Friday, May 28, 2010


Ooops, is never a word you want to hear.  I don't care if you're working at a dry cleaners, a restaurant, or a nuclear facility.  It's just a sign that bad things are headed down the highway of life ready to smack you right dab in the middle of the forehead.

By rule, "Oops" should be followed by, "sorry" but, as Elton John told us a long time ago, sorry seems to be the hardest word.  This is sad, because sorry can go a long way to solving a lot of problems.

Of course, there are some "oops" moments when sorry just doesn't cut it.  See the recent disaster in the Gulf involving the BP Oil Spill.  You don't just say, "sorry" and it goes away, but it's a good place to start.

Taco Bell Terror:

I bring this up because of a little story I heard yesterday while listening to the radio.  It involves the local baseball 9 (The Colorado Rockies), Taco Bell and one seriously untrained store manager.  You see, locally, whenever the Rockies score seven runs or more, Taco Bell offers a deal to consumers.  Up until yesterday, it was one-dollar for four tacos.  Yes, you have to buy a drink with that, which is another $1.50, which runs your total up to $2.50 for four tacos and a drink, but it's a deal nonetheless.

All that changed on Thursday, May 26th, 2010.  Taco Bell changed the rules.  The problem is, they didn't tell anyone.  So on a beautiful Colorado afternoon in Aurora, a family walked into a Taco Bell, ready to devour some $1 tacos only to be told that the price has been raised to, wait for it...TWO dollars for four tacos. 

As you can imagine, the family was taken aback.  The deal is $1 for four tacos, it's ALWAYS been $1 for four tacos.  How could it suddenly be $2 for four tacos?  Remember yesterday when I noted that stories that matter to me, or you, qualify as news?  Well, this story mattered to me.  Not only because I really like the $1 deal, but because I was so stunned that a company like Taco Bell would make such a mind-numbingly stupid mistake.

It's bad enough to change the rules in mid-season.  It's worse when you don't really tell anyone about it.  Well, that's not true, they told their store managers; at least they knew.  Which really just made a bad situation worse.  Particularly when an untrained store manager got in on the action and refused to honor the $1 deal the family had originally come in for. 

To compound the situation, the manager allegedly told the family that if they didn't like the new deal, they could leave, which the family promptly did, a handful of other customers in tow behind them.  According to one of the family members, the manager actually stepped outside of the store to wave at them goodbye. 

Within an hour, the family was on the air, talking about this "new deal" with the city's most listened to AM talk radio station.  This is the station that broadcasts the Rockies games, as well as Bronco games.  KOA radio is a powerhouse in the region, not just the city since it's a 50-thousand watt clear channel station, meaning it doesn't power down at night so its signal can be heard across half the country.

But all was not lost in Taco Bell land.  by 5pm, within an hour of the story first airing, an executive from Taco Bell was on the air with the hosts, explaining the mishap. 

He started with, "I'm sorry..."

He explained that, indeed, the deal had been changed.  Instead of $1 for four tacos then you have to buy a drink, the deal had been changed to $2 for four tacos but you no longer are forced to buy a drink.  In the end, the executive explained, the overall deal is 50-cents cheaper now because you can refuse to get a drink. 

That's all fine and good.  But where does Taco Bell go from here?  The exec. said that Taco Bell would honor the $1 deal for now, allowing them time to better get the word out to everyone.  Plus, there's that little issue of a store manager doing everything but setting the family car on fire to discourage repeat business.  The executive apologized for that as well, and said action would be taken.  We don't know exactly what action, since it's a personnel matter, but we can hope he gets a swift kick out the door.

What This Means To You:

I bring this story up as a great example of how quickly a crisis can develop, sometimes through no fault of your own.  Yes, Taco Bell blundered by changing the deal with little or no advance warning.  But this story would never have seen the light of day had the store manager simply used better judgement.

Here's another situation where a single store manager cast an entire organization in a bad light:

Sears Driver Runs Over Customers' Dog, Inspires Website

What do you do when a Sears delivery driver runs over one of your dogs and kills it, but all Sears will tell you is that it's your fault for letting your dog out of the house? You start a website called searskilledmydog.com. Update: There has been a reconciliation between the owners and Sears. I've included a statement from Sears below.
 To see the entire article, click here to go to the Consumerist website via Digg.

In this case, the store manager blamed the family for letting it run around free while the truck delivered a new fridge.  What could have been a regrettable, but non-issue story, turned into a full blown viral campaign against Sears with millions viewing the website and sending complaints into Sears headquarters.  Sears, correctly, responded immediately, apologizing, making amends and giving the family a free fridge.

As small business owners or non-profit directors, you often have several individuals besides yourself working directly with the public.  You do your best to hire those that will represent you well.  But sometimes things happen.  Maybe an employee is having a bad day, maybe they are under stress or very tired, or maybe they just don't care.  Whatever the reason, at some point, an employee or staffer is going to screw up and leave customers with a poor impression of your organization.

This happens all the time, and it ends up costing you business.  When it happens and the offended party simply leaves, choosing to never return, you often never hear about it.  But in today's world of instant information, it doesn't take much for an angry customer to post their displeasure all over the web, telling the world how awful you are. 

Hopefully, you won't have to deal with your dirty laundry being aired out on a major radio station.  But even if it's not, a bad Yelp review or scathing blog entry or Facebook post can do as much damage, if not more than a poor news story. 

Be A Lover, Not A Fighter:

How can you combat this?  What if the party doing the posting is a disgruntled employee?  What if it's a downright lie?  These are some of the dangers of social media that you can't escape.  You can try to tell yoruself that staying away from social media in general will keep you safe, but that won't work either. 

Just because your organization isn't involved in social media doesn't mean the rest of the world isn't.  The postings will still show up, the damage will be done, whether you're there or not.  The best way to combat this kind of thing is to be on various social media platforms.  Listen to what people are saying about you, keep an eye on those online reviews.

Here's what you don't do.  Don't get defensive, don't get dragged into a fight.  Take a cue from both Taco Bell and Sears.  Apologize that the person in question didn't have a good experience with you.  Then move on to talk about your standards, why you believe you provide a quality service and reach out to the offended party.

They may have had a bad day as well and are venting on you.  If you can reach out to that individual, get them to give you another chance, you can soften their stance.  If nothing else, you can stem the tide of vitriol they may be spewing in your direction.  If you can actually flip that person so they retract their previous statements, others will take notice. 

Sometimes, a person just won't meet you halfway.  Again, don't get dragged down into a fight.  If they're one of just a couple of complaints about your organization, point out that you do excellent work, and that the majority of your comments are very positive.  Ultimately, the public will decide who to believe.  The best you can do is promote your qualities as well as you can.

Take The Hit:

Oh, one final thing.  Don't make excuses.  Don't lay the blame at the feet of the employee or staffer, even though that's probably where it belongs.  Customers don't care.  You're the big boss, and the buck stops with you.  You look bad by making excuses and saying, "it was just one employee having a bad day."  That's not acceptable to most consumers. 

Notice that neither Sears nor Taco Bell did this, even when it would have been very easy to do so.  They treated it as an organizational failure. 

The world of social media is a blessing to small businesses and non-profits.  But it can also be risky because whatever people think about your organization, they can post, be it positive or negative.  The best way to combat the negatives and play up the positives is to be active and vigilant in the social media envrionment.  Knowing what's being said about you is the best way to determine how the public percieves you.  A little social media conversation about your business or non-profit can go a long way to impacting your bottom line.

Now, if you'll excuse me, the Rockies scored eight runs yesterday, so I'm off to get my tacos.  I'm brining $2 with me, just in case.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

It's News To Me

Quick, answer this question; What is news?

Don't think about it, just give a from-the-gut reaction.  Is it what's happening in your neighborhood?  Your state?  Your country?  Does it involve murders, or Senate bills or elections?  Is it about recalls or rollouts or layoffs?

Yes, yes, yes, yes, aaannnnddd...yes.  I've been asked by many, many people over the years to define news.  My response has always been akin to that famous quote by Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart when asked to define obscenity.  I feel the same way about news. I cannot attempt to define news, perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so, but I know it when I see it.

Perhaps it comes from a lifetime as a newsie.  Maybe I've just developed a sixth sense of what is news and what isn't.  On more than one occassion I've outlined the elements of a good news story in this space.  When journalists decide what stories to run, these are the primary factors they use in their decisions:

1.  Proximity
2.  Timeliness
3.  Impact
4.  Relevance
5.  Wow Factor

What I don't want to do, though, is give the image of a journalist going over a checklist on every story they cover or write about.  Particularly in broadcast journalism, there are just too many stories to do that with.  There are a lot of factors that go into making decisions when choosing which stories will go in their top of the hour radio newscast or A-block in the 6pm show. 

Audience, time availability, resource availability, access to information, etc.  All of those things matter to producers and anchors when making news decisions.  Often times, you look at a story and you just KNOW that it's a good one.  The above checklist generally only comes into play when you have to choose between two quality stories.  One stays, one has to go, grab the checklist and compare. 

Before we move forward, I want to post an article recently published as part of the Pew Research Center's study of news and media: (Article from the GaurdianWeekly website, click to read full post)
On blogs, 53% of the lead stories in a given week stay on the list no more than three days. On Twitter, that is true of 72% of lead stories, and more than half (52%) are on the list for just 24 hours.
More than 99% of the stories linked to in blogs came from legacy outlets such as newspapers and broadcast networks. And just four - the BBC, CNN, the New York TimesWashington Post - accounted for fully 80% of all links. and the
Each social media platform also seems to have its own personality and function... bloggers gravitated toward stories that elicited emotion, concerned individual or group rights or triggered ideological passion...
Social media tend to home in on stories that get much less attention in the mainstream press. And there is little evidence... of the traditional press then picking up on those stories in response.
What Does This Mean?

You might be asking, why did I post this, why does it matter and what does it mean?  First, I think it's a fascinating look at how social media (or what is being called, New Media) still depends on more traditional media outlets for up to the minute information.

At the same time, it's interesting to see how social media platforms such as Twitter tend to be making their own news, or at the very least talking about issues, ideas and events that mainstream (or Old Media) isn't paying much attention to.

I still think social media is growing and transforming and figuring out what it will look like and do when it grows up.  Remember, we're still dealing with a technology in its relative infancy.  Newspapers, radio and TV have had decades upon decades to figure out how to play the game.  Social media is just learning how to crawl in comparison. 

With that said, I think it's unfair to say that mainstream news ignores Twitter.  I have all my major local news outlets linked on my Twitter.  At least one of those, KCNC in Denver, asks viewers for feedback and input daily.  I know what is being discussed in the newsmeetings through their Tweets and can toss in my two cents if I choose.

What we CAN say about social media is that it's transforming news.  Not only is it making interaction between journalist and audience easier, it's changing the way news gathers information, finds sources and even how it chooses stories in some instances.

Still Looking:

But we still haven't defined "news" yet, have we?  No, and we won't.  That's because news is almost impossible to define.  You can't really take news and put it in a box and say, "There, THAT'S news!"  You can't do this because what you might consider news, I might consider frivolous.

I know friends who watch "E" News Nightly.  If you haven't seen this show, it's a hodge-podge of celebrity gossip, Hollywood rumors and papparazzi pictures.  I don't live in L.A.  I don't care who is sleeping with who.  To me, calling that show "news" is ridiculous.  However millions of people across America care deeply about the comings and goings of Justin Bieber, Ryan Seacrest and the cast of LOST.  To them, this information really is news.

Let's go one step further.  I'm a single, 40-year old bachelor who's never been married.  I have no children, I have a small extended family.  I see a story involving babies and toys or babies and carseats, babies and recalls, babies and, well, just about anything, I skip right over it.  It doesn't matter to me, I don't care.  And yet, for millions and millions of Americans, this information not only matters, it can sometimes be a matter of life and death.

One more example:  I love history, particularly ancient history.  I subscribe to Biblical Archaeology Review.  I get excited when I read about a new discovery or finding.  I get into the debates involving the authenticity of certain objects.  To me, that's news.  To most, it inspires little more than a huge yawn.  When I worked at KUSA, I worked with an executive producer who loved everything space and NASA.  We would joke that if NASA pitched it, we covered it.

And that's where social media has made its biggest impact.  Platforms like Facebook and Twitter and blogs and LinkedIn allows every single person to find the information they are interested in and post it, talk about it and follow it as much or as little as they choose to.  Your daughter just graduated from High School?  Great!  Post it on Facebook.  It's news to you. 

In essence, anything you're interested in, anything that is new that you find fascinating can be news.  Certainly the local paper isn't going to run a story on the death of your beloved dog Scruffy.  But you can post an article and tell the world what a great companion he was.

If graffiti taggers are hitting your neighborhood, you can post about that.  You are a reporter, today, everyone is.  Social media has given everybody the tools traditionally used by journalists.  You can shoot pics with your phone, you can even shoot video with your phone, and then post your pic or vids online with a short blurb and suddenly you're a reporter.

The biggest difference remains the resources media outlets have at their fingertips to cover stories such as press conferences, murders, shootings, governmental issues, educational issues, etc.  But social media has billions of users out there every day shooting pics, taking video and talking about what matters to them.  As an individual, you can only cover so much.  But as a base, the social media resource vastly outnumbers even the great resources amassed by more traditional media outlets. 

I'll leave you with this...

When I was teaching journalism to future PR students at The University of Colorado at Denver, I was asked about journalistic ethics.  What are they, where are the rules written down.  I told them that there was only one hard and fast written rule of journalistic ethics; "Don't Lie."

After that, it was up to them to decide what was ethical and what wasn't.  There isn't a written rule about being "off the record".  In fact, I tell my clients that if they don't want it to be reported, don't say it.  There is no written rule about the sanctity of a source.  You can choose to burn a source if you want, but there will be ramifications.

The same holds true for defining news.  Yes, the dictionary has a definition, but I find it pretty unsatisfactory as we move into the second decade of the 21st century.  There is only one hard and fast written rule about news; "It exists."  After that, YOU decide what is news and what isn't.  This has been true since man first started writing down on cave walls what their neighbor was doing or how the "big hunt" went.  The difference today is that social media technology gives every person the ability to either report on what they find interesting, or read about those issues they determine to be "news". 

This is the big challenge facing the future of both "Old Media" and "New Media" as we move forward.  The best part is that the winner in this epic struggle is you.  As a small business owner or non-profit manager, you have the ability to speak directly to those who find your "news" interesting without having to beg or plead with traditional media outlets.

At the same time, you can reach out to those who may not be aware of your organization and present them with your "news" in ways you couldn't just five years ago.  You are your own network, your own reporter, your own producer, your own media outlet.  Take advantage of this.  Go out and report on your industry, let the world know about what you do, how you do and why you do it better than anyone else. 

To me...THAT'S news!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Why Print Media Still Matters

There's a commonly held belief out there that print media is dead.  I've written on this before and you can bet that I'll write about it again in the future.  That's because it still matters.  It matters to small businesses and non-profits as much as it matters to big business, start-ups and those who make a living actualy working for these print outlets.

Understand that I'm not just talking about daily newspapers here.  I'm talking neighborhood and weekly papers and magazines, both general and trade.  While I'm a staunch supporter of social media as a powerful PR and marketing tool, I also continue to carry the flag for the more traditional print media as well, and I always will. 

It's not because I'm an older guy who grew up in a two-newspaper town.  And it's not because I grew up wanting desperately to be a writer for a major daily paper, although I did.  No, I support print media because it's still an extremely viable source for small businesses and non-profits to reach out to current and potential stakeholders, but also as a way to reach new audiences, expand their notariety and raise their overall profile.

I know, I can hear the gasps from business owners and marketers everywhere.  "How can you say that print is still viable?" they shriek.  There are a number of reasons why print still matters, but I suppose we should start with some hard, cold numbers.

This article from the Poynter Online site spells out the reach of newspapers alone as we enter the second decade of the new millennium. 
Myth: Newspapers Are No Longer Relevant

Next week, well over 110 million people in the United States will read some or all of the Sunday newspaper. Maybe they will enjoy the comics, or work the crossword. Maybe they’ll pore over a local investigative report and be hooked enough to go to the website and look at a video related to the story. Maybe they'll shout their displeasure at the paper's editorial on health care or a local zoning matter and even be outraged enough to write a letter to the editor. Maybe they'll study a baseball box score, put a local restaurant review up on their fridge or notice a shoe sale at the local department store.
That's a good start, but the article goes on to list some other eye-opening figures regarding newspapers:

1.  There are currently 1,400 daily newspapers in publication
2.  900 Sunday-only newspapers
3.  6,000 weekly newspapers
4.  Sunday readership is greater today than it was 10 years ago
5.  Viewership of newspaper online sites is up 5-million in the past year
6.  Newspapers did approximately $27-billion in business last year

No matter how you spin it, these are impressive numbers.  Before we move on, I have to point out that while the Poynter Institute is a very respected organization, it's primary focus is on promoting quality journalism and quality journalists.  So it has a vested interest in keeping newspapers and other print outlets financially and culturally relevant.

Dismiss the numbers if you will, but readership of daily newspapers isn't driving off a cliff the way it had been previously predicted.  In fact, when added to the number of magazine subscribers and readers, print readership is at the very least maintaining stable numbers, if not growing slightly.  I contend it has been the economy, where more businesses are choosing to put their advertising dollars elsewhere that has caused some outlets to flounder.

In the year before it folded, the Rocky Mountain News had a higher readership and subscription rate than at any time in its long history.  The same holds true for the Denver post currently.  It's not that readers are fleeing from print readership, it's that these outlets are having a hard time making ends meet financially in these difficult economic times.  Lagging advertising sales has more to do with the failing of some print outlets than lack of readership.

In fact, the following aticle from the Wisconsin State Journal (via Poynter Online) proves that newspapers aren't, in fact, failing as some had predicted.
Remember that 'most likely to fold' list of newspapers?
Wisconsin State Journal | Time.com

It was compiled by 24/7 Wall Street and published in Time magazine in March 2009. The author said "it's possible that 8 of the nation's 50 largest daily newspapers could cease publication in the next 18 months." Margaret Sullivan points out that "as the 18-month mark approaches, Time is not exactly batting 1.000. More like zero."
So newspapers aren't folding as predicted and every day new magazines come online.  The catch is that the ones that survive the initial year, the print outlets that are not ony surviving, but thriving, are the ones that utilize their online access the best.  And while the content might be online, it doesn't mean that these outlets have foregone their print past.

It's About The Reach:

There's no need to get into the aesthetics of reading a Sunday paper, or why GQ magazine is so much better in print format than online.  And we could argue that the organization makeup of traditional print media often delivers a more consistent and quality product than the alternatives.  We could also debate the value of the content found in online-only media as well as broadcast media vs. print media.  The analysis and in-depth coverage quality of print vs. the alternatives.  But this is really about what the survival of print media means to small businesses and non-profits.

The value of print media to small businesses and non-profits is apparent when you just look at the numbers.  The reach of your local media is powerful.  Think about it.  It's likely that you read the paper every day, either in printed form or online.  The same goes for your favorite magazines and even your neighborhood paper.  The same holds true for your current and potential customers and stakeholders.

You have to think of the audience you're trying to reach.  Chances are, if your audience is 25 years or younger, then the value of traditional print media is lowered.  This crowd just isn't reading daily newspapers like the generations before it.  However, they ARE reading online news fairly regularly, whether it's an RSS feed from their favorite magazine or paper. 

While this can be an alarming fact for many, remember that the previous generations also didn't read the news in the same manner as their predecessors.  That changed, though, as they got older, had families and news of the day became more important to them.  In other words, readership of print media may falter from time to time, but there will always be a steady flow of new readers to keep it alive.

This means your pitches sent to print outlets will continue to reach a massive audience.  Stories about your organization printed in magazines will find targeted audiences that could help grow your bottom line. 

Be Inclusive:

When you put together your PR campaign, you should include social media, broadcast entities and online news aggregators.  But you should also include print outlets into your plan as well.  Certainly your major daily paper needs to be part of your equation.  But don't forget your neighborhood weekly papers and specific magazines that cater to your audience.  These print outlets remain in business because they have a hard-core group of subscribers who value the content in these publications. 

This is why it's still important to continue to build relationships with your local print reporters and print outlets.  Any productive PR campaign still must include print outlets given the reach, continued viability and readership provided. 

While some print outlets have, indeed, folded over the years, the fact remains that although print media might not be as powerful as it once was, it still remains a vital and mighty powerful tool in your PR toolbox. 

Not only is print media not dead, it's still one of your best options when it comes to quality public relations.

Monday, May 24, 2010

On Mistakes, DIY and Getting "LOST"

It's analysis time here at the worldwide headquarters of Growing Communications and the Real Public Relations Blog.  It was a busy weekend for our staff and we weren't able to comment on some of the more interesting events that took place in the world of public relations and social media.  We have more proof that you can handle your own PR and social media efforts, a major mistake admitted publicly and our take on the LOST finale and what it means to you. 

Is it over?  Can I stop feeling bad about not getting it, or watching it, or caring?

First, an article that I stumbled upon late last week, but just didn't have the time to post.  It's a fascinating article with some excellent insight about the future of public relations.  I found it interesting and impactful because the article touted exactly what this blog has been trying to preach since its inception:

YOU can create and manage your own PR campaigns!

But I'll let the article speak for itself.  Here is a short excerpt from the beginning of the article, found on the E-Releases website.  Click the link for the entire article.  It's not long and a very good read.
News Men

If you’ve ever watched television, read a newspaper, or browsed a magazine, you’ve heard it (though you may not be able to name it). If you’ve been in the public relations industry for even a short while, you recognize it outright - it’s that dreaded public relations speak.
More often than not, traditional public relations speak is legalese and TPS reports all rolled into one boring packages. It’s talk of “value propositions” and “sustainable giving.” It’s understandable (barely), but is it interesting? Increasingly, the public is saying “No!” And how are they saying no? Through venues like social media.
 It makes an extremely valuable point later on the in the article that "Social media IS PR."  I couldn't agree more.  One of the primary objectives of this blog has always been to help small businesses, individuals, startups and non-profits to learn how to do basic PR so they don't have to pay large firms to do it for them. 

The Pro's and Con's of a Firm:

Certainly there are positives to hiring a PR firm.  But most of these have to do with previously established media relationships and time management.  I have said for a long, long time, going back to my days in a newsroom, that PR isn't rocket science.  Yes, there are tricks to the trade, a particular set of skills and even a little math and science involved.  But when you boil it all down to its basic element, it's about storytelling and networking.  And just about everyone in the world can learn how to do these two things. 

As a small business or non-profit you might find yourself needing more than just a basic media pitch, you might need a coordinated campaign or community outreach effort or crisis communications plan.  This is where an agency can definitely help.  Again, it's not because you don't know how, or can't learn, but primarily because you have an organization to run, and when PR and social media is in high gear, it needs more attention than you can give in order for it to be successful.  In these instances, you can decide what you can do, how much time you can give, and an agency or firm can step in and help you manage it, maintain oversight and keep it headed in the right direction in cooperation with your personal efforts.  In this way you save money by handling some of the work yourself, while still having the power of an experienced firm behind you when necessary.

One last point this article makes that I addressed not too long ago when discussing the BP Oil Spill; the language of PR.  Too often when I was working in a newsroom, I would run across releases that sounded more like a legal brief than an actual pitch.  Companies get so wound up in their catchphrases and terms they forget to actually say something worth listening to.  Some of this is because these organizations are pitching to trade outlets that understand this kind of PR speak.  They assume the reporter will understand how to translate this into a readable story for their audience. 

But I've always wondered why take that chance?  Why not just tell an interesting story from the beginning?  I'm not saying you should underestimate your audience, not at all.  But I AM saying that the audience generally has a different barometer of what's interesting and what's not.  You may care, and it might sound neat, to say that your "new, co-branded site is a 'Best-of-Breed' award winner that utilizes multi-platform digital strategies to leverage advertising opportunities." 

But it's probably more interesting and easily more understandable for the average person to say, "By partnering with business X, our new sites provide a bigger bang for your advertising buck!"

Yes, it's oversimplified, but, as a business person, I immediately understand the concept of what the second sentence is telling me.  I don't need to read it a second or third time to know that this new partnership could put my advertising dollars to better use.  And in case you're wondering, yes, that first sentence is from an actual press release.  You would never use that first sentence when telling someone about your new deal at a cocktail party.  So why would you use it in a press release?  Why would you even consider putting that kind of language on a Facebook update or in a Tweet?  In order for your PR and social media efforts to succeed, you need to speak the language of your audience. 

If your only audience is trade magazine editors and reporters, then I suppose the first sentence might be the way to go.  But if your organization depends on everyday, ordinary people, then avoid the PR speak whenever possible and get to the point, tell a story and say something interesting. 

Mea Culpa:

Another VERY intersting think happened over the weekend.  I read it first on my Twitter and have been anxious to comment about it ever since.  In case you missed it, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg admitted publicly that the powerful social media site "made some mistakes."  Here's an excerpt from the ABC article posted earlier today (Monday, May 24th).  For the entire article, click on the link.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg Admits Privacy Gaffes

After enduring weeks of criticism over his company's latest privacy changes, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg today offered a mea culpa in an op-ed column in the Washington Post. But some industry observers doubt that the tweaks he outlined will be enough to satisfy users' concerns.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg Addresses Privacy Concerns

Acknowledging the public's response to Facebook's approach to privacy, he wrote, "Sometimes we move too fast -- and after listening to recent concerns, we're responding."
"Simply put, many of you thought our controls were too complex. Our intention was to give you lots of granular controls; but that may not have been what many of you wanted," Zuckerberg wrote. "We just missed the mark."
He said that the company is planning to introduce simplified privacy settings, as well as an easy way to disable all third-party services. 
 My take:  Good.  It's always nice to hear from someone who's willing to say, "my bad" and then move forward to fix the problem.  While I don't think the Facebook privacy issue had blown into a full-on crisis, I DO think that the governmental pressure combined with legitimate complaints from its millions of users forced Zuckerberg and Facebook to do something.

Here's what I liked about Zuckerberg's acknowledgement.  He admitted that his organization was "moving too fast."  He explained WHY they made the changes they did, and then followed that up by saying that THEY didn't do a good enough job of addressing privacy concerns while trying to simultaneously make changes they believed their users wanted.  He didn't say, "Hey, you thought we were too complex, we made it easier, make up your damn minds!"  Zuckerberg laid the blame at his own feet. 

The second thing I liked about the statement was that instead of trying to endlessly defend the changes, Zuckerberg apologized and then moved the focus not on the changes, but the changes to the changes.  In other words, he advanced the story by outlining what Facebook plans to do, or has already done, to address user concerns.  This is always a good move.  Yes, not everyone is happy with the solution, including Adam Ostrow, Editor-in Chief of Mashable.com, who stated that Zuckerberg's reaction to the situation amounts to little more than smoke and mirrors. 

"I think what he's done here is essentially acknowledge that there's been a lot of discussion recently about Facebook and privacy issues," said Ostrow. "But it really falls short of saying anything significant." 

Agree or disagree, the fact is that the story has now switched from the initial changes themselves and now is focused on the upcoming changes that will impact the Facebook privacy concerns.  It doesn't make the problem go away, at least not right now, but it at least moves the story from a completely negative to a more positive note.  It will be interesting to watch how this all plays out, but for the time being, I think Zuckerberg and Facebook made some good moves over the weekend.

I Was, Well...LOST:

Finally, there's the little issue of the finale of LOST last night.  I have to say this right up front.  I didn't watch the finale.  Not because I was otherwise preoccupied, but because I didn't watch LOST at all.  I didn't get it, didn't like the story arcs and couldn't relate to the characters.  I watched all of season one, and basically found myself manipulated and angry afterwards. 

But here's the interesting thing:  I kow what happened in the show, and I've read numerous articles about LOST, it's plotline/s, characters, theological implications, actors, writers and what they ate for breakfast on the set.  Did I do this because I am, in reality a closet LOST fan.  I can say adamantly not.  I did so because LOST, like American Idol and The X-Files and Twin Peaks and Survivor, had become a cultural icon.  In twenty years, when people discuss the culture and trends of the first decade of the new millennium, LOST will be in that discussion; much like Michael Jackson in the 80's, Disco in the 70's, or painted potter of the Neolithic Period.  Some things become phenomenons and cultural markers.  LOST is likely one of those things. 

But as I read my Facebook and Twitter updates this morning, I had to wonder if LOST would have been as successfull, as big as culturally far-reaching if it had come out, say, ten years earlier.  In the mid-90's the internet and social media was still a bit of a twinkle in the eyes of Silicon Valley geeks.  There would have been message boards and forums to be sure.  But without the constant online chatter that social media offers, I had to wonder if it would have carried the same weight that it carried today. 

For a long time, I've been reading posts and Tweets from friends and strangers alike commenting about rearranging their schedule to watch LOST.  Or debating the storyline or the previous night's episode.  For a while, I generally ignored these posts as a conversation I simply had nothing to do with.  But as it grew and became more popular, I started taking notice, much like I do now with the American Idol posts. 

I had no desire to watch the program, but I found myself feeling like I had to follow the conversations at least so I could keep up with what people were talking about.  It's kind of like a person who wants to hang out with a certian group of friends who are all football fans.  But this person doesn't like football.  They won't watch the games, necessarily, but they at least learn about the game and keep up with major developments so they don't get left out when everyone else starts talking about the big game, major trade, huge win or disappointing loss. 

Since you want to be involved in conversations that could eventually help grow your business, knowing what people are talking about is the best way to remain relevant and intersting.  For instance, I had no idea who Justin Beieber was, but after seeing his name trend on Tweet for a while, I figured I'd better check out who this guy was.  I even listened to some of his songs and read some articles about him.  I certainly don't qualify as a fan, but at least I know who he is and won't feel left out if I'm with a group of folks talking about him. 

Talk The Talk:

Social Media works both ways.  In order for you to create and maintain a high profile, you have to say things that interest your potential audience.  But in order for you to know what your audience is talking about, you have often have to watch and listen and stay involved.

The big question now is this; since LOST is now over, 24 has run its course (as has Survivor and The Great Race) and American Idol is probably on the downside of its cultural impact what will step in to fill the void?  There really is no way to predict this.  I won't even try.  But if you're smart you'll keep an eye on Facebook and Twitter, because the next big thing will likely emerge from there.  You'll know it when it happens because you'll find yourself reading more and more posts about a show or an event or a band or type of music, etc. 

The wonderful thing is that you don't HAVE to know what's coming down the pike.  You simply have to be ready for it when it does, and that's where paying attention to your social media platforms will help you immensely.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

An Iconic Lesson:

"Everything I learned about PR, branding and image I learned from Bruce Lee."

That's what I was going to title this entry, but there were a couple of hitches.  First, it's not exactly true, although we WILL be using Mr. Lee as an excellent example for small businesses and non-profits.  Second, it's really long and I wasn't sure it would fit in the little box set aside for the title.

I know what you're thinking, "What in the world can Bruce Lee teach me about branding, PR and image control?"  Answer:  A lot. 

Let's play a quick game.  I will ask you to list five things you think about when I say the name, Bruce Lee.  Don't think about it.  Just the top five things that come to mind.  I played this game with a friend the other day and here is what he came up with:

1.  Kung Fu God
2.  Actor
3.  Enter The Dragon
4.  visionary
5.  Legend

These are all excellent answers.  The fact is, Bruce Lee is an icon.  He epitomizes martial arts and what we would call, "Kung Fu Movies."  When you think of him, you imeidately conjure up images of him with his shirt off, muscles rippling, looking like he's about to kick your ass.  Say Kung Fu to just about anyone and they probably immediatly reply, Bruce Lee.  But how did he become an icon?  And how does that relate to small businesses and non-profits?  I'll tell you.

You WILL become a social media and PR expert!

Be The Brand:

I was chatting with a friend of mine who is releasing a children's book in the next month.  He's been busy doing book signings and preparing for some press junkets to promote the book.  The author's name is Jon Jon Lannen (the title of the book is "The Giraffe That Taught Me How To Laugh")  In an effort to prepare for the upcoming release and possible future ventures, Jon Jon wanted to create a company under which he could pool all of his various money-making activities, including workshops and lectures. 

He related to me that he went to a business coach to try and come up with a name and a brand that would encompass all of work as well as reflect his personality.  He says the coach simply looked at him and said, "Jon Jon, YOU are the brand."  And it's true.  Within specific circles, Jon Jon is well known and simply saying his name will elicit knowing nods.  People know who he is and no explanation is needed for most within the improvisational community, particularly in Denver.

This got me to thinking that there are a number of brands that carry similar weight in the business community at large.  Kleenex, Xerox, Miracle Whip, Coke, Pepsi.  You don't need an explanation of what these things are or what they do.  The same holds true for Bruce Lee.  You know right away who he was, what he did and why he's so well known.

Lessons of Lee:

Yes, there is a bit of a "cult of personality" at work here, but delve deeper and you'll see that Bruce Lee crafted his image in such a way that it was impossible for him to become confused with any other martial arts star then or now.  HE was, and remains, the brand.  Not some company he established, not even the unique style of martial arts he created.  And that would have been easy for him to focus on.  He could have made Jeet Kun Do the focus of his image, branding and PR efforts.  The same holds true for his movies.  He could have made THOSE the focus.  Instead, he made himself, his life, his philosphy, the focus and the success of his movies and style of martial arts followed.

There is a lesson to be learned here for small businesses and non-profits.  Have a simple message, focus on being the best at what you do, and then shamelessly promote yourself to the point where your name becomes so well known, it becomes associated with whatever product or service you provide.  It sounds easy, right?  But how exactly do you DO that?

In order to understand how Bruce Lee developed his image and brand, you have to start at the beginning.  When Bruce Lee began his career in Hollywood as the Green Hornet's sidekick, Kato, Asians were often depicted as weak, inferior to white actors and cast in a myriad of sterotyped characters.  Even though by this time Lee had established himself as a world-class martial artist, Hollywood still saw him as little more than a glorified extra. 

And yet, Lee didn't immediately come in and try to overturn the sterotypes right away.  He played his role, all the while learning the craft of filmmaking and improving his own art.  In a short period of time, he was ready to go off on his own, to make his own mark and spread his own message. 

Here is how Lee went from relatively obscure martial artist to the most well-known Asian actor of all time:

1.  He learned his craft:  He took the time to learn the art of filmmaking while acting as Kato on the series, "The Green Hornet".  At the same time he was perfecting his own personal style of martial arts.  He had focus and drive to be the best he could be at both.  As small business owners or non-profits, we do the same thing as we work for someone else, all in preparation for the time when we set off on our own.

2.  He had a clear vision:  He knew exactly what he wanted to accomplish.  He had set out goals, both long term and short term and he had a plan on how to get there.  He followed that plan, making slight adjustments along the way as life and society changed around him.

3.  He had high standards:  Because of his vision, drive and plan he had standards that others had to live up to in order for him to meet his goals. If a script wasn't good enough, he'd demand rewrites.  If the peformances weren't good enough, he'd require extra takes. He didn't let anyone else lower his standards.

4.  He had a simple and clear message:  He wanted the world to know that an Asian man could be strong and powerful.  This differed greatly from the stereotype of the time where Asians were characterized as meek and submissive.  This carried through to the roles he created for himself.  He was always the Alpha Male, whether it was in a movie, doing an interview or simply walking in public.  He wanted to exude strength and power.  

5.  He controlled his Image:  Think about the pictures you have seen of Bruce Lee.  They are of him as powerful, strong, in control.  He meticulously controlled his promotional photos; every poster, every promotional picture, every photo for the news was crafted.  He understood that image matters and the image that you establish publicly is the one that will be remembered.

6.  He set himself apart:  Lee also understood that while his philosophy and style differed greatly from the vast number of other martial artists, this was a bit too complicated to explain in a movie or a short media interview.  He knew he needed something that was unique and that set him apart visually.  Soon after, he introduced the nun-chucks.  Try to imagine Bruce Lee without them.  He used them in his movies, in his promotional photos, used them during interviews.  The weapon was old, but to the rest of the Western world they were relatively new and interesting.

7.  He created his own myth:  Bruce Lee understood that the best way to establish a following is to get others to talk about you.  During exhibitions, he performed his two-finger push-ups, he displayed his one-inch punch, he performed athletic feats that made people take notice.  As his notariety grew, so did his legend.  He didn't try to squash the rumors that he could kill a man with one punch.  Instead, he added it as part of his movies and to his growing legendary exploits.  He let people talk, he encouraged it, as long as it helped grow his image and legend.

Bruce Lee very easily could have focused on his personal style of martial arts, which he called Jeet Kun Do, to grow his fame.  Or he could have focused solely on his movies and built his image and brand through them.  But he didnt' do this.  He focused on himself as the brand, and the success of his martial arts style and his movies followed.  He didn't create a company to promote his movies, his mere presence did that well enough.

To the point, HE was the brand, not his movies or his martial arts style.  They were an outgrowth of what he'd already established for himself and his personal brand.  Even before he became famous worldwide, he had already established a personal brand that carries through even to today, nearly 40 years after his death.   

Step By Step:

As a small business or non-profit, these are all things that you can do to help establish your own image and brand.  Let's say you own a restaurant.  It's a small, family-owned restaurant that specializes in Italian cuisine. 

The first few lessons you have already gone through.  You have learned your craft, you have a vision and goals and you most likely have high standards for yourself and your employees.  But what about your message?  What about your public image?  What about you sets you apart from your competition?  Have you created your own story or myth?  Do you encourage others to talk about your restaurant? 

This is PR 101 and it can be incorporated very easily into your social media efforts as well.  Your blog can help create your story and tell the world about you.  Your Facebook posts and your Tweets can and should encourage others to talk about you.  Every photo you post should say something positive about your restaurant. 

Message Matters:

And then there's the message.  I have, and will continue to hammer this point until the day I die.  Your message is perhaps the single most important aspect of your PR and social media efforts.  Period.

What is your message?  Is it, "we have good food?"  If it is, it's time to change.  Your message should be powerful, clear and make people want to learn more about your or sample your wares.  Your message should be more along the lines of, "We serve the best Italian food you'll find outside of Italy."  That's intriguing to me.  I'd be willing to give a restaurant a shot if that's what they're telling me.

Do you have a signature?  Something that people think of immediately when they think of your restaurant?  For instance, when I want Lasagna, I go to a specific restaurant nearby.  I tell others about it, I love it.  You need something, a signature, that sets you apart from your competition.  If you don't have one, find one.  Then start promoting it endlessly.

Your message and even your signature should be part of everything you do as part of your promotions, public relations, imaging and branding.  Every press release you write, every interaction you have with the public, every photo you publish, should incorporate your message and promote your signature. 

Like everything you do with PR and social media, the results don't happen overnight.  But a constant stream of your message and imaging and branding will eventually catch the eye of those looking for your service or product.  They might not need it right now, but when they do, they'll remember your name if you do it right.

All of this comes down to becoming the brand.  In an ideal world, you want people to think of your restaurant when they think of Italian food.  You want your service to become so recognizable, that when people mention dry cleaners, or masseuse, or auto parts, the first thing they think of is your brand.  All the hard work and quality service you provide won't help you if people don't know who you are.  That's why it's so important to constantly be using social media to promote yourself and working your public relations efforts to get the media to take notice as well.

It takes a little time, and you have to ultimately live up to they hype, but it can be done. Just ask Bruce Lee.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Facebook Fears

"The only thing we have to fear is, fear itself!"
President Franklin D. Roosevelt, from his 1933 Inaugural speech 

That's a great quote, and clearly recognizable to many, if not most, Americans.  Heck, it's even part of a current successful and powerful advertising campaign.  In context, the quote above speaks to the never-ending drive, confidence, courage will of the American people and spirit.  It many ways, at least in my opinion, it encompasses the very spirit that leads so many of us to branch out, take the risk and start our own small businesses or reach out to others as part of a non-profit.

Unfortunately, when those words were spoken, it was a completely different world than the one we live in today.  It was a turbulent time to be sure, what with the rise of the Nazi party beginning in Germany, a bloody war in the Far East and a massive economic depression of our own to deal with.  To be fair, though, Roosevelt and the world didn't have Facebook to deal with at the time.

Okay, that's a bit of hyperbole, but there is a point.  The world of 2010 is no less complicated and dangerous than it was when those words were spoken.  I would content that is it even moreseo, on many different levels.  But let's leave politics and world economics aside for a moment and focus solely on one fear at a time.  When it comes to social media and small business, there probably isn't a bigger question mark than the one about the future of Facebook.

In my dealings with clients, I get more questions about Facebook than I do any other topic.  More than pitching a newsroom, more than dealing with a crisis, more than the overall effectiveness of Tweeting.  Questions about facebook far outdistances any of those.  At first, the questions focused on how to use Facebook to promote an organization.  Many clients simply saw Facebook as a fun time diversion rather than a powerful small business tool. 

"I don't like Farmville and I don't care what my friends are doing in Mafia Wars!" they would lament.  Of course, they were thrilled when they learned they could simply hide those particular posts forever.  Once clients start to realize the connective power of Facebook, they generally jump in head-first, and not just with Facebook, but with social media in general. 

But I'm hearing a whole new brand of questions, and these are darker, more fearful questions.  Questions that need to be addressed as we move forward in order for this tool to continue to be a force for small businesses and non-profits.

Most of the fears, and rightfully so, tend to be about expenses and privacy issues.  And let there be no doubt, these are legitimate concerns.  But, as small business owners and non-profits, you're used to dealing with legitimate concerns in a methodical and strategic manner.  Why not approach your fears and concerns over Facebook and social media?

Here are the top three questions I get regularly regarding Facebook and social media.  Let's tackle  them one at a time:

1.  What happens when Facebook starts charging users?  Before I answer this, do me a favor, go to Google and type in Facebook charging users 2010.  Do it under Google News, not the regular search function.  If you go under the regular function, you'll find blogs and opinions about the subject.  But look for an actual press relase or news article actually stating that Facebook will charge.  Go ahead, I'll wait. 

Done?  Good.  Let me tell you what you found.  You found a lot of articles about mobile platform charges, about YouTube allowing certain users being allowed to charge a users fee and numerous articles about Facebook and privacy issues (which I'll address in the next question).  Hopefully, you also found this little gem in the search:

Facebook Is Not Charging And Never Will

-Pay Here Icon-Back in January we wrote that Facebook will not begin charging for the site, however the rumor won’t disappear. Thanks to a group called “I’m quitting facebook when the start charging $50/per month on July 8, 2010″, hundreds of thousands of users are convinced that the company will begin charging for the services in a couple months. That group is actually completely inaccurate and Facebook has no intention of doing so ever.

This article comes from AllFacebook, (click to read the entire article) admittedly the unnofficial source about all things Facebook.  It was the only actual article I could find in the past month regarding FB charges.  Take a look at the rest of the site and you'll find it carries some credibility.

But even if you don't believe the above article ask yourself this; WHY would Facebook kill goose that lays the golden egg?  They generate money from advertising.  It's a proven successful business model in the internet age and it seems to be working for Facebook very well.  They know that if they started charging users, they'd lose a good chunk of their base.  This in turn would negatively impact their advertising sales.  Logically, it's safe to assume that the rumors about Facebook charging users are just that, rumors.

BUT, let's go ahead and say that Facebook stuns the world and does start charging users.  What does that mean to you as a small business owner or non-profit director?  For starters, it means you're going to lose, most likely, a good portion of your friends and fans from the site, vastly decreasing your reach.  You'll also have to decide if the fee is worth staying on board.  Certainly, there would be many who flee.  But there will also be many millions who stick around and pay the nominal useage fee.

Those that stick around will likely belong to a group that has stronger earning power, and therefore stronger spending power.  It's kind of like joining a private club.  Yes, you have to pay, but the perks are better than the YMCA, which is free.  In that sense, it's not such a bad thing to stick around if Facebook decides to pay.

Now lets assume you flee along with millions of others.  Will your social media strategy suddenly be stranded in the wilderness, alone and afraid with only an emergency whistle and no flashlight to guide you?  The answer is no.  Listen, social media is still a very young phenomenon.  Facebook is the result of lessons learned from MySpace.  Think about it, MySpace didn't fail because it started charging users.  It failed because Facebook was better. 

Even if Facebook doesn't start charging users, chances are, another program will rise up at some point and displace FB as King of the Hill.  Whatever site takes over will probably have addressed the privacy issue better than FB.  Regardless, if Facebook starts charging users, another site will take its place, one that will be free.  And if that site happens to be as good or better than FB, you can bet that all the friends and fans you have now will find you when you make the switch.  It's what happened when Facebook destroyed MySpace and it will happen again. 

2.  What About My Privacy on Facebook and Social Media?  This is an excellent question.  In today's world where anyone can Google anyone else, where identity theft is rampant and background checks can be made on a nieghbor simply by clicking a mouse, small businesses have good reason to be concerned about this issue.

However, let's take a larger view of this issue.  It's likely that as a small business owner or non-profit, you shred all of your sensitive documents such as bank statements, bills, etc.  You probably don't hold important conversations over a cellphone unless absolutely necessary and you probably check your personal credit score at least once a year.  These are all actions resulting from privacy developments over the past 10-15 years. 

You have learned to be more vigilant in making sure your personal information hasn't been stolen or used illicitly.  Privacy has been a concern ever since the first PC was switched on some 30 years ago.  Hackers have made wonderful livings off of breaking into your computer and grabbing your information.  Anytime you buy something online, you risk having your information stolen, and yet, billions of people buy items online.  Chances are you do it as part of your daily operations.  You probably pay bills online as well.  These are things you do willingly every day that puts your private information at risk of being stolen.

When I was a journalist I would constantly amaze people when I would tell them that their information is very public, no matter how much they tried to be private.  There was a time when college student ID's were social security numbers, or when your SS was actually on your drivers license (at least in Colorado).  Information about where you lived, how much you paid for it, where you went to school, how much your utility bills are, they're all public.  Your education records, your bank records and your medical records were private.  They still are unless you decide to post that information online.  If you don't put information online that you don't want people to see, that information will most likely stay private. 

Yes, people are upset that the new Facebook information is so public and that it's an opt-out rather than opt-in choice.  But Congress is looking into that problem and Facebook will likely be forced to make changes in that arena, if not by the government, then by the users themselves.  If you stay vigilant, as you probably are now, about your private information, then you don't have any more to worry about than you did the day before you signed up for Facebook or Twitter or LinkedIn.

This article from Mashable has an interesting take on the privacy issue.  Here is an excerpt, click on the link for the entire article:

In Defense of Facebook

All eyes are on Facebook. Ever since Facebook revealed Facebook Open Graph, the world’s largest social network has been getting hammered by tech pundits, mainstream media and its users.
Facebook’s used to this type of uproar after it changes something, but in my time tracking Facebook, I’ve never seen anything like this. Not even the Facebook News Feed fiasco of 2006 had U.S. Senate scrutiny. Facebook Open Graph has clearly struck a nerve with a lot of people.

3.  Why does Facebook keep changing things?  It's confusing and annoying.  Answer:  I don't know and yes it is.  Actually, that's not true, I think I DO know why Facebook keeps changing things up.  They're growing, they're trying to find what works and what doesn't work, like any business does.

Because of the growth, reach and power of Facebook, it's easy to forget that this is a company that is really still very young.  Social media in general is still very young.  In ten years, we'll look back on Facebook and probably chuckle at how simple and basic it seemed.  Facebook, along with social media, is continuing to grow and change at an amazing rate.  With the changes, come adjustments, new ideas, new attempts to improve. 

I'm pretty sure there isn't a staff office at Facebook Headquarters where staffers sit back in their large, comfy chairs and try to create changes specifically to enrage users.  I doubt they sip their double latte's and high five each other with exclamations of "YES! We've pissed off our users again, we rock!"

My advice to my clients is to take an hour and really read about the changes, try to understand what the changes mean and how it will impact their FB and social media strategy.  Or just ask someone you trust what it will mean.  Either way, educating yourself about the changes will go a long way towards adjusting to them.  Some of these changes will be great additions, others will fail miserably and probably disappear into the mists of history.  In the end, the users themselves will determine which changes stick and which ones go away.  It's how business works, and online business is no different.

No Worries, Mate:

So don't worry about the changes, roll with them.  Don't fret too much about your privacy on Facebook, stay vigilant and really think about what kind of information you post.  This is another area of fear for some clients, worrying that they could say something that might get them sued or anger potential or current customers.  They worry that being so open online opens them up to criticism from customers, past, present and future.  But as a business or non-profit, you're always open to criticism, at least online, you can see what the critics say, in their own words, and take immediate actions to respond to the criticism. 

Yes, you should choose your words carefully, VERY carefully.  It's easy to misconstrue what people mean in type.  Don't assume you know what people actually mean to say, and don't assume they will know what you mean to say.  Try not to use sarcasm, off color jokes and don't be mean.  What you type and post can, and will, come back to bite you at some point.  Be fair and play nice.  Doing business in the online environment is a lot like the advice your mother gave you on your first day of school.  Here is a great example of how words and meaning can be misconstrued leading to a misunderstanding and potential court date: (from the site TechCrunch)
You’re Welcome, You Bastards
A week ago we posted two excerpts from Fortune columnist David Kirkpatrick’s new book The Facebook Effect. We’re big fans of Kirkpatrick and have been following his book progress since last year. When Fortune’s PR department called to ask us to print the excerpts, we quickly agreed.  Read more: http://techcrunch.com/2010/05/13/youre-welcome-you-bastards/#ixzz0oDEEvZY

Don't worry about having to pay (I don't believe you ever will have to) because there will always, ALWAYS be new options and the end result will be that you will always have a free platform with a massive reach to appeal to customers and stakeholders. 

There now, don't you feel better?  Sure, you probably still have some concerns, but concern and fear are two different things.  There's not reason to be afraid of Facebook or social media.  You've already proven you're willing and able to take risks just by starting your own business.  You already embody the spirit of the quote we started with, "we have nothing to fear but fear itself."  Not even Facebook.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Sometimes Less Is More

We're going to do something a little unusual today.  We're going to write a bunch about writing very little.  Confused?  Don't be.  We're talking blogging today and, hopefully putting some fears to rest.

When I work with clients on their social media efforts, one of the first things I do is to look for potential blogging material.  It's not hard, generally.  When I was a journalist or working in a large PR firm, one of my standard sayings was, "Everyone has a story to tell...everyone."  Sometimes you have to look a little harder than normal to find the story, but there's always, ALWAYS something interesting to say about something.  It doesn't matter if it's a coolest new business you've ever heard of, or if it's the gas station on the corner.

Admit it, the sandwich looks good, but you love my wicked 'stache, don't you?

In other words, you can always say something about your organization.  But clients get nervous about blogs, for a number of reasons; the privacy issue, not feeling like they're interesting enough, having little confidence in their writing abilities, exposing the inner workings of the organization online, saying something that could get them sued.  Clearly there are legitimate concerns, each one of which can be mitigated through some basic blogging instruction. 

Time Keeps On Slippin':

But the biggest concern, by far, is the time issue.  "Blogging takes time I don't have," my clients say.  It's a lament you may have made yourself many times.  Sure, you'd LOVE to blog about your organization, to tell everyone why you're so awsome, but you "just...don't...have..the..time!"

I get it, I hear you.  But here's the thing...it doesn't have to take a long time to blog.  When clients ask me how long it takes for me to write this blog everyday, I immediately have to tell them that this blog isn't necessarily the example they should be shooting to recreate.  It takes me about an hour every day to catch up on research and write the blog.  But this is really only one type of blog available to small businesses and non-profits. 

I have set up a blog designed specifically to educate and inform.  In order to do so, I have to take time and spill a lot of (virtual) ink.  But your blog might have a completely different goal or purpose than this blog.  In that case, you can spend as much, or as little time on your blog as you like and still be very successful in attracting an audience.

Smaller and Successful:

One of the more fascinating stats I ran across a few months ago was that 20-somethings, or "Millennials" as they're called, are changing the way blogging works.  As you saw in yesterday's post, teens are texting on average, two-thousand times a month.  The younger generation is used to saying things in short bursts and reading short thoughts that express their feelings or impart information. 

We also know that Millennials don't write traditional blogs as much as their older online counterparts.  They might read a more traditional blog every now and then, but they're drawn to blogs featuring video elements, they listen to podcasts more often and they spend most of their time on Facebook and Twitter.

So why blog at all, you might ask?  Because even though they're not blogging in the traditional sense, they ARE blogging.  This blog fits into the traditional structure very nicely, but if I could look at the demographics of who is reading this blog, I would venture a guess that most of the readers are 30 years old and above.  Which is okay for my audience and my purposes.

Reaching The Right Audience:

But for many small businesses and non-profits, the Millennial demographic is a powerful money-spending, potential-customer audience to appeal to.  Which is why, when you blog, and you should, you should consider "Micro-Blogging."

Micro-Blogging is really an outgrowth of Facebook and Twitter.  Instead of spending time to write full blog entries, much like this one, they instead write one, two, maybe three sentences about their thoughts, observations or information and then move on.  In essence, Micro-Blogging is a series of short bursts of information that gets constantly updated and passed on every day.  These Micro-Blogs also are heavy on video or pics or graphics to illustrate the information.

In a way, Facebook has become a de-facto micro-blogging spot for many Millennials.  Instead of signing up for a Blogspot or Wordpress site, they use Facebook and Twitter as a way to micro-blog.  You could do something similar if you choose.

As with everything, there are pro's and cons to this strategy:

If you use Facebook and Twitter as your micro-blog, you will certainly save yourself some time in terms of writing out long posts.  At the same time, you will have to be constantly updating your Facebook and Twitter to get the most out of your efforts.  It's estimated that micro-bloggers are updating their Facebook and Twitter up to six or eight times a day.  This means you'll have to be constantly updating your pages, which can take time.

And while this fits in quite nicely with yesterday's post noting that the more activity you have on your social media platforms the better, six or eight updates a day, every day, will become a drain on your time and you'll come to loath your social media efforts. 

You should look forward to your social media efforts.  Another drawback to using Facebook and Twitter as your micro-blogging spaces is that you lose a link.  In other words, every Facebook page, Twitter account, blog, micro-blog, LinkedIn page should be linked to your website.  As we noted a week ago when we discussed SEO strategy, the more links your site has, the better you show in online searches.  You want as many links as you can get, you NEED those links to raise your online profile.  If you don't set up a separate blogging space, you lose a link that you can add to your website.

So what do you do?  What is the best way to blog, without spending hours a week to impart information about your organization while still managing to blend in your existing social media pages and adding links to your primary site? 

The Winner is...

The answer is:  A Tumblr blog.  Before we go on, I have to say that I am not being paid by, or representing Tumblr in any way.  I'm simply using this as an example of a good small business and non-profit blogging strategy.

Tumblr blogs is really more of a generic definition of a style of blog that uses an actual brand name.  Think Kleenex or Xerox.  When you need to blow your nose, you say,"hand me a kleenex" even though you bought a box of Stay-Puff brand tissues.  Same with Xerox, the brand name has taken over the vernacular, even though there are all different kinds of photocopy manufacturers.

Same goes for Tumblr blogs.  Tumblr is a blogging site, much like Blogspot or Wordpress.  It specializes in short, to the point, video heavy blogs.  It has become very popular, particularly among Millennials and others who simply want to look at something short, to the point and interesting. 

Here is a list of the nine interesting Tumblr blogs, as compiled by Mashable recently.  Take a look at it and you'll quickly start to understand what Tumblr blogs are all about.

9 Odd But Awesome Tumblr Blogs
In honor of the grueling work days in the immediate future and Tom Selleck’s glorious ’stache, we thought it prudent to offer up a list of single-serving Tumblr blogs that are sure to provide you with a much-needed helping of entertainment.

This list is far from comprehensive, seeing as how there’s scores of Tumblrs on the web — with more popping up every day — but it does contain both staff and popular favorites. We know we’ll probably miss a few that you have bookmarked, so please feel free to post them in the comments.

Selleck Waterfall Sandwich

This blog is basically self-explanatory, which isn’t really explaining much. It will leave you oddly hungry — whether it’s for Selleck or the sandwiches is up to you.

Awesome YouTube Comments

Of all the trolls in the land, those who frequent YouTube () are by far the most amusing/horrible. Get a daily dose of idiocy and rare lyrical clarity here.

Unhappy Hipsters

OK, so it’s no longer a Tumblr (Tumblr) and those aren’t really hipsters (“yuppy” would be more accurate), but this blog is hilarious. If decorating magazines generally put you to sleep, this blog will stir your ventricles back into wakefulness.

All of these blogs have one thing in common.  They use video or pics or graphics, combined with one or two short sentences to impart something funny or interesting or useful to the reader.  They are short, they are compelling sometimes and they don't take long to put up.

Tumblr blogs are even becoming more popular on more traditional blogging sites such as Blogspot or Wordpress.  Tumblr is becoming a catch-all for blogs that use this style of blogging.  Short sentences, one or two, three at the most, combined with pics, video or graphics. 

Right now, a lot of these blogs are for entertainment purposes only.  But small businesses and non-profits could use this style to their advantage.  You could simply take a photo of something that relates to your organization, post it to your blog, write a short paragraph and, viola, you have posted a Tumblr blog entry. 

You could use this style of blog to appeal to all demographics and potential audience members, still be able to add a link to your primary website an also be able to impart information, tips and fun facts about your organization in a way that people will read.

It's a win-win situation.  You can still update your Facebook and Twitter pages three times a day, one of those updates being your Tumblr blog update, and still meet your goal of blogging without having to spend hours to do so.

Tumblr blogs are growing in popularity and sophistication.  Blogs like LOLcats are blogs in the Tumblr style and the audience is exploding.  As a small business owner or non-profit, you know you have to have as big a presence online as possible, and this includes a blog.  But you can have your cake and eat it to, so to speak, by utilizing a tumblr style blog.  You won't spend too much time doing it, and, who knows, you might actually find that you enjoy your daily blogging efforts.  And having fun is a big part of the social media experience.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Timing versus Time

We've spent a lot of time on this blog talking about timing and public relations.  Figuring out when to pitch a story can be the difference between getting a story picked up and having it relegated to the futures pile where it will languish and ultimately be forgotten.  As you've seen, timing in PR is tricky.  You have to figure out what kind of lead time you need, how far ahead should you pitch.  You have to think aobut the time of day you pitch.  You have to be aware of breaking news and be able to jump on a story if it relates to your organization.

But what about timing in social media?  Is there a particular time of day when your posts will reach more eyes?  A better time of the week?  Should you constantly be posting all day long?  The answer is...we don't really know. BUT, and this is important, we're learning more and more every day and we DO have some data that supports the theory that while the best time of day may not be nailed down yet, your level of activity does make a difference.

An example from the past might shed some light.  An old friend of mine is a huge blogger.  He started blogging years ago when it was about the most powerful social media tool available.  His current blog is posted on the right as PR by DeVol.  Anyway, he used to post several times a day to his blog.  Little thoughts, comments, links to other sites and news of the day.  He did very little self-promotion, but the fact that he posted so often raised the profile of his blog and as soon as he started getting linked to other blogs, his blog exploded with readers and followers.  Certainly his content was interesting and useful and funny.  But he kept adding new stuff, so regular readers always knew that when they checked his blog, and they had to check it at least once if not twice a day, there would be something new to read.  His activity superceded the when of his entries.

This seems like a no-brainer, right?  Obviously, the more you post to your Facebook or your Twitter, the better the chance that others will see you.  For instance, The Growing Communications Twitter has about 170 followers right now.  Two weeks in and we're still growing.  That number of followers generates about one-thousand Tweets per day.  I check my Twitter about four times a day.  Every time I check, there are at a minimum of 300 posts backlogged.  I do most of my Twitter checks on my desktop so when I look at it, I see only the most recent 50 Tweets.  That means there are about 250 Tweets that I don't usually see.

I can diminish the problem by using my Yooknow app which notifies me of every new Tweet and FB post in a little bubble at the bottom of my computer screen.  I now also get new FB posts and messages on my iPhone which helps alleviate the problem of missing any interesting posts there.

The point is, I miss about two-thirds of my Tweets every day.  And I don't think I'm much different than most others on Twitter.  Here are some facts from the website LocalMatters, based in Denver that you might find interesting:

Moreover, social networks are powerful places to find and connect with consumers, as demonstrated by these stats:
■ 30% of all Facebook users check the network when they wake up in the middle of the night.  Source: Retrevo study, March 2010, as reported in Mediapost
■ The average teenager texts more than 2,000 times per month.  Source: Nielsen Study, June 2009
■ 27% visit search engines at least a couple times a week.
■ 26% of consumers visit social networking sites every day.
■ 25% visit IYP sites less than once a week.

■ 48% of the U.S. population have a social media profile.  Source: Edison Research and Arbitron study, 2010
■ There are over 100 million blogs indexed by Technorati.  Source: Technorati State of the Blogosphere
■ More people visit Facebook every day than Google.  Source: Hitwise
So, there is some good news here.  First, if you're using your social media platforms regularly, you're in a small group of small businesses and non-profits that are using the tool effectively.  As part of that 16-percent, you already have a leg up on the rest of your competition.  If you fall into the other group, well, that's why this blog exists, to help grow that 16-percent number.

The Numbers Don't Lie:

A few things become very obvious when you look at these stats.  First, there are a boatload of people out there using social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter and blogging and playing FourSquare and such.  Some, maybe even many of these folks are looking for your business, even if they don't know it yet.  Your job is to let them know you're out there and get them to check out your pages.

Second, teenagers clearly have too much time on their hands.  Third, time of day is less relevant that the number of posts you put up.

I can say with certainty that I have woken up in the middle of the night, wandered to my computer to check my emails and while I'm on, I check my Facebook and Twitter pages as well.  Don't get the wrong idea.  I'm not saying you should set your alarm clock to wake up at 1am to post something onto your FB page.  To reiterate, it's not the time of day that matters as much as it is the number of times you post.

For instance, another article in the Los Angeles Times previewing a new service that figures out the value of your Facebook page also makes this interesting observation:  (click on the link to read the entire article)
Regardless, the tool could be valuable to brands that might be looking to extend their social marketing efforts. It derives its page evaluations based on Vitrue's own research on a slew of items, including its discovery that two posts-per-day is ideal for a Facebook page. It has even found the sweet spot for short URLs and the kind of posts added to a page.
Starbucks, for example, has one of the most highly valued fan pages. According to Vitrue's tool, the Starbucks fan page is currently valued at more than $20 million in annual worth to the company. But because the company doesn't post enough and it typically posts text content, rather than video or audio, it loses significant value. In fact, Vitrue's tool contends that Starbucks' page could be worth more than $76 million if the company optimized its page.
 We've already noted in this blog the value of using video to grab attention from viewers and readers and to attract new friends and fans.  But what is really interesting is the following quote:  "...including its discover that two posts-per-day is ideal for a Facebook page."

Two posts seems pretty easy to commit to, right?  But looking at the fact that I have approximately 350 friends and fans on my personal page, and given that I probably get about 100 new FB posts a day, that says a lot.  If even one third, or about 115 of my friends and fans posted regularly, that would be, obviously, 115 posts a day.  Now, imagine if even ten-percent of those posting regularly, that would greatly increase the number of posts I get every day.

Take a look at your Facebook and Twitter pages.  If you spend any kind of time on them, you know that there are friends you see posting every day, sometimes multiple times a day.  I would say that there are about 50 of my 350 friends posting regulary on FB.  These are the ones that I am aware of because they post not once, but sometimes two or three times a day, almost every day.

I may miss a few postings from these folks every now and then, but see them online and I see at least one of their posts nearly every day.  Hence, if I had a friend who posted once a day, but they post during a time that I'm not on, I rarely see their posts, and my awareness of them is very low.

What this means to you:

Let's put this all together now.  When I work with clients, I often tell them that their level of activity will determine the success of their social media efforts.  This means multiple posts every day on their various social media platforms.  As a small business owner or non-profit director, you have a busy schedule, sometimes it's just not possible to take five minutes here or ten minutes there to figure out what you want to post, and then post it. 

What this means is having a strategy for posting.  Here is the typical strategy I help put together for most clients.  Obviously, the strategy will change slightly from client to client based on their audience and goals and needs.  But this is a great place to start:

1.  Spend time either first thing in the morning or the night before crafting posts, either links to interesting and relevant articles and videos, insights or tips or positive comments about your organization.  Ideally you craft three separate entries.

2.  Identify three times during the day when you feel you can spare five minutes to upload your post to Facebook.  

3.  Make sure you stick as close to the schedule as possible.

4.  Repeat for Twitter.

5.  Try to stay up on current events.  If something in the news or pop culture catches your eye and is relevant to your organization, respond to it during one of your scheduled posting times.  Save your pre-selected post for the next day.

You can also take part in conversations or comment on other people's posts as a way to stay visible.  There are a couple of reasons for this strategy.  First, it gives you a chance to post multiple bits of information about your organization, fun tips or video that others will find useful.  It also separates the postings so you stay visible to as large an audience as possible.

Too often clients think that if they post once, all of their friends will see it at some point.  This isn't true.  If they only check their FB or Twitter once a day, then your posting might get lost in the shuffle and they'll never see you.  By posting three different times throughout the day, you improve the chances that nearly all of your friends will see at least one of your posts.

Repost, repost, repost!

There is another trick that I've used on several occassions, particularly on Twitter, and that's reposting.  I often get clients that balk at this idea, thinking that they're imposing or annoying their friends and fans.  Don't worry about that.  Reposts simply give your posts an opportunity to be seen by more than those immediately on when you post.

You can make a post early in the morning, and then repost later in the afternoon and no one will get upset at you.  For those that missed it the first time, your post will be brand new.  For those that saw it the first time, they'll simply note it and move on to another posting.  Reposting works very well with videos or pics since it allows you to change the copy that precedes it.  So you can post a video with one wording of your copy, then repost it later with a different wording, pointing out something new or interesting about the video or pics.  This might even grab the attention of those that saw the posting the first time but just weren't moved enough to view it.

I do this often on Twitter, moreso than on Facebook.  And I've yet to get a complaint.  So don't worry about the time of day you post.  If you happen to be awake at 2am, and you're checking your social media pages, why not take a moment and post something fun, clearly you'll reach a different audience than you normally do.  But when it comes to raising your profile, worry less about the time of day you post and focus more on the number of times a day you post.  The benefits will be greater and you'll sleep better at night, promise.