Testing Out Facebook’s New Ad Product: Promoting Posts

As Social Media Specialist at Curry College in Milton, MA, I manage a bunch of Facebook Pages and was recently presented with a cool opportunity from Facebook to participate in a product research study (applicable to just one of the college’s pages – the main, institutional one.) I have dabbled in using ads (mainly ‘Sponsored Stories) on the site, and have experienced solid results driving page likes, and by participating we would receieve a $250 ad credit – a no brainer. Plus I was curious to use the new ad product.

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The ad product we would be testing out and providing comments on is called “Promoting Posts.”

Full Promoting Posts PDF Guide.

We had Commencement coming up fast, so I worked with our graphic design department to create a jpg. announcing how our community could use social to interact with each other, friends, family and staff during the ceremony and that we could then post and “promote.” At that time we had been reaching on average 600 people per post (I just created the page in September 2011).  So, I promoted the post for $5.00 and monitored closely (you can promote a post that you’ve created within the past 3 days just by clicking “Promote” under the post.) The promotion runs for 3 days automatically and you can pause or stop the promotion of the post (which can be photos, status updates, offers, videos and questions) before the 3 days are up. From what I saw and was told the promoted post is pushed into more newsfeeds than normal of a pages’ fans and for people interacting with the post (liking it, commenting, sharing etc.), into more of their friends newsfeeds – thereby increasing awareness and hopefully, Actions.

Importantly, when being served up in the newsfeed it’s fairly subtle that it’s a promoted post, as the only sign is the word “Sponsored” displayed under the post.

Also, the post becomes a “Sponsored Story” being displayed in the right hand column with your friend’s names who liked it, commented on it or shared it attached.

Here are the results of the 3-day campaign to promote our “pre-commencement social graphic:” (Note the 19 Actions are just for the post being displayed in newsfeeds, when it was simultaneously served up as a Sponsored Story it received 14 more Actions. You can see these results in the same Campaigns and Ads section in Facebook, and under the first screenshot below.)

So, as you can see we reached more people than average (although, this bump might be explained by Commencement being our biggest event of the year, and the social media call to action) – but Facebook also provides a couple other cool metrics by which to judge the campaign’s success – Click Through Rate (CTR) and Actions. I was happy with the 9.555% CTR and can see promoting an interesting post that points to your website working quite well. In terms of the 33 Actions, I wasn’t as happy, as we’ve experienced many more than that organically on a similar photo post.

At the end of week two I was emailed a brief survey, completed it and was indeed sent the ad coupon code. So, all-in-all I was happy to have participated and if/once this ad product is available for all, I would try it again (especially to see how successfully it works driving folks to our website or a landing page). What do you think? Are there negative implications for a brand paying to promote one of their posts?

Note: I posted the pre-commencement social graphic normally (not using the ad product) one day before promoting it, so the slight discrepancy in likes, comments and 1 share shown in the screen shot above is due to this fact. The total 33 Actions is just for the campaign.

The Information Needs of Communities: The Changing Media Landscape in a Broadband Age, a report by the FCC

Is it possible to capture how much the information revolution has changed our world?

I was just listening to the weekly radio show On The Media (June 17th 2011 episode), when I heard a segment about the FCC’s recently released 360 page report that OTM calls “one of the most comprehensive overviews of the US media ever produced,” and in its scope, certainly attempts to answer the quote above in the affirmative.

The report, authored by the segment’s guest and head of the project Steven Waldman, is titled The Information Needs of Communities: The Changing Media Landscape in a Broadband Age.” The project and subsequent report is the product of over two years of work and “600 interviews and workshops held all over the country,” and the findings in my opinion are vastly interesting. I therefore wanted to share the full report and some of its salient findings with you.

First, here are a few key discoveries the project uncovers pertaining to local reporting and digital media:

  • While the media, in general, are rich and vigorous, local reporting has taken a “palpable hit.”
  • Neither old or new media seem to have the resources to hold government accountable (i.e. local accountability reporting.) For example, the report states that 27 states have no reporters in the nation’s capital.
  • Even as information blooms online, journalism’s crucial function as a local watchdog has been stymied.
  • As technology offered people new choices, upending traditional news biz models and causing massive job losses (approx. 13,400 newspaper newsroom positions in just past four years,) gaps in coverage have been created in which even the fast-growing digital world has yet to fill.
  • At a time when digital media is empowering more and more people, there is a countervailing trend occurring where citizens are shifting power to institutions because institutions (govn’t, companies etc.) are in a better position to drive the story-lines.
  • Far from being nearly extinct, the traditional media players (i.e. TV Stations, Newspapers) are the largest providers of local news online.
  • Individual citizens need to be thinking about this issue as an important part of building a better community and better country.

After reading please come back and add your comments below as to what you think of the FCC’s report. Thanks!

Here is the OTM Transcript:

OTM June  17th

Here is the full PDF of the report:

The_Information_Needs_of_Communities

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Information Vegetables and Information Desert: The Personalization Era

As we continue to barrel toward a world operated almost completely by digital technologies – and the very real possibility of a collective future that offers untold possibilities for “social, economic, practical, artistic and even spiritual progress,” as Douglas Rushkoff recently wrote, many academics, sociologists, marketers and technologists are offering their take of what this all means for humanity (and therefore business), and what avenues we should or shouldn’t then take.

And of course, the Internet, and how we interact with it (and how it interacts with us), resides in the center of this discussion/debate. For a quick rundown see: Sherry Turkle, the Director of MIT’s Initiative on Technology & Self; author and journalist Nicholas Carr; author, teacher and consultant Clay Shirky, and media theorist and author Neil Postman.

This whole debate fascinates me and as citizens living through this transformation era I think that we should be absorbing and thinking about ALL views – not just the ones we are apt agree with.

On a related note, and the impetus for this post, I was recently listening to an audio interview with MoveOn.org’s former executive director Eli Pariser on the daily tv/radio news program Democracy Now! and I heard something quite interesting that I will mention in a minute.

What is the Internet Hiding From You?

Pariser was on the show to be interviewed about his new book, “The Filter Bubble: What the Internet Is Hiding from You.” His thesis, in a nutshell, is that the Internet is increasingly becoming an echo chamber in which sites tailor info according to the preferences they detect in each viewer. As an example he talks about two of his friends who both google “Egypt” from their respective computers and get two vastly different results – one about the protests and revolution and the other receives travel-related search results.

He posits that Google uses accumulated data from these two friends to deliver the results on Egypt it thinks they will click on – with the reason being more page views and ad dollars. Therefore not everyone receives the same results and a case can be (and is) made that Google is diverting from their original philosophy and algorithm that users and their pointed links to sites are the arbitrators of authority and therefore, determine the best, most useful search results.

A Facebook “Important Button.”

But what really caught my attention is what Pariser begins to discus about 38:30 into the show in relation to this perceived echo chamber (conformational bias) phenomenon and the social networking giant Facebook. He talks about the fact that the way info is passed around Facebook, and therefore consumed by the community, is through the “Like” button.

“The “Like” button has a very particular valence. It is easy to click like on ‘I just ran a marathon,’ or ‘I baked a really awesome cake,’ but its very hard to click “Like” on ‘war in Afghanistan enters its tenth year,'” says Pariser

Therefore, “Info that is “Likable” gets transmitted, information that is not “Likable” falls out” he adds. His suggestions to begin to remedy this and take back some control?

1). We need to be aware of whats happening, in terms of these filters operating invisibly i.e. “Use Your Head.” 2). And the idea that inspired this post – a grassroots campaign to develop an “Important Button.” This would be a way to signal that something is not only “Likable” but also important.

And consequently, and most important, different, more varied information/stories would then began to be viewed and consumed by more people.

“This [campaign/idea] can start to remind these companies that there are ways that they can begin to build in more civic value into what they’re doing”

So, what do you think about an “Important Button?” I think its certainly an interesting and viable idea and would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Here is the link to the video interview

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When it Comes to Digital Literacy, “The Window of Opportunity Is Being Lost”


I was recently turned on to Douglas Rushkoff by a tweet sent out by Mitch Joel, of the highly regarded blog Six Pixels of Separation. Being a recent graduate student in communications and new media, and an ardent admirer of Marshall McLuhan, I was thrilled to find his work.

http://twitter.com/#!/mitchjoel/status/66669238001213441

Rushkoff, an “author, teacher, and documentarian who focuses on the ways people, cultures, and institutions create, share, and influence each other’s values,” is a brilliant speaker and a master when it comes to making media theory accessible. His ideas on digital technology and our resulting ability to be participant human beings in a digital age are striking.

Therefore, I decided to re-post his November 10th, 2010 talk that he gave at Google. I highly recommend watching the whole thing.

But if you feel you can’t watch it all at once, skip to about 17:25 in the video when Rushkoff discusses the fact digital technology has a “bias” towards time. You’ll be glad you did!

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All Meaningful Communication is a Form of Storytelling

Solitary Man

Narration is “a conceptional framework for understanding human decision, discourse and action”-(Walter Fisher, 1989)

The Setup

My friend of 10 years Richard, a 45 year-old hard-working, loving father and auto mechanic from Charlestown strode across the street to his car, leaving early for a 8:00am meeting with his lawyer. This was to be their first meeting.

Once at the office Richard and his lawyer, a 27 year-old just out of law school, began to hash out an intricate legal strategy, one with the ultimate goal of receiving full custody of Richard’s two children from his alcoholic-gambling ex-wife Linda. Linda hasn’t worked in years and leaves the children, aged 10 and 12, home alone frequently while going to Foxwoods with her boyfriends to gamble away her child support check. Richard loves his children dearly and works 60 hours a week at the garage just to make ends meet and to provide for them. He does this even though he knows the money goes to liquor stores and into the casino safe instead of into his two kids’ bellies.

The Conflict

So, Richard and his lawyer meet every Tuesday at 8:00am for the next 6 months. During this time Richard gets up at 6:00am and goes to work at the garage for a hour or so before heading to his lawyer’s office in Jamaica Plains to plan out next steps. Linda stays in bed until noon, letting her kids get themselves ready for school and consequently, wait for the bus alone on the corner. While they get on the bus in the rain Linda is puffing on her third cigarette of the morning.

Linda also has a lawyer (subsidized by Richard’s child-support check) who is the typical pony-tailed, expensive-suited litigator with an office on State Street, who pulls out all the stops and plays nasty just to win. He has 25 years experience though with numerous investigators working for him. And he wins his cases.

The conflict between Richard and Linda continues, both in court and when Richard goes to pick the kids up every other weekend.

The Resolution

At the end of the 6 months, and after much hard work and scrapping together (through borrowing and pleading for overtime) money to pay his less experienced, but ethically stout lawyer, Richard wins full custody of his kids. The more experienced lawyer is beaten down and Linda is remiss for the loss of the child support check. The children love their father and are happy to finally be able to live with him full-time.

Installing new engine mounts in the Chev.

A Credible Story?

You know this little account that I just relayed to you? Well it’s pure fiction. Sorry! I have no friend named Richard who has just won a hard-fought battle for his kids. I told you this story to illustrate the power of Walter Fisher’s Narrative paradigm theory and to hopefully show you why storytelling is effective in marketing communications.  To quickly summarize, Fisher believed that

all meaningful communication is a form of storytelling or giving a reporting of events and so human beings experience and comprehend life as a series of ongoing narratives each with their own conflicts, characters, beginnings, middles, and ends.

And the way in which people explain and/or justify their behavior, whether past or future, “has more to do with telling a credible story than it does with producing evidence or constructing a logical argument.” And to believe in other people’s “stories” the same must hold true. Where credibility = a coherent narrative structure (e.g. the story tells us that Richard loves his children, and then depicts him fighting for them at great personal sacrifice), and also the story has to resonate with the listeners’ values, beliefs and experiences (e.g. ethics and morality will win over immorality and playing nasty).

Instead of mainly basing our decisions on logical, rational arguments (e.g. because Linda’s lawyer is more experienced than Richard’s, Linda will surely win the custody battle), Fisher posited that we humans make decisions based on history, culture and perceptions about the status and character of the other people involved in the narrative.

So, while reading the account above, thinking about your experiences and picturing hard-working Richard and lazy Linda with her immoral lawyer, did you happen to forsee the ending? You probably did. You’re smart like that. Plus storytelling is engrained in your DNA.

What The Heck Does This Have To Do With Marketing Communications?

Well I’ll tell you. “Audiences are interested in the real stories, experiences, dilemmas and issues confronting us in 2011. It has to feel relevant to them,” says Charlotte Moore, the commissioning editor for documentaries at the BBC. Telling true stories well, as alluded to by Moore and discussed in the book Content Rules, powerfully connects a brand to its customers/community/prospects –  in a meaningful way. And telling true brand stories well entails everything I mentioned above – including conflict, resolution and of course the hero who comes to the rescue and solves the problem(s).

For example, narrative coherence would begin with a city-based university’s message to prospective applicants and their parents that they are there to solve all concerns students and their folks may have related to moving in and living on a “campus” in the city, and that ultimately the university cares about the student. Then they would cement the narrative coherence by offering a social channel like Twitter in which to provide insights and relevant info to students/their families and provide video/pictures that vividly illustrates what the dorms look like and where incoming freshman will indeed live.

Telling true stories well also entails communicating a brand story that resonates, for example, with the students and their parent’s values and experiences. Of course to make this all jive marketers and communicators have to first hear (listening as action) the people they are attempting to connect with and then weave these insights into their communication(s) and story.

Mechanic photo credit: Edward Wingate

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Marketing Objectives, Strategy and Tactics Made Clear by the Show COPS


Throughout my collegiate career, studying both journalism and PR, I have found that the best way to learn about (and retain) complex and even not-so-complex ideas was to be provided with real-world, pragmatic examples (obviously, an even better route is actually taking part; i.e. experiential learning). But nonetheless, for our present purposes lets discuss the power and clarity of real events/life as examples when it comes to understanding and learning.
market

When we were studying heavy topics such as journalistic law and ethics, the confidentiality of sources and the federal shield law, our kind professor at U-Mass spent a good amount of time discussing Judith Miller and the leak of Valerie Plame as a CIA agent.  This real-world example/event contained vivid lessons of the importance of the freedom of the press, the fundamental role the confidentiality of sources plays in journalism’s ability to function as the “watch dog,” and it even illustrated the issues that arise from the mixing (i.e. conglomeration) of corporations and the press. I learned a lot.

A Strategic Approach to Digital Marketing Initiatives

I know from my own experience and casual reading of blogs and articles that the world of digital marketing planning and execution, specifically the steps involving the setting of objectives, strategy and tactics, is a bit murky and can become hard to order. And therefore it ends up detrimentally affecting the overall initiative/campaign.

So, how about a real-world example to shed some light on the differences between marketing objectives, strategy and tactics? This will also hopefully illustrate how these planning steps fit in and build off of each other to equal an effective initiative or program. (I do recognize that there are more steps involved, such as timescales and evaluation, but I want to concentrate here on what I see as the most misunderstood aspects of the planning and managing process).

Bad Boys, Bad Boys…

Two Of Them
As I was watching COPS recently I began to think about the major goal that the two partners had (“making it home safe at the end of the night,” as one cop said), and how they worked to achieve it. I’ll define the objective “making it home safe” as walking through their own doors at the end of their shift, having incurred no personal injury. Soon, I recognized that this specific example would perhaps make the topic of marketing objectives, strategy and tactics a little bit clearer. Lets begin with the two cops’ objective.

Objective (What do the cops want to achieve?):

  • As I mentioned above, these two cops want to make it home safe after willingly immersing themselves in danger all night.

Stakeholders/Publics (Who do they talk to/and who can affect their objective?

  • Criminals, victims, witnesses, the general public. These are all groups of people that define what the police do and can affect the two cops’ objective of making it home safe. Much analysis and research has been done and statistics are available for police brass to consider when developing the protocol (e.g. use harsher methods/communication with criminals than witnesses) that deals with these groups while on the job.

An example of how these stakeholders can affect the objective: The two police officers finally are able to enact a traffic stop after a suspected bank robber leads them on a 90mph chase over 10 miles. Then instead of listening to police commands to lie down face first, the criminal makes a beeline for the nearest bush to hide in or fence to jump over (this example will become clearer in the tactics section, I promise!). By running the criminal puts the cops’ objective at risk. As the cops chase the criminal a neighbor could mistake them for burglars, they could get hit by a car or the suspect could all of a sudden spin around and brandish a weapon etc. Therefore, the cops want to lessen the chance for this uncertainty, this lack of control to occur. Which leads us perfectly to the content of the initiative.

Content (What do our two cops say?):

  • Remember that devising the content of an initiative or program is very specific to the individual situation. For our present example the nature of the “initiative” is mainly one of information (one-way messages with little to no dialogue but that still persuades), so an example of a real message here is “For our safety we are putting you in handcuffs. You are not under arrest.” See how this may influence an individual to comply and importantly, how it’s related to the cops’ main objective? Here is a link to a pretty decent deck that covers developing simple campaign messages.

Strategy (What is the overall approach the two cops take; the rationale behind the tactics?):

  • They act proactively and ask questions only after first squashing the threat. Open communications is key. The issue is safety (even for the criminals themselves), so all actions taken should lessen, in some way, the possible danger to the two cops on their beat and to the general public. So how do the two cops implement this strategy? Tactics is how.

Tactics (What actions do the cops take that compliment each other & the objective?):

  • As I alluded to earlier in the content section, if there is any inkling of danger or uncertainty the handcuffs come out first, then the cops question and search. Questioning and searching are also tactics meant to ensure a safe environment for everyone involved (and specifically, for the two cops).
  • If the cops have information of a serious crime having taken place earlier by a suspect and/or the stop poses a significant risk to the police for any reason (e.g. a weapon is seen), our two cops will enact a “high risk” or what is termed a felony stop. This is different than a “regular” stop because of the tactics used – the cops will pull their gun before approaching, they communicate specific verbal commands and radio the dispatcher of their intent to perform the “high risk” stop (i.e. open communications).
  • The use of the radio: communicating openly and at all times where they are and what actions they are taking is a tactic that is meant to ensure the two cops get home safe. For example, the two partners run into a suspect who they can’t control. They radio dispatch who sends in reinforcements who then help the two cops subdue the criminal, hopefully without anyone getting hurt.
  • Ask everyone for identification. Its safer to know who you’re dealing with right?
  • The use of canine (K9) officers to go in and disable the threat. The use of dogs also prevents the two cops having to rush in themselves to dangerous situations and it then improves their chances of making it home safe.

Hopefully this real-world example has shed some light on the difference between objectives, strategy and tactics and has illustrated the interrelated nature of these salient steps that go into a marketing/PR initiative or program. Do you have any other real-world examples that have helped you understand and learn?

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Market Photo credit: Tiffa 130

Two cops Photo credit: Kevin Spencer

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Creating an Interactive Customer/Fan Experience Wins


63613429
Wow, the interactive marketing space is getting cooler day-by-day. If you turn your head just for a split second, you’re bound to miss some new combination of digital media and deep community listening that spawns an awesome customer experience. I just came across a post by lostremote.com, a site dedicated to social TV coverage, that illustrates just such an example of how to go about creating an impressive and interactive customer event.

Trending Topics Powered by Facebook

All-Star Pulse, launched by NBA.com, is a Facebook-powered experience that was created for the All-Star game this past weekend. The site tracked “real-time conversations about the players, stars and brands associated with the annual event” writes Lost Remote. One interesting fact about the site is that it is powered by Facebook, not Twitter. The NBA told Mashable, according to the piece, that because the NBA is a global brand, Facebook (with its huge reach) was a natural choice. The league itself has “7.4 million Facebook fans and another 2.3 million Twitter followers,” so I would offer that this was a smart choice as it illustrates a solid grasp of its audience (and ensures copious amounts of fuel for the engine and subsequently, a better experience for all.)

Real-Time Topic Pages

The picture directly above corresponds with clicking on the “2011 NBA All-Star Game” tab, which pulls up a topic page, and gives you the total mentions of the phrase, Facebook user mentions and it even drills down to provide mentions of the game per hour and per minute. Besides this, you can watch keyword-related videos, check out pictures of the game and read the latest articles and blog posts – (categorized by each.) Pretty sweet huh?

Each page is also decked out with “social bling,” promoting cross-channel sharing/integration and therefore, furthering the branded experience that much more. For example, there are “share this” options if you want to post the Lebron James stats (e.g. mentions per hour) and video content to Twitter, as well prompts to “follow the NBA” and “like the NBA.”

I can see other organizations harnessing Facebook’s massive people-powered engine to create more of these branded experiences. How about a “pulse” for a new Victoria’s Secret product launch? Or perhaps a Facebook powered, real-time site for the Apple iPad 2 announcement?

I would also offer that besides digital marketers, journalists can get in on the action by using/visiting these sites after and during an event/campaign to pull real-time stats and get context and media for their related articles. What do you think are some future uses?

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Top photo credit: mrdrebzee

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Moving Past Twitters’ Gate-Keepers


Gatekeeper
More and more it seems that Twitter is becoming an integral part of/player in the news of the world. Whether it be breaking the news, for example, the 2009 US Airways flight ditching in the Hudson river, or actually being the news, as it has been most recently concerning the role it played in the Egyptian revolution, “Twitter” and “News” are becoming synonymous.

A recent article on Paul Sutton’s blog The Social Web, and the report by HP found below, got me thinking about the topic of media gatekeepers, Twitter, news and how digital marketers can engage with Twitter to make it (news) and get results.

First, Paul’s piece asks some great questions concerning PR and the fact that Twitter now is the news and breaks it many times even before the mainstream media sites do. He writes,

“As for PR, our job used to be to provide newspapers, magazines and broadcast media with stories; facts and comments about client projects that managed or created reputation and demand. But is our job now to feed Twitter? Do we try to create news ‘breaks’ through seeding news to Twitter sources and journalists?”

This study by HP, which collected its data through Twitter’s own search API over 40 days in the fall of 2010, states that mainstream media brands such as CNN and the NY Times drive a “disproportionate” number of Twitter trending topics – by being the source of most RT’s while a topic is trending. Therefore, taking this into consideration and attempting to answer Paul’s question, I would offer that first I am a bit disappointed that this may illustrate, quite predictably, the saliency of traditional gate-keepers like the MSM on social channels. Although, the study also reports that

“Even though mainstream media sources tend to be extremely well-represented within social media discussions, a significant percentage of trending topics do stem from non-mainstream sources.”

So, in regard to the question of should we as PR professionals and digital marketers seed news to mainstream Twitter sources and their journos, I would posit that yes we should. Going by this report, this is “one” way to create and sustain buzz. But as a guy inspired by citizen journalism and emerging media I am more hopeful that we can find equally-powerful and mutually beneficial ways of creating and sustaining “buzz” on Twitter and other channels, in effect bypassing these conventional sources.

I would love to hear your ideas! Please share below.

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Photo credit: Joshin Yamada

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#Brandbowl 2011: A Focus Group

HPIM1413.JPG

The Social Construction of Ads

The real-time web offers some very cool and very tangible advantages for smart marketers today. As I was watching the Superbowl ads this past Sunday I was simultaneously tweeting and reading others’ tweets, all organized around the hashtag #brandbowl. Folks who had spent the millions of dollars for a 30 second-spot could gauge reactions to their ads immediately. Even those who just enjoy being a part of the special night and watching what creative minds have to offer could derive some value from following the hashtag. I personally enjoy taking in the different opinions – and the wide range of them – that people have when it comes to advertisements, even though we all watch the same spots.

A Quick Collection of Twitter Reactions

Unfortunately, I decided to put together this deck of people’s Twitter reactions a day later, and trying to wade through 30+ pages to get to the real-time reactions was a feat I was not prepared for. This quick collection of reactions still provide a good glimpse into people’s opinions and hopefully next year I’ll smarten up and put together something in “real-time!”

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Photo credit: Trenton Schulz

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Kenneth Cole and Crisis Communications 101

By now I imagine you have heard of the insensitive tweet Kenneth Cole himself graced us with yesterday. This “attempt at humor” as Cole later classified it, certainly got the twittersphere and blogosphere’s attention. After reading and commenting on this blog post by Heather Whaling concerning 2 PR lessons learned from the gaffe, I decided to cover what I believe are the salient lessons in PR/Crisis Communications and even social media best practices that can be gleaned from this strange attempt to piggy-back off of the events occurring in the Middle East.

First, I would offer that Kenneth Cole’s gaffe is a pretty big deal; mainly because of the context in which it was made. No matter your political leanings or how you look at the unrest in Egypt and the Middle East, the fact is people are dying (and therefore not the wisest source of comedic material.) With regard to long-term effects of his original tweet (pictured above), I’ve heard the phrase boy-cott mentioned a few times already, but I would offer that the damage will more likely come from Cole’s resources now being differed from ‘business as usual’ to damage control and especially from his weak apology offered on two social channels (Twitter & Facebook).

The larger lesson (and Crisis Communications 101) to be learned from this situation in my opinion has to do with this so-called apology, “We weren’t intending to…” First, sincerity is key and it doesn’t seem sincere. Cole’s tweet doesn’t come across as someone who understands the offenses’ impact and there is no mention of any corrective action (I do understand this may be difficult to communicate in 140 characters but his Facebook message doesn’t offer it either.) Second, I would argue the second tweet wasn’t voluntary. It wasn’t until after the S**# storm started that he tweeted it. Taken together, this presents a major flaw in the apology and hints that this won’t be forgiven/forgotten anytime soon.

To couch this in social media, and with regard to Cole’s responses, I do appreciate his posting of an apology on Facebook on his discussion board, and obviously responding on Twitter (where the gaffe originated) was appropriate. But the best lesson in terms of social media and best practices comes from blogger Mack Collier when he wrote in his post yesterday that brands shouldn’t attempt to leverage conversations happening in social media that they haven’t participated in. This goes back to listening first and then participating only where you or your brand can provide some value – End of story.

Thoughts?

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Channeling Inspiration From Small Moments in the Past


As people traverse the uncertain times in their lives (e.g. graduating from school & hunting for new opportunities), and understandably get knocked back as they go, inspiration is certainly important for many reasons. No doubt you have heard the old adage, ‘Don’t live in the past,’ but I would offer that visiting the past now and again can be a great inspiration and a motivator.

An Image in Time

Take the picture above for example. It was taken this past December while I was still in school and working in a position that I loved – Social Media Manager in my university’s Office of University Communications. I was hired as a full-time student and after graduating the position was to be filled by a grad fellow. Not important to my point though. This was a time in my life that was imbued with excitement, daily challenges and achievement and leaving work one day on my way to class I quickly, and without much thought, snapped this picture. This image that captures a time in one person’s life can be looked at as just a small moment, a pebble really in a long and tortuous driveway, but I choose to channel it for inspiration and drive.

Job Search Inspiration

I look at this image on my desktop everyday before writing the many cover letters and networking on LinkedIn that goes with a 21st century job search, and I remember the trials and challenges that go with attending graduate school, working and raising a little boy. But most importantly, it also reminds me that I can and have rocked these myriad milestones. This small and quite moment serves a larger purpose.

So, do you have any small moments in your past that you use for inspiration today?  I would love to hear about them!

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Blogging While Living (B.W.L.)


I know, I know.. I beat myself up daily that its been a month or so since I last posted. Every part of my being knows that what makes a blog successful is fresh, compelling and useful content – and posting once a month is not fresh, compelling or useful. I won’t get into the “reasons” why there has been a lack of posts, one, because if you look at such prolific bloggers like Seth Godin and Brian Solis, there really are no good excuses, and two, it sounds self-serving – and self-serving blabbering does not make compelling or useful content in my humble opinion.

Posting Fresh Content

Therefore, lets turn this ugly faux pas of mine into a helpful discussion on the best practices of blogging. But wait, isn’t there already a plethora of info in the blogosphere on this very topic and freshness is key, right? So, to make this dialogue more interesting, (dare I say compelling?) and useful for young communicators, lets discuss best practices of blogging, keeping in mind one specific element that no doubt relates and applies to everyone today in our hectic, 24/7 always-on world – how do we keep up with posting solid and fresh content while working, going to school, reading, researching and spending time with our family and friends?

Some questions to help guide the comments.

1) When stretched for time is it better to post nothing at all or rushed, mediocre content? Why?

2) Where do you get your inspiration/ideas from and how do you translate them onto the page?

3.) What are acceptable intervals for posting (i.e. daily, weekly, monthly)?

4.) How important is time management here? Strategies?

Thanks and please join in with your comments, suggestions and questions.

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How to Grow a Strong Twitter Network Through Great Content, Human Voice & Blocking the Bums


It’s been a little while since I wrote an explicit “Resources for Young Communicators” type post, and since this space is designed to help guide us young students, graduates and professionals as we journey through and excel in the communications field, I decided to embark on a quick “How to.” Put it into practice, add some patience and empathy and your efforts will blossom into your very own, strong social community.

In terms of social networks today, Twitter is by far my favorite and one that definitely lives, breathes and flourishes through an open culture kept alive by personal interests, universal sharing and even altruism. I am growing a solid community of folks and haven’t ever resorted to tricks or automatic baloney to do it. I don’t have thousands of followers, but the ones I do have are mostly thought leaders in their own right, as they understand the power of social media and the human need for autonomy, membership and community.

Some choose to ignore the mores that go along with this open culture. I choose not to. For illustration of how to go and stunt your network, think about this: an account that doesn’t have a dedicated, curious and community-minded person behind it ( & instead is wild-eyed with profit) will not receive any “sincere” followers in return, consequently won’t engage in beneficial sharing and will ultimately be relegated to shouting unintelligibly and alone in the wind.

But if you want to foster a community of creative and kind people who you can share with, and can both give and receive value from, keep reading my friend.

Building a community takes time and effort

Twitter, like any other social network, has intrinsic rules and a culture that can only be discerned through observing first and then genuinely participating in that culture. No matter what you do, if you don’t observe the rules of the road your efforts on the service will be for naught – and more importantly, you will not discover the bounties and advantages that will eventually come your way if you do.

Below are some quick (but vital) tips and actions that I personally utilize everyday on Twitter that will show you how to go about growing an authentic, strong and fertile network, which can then help you to find and score jobs; introduce you to esoteric and important ideas, topical information and events, offer a springboard into notoriety as a reliable and compelling pro, and feed your inherent human desire for connection and knowledge.

Some steps to follow

1.) First, find and listen in on the people in your field that you find interesting and that have been on Twitter for a while. Use services such as ListoriousTwitter search and Twellow. You will know when to move on to step 2.

2.) Post current, meaningful content, with links, that will be of value for people in your field and your soon-to-be budding network. Find different sources everyday, so for example don’t always post updates linking to the New York Times or Mashable etc. Post at least 5 a day but do not go crazy.

3.) Follow stimulating people, and keep following even if they don’t follow you back.

4.) @ mention people that you find compelling and engage in conversations about their content. Don’t be shy!

5.) Always send either a DM or a simple @ mention if your stuff is retweeted – this shows your on top of your game and that you are a caring and appreciative person (all great qualities for communicators). Also make an effort to retweet others.

6.) I like to tweet updates w/out a link that shows a real, human voice. Do this fairly often.

7.) Tweet positive. Being negative on Twitter doesn’t fly too well and will scare people away. Also related to this is to practice being altruistic. A great example of this unselfish care for others are the moderators & founders of chats such as #Commschat#PRStudChat who take the time to inform others and help students find jobs and network.

8.) This is a rather controversial step but one that I find pretty important: block the bums. This means actually clicking the link that blocks an account such as the robots; pushy marketers who post 10 misspelled posts a minute; the people with very large discrepancies between followers & follows and possibly people without links in their bios (or bios at all for that matter).

I feel that by blocking the undesirables you actually cleanse your network and put into action the proverbial belief that it’s not about numbers on Twitter (quantity), but the quality of your network. I also know myself that if I see someone with a ton of obvious bots following them, I probably won’t follow them myself (something to do with the old “company you keep” adage.

That’s it. Please join in and comment in the comment section and let us know what you do to cultivate a strong Twitter network and how you feel about blocking folks.

Photo credit: Joshua Davis

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Information as Universal Currency, and its Ambiguous Value


With the inspiring and massive changes occurring today in the areas of communications and specifically media,many novel questions related to its form and its value – both societal and personal – are being asked and any concrete, right-or-wrong answers are conspicuously, but advantageously unknown.

I say this ambiguity is beneficial because the actual process of asking these questions and then fleshing out their possible answers will usually lead to healthy and democratic dialogues, debate, experimentation and finally, new opportunities for human connection, knowledge and value for both participants and society –  especially if the media and its culture is intrinsically dedicated toward creating this public or civic worth.

Once online, it’s there forever.

One such powerful debate that has continuously peaked my interest and will not have a definitive answer anytime soon is the question of the true consequences of putting vast amounts (or even little amounts) of data, personal & otherwise, out on the web for all to see, use, share and unfortunately, to sometimes manipulate for nefarious purposes. Is there a trade-off between total transparency and safety online? Also, what kind of value is created by this online sharing of information?

This topic and the related questions are filled with examples of innovation, as well as fertile ideas and opinions related to social media and networks, privacy, societal norms and of course, the value derived for the person sharing the information and for the people receiving it. For an example of the awesome utility that can be placed (right or wrong) on sharing information online, ZDNet blogger Zack Wittaker writes “the one universal currency that we use in this post-modern world is information.”

Facebook Places hits the streets

One aspect of this debate has recently gained more steam as social networking giant Facebook has released “FaceBook Places,” which aims to connect its users where ever they go (Here is an article on the topic from the Nation, which also includes the FB Places release video.) In general, one side of the debate here argues that the ultimate tradeoff is between connecting with your friends and sharing info about different locations, businesses etc. and a person’s privacy being violated.

For example, “creepy” stalkers down the street can see that you are at the laundromat with your delicates without you really knowing it. Also, with Places your exact location can be broadcast by your friends (via tagging) even if you are not taking part in the program yourself. Another more basic argument against its use is that if we really wanted to connect with our pals out in the world there are already a million other ways to accomplish it (e.g. Facebook email, status updates, DM’s, instant messages etc.).

Not taking into account the obvious advantages for marketers and PR folks of “connecting with customers, clients and partners,” the other side of the location-based services debate has postulated that its use can engender “serendipitous” meetings and can foster the strengthening of personal relationships and make our lives just that much more connected and interesting. Ok.

No more resumes, just check out my digital content please.

So, using this debate of total transparency and value as a jumping off-point, and concentrating on personal value instead of societal, what about young pro’s who are looking for jobs in the communications industry and put all their content online for hiring managers to peruse and to ultimately contact them if they think they might be a good fit? For some examples of the type of content we publish everyday online think about resumes on Slideshare and LinkedIn (with cell #’s and addresses attached), past work & education experience on LinkedIn, articles written for college newspapers & websites, email addresses, non-private Facebook pages (to aid in find-ability) and blogs and About pages to name a few.

The personal value of sharing info such as a resume, for all the world to find through SERP’s for instance, could be that a graduate gets found by a recruiter on LinkedIn and lands a job when he/she would otherwise remain a shadow. But it’s surely a thin line between creating value or trouble for a person.

Should we continue to share our personal info online in the hopes of receiving benefit from it? Does the positives outweigh the negatives? And does your answer change when we consider creating value for others, instead of ourselves, through our content and collaborations? In this instance I would say yes, definitely. How about you?

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Social web and the evolution of PR: Guest Post for @behindthespin


I recently had the opportunity to write a guest post for the UK-based magazine, “@behindthespin,” which is a magazine for PR students and young practitioners that publishes online throughout the whole year. Though based in UK universities, the publication effectively aims to take a global perspective on issues of relevance to the above mentioned groups. I will provide a link below to the article that I recently wrote for their site, but first, through a quick recounting of how the actual opportunity came about, I will hopefully offer you an illustration of the power and utility of social media and engagement for young pros who are looking to get their names out there through great content (which is a must considering the near ubiquitousness of the “Googling” of people’s names), and to then hopefully parlay it into job opportunities.

I became aware of the opportunity to write a guest post for Behind the Spin when I came across one of their tweets, which was a re-tweet from David Clare, the PR & social media section editor for the magazine.

I choose to get involved and shot a direct message over to David and explained my interest in writing for them. After brainstorming some PR and social media related topics, we settled on the topic of why/how has social media required PR to evolve, and what in fact will be the end result for the profession?

Since the post has gone live, another interesting, powerful and social facet of this opportunity will hopefully commence. Comments and insightful conversations around the piece and traffic driven to both Behind the Spin and this blog because of it, where more interaction around this topic can take place, will surely signal a mutually beneficial and healthy undertaking – the guest post.

Here is Social web and the evolution of PR.

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Stealing Opportunity from Cracks in the Status Quo

Photo Credit: Arvind Balaraman

Although there are myriad intelligent discussions, analysis and practice occurring lately about and around social media and the power and utility of the social experience, I wanted to take a step back and inward, to explore the vivid terrain of personal experience and what it itself can mean for the agency of the individual as well as for the social experience. I attempted this traversing of the subject of power, possibility and personal experience and broke the macro task down by looking at it through the lens and the phenomenon of “the news.”

News & the Process Through Which it’s Produced Determines Public Experience

One salient postulation that got me thinking about this whole subject of personal experience, structures and therefore human agency and opportunity is a quote by the sociologists Harvey Molotch and Marilyn Lester. “News is the information which people receive second-hand about worlds which are not available to their own experience.” This means that news and the process through which it is produced determines the experiences of the public. There is a middle-man and there are those with vested interests and the unequal power to get these interests addressed.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not explicitly saying having vested interests and influence are always negative attributes, just that we, as young communicators who probably do not have built-up influence, have to be alert, versatile and dynamic to make and take advantage of opportunities when they are presented to us – because they are increasingly few and far between.

Molotch and Lester go on to write that although the news, and especially routine, promoted events such as the president making an inspection tour of a ravaged Gulf Coast, is managed, there are certain times when the status quo is breached, true power dynamics are exposed and opportunities can therefore be swiftly exploited. In all such circumstances, we must be on the ready and have the confidence to take full advantage of these cracks.

For an example related to the news, after a very public accident occurs where oil is released in large amounts into an ocean basin and direct consequences of this unplanned event are that well-loved wildlife are killed and are being killed, this cannot be easily hidden from the public’s view – no matter how powerful the actors who may have caused it and no matter how much they may want it spun. According to Molotch and Lester the media must now become truly objective and serve as the public’s ally, not the partner to the ones with the power and influence.  Here we are able to witness such information usually obscured from public consideration as the close ties and the in-step decision-making that takes place between the federal government and Big Oil.

The opportunity lies within one leader or in-tuned individual of an environmental group being aware, proactive and taking advantage of the very public and the very negative climate produced by the spill that chastens Big Oil and cries out for regulation. He/she can then internalize and utilize this event and the subsequent crack in the dominant political structure to effectively lobby for changes to offshore drilling laws etc. The social experience for many will have been affected.

For our purposes and on a related note, I think its important that we take our personal experiences for what they are and to also be cognizant of their intrinsic value. We should make the most of these events and always be on alert for possible changes and trends in the industry that can signal our opportunity.

For example, taking a job right out of college that may not be our “dream job” in PR or journalism and internalizing the experience as we keep working to find and even cause the tremor that cracks the status quo and leads to our big break. What do you think about finding and making your own personal opportunities?

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LeBron James: A Veritable PR Genius?

Some say that LeBron James is a bona fide “public relations genius.” This may or may not be true, we will explore this in a bit, but the fact remains, the basketball star and free agent has managed to dominate the news cycle and foster massive amounts of speculation and therefore buzz around the decision of which b-ball team he would choose to continue his vaunted career with. Would James stay in Cleveland where he has doggedly chased the elusive championship ring for 7 seasons and formed a relationship of sorts with the city and its fans, or would he sign with another franchise, leaving Cleveland high and dry? And if choosing another team, which one would it be?

This event certainty had all the makings of a dramatic narrative from which to create and implement a solid and responsive PR campaign from. But was it?

Not counting the rumors that have been circulating since the 2008 Olympics in Beijing where he met fellow players Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, from approximately early June to July 8th, when he finally announced at a live ESPN press conference his decision to go to the Miami Heat, “King James” has been a very popular guy. For example, as of late June his newly launched Twitter account had already acquired over 300,000 followers.

So, to get back to the bona fides that have been bestowed upon James, the real question is: Has the lead-up to the big decision and also importantly, the actual decision, been evidence of James’ (and his handlers of course) public relations genius?

Lets briefly start from the end result and go from there. According to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Nielsen Co. estimated that 9.95 million people watched James announce on ESPN that he’s leaving Cleveland to play for the Miami Heat, “making it the third-most-watched program on cable television this year.” Even though he already was a big star and media draw, this deluge of viewers obviously shows the campaign did something right because a part of PR is creating awareness and buzz around a product, company or even an individual. This earned recognition has its advantages, and in this particular case, it’s money. James has deftly shown he can command great attention for himself and the league, which may translate into a bigger signing bonus, contract etc., now and down the road. Therefore this aspect of the campaign is indeed a success, but is it unique or different from any other media relations, strategic marketing or publicity campaign? No, not really.

Now, the lead-up to the “The Decision.” James has declared that all advertising revenues from the ESPN performance would be donated by James to the Boys & Girls Club of America. This is a smart PR move as it illustrates a concern for and an awareness of other people beside the proverbial pampered MVP and his big “Decision.” Also, as I mentioned above, James launched a Twitter account and a new website. Both in place to ( ideally) create a channel in which to connect with fans, reporters and the public. Although this is a great idea, it’s pretty standard for any PR campaign these days, as well as the fact he ignored a vital public relations practice: he hasn’t exploited either channel to really interact with his publics in any meaningful way (e.g. he hasn’t followed anyone on Twitter), so a genius this does not make.

On top of these points we also have to factor in the Bitterness in Cleveland and elsewhere that is running quite deep these days. James’ stubborn and increasingly stark reputation as a quitter is not a positive by-product or evidence of a masterful PR campaign. Could he somehow have handled differently this departure from a city that had adopted him as a hero? Yes, he probably shouldn’t have announced his decision on live TV without connecting with his (loyal) fans first. Therefore, I would not call LeBron James a “Veritable PR Genius.” What about you?

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Apple’s iPhone 4 Reception Problem and Subsequent Response – A Recipe for Organizational Crisis?

Iphone4 Unboxing

The dynamic and extensive history of Public Relations practice is replete with cases of organizations who have, as scholars Heath and Millar write, “lost brand equity, suffered damage to products, services, and lost issue positions because of inept handling of crisis preparation and response.” Is Apple fated to join these mismanaged cases of yore?

Apple’s now well-known iPhone 4 reception issue first surfaced hours after the phone’s release on June 24th and only recently (8 days later) has Apple seemed to acknowledge the legitimacy of the complaints and offer a murky explanation (apologia?) for the highly publicized problem in a posted open letter.

Apple claims it is not an antenna problem but instead a flawed software formula that displays the handset’s signal strength, so that in most cases the phone shows two more bars than it actually should. A software fix is due in a couple of weeks according to the company. But has the damage already been done?  Does the signal and reception issue itself constitute an organizational crisis for Apple? And if the actual product flaw doesn’t, what of Apple’s response to the issue thus far? Taking all this into account, is this then an organizational crisis?

To provide some clarity and context to these questions before we precede, here is the definition of crisis that Millar and Heath provide:

An untimely, but predictable event that has actual or potential consequences for stakeholders’ interests as well the reputation of the organization suffering the crisis.

Also, if you look at the rhetorical definition of crisis and its approach you see that the responsibility for a crisis, its magnitude and its duration are in fact contestable – by both the organization and its publics. This gives the organization, such as Apple, an opportunity to effectively manage the crisis before, during and even after the crisis event occurs. This approach stresses the role that message development, framing, people’s interpretation and information provided to publics play in organizational preparation to crises and the subsequent response. Therefore, is this indeed a crisis for Apple, and if so, has Apple appropriately regained control and managed the crisis through its communications response?

Apple’s Response to Antenna/Reception Complaints

First, I would venture to say that this is indeed a crisis for Apple. The poor reception and dropped call problem is untimely (no time is good for a crisis quite frankly) but it could have been predicted. Design flaws happen, it’s not unheard of – that’s why a specific crisis communication plan should be in place beforehand. Also, and more importantly, stakeholders (e.g. consumers who bought the phone, stockholders, vendors etc.) have been harmed and Apple’s reputation has certainly been damaged. Apple now has to spend time, money and energy on issues (such as a lawsuit) that it normally would not have to during a time of normal organizational narrative and business – this signals a crisis.

But what really has stoked the fire, and is even more unforgivable and damaging in terms of reputation, has been Apple’s dismal initial and continuing response to the firestorm. Most recently, the Letter from Apple regarding the troubled iPhone 4 and its reception was posted on their company site, but only after a poor attempt by Apple and CEO Steve Jobs to respond to the growing complaints concerning their flagship product by telling consumers to “avoid gripping it in the lower left corner in a way that covers both sides of the black strip in the metal band.” Apple also initially refused to drop the restocking fee (%10) for customers returning the phone within the 30 days after purchase. Worse still, they had offered a $29.00 “bumper” case as a solution to gripping the side of the phone and therefore causing the phone to not hold a signal and drop calls etc. It’s the end users problem. Nice.

Ethical and Effective Crisis Communications

Getting back to the questions I floated above. The manner or form of an ethical and effective crisis response is truthful, timely, sincere, and voluntary. Initially, Apple glibly responded that some loss of signal from gripping a handset is “a fact of life for every wireless phone.” Before publicly responding to this issue, did Apple in fact know that there was indeed a bigger problem involved besides this “fact of life”? Computerworld reports that in the Maryland lawsuit, mentioned above, Apple is accused of knowingly selling a defective product and breaking its warranty promise. If it comes out that Apple did know something was wrong with the phone it could be damaging and definitely doesn’t constitute a truthful response.

Also, sincerity and understanding of the customers plight seems to be lacking here. For example, many customers felt that by being told they were “holding it wrong” Apple was patronizing them, and therefore, that Apple didn’t have a true intention of making it right. This is a problem. A leaked Apple internal memo has also contributed to people’s sense that the company isn’t concerned with “appeasing” their customers.

Moving on. The content of an ethical and effective crisis response includes fully accepting responsibility, expressing regret, asking for forgiveness, fully disclose information related to the event and offering to perform an appropriate corrective action. Apple thus far has done a poor job on all counts. But among other things, please consider the offering of appropriate corrective action. Is making your customers buy a rubber case after spending hundreds of dollars an appropriate corrective action? Also, in the letter released on Apple’s site it fails to explain why holding the phone with your left hand even causes dropped calls. Many people have reported that they were able to replicate the terrible reception. Therefore, these specific complaints should be addressed and taken seriously for it to be an ethical response and effectively managed crisis. I would also venture to guess that this isn’t fully disclosing all that Apple knows about the issue – another strike.

In conclusion, I offer that Apple’s overall crisis communications response and proposed remedy for the iPhone 4’s obvious flaws have made its key publics even madder and the magnitude of the crisis more serious. I also predict Apple’s latest response with their “apology” letter won’t return the organizational narrative to normal anytime soon. Therefore, their ineffective crisis response will extend the duration of the crisis. What do you think?

Photo credit: denharsh

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