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A New Year’s Resolution You Can Keep: How to Re-Vamp Your Social Media Habits for 15 Minutes a Day

January1I’ve tried making resolutions every January 1st and found that making small changes in my daily routine is what works best. For instance, instead of trying to lose 15 pounds, I’ve tried to work out every morning before heading into the office. The same goes for my social media habits. Sometimes I spend way too much time reading my Twitter feed; other days, I’ve noticed I have completely neglected my LinkedIn account and forgotten to reply to comments and messages on Facebook.

Devoting just 15 minutes per day, on the other hand, keeps social media management quick and consistent.

You may be thinking, “Only 15 minutes?” But, you’d be surprised how much you can accomplish in that timeframe! Let me break it down for you. 

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The Human Aspect of Social Media and Guidelines for Handling a Crisis

‘I knew I was going down’: 78-year-old Boston Marathon runner Bill Iffrig captured in viral photoWatching 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.

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.

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:

  • Plan ahead – Don’t wait until crisis hits to put a crisis management plan together.
  • Act like a human being – Express empathy and concern when victims are involved.
  • Activate appropriate mechanisms to keep the public and media informed on an ongoing basis.
  • Integrate social media into your plan – Be quick, but get it right.
  • Keep your message simple and clear.
  • Select a primary spokesperson to represent the organization throughout the crisis process.
  • All communications should go through one channel.
  • Respond to incorrect information that may be circulating as necessary.

Ross Coyle is an Account Supervisor at Sterling Communications. Follow him on Twitter at @rossjcoyle

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A Beginner’s Guide to Twitter

TwitterI’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 —–> TwitterBird       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…?

Monika Hathaway can be reached at mhathaway@sterlingpr.com. Follow her on Twitter @Jazzpatron

Kawika

When is public relations more than PR?

'Aerial Of The Confluence' Fine Art Print by Sam AbellPublic relations has been at the heart of Sterling Communications since our founding in 1989. Relating to the public, in case it hasn’t become obvious this decade, requires far more than mere “PR.”

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.

Kawika Holbrook is creative director at Sterling and can be reached at kholbrook@sterlingpr.com. Follow him on Twitter at @kawika or connected with him on LinkedIn.

Photo credit: ‘Aerial of the Confluence‘ fine art print by Sam Abell.

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8 Steps to Optimize Your Content for Search and Social

“Advertising is just renting the space. Content marketing is owning it.” — Arnie Kuenn

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:

  • 93 percent of all buyers online or in stores use search prior to making a purchase
  • 86 percent of searchers conduct non-branded queries. (Ex: What is the best surfboard?)
  • 94 percent of buyers click on organic links versus six percent on paid links for branded queries.

Here are his eight steps for the convergence of search, social and content marketing:

  1. Strategy development
    • Your strategy will evolve through the whole process.
    • Why are you creating the content you are creating?
    • Who is your audience?
    • Who are you? – Determine your voice.
    • What types of content will you create?
    • How will you develop your content?
    • When will you develop your content?
    • What does success look like?
    • What is difference a year from now?
  2. Research
    • Get as much of your staff together as you can (face-to-face) and ask them what they get asked all the time.
    • The content you produce should answer those questions.
    • Look at Q &A sites: what questions are people asking most frequently?
    • Put your content in a spreadsheet and create an editorial calendar.
  3. Content creation – ideas for different types of content
    • Interviews – help make you the expert
    • Videos – interviews, fun, behind the scenes, user generated.
    • Lists (ex: best places to ski)
    • Curation or aggregation (11 lessons, 7 tips, etc.)
    • Free guides – good content that people will share, generate leads, build your list for you (ex: Guide to the best Southern California beaches)
    • When you produce content, it stays on the web until you want to take it down. Although the content may not be fresh, it will generate leads and traffic.
    • Content that is longer than 1,800 words tends to get more links than shorter posts.
  4. Content optimization
    • Check list: webpages, news, local, images and videos
    • Links pointing to your content
    • Titles and title tags (viewed in search results)
    • Description meta tag (viewed in search results)
    • Image alt text tags
    • H1 Tag (headline tag – only one!)
    • Page load times
    • Freshness of content
    • URL structure (short and includes keywords)
  5. Content promotion
    • Understand who your customer is and where they are online.
    • Conduct PR and blogger pitches
    • Develop relationships and build partnerships
    • People share your ideas, link to your content. Mentions and shares are signals (especially G+)
    • Pinterest?
  6. Content distribution
    • What channels are the best fit for the type of content you want to share?
    • Who would be most interested in this content and where are they?
  7. Link building
    • Who or if someone will link to your content is out of your hands.
    • Promotion, distribution and value of content are the biggest determining factors.
  8. Measurement
    • Measure for successes and failures
    • Check your rankings, traffic, conversions and other key metrics
    • Focus on the strategies that are providing the best ROI and keep rolling out the content

Happy curating!

Monika Hathaway can be reached at mhathaway@sterlingpr.com. Follow her on Twitter @Jazzpatron

Image: dailyblogma.com

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How Social Media Became THE Destination for Election 2012 Predictions and PR Lessons

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.

Four years ago, 1.8 million tweets were sent on Election Day. But now, in 2012, there are 1.8 million tweets sent every eight minutes.

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.

Jordan Hubert can be reached at jhubert@sterlingpr.com. Follow Jordan on Twitter @jahubert.

Photo credit: http://www.facebook.com/FamilyGuy

Amanda

The Silence of the Cougars

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.”

A fan flies the WSU flag during ESPN Gameday.

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:

  1. Clearly state which topics are off-limits. Don’t assume anything is common sense or already understood.
  2. On the other hand, don’t focus solely on what not to say; instead, teach them what’s encouraged to say, and how they can use their social networks to generate buzz or awareness and show the organization in a positive light.
  3. Decide how official company/team news will be disseminated. This will depend on a number of factors, including the type of organization, whether publicly- or privately-held, and its overall culture. At a bare minimum, your organization should have an official Twitter feed, and employees/players should be encouraged to retweet from that.
  4. Remind team members or employees that the Internet never forgets. Never say something you’ll regret later or wouldn’t want your grandmother to read. Online content can live forever, even after deleted. This is especially important for high-profile individuals such as athletes or celebrities who may be under more scrutiny than your average employee.
  5. Emphasize transparency and authenticity. Employees or athletes should identify themselves as affiliated with the organization, either on their profile or in individual tweets regarding the organization.
  6. Remind employees or athletes that the company or school’s code of conduct extends to their social media lives. Clearly outline disciplinary actions if social media policies are not followed.
  7. Finally, organizations should take it upon themselves to keep up with what’s being said about the organization and by its members. There are a number of social media monitoring and analysis tools available to help brands keep a pulse on their social media reputation — from free, web-based programs to intricate analysis tools that cost upwards of thousands of dollars per month, and everything in between.

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.

Amanda Hoffman can be reached at ahoffman@sterlingpr.com. Follow her on Twitter @hoffmandy.

Photo via wsufootballblog.com.

Lisa Hawes

The Gap: Manifestly Smart in Dousing a PR Fire

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!

Lisa Hawes can be reached at lhawes@sterlingpr.com. Follow Lisa on Twitter @lisakayhawes.