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?

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 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.

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.

Parents of Teens: Beware the Vine (When Viral Marketing Goes Awry)

Just when you thought it was safe to give your kids an iPhone: adolescents have a new, potentially viral, way of making a name for themselves (and landing in jail, the emergency room, or on your local news).  Vine, an app that allows you to record and loop six seconds of video (and only six) all from your iPhone, requires a steep ramp in creativity as it helps savvy brands (and teens) to reach fans.

How much can you do in six seconds? GE’s six second science fair is perhaps one of the most inspirational, strategic, and targeted use of Vine I’ve seen:

It’s a fast, relatively inexpensive way to reach a lot of people with a condensed message.  And, the social media kickback doesn’t hurt either – a few popular, company-generated vines can inspire crowds to make their own, using your hashtag to increase their reach.

Screen shot 2013-09-23 at 10.07.59 AM

Unfortunately, Vine’s become an inexpensive way for today’s teens to record and amplify their antics as well.

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: parents, talk to your kids!  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!  Know what your kids are doing, filming, and viewing online, and talk to them about making good choices.

This is something BatDad captures quite well – in a rather big-brotheresque way sure to make most parents smile.

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

Image from exkaliber.com

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.