Back to the Basics, Social Media

The Winner of the 2014 BuzzWell PR “Did I Do That?” Social Media Awards is…

There’s a level of irony somewhere in the fact that the winner of this year’s award – an award represented by the loveable and aloof character of a popular 80-90’s family sitcom – was himself the star of the show that paved the way for sitcoms like Family Matters.

On November 10th, Bill Cosby (his social team)  posted a photo of himself on Twitter inviting the Internet to meme him.

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Good idea, right? Memes are all the rage these days… the kids love ’em. And with such a loveable character like Cosby, this kind of stunt could only magnify his already popular persona. Unfortunately for Cosby, this coincided with the resurgence of rape allegations against the 77-year-old actor thanks in part to comedian, Hannibal Buress, who had been touring with a new standup act that dedicated a portion of the skit to the allegations. Buress actually prompted those who couldn’t fathom Cosby would commit such horrid acts to see it for themselves, saying “If you didn’t know about it, when you leave here, Google ‘Bill Cosby rape.’ It’s not funny”.

Suffice to say, asking the internet, which had started to become abuzz with chatter relating to the alleged crimes, to go ahead and create their memes was a really, reallllly terrible idea. Cosby’s short-sighted PR folks probably expected the memes to be wholesome interpretations of Cosby’s goofy humor. Wrong. This is what they got instead:

resize“Fans” used the web tool to highlight past accusations against Cosby, and lots of them. Just as with #Imametsfanbecause back in September, yet another social media campaign backfired in spectacular fashion.

So what was the science used to determine the award should go to Cosby and his PR? It was a calculation of sheer stupidity X cluelessness.

In order to be an effective PR person you have to know your client. Whether they are a person or an institution, you must know their past present and the direction in which they wish to go. You are tasked to promote and protect their reputation amidst any confluence of events that might jeopardize it.

This instance, like so many others, could have been avoided entirely if just a little brain power was applied. Case in point: the allegations against Cosby are not new, they’ve been around for years, surfacing here and there, only to fade away under Cosby’s indelible role as one of America’s most loveable dads. As Cosby’s PR team, you should know this and avoid any action that may trigger the scandal to become newsworthy again. What they did was just the opposite.

So, for excising zero intelligence and ignoring all the basics of PR, congratulations to Cosby and team on taking this year’s top spot.

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2015 might be a rough one for Bill. And for his social team, this sums it up perfectly:

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Maybe you can form a group with all the other nominees and go on a redemption tour to educate budding PR pros on exactly what NOT to do.

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Back to the Basics, Social Media

“Did I Do That?” 2nd Annual Social Media Awards: Runner-up, Elizabeth Lauten

As a public relations spokesperson, one must act with an abundance of caution in both their personal and professional lives. It’s simply a prerequisite for the job. In the political realm, the most scrutinized arena in our society, the age old adage think before you speak is something that the wise live by and the foolish wish they had.

Elizabeth Lauten, the communications director for Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-Tenn.) would fall in the latter category of those who did not heed that sage advice. She resigned last month after causing quite the stir with the following Facebook post that criticized Malia and Sasha Obama’s appearance at the annual White House turkey pardon ceremony.

td4_elizaMs. Lauten, really??? Using someone’s children to throw a political punch?

These type of incidents make me wonder how in the world these people got as far as they did. A Communications Director for a US congressman is not an easy job. It requires thick skin, light feet and the ability to artfully position the congressman and your party in a favorable light under some really tough circumstances. This kind of blunder betrays the most basic fundamentals of public relations and the understanding that as a spokesperson, everything you do and say will reflect on the people you work for.

And this wasn’t Ms. Lauten’s first social media gaffe either. In August she posted a tweet about “shagging” from Mr. Fincher’s official Twitter account.

“God I love this song. And beach music. AND shagging #pandora,” Ms. Lauten tweeted in reference to an Embers playlist on Pandora radio.

She later deleted the tweet and apologized for the accident, clarifying that “shagging” is a dance term, not a sexual reference.

“It had nothing to do with Stephen Fincher. I don’t think he knows what Pandora is; he certainly doesn’t have it,” Ms. Lauter said, according to Politico.

In response to her attack on the Obama teens, Lauten posted the following apology on Facebook:

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Too little, too late. Not only the post make you and your party look like bullies willing to stoop so low as to bash someone’s children in order to get a cheap shot in, it also cost you a job, and probably won’t make it easy for you to find a new one.

 Ms. Lauten’s resolution for 2015: Think before you post.
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Social Media, Strategy & Tactics, Tools

Content: The difference between success & failure

Being a startup isn’t easy. No %&$* Sherlock…

But really, taking an idea and shaping it over and over until it becomes something that vaguely resembles a business is an incredibly hard and maybe even masochistic thing to do. And to make things even more challenging, coming up with the service and identifying an audience to sell it to is only the first step on the long and windy road towards success. Once you’ve done all this, you must now distinguish yourself in the marketplace.

Unfortunately, the “If you build it they will come” philosophy couldn’t be further from the truth for the startup community. Unless you are one of the rare – once in a generation industry disruptors – chances are you will be engaged in a constant battle for customers with dozens of competitors who have similar business models to your own. If this sounds like you, fear not, there is a secret weapon that can immediately help you rise above the fray: Content.

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It’s true, content is King. It gives your business a voice, perspective and a story. Each piece of content that you generate – from a blog post or a Tweet, to a byline article – tells your customers and prospects why they should be doing business with you. But like anything else, developing content needs to be done thoughtfully and strategically.

Here are three keys to remember when creating content:

Make it Shareable:

Normally this is where people talk about the importance of knowing what sort of content plays better on different channels, i.e. Facebook vs Pinterest. But this is not what I mean. By making it shareable I mean using what I like to call the “worth-a-damn radar”. Don’t spend 3 hours creating a piece of content that may have been topical three years ago but today has the sharability of a toothbrush. Being helpful is the number one way to get shares. Have a solution to a problem that many of your customers are facing? Maybe a unique perspective on a well-read topic? If so, you’ll probably hear the “worth-a-damn” meter start to buzz. But if you’re simply regurgitating old news or ideas, the only sound you’ll here is the tick of the clock as you continue to waste time – something no startup can afford.

Make it Arresting:

We are bombarded by an enormous amount of content and messages each and every day, but remember only a few. Those that do “break through” contain something arresting that allowed them to be deposited in our memory banks instead of sailing into oblivion hoping to latch onto another unsuspecting prospect. Using imagery, video, or any type of multimedia increases the chances that your content will actually be consumed by those you intended it for. Another way to make content arresting is by using catchy headlines (Five Tips to Writing Better Headlines).  This is not earth shattering, but too often I see good content that looks boring, and therefore doesn’t get consumed.

Make it Your Own:

We all have unique voices, and your company should have one too. These are brand basics. And if you don’t build a brand, you run the risk of becoming a commodity. Today’s customer wants to do business with a company that has a personality. It may take time to find your voice, but once you do, you will have a consistent way to tell your mission, values and philosophy. This is what separates you from the guy around the block who has a very similar offering, but no voice. Again, this takes time and practice, but is well worth the effort.

Use content to your advantage wherever you can. Start a blog, build a website, engage on social media. Today’s customer has the advantage of having a never-ending list of companies to do business with. Take back your advantage by using content to distinguish yourself.

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Back to the Basics, Social Media, Strategy & Tactics, Tools

PR Must Evolve or Die… Start with the Obvious

I recently retweeted a story from Deborah L. Jacobs (@djworking) of Forbes and thought I’d take some time to highlight why it caught my attention. One of my last posts was about the lessons they don’t teach in PR 101 – Deborah’s piece highlights more valuable lessons that at least weren’t taught in the classes I took in college. Mind you, that was all the way back in the early 2000’s, before Twitter existed! There should be, and hopefully are classes today exclusively geared toward Twitter and PR. Hmm… more blog post fodder?

Deborah’s piece raises what hopefully is old news to most of us: the days of Edward Bernays and the press officer/manipulator extraordinaire, kicked the bucket long ago. If we want to survive and thrive as PR pros we have to get with the times. Recently, I had a conversation with a fellow PR pro and told him, rather frankly, that he had to stop treating social media like it was this new ‘thing’ he was trying to harness to keep up with a trend. Instead, he should treat it the same as email or the press release: another tool to get our jobs done. It is something that should fold into our daily activities, not something we force in clumsily to look like we are keeping up with the cool kids.

No too long ago, I covered the importance of building relationships with reporters. In her piece, Deborah points out that there are approximately six press agents for every journalist; imagine how many emails reporters are getting on a daily basis from folks just like you vying for a spot in their publications. In order to break through the clutter and build relationships you need to present yourself as a valuable source, not just an opportunist. Grant your journalist contacts unfettered access to the folks who would be most helpful to them – executives, clients, customers, etc. Let them speak to these people on their terms and decide for themselves if they have something to contribute that would make their  jobs easier, their stories better and their audience more engaged. You can’t just go spamming willy-nilly and hope to get coverage! I’m not saying that I don’t send the occasional one-off pitch to reporters that I don’t know, but even those are sent with as much intelligence and research behind them as possible. And when you do send those types of pitches, heed Deborah’s sage advice: “understand that no reply to a pitch means “No,” that follow-up by phone or email is ineffective…”

When I first started in PR, I would be disheartened by the terse, unfriendly and often times, rude responses I’d get from journalists when I‘d call them with a pitch. Years later, I realize where those responses came from. I’d be pretty annoyed myself if I got 20 misdirected phone calls throughout the day when I’m trying to do my job. I’d look at those people as pests, not sources.

Ms. Jacobs also makes the point that “a blizzard of press releases about studies that are statistically flawed or restate the obvious…” and forced, biased angles aren’t what journalists are looking for. They want news. This is something that is surprisingly overlooked these days. Think of the journalist as providing a service for their readers. In Deborah’s case, she provides her readers with information on the personal finance issues that are “keeping them up at night.” Before you reach out to a reporter, put yourself in their reader’s shoes. Is there value in this for them, or just for your client?  If it’s just for your client then it probably isn’t news and not something you should bother the reporter with.

Deborah suggests that it is time for PR to change its “long-entrenched industry practices.” I agree, with some qualification: the traditional tools of the PR professional will never go out of style as long as they are used correctly and not abused. News releases, pitches, media tours and even cold calls have their place in this field. But a shift does need to take place for those who haven’t already adapted. The first step is to stop spending so much time and energy on ourselves and focus on our audience. Only then can we take the necessary strides to ensure our services will not be rendered obsolete.

What else can we do to be more effective PR pros as the landscape continues to evolve? How can we become more valuable to journalists and influencers?

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Back to the Basics, Social Media, Strategy & Tactics, Tools

#FridayFive – 5 Tips to Writing Better Headlines

As a communications pro, writing is one of our core functions. It’s essential to our jobs and value and something we should constantly strive to improve. In today’s world of social media and blogging, one of the most important skills to master, or try to, is the art of the headline. One of the most insightful things I’ve learned about copy writing is that your headline is the beginning of what should be a continuously slippery slide. Each word should push the reader further and further down the slide until they’ve finished your content. Here are 5 tips to help you make your headlines work for you.

Be Creative

We see hundreds, if not thousands of headlines a day but only engage with a handful. Creativity helps separate your headline from all of the rest.  The NYP, while distasteful with some, is masterful at penning creative headlines that suck you right it.

Intrigue Your Readers

Think of yourself as a fisherman. You want to give just enough bait for the fish but don’t want to reveal what’s above the surface because they won’t bite. Here’s an example of an intriguing headline:

Create a Sense of Urgency

Your headline should make the reader think that if they don’t read your article or post then they will be missing out on something important. Here’s an example of a headline that provides urgency: “10 Immediate Tips to Social Media Success That Every Marketer Must Know.”Words like “immediate” , “must”, “success”  make the reader think that if they don’t read further they are missing out on a chance to get better at their craft.

Trigger a Strong Emotion

I saw a great blog post headline today from Guy Kawasaki: “Unbelievable test pilot’s account of an SR-71 disintegrating at 78,000 feet.” I have no specific interest in aviation and have no idea what an SR-71 is, but I clicked on the headline because the emotion that was elicited – the fear of crashing in a plane – was so strong that I had no other choice. Appeal to the emotion of your readers and you’ll be on your way to success.

 Follow the 50/50 Rule

There is a rule in copy writing that you should spend half the time it takes to write your copy on the headline itself. Sounds crazy, but the more I write the more I see how important this is. We are bombarded by headlines 24/7, our job is to create ones that get our material read. If you don’t obsess over your headline you wont get read and might as well not waste your time penning that awesome blog post.

What are your tips for writing great headlines? What are some good one’s that you’ve seen recently?

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Back to the Basics, Social Media, Strategy & Tactics, Uncategorized

Word Usage & What it Says About Reaching the Sexes

As communicators, we need to be flexible in the way we address our diverse sets of audiences. The range of folks we wish to reach is often times very wide and even the most subtle of differences can have a big affect on how we tailor our message. One not so subtle difference, but one that has continued to baffle the most expert of communicators for eons, is gender.

I’m reading a fascinating book by James W. Pennebaker called the “Secret Life of Pronouns” that analyzes the words we use and what they say about us, in astonishing detail. Man this book is thought provoking. A definite recommend for any communications pro or lover of words in general. For this post, I want to take a quick look at a chart from the book that lays out some of the differences between men and women and the words they use. In doing so, I hope to get the wheels turning for us to start thinking about more effective ways to reach these wildly different audiences by speaking a language that is most familiar to them.

Pennebaker and his students, through their language analysis programs, came up with this breakdown of the main differences in word pattern amongst the different sexes:

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On the surface, some of these may seem obvious. Men, for example, use more swear words – duh! And women, who tend to be more self-aware and conscientious of others, use more personal pronouns (I, we, me, us, etc.). But some of the less obvious differences strike me as keys to successfully targeting and reaching these two audiences. Bare in mind, these may be oversimplifications our purely supposition on my part, but I do think there is something here.

Ladies first, of course. I was raised by women, so I’m inclined to think that given my personal circumstances I am a better communicator with women then most men. It only makes sense. However, not being one myself, I’m sure there is still a lot I could learn.

The first area I found particularly interesting for women in the chart above was the fact that they tend to use more “Hedge Phrases”. They are more likely to use “I think” or “I believe”, as Pennebaker says, because they are more aware and considerate of different perspectives and opinions. This, to me, seemed like a very important difference between women and their male counterparts. Do women respond better to a less authoritarian or one sided way of communication? Should we be more considerate of different views and opinions when communicating with women? If so, how? I dare not make assertions or try to formulate answers to these questions. I will leave it up to you, the reader, to decide. 😉

The area that interested me the most for men was less of a revelation and more of a reminder of what men respond to when communicating with them. Numbers. With experience working for major financial companies, where news and messaging is often related to quantities and figures, this was glaring to me. My takeaway: Use numbers instead of  pronouns like “a lot” when communicating with your male audience. This is even more important to keep in mind in the the condensed world of social media. Numbers are way more effective and arresting in social media then pronouns. I’d even take it a step further and say that, wherever possible, use digits in place of words.

Analyze the above chart and think about what it says about the tailoring you need to do when communicating your message, whatever it may be, to these very different audiences. What else do you think this chart says about the differences in communicating to men and women? Do you think it holds weight?

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Back to the Basics, Social Media, Strategy & Tactics, Uncategorized

The Basic Human Need That Brands Need to Respect

Your brand needs to be human. We see that everywhere these days. We are told that we need to put a human face on our brand and speak to our customers in a human way. I agree with this. I’d be foolish not to. A long time ago the business had the upper hand; there were less of them and they were in higher demand. Today it seems like there are as many “businesses” as people. Because of this we can be more selective. We, the customer have the upper hand. Couple that with our evolution as a society and it’s now acceptable and possible to choose to do business with companies that embody some of our most cherished, detailed beliefs and attributes that makes us who we are as individuals. Looking to buy clothes made out of hemp, from a company that gives a percentage of their proceeds to homeless children and is also an advocate for LGTB rights? I’m sure you can find them.  The fact is that we have the luxury of being able to be ultra choosy today so we do business with those whose human persona most closely reflects ours. But why do we want our businesses to be human? What is the reason, at it’s most basic level? I think the answer lies within here:

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Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is the theory of human motivation. What drives us and makes us who we are. In someway or another all of the main sections in the pyramid account for why we want our brands to be human.  But there’s one that I think trumps them all. One, that if we focus on and understand, can make us more effective when communicating with our customers. ESTEEM: The need to feel respected. The typical human desire to be accepted and valued by others. As a species we crave respect. We are motivated and driven by the respect of others which in turn affects our self-esteem or self-respect.

Too often I see brands equating the need to be human to being “social” or trying to hard to reach millennials. As a millennial myself, this comes off as forced and cheesy. Viral videos with weird premises and played-out humor may work for some, but I think this is just a blip on the radar. There will be a time when social media and the viral phenomenon become so mainstream that another shift will be needed to reach the customer. This means that we need to latch on to the basics. What is more basic then a primal human need? Something that will always be there, no matter what the new hot social platform or advertising style is. ESTEEM. The need for a customer, rather, the individual, to feel respected. A muscly man with an erudite way of speaking in the most off the wall situations may sell deodorant to some.  I switched from a brand that uses these over the top tactics after seeing ads for another that does not use aluminum in their products. The ad was simple but the communication was impactful. What it said told me that they value me and my health. That shows respect. That creates a loyal customer.

So how do we cater to this most basic and powerful need to be respected. That my friends, is another post for another day!

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