March 4, 2015

The Age of Conversation

I’m excited (and a little nervous) to be a small part of a new e-book called “The Age of Conversation.”  More than 100 authors will contribute short chapters to the book, which is being put together by Drew McLellan and Gavin Heaton.  I’ll be writing about the intersection of traditional journalism and public relations/marketing. You can find the full list of contributors, and more information here. (Incidentally, all proceeds from the book will go to Variety, the Children’s Charity.)

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What USA Today’s social media success means for your small organization

Pronet Advertising points out the huge growth at USA Today, since it implemented social media functions (like recommending stories and submitting photos) into its website.  This story, though, has implications far beyond big media outlets — it also effects your small organization. 

As a direct result of these community-focused changes, the site has seen a staggering 380% increase in new user registrations, in addition to a 21% increase in unique visitors, according to Nielsen/NetRatings. Not only have the registrations and visitors increased, but there has also been exponential growth in user-interaction with the site. . .

Not only does this show the strength of social media and its ability to create community and engender user-engagement, but it also shows the versatility of the medium and its adaptability to any space, no matter how old or truly novel. (emphasis mine)

The value of social media is not only for media outlets like USA Today.  It’s important that you and your organization enter the social media space that already exists, even if you don’t create your own.  Sites like Digg are built on user-submitted stories.  There’s no reason the stories of your organization shouldn’t be among them. As long as you’re telling real, engaging stories, instead of issuing crappy press releases, your organization can benefit from the explosion of social media.  Best of all, social media brings together people and allows them to interact — and that’s exactly what you want as you seek to spread the message of your organization.

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Lame press releases

Scott Baradell at Marketing Profs gives us “Eight Telltale Signs That Your Press Release is Bullshit.” His best point is this:

In the world of Web 2.0, some PR agencies have tried to address this issue with newfangled formats. But ultimately it’s not about the format, it’s about the content.

Go read the details, but here’s the list:

1. Vague claims
2. Industry jargon abuse
3. Business nonsense talk
4. Silly superlatives
5. Bait and switch
6. Tortured topicality
7. Off-brand wire distribution
8. Clumsy email distribution

Stop pitching bloggers

Ben McConnell at Church of the Customer points out the hopelessness of “cultivating bloggers” for PR purposes. Instead, he advises this:

PR companies could actually become more strategic service providers by helping their clients cultivate relationships with existing, well-connected customers. Appeal to the people who already love your client and foster those relationships.

“Cultivating bloggers like traditional media” is an old-school view of people as message receptacles. Involving customers in a strategic communications plan is the new form of message management. It recognizes that people are the message. They’ll spread the word if it’s worth spreading. If it spreads far enough, then the popular bloggers will pick up on the grassroots phenomenon.

I love the image of people as “message receptacles.” It fits well with what I’ve come to believe about public relations, as it’s been commonly practiced for the past several decades. PR has become about manipulating the public by giving people one-sided messages, rather than actually engaging people in a relationship. It might’ve worked in the past, but it doesn’t work anymore. And if you try to use that old model on bloggers and other online communities, you’re going to be screwed.

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You can do what journalists do for your own organization

Bruno Giussani writes about the future of journalism:

At a recent conference in California, Ethan Zuckerman, the Harvard-based co-founder of GlobalVoices and an insightful blogger, was asked whether newspaper and television editors were still relevant in these days of participatory, “citizen” journalism.

He offered the best answer I’ve heard so far on that question: “Don’t speak. Point!” By which he meant: the days of journalists and editors “speaking on behalf of people” or “speaking to people” are over.

You’ve grown accustomed to relying on reporters to help you spread your message. And in the immediate near term, that will still be the case, because they still have relatively large audiences. But the time is coming (quickly) when you will be able to do all the things journalists are doing–without a middle man.

Look at what journalists and editors are doing: they’re pointing to experts in various fields and bringing together information for readers. That’s something anyone can do — something you can do in your field of expertise.

Now is the time to start establishing a beachhead by getting involved in new media on your own. If you don’t feel comfortable doing it yourself, bring in someone who can dedicate him/herself to being part of your organization, and helping you communicate with new media tools. It’s vitally important that you take the next year or so to get comfortable in this space, learning the ins and outs of communicating with people directly. If you wait a year to start, you’ll be that much further behind when you decide it’s necessary.

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