• 31Oct

    Halloween seems an appropriate time to talk about ghost-tweeting. I have been following a very lively discussion thread on one of my LinkedIn groups about the ethics of ghost-tweeting. In the world of social media, it’s all about authenticity. And with a microblogging forum like Twitter, should we expect the voice/tweeter on the other end of the social media discussion to be the person he or she says they are?

    The concept of ghostwriters has been around for as long as man has been putting ideas down on paper, papyrus, or clay tablets. It has become accepted practice that when a celebrity or politician write his or her memoirs that, more likely than not, there is a ghost in the background, whether credited or not. It’s expected. But in the world of social media, the idea is to engage, not just post. I have seen a number of social media experts (myself included upon occasion) who forget the rules of social engagement in favor of posting social media spam – self-promotional content that may, or may not be of interest but is certainly not posted to stimulate discussion. Clearly, these posters are striving to tap the good will of the social media machine. And if they are busy executives or celebrities or politicians, they will probably outsource their tweets.

    What makes the ghost-tweeting concept challenging is the authenticity question. As a number of my peers have noted, social media is all about engagement and being “real.” If you are engaging in a threaded conversation, you should be able to assume that the party on the other end of the post is whom he or she says they are. Whether you are Joe Schmoe or the CEO of Acme Inc., if you are engaging in a conversation, then you don’t need a ghost. If, however, you are providing a news or information thread and the data is flowing one-way, then it’s all about the brand and not about the conversation, but does that make ghost-tweeting acceptable?

    The Twitter phenomenon has presented some new challenges for communications professionals. Some argue that we have been ghost-writing speeches, articles, and other content for clients for years, and social media is just another channel. Others argue that Twitter, Facebook, and other social media outlets, but their very nature, demand a more personal approach for the sake of authentic interaction, and ghosting social media is unacceptable. Still other are struggling with a hybrid approach, where the ghost is identified by some kind of tag or initials.

    Some organizations seem to have figured out how to deal with Twitter with sincerity, and without compromising the spirit of engagement. Two examples offered from a colleague in the LinkedIn thread are @StateFarm and @TMobile. In both cases the identifier cites the twitter feed as that sanctioned by the brand, and the State Farm feed even goes so far as to identify the agency serving as the ghost in the machine. Full disclosure, but the posts all seem genuine and in the first person.

    I seem to find myself talking to more and more clients who need help supporting their social media strategy. It’s usually not so much that they need help understanding the approach, but they lack the time, resources, and content to launch an effective social media campaign. As communications professionals, we are experts at creating content. How we deliver it, and with what voice and degree of authenticity seems to be the real challenge.

    So how do you approach ghost-tweeting for your clients? Of course we know that not all Twitterers are authentic and there is someone at work behind the curtain. Just ask @Jesus, @SantaClaus, @HomerSimpson who ghosts for them on Twitter. But does that mean it’s okay to ghost for your client or company without proper disclosure? How do you exorcize the ghost in the social media machine?

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  • 24Oct

    imageI have just just completed my annual media list service evaluation, weighing the pros and cons of services such as Vocus and MyMediaInfo against my clients’ needs and my operating budget. Finding the right tools, both free and paid, to support client work is an ongoing challenge. I recently had a client ask me about one of the dozens of press release aggregation services that spam me every day and I had to do some digging to determine if it had any real value (it didn’t).

    So how do you find your way through the jungle of competing PR support services? To date, I have relied heavily on my LinkedIn groups and professional contacts to provide guidance, but when I am looking for a new services, such as the best service to research speaking opportunities, I have had to rely heavily on web search. But now there is a new service that has just been launched to help PR professionals find the tools they need – The PR Service Bureau, aka JungleBuzz!

    [Full disclosure – JungleBuzz is the brainchild of Gina Milani, a former co-worker and long-time associate and friend. She and I have discussed the need for this kind of service off and on for some time and I am delighted to see she finally launched it because I am certain that the market will benefit.]

    JungleBuzz was designed for PR consultants by a PR consultant as a single source to help you find the tools you need for success. (Although it offers lots of benefits for larger PR firms as well):

    “JungleBuzz is a communications ‘Tools of the Trade’ repository of traditional and social media tools designed for, or used widely by PR and communications professionals charged with influencing and monitoring public perception. With over 260 tools in 24 categories, it’s the first effort to identify and ‘corral’ the tools that are out in the PR jungle that can assist communications professionals.”

    JungleBuzz gives you a market overview and lets you compare the latest tools available for your needs, including:

    • Media list development
    • Editorial calendar tracking
    • Awards and speaking opportunities
    • Clip services and media coverage
    • Video clipping and streaming media resources
    • Market research resources
    • Blog and social media tracking
    • And a variety of other tools

    I signed on to JungleBuzz this week and have already found that it has saved a lot of time and trouble in researching essential PR resources. Check it out and see if it can help you expand your public relations services.

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  • 17Oct

    image I read a fascinating article in The New Yorker a few weeks ago by columnist Malcolm Gladwell that provides some real insight about the way social media works, and how we all should think about it. What Gladwell observes in his article, “Small Change,” is that social media promotes a “weak tie phenomenon” that has its benefits, but it doesn’t have the strength to drive a revolution:

    “The world, we are told, is in the midst of a revolution. The new tools of social media have reinvented social activism. With Facebook and Twitter and the like, the traditional relationship between political authority and popular will has been upended, making it easier for the powerless to collaborate, coordinate, and give voice to their concerns. When ten thousand protesters took to the streets in Moldova in the spring of 2009 to protest against their country’s Communist government, the action was dubbed the Twitter Revolution, because of the means by which the demonstrators had been brought together. A few months after that, when student protests rocked Tehran, the State Department took the unusual step of asking Twitter to suspend scheduled maintenance of its Web site, because the Administration didn’t want such a critical organizing tool out of service at the height of the demonstrations.”

    But what Gladwell points out is that is there are few Twitter accounts in Moldova, and that Twitters in English to organize protests will have little impact in Iran where the populace speaks Farsi. Social media is a great communications tool, but it lacks the galvanizing power that many social media evangelists would have us believe Facebook and Twitter have: “Where activists were once defined by their causes, they are now defined by their tools. Facebook warriors go online to push for change.”

    Much of the article makes parallels to the civil rights movement and acts of social consciousness and change that have had a real impact. He tells the story of four black college students who stage a protest at an all-white Greensboro lunch counter in 1960. When they are refused service, the ripples extended to promote sit-ins throughout the Carolinas and ultimately as far away as Texas, without the benefit of e-mail, Twitter, or Facebook. What do these protesters have in common? Strong ties of association because they all have relatives or know someone directly affected by segregation. The four students who started the protest were close school friends, and their protest was fueled by mutual support – a strong-tie phenomenon. Consider how many of your Facebook friends or acquaintances are willing to stage a boycott or March on Washington?

    “The evangelists of social media don’t understand this distinction; they seem to believe that a Facebook friend is the same as a real friend and that signing up for a donor registry in Silicon Valley today is activism in the same sense as sitting at a segregated lunch counter in Greensboro in 1960. “Social networks are particularly effective at increasing motivation,” Aaker and Smith write. But that’s not true. Social networks are effective at increasing participation—by lessening the level of motivation that participation requires. The Facebook page of the Save Darfur Coalition has 1,282,339 members, who have donated an average of nine cents apiece. The next biggest Darfur charity on Facebook has 22,073 members, who have donated an average of thirty-five cents. Help Save Darfur has 2,797 members, who have given, on average, fifteen cents. A spokesperson for the Save Darfur Coalition told Newsweek, “We wouldn’t necessarily gauge someone’s value to the advocacy movement based on what they’ve given. This is a powerful mechanism to engage this critical population. They inform their community, attend events, volunteer. It’s not something you can measure by looking at a ledger.” In other words, Facebook activism succeeds not by motivating people to make a real sacrifice but by motivating them to do the things that people do when they are not motivated enough to make a real sacrifice. We are a long way from the lunch counters of Greensboro.

    So when approaching social media for marketing purposes, you need to be conscious of the fact that Twitter and Facebook friends are weak-tie connections, and there is a big distinction between request to connect and call to action. Since this is an election year, it has been interesting to watch the role of social media as a campaign tool. You can sign up to support candidates or propositions on the ballot by signing petitions on Facebook, but how far will such activism go toward garnering votes or campaign contributions? Is it more effective than direct mail or robocalls?

    As Gladwell writes,”The instruments of social media are well suited to making the existing social order more efficient. They are not a natural enemy of the status quo.” So if you are looking to social media to revolutionize your next marketing campaign, you might want to reconsider your expectations.

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  • 09Oct

    image The most basic rule of effective marketing and PR is understanding your target audience. You need to be able to empathize with the business needs of your reader; to walk a mile in their Cole Haan’s. So the ongoing challenge for the PR professional is to work with clients to understand the needs of their customers, whether they are Generation Y, homemakers, CIOs, supply-chain professionals, manufacturers, or whatever.

    I recently read a thread on one of my LinkedIn groups asking why PR professionals seem to gravitate to B2C accounts rather than B2B, especially for agencies specializing in technology? As one commenter noted, “Historically, tech B2B PR had been considered to be less ‘sexy’ than consumer tech.” That may be true, and it’s certainly more fun to pitch the latest Android Smartphone than it is the newest CRM or ERP platform. And with a sexy consumer story, it’s easier to get the attention of the high-profile media, like CNN or the New York Times. However, I think the big difference is that, as consumers, we all can relate to the latest consumer technology or trend on a personal level, because we can see why it’s cool and how it would change our own lives. It’s harder to find the personal pleasure of the “cool” in a new B2B solution that makes someone else’s business run more efficiently. It’s just harder to make an empathetic connection.

    To effectively implement B2B marketing, you need to have a deeper understanding of the technology or service in order to articulate its benefits to your target market. That means making a greater investment in understanding the competitive differentiators and lasting benefits of a B2B solution. In many ways, B2B requires more work, because you have to dig down and really understand how the technology works in order to explain it cogently to editors, who are experts in their respective areas. In the past, I have had challenges working with less experienced staff members who lack the technical background, or interest, to make the leap to B2B. It’s challenging to be working on multiple accounts and find yourself pitching vacation packages one minute and then have to pitch a new secure, wireless WAN technology the next. Even with a prepared pitch and talking points, you can quickly get in over your head if you don’t have a grasp of how the technology works. Whether you are pitching enterprise technology, the latest biotechnology, a green energy solution, or the latest financial services package, you have to be able to talk the talk with enough credibility to place the story.

    And when developing press releases and support material for B2B clients, it’s important to get the terminology right. You have to make sure you are not only including the right phrases and key words – especially for online content – but that you are using those key phrases correctly or you will undermine your credibility. It’s one thing to assemble keywords and search terms and another to know how to use them correctly in copy, and that requires you to understand enough of the underlying technology or service to actually explain it.

    Which means you have to do your homework; something that PR people are not traditionally good at. Increasingly I have talked to client prospects with a specialized need who are only willing to talk to agencies or consultants with experience in their particularly niche market. Clients can’t take the time to educate their PR team, and they are not confident that the PR team can educate themselves to be effective. It’s up to you to engage and demonstrate that you are not only interested, but that you “get it” and can tell their B2B story.

    I have always said that good PR or marketing communications is being a good translator. That doesn’t mean you have to know how to build the box, just why what it does makes a difference. Your job is to understand the benefits and applications of your client’s product so you can make it interesting and translate those benefits to make it sexy for your client’s target market.

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