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.


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?

Success Is 20% Technology and 80% Psychology

Lessons in Innovation and Entrepreneurism from Kent Dicks, CEO of Alere Connect

Kent Dicks headshotRecently, I had the opportunity to interview Kent Dicks, Chief Executive Officer of Alere Connect. Alere has just received FDA approval for its latest hub device, HomeLink. I’ve seen Alere at conferences and am excited by its potential to alter the quality of lives for many while reducing healthcare costs. What makes the Alere Connect platform so exciting is the behavioral psychology behind its development.

Where it all started

In 2006, before mHealth was a term on the tongue tips of venture capitalists, Kent Dicks was trying to find technology solutions for the defense industry. He was working with a company to develop devices to monitor troop location, hydration levels, and other stats remotely. It dawned on Kent that there was a tremendous need to manage a number of healthcare consumers in the United States in a similar fashion, but the health monitoring technology was fairly antiquated and expensive.

The consumers Kent was thinking about – the elderly – didn’t use computers. At the time (and, to a certain extent, this still rings true), this population didn’t use cell phones. Yet, this 15% of the U.S. population represents 80% of healthcare costs. From his previous experience, Kent knew the importance of aligning technology with users. Finding the right device that wouldn’t require extra steps or Internet use – even connectivity – would be challenging.

Formula for success

There’s a reason Alere Connect is successful. According to Mr. Dicks, successful development is 20% technology and 80% psychology. Developers and behavioral psychologists are busy trying to figure out just what it is that motivates people to change their habits, and just how to harness those behavior change theories to improve public health. The most successful technological advances are those that work seamlessly with little to no input from users. Say, for example, that you want to track a patient’s (we’ll call him Tom) weight following his hospital stay to treat his congestive heart disease. Taking daily weight measurements – and communicating those measurements in front of a medical professional – might not be a habit that Tom can sustain.

HomeLink in home settingWith Alere HomeLink, all that Tom has to do is step on the scale every day. HomeLink connects wirelessly to the scale, and automatically sends the data through the cloud via Bluetooth technology, where it can be reviewed and acted upon by Tom’s caregiving team. Tom is more likely to weigh himself daily if he knows someone else is on the other end, waiting for the data. At the start of treatment, Tom has selected his preferred method of communication with the Alere team from a list of possibilities, including text messages, phone calls from caregivers or family members. If Tom forgets to weigh in one morning, he’ll get a reminder message.

For congestive heart patients like Tom, Alere’s behind-the-scenes technology has reduced 30-day readmissions by up to 70%. Tom’s caregivers are able to detect fluctuations in his weight and adjust his medication regimen accordingly. Something as simple as stepping on a scale daily, and sharing that information (with no added steps for the patient) with health providers can improve Tom’s quality of life while reducing healthcare costs.

Advice for up-and-comers

I couldn’t spend 30 minutes with a successful, innovative entrepreneur like Kent Dicks without asking his advice for others interested in health technology start-ups. Mr. Dicks advises:

  • Leverage as many partnerships as you can.
  • Try to get to market quickly.
  • Bring solutions that fill a gap in marketplace that people just aren’t addressing well. Right now, investors are looking for quick hits and alignments.

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!

Will you marry me? Text yes or no.

According to Mashable, a U.K. survey of 7,000 women found that 17% would like to receive marriage proposals online.

Call me old fashioned – or perhaps it has something to do with my only recently gained right to marry in a handful of states – but marriage is personal. Sure, it’s exciting and you want to share it with all your Twitter buddies. It just seems like you might also like to share it with your would-be fiance. As in, touch her hand, look into her eyes.

couple holding hands at sunset

Photo courtesy of

Smart phones and social media platforms will come and go, but with any luck and a lot of work, hopefully your marriage will outlast them.

When strategy matters: Defining successful communication campaigns

This week I’ve been thinking about how we define success in our communication campaigns.

A successful campaign is one that achieves its objectives.  This emphasizes the importance of thinking about evaluating our campaigns when we are in the planning stages. One of the companies for which I’ve done consulting work is often so busy trying to align campaign objectives with their strategic goals (because this alignment makes the board happy) that they don’t always think about aligning the outcomes. Thinking about desired outcomes very early in the campaign design process seems essential for reaching those outcomes.

Sure, we have great art, and maybe we have a fabulous story to tell, but to what end? What do we want the audience to do?

At the outset of campaign design, I like to list my desired outcomes across a page and then brainstorm ways that those outcomes can be measured. Thinking about the evaluation of the campaign at this stage helps me to hone my messages and keeps me focused. Here’s an example of my outcome and measurement brainstorming:

Evaluating campaigns

This was created as part of my graduate studies in risk communication at Johns Hopkins University and is not endorsed by Cleveland Clinic

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.