Archive for the ‘SMB101’ Category

There’s a difference between a news hook and newsjacking

When I used to do media relations for a university, I was — all modesty aside — pretty good with a news hook. When there was a disease outbreak, a political crisis, or whatever, I could find an expert in our faculty and get that person in front of microphones pretty darn quickly. I remember the big power outage in 2003. I got a call from a radio program doing crisis coverage asking if I had any experts in history of society before electricity. As it happened, I knew a great social historian who was both expert in that period of history and a good interview. I told the producer “Give me a minute”, hung up, found the prof’s home phone (everything was shut down), called him, and within 10 minutes, he was on live national radio talking about the changes that widespread electrification brought to Canadian society and what this power outage could teach us.

But there’s a material difference between finding a news hook and newsjacking. Newsjacking is an attempt by an organization to exploit an event for its own purposes. This can be done well. For example, when there was a power outage at the Super Bowl, Oreo had a spectacularly successful tweet out in mere minutes:

oreo

 

But that’s a best-case scenario.

How about:

  • A fashion house sending out a release and photos showing actor Amy Adams with one of its handbags. The photo was taken at Philip Seymour Hoffman’s funeral service.
  • Another fashion retailer using the unrest in Syria to create a “boots on the ground” themed tweet. (Two of three examples from this blog.)

Or, just this morning:

  • A PR company suggesting that the death of Robin Williams was an opportunity to talk about identity theft and pitching their client as an interview.

I guess it needs to be said. This is wrong. It’s tacky and tasteless and gross. So I’m going to suggest we do a couple of things.

  1. If you receive this sort of messaging, don’t use it. Don’t make it successful. Contact the company and tell them how offensive their action is. Tell them this will cause the opposite of their desired goal (whether that’s sales, media attention, or whatever). Don’t share their content. Don’t give it a life that it doesn’t deserve.
  2. If your company is being told it should do this, be very cautious. If the idea is related to some sort of tragic event, it’s almost impossible to think of a good reason to do it. Run it past some people not connected to the idea. See if it seems tacky or opportunistic. Err on the side of caution.

Communicators — we can be better than this. Please don’t do this.

Doing your own advertising? Some tips

There’s a pattern that computers and technology have made apparent over and over.

  • Pre-computers: music was recorded in expensive studios, controlled and distributed by labels. Post-computers: Computers come pre-loaded with free music recording software, and some of the music has gone on to great success.
  • Pre-computers: books were bought by publishing companies, printed on giant presses, distributed to bookstores. Post-computers: anyone (like my friend Sue, for example) can write an e-book (Produce: The Art of Creating Digital Content Using Professional Production Techniques)and take charge of distribution.
  • Pre-computers: making video required hundreds of thousands of dollars in equipment and highly-professional staff. A few television networks distributed programs and sold advertising. If you didn’t make it on those networks, you didn’t make it on TV. Post-computers: People with consumer-grade technology make videos and upload them to Youtube and other sites, making money from advertising and sometimes getting millions of hits.

Another example of this pattern is advertising. When your media choices were (more or less) daily newspapers, radio, and television, most businesses didn’t do their own advertising. That was done by agencies, or by the media outlet. And it was expensive!

Then, pay-per-click came along. Google AdWords, Facebook, etc. etc. Suddenly anyone could advertise, even with just a few dollars a day to spend. Which is great! Except… sometimes it isn’t.

I saw a sponsored post in my Facebook feed earlier this week. Somebody did something right, because it was for a new microbrewery in my hometown. Except … the ad copy said “opening Spring 2014.”  Problem #1: the brewery  was already open. Problem #2: It was July.

I don’t want to call out the business in question — they’re a small startup, and there’s no doubt they have a million things that they’re trying to do. What happened isn’t a capital crime. But it did point out something that I think happens quite a bit with small businesses and new businesses — their online advertising just gets a little bit out of control.

So I thought I’d give you a quick checklist for your online advertising.

  1. Just because you’re not spending thousands of dollars (unless you are!) doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be serious about it.
  2. It’s not like traditional media — you don’t want ot run one ad or a couple into the ground. Have multiple ads running.
  3. Response on online advertising drops off like a rock off a cliff. That’s part of the reason to have multiple ads running at any one time, and also a reason to have an inventory of ads that you can swap in and out.
  4. If you use a calendar, or a whiteboard, or whatever to keep a schedule, use it to note when your ads should be staritng and stopping. Also use whatever scheduling options you have in the advertising platform to “set and forget” ads, but have a backup.
  5. Most online advertising gives you a limited amount of wording to play with, and an image. Work hard on those words and images, because they’re your only chance at getting people’s attention. Because you can create many ads, you can play with images and copy.
  6. Regularly review the performance of your ads. Be strategic — and by that I mean ensure that your ads are pushing the viewer to some ACTION.

If you’re doing online ads and want to do a little more education, I’m happy to help as much as I can — although I am not an online advertising expert. If you want to go deeper into this, there’s a ton of great resources out there. For example, e-commerce company Shopify (an Ottawa success story, yay us!) has this great guide up on line.

And Brian Carter has two great books out that can help anyone use online advertising to their advantage:

The Like Economy,

and Facebook Marketing:


If you get through all that, you’d likely know more about this stuff than I would!

(Photo credit: cc-licenced image by Flickr user Marcin Wichary)

Social media mind, beginner’s mind

This is the kanji for Shoshin, the state of "beginner's mind" discussed in Zen Buddhism.

This is the kanji for Shoshin, the state of “beginner’s mind” discussed in Zen Buddhism.

Because I’ve spent a lot of time over the last few years teaching at Algonquin College and at Eliquo Training and Development, and because I’ve done a fair amount of speaking on social media and communications topics, I’ve found myself doing lots of “social media 101″ talks. And I’ve written dozens of posts here under the “how-to” or “SMB101″ categories, which are posts particularly useful for people trying to get started in social media.

Do I find that repetitious or tiring? I suppose that would be possible. But as I’ve been doing this, I’ve become more and more convinced that even though “going deep” is appealing, business as a whole is still at the beginning stages of exploiting social media.

Given that social media has been a “thing” for a number of years, the following stats may surprise you:

These stats, and the feedback I get from students, tell me that while those of us who think about social media all the time are busy talking about some of the minutiae, trying to figure out the latest changes to the Facebook algorithm, and pushing the discipline forward, a large portion of the people who are actually working with customers are still trying madly to figure out if and how to do a blog, start a Facebook page, or get on Twitter. And another large group of businesses have started using some or all of those tools, but are floundering.

While it’s a joy to be on the cutting edge, it’s important to realize there are a lot of people out there running businesses who are just struggling to get by. It’s easy to say “Well, they just need to buckle down and get going,” but it’s nowhere near that easy to DO. Let’s not leave them behind.

 

It’s not that hard to listen online

Man making a tin-can telephone

Do-it-yourself social media monitoring, you say? That’s not even as difficult as making a do-it-yourself tin-can  telephone.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/hackaday/

Earlier this month I wrote about taking public stands as a business. One of the elements of that post was that you want to be listening to the conversations taking place around the issue, and around your business. Ideally, you should be doing that on an ongoing basis.

I also wrote about developing a “listening strategy.” Maybe you took those posts to heart. But, you say, you don’t regularly monitor social media? Too difficult? Too expensive? Pshaw.

Yes, you can spend money on a commercial social media monitoring service. There are lots out there. But maybe you don’t have the budget for that. Well, In a few steps, you can have a listening post set up that might not be as exhaustive as some giant corporate operation, but is certainly going to be better than ignoring conversations.

Step one: Get your Google on.

There’s more to Google than just searching for that store that sells those gadgets you need. You can use tools like Google News, Google Blogsearch, in tandem with RSS feeds and/or Google alerts to know exactly what is happening in your industry, when someone writes about your competition, or when a blog covers a topic of interest to you or your business. Don’t forget about Youtube searches as well.

Step two: Say yes to RSS.

The geekosphere mourned the loss of Google Reader when it was shut down on July 1, 2013. But there are alternatives, like Feedly. What are these things? Here’s my simple description. Websites, Google searches, and all sorts of web-based tools all generate something called an RSS feed. That feed gets updated every time the site is updated. Feedly, and other RSS readers, grabs all the feeds you want and creates a newsstand on your screen. You can skim through hundreds of websites in a couple of minutes, keep the articles you think are worth keeping and forget about the rest. To try to visit an equivalent number of sites would take HOURS. This is a huge timesaver.

Step three: Make it a nest-y habit.

Make checking this part of your daily routine. My recommendation: First thing in the morning, when you turn on your computer or tablet, you check your e-mail, right? Then you do the same thing with your RSS Reader. You then flag anything that’s of importance and act on it — give it to an employee, respond, make phone calls, put it in your follow-up file — whatever works.

If you do this? You’ll be further ahead than the majority of businesses, as you’ll see by this late-2012 study that found that TWO THIRDS of companies aren’t monitoring social media for business purposes.

___

Got a question about setting up your listening post? Leave a comment.  Like this kind of post? Click on the “SMB101″ or “Tips” tags just below! Need a little help or support setting things up? No problem – contact me.

(photo: Creative Commons licenced by Flickr user Elliott Phillips.)

Don’t mix your messages: UPDATED

There’s a shop in my neighbourhood with a patio that intrigues me every time I go past it. Which is just about every day.

They have a lovely patio. It has the following sign on it:

corriecrop

Which is lovely, right? Friendly,  inviting, colourful. Sadly, the website isn’t operative right now, but if my research has not led me wrong, Corrie Gibson was a young artist who died in 2009. What her connection to the store was I don’t know, but the patio is there.

Except when your head turns to the right about 10 degrees, and you see THIS sign:

bagelshop

Hm. “Sit :: Relax :: Enjoy” vs. “PATIO IS FOR THE USE OF BAGELSHOP’S CUSTOMERS ONLY.” What’s the result? The patio isn’t used a great deal. And I think it’s because of the sign.

Messages are important, and they don’t exist independent of each other. When you send out mixed messages like this, you confuse and alienate the people who receive them.

Don’t do that.

UPDATED, July 12: I’ve been trying to figure out the deal with this patio. And this newsletter article from the local BIA makes things curiouser and curiouser:

“It’s not every day that a business owner turns part of his property into a public park but that’s just what The Ottawa Bagelshop’s Vince Piazza has done with his lovely new urban patio and garden.

Need to put your feet up after a shopping spree in Wellington West? Or maybe you just need a nice shady corner to read a book? No matter the reason, Ottawa Bagelshop’s Vince Piazza welcomes you to take advantage of his comfy and accessible new patio.

Nobody will ask you to buy or order anything when you’re enjoying the garden. It’s a gift of public space from Vince, and on the community’s behalf we want to say thanks!” 

 

Why you need a LISTENING strategy

Listening devices, by Flickr user Abrinsky I do a lot of teaching. Either formally in a classroom (like at Eliquo Training and Development), or over a coffee, or as part of a consulting job for a client. And one of the things that always gets covered first, or nearby, in building social media strategies is… LISTENING.

Why? The answer relates to one of the fundamental differences between businesses working in the social media universe and the pre-social media universe.

Here’s my rant about listening:

Back in the day, “listening” was more or less equivalent to the research that your organization could afford to do. It was made up of activities like focus groups, market research, surveys, and the like. You did it when you chose to. And then you chose to either act on what you learned or ignore it, and enjoy or suffer the consequences. Occasionally, people would self-organize to boycott a brand or give it some sort of cohesive message. But that was far from common.

When the use of social media tools went mainstream, all of a sudden people discovered they could talk with each other online. And even if they weren’t directly interacting, there were sites that aggregated people’s feedback and opinions. Didn’t like a movie? You could complain about it on an IMDB forum. Love your local coffee shop? You could share the love with the world!

Those conversations and aggregations are happening now, and will continue to happen. If your business has a public face, chances are that some of those conversations are about you.

If you start using social media like the old school, push-out-the-messages marketing tools, you run the risk of annoying or alienating people already talking about you. If you attempt to shut down those conversations as “threats” to your brand, you risk the “Streisand effect.” And if you ignore the conversations, you come across as uncaring.

So the best choice is participate. But to do that, FIRST YOU MUST LISTEN. It isn’t that hard. There are lots of tools out there that you can use to create effective listening posts. RSS readers (I like Feedly, now that Google Reader’s gone); Google Alerts; Twitter clients like Hootsuite or Tweetdeck… The tools are there, and you can set things up fairly quickly. Once you take the time to set things up, it’s not that difficult to consume a great deal of information about your organization and respond to whatever you need to in a short amount of time.

If you’re a larger business, you likely have resources set aside to do this. If you’re smaller, you may not. Whatever your situation… don’t you want to be on top of this? If you want some help with that, let me know.

Why scaling up is as scary as falling apart

Lots of talk recently in my neck of hte woods about the Amnesia Rock Festival. It happened June 14-15, with 90 acts from Anthrax to Alice Cooper to Fucked Up to the Dropkick Murphys filling a field in the small West Quebec town of Montebello.

By all accounts, the music was great. But some are calling the festival an “organizational shitshow“, some bands weren’t happy that they had to pay to play, and a village councillor and others are pointing at an “ocean of pee”, giant unwieldy lineups to get in and out, shuttle buses that stopped running with thousands of people waiting to get back to campsites… And a few days afterward, the site is still quite a mess.

Concert fans at Amnesia Rockfest

It’s easy to go from this…

… to this, when you’re a business trying to scale

Organizer Alex Martel spent several days incognito, then began to speak with reporters yesterday, explaining that people were congratulating him onsite on pulling the festival off.

I know the territory that Martel is on a little bit. Music festivals are giant endeavors. There’s the money side — you contract to spend money that you hop you’ll earn back; there’s the logistics side — thousands of people showing up at an outdoor site expecting to be fed, watered, and go to the bathroom in relative comfort while the sound and lights are tip-top. In this case, there’s the complication of remote campign sites and shuttle buses. So much can go wrong, so quickly.

Since I wasn’t at the festival, I can’t say with any certainty just how gigantic a failure or success it was. But it’s a great demonstration of the difficulties all businesses can experience in scaling up.

When you start a project, it can be easy — you do EVERYTHING, and everything comes back to you. When it grows, you have to start growing with it. Maybe that means staff, or volunteers, or renting an office, or hiring subcontractors… and it gets complex. Sometimes you discover that you’ve gone from someone doing what you’re best at and passionate about to someone doing things that you really don’t enjoy.

There was a time when I was doing media relations, and then I became a manager of media relations.  It was only after I left the job that I realized just how little I had enjoyed managing people who reported to me.

I’ve seen lots of friends join startup companies that are hiring like crazy, growing like mad. And many times, those companies have crashed and burned. If you’re on the upswing as an organization, hooray! But don’t get so enthralled with the venture-capital money, the kudos, the excitement that you forget that you’re always just a few missteps away from total calamity.

And when you are blowing up the world with your products or services, remember that you’re most vulnerable to customer service prolems, communication breakdowns, and the things that can start out small but end up as fully-fledged crises. The solution?

Stay open. Use all the communication channels you’ve established. Meet your audiences where they are — at the checkout, on Twitter, Facebook or whatever other social media tools they use. Acknowledge problems, work to solve them, explain why they’re happening, and try not to make the same mistakes twice. Shutting down the lines of communication, hiding away, and moaning that people “just don’t understand how hard it is.”

If you talk to them about what you’re doing, they WILL understand. If you get defensive, they’ll stop caring and stop listening.

Is your business going out on “dates?” Then why not get dressed up?

Yesterday, I saw a great post called “The First Rule of Branding” from former Algonquin College colleague Lisa Haggis, who’s now on her own as a branding consultant. My two-sentence summary of her post: “Customers want to love you. Don’t turn them off.”

And then this morning, I was meeting with friend and colleague Meredith Luce, a local graphic designer (and, as a side note, one of my favorite performers in all the world), and we were talking about businesses and design, when she said, “Sometimes it’s like hearing a friend is going out on a hot date and you look at her and say, ‘You’re going out dressed like that?? At least invest in a mirror.‘”

I burst out laughing. But what she had said, and what Lisa had written, were stuck in my head enough that I needed to write this.

As a business, the “frilly stuff”, like graphic design or customer experience, might seem unnecessary. As Lisa wrote in her post,

“People will evaluate your brand as a whole, not as individual experiences… exceptions – that one off-topic blog post, cheap marketing collateral, or a contradictory offering – will throw off the whole experience.” 

Whether it’s media relations, sales, graphic design, social media — when you’re in business, you’re always going out on dates. Hopefully,  those dates develop into relationships (I’m not getting into polygamy or polyamory metaphors, please and thank you). You should be thinking:

But if you go out with your metaphorical fly unzipped or your pantyhose tucked into your skirt… you could end up like this:

Don’t leave a glaring hole in your customer experience. For that matter, don’t leave a subtle one either.

Milestones, fake relationships, and continuity plans.

Milestone

We all pass milestones from time to time. I figure the best thing we can do is note them and consider what we’re learning on the trip.

I took a  bit of an abrupt break from blogging. Two things conspired. One good, and one bad.

On the good side, I got busy , and took some time for vacation. That led to the first hiatus. But then, the bad thing. Shortly after I returned from vacation, my dad passed away, and I’ve been trying to juggle work and the myriad details that immediately follow a death.

The good news is that my mother is a very strong woman. The other good news is that she’s receiving moral support and paperwork from both of her children and their partners, her grandchildren, and being entertained and diverted by her great-grandchildren. So things are progressing about as well as they can in the wake of an event that was expected, to an extent, but still a terrible shock and a cause for mourning.

But enough about me. What’s on my mind when it comes to communications, social media, and PR. And there are two things that I want to highlight that relate to social media and to business that the last several weeks have impressed upon me.

First, a succession plan and an interruption of business plan is a necessity, for businesses right down to the micro level. I like to have discussions with friends and colleagues so that if something comes up that makes my participation in a project difficult or impossible, I have someone who I can slot into the project with a minimum of prep time. If you’re a SOHO, or a small retail business, what would you do if there was a death in the family, or if you were incapacitated by an illness or injury?

Second, it’s easy for social media to be criticized as creating false or inauthentic relationships, relationships which aren’t important. But when I got the call on a Saturday morning from my mom that my dad had died, I got support from my partner and my real-life friends. But I ALSO got support from people who I know only online. Cards. Memorial donations. Other gestures of caring.

Those gestures were meaningful. While I can’t prove it or quantify it, I know it. And last I checked, there’s no shortage of inathentic or fake rleationships in real life.

So those are two lessons that I’ve been thinking about since August 11. That, and that hugs are good. Give one to someone you like at every opportunity. It’s hard to imagine a bad outcome from a good hug.

And finally, one of the thing sthat I had to postpone when my dad passed was my webinar in the Think Tank Summer E-learning Series, organized by SocialFish and CommPartners. Instead of August 16, I’ll be presenting “Your New Content Strategy” on September 27. You can find more info and sign up here.

SMB 101 Post #9: Using free tools for measurement

Ad Budget

Hopefully, you know more about your advertising effectiveness than John Wanamaker did.

One of the classic quotes from the world of business is attributed to John Wanamaker:

 Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.

I’m guessing this is a familiar refrain for many business owners. It’s easy to spend money on advertising, whether it’s in the community paper, the local daily, radio, or online. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a gauge that you could use to measure the effectiveness of that advertising?

But before I give you a few tips, a couple of theoretical points to address. First, it can take multiple exposures to a message before people will act on it — or even notice it. This is called, in the business, “effective frequency.” So don’t think that you can simply run an ad, and based on that one exposure, people will flock to your business.

Second, advertising plays a different role for businesses at different stages of their lives. Al Ries, a renowned brand strategist, characterizes it this way: “PR creates brands; advertising defends brands.” So if you’re a new business, you might be focusing your efforts more on the PR side. If you’re an established, mature business, advertising may be taking a more prominent role.

So once you have a strategy in place and understand the role advertising plays in it… how can you tell if you’re wasting your money? There are some simple things you can do:

  1. Track online. QR (Quick Response) codes are those square barcodes you see on ads, posters, and the like. If you use QR codes in your advertising, you can track how many times those codes are scanned. Even if you don’t use the QR codes, utilities like bit.ly offer similar abilities to track clicks (By the way, bit.ly will generate QR codes that you can use too). And plan out what your call to action will be. Don’t just send people to your website — create a specific page to point them to. Then you will know by traffic if your message is getting through.
  2. A/B testing is your friend. This may sound a bit intimidating. But the concept is simple. Don’t just run one ad. Run two, with a variation in imagery, copy, and the like. Then use the tracking tools mentioned in tip 1 to look at which one is performing better. The easiest place to do this is online, using platforms like Facebook Adverts or Google Adwords, but you can do similar things with other forms of media, like print or direct mail. And it’s particularly important to do this when using Facebook ads, which according to online marketing smart guy Brian Carter, “burn out” far more quickly than other forms of advertising.
  3. USE YOUR KNOWLEDGE. All of this stuff is only cool if you use it. Tracking the impact of your ads, measuring A/B results — you need to dedicate the time necessary to understand what the numbers are telling you.
If you are out of your depth on this, think about hiring someone to help build or run a monitoring system for you. But it is possible to do this on your own. Every step you take along this path is an improvement over doing nothing.
(This is post number nine in an ongoing series of posts aimed at providing practical advice for small businesspeople in the areas of public relations, communications and social media. If you ever need help with your small business… why not get in touch?)