many others like you, you've probably wondered, "what exactly does that mean?"  Certainly using social media effectively means a few things.  Such as:

1.  Using social media in concert with other platforms such as public relations and live events

2.  Using a variety of social media tools to reach targeted audiences

3.  Having a plan in mind to reach specific goals with your social media efforts

4.  Using those social media tools regularly to reach out to those audiences

5.  Being interactive and proactive when using those social media tools.

Most small businesses and non-profits do a good job, an excellent job even, in at least three out of the five items above.  Sometimes an organization might not have a clear plan with set goals in place before venturing into social media outreach.  Sometimes an organization doesn't coordinate their social media efforts with public relations or face to face community outreach events.  These same organizations, though will likely be using a variety of tools, and will be using them regularly, for instance. 

But the one area where I often see small businesss and non-profits falter is in the last item on the list.  They're not interactive or proactive in their efforts, making their social media campaign one-dimensional and therefore generally destined for failure.

Perhaps it's because they get lost in the meaning of being interactive and proactive.  Many of my clients feel that simply posting information on their Facebook page or Twittering about what's happening in their organization is being proactive and interactive.

Get out and be active:

I'm here to tell you that it's not.  It's time for some tough love and I'm here to let you know that you need to do more or else your social media efforts will fail.  I'm not talking about using social media even more than you already are.  I'm not saying you have to dedicate more hours to your efforts or spend more time doing research and shooting video and linking to Digg.  In fact, by doing more, you might actually end up doing less. 

Confused?  Don't be.  It's kind of like the old axiom, "work smarter, not harder."  All of your efforts on social media won't produce the kind of results you want unless you take an active role in the conversations you're having with potential customers, donors and other shareholders.

In other words, you need a "conversation strategy."  So what is a conversation strategy?  In many ways, it's a lot like putting together your story and message for a public relations campaign.  It should be part of your plans and goals when thinking about starting a social media campaign as well. 

Before you even start, you have to ask yourself, "what do I want to achieve with my social media efforts?"  I'm sure the general answer is something like, "increase foot traffic to my business, raise my profile, be exposed to a new potential customer base..." and so on.  But that's only one aspect of your plan and goals. 

Much like a news story, the what, where and who are easy to identify.  Where it gets interesting is the how and why.  In this case, the why has a double meaning and the how is key to your success.  Now ask yourself, "why am I venturing into social media and why would potential customers be interested in my efforts, my organization, my product or services?" 

Next question is, "HOW am I going to interest these potential customers in my organization, service or product by using social media?"  And here is where success begins.

Just like real life, only not:

Think about how many times you interact with individuals on a face to face level every day.  How many of those interactions are business-related?  How many are purely social?  If you own a small business or run a non-profit, it's doubtful you have a lot of "purely social" interactions.  Every time you talk with someone over coffee, at a party or in a bar, the subject of work often comes up.  And if you own your own business or run a non-profit, the nature of that conversation is very personal.

What do you say in these moments?  Do you simply say, "I run a deli downtown.  Today we're featuring corned beef and rye.  Say the word 'cat' and you'll get a free coke with every sandwich pruchase."  No, it's more likely you tell them what you do, and why you do it, and why you believe it's the best deli in town.  Social media is a lot like that conversation.  And small businesses are great at saying what they do and where they are, and what's happening at the moment, but they often miss out when it comes to telling people the "why's" and "how's". 

Listen, social media is just that.  It's social.  Meaning you should be involved in conversations with potential customers and shareholders.  Too often, though, small businesses and non-profits view social media as a one-way conversation.  Have you ever been in a conversation with someone who talk endlessly about themselves?  They talk about their troubles, the joys, their day-to-day activities, leaving no room for you to talk about what interests you or ask questions to find out if this is really the kind of person you want to be socializing with.

Social media is no different.  If all you do is post information about your organization, you're much like that person.  Or perhaps you're like that salesman you meet at a party who is in your face and spends the next two hours as they tell you everything you never wanted to know about life insurance, leaving you no time to ask questions or simply have a conversation.

Putting the strategy together:

A conversation strategy involves the simple decision to have conversations with others, and then it involves determining what kind of conversations you'd like to have.  When you're at a party, you probably find yourself gravitating to individuals who interest you, or hold similar beliefs and values, or are involved in the same activities as you are.  These links automatically give you something to talk about.  The conversations are two-way discussions, with questions being asked by all parties.

Social media is very similar.  I've already talked about finding similar groups on your various social media platforms.  This is important.  But even if you join the multitude of groups that are linked to your organization in some way, you still have to be intereactive within those groups to get any value from your association with those groups.

You have to ask questions of others, be available to be asked questions by group members and you have to be prepared to listen.  You also have to be able to involve yourself in conversations that don't immediately relate to your product or service.  Any time you can offer insight into a conversation based on your experience or values, you should.  It doesn't always have to be about you, in other words.  In this way, you'll become a known factor within your groups and in the realm of social media.  You don't have to be the life of the party, just someone others find interesting and want to talk to.  Eventually, these conversations will prove valuable in the relationships you build and the business it attracts.

Here are some tips to creating and implementing a conversation strategy from John Haydon, at www.johnhaydon.com, a social media website:

Creating a conversation strategy

  • Understand why they buy. The real reason. The one that has nothing to do with price or product. I have an iPod because it makes me look cool and work smarter.
  • Understand why they tell their friends. I’ve been telling all my friends about @foursquare because I want to be the first.
  • Know what’s engaging the customers of your competition. Is there something they’re saying that’s not being heard?
  • Talk to your employees. Beyond the paycheck and benefits – what’s the real reason they show up everyday at 8:30AM?
  • Talk face to face. Have coffee with some of your customers. Get to know their whole lives, not just the pain points you address with your product.
  • Listen. “It is so crucial to engaged conversations and so easily overlooked in our active, talk-focused society.” – Bonnie Koenig
  • Polarize. Can you sincerely talk about your beliefs to an extreme? Think Greenpeace and the GOP.
  • Use your divining rod. Find bloggers who are already passionate about that you do. How are they talking about it? How engaged are their readers?
  • Plan. Talk often with staff about the business. Listen to each other. Map out why these conversations matter and how you’ll start talking.
  • Be sincere. People can tell if you’re real. Make sincerity a key element in your strategy. And if it turns out that you can’t sincerely have conversations in a particular way, move on. Trashing a half-hearted conversation plan will save everyone headaches.
I agree with most of these tips.  I might not advise a client to be polarizing, at least not immediately as they being to venture into social media.  But understanding your audience, knowing what topics will interest them, listening and being sincere are all fantastic tips.

You can listen to them in a variety of ways, including offering polls, opening up your blog or Facebook page to questions, or simply asking questions of others on your Twitter.  People like to feel as if you're truly interested in their thoughts and opinions.

Listening is vital.  People want to know that you hear and understand what they are saying.  Whether it's complaints from customers, or concerns from potential customers or even praise, people want to know that their time isn't be wasted by talking with you.

Being sincere is also key.  One of the things I have always coached when dealing with clients in a public relations/news conference/interview setting is to be sincere.  If you're lying, or saying things you don't believe in, the public will know.  Much like dogs can sense fear, children can sense single people and cats can sense those allergic to them, the public can sense when you're not being genuine. 

In a lot of ways, the same things your mother told you when you were very young still apply today even if the conversations are in a virtual world rather than face to face.  If you don't mean it, don't say it.  If you say it, mean it.  Never lie, and if you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all. 

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

In your face, marketing!

I just love punctuation.  I have a love-love relationship with the comma.  I invite it over for holiday dinners, we get drunk together on St. Patrick's Day and every year I receive lovely flowers from comma on Valentine's Day.  So, you can imagine how pleased I was with myself at the title of this entry. 

It COULD have been, "In your face marketing!" which denotes some kind of guerilla-type campaign featuring flash-mobs and live performances; crazy, in your face kind of stuff.  But instead, the comma makes all the difference.  Instead it's a chest-thumping, fist-pumping exclamation of victory...of some sort.

You see, It seems I've been in a kind of death-struggle with marketers over the real value of social media for small businesses and non-profits.  I keep saying it's a valuable tool that can help raise an organizations' profile and lead to major success.  Marketers say it's a niche strategy, useful only for specific kinds of businesses and only as part of modest efforts.

Certainly, social media, by itself, isn't a guarantee of success.  It has to be used with intelligence and dedication and in partnership with a larger, overall plan.  The best social media campaigns utilize effective public relations, toss in some community outreach and, in some cases a focused advertising blitz. 

But back to the point of the entry; which is my celebration over the marketing "geniuses" in the continuing salvo of the social media skirmish.  Because, in case you haven't noticed, social media is quickly becoming the "GO TO" platform for companies, large and small, when it comes to reaching audiences.

Need examples?  There are literally tons and tons out there.  But for today's purposes, let's take a look at a couple of American institutions that are seemingly being overtaken by social media. 

Superbowl Shuffle:

For those of you not sports-inclined, there's a big game coming up.  It's called the Superbowl.  It's a football game.  It is also considered in many circles a virtual American holiday. 

For years one of the most enjoyable aspects of the "big game" were the advertisements.  Companies shelled out millions and millions of dollars for a mere 30 seconds of time to do something creative, something that would stick out in consumers' minds.  God forbid you were out grabbing wings or another can of Coors.  You might have otherwise missed the funniest, and best, moment of the entire game.  (I'm a Bronco fan, so for many Superbowls, the advertisements were the only thing that made me smile, remember 55-10?  I do). 

Superbowl advertisements even created a kind of cottage industry.  Sites sprang up on the internet judging the ads.  Talk shows, tv shows, all kinds of pundits made a living off of rating, judging and evaluating Superbowl ads. 

Now fast forward to 2010.  Suddenly companies are starting to take a long, hard look at how they spend their money.  Instead of spending millions to reach a select set of viewers for 30-seconds.  They're investing their time and money into social media campaigns designed around the Superbowl.  These campaigns will likely reach a significantly larger audience than the ads that run during the game.

One of the Superbowl's largest advertisers, Budweiser has made the leap into Superbowl social media with their campaign this year.  Here's a quick look.  For the entire article, click on the link.

Budweiser Urges Fans to Vote for Super Bowl Ad Via Facebook

This Super Bowl, it truly does seem that the name of the game when it comes to advertising is social media. For example, Budweiser recently launched a campaign on Facebook asking fans to choose which commercial will air during the big game.

According to AdAge, Budweiser is this year’s biggest advertiser — privy to five minutes of air time. The beer company launched its social media campaign on Friday, and already thousands of people are taking part. The idea, essentially, is to infiltrate every level of Facebook (Facebook). First, you might see the targeted ad for the campaign in your newsstream (see the photo above). If you are so inclined to vote, you must first become a fan of the beer:

The Superbowl even has its own hashtag on Twitter and Flickr. Click on the link for the entire article from "Mashable.com".

Super Bowl XLIV Gets an Official Hashtag: #SB44

This year the NFL wants you to “Tag the Super Bowl #SB44″ so that it can collect and aggregate tweets and Flickr photos from fans around the world.

The NFL is highlighting the user-tagged Super Bowl content on its new Tag the Super Bowl site, which offers a visually stimulating and unfiltered interactive view of tweets and images that football fans are sharing on Twitter (Twitter) and Flickr (Flickr) with the #SB44 hashtag.

But for real, honest to goodness impact of social media on Superbowl advertisers, one need only look as far as Pepsi.  The cola giant has pulled its traditional ad time this year in favor of a social-media only campaign, built around the Superbowl and its cola product.  The following article from MyBankTracker.com, outlines the goals and strategy of the campaign.  Here is a short excerpt, for the entire article, click on the link.

For Pepsi Super Bowl Commercials, Social Media to Replace Traditional Marketing  

This Sunday, when many advertisers are paying millions for 20 second spots to air during the big game, one brand will be conspicuously absent. Pepsi has decided this year to forgo the traditional marketing methods, and instead try their luck with the growing popularity of social media.

The Pepsi Refresh Project:
The campaign, called the Pepsi Refresh Project, revolves around an interactive web community where users can apply for a grant for a project that will make a difference in their communities, as well as vote on others applications. Pepsi has made $20 million available for the projects, money that they normally would have spent on TV spots during the Super Bowl.
Growing Influence of Social Media
It isn’t surprising that companies like Pepsi are starting to utilize social media for their major marketing campaigns. While events like the Super Bowl draw about 42% of US TV homes, over 85% use social media, according to a McCann media study. Domino’s “Pizza Turnaround” campaign show videos of customers who had complaints about their pizza changing their minds after giving it a second try, and their website claims to show all comments, good or bad.
The ability of social media to open up a conversation between the company and the consumer is a very valuable marketing tool, and as the networks become more widespread, there is a larger goldmine of information for marketers to access.
Social media is projected to grow at an annual rate of 34% according to Forrester Research group.

There are a ton of other examples of social media being used to expand coverage, promote events and individuals and highlight services and products during the Superbowl frenzy in Miami this year.  Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Chad "Ocho-cinco" Johnson, has created his own online tv station, OCNN, on Facebook, dedicated specifically to all things football and Superbowl.  He has been working the event like a regular member of the media, asking questions, watching practices,  interacting with fans across the country. 

Fans, players, reporters, the team ballboys, everybody, has been twittering, Facebooking, blogging, using Skype for interviews, podcasting, vlogging, using every sort of social media tool imaginable to report on the comings and goings of the Superbowl. 

So, tell me again, how social media isn't business friendly?

National Signing Day:

Once again, a major sporting activity shows us the power of social media.  Reporters around the country have been getting news from high school seniors in the form of Twitters, Facebook announcements, videos, etc., stating their choice for where they want to go to college. 

Obviously, this is just another example of journalism being changed by social media.  It has changed the way they gather news as well as how they disseminate information.  If you've ever watched the NFL draft, you know that they're getting twitter reports constantly from their men on the draft floor and in the team "war" rooms. 

This is just a sports example, but this kind of operating procedure has extended to nearly all facets of news coverage.  Why couldn't you, as a small business owner or non-profit, do something similar with your events?  Or why not assist the media in their coverage of large community gatherings such as parades, holiday events or things like A Taste of Colorado or People's Fair.

You can twitter what is happening as they are happening.  Maybe the local news stations won't be clamoring to catch your updates, but your loyal clientele probably will be.  And how knows, they might be good enough, with enough useful and interesting content that the news stations WILL take notice.

What this means to you:

Unfortunately, most of us can't afford an advertising blitz, focused or otherwise.  At least not on television.  However, there are some more affordable types of advertising that many small businesses and non-profits don't take advantage of.  Radio advertising, online advertising and billboard advertising are much more cost-effective ways to reach audiences and can help boost a social media campaign immensly.

Take a look at what the major companies are doing with social media.  See how they're building campaigns around it and how they're using the social mdia tools to make a big splash in a big pond.  You can emulate some, even many of the same things they're doing, just on a smaller scale and with a smaller budget.  Pushing for interaction with your customers, or potentials shareholders, providing fun and useful content and relating to your audience are basic, simple methods that makes social media so effective.  These large companies are doing the same thing, only they're pumping millions of dollars into their efforts.

You probably don't have the same recognition as Pepsi, Budweiser or a major university.  But you DO have the same tools they do, and the same opportunity to reach the same audiences.  There's nothing written in stone that says just because they toss more money at their campaigns and have more staff working on it, you can't use social media tools just as effectively and with similar success to make a name for your organization.

It's not the money or the tools, it's how you use them.  Something marketers seem to have forgotten. 

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Real Value

Hello all.  Sorry I took a couple of days off.  It's been hectic on my side of things.  I've been working towards getting the workshops started and I look forward to seeing many of you in the months to come at the various seminars I'll be hosting.  More on that later.

In the meantime, I wanted to pass along a conversation I had with a marketer recently that I found very interesting.  First, understand that I respect this individual a lot.  He teaches marketing at the University of Colorado and runs his own, quite successful marketing business.  I ran into him after playing dodgeball (yes, I know, but it's fun...and we wear wigs).  We started chatting and decided to head over to a local bar to talk about our differing theories of social media and how it helps small businesses and non-profits. 

I only bring this discussion up because it coincided with another conversation I had with another marketer, a friend getting her MBA in marketing, and she had very similar views about social media and small businesses. 

In short, they both declared that social media was of very little use to small businesses and non-profits.  Or at least that's what I heard initially.  Now, you may ask, why in the world would I mention the relatively negative view some very professional and successful marketers had about social media outreach efforts? 

Here's why:  I feel I have to address this issue as I'm sure you, as small business owners and non-profit directors, hear similar arguments all the time.  I'm here to debunk some of the marketing myths surrounding social media and prove that it is not only a valuable tool in your marketing and pr efforts, but an essential one.

Both individuals argued, basically, that small businesses and non-profits don't receive enough in return for their investment in time and money from social media.  Before I start debunking, I just wanted to say how shocked I was to hear this from people that I consider very bright and knowledgable regarding marketing. 

I also have to explain that we were able to find common ground in our debates.  We all agreed that social media, by itself, generally will not be overly successful.  There is no magic bullet anymore.  As I've mentioned previously, there was a time when a well placed news article or magazine article or television spot would automatically increase sales and raise your organizations' profile, that kind of single coverage success just doesn't exist anymore. 

In essence, they made my argument for me.  And that is, any successful outreach effort HAS to be made in conjunction with other platforms.  That's fancy industry talk for saying you have to have a diverse plan when it comes to reaching your audiences.

Here are some of the arguments you'll hear against social media and the reasons why it is a tool that you need to be using to help your small business and non-profit succeed:

Argument:  Social media has a very small "return on investment"
Answer:  This is patently false.  One of the most appealing aspects of social media is that it allows small businesses and non-profits to reach their target audiences without having to spend thousands of dollars to do so.  For the cost of a basic website, you can begin to reach out to potential customers, donors, volunteers or other shareholders by signing up to free sites such as Twitter, DigIt, Facebook, LinkedUp, Meetup, etc.  The biggest investment you'll likely make is your time, but this is time aimed directly at improving the odds of success for your organization.

Argument:  There's no way to quantify the ROI (return on investment)
Answer:  Again, not true.  There are several ways to monitor your social media outreach efforts.  Some cost a modest fee, other methods are completely free.  Nearly every online site offers tracking and monitoring data, often without a charge.  Plus, social media gives you an opportunity to receive direct feedback from individuals browsing your sites and allows you to interact directly with those potential customers or donors.  This is the kind of direct interaction that you don't get from other forms of "traditional" marketing.

Argument:  Social Media is a shotgun approach to marketing, not targeted and therefore not effective
Answer:  Social media can be a shotgun approach, true.  But, like other more "traditional" marketing methods, social media does allow you to target specific audiences, perhaps even moreso than traditional marketing efforts.  Finding groups within social media sites allows your organization to identify exactly who you're sending your message to and how it's being received.  And don't look now, but one of the cornerstones of "traditional" marketing involves the direct mail approach.  It really doesn't get much more shotgun approach than that.

Argument:  Social media is too new to be truly effective
Answer:  Yes, social media is still a relatively new phenomenon, however it has already proven itself to be successful on many levels, for not only small businesses, but also for major corporations.  You have to ask yourself; if social media is important enough for major firms like NIKE, United Airlines and Apple to invest major time towards, it's clearly a tool that is making a difference in the business world.

Argument:  Social media doesn't have the same effect as face-to-face marketing efforts
Answer:  This is a valid argument.  But there is a flaw in thinking that only face to face efforts can be effective.  Because many social media efforts revolve around events, in effect it is a tool for increasing the success of face to face marketing efforts.  Would you rather be greeting and schmoozing 20 people at your next event, or 100 people?  Plus, as I mentioned earlier, social media allows you to have direct interaction with potential customers and donors and other shareholders.  You can talk with them, get to know them, and, more importantly, they get to know you.  Social media is a great way to build brand loyalty, something previously done primarily through face to face interaction.

Argument:  Social media outreach is too risky
Answer:  Listen, all public relations, marketing or community outreach efforts can be risky.  Primarily, I hear from marketers that going online makes you more succeptible to negative comments, pranks and hacks.  First, understanding that in today's business world, you have to be online to be successful.  It's a fact that can't be ignored.  Therefore your organization is already vulnerable to online hijinx.  Individuals will talk about your organization online whether you're using social media or not.  The best way to combat any negativity online is to be front and center in chatrooms, on blogs, on Facebook and Twitter and other sites defending yourself and countering the negativity.  Also by using social media you can go online and either spark conversations or take part in conversations that focus on the positive aspects of your organization.

Argument:  Social media isn't as "legitimate" as "traditional" marketing
Answer:  This is simply a point of view.  I think the various examples of major corporations successfully using social media to either promote events, a product, a service or to counter a media crisis speaks volumes more than anything I can say.  It's legitimate, as legitimate as already established marketing efforts.

Argument:  Social media doesn't add enough value to small businesses and non-profits
Answer:  Again, I suppose this might be a matter of opinion.  My opinion is that social media adds more value than current traditional marketing efforts.  In the first place, it reaches a massive potential audience, larger than most network stations, and it can be done significantly cheaper than any direct mail marketing campaign.  By being online, you also establish your organization as being current in both thought and action.  Also there is that matter of raising your profile, disseminating information and establishing your message.  You can do all of these things by going online.  You add value to your organization by suddenly being visible to many who might otherwise not know you exist.  But you also have singular control over how you are percieved, how and when your message goes out to the masses and your organization profile automatically increases in value by being online and being available to literally potentially millions of viewers.  

Like any campaign, you have to make sure your efforts are creative, and give the potential customer usefull content.  Simpy tossing up a video or blog won't do much to help you, and if that's your idea of using social media, then the "traditional" marketers are right in their analysis that it's not effective.  However, if you use social media to its full effectiveness, you won't find a more valuble marketing tool.