- Member Type(s): Expert
- Title:Principal and Co-founder
- Organization:InkHouse Media + Marketing
- Area of Expertise:Public relations, social media
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Thursday, November 3, 2011, 1:25 PM
Private Group Chat, Backups, Acknowledgements, Hashtags and More
Back in April I posted our first Twitter cheat sheet, and since then, a few of the Twitter terms have waned, new tips have come forth, and we’ve discovered some third-party tools that make Twitter easier to use (namely, private group conversations!).
If you are new to Twitter, Twitter has a handy page with 31 Twitter basics for getting started. For those who’ve been on Twitter for a while, please feel free to add your own tips to the comments below.
Third-Party Tools That Work
- !b = Private group chat for Twitter. I wish I thought of this! You don’t need to be following each other, and you don’t need any special downloads. It works everywhere – desktop, mobile phone, you name it. The folks at !Blether launched it yesterday. And in case you’re not Scottish, Urban Dictionary has a useful definition of “blether,” which means: n. 1. person who chatters incessantly; one who babbles on and on. or v. 2. to engage in conversation, long-winded or idle talk. To use it simply login at www.blether.co/ (you can use your Twitter credentials) and type “!b” followed by any list of Twitter handles. For more details, check out Courtney Boyd Meyer’s story on TheNextWeb.
- Backup Your Tweets. You’ve no doubt discovered that Twitter only keeps tweets for the short-term. If you want to back them up, check out TweetBackup and Backup My Tweets.
As I mentioned in my post, Tweet Like it’s a Networking Event, acknowledging other people’s ideas and finds is important in the real world and the social media world alike. Here are a few ways to acknowledge others on Twitter:
- via = I found this information via someone else. Due in part to automated tweets on news sites, Twitter users have begun using the term “via” to acknowledge other Twitterers. For example, if I found a story and wanted to write my own tweet instead of RTing someone else, I might write a tweet such as this: “The intertwining of luck and genius: Bill Gates & Southwest Airlines from @nytimes nyti.ms/vigNYP via @joshandrix”
- HT = Hat tip. This is a way to virtually tip your hat to another Twitterer. It can be a congratulatory tweet, or perhaps you just liked the article the person wrote. Use it as you feel it’s appropriate. There aren’t set rules for this one.
- #FF = Follow Friday. Follow Fridays has been around for a while and it’s a way to suggest other Twitters your followers might want to follow. Instead of blind tweets with #FF followed by a bunch of handles, I suggest adding context. For example, “#FF to my favorite foodies in Boston @abcdefg @hijklm”
- Favorite. You can favorite someone’s tweet, which is another nice way to acknowledge him or her publicly. I would use this option if the tweet contains information you’d like to refer to later.
- Hashtags can convey humor, foster conversation during live or virtual events and rally support for major campaigns (think “#OWS” that is being used by the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations).
- OH = Overheard. It’s a good way to share the funny things you happen to overhear everyday, and it’s a great way to add personality to your tweets. No one wants to follow a robot.
- Keyboard shortcuts. If you’re using Twitter.com here is a screen shot from Twitter on the keyboard shortcuts:
The Standby Twitter Abbreviations
- RT = Retweet. Put an RT in front of a message to rebroadcast someone else’s tweet to your followers.
- MT = Modified tweet. Similar to a retweet, this means that you are passing along a tweet from someone else, but have modified it from its original form. I should note that “PRT” or partial retweet used to be used a bit, but I have not seen it in months, so I think we can call it a thing of the past.
- @ mention (public and semi-public). An @ mention happens when someone else mentions you in a tweet. If the @ mention is at the beginning of the tweet (e.g. @bamonaghan Thanks for the RT today), only that person, and the people following you and that person can see the message. It’s NOT private though. If you want everyone to see an @ mention, simply embed it in the middle of a tweet (e.g. Great seeing @moleary today) or place a period before it in the tweet (e.g. .@moleary and I had a great meeting today).
- D = Direct message. These are private messages that only you and the sender can see. The person you are DMing must be following you though for this to work.
- CC = Carbon-copy. Works the same way as email.
Tuesday, November 1, 2011, 10:53 AM
Last week, I participated in a panel discussion that was sparked in part by my blog post on the Art of Pitching the Media. It took place at the Mass Technology Leadership Council Innovation UnConference in Boston and included Scott Kirsner, Innovation Economy columnist for The Boston Globe, and Rodney Brown, news editor for Mass High Tech, along with PR pros Patrick Rafter and Adam Zand.
Our goal was to understand the perspective of both journalists and PR people when it comes to news value, pitching stories and building relationships. As it turns out, journalists do care about the art of the pitch. A good pitch makes the difference between a story in tomorrow’s paper/blog and permanent relegation to a reporter’s junk folder. To stay in the business of helping to shape the news, PR professionals should follow the 11 tips that came out of our discussion:
- Be ready. If a reporter can’t get to the essence of your story within a few questions, you’ve failed. I was thrilled to see an entrepreneur and 2011 Mass Challenge finalist, Erica Zidel of Sitting Around, stand up and deliver an almost perfect pitch to Scott and Rodney. Sitting Around connects families with networks of trusted babysitters. She nailed the problem statement, demonstrated a clear market need, successes to date (2,000 families across the country) and how the company would grow. And she got to the point quickly.
- Know why your story is important. Even companies in stealth mode find themselves speaking to the press, particularly when they secure financing and have to file publicly with the SEC, which often prompts unsolicited media calls. You may not be able to talk about your offering yet, but Scott recommends being able to speak articulately about the problem you are solving and the market you will be addressing. Rodney added, “If you can’t explain the problem you’re solving without giving away the secret sauce, it’s a problem.” On the other hand, if you’re not in stealth mode and cannot articulate these points, you are not ready to speak with the press.
- Make your story concise and targeted. Blanketing your entire media list with the same pitch is often a fruitless effort (and one that annoys reporters). The fire hose approach may be successful for a story here and there, but long-term success, and coverage, is dependent on targeted and intelligent pitching. Chris Carleton of CHEN PR was in the audience and likened the media pitch process to sales: you wouldn’t take a product to market and start selling randomly to unqualified leads, so don’t do it with your media relations either.
- Be honest about who else you are talking to. PR people are often trying to get lots of reporters to write about a particular story. The days of 24x7 reporting have tightened competition, and reporters do not like surprises, particularly when they think they are getting a story before anyone else. Be honest about how widely you are casting your net when you are shopping your story around. For more, see a past conversation with Scott about embargoes.
- Make it easy to check the facts. Reporters almost never send articles to sources before they go to print, but if you have concerns, there are some things you can do. First, ask if it’s making sense during the conversation (thanks to Chris for the tip). Second, follow up with materials that answer the tough questions. (Offering a fact sheet never hurts.) Third, Scott suggests that you make sure the reporter has the spokesperson’s after-hours contact information (as well as the PR person’s) for quick questions as he or she finishes up the story.
- Understand the bar for coverage. Know what the publication you are pitching covers, and understand that it differs. If your company is based in Pennsylvania, don’t pitch it to Mass High Tech (it’s in the name). Likewise, if you’re pitching an enterprise technology story, the technology reporters may not write about you until you have the validation of venture capital financing.
- Don’t get discouraged. You might have done a briefing with a reporter and have not seen a story yet, or have seen a round-up story on your space in which you were not included. Make sure that the reporter is aware of your major milestones and prove why he or she should cover your company. Adam suggests that you bring them a new angle to reignite interest.
- Don’t take it personally. If a reporter ignores your calls, leaves you out of a story or writes something you don’t like, getting angry never works. An angry call to the reporter asking why he or she did not include you will only ensure that you’ll never get coverage.
- Be findable. Scott recently tweeted in frustration about a press release without contact information. If a reporter can’t find a way to reach you quickly on your Web site, in your press materials and on the Web in general, you are at a disadvantage.
- Understand how you fit into the broader trend. If you can provide a broader perspective about your company and how it fits in, you’ve done the work for the reporter and it might even get you a story sooner because the reporter won’t be waiting around to find another company to fill out the piece. As Rodney said, “Do an end run around that randomness.”
- You’re not the only one. There is no reporter (or investor for that matter), who will believe that you do not have competition. Be honest about it, and to the point above, it could actually help you get coverage.
Wednesday, October 26, 2011, 8:13 AM
No one is born with the grace and agility to answer tough questions off the cuff. Media training is an important primer. However, practice in the trenches of real-world media interviews is the only direct route to competence. And even the best spokesperson can stumble (or jump) deep into the fray in the face of a sharpened or unexpected attack. The fray is not a place we recommend; it inhabits blame so deeply that few people emerge better for being there.
The GOP debates and considerable media attention about jobs have provided some good examples of how to handle the questions that you’re trying to avoid or didn’t expect. These fiery topics demonstrate how confidence, honesty and a thick skin can overcome almost any tricky interview. On the other hand, a deep dive into the fray can light up the kind of side story that slingshots the conversation in a new and completely irrelevant direction. Let’s look at a few examples.
The Unexpected Issue: Politico conducted a pizza taste test with panel of, well, three: Doug Heye (a Republican strategist who covers restaurants for Capitol File), Karen Finney (a Democratic commentator) and Nycci Nellis (who runs TheListAreYouOnIt.com).
In this blind taste test that included plain cheese slices from Pizza Hut, zpizza, Ledo Pizza, Papa John’s and Godfather’s Pizza, Godfather’s came in last. Nellis said, “It’s the most unappetizing….The cheese is really sour! The crust is like a sponge.”
Naturally, Politico went to Herman Cain, GOP hopeful and former Godfather’s Pizza CEO, for his reaction. What did the Cain campaign do? Spokesman J.D. Gordon told Politico, “At the end of the day, I think we can all agree on liking pizza. What’s not to like?” Who can argue with that?
The Question You Were Hoping To Avoid: During the October 18 GOP debates at the Venetian in Las Vegas, Rick Perry went on the offensive with Mitt Romney about his alleged employment of illegal immigrants. As reported in the New York Times, Perry’s attack was dogged and included many interruptions. Perry said, “Mitt, you lose all of your standing from my perspective because you hired illegals in your home.” He added, “And the idea that you stand here before us and talk about that you’re strong on immigration is, on its face, the height of hypocrisy.”
Romney’s response was drawn out and zigzagged from denial (“Rick, um, I don’t think I’ve ever hired an illegal in my life. I’m looking forward to finding your facts.”) to explanation ( “We hired a lawn company to mow our lawn and they had illegal immigrants working there. And when that was pointed out to us, we let them go.”). Romney worked to direct the conversation back to immigration policy (his and Perry’s), which was a nice attempt, but it was too late. At one point, Perry interrupted him again and Romney responded in an uncharacteristic outburst, which included these lines:
- “I’m speaking, I’m speaking, I’m speaking. This is how the rules work here.”
- “Would you please wait! Are you just going to keep talking?”
- “This has been a tough couple of debates for Rick, so I understand that, and you’re going to get testy.”
- “I suggest that if you want to become president of the United States, you have got to let both people speak.”
Like the pizza taste test, this topic was irrelevant to the debate. Unlike the pizza taste test, it is a topic of importance, and it was designed as a pointed attack that was meant to discredit Romney’s stance. A brief and measured one-sentence explanation and a bridge to the more important topic ends these kinds of discussions. Unfortunately, as it always tends to do, this particular spark of controversy dominated many headlines instead of the candidates’ proposals for creating jobs.
Side note: It also felt a bit wrong for Rick Perry to refer to Cain as “brother,” but that’s a topic for another post entirely!
The Issues You Plan For: A few weeks ago, Leslie Stahl interviewed General Electric CEO and Job Czar for Obama, Jeffrey Immelt. She introduced the piece with this: “Not since the Great Depression has unemployment been this bad for this long. And one of the reasons is that U.S. companies have gone abroad for their workers and their profits….No company has gone global more aggressively than General Electric, the conglomerate that makes everything from refrigerators to MRI machines to jet engines.”
Immelt answered her questions easily, appearing comfortable and as though he wanted to answer tough questions, and did so often. Although this was before the headlines of Occupy Wall Street, Stahl asked him about the negative public sentiment toward corporations. He responded, “I think this notion that it’s the population of the U.S. against the big companies is just wrong. It’s just wrong-minded and when I walk through a factory with you or anybody, you know, our employees basically like us. They root for us, they want us to win. I don’t know why you don’t.” He had turned the issue around.
On creating jobs here in the U.S. versus overseas, Immelt answered with honesty and pragmatism, “I’m a complete globalist. I think like a global CEO. But I’m an American. I run an American company. But in order for GE to be successful in the coming years, I’ve gotta sell my products in every corner of the world.” He went on: “If I wasn’t out chasing orders in every corner of the world, we’d have tens of thousand fewer employees in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Massachusetts, Texas….I’m never going to apologize for that, ever, ever.”
I strongly encourage you to watch the video because Immelt’s presence was half of the equation. He was confident, comfortable and optimistic. Most importantly, he was honest and didn’t let Stahl put him on the defensive.
Last week, Occupy Wall Street protesters occupied Immelt’s front lawn, despite his recent statements supporting the demonstrations. Clare O’Connor at Forbes summarizes GE’s response and Immelt’s, which both stayed above the fray and focused on the issue at hand: job generation.
Andrew Williams, media relations director for General Electric, said, “The protesters certainly have a right to share their opinion, but they don’t have a right to their own set of facts. The fact is that GE is investing in America. Since 2009 alone, GE has announced more than 10,000 new U.S. manufacturing jobs and this week, GE announced that it will build its 16th new factory in the U.S. since 2009.”
In the end, a spokesperson’s job is to keep his or her audience focused on the vision and the issue at hand. It’s easier said than done, and often requires an extremely thick skin. A command of the facts coupled with a honed filter for separating bait from substantive debate and a calm demeanor will mitigate many of these tough situations.
Wednesday, October 12, 2011, 9:17 PM
Public relations is more art than science, and as long as people are involved in creating companies and in writing about those companies, art will prevail. Today, we have tools at our fingertips that enable us to press one button and reach thousands of reporters, helpless against the onslaught of untailored and uninteresting pitches. I sometimes long for the days when I was instructed to stand in the mail room and manually send out “blast faxes” on launch day because the tedium often dissuaded those in charge from going this route.
We don’t allow blast anythings at InkHouse for one simple reason: they don’t work. Sure, if you are a PR professional, and you are looking to play that numbers game, I’m sure you’ll get some placements. If you blast enough emails out to enough reporters someone will eventually bite. But you’ll be starting from scratch again next week when you embark on your next campaign.
The anonymity of digital communications lets people hide behind their computers, and makes it easy to forget that relationships do matter. Do you want a reporter to think, “Oh here’s the tenth email from Sandra this week. Delete?” Of course not. But if you spent your last campaign blasting out emails without securing any feedback, you’re starting from scratch, and probably at a disadvantage because you are now about to annoy all of those reporters again.
The relationship business is a hard one, much harder than it was when I first got into PR. And that is what separates the good and thoughtful PR people from the blast emailers. Here is my advice if you want the media to pay attention.
Start by writing down your pitch – and rework it until you would open the email. You might be delivering it by phone, but the simple act of writing it down will help crystallize it and prepare you for the questions you will receive. My advice for the written pitch:
- Lead with the news. This sounds obvious, but it bears repeating. The subject line should convey three things: the news, the timeliness and why it’s important. This is the most important part of your pitch. If a reporter does not respond to the subject line, everything else is lost in the trash bin. Example of a bad subject line: “XYZ Corp, the leading provider of social media measurement tools launches new product.” A good subject line: “Advance on 10/6 news re: first metric for on & offline influence?”
- Sound like a real person. If the body of your email reads like a marketing brochure, you should get a glossy copy and hand it out to prospects. Reporters want to interact with human beings who understand what is interesting and what is not. Casual correspondence is important. And brief pitches work best. I recommend no more than 3-4 sentences until the reporter asks for more.
- Make it easy to find more information. Hyperlink, hyperlink, hyperlink.
- Include your contact information! Don’t lose the story because the reporter didn’t have your phone number.
- Be yourself. You won’t build relationships by turning yourself into someone else’s vision of the perfect PR person. If you are yourself, you’ll create relationships that you can nurture.
Now how should you deliver the pitch? Before you even think about making the pitch, READ the reporter’s work. This will add relevance to your pitch and will save you from embarrassment when you discover that the reporter wrote a very similar story to the one you are pitching just yesterday. Then, choose your channel wisely:
- Phone adds humanity. It’s only through a live conversation that you can have, well, a conversation. Knowing when to place that call is the key though – there are important rules about when to call daily newspapers and broadcast outlets. Know them and follow them. Likewise, understand that a phone call conveys importance. Don’t call unless your news is worthy of a call or your pitch is strong enough to withstand tough questioning. On the phone, you have a minute or two to make your case, so come prepared with information – you do not want to have to go back and ask questions because you’ll lose the opportunity. And if you get the, “can you send it to me in an email?” line, do not assume the reporter is interested. You’ve just encountered a kind reporter who is trying to let you down nicely. That is what I say to all of the salespeople trying to sell me water/news monitoring/office supplies, etc. at InkHouse.
- Email is easy to ignore. I like email pitching and it works when you craft the pitch well. Email messages are non-intrusive and are an effective way to share information with links to deeper data. However, they are also easy to ignore. Your first step is to make sure the pitch is good, but the next step is to make sure the pitch is received. Mass email pitching alone is the equivalent of praying for a miracle. It might happen, but you’d be best suited to find a way to channel divine intervention through your own actions.
- Social media is tricky. We use social media to interact with the media frequently. However, this is tricky territory. What is NOT okay? Pitches posted in public places: @ messages on Twitter, Facebook walls, and blog comments. What IS okay? Direct messages on Twitter (and Facebook if you know the reporter accepts pitches there, although if I were a reporter, I would not welcome that tactic). When in doubt, read the notes in your media database as a starting point (Cision provides intelligence about how reporters prefer to be contacted). But if you are going to be working with a reporter often, ask how he/she prefers to be contacted. Many have blog posts that outline the ways in which they like to work as well.
Other useful resources:
Monday, September 26, 2011, 3:39 PM
As we gratefully evacuate a decade that was marked more by words that conveyed the unspeakable sadnesses of 9/11 and Katrina than the triumphant victory of Captain Sullenbeger (although we welcomed that blessed pause in the heartache that made us believe in miracles, if only briefly), we emerge divided.
In his article, “Coming Apart,” George Packer noted that we entered into 9/11 just after the 2000 election when the news media, for the first time, color-coded the country into blue and red states. The ensuing decade featured rhetoric that has polarized the country.
Polarization is a powerful communications tool for fostering interest. It works almost every time. And an appropriate degree of controversy is critical for breaking through. However, when it goes too far, it does damage that has staying power. Just last week Professor Elizabeth Warren, in her bid to unseat Senator Scott Brown, went viral because of controversial, polarizing and therefore memorable comments that are yet to be judged by the clear rear view of history. But they are certainly getting attention (as of today, she has almost half a million views on YouTube):
“There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody. You built a factory out there — good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for… Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea — God bless. Keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.”
The foibles, squabbles, dogmatic battles and personal shortcomings of politicians provide some instructive examples of tactics to avoid when committing words to the public record. Consider these lessons from recent history (and the unforgettable past) about what not do:
- Assign blame. This week, Congress is feuding over approval of a disaster relief measure and Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said, “Do they (Republicans) want the government to shut down? Do they want FEMA to close?” In the UK, the government blamed social media for the riots that shook London this past summer. During the debt ceiling crisis, Republicans and Democrats spent more time talking about who was to blame than about how to fix it. Now the President and Congress are suffering from dismal approval ratings (the approval rating is 15 percent for Congress and 40 percent for the President). Blame trading only hastens plummeting approval ratings and it almost always looks weak.
- Use polarizing language liberally. U.S News & World Report had an article last week about Americans’ distrust of the news media – CNN and FOX in particular due to their bias. Rick Perry called Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke a “traitor” and Teamsters President Jim Hoffa called Republicans “sons of bitches.” It’s tough to sit down and talk like gentlemen with those fighting words under your belt. Now, if they are warranted, strong words pack an incredible punch when used sparingly. But used widely they have the opposite effect: they become part of your public repertoire and lose meaning. Your credibility suffers. Remember President Bush’s “rid the world of evil doers?” I know you do. The tag lines of the “War on Terror” were repeated far too often and became meaningless. Tougher issues demand specificity to inspire confidence after the emotion wears off.
- Use war imagery(unless you’re talking about a real war). During every debate, we are guaranteed to hear at least one war reference: candidates will discuss their “battle plans,” draw on the support of their “war chests,” and explain how they will use our votes as “ammunition.” Recall Sarah Palin’s cross-hairs map of states for Republican focus that was quickly removed after the attack on Congresswoman Giffords. As we’ve seen, this kind of rhetoric can go wrong in an instant.
- Lie. This one is obvious and I wish it did not have a place here. Unfortunately, the undertow of lying amid the white heat of public questioning is often stronger than will power. We know the now famous politicians’ lies of our time: Nixon’s “I am not a crook,” Clinton’s “I did not have relations with that woman,” John Edwards’ “I am not the father of any baby.” The list goes on. Today, social media has amplified the uncovering of lies. We can point to Senator Weiner and more recently, State Representative Hinkle. Lies pulled each of these figures deeper into scandal. So deep in fact, that the lying became worse than the actual disgraced act. Add in media coverage, and “it’s like burning an ant with a magnifying glass.”
- Grossly exaggerate. I’m not talking about embellishing or framing in the best light. Gross exaggerations wind truth and fiction so tightly that it’s hard to see the space between them. Once someone does (and they always do), the person’s word is forever tainted. Michelle Bachman has been dinged in The New Yorker about her family’s strong Iowa roots: a story of perseverance, complete with overcoming flooding, drought and locust infestation. The reality, however, is that her facts and dates did not align and it happened near Iowa, not actually in it. Rick Perry is also defending his reference to Social Security as a Ponzi scheme. This has created debate within his own party that has drawn attention away from the issue of Social Security and toward the Ponzi Scheme statement (see **** Cheney’s ABC News interview). Lesson? Gross exaggerations might sound good in the moment, but soon they will overtake the real issues you want to discuss.
In the end, we must all remember that words have the ability to convince and repel, and regardless of the outcome, they are etched in the public consciousness more deeply for being written…particularly when they are reported in the media and documented by Google.
You can view the original post at www.inkhouse.net/rhetoric-%E2%80%93-comm...
Thursday, September 15, 2011, 3:13 PM
The recent controversy surrounding Michael Arrington’s decision to start a new venture fund while continuing to run TechCrunch that ultimately ended in his departure from the blog he founded (he appeared at TechCrunch Disrupt wearing a green t-shirt that read “Unpaid Blogger”) and the public berating of Arianna Huffington is just one blip in a history of conflicts of interest in the press.
Steve Myers at Poynter wrote a detailed piece that outlines the conflicts of other outlets such as the New York Times and GigaOm (backed by True Ventures). Disclosure has been the appropriate way to mitigate these conflicts, and I think it’s a fair one.
As we all know, the economics and codes of ethics of the news media have been changing dramatically as we’ve all gone digital. I think this is a natural evolution. We have long accepted the bizarre practice in which newspapers endorse political candidates yet remain dedicated to unbiased coverage of the elections in their news pages. Today we have the sparring polar opposites of CNN and Fox News both purporting to be unbiased when everyone knows their political agendas, and if you don’t, you only have to tune into Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show to get a glimpse.
I am not sure what will happen with TechCrunch now that Michael Arrington is no longer there. Along its trajectory, the blog has created many waves before this current tsunami and I’m certain it will continue to do so. For example, TechCrunch’s embargo policy rippled across the blogsphere (and the PR sphere), ultimately creating preference among tech startups for coverage in TechCrunch over other outlets. (See my media roundtable on embargoes for more details). And like all leaders in a given space, this has placed TechCrunch on a seesaw between target and trophy. Unlike one year ago when TechCrunch coverage was an inevitable boon to follow-on coverage in other competitive blogs that wanted to keep pace, today it is an assurance that most other outlets will not coverage a piece of news. The competitors have opted out of the race.
PR people are working to navigate these uneasy waters, and at the same time to understand the conflicts that do exist so that we can work within those parameters. For example, we at InkHouse have long known about the True Ventures conflict for GigaOm and its corresponding editorial policy so we never pitch stories related to those companies because we know GigaOm will not cover them, as they should not.
As 24-hour news cycles, minute-by-minute blogger updates and live Tweeting continue to change the nature of how we find information, it’s more important than ever to understand the point of view behind the news you are reading. We all understand that columnists by their very nature share opinions. Bloggers are very much in the same camp but span a broad gamut, from respected experts to fly-by-night newcomers trying to break through. The rules are less clear and not everyone abides by the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics that mandates seeking and reporting the truth, minimizing harm, acting independently and being accountable. However, in all of this chaos is also a myriad of perspectives that have the potential to provide checks and balances – just glance over the comments of any blog post on TechCrunch. It’s an embracing of varying points of view and an opportunity to be heard.
Conflicts are always going to exist, and to be credible, news outlets and reporters/bloggers/columnists must disclose those conflicts – transparency is a very important currency in the economy of influence. This makes PR people’s jobs a bit harder, riddled with tough choices. But a good challenge always brings the brightest ideas and approaches to the forefront, so I welcome it.
As we stumble down this road together, my advice in any interaction in which you exchange or consume information: consider the source.
Thursday, September 1, 2011, 10:13 AM
Dear Mobile Phone Talker/Texter/Twitterer/Facebook User/Fill in the Blank,
When I was little, my parents made me address their friends as Mr. and Mrs. Even now as I slide toward the upper end of my 30s, when I think of those family friends, their names are forever etched in my mind as Mr. and Mrs. Dyrli and Mr. and Mrs. Rabenstein.
Back then we had a mustard yellow rotary telephone with a spiral cord. My mother taught me to answer by announcing my name, “Hello, this is Beth,” and we had hard and fast rules about when it was appropriate to place phone calls. You did not call during dinner, after 9 p.m. or before 9 a.m. In turn, we answered the phone when it rang – often running to get to it before the miracles of voice mail and caller ID.
As you and I know well, it’s a lot more complicated now. Many of us sleep with our mobile phones next to our beds (I mean, a friend who does not want me to use her name told me that she does that). I work with a bunch of PR professionals, and we’re always thinking about the mode of communication that will be the most palatable for the media we are contacting.
Personally though, I am often overwhelmed by keeping track of all of the messages awaiting my response. At times, the need to tick through my correspondence has compelled me to multitask by getting in a few calls while I shop for my daughter’s favorite butternut squash and apple YoBaby yogurt.
To muffle this urge, I have turned off all of the notifications on my Mac and my iPhone. It’s a daily struggle to put the iPhone down, but I am trying, and I hope you don’t mind if I offer a few suggestions for managing all of these technologies – and hopefully improving our interactions.
- Please don’t take a call while we’re having dinner. Human beings standing or sitting in front of you should almost always take priority over those who are interrupting you electronically. Even in less personal scenarios, such as shopping for bar soap at CVS, I don’t talk on my phone while checking out because there is a person at the register, and they deserve the two minutes of my attention that are required to check out.
- If you’re shopping for groceries, focus on the food. You might not agree, but when you’re at the grocery store, gym, riding on the train, and in hundreds of others public places, it’s tough for me to navigate my own business when you are doing yours so publicly. I hate feeling like I am being rude because someone is in mid-conversation and not paying attention when I’m trying to get to the ice cream case.
- If you call me three times in a row I will think you’re in the hospital. If I don’t pick up my phone the first time you call, it means that I am busy and can’t talk. Unless it is an emergency, in which case, you should call again because my heart stops every time I get a repeat call, please leave a message and I promise to get back to you as soon as I can.
- Text messages are not the same as email. This one might be a generational thing, I but like text messages for their brevity. Unlike teenagers who send upwards of 1,000 texts each month, I don’t use them for conversations. I text to coordinate about logistics or when I need to get back to someone urgently and can’t place a call.
- Dinner and sleep are sacred. Every time my phone rings or I hear the ding of a text message, I jump to see it. These noises make me stop what I am doing. I love hearing from you, but I value sleep and dinner with my family more than most things in life, so please don’t call or text during those hours. I don’t have a hard and fast time rule like Larry David’s “The Cut-off Time,” so I trust your good judgment.
- Remember the difference between public and private messages. I know it’s confusing. A Facebook Wall seems like great places to put everything, but it’s not the place to ask about my recent doctor’s appointment. I love that you are interested in my life, but want to keep some things private, which is where private Facebook messages are great. TechCrunch posted a great example recently with the story, “Jeremy, Call Your Mother. She’s Worried Sick.” This applies to Twitter too though – @ messages, while semi-private, are public if you look in the right place (here’s our Twitter cheat sheet if you want a refresher).
Now that you’ve read all of these, you’re probably thinking that a bunch don’t apply to you. That’s the point. While many of these could be universal (and should be if you ask me), they are the things that I find appropriate. So when in doubt, just use the Golden Rule and treat others as you would have them treat you.
The woman trying to squeeze past you in aisle 5
Thursday, August 18, 2011, 9:13 PM
This morning, I began my day by reading Jennifer Finney Boylan’s Op-Ed in today’s New York Times. In it, she recalls another era when her parents, both Republicans, welcomed spirited debates about issues such as the Equal Rights Amendment and the Gary Hart campaign with their friends who had differing points of view. She wrote that during these dinners, “At a certain point, my father would ding his fork against the side of his glass and command everyone present to begin arguing ‘the reverse of their earlier position.’”
After I read this, I launched Tweetdeck and was pummeled with headlines about the Dow Jones average falling 445 points in its opening hour. The debt crisis is bad for more reasons than the obvious financial trouble. It’s creating a communications chasm in an already divided country and political system that seem unable to come to even the most minor of compromises. I keep coming back to something Art Papas, CEO of Bullhorn, said in a recent meeting: “Perfect is the enemy of good.” Here here!
Now, I would not be a very good PR person if I did not understand the inherent link between controversy and interest. To find opportunity for our clients to be heard above the clamor of likes, tweets, press releases, blog posts and more, we have to identify the points of view that will stand out. Agreeing with the 72 other experts on a topic will only add noise, but it won’t engage your audience.
Spirited political controversy has turned into finger pointing and steadfastness to party lines. Back in January, I wrote about the dangers of using words as weapons while I watched the aftermath of the Arizona attack on Rep. Gabby Giffords. It seems that those lessons have been forgotten as we have moved on to the debt crisis. A quick Google search shows numerous accusations that Bernanke and even the S&P as an entity are “traitors.” On the other side, they are throwing “un-American” shots over the bow. I’m not going to comment on who is right and wrong. It does not matter. These are fighting words.
Words matter. Ideas matter. And compromise matters. When we prepare our clients for a major announcement, it’s our job to think through all of the potential questions we might have to answer – good and bad. We spend large amounts of time scrutinizing the words to ensure that they properly convey our messages. This is a good exercise because it pauses all of the hype and excitement that lead up to launch day so we can consider every potential point of view. It helps us understand necessary tweaks so that our news will be received well. And it forces us to think about other points of view.
In Boylan’s Op-Ed, she also wrote that her father, “would get me to play our piano with my left and right hands in different keys. ‘It’s good for you,’ he would say, gently. ‘It makes you open-minded.’” I think I’m going to start trying to use my left hand more and hope it catches on.
Wednesday, August 17, 2011, 9:33 AM
As the tenth anniversary of 9/11 comes up next month, I was caught up reading countless stories about the riots in London last week, all the while watching the #prayforlondon hashtag on Twitter to glean some vague understanding about what on earth was going on over there. It feels timely to revisit a tried and true PR tactic: rapid response. When should you do it and when should huddle in front of the TV with your family and hope for a happy ending?
Good PR people spend their days looking for relevant breaking news that could warrant color commentary. For example, if you’re working for an investment bank, the LinkedIn or Groupon IPO might be ripe territory, particularly if you have a point of view that differs from the other experts who are commenting on the story.
This strategy often works so well that PR pros and experts alike get a little too excited about the prospect of press and blur the line between offering expertise and shameless self-promotion. Here is my list of breaking news events that should be left alone 99.9% of the time:
1. Natural disasters. Unless you are organizing a benefit concert and donating ALL of the proceeds to the Red Cross, or you’re an emergency worker who’s on the scene helping to save lives or rebuild, leave it alone. The past few years have given us enough examples with earthquakes in New Zealand, Haiti & Japan, and tornadoes here in the U.S. that have devastated the states in Tornado Alley and terrified unsuspecting residents in the Northeast who thought they were living without that particular threat from Mother Nature. The best stories from natural disasters spring up organically. They are the ones about communities helping each other, such as this piece from NPR about some college grads in Monson, Mass. who used Facebook to help their neighbors.
2. Terrorist attacks. If you are not an ex-Navy Seal/Army General/CIA Agent/other military expert, take cover and mind your own business, even if your cause is a worthy one. The more difficult decision is often whether you should continue outreach on other topics while being mindful of the attack. Generally, I’d avoid outreach until the world resumes some semblance of order. The importance of just about every other issue, philanthropic or not, pales in comparison, and you just look like an insensitive jerk.
3. Riots. We only have to think back to February to remember the Kenneth Cole tweet that nearly caused a different kind of riot online: “Millions are in uproar in #Cairo. Rumor is they heard our new spring collection is now available online at bit.ly/KCairo -KC.” And last week, Levi Strauss issued an advertisement targeted at the European market that shows rioting and calls for people to “rise up and do something with their lives.” I will chalk the latter up to bad timing, but you get the point.
4. Deaths or Tragedies Involving Notable People. This is an area with more shades of gray, and as such it requires sharper shades of judgment. The nature of the death rarely matters unless you happen to be a medical examiner and have information that could illuminate the story. Of course, if you also happen to be have been close with that person and want to pay tribute publicly, that is another story, and entirely appropriate. If you do not fall into one of these two categories, you should probably stay quiet. In the case of revered public figures such as Betty Ford, some kind words on your blog might be in order. In the case of untimely or tragic deaths such as Michael Jackson’s or Amy Winehouse’s, there’s really no good that can come from commenting.
So when should you comment?
This part is easy. If there is a news story related to your industry and you have a point of view that differs in an important way to what is already being said, speak up. Look for news regarding industry data, competitors (but be careful not to go negative), market trends in your space, blue chip company news and launches, etc. For example, if you think the daily deal space is suffering from fatigue with too many players, and you have a solution, speak up! Do you think the state of public offerings is sustainable, unsustainable? Have we seen the last for a while after the high fliers of Groupon and LinkedIn? These kinds of topics are ripe for commentary and do you the service of positioning you as an expert in your space.
Happy reading and commenting. When in doubt, you can always default to my mother’s advice: if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.
Friday, August 12, 2011, 10:55 AM
In its first month, Google+ reached 20 million users. I am impressed. Brian Solis notes that to reach 10 million users, it took Twitter 780 days and Facebook 852 days. It took Google+ 16 days.
I like Google+ for the same reasons everyone else does: I can segment my contacts for better content sharing and it’s intuitive. Like everyone else in the social media world, I am also entrenched in Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn and have to constantly remind myself to update Google+.
Deciding when to cross-post and when not to is as personal a decision as what to wear to an interview. It differs for everyone and every company based on your goals and personality. I automatically feed my Tweets through LinkedIn because I use Twitter primarily for business-related conversations. I love the Selective Tweets app for Facebook because when I do pepper in personal tweets, I can feed them to Facebook without logging in separately. I also love twitpic for its easy photo updates for Twitter. I tried Twitterfeed for the InkHouse blog, but found it to be too automated, so I opted for manual tweets and updates that I can schedule over high engagement periods on the social networks of my choice.
In an effort to streamline my personal and professional updates, I started looking for a way to send Tweets to Google+. There are a number of solutions, but I was disappointed to discover that most, while creative, are really workarounds. Google+ does not allow third-party access to its API, which makes a real solution a challenge (if you are interested in the details of the Google and social media standards discussion, check out this thorough piece by Sean Ludwig on VentureBeat).
While we wait for a management solution, which is desperately needed if I’m going to fully embrace Google+ for myself and our clients, here are the workarounds I’ve found:
- TechTipsGeek’s Tanmay Ahmed suggests an interesting approach using your secret email address available through the Facebook mobile page to use your Google plus post as a status update for Facebook. Apparently, you can simply add a Circle and send your updates to that address and your post will be shared with both your Google+ and Facebook friends. This piece also suggests the Chrome extension to post updates on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.
- PC Geek Blog suggests creating a RSS feed of your Google+ posts and using another service such as Twitterfeed to publish your feed to Twitter and Facebook.
- WonderHowTo’s Business Insider piece includes the two options above and another to cross-post to a blog using PlusFeed, which is helpful for writers who produce long pieces in Google+.
As you can see, these aren’t elegant, but they will work for die-hards and self-proclaimed techies. In the meantime, I will continue forcing myself to manually post while I wait for the technical social media folks to create a good solution that enables easy and segmented cross-pollination of content across all of the important channels.
Last month Google+ took down the pages for Sesame Street, Mashable, Ford and Search Engine Land, noting that the platform was not ready for business pages yet. I am still waiting for updates on that front and hoping that the introduction of Google+ business pages, hopefully some day soon, will force the issue.