Dear 20-Year-Old Me…

I met a group of college interns on the campus of my alma mater this afternoon. It didn’t take long for me to feel the distance of more than a decade away from campus. First, there is newness everywhere, restaurants, grocery stores, residence halls, apartment buildings, and brand spanking new, sleek computer labs that make the scary bowels that once housed the HUGE computers we fought over when I was in college seem more than a little gross.

Then, the strange realization that I didn’t even have a cell phone when I was in college, and these kids might not remember a time without theirs. But, more than anything, I realized how – as consumers of content – these writing students have very little idea how content is produced for the Internet, who puts it there, who pays for it, or why. Like other teachers of millennial students, I had to fight to keep their attention. If there was a lull in conversation, out came the smartphones.

I remember when DVRs first came out, and it was such a thrill to fast forward through commercials. I remember when we paid for our email service (AOL anyone?), and still had to put up with ads. I remember being plagued by pop-up ads, feeling interested and then annoyed when animated banner ads began to make it harder and harder to focus online.

Online ads have learned the art of camouflage. Does this mean that information consumers will become smarter? Surely they’ll eventually realize that content is sponsored. Here’s where my own bias about sponsored vs. unsponsored journalism gets me in trouble. I’m a brand journalist. A content marketer. I write quality content for brands all day. I always try to give readers something to walk away with besides just promoting the brands. Yet, I just skipped over all the promoted content on Mashable, turning up my nose because it was sponsored.

Screen shot 2014-04-15 at 3.56.58 PM The thing is, I’m not an English major anymore. I have to make money. As writers, we all do. Next time I see sponsored content, I’m going to give it a try, just for kicks. If it’s bad, I’ll pitch the company with my services. If it’s good, then I’ll walk away reminded what good brand journalism is.

We’re all fighting for attention, all the time. We’re all trying to get paid for the work we do, to support our families.

Dear 20-year-old me: You will end up selling out more than once. Get over yourself. Then, find a way to make it art. Loosen up!

 

 

The art of strategy

Most brands think there are two ways to deal with all the content bouncing around on social media.

crown

Content is King

  1. The content-is-king and I-want-to-be-in-the-king’s-court strategy. These content obsessed curators share everything, duplicating the content on all different channels. They spend their days (and nights, because you wouldn’t want to miss out on a really awesome cat video) trolling Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube looking for trends. It doesn’t matter if the trend is at all related to their industry. They tweet from church; they tweet from stoplights. The trouble is: no one wants to read these messages, regardless of their length.
  2. The I’ll-speak-up-only-when-I-have-something-earthshattering-to-share strategy. These are the perfectionists that wait until the inspiration hits; the ones that wait until they have something worthy of the 5:00 news to share. They think their readers will appreciate quality over quantity. But, if you don’t share often enough to be top of mind, chances are that you won’t show up in the newsfeed at all.

I’m a writer by trade. I think of content as art. But even the most abstract artists have strategies. When I took my daughter to the art museum for the first time (she was four and a half), we wandered through the galleries talking about what makes art art. We decided that it’s art if it makes us feel or think. We don’t have to like it. We don’t have to understand it. But something about art sticks with us long after we’ve viewed it.

Good content strategy isn’t about just throwing darts at the wall and seeing what sticks. It’s about knowing your audience, what inspires them, what they want from you, and providing it. It’s about telling your story again, for the first time. It’s not just words either. More and more, it’s images and video.

chess game

But strategy wins.

What is your content strategy?

Do you have different purposes for each individual channel?

Do you have a main hub that links them all together?

The End of Free Facebook Marketing

Facebook is no longer a free mega-phone for your brand

Skeptics thought is sounded too good to be true. When Facebook rolled out its Pages for businesses, it seemed like every small business’s dream: set up a page to promote your business for free and have someone on your office staff manage it. Some brands did it well, hiring content specialists to maintain fan engagement. Others did what they could with the resources they had.

But gradually, what consumers see in their Facebook feeds has changed. First, I noticed that I wasn’t seeing the status updates of my closest friends. Let me tell you, if your BFF posts a comment about her cat knocking over the Christmas tree or her babe eating strained peas for the first time and you don’t respond, you are in trouble. Then, I saw fewer and fewer posts from brands, and more from curation sites like Upworthy.

Megaphone in black and white

Image from: Igor Klisov

Like most people, I don’t want to have to sort through hoards of advertisements to find the information I care about. But, the idea of organic reach is a thing of the past. Yesterday, I set up a Facebook page for my new business. Like many start-ups, I don’t have a ton of money to spend on advertising right now. I am not pretty, young, thin, and well-spoken (not all at the same time anyway) like Goldieblox inventor Debbie Sterling. I’m absolutely certain that a video of me sitting on the floor and telling people why I felt compelled to start my own communications and PR firm would not go viral. So, does a person like me invest in Facebook advertising? Not when every penny counts and there are still a ton of other ways to reach my audience.

Remember e-mail?

According to a channel preference survey from Exact Target, 91% of internet users are still accessing e-mail every day. A well-written e-mail pitch, especially if it’s targeted specifically to the consumer, still does the trick!

If you’re just starting out, chances are you don’t have access to a ton of consumer e-mail addresses. I have three recommendations:

1. Start a blog and pitch it like crazy to the content editing gods, other bloggers, your friends, and anyone who will listen. Keep posting this content in Facebook just as well – that much is still free.

2. Reach out and call someone. Cold-calling clients sounds daunting to Millennials who may forget how to speak, but it’s important to remember that businesses are built on relationships.

3. Use those feet to hit the street. Set up in-person meetings with prospective clients. Talk to them about trends in their industry, listen to their pain points and try to find a way in the front door. Just remember to take a business card with you when you leave so you can add them to your e-mail list!

The High Cost of Ignoring Social Media

The rise of social media has changed not only the speed of news, but also necessitates a change in PR strategy.

The traditional press release announcing that your company was well-prepared for a disaster and able to minimize its effects might not reach all reporters in a timely manner.  First, press releases take time to prepare (hopefully you’ve mocked that up ahead of time as part of your crisis communication planning and just have to fill in the blanks).  Second, traditional releases may ignore or undervalue citizen reporters who use social media.

According to the CDC, not engaging with publics on social media can have the same negative effects as not returning a reporter’s call.  If your agency isn’t representing itself on social media, chances are high that someone is commenting on your disaster somewhere in cyberspace, and the CDC warns that citizen reporters and possibly even mainstream reporters will seek out content on social media whether or not it is an agency-sanctioned source.

Establish Credibility Before a Crisis.  It’s important to establish your agency’s credibility on social media, with official Facebook and Twitter pages that contain your logo and contact information.  Your social media credibility should be developed before a crisis if possible, with regular updates to your Facebook and Twitter feeds.  This will allow reporters (both citizen and traditional) to gain a sense of what your agency is really about and have a way to contact you with questions.

Listen, Listen, Listen! It’s important to monitor conversations about your brand or agency online.  This will allow you to address questions or correct assumptions as they come up.

I’m breaking up with my iPhone (or at least making it sleep on the couch)

Shel Silverstein

Shel Silverstein

I feel a bit like Runny Babbit this morning.  I’ve had a bit of insomnia for several nights now – mostly due to the kids’ transition back to school, a sick puppy, and the stress of family life.  I’ve broken my own rule…  I have been checking my email, Facebook, sometimes even Twitter, multiple times each night.

I keep my phone at the bedside because it’s a reliable alarm clock – regardless of potential power outages, my phone has consistently sung me awake for years.  I put it on airplane mode because I find that do not disturb doesn’t work in all cases, and I don’t want the beeping or buzzing interfering with the little bit of sleep I get.  When I started freelancing for a client in a different time zone, my sleep habits changed.  Or were ruined.  You’d think having to type in a password, then turn the airplane mode off would be enough to make me stop to consider the possible consequences to my health.  I’m now checking email around midnight and at 3am fairly consistently.  This morning, I was unable to fall back to sleep, and actually ended up getting up to start my day.  NOT GOOD!

According to a news release today, I am not alone.  It seems that many of us struggle with the feeling of being always-on.  We have become so attached to these mobile devices that we don’t feel whole without them.  Image from sfgate.com

Image from sfgate.com

I am NOT in this age group and my smartphone is not this snuggly!  After so many lost hours of sleep this week, I have the sunken, black eyes of a zombie and can hardly speak in complete sentences.  And so, I’m ousting my smartphone from the bedroom.  I’ll buy a digital alarm clock with back-up batteries and will not look back.  Turns out, there are things that can actually wait until morning, but sleep is rarely one of them!  Socialmediaphobe needs a nap…

Look Before You Leap: 5 Questions to Ask Your Organization Before Developing a Social Media Strategy

Jumping blindly on the social media bandwagon can be a frustrating waste of time and effort.  Just because everyone else is doing it doesn’t mean you should dive in without asking a few questions of key management.

1.  Why do you want to use social media? Is it to keep up with competition, gain new customers, or build a community around your brand?

2.  What resources (time, money, people) do you have already that can be dedicated to this project?

3.  What sets you apart from other similar organizations?

4.  How do you feel about allowing employees to post on your behalf?  To you trust them to speak for your brand?

5.  What’s your goal?  Consider how you would measure ROI: visits to your website, an increase in donations or sales, new members, being part of the conversation?

Answers to these questions will help to shape your strategy – they are the beginnings of conversations about what you value as an organization, how social media can complement what you’re already doing, and who would be responsible for content.

Facebook Branding: Diet Coke

If you’ve known me for more than one day, you know that I’m a Diet Coke drinker.   Not Diet Pepsi, or Coke Zero, or any other low calorie knock-off.  The truth is, when I was young, my mother drank Diet Coke on occasion, but as a single mother, she couldn’t afford to buy it often.  Santa used to deliver cases of Diet Coke, with a huge red bow, under our Christmas tree.  By high school, with a job of my own, I’d buy Diet Coke from the vending machine for breakfast.  Am I an addict?  Possibly.  I’ve been trying to cut back and am down to 1-2 cans per day.  But, if ever asked, I will always state that Diet Coke is the nectar of the gods.

This week I’m looking at Facebook use from a public relations perspective.  Specifically, what does your Facebook use say about your brand?  Diet Coke’s Facebook page has more than 2.15 million likes and its posts average at least 100 shares a piece.  As committed to its fans as fans are to the product, Diet Coke posts on Facebook at least once daily.  Each post is of quality content that engages and encourages fans.

Several themes emerge from my audit of the Diet Coke Facebook page.

  • Create interesting content every day.  Diet Coke’s posts are creative – playfully transforming a very familiar label into art, and celebrating EVERY calendar event (from the first day of Spring to National Women’s Day).Screen shot 2013-05-15 at 12.10.17 PM
  • Use new media to honor your history.  Diet Coke has “Throwback Thursdays” in which it remembers the brand over three decades.  Lifelong fans remember the old slogans and branding, and for me at least, these Throwback posts bring me back to a time when I needed Diet Coke between band practice and my modern western civilization class, or when my love of Diet Coke landed me my first job (the hiring manager was drinking Diet Coke for breakfast during my interview). Screen shot 2013-05-15 at 11.25.29 AM
  • Integrate social media into your corporate social responsibility (CSR) campaigns.  Employing cross-channel communication, Diet Coke first held a photo contest, called #ShowYourHeart, asking participants to Tweet or post on Instragram their original pictures of hearts to increase awareness of women’s heart disease.

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The contest was so successful that the Company extended it, offering to donate $1 to women’s heart health programs for every picture sent after the contest ended.  The high visibility the Company enjoys on Facebook added to the success of this CSR initiative.Screen shot 2013-05-15 at 11.34.57 AM

  • Publicly thank your fans.  As if continuing to mass produce the world’s greatest soft drink (Hey, I admitted my bias in the first paragraph, though I must say that I am in no way being reimbursed for these comments. I still have to pay for my Diet Coke.) weren’t enough, Diet Coke listens to and recognizes its fans on Facebook.Screen shot 2013-05-15 at 11.51.44 AM

In fact, Diet Coke not only rewarded this fan by putting her picture in front of 2 million fans, the Company gave her Taylor Swift concert tickets!

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  • Lastly, one quick glance at the Diet Coke Facebook page and its spokesperson is no mystery!  Humanizing a brand in the age of social media – at a time when perhaps consumers have more power than ever before – is a necessity.  Humanizing the brand with the recognizable face of a well-liked, cross-generational superstar is frosting on the cake.

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