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.

Image

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.

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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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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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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7 Crucial e-books for Young Communicators

As this is mainly a blog for younger, entry-level communicators, I often want to post resources that will aid in navigating the PR, Marketing and Journalism landscapes and provide powerful and effective tips, tools and techniques to those in search of them.

Because communications, sales and specifically public relations and web marketing now revolve around creating and building useful and valuable content for niche audiences (the Long Tail), and establishing thought leadership and brands, free industry e-books from companies and individuals have become quite prevalent and very important (for both the companies themselves and their customers). As David Meerman Scott says, we must all “think like a publisher.”

Therefore, I scoured the Internet and came up with a list of 7 valuable e-books for young communicators from today’s thought leaders. I realize that this has been done many times before, but I’m attempting to zero in on e-books that specifically provide value to us as young professionals. Enjoy!

  • Brink: SHIFT’s Todd Defren wrote this e-book on social media, consisting of his best thinking over the past five years and offered it for free on his blog PR Squared. Defren explains the book best: “Let’s face it: most of this blog’s readers already ‘get it.’ You understand that we are poised on the ‘brink’ of amazing change. You can already see how social media is irresistibly changing the face of marketing. But, I’ll bet you have a ton of friends who either ‘don’t get it’ or only ‘kinda-sorta do.'” What I find handy here is that Defren illustrates, using real situations faced by real companies and through a familiar human voice, how we as communicators can/should create interactive channels through which we share, learn and directly participate within the appropriate markets that define our business.
  • Social Media Marketing GPS: “Interviews with 40 Marketing Leaders” by Toby Bloomberg. Shel Israel writes in the forward that “SMGPS will tell you the why & how using social media, 1 tweet at a time. You’ll learn essentials in digestible little spoonfuls.” This e-book focuses on conversational methods of marketing and succinctly explains why old broadcast practices are becoming obsolete. I found useful and engaging the format of this resource with the short, but concise interviews and answers from practitioners (thankfully “digestible,” considering the info overload we face today), with each of their Twitter handles easily accessible for following. Especially worthwhile is the section on metrics – what to measure in social media marketing and why – as well as the section on the esoteric but meaningful topic “social media ethics.”
  • The New Rules of PR: “How to create a press release strategy for reaching buyers directly.”  e-book from author, keynote speaker and marketing strategist David Meerman Scott. Although the e-book is from 2006 I include it here because crafting releases is something new hires are usually tasked with and because it lays a solid foundation for current industry practice today – PR and web 2.0. He writes, “It is time to step it up and consider the promise Web 2.0 public relations holds.” I also put this on the list because the implications of a proper, effective press release strategy are far-reaching and integral to PR best practices. Meerman makes plain the utility and power of utilizing the press release as a direct consumer-communication channel. Take heed!
  • Geeks Guide to Promoting Yourself with Twitter: “Promote yourself or your business in 140 characters or less on Twitter.” This e-book is produced by GeekPreneur and it explains why you need to be on the service, the ins-and-outs of promoting yourself on Twitter once there and how to brand your business on Twitter, among other nuggets. This is basically just a refresher for most but I believe it is relevant to us young communicators because it explains how to take hold of the service, its various “Twitter Tools,” and how to then utilize it to create a more interactive experience, which results in getting your name out there as someone who is adept in social media and has something valuable to offer. It also helps sow the seeds of a community that you can learn from and rely on in your burgeoning career.
  • The Social Web Analytics e-book: This highly detailed and informative e-book is from Philip Sheldrake , a partner at Influence Crowd LLC. The author writes “I review [in the book] how all organisations can try and make the most of the unprecedented wealth of information afforded by the Social Web, the incredible facility to ‘listen in’ on conversations close to their heart, and to initiate and engage in this dialogue.” The really insightful part of this book, which also touches on the semantic web, is that Sheldrake explores “text mining technologies,” the disadvantages of traditional market research and the advantages of continuous engagement instead. He also covers the controversial but increasingly important terrain of measuring and evaluating PR and marketing campaigns. This adds context to the metrics section of SMGPS found above – Really important aspects of any strategy or campaign in today’s business environment.
  • Marketing in 2009: “12 marketing professionals reveal their execution imperatives.” e-book from Valeria Maltoni and offered on her blog Conversation Agent. I included this book because it explores traditional marketing quite well and from different angles, as well as what social media means to it. Why some organizations won’t adopt social media in their business strategies and the necessity of building internal social media evangelists is discussed. I think its important for millennials to understand the big picture (not just social media), and where we have been.
  • Johnson & Johnson Does New Media: case study e-book by Ron Ploof. This e-book is solid because it is a case study, and as such, it provides (although somewhat specific to 1 company) a detailed picture and an opportunity for the reader to sharpen their analytical and problem solving skills. It chronicles J&J’s journey into the world of New and Social Media and it includes some links to their various social and multimedia efforts. The lessons contained within could possibly be used to illustrate to management the utility and advantages of an online communications campaign.

Bonus
Here are some bonuses –  Ragan.com offers a great list of PR, Marketing and Media podcasts.

  • The Essential Guide to Social Media: e-book by Thought Leader Brian Solis. An outline of social media tools and resources needed to listen and participate, guiding PR, customer service, product development, and marketing. This e-book is essential because it covers a wide array of PR 2.0 topics as it explains the vital role social science plays in social media – blazing a trail to success for us in a very clear and conversational tone. And what would a social media list be without Brian Solis?

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Photo credit: Daniel Lobo

Public Relations Ain’t no Journalism

I’ve been in a pensive but inspired mood lately. This particular frame of mind could be attributed to the fact that I’m all set to finish up at graduate school in a few months and setting upon a new path always monopolizes space, good or bad, in a person’s thoughts. During this time I’ve begun to think quite pragmatically about the choices I’ve made academically, and more specifically, about my decision to go on to post-graduate work in public relations after receiving a B.A. in Journalism.

What I’ve been batting around lately is the old power struggle and ingrained belief that journalism and public relations are on opposite sides of the professional and even the societal spectrum. One is credible and respected and the other, supposedly, is not. Is this even true? And if so, how can I and other young professionals trained in both fields reconcile these two backgrounds and passions in our personal lives and careers? PR and journalism do not complement each other in practice or in theory and they certainly do not share the same skill sets. Or do they?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2010, “Journalism graduates have the background for work in closely related fields such as advertising and public relations or communications, and many take jobs in these fields.” So, considering this assertion, the long-held discrepancy between the two professions and my belief and experience that other young communicators are indeed in the same boat as I am, I thought this a worthy topic to explore.

Some context:

In 1961 L. Feldman conducted a study, that back then, was the first of its kind and was subsequently built upon by other researchers. His study included 746 city editors of newspapers and 88 officers of local Public Relations Society of America chapters across the country, with the ultimate goal of comparing how journalists and public relations practitioners assessed each other. This study, as well as later ones in the same vein, found discrepancies in the attitudes of the two groups on dimensions such as credibility, professionalism and occupational status. For example, journalists generally held negative attitudes toward public relations practitioners, their values and professional status, while practitioners actually looked upon journalists as credible purveyors of high news values, and to themselves as attributing to its production.

Studying journalism in school, reading the works of and looking up to iconoclast journalists I.F. Stone and H.L. Mencken, muckrakers like Lincoln Steffens and Ida Tarbell, and especially reading such anti-PR texts and blogs as “Toxic Sludge is Good for You,” and PR Watch, in the realm of public communications and especially media relations I found, as did Feldman, that there does exist some stigma of public relations as the evil sibling, communicating messages solely with an eye toward gaining something, and journalism, the saintly one, out to serve and inform.

This has contributed greatly to the friction in my thinking mainly because I do in fact believe this description of journalism is definitively true. But is this a zero sum, either-or argument, with the negative description of PR practice inherently true if you believe journalism is the altruistic, above crass-commercialism, credible profession its practitioners, students and society believe it to be? I do not believe so.

Journalism and news are irrefutably oriented toward a public agenda and a general audience. It performs the vital functions of keeping the republic and its citizens informed, unruly and immoral corporations and governments are kept in check by accountability journalism and through adept and trained analysis, good journalism verifies and explains in understandable terms complicated events, issues and processes.

Journalists also contribute mightily to the marketplace of ideas, flooding it with worthy illustration of “how the other half lives,” disseminating and stirring up community knowledge and supplying multiple view points in their articles, all leading to much-needed choice and information for us citizens. And as the authors of the 2009 CJR report on reconstructing American Journalism write, independent journalism makes accessible “issues of race, social and economic conditions and the role of government in people’s lives.”

But is PR really the evil sibling possessing no intrinsic value and offering little worth toward our society and the marketplace of ideas? And again, can these two passions and background of mine mesh together to form an effective and ethical PR pro with an eye toward increasing exposure and access to different ideas and content, while at the same time driving action for clients? Without a doubt.

Although the PR profession is not perfect, and pro’s have sometimes hidden behind the brands they represent, pushing out impersonal messages without genuinely engaging the community they are attempting to reach, I believe that through the web, the evolution has already begun and we who are trained in the craft of journalism can make the public relations profession more effective, more cognizant of and better targeted toward the real needs and interests of myriad publics – which translates into successful and worthy PR. Good PR leads to effective communication, between practitioners and consumers, and even between practitioners and bloggers, analysts and journalists. The journalistic skills of knowing how to produce and package compelling and newsworthy content, for both traditional and digital media, along with the recognition of the special obligation we have as communications professionals toward transparency, ensures efficacious and powerful communication – both for organizations, clients and society.

Something interesting that also came out of those studies I talked about earlier on the practitioner-reporter relationship was that researchers found in their data that “For journalists, familiarity with PR practitioners apparently breeds respect.”

On a relative note, the Director of the Knight Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship, Dan Gilmor recently said that “If we understand that journalism education is a valuable step into any number of professions, we should not just celebrate the graduates who’ve gone on to fame (if not fortune) in journalism, but also those who’ve made marks in other fields.”

Well said Mr. Gilmor.

(Please join in on the conversation by commenting and letting me know if you agree that journalism training and its skills do indeed provide a worthy background for PR, and more controversially, is crossing over into a PR career a negative thing for journalists? Those who have completed this career switch, how do you deal with the stigma discussed above? Just Curious!)

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Passion, Engagement, Altruism = Genuine Relationships

Hyperlinks Subvert Hierarchy.”

This startling postulation, written approximately ten years ago by Cluetrain Manifesto co-author David Weinberger (@dweinberger), could not have been more prescient as it clearly describes the power, altruism and utility of horizontal connections and conversations currently taking place everyday among people and their communities. Power no longer flows from the top and that is just fine with me.

Before the hyperlink essentially altered how information was put together and shared and before it fundamentally transformed, for some progressive thinkers, how business hierarchies were imagined and practiced, the ruling mantra was as the 17th century French author La Rochefoucauld advanced: “It is not enough that I succeed. It is also necessary that my friends fail.” Thankfully, in the age of the hyperlink as well as Web 2.0, Social Media, and personalized, substantive information that knows no boundaries, this outdated way of thinking and doing business is receding into the shadows. Genuine connections between people with like-minded interests and passions are being easily formed, nurtured and are resulting in mutually beneficial relationships and rewards.

“Hyperlinks are in fact conversations”

Importantly, and quite beneficial for young communicators, in the age of  Web 2.0 and Social Media, the people of experience and authority are now willing and able to deftly share what they have found to work best in their respective industries and careers, what doesn’t work and what they themselves are most passionate about. Thought Leaders are having altruistic conversations with everyone – online and in the real world – because in the digital, social marketplace of ideas, everyone’s voices count. These new influencers understand this fact, and quite frankly, this perceptive understanding is part of the reason they are Thought Leaders in the first place.

I began to think about this fascinating topic with greater keenness after recently engaging myself, with some people on Twitter, as well as on some other social media networks. I am in essence just starting out in the communications field (I have the education and some real world experience, but I’m looking for and craving more practical, “in the trenches” experience) and I will graduate with a M.A. in PR and Advertising in December. I mention this not because I’m being immodest, but because it gives some context to my main point.

Although I do not have many years of experiential experience in the fields I’m most passionate about – Public Relations, Marketing and Journalism, I have jumped in – transparently and passionately, in reading blogs, books, professional communicator’s Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr streams, white papers and presentations. And through listening to, participating in and creating and sharing content myself, reaching out to this community that I am most ardent about has enabled me to make connections and form relationships with people, which would be virtually impossible in the days before a “hyperlinked” way of thinking and doing business –  possibly because of technology and/or because of structures and fear.

No more. For one brief example, I recently wrote a post on this blog and included some solid content from knowledgeable industry sources that would be helpful for us as young communicators. I then linked to their respective blogs etc. I tweeted about the post on Twitter, mentioning one specific sources’ contribution when I later updated the post. He soon took the time to retweet it, leave a comment on my blog and consequently the post was then retweeted by other folks who no doubt saw it in his Twitter stream (I say this because they were not yet followers of mine). Because of his effort, I’m now even more interested in and give well-deserved credence to what he writes about and the experiences he has while working in communications, public relations and marketing. And hopefully, in return I can offer him some insight into topics or issues that interest him.

In my opinion, this is one small example of how passion, engagement and altruism can engender and equal horizontal, mutually beneficial and genuine relationships in the age of social media, and quite significantly, can continue to imbue the practice of public relations with meaning and value.

*Update* For further, rich context along the same lines as the topic of the post above, see this piece by Jonathan Stray (@jonathanstray) on the value and purpose of linking out in journalistic articles. Reasons #1, & #3 for linking out that Stray includes is especially relevant and adds illustration and context to the point of my post. Good piece, check it out!

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Helpful Links and PR/Marketing Books for Communications Graduates

As you may know by reading my recent posts on this blog, I’m currently a graduate student passionate about digital marketing and emerging media, and I am looking to break into the field.

To accomplish this goal I have been studying for the past 6 years straight, forming a strong educational background in both traditional and new, digital media, and discovering how these two areas might converge. Also, how they can and should reinforce and complement each other effectively during a campaign.

I’ve also been immersed in discovering how to spot and create newsworthy content, as well as the journalism, advertising and public relations industries and their respective strategies and practices.

During that time I have been reading voraciously about digital media and communication trends, traditional public relations, metrics and most interesting and compelling to me – PR in the era of web 2.0 and social media. For young communications professionals, such as myself, I wanted to share my current favorites when it comes to sources of relevant, engaging and most of all, helpful information about public relations today.

1. First and foremost, the Institute for Public Relations’s website is a great treasure trove of research, education and news related to the practice and the science behind public relations. Through its Essential Knowledge Project, the site provides free documents for downloading, which cover a multitude of topics related to the industry, and they are extremely enlightening for new college graduates or anyone for that matter that wants to keep up on excellent public relations practice. For example, the most recent docs I grabbed are titled “Social Media & Strategic Communications,” and “Using Web Analytics to Measure the Impact of Earned Online Media on Business Outcomes.”

2. Another well-known but useful website that covers with some breadth the public relations career choice, such as wages, projections and job outlook, is the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-2011 edition for Public Relations Specialists. I would recommend this particular source of info more for someone considering the profession because you can learn about the nature of the work here and you can discover if its something that might interest you and be a good fit. I found the section on training, qualifications and the opportunities for advancement useful because it helped me to find what employers in the communications industry are currently looking for. Consequently, it also helped me to choose the academic and real-world paths that would best augment the skills I already have and make them more marketable.

3. Next, I highly recommend the newly released (2010) PR “handbook” by Robert L. Dilenschneider, of the Dilenschneider Group, titled “The AMA Handbook of Public Relations.” What I really like about this book and one of the main reasons I actually purchased it is because Dilenschneider writes it not only for the “digital immigrants” already in the field who need to catch up on social media and digital apps, and those who may want to rethink how to do their jobs, but it is also written for “The digital-savvy Millennials (born between 1980 and 2001) who know technology quite well, but not how to apply it to business and organizational problems.”

I believe this fact as well as the succinct information and relatively concentrated strategies contained  inside, which highlight the advantages of combining the tools and techniques of the Internet with a conventional understanding of communications, makes this a very useful handbook in today’s changing world of influence and democratized media.

4. Another popular book that deals with the evolution of public relations and how what matters most is individual “people” not impersonal, mass audiences, is “Putting the Public Back in Public Relations,” by Brian Solis (@Brian Solis) and Deirdre Breakenridge (@dbreakenridge). This book is great for college graduates or anyone in school looking to learn about the current iteration and practice of PR. The book is invaluable in explaining how to manage reputations and brands, effectively solve stakeholders’ problems and also how to form strong, genuine relationships between the brands we represent and the public, all by utilizing and transparently participating in social media and the communities that people are now forming and interacting in daily with great research, fervor and care.

Speaking with a “human voice” is key in PR and this book illustrates in detail how best to do this, and ever more importantly, how to convince those in the C-Suites of its value. I was assigned this book for a graduate course in 2009 called “New Media, New Markets” and I have reread it twice since! Check it out.

5. Lastly, I recommend the following blogs for new communications professionals such as myself:

Slice– This blog is from the staff at SHIFT Communications in Boston and it offers “snackable pr.”  One reason I recommend it to those just starting out and the reason that I read it myself is because it is written by staff, therefore it can give you a good idea of the type of blogging PR agencies look for when hiring new people, and it will undoubtably give you a leg up if you are hired and asked to write on an company blog etc. It also contains some great info on new technology and how to utilize it in your daily job as a communications specialist. (For example check out this new post on TwAitter).

Bad Pitch Blog– This is a cool blog written by marketing communicator Kevin Dugan (@prblog) and former journalist and author Richard Laermer (@laermer). The reasoning behind including this blog here is because “effective” pitching that offers mutually beneficial opportunities is such a large part of excellent public relations. The blog is humorous, topical (which is key in PR) and it has a great angle and insight because Dugan is so familiar w/ media and what makes an effective pitch as well as anything to do w/ media relations.

Obviously there are plenty of other great sources on PR for young professionals and these are just the current ones I’m personally perusing. So, if you have any ideas on cool blogs, books, websites, white papers, slides presentations etc. that we should be checking out let me know!

*Update* Here is a great post by Steve Farnsworth (@Steveology) of the blog Digital Marketing Mercenary, which suggests the “Top 11 Must Read Social Media and Marketing Articles for 2009.” A few of his picks are especially relevant to this blog post; ideas and guidance for young communicator’s looking for PR/Social Media best practices. Here is the post:

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A Reflection and Life Lessons

I traveled last night to Cambridge for a congenial reception held by the research center & think tank Political Research Associates (PRA) for the introduction of their new Executive Director, Tarso Luis Ramos. In 2008, and a junior in college, I served as the Public Relations/Editorial Intern for the progressive organization and I know Luis Ramos from my time there when he was the Research Director. So, I was appreciative and excited to be invited to attend the event. Even though I became lost on my way back to Brighton (instead of a 15 minute ride it took me 2 hours!), I was glad I went because besides seeing old friends, the evening got me critically thinking about the profession of public relations, what I have learned since an intern there and what I ultimately want out of a career in the field.

As I was sitting in our host’s spacious but increasingly humid living room, I began to think back when I was just starting the internship and what I then perceived was the practice of PR and what its true value and contribution was to the public good as well to the client, organization etc. At that time I had a picture in my mind of PR practice that could best be described by the press agentry/publicity model.

In this one-way asymmetrical model, PR serves a promotional function where the practitioner is a “conduit,” as Millar & Heath write, between an organization and a passive public. There is no strategic management of an organization’s communication function and there is no two-way dialogue between an organization and its stakeholders. Therefore, the organization does not implement any  much needed changes in behavior because they do not open themselves up to receiving relevant info from these stakeholders – for one, because there is no listening or engagement on the part of the organization and two, because the sole purpose here is to push the message out, with very little if at all, research and feedback. “All publicity is good publicity,” right? Wrong. Strong, mutually-beneficial relationships can not and do not form this way. That’s just a fact.

When I first started the internship I received their media list, among other materials, and then began to update it for new contacts that I believed would be interested in giving our authors time and our message, that PRA produces quality, important and useful progressive research and analysis, play. Right off the bat I wrote three or so press releases, back-grounders and put together a media kit.

Unfortunately and incorrectly, I then began a campaign of just blasting out emails, making calls and waiting for responses. There was very little research, genuine engagement on my part, ranking of strategic stakeholders in order of importance and listening first before contacting the media and PRA’s ally’s. Instead of finding out how these producers, journalists and analysts preferred to be contacted, as well as what they cared  and wrote about, I’m sad to say I engaged for the most part in a one-way transfer of information, concentrating on getting the organization into the media and to then achieve publicity for them.

After the first couple of weeks I did see some results (I booked a few interviews in the media for our authors and got an article excerpt placed on an ally’s website), but while I was thinking about how best to make connections and get results, I began to understand what was missing and needed to be put into place to achieve lasting brand recognition and loyalty as well as effective communication with PRA’s stakeholders, such as the media, local government, employees and influencers.

For example, there wasn’t a clear understanding of the power and utility of the iconic Cluetrain Manifesto’s assertion that “markets are conversations,” and that instead of just pushing “the facts,” with a relatively static press release template, a story must be told that connects with each of the niche communities that we are ultimately trying to reach and benefit with our products or services. There wasn’t a strong effort to elicit any response or action on the part of the public and there wasn’t transparent participation or an effort to form lasting, solid relationships. I could go on but I want to make this as succinct as possible.

Now, I can attribute this lack of knowledge and initiative to my inexperience mostly, the length of time I had at the job (about 3 months), and the small, dedicated but overworked and underfunded staff. I believe the important thing now is that I recognize my shortcomings and have been able to correct them and move forward as a stronger communicator at my present job in Suffolk University’s College of Arts & Sciences’ Communications Dept., with a much more strategic and deeper understanding of the practice of PR. Importantly, I understand that the practice of PR has always been oversimplified and that its value to society as a communication mechanism for binding society together and facilitating the “marketplace of ideas” is in fact vital. Considering these facts, the current socialization of media and the power and opportunity PR 2.o provides us, I look to the future with excitement and no regret.

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