Creating an Interactive Customer/Fan Experience Wins


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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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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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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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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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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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