The end of the year gives us an opportunity to pat ourselves on the back for the things we did well and allows us to reflect on the things we could have done better. Here are my favorite successes and blunders from 2013.
The end of the year gives us an opportunity to pat ourselves on the back for the things we did well and allows us to reflect on the things we could have done better. Here are my favorite successes and blunders from 2013.
Watching the aftermath of the Boston Marathon tragedy really hit home for me. Boston was the place I called home for 11 years. I have family and close friends who live there. As a proud graduate of Boston University, I remember enjoying sunny afternoons on Patriots’ Day cheering on the valiant runners as they came through Kenmore Square on their way to the finish line. I was deeply saddened to hear the news that one of the victims killed was a BU student. During my days as a broadcaster in the area, I often stood right at the finish line just steps away from where the explosions went off, waiting to interview local runners as they reveled in their accomplishment. It’s hard for me to comprehend how such a joyous event can turn into a horrifying disaster in the blink of an eye.
Over the past few days, I’ve been consuming the news coverage, reading the latest online reports and viewing the responses stream across Facebook and Twitter, and it amazes me the power that social media has over traditional media channels. This coming from an old TV guy. At the time of the blasts, people began sharing the images of the chaotic scene across social media channels. It continues today with a tremendous outpouring of support for the City of Boston and the victims of this unspeakable tragedy. Folks from around the globe – celebrities, politicians, even the rival New York Yankees have joined together to demonstrate to all this city’s unity, strength and resilience. Seeing hashtags such as #BostonStrong, #PrayforBoston and #OneBoston littered across Twitter reinforces my belief that social media is not just another medium to promote the news, but a means of connecting human beings especially in the face of adverse conditions.
— New York Yankees (@Yankees) April 17, 2013
Thoughts and prayers with my hometown Boston today.
— Mark Wahlberg (@mark_wahlberg) April 16, 2013
— Governor Christie (@GovChristie) April 17, 2013
As PR and Social Media Managers, it is often our responsibility to handle communications when a crisis occurs. One can’t even imagine having to deal with a catastrophic event like the one that unfolded in Boston, but regardless of the situation, it’s our job to have a communication plan in place to control and effectively respond to a crisis as quickly as possible. Disseminating accurate information in a timely manner during a crisis is a priority, but social media has certainly changed the game. Too often media outlets put a priority on getting the news out first rather than getting it right. The Huffington Post learned this the hard way when it incorrectly reported that BU graduate student Zhou Danling was one of the fatalities of the Marathon bombings, when it fact, she survived the ordeal. They’ve since posted a retraction. This rush to report and scoop your competitors mentality can backfire and has certainly drawn its share of criticism.
I hate to sound like an old fart, but when I worked for AP many years ago, we had sourcing rules and breaking them got you fired.
— Steve Wildstrom (@swildstrom) April 17, 2013
CNN simply reported what they believed to be true. First Reports are sometimes a negative side effect of 24 hour news media. Lay off.
— Nick Nash (@NickNash) April 17, 2013
@NickNash But that doesn't mean we should blindly accept it, like sheep. There used to be a journalistic code of ethics…
— Amber K (@SousLeRadar) April 17, 2013
You can never be too prepared when it comes to crisis management. Having a plan in place will help you deal with a terrible event like the one we saw this week. Here are a few guidelines to remember when dealing with a crisis situation:
Ross Coyle is an Account Supervisor at Sterling Communications. Follow him on Twitter at @rossjcoyle
I’m still amazed at how many CEOs and executives are still not on social media. Even more shocking is the percentage of people who are on social media who have no idea how to use it. I found myself making social media cheat sheets for client after client – especially for Twitter – and thought I’d write a post on Twitter basics to direct them to. At Sterling, we encourage our clients to be social, but only after the proper training, of course, to avoid gaffes like this and this.
Hashtags vs. Handles
A hashtag (#) is used to denote a conversation topic or what a particular tweet pertains to. Anyone can use or create a hashtag, and they are searchable. Say you’re looking into what’s being said about the Grammy’s, type #Grammys2013 in the search bar and every tweet using that tag will come up for your viewing pleasure. Twitter search is getting more advanced, so you can now do a one-word search without a hashtag and Twitter will pull all tweets containing that word. Hashtags cannot contain special characters (‘,$^& etc.). If you include these, your hashtag will stop before the special character. When using a hashtag containing multiple words, it’s best to capitalize the first letter of each word to help readers distinguish where one word starts and the other begins.
Handles (@) are Twitter usernames and can therefore only be owned by one person. Include handles when you want to engage a person or brand in conversation or when you want to attribute an article, quote or media to someone.
For example: A picture is worth a thousand words. Here are 26 of them: http://bit.ly/VA4Ori @Buzzfeed provides 26 #cats for every occasion #ILoveCats
The article is from Buzzfeed, and I’ve associated it with the topic of cats through the hashtags.
Pro tip: Place the link in the middle of the tweet because it usually garners more clicks than placing the link at the end. Sometimes, due to character constraints, it can’t be avoided.
Oh, did I mention all of this stuff –hashtag, handle and link– have to fit into 140 measly characters?!
Starting a tweet with a handle
Whenever you start a tweet with a handle, you are indicating that you are having a private conversation with whichever user you are tweeting to, and others are not exactly welcome to jump in. Tweets that start with handles can only be seen by those following BOTH the person tweeting and the person mentioned in the tweet. Since Twitter is a platform for conversation, this probably is not your intention. So, how to do you make the tweet public? Start your tweet with a period and then use the handle (.@), and it will be public and your tweeps will know that their input is welcome.
Example: .@Buzzfeed’s got 26 #cats for you for every occasion: http://bit.ly/VA4Ori Nothing says it quite like a gif #Kitties
RT vs. MT
Ok, so you’re down with the link and handle placement. “What now,” you’re asking. “What the heck are RT and MT?” RT stands for retweet. You use this when you like what someone has to say, and you want to share it and possibly add your own two cents.
For example: No more awkward emails, send gifs! RT @Buzzfeed 26 #cats for every occasion: http://bit.ly/VA4Ori
You can also retweet without adding your own thoughts by either clicking retweet or throwing an RT in front of the tweet and adding the authors handle.
Example: RT @Buzzfeed 26 #cats for every occasion: http://bit.ly/VA4Ori
Pro tip: If you’re participating in a Twitter chat (a conversation that takes places on a certain hashtag), your tweet will not show up in the feed if you click retweet; you have to add the RT like in the example above.
MT stands for modified tweet and is used when you want to retweet something that someone said but you make changes to it (probably for length).
Example: This is awesome guys! MT @Jazzpatron A pic is worth 1000 words: http://bit.ly/VA4Ori @Buzzfeed provides 26 #cats 4 every occasion #ILoveCats
The above tweet had to be modified for length in order for the retweeter to add his or her statement, so it is not a retweet, but rather, a modified tweet.
The most important thing to remember is that social media is supposed to be SOCIAL. Twitter is not a platform for you to blast out a bunch of messages (you won’t get followers that way). So, in summary: less of this —–> and more conversation.
Now you’re armed and ready for the wide world of Twitter! Here’s a handy list of what you should and, more importantly, shouldn’t tweet about and a Twitter jargon reference guide – what does HTML even stand for anyway…?
Public relations — at least to our high-tech and cleantech clients — has grown far beyond press releases about new products, speaking slots at tech conferences, or interviews with editors and analysts. These days, our clients want strategies and solutions for relating to the public through social media campaigns, search engine optimization (SEO), search engine marketing (SEM), website design, mobile apps, and even internal communications.
And they want this help integrated with their own marketing, sales, and business objectives in ways where results are unambiguous and meaningful.
Few other smaller agencies offer integrated communications, and none we know of are working to redefine “PR” this drastically. From a marketing perspective, creating a new category is challenging and expensive. Clients looking to define a new Magic Quadrant, for example, can spend enormous sums just to get analysts up to speed with their perspective — and with no guarantee of success.
Yet, new and existing clients keep asking us for insights, strategies and assistance with integrating their traditional and online communications. At the most basic level, clients want three things: awareness, influence and engagement. Awareness of what they stand for in the market, influence with the people who then influence decision makers in their industry, and engagement with the public in meaningful ways. Our job, then, is to provide the strategy, content, and results needed to make that a reality.
In 2013, you’ll begin to see some shifts in Sterling’s own PR as we raise awareness of this new approach, work to influence the industry about new opportunities, and engage with the public in ways that provide everyone involved with greater resources and better solutions. Currently, we’re providing integrated communications — a true confluence of traditional PR, social media, web design, SEO, and online marketing — for several clients. By the end of January, we’ll be able to share with everyone some of this fantastic new work.
If you’d like to learn more, let us know.
Photo credit: ‘Aerial of the Confluence‘ fine art print by Sam Abell.
More and more, businesses are seeing the value of content marketing as an advertising tool and a way to position themselves as thought leaders in their respective industries. Content is the currency of the web. Buyers need content that makes them more knowledgeable on whatever topic they search for; businesses that provide that information will win. I was fortunate to hear a talk on this subject last month by Arnie Kuenn, CEO of Vertical Measures, a search, social and content marketing services company.
Content marketing strengthens the role of both search and social in our lives. The more good information there is on the Internet, the more people will go there to look for it. Content marketing’s goal is to get searchers to your website. The statistics Kuenn provided about search were really surprising and intriguing:
Here are his eight steps for the convergence of search, social and content marketing:
The 2008 US Presidential Election may have been referred to as the “social media election” but that was then, and this year’s election campaign season was unlike any before it.
This Election Day, Twitter narrowly avoided a much-expected crash, peaking at 327,452 tweets per minute as a re-elected President Obama was called by news organizations around the country – including even veteran journalist Katie Couric who was given the job of social media expert during ABC’s election night broadcast.
I have been closely following the election all year as our client Attensity analyzed social media conversations about everything from the Super Tuesday primary elections (for which Attensity correctly predicted Gov. Romney as the top vote-getter), to the Presidential debates, to the most recent Election Day (for which Attensity provided Yahoo! and Bloomberg TV with real-time social analytics). In the end, Attensity found that, while the spread was much larger in social media, the candidate with the most voter support in social media won.
For this election, age demographics particularly seemed to be one of the largest dividing lines. Perhaps younger voters weren’t tuning in to watch the election results on the evening news this year (Twitter and Facebook are much more convenient), but they were watching some TV—namely the comedic satire news programs such as The Daily Show and The Colbert Report.
Making guest appearances on these shows gets viewers’ attention by meeting them on their terms. But, it wasn’t just appearing on a nightly news program that stirred so much attention and engaged so many conversations—it was the use of social media during the interviews. With hashtags on Twitter, watchers and (potential) voters were able to engage with each other in an easy, portable way. In fact, 39 percent of US adults have engaged in political activity on Facebook or Twitter. Additionally, research has shown that social media users in the US are six times more likely to go to a political convention, three times more likely to influence other voters and two times more likely to actually vote.
That sort of potential offers a clear lesson to make sure your business or client is where the people are: online! Make a point to be engaged on Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites.
As the election comes to a close, the politicians who did best in social media are the ones personally invested in a digital strategy that was integrated into all aspects of their campaigns. For instance, the time the largest number of people were engaging on Facebook was during prime time TV viewing hours, and the smartest campaigns ran their ads then on TV and also on Facebook. That way a constituent might have seen a commercial on TV and had that message reinforced with a Facebook ad that told them which of their friends support that candidate.
The benefits of harnessing this kind of knowledge in social media extend well beyond politics into any client’s industry.
At the moment, the number of active Facebook users of voting age is about 150 million, and they each have an average of 130 friends—so there is a gigantic potential for people’s opinion to be swayed. While the numbers may not be quite as astronomical for your business or client, the opportunity to build your brand and target potential customers is certainly there.
Photo credit: http://www.facebook.com/FamilyGuy
Last week, Washington State University football coach Mike Leach publicly banned his players from using Twitter. When asked what prompted the decision, the notoriously blunt coach’s reply was, “Because I decided to, that’s what prompted that.”
Now, as a WSU alumna and die-hard Cougar football fan, far be it from me to criticize the man who has practically reached Messiah status among Coug fans who eagerly anticipate a much-needed turnaround for our beloved team (current season notwithstanding – hey, it’s a rebuilding process). But while I understand that filtering the language of 110 “boys” between the ages of 17 and 23 is no easy feat, I also think this is a missed opportunity to teach players to use their influence for the good of the team and the school. After all, WSU has one of the most rabid fan bases and alumni networks of any NCAA team. Why miss out on a great way to connect with fans and build excitement?
While I may not be able to offer Leach any pointers on how to improve the team’s offensive line, I can say that I would have handled the team’s social media strategy differently. Taking charge of social media usage is an issue all companies deal with. Granted, most of these companies are (usually) dealing with a higher maturity level than a college football team, but some have the equally daunting challenge of a much larger employee base.
Whether managing a sports team or a corporation, following are some general best practices for developing a social media policy, and ensuring what’s being said online is helping, not hurting your organization’s reputation:
At the end of the day, remember that your employees (or players) are the “voice” of your organization, whether you intend them to be or not, and anything they say contributes to the organization’s image, for better or for worse. By implementing clear policies and coaching them on proper social media practices, you can not only minimize negative incidences, but use these voices as advocates of your organization.
Photo via wsufootballblog.com.
Gap, Inc. neatly sidestepped a potential PR nightmare last week when it pulled a controversial T-shirt from its stores. Native American groups pointed out that the T-shirt printed with the slogan “Manifest Destiny” celebrated a belief espoused by 19th century American settlers that served as justification for land-grab, slavery, and other atrocities committed against native peoples.
The shirt went on sale on September 19th but didn’t really hit the news until the American Indian Movement Southern California (AIM So Cal) Chapter launched a Change.org petition the week of Oct. 8th, securing over 5,700 supporters within a few days. On Oct. 15th, Gap agreed to remove the T-shirt from its online and brick-and-mortar stores, a move that effectively doused consumer unrest before it ignited into a full-fledged PR conflagration.
Online coverage by a limited number of media outlets did not move into mainstream print, or get repeated on TV and radio. Competing for attention with the buzz around presidential debates, World Series baseball playoffs (go Giants!), and Lance Armstrong’s implosion, the issue fizzled out. There was a problem related to the use of a rather obscure historical term (obscure unless you’re a history buff like me!); Gap reacted quickly; so what’s the story? In fact, the T-shirt didn’t even figure into media coverage of Gap’s October 16th quarterly earnings report, which mainly focused on a restructuring that caused the share price to rise slightly.
The chart below reflects the volume of social media commentary over the period from the T-shirt launch to a date a week after the Gap decision. (Full disclosure: The social media analytics tool is from Attensity, a Sterling Communications client.) Chatter peaked at the time the petition was reported and peaked again when the shirt was pulled, but has gradually decreased over time.
The pie chart below shows sentiment expressed in social media posts the week between the petition launch and Gap’s move to discontinue the shirt.
The second pie chart covers social sentiment the week after Gap announced it would pull the T-shirt, as media coverage dribbled away. The share of negative sentiment dropped by 18 percent from the prior week.
In the days before social media, this issue would probably have taken many more weeks to resolve. Gap was smart to jump on it as quickly as it did. The savvy folks there recognized that this was turning into a PR battle they could not win. The longer the story remained in the news, the more prominent it would become in search engine results, the more damage to their reputation. (Search on the terms “Abercrombie & Fitch” and “Chinese laundry” and you’ll see what I mean — and that example is 10 years old.) I commend Gap for recognizing the need for swift action once the story trickled into The Guardian in the UK. As Salon.com pointed out, Gap made its announcement within an hour of the Salon.com posting. (For some advice on managing crisis communications, check out “10 Tips for Effective Crisis Management” by my colleague Ross Coyle.)
This is not to say the controversy has completely evaporated. AIM So Cal has requested Gap discontinue additional shirts which AIM feels “glorify westward expansion into Native American territory” and, among other demands, wants profits from the T-shirt sales to go to the legal defense of Leonard Peltier. However, in terms of the PR damage to Gap — the fire is reduced to smoking embers.
Thanks to Jordan Hubert (@jahubert) for using the Attensity sentiment analysis tool to research social reaction!
At $100 – $120K a pop, a promoted hashtag is a terrible thing to screw up. Yet, it happens more often than you might think. Companies start out with the well-intentioned idea of promoting a benefit of their brand, only to have their hashtag “hijacked” by tweeps sharing negative sentiments, usually driving more engagement and virality than the original ever would have. When creating a hashtag campaign, it is always important to look at the flip side: how might someone use this hashtag to bash my brand or use it in the opposite way I am intending? If it seems super-easy to flip, come up with something else.
McDonald’s has one of the most well-known examples of hijacking. It all began with #McDStories. They were hoping to share insider stories about the hard work and preparation that goes into making each meal and obviously were looking for people to share positive experiences they’ve had with the brand.
What ensued was some of the best brand-bashing I have ever seen. Instead of sharing positive stories, people took to the hashtag in droves to share their “special” McDonald’s experiences. Here are some of the highlights:
How could they have done better? McDonald’s needed to find common ground with their customers; find a theme people would be excited to discuss. While their hashtag was nice and short, it was way too broad. This was a gimme for brand bashers; seriously, I don’t think they could have come up with a more hijackable hashtag.
Shell found itself in a similar pickle when its hashtag, #ArcticReady, came under fire by environmentally conscious Twitter users. Shell asked users to create captions for their next advertising campaign. They got a whole lot more than they bargained for when anti-drilling ads began populating their feed. Some of the best examples are captured below:
It was later found that these ads were orchestrated by Greenpeace in a highly successful counter campaign. While I applaud Shell for trying to engage its audience on social media, some companies won’t ever be able to implement a successful hashtag campaign. When your brand is in a controversial industry, it’s best not to invite a firestorm that already wanted to ignite on its own. It’s best for Shell to stick to less controversial topics to discuss like investing in renewable energy.
Coca-Cola did things a little different. Instead of their hashtag being hijacked, they were the hijackers. They successfully stole #MakeMeSmile from VodafoneUK for their Happiness campaign in December 2010 — and probably not a minute too soon. In fact, if you ask me, Coca-Cola did them a favor in redirecting the conversation. Before Coca-Cola took over the hashtag, it had already been hijacked by UK tweeps angry about Vodafone evading taxes. It was clever of Coca-Cola to jump on an existing hashtag and capitalize on the traffic it was already generating. Not only is this a clever way to get your name out to new people using and monitoring the existing hashtag, but it is also a potentially safer move since said hashtag would not solely be associated with your brand.
Recently, DBB New York hijacked the popular #FirstWorldProblems hashtag to raise awareness for WaterIsLife. People use the hashtag to complain about problems that arise in the First World such as needing to write a check to your maid but forgetting her last name or being hungry but too lazy to make food. DBB shares some of the #FirstWorldProblems tweets by having Haitians read them in front of a backdrop of destruction and poverty. Other videos were made responding to specific tweets. One man tweeted that he was upset about not being able to have his Wednesday mojito because the bar was out of mint, the video reply to him shows the journey to Haiti and what your experience would be like traveling there ending with a personal message from a young girl expressing her condolences for his issue and wishing that his day gets better. Talk about a wildly successful hijacking. The campaign is buzzing on Twitter and even though I’ve never used the hashtag I still somehow feel like a jerk. Well played, DBB. No #firstworldPRoblems for them.
My advice to those of you considering a hashtag campaign? Think and rethink that hashtag. Test it within your company. Give it to the most sarcastic person you know, and see what they can do with it. If it’s awful, don’t move ahead. #ProceedWithCaution
We’ve all heard time and time again that in marketing, “Content is King.” Here rather, content is [insert your favorite superhero].
At last week’s Digital Marketing Conference, keynote speakers Brian Clark and Sonia Simone touched on important points to remember when creating content for brands. The conference, which focused on content marketing, supported the idea that effective content is all about storytelling and that effective storytelling paints consumers and clients as heroes, addressing their problems and desires in order to guide them on the adventurous journey to fulfillment.
The monomyth, also known as the hero’s journey, surveys the life of a hero and his or her subsequent voyage to achieve great deeds. Well-represented in Apple’s iconic 1984 ad, these stories commonly feature the trials and challenges heroes face, followed by tales of overcoming fears, finding help along the way, and achieving the hero’s ultimate goal. There are elements in these stories about heroes that we all resonate with. We all can find ways to relate to Luke Skywalker, Harry Potter, Neo, and Frodo Baggins. Each of us has problems we wish to address and challenges we face in solving them. Lucky for us, content marketing is there to help us, just like Luke had Obi Wan and Harry had Dumbledore.
So how do the tales of our most cherished champions apply to the content we, as marketers, develop to appeal to the masses? Simple: make the masses into the hero and make the product (or service) into the mentor.
Though the typical monomyth follows heroes on their journey through many steps, building effective content emphasizes four of them by focusing on telling the hero’s story in your content, taking your audience on the journey they want to achieve their desires.
With great power comes great responsibility. Don’t forget that developing effective content affects all areas of business and to be responsive to your audience. Remember to be agile and let your audience tell you what’s working and what’s not. And in the end, may the force be with you.
Image via BusinessInsider