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 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

Pediatricians: Communicate Social Media Risks to Adolescents

This cannot be said enough: pediatricians (and parents!!!) need to stay abreast of social media trends to help protect children.  Social media takes what might have been considered innocent (though not well thought out) pranks and amplifies them, extending the reach and making any negative outcomes both public and longer lasting.

Vine, an iPhone app that helps users capture six seconds (and only six) of video and then share it with friends and followers, has some teens making ill-advised decisions in the public sphere.

Matt Espinosa, a 16 year-old Virgina boy, has amassed quite a following of (mostly) younger adolescent girls through his Vines.  This past weekend, he organized a meet-up with his fans at a mall in Fairfax, Va.  The screaming pre-teens created such riotous chaos that other shoppers and security guards thought there was a shooting.  Espinosa is cute, no doubt, but this new ability to organize crowds via smartphones can lead to trouble, costing taxpayers and businesses money, and may not be the sort of fame he’s proud of in 20 years or so.

Last week, another teenage boy, Obi Nwosu, attempted to film himself jumping over an oncoming car for Vine.  He was hit by the car – and it was all caught on film.  Nwosu posted it to Vine originally, but then deleted it realizing that he shouldn’t “do it for Vine.”

The thing most teens (and many adults) still don’t seem to understand is that nothing is ever permanently deleted from the Internet.  It didn’t take long for the video to resurface and quickly gain cringe popularity.

Socialmediaphobe’s bottom line is, once again: pediatricians, talk to your patients (and their parents) about social media.  The speed of social media fame is incredibly fast; stunt videos that they may think make them cool can be dangerous and permanent, and have long-lasting implications on their health, their future college and job opportunities.  Many of today’s youth only access the Internet from their smartphones, making it even harder for parents to track their activities – and more important!  Keep abreast of changing technologies so that you can talk to patients about making good choices.

Social Media Planning: Make a List and Check It Twice

Tasked with reading non-fiction by my daughter’s third grade teacher, last night we cuddled into bed to read one of my favorites from her shelf: Girls Think of Everything: Stories of Ingenious Inventions by Women.  The last time we read it together, I must have skipped the introduction.  So, this was the first time I realized that the Apgar scoring system that screens newborns for potential health emergencies immediately following birth was created by a woman: Dr. Virginia Apgar.  I was struck by how such a seemingly simple checklist could make such a significant difference in the lives of many children, including my own preemie (now the third grader, thriving and healthy).  I’m thrilled that Dr. Apgar was a woman, but what got me thinking was really that a checklist could be considered an invention.


Image from

This reminds me of a book I read over my brief summer break from graduate school, recommended by a professor (and later discussed on Stephen Colbert) by Dr. Atul Gawande: The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right.  In this book, Dr. Gawande suggests that something as innate as communication – in the form of lists – can drastically improve our chances of getting things right in times of crisis.  As a busy working mom of two children, I don’t just use lists in times of crisis, I use lists EVERYDAY!  The first thing I do when I sit down at my desk each morning is write a list of important tasks for the day. I don’t always get to all of them, but somehow the process of writing them down, and crossing them off as I go, pleases me.  It helps me to focus more on the moment, knowing what will come next and what I’ve already accomplished.

When I talk with organizations about using social media, I hear a lot about how overwhelmed they feel already by tasks and endless email inboxes; they say that using social media just isn’t a priority for them.  Social media is not a passing fad.  Social media has changed the way customers communicate with businesses, requiring increasing transparency; it’s changed the way and speed at which news is delivered; it’s allowed people to develop a sense of community with peers across distances.  These changes are here to stay – the world is smaller and more transparent, and a lot more preoccupied with their new iPhones.  The thing is: using social media does not necessitate obsessively checking Twitter and Facebook.  If done right, it means selecting the platforms that seem appropriate for your organization, deciding how to use them strategically, and then setting a schedule (i.e., making a list).  Set aside a time of day, maybe 15 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes in the afternoon to check-in on your social media accounts, check for mentions, and respond to comments, then let the rest go.  Set up your account so that you’re alerted each time your brand is mentioned in social media and trust the system.

After all, there are only 24 hours in a day.  Make a list, check it twice, and for heaven’s sake, keep your smartphone away from the dinner table.

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

Image from

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…